Page images
PDF
EPUB

they represent. The demonstrative knowledge of the minerals, fossils, vegetable and animal productions of a country must precede their application to industrial enterprise. The establishment of local collections is frequently a necessary step to facilitate the formation of general ones, as the exchange of specimens with similar institutions in other places is often the simplest way of getting those that cannot be found in the country.

For the sake of inquiry and instruction it is of great advantage to have the leading specimens of a system arranged in such a manner, as to allow a great number to be seen at once and to have them also within easy reach. Hence the importance of exposing freely to view such objects as allow it without receiving injury. These, when exhibited in large rooms and, under the necessary precautions, thrown open to the public, serve to gratify curiosity and awaken an interest in the slumbering minds of the unscientific world in the study and promotion of Science. So they fill the place of curiosity shops and show rooms. This is as yet the only object which the collections at different places in India seem calculated to effect, as the opportunities they offer for the study, either local or general, of Science, or for instruction, are too trifling to be taken into account. The amusement of the natives is the principal advantage gained by their existence. It is not difficult to point out the causes of this state of things.

Public collections, supported by Governments or a large number of persons, are much cheaper than private ones of the same extent would be, a greater number of individuals being likely to interest themselves on their behalf, when opportunities for getting specimens are presented. Another, and perhaps the most weighty circumstance in their favour is the publicity itself of such collections. Besides what may be got by exchange with similar institutions, or bought annually to the extent of a stipulated sum, they are chiefly supplied by unpaid contributions from scientific men, who collect the specimens themselves. Those persons find a reward in the consciousness that, giving up their private acquisitions to public uses they will, by thus joining their own efforts with those of others, profit themselves in creating new and greater facilities for the study of their favourite pursuit. Such men will, however, not support a public institution, unless they have the certainty of seeing their contributions well taken care of and turned to a good account by the exertions and capabilities of those who have charge of and use them. Nobody will present specimens of animals or plants, when he knows that they would be spoiled for want of space or attention, or valuable minerals and fossils, where they would be neglected to make room for coloured pebbles or polished sandstones. Collections grow and receive their value only through the personal qualities and exertions of the men who have charge of them. If for nothing else, it would for these considerations, be important to entrust the superintendence of such collections to men who would conduct them in conformity with the demands of scientific progress, and at the same time, to place at their disposal means sufficient to ensure the preservation of specimens. Such men should, however, be independent and not hemmed in by the necessity of following unscien, tific occupations, foreign to the interest of their charge.

[graphic]

In Europe the population is numerous enough to permit the formation of large societies for scientific purposes ; but in India the European community is so small, and those whose income and tastes will allow them to contribute to defray the expenses of a useful collection are so few in number, that we can hardly expect more to be done, although even on a small scale such esta. blishments might do good service. In a country like India it is for this reason only with the support of Government that private exertions can lead to satisfactory results. With regard to Botany the liberality of the Court of Directors has already granted flourishing establishments, and it only remains to provide for the rest of the branches of natural history, which are not of less importance.

Among the branches of Natural Science, which have enjoyed in India a greater share of attention than others, we may also name Meteorology. Registers have been kept for many years past at the observatories of the three seats of Government, the observations of which have contributed not a little to increase our general meteorological experience. We owe to their existence the greater part of our knowledge of the climates of the Indian seas and coasts.

To provide the same advantage with regard to the exploration of other parts of the country, thermometers and other meteorological instruments were supplied to the military and civil hospitals and forms were distributed to the medical officers to be filled up with the daily readings, and returned monthly. In one of the three Presidencies also a few stations were provided with verified barometers, and a more complete set of other meteorological instruments also verified, and, if our information be correct, a small compensation was allowed to the person in immediate charge of the observations, the whole being likewise under the superintendence of a medical officer. The registers obtained by such means, if they might be relied on, would be of great value to Science. This is certainly the case with some, but unfortunately the greater number of the instruments, not expressly verified, are incorrect; that is to say they indicate several degrees too high and too low, owing in each case either to the nature of the instrument itself or to the manner in which it is fastened to

the scale. But even if we suppose them to be correct, there would be another difficulty to contend with, by far the greater number of persons upon whom the care of the instruments and their observation devolves being ignorant how to use them. If it happens occasionally that instruments are placed in the proper localities and kept in a manner to ensure their object, this is owing to the fortunate circumstance of the medical officer in charge taking a personal interest in the matter, and possessing a sufficient knowledge of the subject himself. The observations are, by necessity left to the native apothecaries, who not being generally acquainted with the only mode of reading correctly, nor impressed with the necessity of keeping the exact time, only increase the errors adhering to the instruments by adding others of their own. Even where good and verified instruments are used, it has happened that the persons whose duty it is to attend to the observations were uninstructed in the proper use of the instruments, and unable to make the necessary calculations to fill up certain columns in the forms.

