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REMARKS ON THE PRESENT STATE
OF SCIENCE IN EDINBURGH.
ture throughout that greater departe ment of the inhabitants of this city
who are less directly connected with MR EDITOR,
the business of education and I now In a former letter I endeavoured to proceed, in pursuance of my original give some account of the circum- design, to offer, on the same general stances which have raised this north- plan, a short sketch of the science of ern metropolis to that high rank as this place, as it is allowed to exist at a seat of learning, which, throughout the present moment. the whole of Europe, it is now allow 1st, Proceeding, then, in the same ed to hold. There are three cire order as in my former observations, cumstances, you will readily perceive, it is scarcely necessary that I should to which a University may be indebt- stop to remark, that the medical de ed for the fame it may have acquire partment of this University continues ed. It may be possessed of a supe- to be conducted with the same ability rior plan of education to that which and success as at any former period. is embraced by contemporary semina. So widely, indeed, is the fame of this ries, or its teachers may be distin- seminary diffused, especially as guished for the assiduity and zeal school of medical instruction, that, if with which they are disposed to dis- we may believe a late, though I am charge the duty entrusted to them,- afraid rather a suspicious account, the or its members may have connected merits of this city, in this department themselves, by the importance of their of knowledge, have even been the discoveries, with the improvements theme of some interesting conversawhich science itself has been receiv- tion among the distinguished inhabiing. Now, if my object in my for- tants of the island of St Helena. But mer letter had been to attend particu- whatever may be the truth of this aclarly to the first of these circumstan- count, there are some obvious circumces, I should have been led to discuss stances which cannot fail to have a the important question, which has very powerful effect in preserving this frequently been agitated during re- institution during many years, in cent years, respecting the comparative much of the vigour which it has himerits of those plans of education therto enjoyed. So recent, indeed, is which have been adopted by the Eng- the institution itself, that the names lish and by the Scotch Universities. of several of its founders are still held An examination of the second circum- by some of the most distinguished instance, again, would have necessarily dividuals who now support the fame led me into details of character which of this school,—and the whole body are unsuitable to the object for which have thus not only the incitement I write, and which could also have which the flourishing state of this seafforded but little information to the minary presents, but that further very generality of readers. In my former powerful inducement which springs communication, therefore, I endea- from the recollection of the men they voured, though in a very rapid and have succeeded, to preserve their general manner, to give some account school from falling from the rank of the third circunstance I have no- which it is known to have held under ticed ; and I trust your readers have their illustrious predecessors. The not forgotten the conclusion in which medical school of this city, however, my observations terminated,- that not it must further be recollected, is by only has the University of this city no means confined to that course of kept pace in the career of instruction instruction which is afforded by the it has adopted, with the great ad- established routine of the University, yances which science has been making - lecturers of the very highest merit, during the preceding century, but and in every department of medical that there is scarcely a single depart. science, surround with the salutary ment of science which has not derived efficacy of their zeal, the established some of its most valuable improve- seat of academical instruction; and so ments from individuals connected powerfully does this spirit of lecturwith this seminary. To these obser- ing prevail, that no sooner is there a vations I added some further details probability of students being obtained respecting the circumstances which for any new department, than indihave extended the influence of litera- viduals of high accomplishment are
