We commence this evening the eighth session of the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Institute, and it has fallen upon me as President to deliver the usual opening address.
The struggles and exigencies characteristic of colonial life, whilst they may sometimes impart greater vivacity and piquancy to our little communities, often offer great obstacles to the steady progress of Institutes such as ours.
Nevertheless, the progress of the Colony every year gives us more men of wealth, leisure, and cultivated intellect, capable of rendering the pursuit of the various objects of the New Zealand Institute more easy and more successful. But from the energy and enterprise, characteristic of the majority of colonists, combined with the educational advantages which are every day being brought within the reach of all, we may look for valuable assistance from all classes of colonial society in carrying out the really noble objects of the Institute.
For myself, I have only to say that, though I make no pretension to be a man of science, I, nevertheless, take a deep interest in the scientific and social questions of the day, and I claim the right to bring these questions, so far as time and opportunity will permit, to the test of the philosophy of common sense.
From a scientific point of view, the times in which we live are characterised by close, patient, minute and accurate investigation; by daring hypotheses, and by an unmistakeable idolatry of law.
Nothing can be more admirable than the researches of Tyndal and Darwin; but it will hardly be denied that some of their theories manifest a development of the imaginative faculties, which is, at least, remarkable in those who, par excellence, claim to speak only of what they know. Even some of the facts upon which these castles of the imagination are built are as unsubstantial as the theories themselves. A striking instance of this occurs in Darwin's valuable work on the “Descent of Man.” He says,
Vol. I., page 183:—“In all parts of Europe, as far east as Greece; in Palestine, India, Japan, New Zealand, and Africa, including Egypt, flint (stone ?) tools have been discovered in abundance; and of their use the existing inhabitants retain no tradition.” So far as the above statement relates to New Zealand, the learned author is mistaken as to the actual fact. For not only are there traditions of the use of stone tools in New Zealand; but there are now living New Zealanders (Maoris) who have used these stone tools. The earlier settlers of this Colony may even be said to have themselves lived in the stone age.
I shall not occupy your time by citing any further instances of the strange, curious, and indeed, grotesque assumptions which characterise the materialistic school of Philosophy, because, I apprehend, you are probably familiar with them. But, in the interests of science and morals, it is necessary to direct your attention to that singular phase of this revived philosophy, represented—I think better than by any other term—by that of the Idolatry of Law.
Now what is law, at whose shrine some of our philosophers appear to pay an idolatrous devotion? Is it not the opposite of chaos, chance, or accident? Is it not the embodiment of order and design; a regulated and regulating force potent to develope certain results from certain causes known or unknown? Evolution and atomic combination are laws, or the results of law. What, then, I repeat is law? Is it not a definite, intelligent arrangement, involving, by its very existence, the prior existence of an intelligence superior to itself? In a word, does not the existence of a law involve the certain and prior existence and potent action of an intelligent, forceful, dominant Lawgiver? It is the practical ignoring of such a Lawgiver which deprives the admirable investigations of the school of philosophy under review of their chief value and crowning virtue, and which, in so doing, relegates us to the cheerless domains of a materialism as degrading to man as it is inimical to his true welfare. For who can doubt, if it be possible to reason the Creator and Controller of the universe out of the minds of men, that what to-day may be but the fantastic dogma of the philosophic few, may become the popular belief of to-morrow, and so strike at that great principle of responsibility which lies at the foundation of the well-being and the happiness of mankind.
The want of the age is undoubtedly the right interpretation of scientific discovery. Without the acknowledgment of a Supreme Creator and Controller such an interpretation is impossible, and mystery must continue to be written on all the wonderful phenomena by which we are surrounded. What have the so called definitions of the school-men of science given us more than a nomenclature. For, after all, What is the subtle essence of
such forces as gravitation; of such imponderables as light, heat, electricity? We have labelled them, indeed, as a chemist labels his drugs, and we know much of their qualities and uses. But what has been done to define their original elementary essence. What has been done to determine the origin, the whence they sprung of these potent forces which so mysteriously pervade the illimitable unknown.
In truth, scientific deduction as yet has but mounted the lower steps of the ladder of knowledge. A nobler philosophy will yet impel true science to climb upwards till it arrives at the conception of the Creator and Controller of all.
The investigation of truth is one of the main objects of the New Zealand Institute, and it is because I believe it is important to take care that our enquiries should not be biased, nor our intellects blinded by the current materialism of the day, that I have considered it within the scope of my duty to bring under your observation some of the obstacles which are being raised to the impartial pursuit of truth, as they have presented themselves to my own mind.
Permit me now to direct your attention to some of the lines of enquiry along which our investigation may advantageously travel. These may be said to lay in the past as well as in the present.
It has been stated that New Zealand is destitute of a past. I do not concur in this view. We have but to look around us to see, on every side, the memorials of a past full of interest and abounding in sentiment.
Scattered all over the North Island are the ancient fortresses and battle grounds of a noble race. Call it a race of savages, if you will; still a race remarkable for its hospitality, its generosity, and, above all, for its valour. For centuries to come the two great Maori fortresses of One-Tree Hill and Mount Eden in our own vicinity, will stand lasting memorials of the Maori race; and in the eyes of future antiquarians will undoubtedly possess a very deep interest. The Native Land Courts, in the eyes of the present generation of colonists, are chiefly interesting as the means of investigating Maori titles to land, and as the agency for peacefully transferring, by consent of the Maori proprietors, these lands to European owners. But the archives of these Courts recording, as they do, the traditions, the love passages, the warlike deeds of an ancient race, will possess an unfading interest to the future ethnologists, novelists, and historians of this country. The present generation of colonists has advantages for enriching the stores of Maori lore which no other can possess. I think, therefore, that the Colony is under great obligations to Sir George Grey, Mr. C. O. Davis, Judge Maning, and Mr. John White for their admirable efforts to rescue from oblivion the manners, legends, proverbs, and characteristics of this
deeply interesting people. There is yet much to be done, which, to be done well, can only be done now; and I think, to those of our members who have peculiar facilities for the work, there can be few objects more deserving their attention than the preservation of memorials of the Maori.