If we could select from the great number of registers thus obtained, those which are trustworthy, we might still gain good and valuable information on the climates of many parts of India. But having no indications to lead us in making such a selection, we are compelled to condemn the whole of them as worthless for most purposes. In this manner, time, labour and money are expended without the slightest advantage being gained. It would be unjust to find fault with the medical service for these unsatisfactory results, as there exists no reason to expect that medical men should in this capacity also be scientific menmore than good surveyors or anything else not connected with the treatment of diseases, unless indeed, in particular cases a knowledge of their education or personal inclinations would justify such a supposition. To give an instance of the great importance attached to the quality of observations which are to be employed for establishing natural laws, it may perhaps be of interest to recall the circumstances which caused Huyghen's and Newton's first suggestion of the true shape of the earth to be for a long time violently contested, more than fifty years elapsing from the date of publication if Newton's “Principia" before it was universally acknowledged as a reality. This delay and opposition principally arose from the imperfect methods of observation, and the errors committed on instituting the first experiments to prove the fact, and had the effect of impeding the general application of that inestimable truth for the whole time it was doubted, however great may have been in other respects the scientific improvements resulting from the attempt to prove it.

It is self-evident that the fitness of scientific observations as bases for conclusions must be entirely dependent on the degree of confidence we place in the persons who have made or superintended them. If we have reasons to doubt their ability of exercising sufficient circumspection, or their judgment in noting down impartially what is to be observed, or if we suspect the methods or instruments employed, then we reject the observa. tions altogether, if it should be out of our power to diminish the errors which have been committed. Therefore, as no means exist of easily controlling the degree of conscientiousness with which observations are taken, or of enforcing the qualities of an observer by order, it would be unwise to entrust the superintendence of scientific observations to any other persons, than such as would take personal interest in the subject, and give reason to suppose that they are also able to perform the duty in the best manner.

Here also the adoption of a judicious system of supporting private exertions, whenever circumstances do not permit a strict supervision to be exercised by qualified persons, seems to be the only way to obtain useful results. To medical officers, teachers at colleges and other persons, declaring their readiness to send in regular returns, the purchase of good and verified instruments might be facilitated, and the instruments supplied at the public expense, and if required some small pecuniary assistance might be given to ensure regularity in the observations. Such a plan was adopted at the recommendation of Baron Humboldt in Prussia, where the expense of thirty-one meteorologic stations amounts to not more than about 3,960 rupees a year, the instruments being verified every year, some being private property and others supplied by Government. This sum includes, besides other necessary expenses, small compensations to some of the observers, and a salary to a scientific man who has to superintend the whole and to frame the yearly reports. In India such a sum would of course not be sufficient, but the cost would probably not exceed the amount yearly thrown away upon useless observations and bad instruments. In meteorology as in other branches of Natural Science, many men will be found in India, ready to welcome on opportunity of uniting their efforts to assist in the exploration of the country.

We should perhaps not have felt called upon to bring the subject of these pages before the public, had not the despatch of the Court of Directors of last year, desiring the establishment of uni. versities in this country, held out strong hopes that the Court of Directors contemplated a decided step in favour of the creation of independent resources for scientific research in connexion with the educational department in India. Under these circumstances it is the duty of every scientific man in this country to support such intentions to the best of his power, by exhibiting as far as his experience goes, the real features of the existing state of things.

Reviewing our scientific condition, we find, that the progress in Indian exploration is mainly influenced by the incidental influx of competent and more or less independent men from Europe, which is not continuous, but subject to fluctuation in long and irregular intervals. If scientific or other bodies in Europe wish to obtain a knowledge of circumstances relating to physical or other natural peculiarities of India, they can find no information in our journals, they cannot apply to scientific authorities here, but have to send out men expressly for the purpose, just as they would send them into wild and unknown countries. Reasons such as those detailed above sufficiently prevent the development and application of scientific talents in the Honorable East India Company's service, so as to compel our own Government to have recourse to Europe, if they wish to obtain men fit for the execution of most duties requiring scientific erudition. With the establishment of universities the whole of this unfortunate state of things might be reversed. When, in addition to the necessary improvements already touched upon, complete physical and chemical laboratories for general scientific instruction shall have been established, and facilities provided for a regular supply of the materials requisite for every kind of scientific investigation, then a sojourn of a number of years in this country may become a desirable object to persons of the highest scientific attainments, and India will never be in want of men to turn its opportunities to advantage. To effect such a revolution is evidently one of the objects of the proposed erection of universities. They would form common centres to which every scientific man in the country might refer for assistance, advice, and instruction and for a just appreciation of his labours. They will, however, not realise such expectations, nor even secure a sound instruction to the students, unless such implements be provided, and the representatives of the different departments of Science placed in such positions as would enable them to test the validity of their own judgment in scientific matters. Our present arrangements in this respect are still so incomplete, that the most eminent natural philosopher in Europe, if taken away at this moment, without his books, journals, instruments and collections, and transplanted to one of the capitals of India, would find himself in the same position as a skilful seaman, shipwrecked in a boat on the open sea, and without the means of directing its course.

Men, who have not had the advantage of a scientific education, not being aware of the intimate connexion between research and instruction, might be led to infer that the establishments contem

« PreviousContinue »