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THE

PHILOMATHIC JOURNAL.

JULY 1824.

ON THE

PHILOMATHIC INSTITUTION,

AND

OTHER SCIENTIFIC AND LITERARY ESTABLISHMENTS.

In the progress of society, it is curious to observe the modes in which the increasing wants of mankind are supplied. As new habits of life become necessary, and are adopted to suit the ever-changing state of human affairs; so, in the intellectual career of nations, their associations for learning, and their institutions for the encouragement of art and science, vary with the circumstances of man, and the condition in which he is placed.

Iu former ages of the world, public schools and colleges appear to have been the only establishments for the communication and advancement of knowledge and literature. There were no societies formed of the middle classes of the community on those principles of mutual advantage, and combined exertion, which are now so generally prevalent. The public institutions which then existed were composed merely of professors and students. There was no literary brotherhood - no general communication or discussion of opinions, nor any equality of sentiment, or independent range of thought. The one class taught, and the other learned or listened; and error was hereditary, because it was unexamined. If there existed any exceptions to the rule, they were few and limited. Perhaps, in some of the monastic institutions, there might be a partial freedom of inquiry. A few individuals, retiring in disgust, or for other causes, from the world in 'which they had lived, might carry into those retreats the means of useful discussion, but the

VOL. I. PART I.

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truths, which these occasional collisions would excite, seldom travelled beyond the walls of their seclusion, and consequently society was little benefited by their researches or speculations.

Perhaps, in the early progressions of the human mind, such a state of things may be unavoidable: but, as experience becomes extended, and as society advances, these deficiencies are perceived, and appropriate remedies are sought for and applied.

The people of modern Europe, as well as of the United States of America, are a very different class of persons from those who lived in previous ages. Those portions which are characterized as the middle classes are infinitely more numerous, as well as more intelligent, than any correspondent or relative part of the ancient population.

It is not our purpose, in this place, to investigate the causes of this remarkable change in the structure of society. We have merely to scan the intellectual requirements of a community thus actually constituted; and it is obvious, that whilst the schools of philosophy and art in ancient times, and the universities which were founded in the middle ages, might be sufficient for their several purposes, and applicable to the wants of society at the periods they were established, a different state of things has arisen which demands and has produced a new species of institution.

It is recorded, indeed, that a literary association was formed in the time of the Emperor Charlemagne; but the little celebrity it attained justifies the conclusion, that it was not suited to the genius of the age in which it existed, and that scarcely any benefit resulted from its example.

Since the revival of letters, and the invention of printing, and since the extended wealth and importance of the great body of the people, societies have naturally arisen, appropriated to the peculiar nature of the public mind. The extension of commercial towns and cities, which are removed from the great seats of learning, haş rendered it desirable, if not absolutely necessary, to resort to new modes of cultivating the human faculties, and of supplying the means both of intellectual gratification and improvement,

It is a remarkable fact that LORD Bacon, to whom the world is so much indebted in every department of philosophy, should have so early pointed out and anticipated the precise character of the institutions which at this day are so popular*.

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* It is worthy of notice also, that he set the example of Essay writing, a species of composition which has since become the vehicle of the most profound, as well as the most delightful truths in moral and intellectual philosophy.

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He recornmended the institution of societies of learned men, who should publish an account of their discoveries and researches. His notion was, that the learned world should constitute one Republic, and, though consisting of many states, should preserve a unity and mutual intelligence. In " the New Atlantis," he describes an institution on an extensive scale for the cultivation of all arts and sciences.

Cowley's plan of a philosophical college was formed at a later date, from the materials supplied by this eminent philosopher

, and CowlėY appears to have led the way to the foundation of the Royal Society.

Although it is now nearly two centuries since the Royal Society originated, (though not since it was established by charter,) it was reserved for the present age to distinguish itself for the number and variety of its scientific and literary establishments. The principal societies of this kind, which flourish in some of the provincial towns, as well as in the metropolis, are too well known to need any particular description. They are distinguished chiefly for experimental science, for the formation of libraries, the collection of philosophical illustrations, specimens, and apparatus, and the reading of lectures and papers. The republic of letters is infinitely indebted to them for many valuable additions to the stock of knowledge which might otherwise have been lost or unnoticed, and which have been published from the result of their labors.

Their " Transactions," indeed, constitute an invaluable record of observation and experiment, which will ever be preserved for the use of mankind.

In bringing before the Public the PHILOMATHIC INSTITUTION as one of the literary establishments of the metropolis, we enter into no competition with any cotemporary.

