Obrazy na stronie

But when we find their works maintaining a great and long-continued popularity, we must admit the general veri-similitude of their pictures of life. Those pictures are not flattering. The Anglo-Normans were great lovers of pleasure, in the pursuit of which they allowed themselves unbounded license. They were fond of the chase, and of all sorts of manly sports. In their convivial meetings they keenly discussed the merits of the viands, which they consumed with admirable goût. “ The wines were the subject of no less anxious discussion than the meats, and were the cause of still greater excesses, in which the natives of our island are more especially accused of indulging.” The schools were filled with pride and vanity. The rich squandered their money on base jonglours and minstrels, instead of applying it to the encouragement of true learning and merit. The ambition and cupidity of barons and prelates filled the land with strife and confusion. Such is the representation given by John de Hautville, whose poem had a great circulation in the 13th and 14th centuries, and was so highly esteemed that it was made the subject of learned commentaries.”—(Biographia, i., 250.)

Grievous faults there are in our present social system ; but no one who has read history, and possesses a grain of sober reason or candour, can deny that it is incomparably purer and better than it was in the Middle Ages. None but the most diseased enthusiast can wish the institutions of those ages to return. The spirit of those institutions has been inveterately inimical to the best interests of man. Against that spirit the progress of the nation in freedom, intelligence, and wealth, has been a deadly contest; and to the laws and habits established by the Anglo-Norman Conquest may be distinctly traced everything in our civil polity which militates against the peace and prosperity of British society at the present time.

ART. VI.-1. Correspondence of the late JAMES WATT on his

Discovery of the theory of the Composition of Water, with a Letter from his Son. Edited, with Introductory Remarks and un Appendix, by JAMES PATRICK MUIRHEAD, Esq., F.R.S.E.

London, 1846. 2. Historical Eloge of JAMES WATT. By M. ARAGO, Perpe

tual Secretary to the Academy of Sciences. Translated from the French, with Additional Notes and an Appendix, by JAMES PATRICK MUIRHEAD, Esq., M.A. of Balliol College,

Oxford, Advocate. London, 1839. 3. Address to the Meeting of the British Association held at Bir

mingham August 26, 1839. By the Rev. W. VERNON HAR

COURT. London, 1840. 4. Lives' of Men of Letters and Science who flourished in the time

of George 111. By HENRY LORD BROUGHAM, F.R.S., Member of the National Institute of France, and of the Royal Academy of Naples. Life of WATT, Vol. i. p. 352. Life of CAVENDISH, Vol

. i. p. 429, and Note to their Lives. Vol. q. p. 507. London, 1846. 5. Letter to HENRY LORD BROUGHAM, F.R.S., containing re

marks on certain statements in his Lives of BLACK, WATT, and CAVENDISH. By the Rev. WILLIAM VERNON HARCOURT, F.R.S., &c. London, 1846.


The controversy respecting the discovery of the composition of water, which has been for some years agitating the philosophical world, is, perhaps, when viewed in all its aspects, the most remarkable which has occurred in the history of science. The two illustrious men whose claims have thus come into collision, have been immortalised in separate fields of discovery, and whatever verdict may be pronounced by the tribunals of science in reference to their disputed rights, it can neither dim their reputation ‘nor sully their name. When, in the struggles of fame, the laurel wreath which is to deck the victor, must be previously torn from another's brow, and when he who is to wear it acquires no fresh honour, and he who is to lose it loses all that he has acquired, the strife becomes one of personal and national feeling in which our deepest sympathies are engaged, and an element of bitterness is thus introduced into the contest, which seldom fails to disturb the serenity of argument, and stain the purity of truth. In the present controversy, however, no such feeling should find

a place. Wealth, and honour, and fame fell to the lot both of Watt and Cavendish. They lived on friendly terms as members of the same scientific body, and placing upon record their opinions and their deductions, they left it to posterity to decide the questions which had placed them in antagonism. 1 ks!

It is one of the painful results of controversy of every kind, bút especially of that variety of it in which the claims to great inventions and discoveries are agitated, that questions at first simple and of easy solution, become complicated in their details and personal in their allusions when they are handled by subordinate agents and by partial friends. The arbiter, whose name is to be coupled with his verdict, and whose fame that verdict might impeach, will tread with caution the sacred arena on which immortality is to be dispensed ; while the obscure or anonymous usurper of the judicial functions will ply his dialectics in útter disregard of truth and science, and scatter his insinuations and his paralogisms, heedless of the interests he may damage, or of the feelings he may wound. But though the special pleader disturbs the forum of science as well as that of law and justice, the rules of evidence are the same in all, and when the principles of adjudication are based on reason and equity, and not on statute, we might expect from that enlightened jury which time will sooner or later empánnel for the assize of knowledge, a verdict fr which

there will be no appeal. Priority of invention and priority of publication may be established with the same certainty as other disputed facts, and unless the competing inventions and discoveries vary greatly in their character and amount, rival claims may be adjusted even to the satisfaction of the contending parties. To assign to each competitor the degree of merit which belongs to him is a question often of feeling more than of fact; and we may expect in the future, as we have fonnd in the past, that the halo which adorns the hero or the sage will vary in its hue and in its lustre with the eye that sees it, and the aspect in which it is seen.

