« PreviousContinue »
Society, it is to very little purpose they have been of late gears referred to a Committee : siņce, for ought that hath as yet appeared to the contrary, the choice of such papers might almoft as well have been still left to the respective Secretaries.
By this ayowed refusal of the Society to give their suffrage to any relation or argument indiferiminately, their imprimatur is, indeed, so far from being of use, that it may not unreasonably excite a suspicion in the public, that the truest facts, and moft convincing reasonings, are fallacious, or, at best, but proble. matical, ! From what motive then, can this refufal arife? Can it be Suspected, that the Members of this learned and distinguished body, are more anxious for its philosophical reputation, than its public utility? It may become private persons to be modeft and reserved, in passing their judgment even on matters with which they are most intimately acquainted; but such diffidence and reserve would but ill become a corporate body, instituted for the promotion of arts and sciences. Such a body should certainly let flip no opportunity of encouraging scientific pursuits, by rewarding merit at least with their suffrage or applaufe. Whereas, the Committee superintending the publication of the Philofophical Transactions, on the other hand, take the utmost pains to inform the public, that the Society persist in their constant resolution, not to authorize either the relation of the facts, or the propriety of the reasonings, contained in the several papers they occasionally publish. If fuch a knowing and discerning body be really diffident in these matters, they should either sup. press them entirely, or, publishing them, conceal that diffidence; otherwise, what encouragement can be thence given to the scientific pursuits and investigations of individuals. This mistaken conduct of the Society, appears to us, indeed, fo far from answering the end of its institution, viz. that of promoting natural knowlege, that it tends to the reverse;. and is like throwing abroad cold water, to damp the kindling ardour of scientific curiosity.
Again, if this refusal proceeds from the fear of falling sometime or other into an error, the motive appears to arise from the vanity of wanting the world to look upon the Royal Society as ipfallible: and bow far such a motive can be reconciled to its reputation for modefty, let the Reader judge.
It is with very bad grace, therefore, that the advertisement prefixed to some of the preceding volumes of the Transactions, bath been so often repeated, and is still continued; appearing at the head of the present publication.
Our remonftrance on this subject will, in all probability, however, have at present but little effect, as it is declared in the above-mentioned advertisement, that “it is an established rule of the Society, to which they will ALWAYS adhere, never to give their opinion, as a body, upon any subject.” But as we never heard, that the laws of the Royal Society were like those of the Medes and Persians, unalterable, so we conceive, that the lea ned Committee which drew up that advertisement, might, with much greater propriety, take upon them to judge of the veracity of a narrative, or the force of an argument, brought before them, than to determine at any one period of time, 'what will always be the resolution of the Society. No. They will not take upon them to judge of facts and propofitions, like men of fenfe and science, for fear they should be discovered, some time or other, not to be Conjurers: and yet they readily take upon them to determine, as Prophets, what will be the sense of their body an hundred years hence !
We would not be thought captious or severe on a body composed of so many respectable Members: but we are very forry that an intimation we dropt some time ago*, hath not been improved, and that we do not see that respect which is severally due to the individuals, collected and transferred to the whole body. We conceive, indeed, that we discover a good deal of timidity and prejudice, cloaked under the appearance of modefty and candour, in almost all the Transactions and Publicas tions of this Society t. But, is the Academy of Sciences at Paris, or any other in Europe, more capable of judging of the discoveries and improvements in nature or art than the Royal
See Monthly Review, vol. XXVII. page 328. + An instance of this, in a paper of one of its most ingenious Members, we meet with in page 185 of the present volume. In speaking of the conclusions drawn from one of Sir Isaac Newton's experiments in optics, Mr. Murdoch says, “ Several persons of skill and address in optical matters, have produced experiments in contradiction to that of Sir líaac and have affixed meanings to his conclusions, which he never could ina tend, without being grossly inconsistent with himself: an imputation from which common candour and decency ought to have protected so great a name." It is this false veneration for the authority of great names that prevents the advancement of science : the proper end of a great name, which is to excite others to emulation, being thereby dea? feated.—There may be a want of decency ayd candour in the manner of imputing inconsistencies to great men; but certainly there is none in the imputation itself, if founded in truth. We look upon the authority of Sir Isaac Newton to be as far above that of all other Philosophers, as that of the Pope above the whole conclave of Cardinals; but we hold the philofophical infallibility of the one, juft as much as we do the spia ritual infallibility of the other: and conceive those who implicitly credit the one, to be as much bigotted to prejudice, as those who place implicit belief in the other.
Society of London?. Nay, do we not see the latter throw off this false modesty, for the emolument of its Members, in beftowing their prize-medals ? And is the emolument of the public an object less deserving its attention? It is to be hoped not; and that this Society will, either take much more upon them, or much less, in their future publications, as well out of regard to the end of their institution, as for the sake of the community, of which it is so distinguished and shining an ornament.
But to lay aside general reflections, and proceed to the confi. deration of the several articles contained in the present vơ lume. To begin with the Papers on the subject of NATURAL HISTORY; and first with those relative to Animals, Insects; Plants, &c. Art. 10. Is a Catalogue of the Fifty Plants presented to the Society, by the Apothecaries Company, in the Year 1762, pursuant to the
Direction of the late Sir Hans Sloane. Art. 11. Contains Observations on Waps, and particularly the rela
low Walp of Pennsylvania, by Mr. John Bartram, in a Letter to Mr. Peter Collinson.
