T. Peacock, President, in the chair.
New Members.—C. Alexander, J. M. Alexander, A. Buckland, H. Campbell, M. A. Clark, W. C. Coleman, P. Comisky, J. Fisher, T. T. Gamble, D. Goldie, G. Johnstone, G. Hemus, T. W. Hickson, T. Mahoney, A. McGregor, T. Mackay, D. Nathan, E. B. Parsons, A. Saunders, G. Sibbin, J. C. Sharland, R. H. Stevenson, E. H. Whitaker, W. R. Waddel, Major T. Benton, N. Kenny, G. T. Wilkinson, T. P. Moody.
The President then delivered the anniversary address.
In accordance with the usual custom, it now becomes my duty to deliver the inaugural address. In the first place, I desire to express my appreciation of the honour which the members of the Institute have conferred upon me in electing me to fill the President's chair—an honour to which my own feelings would not have prompted me to aspire. Standing on the threshold of our fourteenth session, and looking back to the meeting in November, 1867, at which, with zealous intentions, not unmingled with misgiving as to its permanence, our society was launched, I feel that there is true cause for congratulation at the progress made and the success achieved. And looking forward, there is every reason for encouragement. With a membership numbering 305–the largest roll of any of the affiliated societies—including 28 names just added, we have the evidence of a sustained interest in our important operations. Having been associated with the Institute as a member of council at its beginning, I know that much of the success has been owing to the fostering care and ever willing assistance rendered by Mr. Kirk and Professor Hutton in the early years of our existence.
Our aims embrace the cultivation of science, art, literature, and philosophy, a range of subjects which gives ample scope for the indulgence of every taste, while our meetings afford a congenial sphere where each votary can minister to the pleasure and edification of his fellows, receiving in return an impulse to fresh exertion, whether it be to study, to assimilate, and profit by the wealth of thought, feeling, and wisdom, treasured up in our national literature; or in the field of Nature, animate and inanimate, to observe and classify her phenomena, and evolve the laws that regulate her processes,
“With curious eye
To glance at beauteous things that give delight:
Objects of earth or air, or sea or sky,
That bring the very senses in the sight To relish what they see.”
But granting that art, literature, and philosophy are wisely included in the aims of the Institute, and well deserving of attention and encouragement, science must naturally occupy a prominent place in our deliberations. During the present century alone it has
received a development so enormous in its extent and so fruitful in its influences on our civilization as to be unparalleled in the history of mankind. So multitudinous are the facts observed, so numerous the generalizations formed, and so fertile the deductions made therefrom in suggesting fresh enquiries, that the subdivisions have become special studies. Division of labour has become essential to further progress. Never before have the sayings and doings of scientific men had so large an auditory, or received more enlightened attention. It is true that the bold theories and far-reaching generalizations which have been put forth in some departments have caused uneasiness and opposition on the part of many. Especially is this the case in biology, in the well known.
Theory of Evolution.
I will only say in passing that it is vain to object to the indulgence in theory. No one can intelligently observe natural phenomena without theorizing or endeavouring to conceive the mode in which they have been brought about. Following after the preliminary collection of facts, theory offers a connecting link, a centre of aggregation, round. which other facts may be orderly grouped, or their divergence be clearly perceived. Let hypothesis be freely submitted to the scorching heat and glare of criticism, to the crucial test of comparison with the manifold facts and observations of keen and competent men, bearing directly or indirectly thereon, and truth, which should be ever welcome, will be the resultant. Should the hypothesis fail to account for, or be in accord with, all the facts, then must it be discarded for a better. That which is true will stand, while that which is false will be done away. But even if a theory which at first appeared plausible has to be modified or set aside, it may have subserved a useful purpose in stimulating and guiding enquiry, concentrating attention, and methodizing observation.
To revert to the theory to which I have just alluded, it must be admitted by candid minds that the intense activity displayed in the field of biology is limited at two important points. On the one hand there is the gap between the inorganic and organic forms of matter, the production of that protoplasm which is the basis of all living bodies, with its wonderful potential qualities. The general testimony of science is that the innumerable forms of existing life spring only from antecedent life; that there is no such thing as spontaneous generation from dead matter; that no chemical attractions or affinities can avail us here, and so if we go back in imagination to one primordial cell or germ as the beginning of life we must still look to a pre-existing life or active agent for its production. On the other hand, there is the impassable chasm which exists between organic matter and the profoundly mysterious thinking part of man. Their close relationship and interdependence may indeed be studied, but the nature of the mind itself, so distinct from matter in its independence of extension in space, so widely apart from the objective phenomena of the external world, and so evidently antecedent to the sensations which they produce within it—this, notwithstanding elaborate groupings of words in explanation, is likely to remain an insoluble mystery, and defy conception to the present powers of man.