The principal societies by which modern Europe is adorned, are accustomed to publish, at stated or occasional periods, a journal of their transactions, and the members of the Philomathic, encouraged by the increasing prosperity of their institution, and excited by the example of other so. cieties

, propose to offer to the public notice their contributions to the stock of general knowledge.

not be unimportant to mention, that they are, as a body, of no peculiar sect nor party. It is, indeed, one of their cardinal rules, to exclude all party politics and religious controversy, and even all allusion to those subjects. They presume, therefore, to consider themselves, though individually liable to occasional influence or bias, as collectively INDÉPENDENT and IMPARTIAL; and, from the general and varied

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character of their Society, they anticipate that their labours will not be unsuited to the taste of the reading Public.

The Institution flatters itself, that it possesses some ad. vantages for conducting a periodical and scientific, as well as popular, work. There are already many of the ordinary members who contribute Lectures, Essays, and Poems, which are read before the Society; and the number and importance of the compositions have, for a considerable time, been rapidly increasing. These, it may be observed, are exclusive of the contributions made by the honorary and corresponding members. The Society has also a large collection of original and unpublished manuscripts, independently of its accruing resources,

The Institution was founded in the year 1807, and is com-, posed of a numerous association of persons of literary taste and scientific pursuit. Its objects are to cultivate the intel

and promote the advancement of Science and Letters. Its constitution is of a more extensive and popular character than that of many other societies. It is not limited to one branch of knowledge, nor to any single range of enquiry ;-- it includes, generally, all the departments of Philosophy, of Art, and Literature. The means adopted for the attainment of these objects are greatly diversified. It combines the systematic Lecture, with the brief Essay; and it cultivates Poetry, as well as Eloquence. Its plan includes, also, the formation of a Library of circulation and reference. It has long been encouraged and assisted by many scientific and distinguished men, as honorary and corresponding members; and has for some time received the sanction and patronage of his Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex-a Prince pre-eminently qualified to confer lustre upon its pursuits.

One department of the Institution is that of ORAL DisCUSSION. “In this, we differ from many eminent societies; and some well-meaning persons have taken objections to this part of the plan, as partaking of the character of a debating society, to which they entertain either fear or aversion. It is not, indeed, to be denied, that such societies, when composed chiefly for the purposes of political and religious discussion, should lead to results not always improving or advantageous. The odium which, it seems, formerly attached to debating clubs, arose in'a considerable degree, if not entirely, from the abuses which prevailed amongst them during the æra of the French revolution.

Under proper regulations, and when sectarian and party controversies are strictly excluded, we conceive that the union of oral discussion, with written compositions upon

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science and literature, must be highly beneficial, as well as peculiarly interesting.

Oral discussion possesses this advantage over reading, that a man cannot so readily render it a nurse to his prejudices; he is compelled to hear the opponents, as well as the advocates, of his own opinion; he has an opportunity of weighing opposing facts, and balancing conflicting arguments : both sides of the question are fairly brought before him, most probably with some degree of zeal, and some degree of ability; they are presented to him, as nearly as possible, at the same time; they are presented, too, not in a cold, dry, unattractive form, but with all the ease and spirit of conversation. This mode of discussion cultivates freedom of thought and manliness of action. He whom Providence has enabled to think for himself, should not place his understanding in the keeping of another, he should cherish a principle of mental independence, and scorn to surrender the gift of God to the control of man. To such persons oral discussion affords opportunity for the noblest employment of a rational being, the exercise of reason in the pursuit of truth.

This practice likewise affords an additional motive to the acquisition of knowledge. The mind of man is never satisfied without some object for its pursuits : it is related that a gentleman recovering from sickness, occasioned by sedentary habits, to whom his medical attendants recommended the exercise of walking, found the practice of doing so without an object so disagreeable and fatiguing, that he grew worse instead of better, and was about to relinquish it in despair; when he was advised to go every day to set his watch by a particular clock, at a considerable distance from his residence; and this trifling object was found to be effectual in removing the weariness and disgust with which his walks had previously been attended. He whose walks are in the paths of literature will, like this convalescent, stand in need of an object to animate his progress: if he is in the habit of engaging in oral discussion, he is never without one; not only is he impelled to seek information with regard to the question discussed, but he constantly finds himself in want of various species of knowledge, and is prompted to endeavour to obtain them.

Oral discussion tends to promote accuracy both of thought and language. A considerable part of mankind have no distinct conceptions upon any subject'; they have adopted a certain set of opinions, they know not why, which they are ready at any time to maintain with singular obstinacy; but, not precisely knowing what is their own meaning, they cannot be expected to make themselves intelligible to others. Many

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