• I saw several of these wasps, fays Mr. Bartram, flying about a heap of fandy loam: they settled on it, and very nimbly scratched away the fand with their fore-feet, to find their nefts, whilst they held a large Ay under their wings with one of their other feet: they crept with it into the hole that leads to the nest, and staid there about three minutes, when they came out. With their hind feet they threw the fand so dexterously over the hole, as not to be discovered: then taking fight, foón returned with more flies, settled downı, uncovered the hole, and entered in with their prey.
« This extraordinary operation raised my curiosity to try to find the entrance; but the sand fell in so fast, that I was prevented, until by repeated essays I was so lucky as to find one. It was fix inches in the ground, and at the farther end lay a large maggot, near an inch long, thick as a fmall goose quill, with several Aies near it, and the remains of many more. These flies are provided for the maggot to feed on, before it changes ino to the nymph state: then it eats no more untill it attains to à perfect wasp.
« One kind of wasp fabricates an oblong rest of paper-like composition, full of cells, for the harbour of its young, and hangs it on the branch of a tree.
« Some build nests of clay, and feed their young with spiders ; others luftain them with large green grasshoppers ; then there
are thofe that build combs on the ground (like ours in England) to nourish a numerous brood,
. But this yellowish walp takes a different method, with great pains digging a hole in the ground, lays its egy, which foon turns to a maggot, then catches flies to support it, until it comes to maturity.' Art. 16. An account of a remarkable marine Infect, By Mr. An
drew Peter du Port, This is a very remarkable infect, if indeed it be an infect; but we own, from the description here given of it, we think its animality not a little problematical. Not that we suppose Mr; du Pont's Jamaica friend, who communicated it, meant either wilfully to impose on him or the fociety. But as we have known the feeds of plants, and even the minute parrs of fossiles, fometimes mistaken for animals, we could with some farther proof had been given, that the life of this supposed insect was not merely vegetable. Its motions, it is said, indeed, were muscular ; but we understand it was found Aoating on the surface of the water, and in its form it so greatly resembles the leaf of some sea-weed, that we apprehend its animality may be doubted without incurring any imputation of scepticism. Art. 21. An account of a species of Ophris, supposed to be the plant
mentioned by Gronovius in the Flora Virginica, page 185, under the name of, Ophris Scapo nudo foliis radicalibus ovato-oblongis, dimidii scapi longitudine. By Mr. Ehret.
This account is accompanied with a drawing of the plant in power, with its several parts. (Art, 24. Remarks on Swallows on the Rhine. By Mr. Aclard.
We have here an account of the swallows being found in winter, in their torpid state, lodged in holes in the clifts, on the high banks of the Rhine, near Basle in Switzerland. Art. 27. An account of a new Peruvian plant, lately introduced into
the English Gardens. By ivir. Ebret. This plant, Mr. Ehret tells us, was once given him, in a dried state, by Dr. Schlosser of Amsterdam, under the name of Belladona Peruviana minor. Mr. Philip Miller hath christened the present plant by the name of Walkeria, in honour of Dr. Walker, vice-master of Trinity-College Cambridge. And we obferve, it is the last in the list of those presented to the Society. Art. 30. An account of a remarkable fish tak n in Kings road, near
Bristol. By Mr. Fergujon. The species of this filh was not known by the filerment, Rey. Sept. 1764.
though some called it a sea-lion: it was about four feet nine inches in length, and very large in proportion. It struggled violently after it was caught in the net, and was killed with great difficulty. Art. 37. An account of a new die, from the berries of a weed in
South Carolina. By Mr. Moses Lindo. It appears by this account, that the juice of a berry which grows on a weed called Pouck, in Carolina, and falfely supposed to be poisonous, yields a fine crimson die; which is fixed by allum, and converted into a beautiful yellow by lime-water. Art. 44. An account of the irfect called the Vegetable Fly. By Dr.
W. Watson. • The Vegetable Fly is found in the island of Dominica, and (excepting that it has no wings) resembles the drone, both in lize and colour, more than any other English insect. In the month of May it buries itself in the earth, and begins to vegetate. By the latter end of July, the tree is arrived at its full growth, and resembles a coral branch; and is about three inches high, and bears several little pods; which, dropping off, become worms, and from thence flies, like the English caterpillar.' Such is the extraordinary account, which hath been repeatedly transmitted to England concerning this insect: Dr. Watson, however, (or rather Dr. Hill in a letter to the former) gives a very different account of its imaginary vegetation. - There is in Martinique, says Dr. Hill, a fungus of the clavaria kind, different in species from those hitherto known. It produces foboles from its sides. I called it therefore Claviaria Sobolifera. It grows on putrid animal bodies, as our fungus ex pede equins from the dead horse's hoof. The Cicuda is common in Martinique, and in its nympha state, buries itself under dead leaves to wait its change; and when the seafon is unfavourable, may perish. The seeds of the Clavaria find a proper bed on this dead infect, and grow.' This, continues the Doctor, is the fact, and all the fact ; though the untaught inhabitants suppose a fly to vegetate ; and though there exists a Spanish drawing of the plant's growing into a trifoliate tree; and it has been figured with the creature flying with the tree upon its back. Art. 53. An account of the Sea Pen, or Pennatula Phosphorea of
Linnæus; likewise a description of a new species of Sea Pen, found on the coast of South Carolina, with observations on Sea-pens in general. By John Ellis, E/7;
This appears to be a very accurate account of a most extraordinary precies of beings. It is illustrated with three excellent plates, descriptive of the figure and the several parts of those wonderful productions. Mr. Ellis obferves, that, though they greatly