ready to offer themselves as instruc- sublimest achievements of human getors in this line. Within these few nius are open only to those who are years, two lectureships, which appear intimately acquainted with the writto myself to be of infinite importance, ings of mathematicians; and that not, indeed, to what is more properly though a man were thoroughly inthe business of a physician, but to a formed as to all the other departinents perfect system of medical instruction, of knowledge, if he is ignorant of all have been instituted in this way, hy that the mathematicians have done, gentlemen of the very highest medi- he belongs but to a secondary clase in cal acquirements,-I mean the class the republic of letters. I am decidedof Physiology-and that of Compara- ly of opinion, at the same time, that tive Anatomy. Your reailers, I am this acknowledged deficiency (which persuaded, will readily perceive the is common, as I have said, to both devalue of both these institutions,—the partments of this island) is by no one from its tendency to give just means to be attributed to any thing philosophical icleas of a profession untivourable on the part of the nawhich has always been remarkable tives. Britain has in fact the honour for substituting the utmost wildness of having produced, in better days, of theory, in the place of well esta the most accomplished mathematiblished and instructive facts,-and cians that ever lived; and the mathethe other not oply from its adlapta- matical chair of the University of this tion to throw much additional light city has been filled, during the long on the interesting system of the ani- period of a century and a half, by men mal economy, but from its intimate whom the voice of Europe has decidconnection with those other important edly placed in the very first rank of speculations which now employ the scientific accomplishment. The dephilosophical world. From these ob- fect I have mentioned, therefore, can servations, however, your readers will only exist in the peculiar nature of perceive, that the medical school of our public institutions; and I think I this place is not only rich in remem- shall have little difficulty in making brances of the eminent men who have your readers understand how the matformerly superintended and guided its ter stands in this respect, in so far as instructions, but is also guarded from this northern department of the island decay by the salutary rivalship which is concerned. is allowed to take place between the The truth then seems to be, that, members of the University and those in order to have a system of public inunendowed lecturers who are altoge- struction, which shall be peculiarly ther dependent on the success of their propitious to the cultivation of themalabours ;-and that on both these ac- thematics, two things are absolutely counts we may indulge the hope, that necessary. It is necessary, in the first the University of this city in its medic place, that the education of the stucal department will long continue to dent, in the branches subsidiary to be regarded as one of the first schools this departinent, be begun almost which Europe possesses.
with the first instruction which his 2d, The low state of mathematical boyhood receives; and, secondly, that learning in this country has now be- when he comes to enter more decidedcome a subject of very general regretly upon the great field of mathemaamong the votaries of that science; tical research, his attention be not too both departments of Britain, indeed, powerfully solicited by other pursuits are at present far behind most of the which are of a more attractive, but Continental nations in mathematical far less important nature. On the acquirements ; but Scotland, in parti- continent of Europe, accordingly, cular, has long been on the decline in where, during the last thirty years, this respect, and nothing is more come mathematical learning has made such mon than to hear it lamented, that prodigious advances, the first of these the lighter and more disputatious requisites is universally admitted ; kinds of philosophy have completely and the example of England seems to destroyed any taste we possessed for sanction the necessity of the other, by the more valuable demonstrations of consecrating one of her academical the exact sciences. Now this, I readi- seats almost exclusively to the cultily confess, is a very great evil-for it vation of mathematical science. It is is unquestionable, that by far the needless for me to remark on how very
different a system our education is at the latter of these objects. I think present conducted. Most of our youth you will also agree with me, that, when begin their career of liberal study with the latter of these objects chiefly is the most scanty acquaintance with the in view, there is no plan of instruction art of calculation which can well be which a University could adopt that is imagined ;-they are far, therefore, less adapted for accomplishing its defrom being masters of that preparatory sign, than that which should assign to language in which the most import- mathematical learning an importance ant discoveries of science are contain- paramount to that of every other study. ed ;-while, at the same time, from Nothing, I apprehend, can be more the order in which their mathematic evident than that the kind of reasoncal studlies occur, they are inevitably ing in which mathematicians indulge solicited by the very powerful temp- is essentially different from that by tation of resigning the fatigue of ab- which all the business of life is acstract investigations for the more splen- complished ;-no man thinks, in his did attractions of those departments of ordinary occupations, in the language philosophy, with the language of which or in the train of a mathematical dethey are of course perfectly acquainted. monstration; and the best habits of From all this, it