. . 44 ، In the controversy which it is one of the objects of this article to discuss, the grand truth that water is not one of the elements, as it was always believed to be, but a 'compound body consisting in certain proportions of two gases oxygen and hydrogen, into which it can be decomposed, and out of which it can be formed, might have been developed in successive steps by a number of 1. different individuals, each of whom exhibited different degrees of sagacity and talent. To conjecture even the very improbable fact that water is formed of two different kinds of sair, was a bold and an original idea ; and if it led others to establish that conjecture or liypothesis by experiment, it then became entitled

to a high degree of praise. But if the conjecture liad been der duced by a process of reasoning founded on observations and experiments,-if its author persisted in maintaining it as a probable truth, and sought its confirmation from the experiments and labours of others, we cannot but regard him as the inventor of a theory of the composition of water, and award to him a very high degree of praise when that theory has been confirmed by others, --the nature and properties of the two gases accurately determined, and water actually recomposed by the combination of its constituent elements. The speculator even, who by the torsion of liis divining rod directs the miner to the vein of gold, does not merit inferior praise to the man that follows his advice and excavates the ore; but if he corroborates the doubtful indications of his magic wand by experiments derived from the structure of the rocks as ascertained by geologists, the value of his conjecture would be greatly increased, and he might confidently expect some meed of praise from the public, and some remuneration from the proprietor whom he had enriched. 11 - Before entering on the discussion of this question, and analysing the new details which are brought out in the Correspondence of Mr. Watt now published for the first time, we must give our "Teaders some account of the origin and history of the controversy as indicated in the array of works which appear at the head of this article. *puss. After the death of Mr. Watt in August 1819, his son, the present Mr. James Watt, became possessed of his papers, and found tied up in a separate bundle his letters to Dr. Priestley, M. de Lnc, and others, with press copies of his answers relative to his views respecting the composition of water. As the public were likely to take a deep interest in every thing connected with the - life and discoveries of one of its greatest benefactors, Mr. James !1Watt submitted these papers to some of his scientific friends, and gave an account of them to others. After a careful examination

of them, Mr. John Corrie, President of the Philosophical Associaotion of Birmingham, a gentleman of high literary and scientific attainments, was led to form the same opinion with Mr. Watt, that his father first conceived and published the theory of the composition of water. In 1820, Dr. Henry, of Manchester, formed the same opinion, and, after inspecting the original correspond:ence in 1835, when the question was under public discussion, ho } expressed his intention of writing a History of Chemistry, in

which, he said, he should do justice to Mr. Wait's claims. When 2: Mr. James Watt was in Edinburgh in the same year, he made a similar communication to the late Dr. Hope and to Sir David Brewster, but these gentlemen not having seen the correspondence,

and judging only from the previously published documents, did not entertain the same opinion of the case as Mr. Corrie and Dr. Henry.* In the year 1823, in the life of Mr. Watt published in the Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Mr. James Watt published for the first time a brief notice of his father's claims to the discovery of the theory of the composition of water. This statement seems to have been received as unobjectionable both by the chemists of the day, and the personal friends and admirers of Mr. Cavendish, and it was not till 1839, when Mr. Muirhead's translation of M. Arago's Eloge on Watt was published, that the controversy commenced.

When M. Arago in 1834 attended a meeting of the British Association in Edinburgh, he paid a visit to Mr. James Watt, in order to collect materials for the life of his father, who was one of the eight foreign members of the National Institute of France. He was then put in possession of all the facts and documents which related to Mr. Watt's claims, and the strong and decided opinion which he formedon the subject was publishedin his Eloge of Watt, which was read to the Institute on the 8th December 1834. In the summer of that year Mr. James Watt called the attention of Lord Brougham to the facts and documents which had been submitted to M. Arago. Lord Brougham suggested an examination of Mr. Cavendish's papers, and obtained for Mr. Watt the Duke of Devonshire's permission to inspect them. Mr. Watt, with much good taste, requested Mr. Hatchett and Mr. Brande, two of the ablest chemists of the day, to undertake the task. Mr. Hatchett reported to Mr. Watt that he had found nothing to indicate the period when Mr. Cavendish’s conclusion was formed, and Mr. Brande, after searching the books of the Royal Society, expressed his opinion that the records which he there found were satisfactory as to the priority of Mr. Watt's claims; in short, leave nothing further to be said against them.”+

In the year 1839, after the appearance of M. Arago's Eloge, the Rev. Mr. Vernon Harcourt, in his Address to the British Association at Birmingham, took occasion to discuss the respective claims of Mr. Watt and Mr. Cavendish. He rejects those of Mr. Watt as entirely without foundation, and assigns to Mr. Cavendish the sole and undivided merit of the discovery of the composition of water.

The views and arguments of Mr. Harcourt, which occupy a prominent place in his very able address to the Association, pro

* See Correspondence, fic. Letter from Mr. James Watt to the Editor, pp. 4, 5. * Ibid., p. 12.

« PoprzedniaDalej »