Groups of Scientific Subjects.
From a colonial point of view, there are two groups of scientific subjects that may engross our attention, which, apart from the relative interest derivable from their pursuit, present differences in the facilities for their study, and the original or intrinsic value of their results. In the first, we may place botany, zoology, geology, mineralogy, meteorology, and ethnology. In a new country there is abundance of scope for useful and accurate observations on its flora and fauna, its geological formations, its meteorological phenomena, and the ethnological peculiarities and history of the native race. These are within the reach of all, and offer opportunities for giving some original contribution to the stock of
human knowledge, facts of observation which may supply some missing link, or throw a gleam of light athwart some obscure point, or which, from their local and distinctive character, will be as stones which the great European master-builders in each department will gladly accept as necessary components in the great and noble edifice of science. The other group may be said to include applied mathematics, the general science of biology, the physical sciences, astronomy, heat, light, electricity, magnetism, chemistry, mechanics, hydrostatics, and pneumatics. In these branches, in which the investigations are either general in their character, or demand for original research appliances and leisure not readily available in the colonies, we must be content to keep abreast of the knowledge attained and the discoveries made. But to do this is an important function of this Institute, and it is worthy of consideration, whether, without disparaging the good work which has been done and still requires doing, in preparing and accommodating our zoological specimens in the Museum, it might not be desirable to acquire, by gradual steps, an equipment of physical apparatus which would be suitable for the purpose of exposition, and possibly for original research on the part of some of the members. Meantime, the magazines procured for the use of the members, the library of reference, and occasional lectures, have rendered good service.
With regard to the first group of subjects, the New Zealand Institute has done good work in every department of natural history, and no inconsiderable part has been done by the Auckland Institute, while, thanks to the liberality of members and citizens, led by the spirited example of one of our leading members (I allude to Mr. Justice Gillies), our valuable specimens have received worthy shelter in this excellent building. By the system of exchanges, too, we have been enabled to confer a favour upon European and American museums, receiving in return representative specimens from various countries.
The President then reviewed the recent progress of scientific philosophy, and described the various discoveries that have been recently made in the application of electricity to the ordinary wants of daily life, giving a résumé of the subjects which have occupied the minds of scientific men in some branches of physical science, with the conclusions arrived at, and the progress made during the year.
In concluding, he remarked that with the ever increasing refinements in the instruments at his command, the natural philosopher is enabled to attain a delicacy, an accuracy, and a range of results impossible to his predecessors, but with extended scope and wider generalizations there come new problems to solve, new mysteries to unravel.
Vast and comprehensive as is the knowledge acquired in every branch of science, what is known is but an infinitesimal portion compared with what there is beyond, while much will ever remain inexplicable to the finite faculties of man. But in seeking earnestly and fearlessly to know the sequence of events, the relationship of things, and the mode of action of that all-pervading energy which it has pleased the Creator to impart to the existing universe, there is no necessary connection with atheistic principles or materialistic philosophy. On the contrary there may (as in the case of the late distinguished Professor Clark Maxwell) exist the most profound learning and scientific genius with Christian humility and enlightened reverence. Let us ever remember that in the field of natural science, apart from the ameliorating influences that follow in its train, it is the pursuit and attainment of truth rather than its possession which affords the keenest enjoyment. Of the scientist, too, it may be said that, leaving the things which are behind, he reaches forth to those which are before, assured that with increasing knowledge there will ever be opened up fresh avenues of investigation to stimulate his zeal, to exercise his powers, and minister to his mental delight.
If our Institute be successful in inspiring and maintaining a taste for the acquisition of learning, and encouraging habits of observation and thought among its members, then will the sense of its importance and the height of its aims grow with the growth of the community, and in its career of usefulness it will be privileged to assist in laying the foundation of accurate knowledge concerning the natural history and traditions of our adopted country, while exercizing a healthful and elevating influence on succeeding generations.