necessarily results, that study, for the business of life, must the mathematical acquirements, of by evidently be those by which the mind far the greater number of those who is prepared in the most effectual manattend our Universities, are left in the ner for understanding those trains of most unfinished state; and that though moral reasoning, which are constanta few are occasionally carried by the ly called for by our ordinary occupaimpulse of genius to the prosecution tions, it is upon these grounds that I of studies for which they are peculiar- have ventured to assert, that though I ly adapted, many also who might have deeply lament the neglect of matheattained the highest eminence in the matics, considered as the most essendepartment of mathematical and ana tial training for a philosopher, I am lytical learning, are seduced by the not, however, so certainly convinced, temptations which are thrown in their that, by the prevailing taste for other way into the more fascinating paths of pursuits, we have been greatly losers, metaphysical research, or into the still in so far as the ability of our people is more alluring retreats of polite learning. concerned, for the scenes of active and
After all, I am not certain, that, in manly occupation. one very important respect, we lose 3d, We have long been considered greatly by this course of study. A as decidedly a metaphysical generasystein of liberal education may be tion; and the general belief of foreignregarded as destined to the accom ers seems to be, that our education is plishment of two different objects. It almost entirely confined to abstract may either be considered as adapted disquisitions respecting cause and et for the training of men who are to be fect. I am disposed to believe that distinguished in the walks of scienti- there is something in the genius of fic research,-or as fitted for convey- our people which peculiarly fits them ing to the mass of the community (to for such investigations ;-we are unthat part of the community at least questionably an acute and a reflecting whose circumstances lead them to li- people, and no person who has attenberal study) such a general acquaint- tively considered the tendencies of ance with all the departments of know- our countrymen, can fail to have reledge, as may at once liberalize their marked with what cordial satisfacown minds, and prepare them for en- tion even the lowest of our peasantry gaging with ability and success in the receive those curious mixtures of mysdiversified scenes of active life. Now, ticism and of metaphysics which are I have not the smallest hesitation in still too frequently substituted by saying, that, if these two objecis are their ecclesiastical instructors for the found to be incompatible, the last is pure and simple morality of the gosthat which ought most certainly to be pel. While I am thus readily disposed, preferred; and I think it is equally however, to admit the existence of clear, that, whatever may have been something in the original constitution the case with the Universities of Eng- of our minds, which is peculiarly faland, the founders of our seminaries vourable to abstract investigation, I at least had more distinctly in view think it is evident, on the other hand,
that the degree to which such pure individual has given much attention suits have long been prevalent among to this study in his youth, he never us is chiefly to be attributed to the fails to display in after life a depth of manner in which our studies at the understanding, and a philosophical University are conducted. I have al- mode of considering his subject, with ready remarked, that the choice is which no other sort of preparation there at once presented to the student could have so effectually gifted him. between the dry demonstrations of the Enriched as this study now is with exact sciences, and the fascinating dis- many beautiful speculations respectcussions of metaphysical inquiry ;-he ing the philosophical principles of crimust, in fact, either become a mathe- ticism and taste, as well as with a matician, ora pneumatologist; and it is very successful analysis of some of the easy to perceive, that, with the gene- most important operations of the hurality of students, this latter study, man understanding, it promises, I which requires no previous acquaint- think, to shed a radiance round phiance with a peculiar symbol, and no losophy which must greatly facilitate long preparation for unfolding its niys- her progress to perfection ; and though teries, will naturally become the fa- of itself it is evidently quite inadevourite pursuit. We accordingly con- quate to furnish the mind with a come sider ourselves as adepts in all that is plete assortment of knowledge, I am valuable in philosophy, when we have yet persuaded, that, among all the devoted a year or two to one of its de- various departments of study considerpartments, and believe, with the usu- ed as a preparation for future real conceit of ignorance, that nothing is searches, this is the one which could worthy of being investigated or known least easily be dispensed with. beyond that with which we are par Important, however, as I consider ticularly acquainted.
