« AnteriorContinuar »
of an introduction to our late lamented and venerated king, who ever after his first acquaintance with his merits as a philosopher, and his character as a man, exhibited towards him a partiality, as well founded as it was flattering; took great delight in his society; and, on all occasions, most zealously promoted his interests and his views. He particularly consulted him on the subjects of gardening and farming, pursuits to which he is known to have been extremely attached ; and would often send for him to give his advice on these points, keeping him in conversation upon them for three or four hours at a time; and walking, as he did so, in his gardens, and the adjacent country, as many miles. This distinguished countenance was not, we may be assured, without its influence in advancing the subject of this memoir to the presidency of the Royal Society, on the resignation of sir John Pringle, in 1777; in consequence of a dispute on the relative merits of pointed and blunt conductors of the electric fluid; when his warm adherence to the reasoning of Dr. Franklin upon the subject, most unaccountably exposed him to the marked displeasure of the royal family, and more especially of its then illustrious head, who unhappily either could not, or would not, distinguish the support of a theory, of the American philosopher, from an approval of the sentiments of the American republican, or, as his majesty ever held Dr. Franklin to be one of the most active and determined of the American rebels. The seat of his successor was far, however, from being an easy one; for though by his devoted and successful pursuit of an extensive, if a particular department of science, he was, perhaps, as well qualified for the high station to which he was elevated, as' the distinguished physician, and medical philosopher, who retired from it; whilst his liberality and zeal in furthering the pursuits of science, and the dedication of his ample fortune to these objects, gave even the advantage to his claims, it is not to be dissembled, that too much of favouritism and court influence were apparent in an election, which would otherwise have not only been unobjectionable, but peculiarly proper. It was some time, however, before the sinothered discontent burst into a flame; but the marked, and, therefore, the imprudent, preference given in the meetings of the society under the new president, to papers on natural history, heaped up additional fuel on materials already sufficiently combustible; and in Dr. Horsley, bishop of St. David's, afterwards of Rochester, the malcontents, whose leaders were chiefly, if not entirely, mathematicians, found a person every way fitted to fire the train. Under him, therefore, a regular and rancorous
opposition to the president was commenced, and continued for some time, in a spirit most unworthy the men of letters, and the philosophers who engaged in it. So high, indeed, was the dispute at one time carried, so warm the language which those embarked in it employed, that at one of the meetings of the society, Dr. Horsley publicly and openly asserted, that “ Science herself had never been more signally insulted, than by the elevation of a mere amateur to occupy the chair once filled by Newton.” In another speech, delivered whilst the object of his merciless attack filled himself the chair, in threatening a division of the society, he thus repeated and enlarged upon this indignant vituperation : Sir, we shall have one remedy in our power, if all others fail; for we can, at last, secede. When that fatal hour arrives, the president will be left with his train of feeble amateurs; and this toy upon the table (pointing to the mace), the ghost of that society, in which Philosophy once reigned, and Newton sided as her minister.” Previous to the delivery of the last severe philippic, the original breach had been widened by the dismissal of Dr. Hutton, professor of mathematics in the Royal Military College at Woolwich, from the office of secretary for foreign correspondence, on a charge of neglect of duty, which was not substantiated, at least to the satisfaction of his friends; and as his dismissal certainly originated in party feelings, it most probably had little, if any, foundation in truth. The opposition party in the society, of which he, as one of its most eminent mathematical members, had been a leader, succeeded, indeed, in carrying a vote of thanks to him for his services. A similar resolution was moved in favour of the president, but violently opposed by some of the leading and most eminent men in the society; amongst whom Dr. Hutton, baron Maseres, and Mr. Glennie, distinguished themselves by the very strong terms in which they expressed their dissent. In bitterness as in eloquence, they were, however, far excelled by the bishop of St. David's, who, upon this occasion, delivered a speech replete with the virulent invective and unbridled indignation, of which we have just given a specimen. They failed, nevertheless, in their object; the president, once firmly seated in the chair, could not be driven from it: and, in the course of a few years, by his suavity of manners, liberality, and gentlemanly conduct, he succeeded in calming the storm, and allaying even the appearance of discontent. On the 29th of March, in the year 1779, he altered his condition, by espousing Dorothea, daughter and coheiress of William Weston Hugesson, Esq., of Provender, in the parish of Norton, Kent; a lady by whom he had no issue, and who still survives him. This union occasioned not, however, any alteration in his habits, in as far as the patronage of science was concerned. His house in Soho Square was still thrown open to her votaries, and he became every year more and more decidedly the centre round which were attracted the native philosophers of the country, and those whom the spirit of research brought hither from foreign lands. The latter, especially, always met with the most hospitable reception in his house, in which a weekly conversazione was regularly held during the sitting of parliament, and of the Royal Society; where new discoveries of every kind were communicated and discussed ; rare and curious specimens of the various productions of nature, and the ingenious works of art, exhibited; and plans suggested and arranged for the general diffusion of scientific information. Then, as at all times, his unique collection of books and specimens, illustrative of the various branches of natural history, were open to the inspection of the curious in those departments of science, who had never any difficulty in procuring access to these copious and invaluable sources of information.