If any testimony were needed of the patriotism and valour of the Maori race, I have but to point to the long, unequal, and valiant struggle the Maori race has made against us with indifferent arms, without extraneous support, without any chronicle of their achievements—save that furnished by their opponents—maintaining a long struggle against 10,000 of the flower of English troops, and against an equal number of sturdy colonists fighting pro aris et focis, provided with every appliance of modern warfare, and even yet—after a ten years' struggle—still unsubdued. I think we shall find it difficult to parallel, even in Greek or Roman story, their unaided, patriotic, and valiant contest. I am convinced that in each succeeding generation, a truer estimate will be formed of the many noble qualities of this heroic race now departing silently and surely from the land of their fathers.
Let me therefore urge upon you to seize every opportunity to preserve the implements, the fortifications, the sayings, and doings, in a word, the memorials of a people which has done so much to invest the past of the land we live in with a halo of noble and romantic sentiment.
Whilst then we endeavour to rescue whatever is of value in the past, let me remind you that the present demands our attention. Our efforts must be directed to stimulate the pursuit of art, science, literature, commerce, and socíal economics, so that the present of the land of our adoption may do its part in creating, and be worthy of, the great future in store for us and for our descendents.
To this end a close observation of facts, not only by scientific members but by non-scientific members, is indispensible. In this Colony nature presents so much that is new, so much that is difficult, so much that is interesting to ourselves and to the outside world, that we may well prosecute our work with vigour. The Province of Auckland especially offers a field for enquiry which will not only well repay the philosophic enquirer, but will reward the unscientific observer. The neighbourhood of the city abounds with picturesque evidences of powerful volcanic action. Our ferncovered plains, though evidently full of vital energy, do not yield readily to the efforts of the agriculturist—probably from the long continued acid exudations of successive growths of fern root—to turn that energy to the vigorous production of plants and grasses of economic value. Our mountain ranges covered with noble trees, with whose valuable properties we are as yet but partially acquainted, and which indeed we are recklessly
destroying without care or thought for the future. Our hills and valleys rich with mineral deposits such as gold, silver, copper, coal, and iron, frequently occurring under circumstances and in combinations new to science. All these elements of wealth, power, and happiness require new and economic applications of skill and scientific knowledge, so that the greatest practical results may be obtained with the least expenditure of force or waste of power.
Nor must it be forgotten that whilst this Colony possesses a wealth of undeveloped vegetable and mineral productions, it is singularly destitute of animal life, thus offering a wide field for the introduction of innumerable varieties of fish, birds, and animals. Again, the vegetable kingdom, though so full of forms of rarest beauty, is yet destitute of a thousand fruits, vegetables, and trees for which our unrivalled climate offers a congenial home.
Nor must it be forgotten that in the extensive district from Lake Taupo to the Bay of Plenty, there exists a wonderful variety of geysers, boiling springs, hot lakes, fairy-like cascades, enchanting terraces, and mineral waters of great healing powers. I have no doubt that this wondrous district will one day be visited by philosophers, tourists, and invalids from many lands. Can it be doubted that the pilgrims who, in coming years, will visit these shrines of beauty and health will carry away with them very pleasant memories of a land in which they will not have sought in vain for pleasure, health, and knowledge?
That the district in which these natural wonders are to be found ought without delay to be acquired by Government, there can be no doubt; when acquired, our Government may well be urged to follow the example of the United States, and declare the district an inalienable reserve for all time for the health and recreation of the people.
Important as it may be to push on agriculture, to make
“Our valleys wave with golden corn,
With fleecy flocks the hills adorn.”
Necessary as it is to introduce a thousand fruits, vegetables, and trees suitable for our unrivalled climate, we ought not to forget that other things are needed to build up a nation besides sheep and oxen, fruits and corn. Education, good drainage, abundance of pure water, convenient and durable houses, parks for recreation, ready access to the beautiful in art, to the noble in literature, to the grand in nature—all exert a potent and most salutary influence in building up the social life of the people upon a sure foundation.
It is not given to every one to be a Bacon, a Newton, or a Faraday, but it is within the power of all to cultivate habits of observation. Even our children will derive for themselves great advantage, and may confer upon others even greater advantages by learning to observe. Let it be remembered
that to observe accurately and to record correctly the operations of nature, is to contribute to the general stores of knowledge, and to be a benefactor to mankind at large.
In conclusion, we have come to a new land, where we have much to create, to introduce, and to develope, to a land full of hidden resources and full indeed of difficulties, yet we have at least this advantage that we have few of the burdensome excrescences and social anomalies incidental to older countries.
Whilst there is abundant room for the pursuit of abstract truth, for the elucidation of those occult questions which occupy the philosophers of our time, there is yet room and verge enough for the cultivation of patriotic sentiment, of everything that is beautiful in art, useful in science, and noble in literature, and for the widest development of those economic and social problems of a more practical kind, which necessarily come home to the early settlers of a colony like New Zealand.
We have taken hold of the heroic work of colonization, and it is for us to show that we are worthy of the great race to which we belong, and of the grand future in store for us.