this department of science to be, I am I ought, however, to remark, that afraid, that, with regard to the numwhat we now class under the head of ber of its active cultivators, it is at premetaphysics, is in reality a study of a sent in rather a declining condition. very different description from that The excitement given to the ambiwhich formerly passed under the same tion of the studious by the publicadenomination. Improved as every tion of the metaphysical essays of department of philosophy has been in Reid, has long been replaced by other modern times, and, indeed, within the fascinations. So immense a range of comparatively short period of a cen- study is now opened to the inquisitive, tury and a half, this great department that a small portion either of inclinacould not possibly escape the same tion or of leisure is necessarily left for meliorating influence. It has accord- those patient investigations by which ingly risen, as you well know, from only the philosophy of mind can be being a mighty mass of ill-assorted carried to perfection ; and, though reasonings, to the dignity of a science this science has had the peculiar adof the very first importance ; and, vantage of being illustrated and imthough I am ready to allow, that, from proved by one of the most eloquent the very nature of the study, a person individuals of modern times, it is nomay be acquainted with all its details, torious that the number of those who and possessed of a very scanty are devoted to this study is limited portion of knowledge, I hold it to be and defective in a remarkable degree. equally certain, that no individual can Much, I think, might be expected do justice to this study, without ob- from the ability and accomplishments taining an acquaintance with the rules of the eminent individual who now of investigation, and with the capacity presides over the principal department and limits of the human understand- of metaphysical study in this Univering, which he could not equally de- sity. That gentleman is known to be rive from any other source. I con- gifted not only with metaphysical tasider the philosophy of mind, there- lents of the very first order, but with fore, as it is at present conducted, to a taste also for what is elegant in every constitute by far the most valuable branch of literature, which is of inof all the parts of that discipline to finite importance 10 the cultivation of which a well educated youth is requir- his science ; and I cannot help, there's ed to submit. Indeed, I think I have fore, expressing a hope, that, with ail always perceived, that whenever an these advantages, he will soon ful
fil the very splendid promise of his authority, the system of the Neptunearly youth, and will relinquish theists seems to be almost universally re“ unprofitable art of Poesy," to de- garded as more consistent with the vote himself, without interruption, to conclusions of observation, and with the improvement of a science, on which the rules which should guide a philohe is qualified to confer the most im- sophical investigation. portant benefits, and which cannot In one very important respect I befail, when successfully improved, to lieve you will agree with me in thinkshed a most auspicious light on all ing, that the victory which has been the departments both of liberal know gained was devoutly to be wished for. ledge, and of elegant learning. The views of the Huttonians, it ought
4th, Your readers, I presume, are never to be forgotten, were confined acquainted with the interest which to the establishment of a philosophithe researches of geology have recently cal hypothesis respecting the order excited in every country of Europe. which takes place in the transformaMany circumstances, however, contri- tions of our globe. The author of buted to give this study, and its kin- that theory was himself but imperdred pursuits, a more than ordinary fectly acquainted with mineralogical fascination for the scholars of this details. The most distinguished of land. One of the rival theories which his supporters have not been remarknow divide the geological world, ori- able for their attainments in this ginated in this city; the arguments science; and it is pretty generally asmost favourable to the positions of serted to be one of their maxims, that that theory, have been chiefly sug- a very correct theory of the earth may gested by facts and appearances cha- be formed upon a very slight foundaracteristic of the rocks which surround tion of mineralogical information. this metropolis. The leading doc- The theory of Werner, on the contrines of the Huttonian hypothesis trary, deserves to be considered as a have been eloquently illustrated by a strict induction from the mineralogidistinguished member of the Univer- cal facts which had fallen under his sity of this place; and on all hands, observation. The most valuable part it is agreed, that the scenery of Scot- of his doctrine, in truth, consists, not land offers one of the most interesting in the theory by which he has exfields of examination which is any plained his arrangement, but in the where presented to the curiosity of a beautiful order it has been his formineralogist. From all these circum- tune to disclose, in the actual distristances, it was naturally to be expect- bution of mineral substances. His ed that a strong prejudice would be disciples have distinguished themawakened in this country in favour of selves by a most persevering industry that theory which was of native in collecting observations in every growth, and against any views which quarter of the globe ; and his theory might aim at its subversion. Upon the itself is so constructed, as to admit of promulgation of the doctrine of the any modifications or changes which German mineralogist, a strenuous ef- the progress of observation may show fort was accordingly made to lessen its to be necessary. In these circumcredit, and to refute its details. The stances, I think you will agree with learned of this metropolis were invito me in believing, that, had the doced to witness the public disputations trine of the Huttonians obtained the of the leading antagonists, and no- ascendancy, we should have become thing was heard, even in the politest indeed the disciples of a most capticompanies, but discussions of the me- vating hypothesis, and might have, rits of the Neptunists and Plutonists. further, been able, in our ordinary The former party, however, appear to conversations, to pass with the uthave obtained a decisive superiority; most familiarity and dispatch,“extra the voice of the majority is at least, flammantia mænia mundi,” into those at this moment, unequivocally in pri scenes of antiquated nature of their favour,-and, though it is gene- which the impressive memorials are rally allowed that the theory of the every where around us-(a power unHuttonians was peculiarly worthy, questionably of no ordinary fascinafrom the grandeur and novelty of the tion)-but that we had little chance views which it disclosed, of the exer- of seeing our own puny department tions which were made to support its of the world examined and traversed