Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 23, 1890
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The President expressed regret that the meetings of the Institute were not better attended by the members, and suggested that they might be made more attractive by a course of popular instruction. “The aim of the incorporation was, in ‘The New Zealand Institute Act, 1867,’ distinctly stated to be ‘by means of lectures, classes, and otherwise to promote the general study and cultivation of the various branches and departments of art, science, literature, and philosophy'—a wide enough charter, surely. A society so encyclopædian in its nature might reasonably adopt as its motto, ’ Humani nihil alienum,' and ought not to have to complain of the want of public sympathy for its occupations and aspirations. Then what is wrong? Since the 4th August, 1868, when the inaugural address of the Institute was delivered, a large amount of useful work has been done by the members in the corner of one of the four fields of work above named. Whether owing to the attractive natural features of the colony, the novelty of its fauna and flora, the beautiful climate, inviting to the out-of-door observation of Nature's varied forms, the foundation of our Institute, or the accident of its first members being in many cases trained scientists and devoted students of Nature's mysteries, it is certain that, so far as biology and geology are concerned, there has been in New Zealand a large amount of independent observation and original research; and perhaps more valuable contributions to the sum-total of our knowledge of natural science have proceeded during the past fifty years from these remote islands than from any other of the younger colonies of the British Empire during the same period of time. And, although in zoology, botany, mineralogy, and geology much yet remains to be done in this newly-settled land—for some departments are yet untouched, and new varieties in well-known departments are daily being discovered.—yet, as far as these sciences are concerned, the New Zealand Institute has indeed done noble work. But how about the numerous other branches of science? What has been done in astronomy, mathematics, physics and mechanics, economic and social science and hygiene, &c.? Very, very little, I fear. Yet the study of some of these things is of vital importance to every community, wherever situated and whatever its circumstances. For example, take social and economic science. Is it out of our province to consider the industrial complications which have recently fallen like a pestilence on every English-speaking community? Are we to sit, ‘like the gods above us, careless of mankind,’ while the din of social strife is on every side of us? We hear the most pernicious and, in many cases, the most absurd opinions expressed by men who from their position have great influence, and are regarded by many as leaders of thought. Surely we might profitably leave for a time our rocks and bones, and study and teach plutology When social and economic fallacies are in the air of the whole world—like the influenza was a few months ago—why should we not at our meetings help to solve difficulties and discuss problems connected with the production and distribution of wealth, capital, labour, co-operation, competition, wages, and the functions of Government—problems which would surely be better considered for being removed from the arena of party strife, and handled by those whose usual occupations require that they should be thoughtful, impartial, and logical, as well as acquainted with the results of past experience and the teachings of recognized authorities and past history? Of the discussion of such questions it may be said

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there is already more than enough outside of our society; and, indeed, this is quite true. But I contend that we should approach them in a different spirit, and with more chance of eliciting the spark of truth. Again, it will be said, perhaps, that the introduction of vexed social and economic questions into our lecture-room would bring in strife. If so, more's the pity. For my part, however, for the sake of vitalizing our body, I should not regret the occasional departure of a little of that calm serenity which may be a mark of true philosophy, but is also a characteristic of death. Wherever there is life there is, at all events amongst the higher animals, always a certain amount of heat; and it is the apparent indifference of our Institute to subjects, such as these, of real and intense human interest, that perhaps has partly alienated from it public sympathy. Again, a more important subject than sanitary science or hygiene cannot well be conceived, and our colonies study it less than the Mother-country—perhaps because they think there is less urgency about it in sparsely-peopled lands, with abundant supplies, ordinarily, of good food, air, and water, and generally fine climate. But medical men know well that there are many interesting and most important questions as to the origin and prevention, prevalence and spread, of peculiar forms of disease even in the healthiest colonies, well deserving attention on the part of others than doctors. Consider, for example, the prevalence of anæmia among young people in New Zealand. Does this spring from exceptional indifference to and breach of hygeian law? Or have geological or meteorological facts something to do with it? Has the perpetual bath of sunshine to which we are subject, and which we so much enjoy, some disadvantages in forcing on too rapid development and otherwise? Is the large amount of ozone that we breathe an unmixed blessing? Is not our drinking-water frequently so soft as to lower the strength of the animal organism, and render it specially liable to the attacks of epidemics? Are any other of our new conditions of living here particularly unwholesome? Is the hardy Anglo-Saxon race, when transplanted here, to a lower latitude than that of its original habitat, deteriorating in physique somewhat? How do the anthropometric results come out, as drawn by Mr. Forbes from the figures collected at the Dunedin Exhibition, as regards young New-Zealanders? What do the annual statistics show as to the prevalence of insanity and suicide among us? Is the isolation of life so frequently endured in the remoter parts of the colony producing an exceptional amount of morbid mental action? To what circumstance did we owe our recent visitation of influenza, a few months after it broke out in the east of Europe? Were the germs of the disease brought by vessels, or conveyed by the winds in their terrestrial circulation? These and a thousand other kindred questions, in the absence of a Sanitary Institute amongst us, medical men and scientific specialists might advantageously meet together to discuss, and much outside interest would thereby be aroused.”

The President advocated, as an aid to the Institute, the formation of a Field Naturalists' Club, and of sections composed each of a few of the members who are devoted to some special subject.