There is one feature, however, in these scientific parties, which, highly useful as we admit them to be in the diffusal of knowledge, we should be abandoning our principles were we to pass it over in silence, or without the reprobation which it merits. They were uniformly held on the evening of the Sunday; and were regarded, there is every reason to suppose, by many of their attendants merely as an agreeable method of killing time, which hung heavily on their hands, when the law closed to their access the theatre and the opera house; and the decencies of life would not permit the majority to finish the day, began by a formal attendance at church, at the card table, or the dance. But even where this was not the case, the subjects discussed were not of a nature to fulfil, but, on the contrary, directly to violate the command of Him who has ballowed the Sabbath to himself, and who will one day make strict inquisition as to the manner in which its sacred hours have been spent. Whilst the titled, the learned, and the rich, spend a large portion of those hours in their scientific conversaziones, where any thing but religion is discussed; in musical parties - sacred the selection is called, because the name of God is taken in vain upon the profanest tongues; - in riotous living, gluttonous feasts, and drunken carousals; to say nothing of their crowded gambling-houses, and private card-tables, more secretly attended - it is a farce, and worse than a farce, to
expect the reformation of the public morals by royal proclamations for the discouragement of vice, or societies for its suppression, by the prosecution of butchers, and bakers, and grocers, for opening their shops, or selling their pennyworths of goods on the Sunday, or the condemnation of tipplers in the ale-house, or loungers in the streets and the fields on that holy day. These things ought certainly to be looked to in every Christian land; but we ought not to overlook the weightier matters, and higher violators of the laws.
In the year 1781, Mr. Banks was created a baronet; and a few years after he received at the hands of his sovereign two very flattering marks of his regard, in being made a member of the Privy-council, and invested with the order of the Bath, of which he was one of the first civilian knights. These honours brought him into closer contact with the nobility and the court, and he improved his increased acquaintance with the higher orders, to enrol many of their members in the society, at whose head he was placed, not, however, without subjecting himself to an imputation, for which there was, perhaps, some slight foundation, of preferring the claims of rank and title to those of merit. In other ways, however, he converted his influence with the great to the advancement of science, whose cause, it is extremely doubtful, whether he injured by introducing to the honour of an F.R.S. some few noblemen, ranking higher in birth than in science, and having more of pecuniary than intellectual wealth. Thus was formed, in a great measure by his instrumentality, the African Association, a society instituted for the purpose of encouraging researches in a quarter of the globe in which the discoveries made within the last twenty years, important certainly as they are, have been dearly purchased by the loss of Ledyard, Houghton, Lucas, Mungo Parke, Pedder, Ritchie, Grey, names to their country and to science dear. This society more immediately originated with a Saturday's club, meeting at the St. Albans Tavern, and of which, besides himself, the late earl of Galloway, the marquess of Hastings, general Conway, sir Adam Ferguson, sir William Fordyce, Mr. Pulteney, Mr. Beaufoy, Mr. Stuart, the late bishop of Llandaff, lord Carysfort, and sir John Sinclair, were members, who, on the 4th of June 1788, formed themselves into a society for the purpose above mentioned, subscribing five pounds each for three years. Sir Joseph Banks was on the same day elected one of the first committee of four; and at one of their earliest meetings, he introduced to them the enterprising adventurer, Ledyard, then just returned from his bold and perilous attempt to cross the Russian
dominions, and Kamtschatka, on foot, for which purpose he had been liberally supplied with pecuniary means by sir Joseph himself, through whose introduction he soon became the first agent of the new association. The favourable ear which government would naturally lend to a person thus connected, and honoured with the distinguished favour of the sovereign, enabled him also to render essential services to our colonies, into several of which, in the West Indies, he got the bread fruit tree of Otaheite introduced, and it bids fair to surpass, both in nourishment and utility, the plantain of those tropical climes. The establishment of an English settlement in New South Wales, was owing, in a great measure, to the earnestness with which he urged the fitness of the spot for the purposes which government had in view; and through life, he took a deep interest in its welfare. At his recommendation also, the extensive shores of New Holland were explored with considerable advantage to the country whose enterprising navigators first bestowed particular attention upon it, and to the progress of science, which first conducted his footsteps to its distant, and then unfrequented shores. Nor did he limit the exertion of his influence to the benefiting of his own country: soon after his return from Iceland, he made representations to the Danish government, in consequence of which a very material amelioration took place in the political and social state of the population of that island. In 1796, he exhibited another proof of his acting on the liberal and philosophical principle that science is of no country or clime, in powerfully and successfully supporting the claims of the republican government of France, to a collection of objects of natural history formed by Labellardie, in the expedition under D’Entrecasteaux in search of La Perouse, but which had fallen into the hands of the English government, by whom it was honourably restored. The zeal with which the president of the Royal Society had pleaded for the restoration, did not go unrewarded; for as soon as the return of peace opened a communication between the two countries, he was chosen a member of the French Institute, an honour the more gratifying, as he was the first foreign associate elected by that body. Of this honour, sir Joseph Banks was not a little proud, and the very warm terms in which he acknowledged, as “the highest and most enviable literary distinction which he could possibly attain," his election as an associate of what he termed - the first literary society in the world,” gave great offence to some of the members of the Royal Society, and even to his royal patron himself; to whom neither the republican