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NOTE On a Pamphlet entilled “Newlon and Flamsteed, by the Rev. Wm. Whewell, M.A., Fellow and Tutor of Trinity College, Cambridge.'
We have a sincere respect for Mr. Whewell-he is a man of vigorous abilities and large attainments, a capital college tutor, and sometimes a very successful writer; but college tutors are apt to conceive rather an overweening idea of their own authority, and they must not be too much surprised if they find themselves occasionally mistaken in the pleasing notion that the world at large is ready to accept their dogmatic assertions with the humility of the striplings over whom they are accustomed to predominate.
Mr. Whewell's Remarks, if they had been worthy of appearing at all, ought to have been addressed, not to the Quarterly Review on Mr. Bailey's work, No. 109, but to Mr. Bailey himself; but Mr. Whewell may have had reasons for the course he preferred. This, however, is nothing ; we regret, quite as sincerely as Mr. Whewell, that he was not able to find one lover of truth to take the task off his hands ;' for, if the case he advocates be indeed that of the truth, he has miserably failed in his attempt to make it out.
His first thrust, and it is a pretty hard one, is aimed at Whiston. « We find no one speaking of Newton as Flamsteed does, except Whiston, whose judgment is perfectly worthless ; for he was a prejudiced, passionate, inaccurate, and shallow man, as might easily be shown.' These are ugly words, but let us see how the fact was. Whiston is always described as a man of great integrity, of uncommon parts, and more uncommon learning : Bishop Hare characterizes him as a man of unblemished character, and rigidly constant himself in the public and private duties of religion. We all know that he was Sir Isaac Newton's deputy in the Lucasian Professorship, and was afterwards his successor, at Sir Isaac's own recommendation. If therefore he was the worthless, shallow person that Mr. Whewell would have us believe him to be, surely it was highly culpable in Sir Isaac to palm such a man on the university. But the secret history of the enmity against Whiston is his conscientious departure from the doctrine of the Church of England, and his adoption of the principles of Arianism ; for which he was cited before the proper authorities, and afterwards expelled the university. Whereas (as Bishop Hare justly remarks) if he had been orthodox in his opinions, he would probably have been cried up as the ornament of the age, and no preferment would have been denied him.'
Mr. Whewell is next pleased to favour us with the startling assertion that Newton's importunities to obtain Flamsteed's Observations excited · no sympathy in Flamsteed,' because Flamsteed was ' unconscious of the nature of the then existing crisis in the history of astronomy'—' he never fully accepted Newton's theory (of gravitation), nor comprehended its nature.' That, if he did not comprehend its nature, he was not likely fully to accept it, we must admit; but in refutation of
Mr. Whewell's audacious dictum, we must also beg the non-under, graduate public to consider, not two, or twenty, detached expressions in the writings of a very indifferent writer, which honest Flamsteed certainly was, but the whole tenour of the correspondence between him, and Newton. That correspondence has no nieaning at all, if it does not clearly prove that no man then living understood Newton's theory better than Flamsteed, and that Newton himself had no suspicion, from first to last, that the greatest practical astronomer of his age was a dunce.
Flamsteed objected to Newton's combining Cassini's observations of the Comet of 1680 with his own, observing It was not only an injury to me, but the nation, to rob our observatory of what was due to it, and further to bestow it on the French,' On this Mr. Whewell says, “With these feelings we can easily imagine that Flamsteed might wish to secure what he conceived due to the character of himself and the nation ;' &c. Might? who can doubt the honour and honesty of those feelings of Flamsteed-unless indeed he does not understand them ?
Again, Mr. Whewell says it is highly probable that Flamsteed, a pious and serious man, was disgusted with what he heard, truly or not, respecting Halley's profaneness and infidelity.' , Mr. Whewell cannot be ignorant that Halley was a self-convicted infidel, and that he lost an honourable and lucrative situation by being so—and therefore it seems more than probable that Flamsteed was disgusted with him. He was also very much disgusted with the committee, who disposed of his Observations contrary to his wishes; and admits that he called them the robbers of his property.' But so they were ; for until he delivered them, for the use of the public, in a state worthy of his reputation as an observer, that reputation—the most valuable pro. perty that poor Flamsteed possessed-was filched from him. That at this altercation Newton betrayed marks of great irritation, Mr. Whewell is not disposed to deny; but he has great doubts that the obnoxious term “puppy' was used by Newton; and when Flamsteed says • he only desired Sir Isaac to restrain his passion, keep his temper, &c.,' Mr. Whewell is pleased to call to his recollection Sir Anthony Absolute, and talks about the demeanour of a very angry man-far too angry to allow us to accept literally what he asserts'-in other words, Mr. Whewell intimates his own opinion that Flamsteed has recorded a lie. Mr. Flamsteed was a clergyman-a devout and pious clergyman-and so, we doubt not, is Mr. Whewell; but we cannot compliment him on the decorum of this passage, which, after all, appears to make out Flamsteed's case. If Mr. Whewell's preju. dice had not blinded him, he must have seen clearly that it was not Flamsteed's intention to overcharge the description, since he employs the mildest term which flowed from Newton's vocabulary Puppy was the most innocent of them,' he says. If therefore Puppy were not the term used, Mr. Whewell is driven to the dilemma of substituting a harder name. But can the public be brought to consider the
whole of this extraordinary scene a mere fiction, solely because Mr. Whewell does not believe it?
Mr. Whewell, with his usual bad fortune, now touches on the delicate affair of the sealed packet confided under a solemn pledige to the care of Sir Isaac Newton-which packet was nevertheless broken open, and the catalogue it contained put to press under Halley's direction. It must be recollected,' says Mr. Whewell,
that any assumption on the part of Flamsteed, that he might deal with the observations made in his official capacity of Astronomer Royal, as if they were his private property, could not be allowed by the guardians of the Institution. It is not true that Flamsteed ever made any such assumption, it is not true that he ever considered them as if they were his private property'—though they actually were so just as much as the excellent Bridgewater Treatise written by Mr. Whewell is its author's private property. But the Guardians of the Institution' could never have done right in giving a pledge and then breaking it—and Flamsteed was perfectly right in believing, what afterwards proved to be the case, that his character as an observer was likely to be endangered by the negligence or wilful errors and misprints in his catalogue, if its publication were confided to the care of his quondam friend Halley. But we are told that the sealed packel, being thus national property, the seal was declared to have been broken by the Queen's command'! What a paltry, pitiful subterfuge! The Queen's command! How often is the name of royalty thus abused! Mr. Whewell, good innocent man! knows nothing of such tricks, or he would have seen that the pretended authority of the Queen was only a cloak for the depredation. But what can be said-what palliation can be foundwhat justification can be adduced--for the conduct of Newton in placing the 175 sheets of MS. observations in the hands of Halley to be printed in a garbled manner, with the erroneous places of the moon annexed ? Surely this could not be for the benefit of astronomy; and Flamsteed might well exclaim that it was the height of trick, ingratitude, and baseness.'
The two last pages of this pamphlet are meant to bear with cruel and crushing weight on the article in our last Number. The attack is made by an appeal to the Preface to Halley's edition of the Catalogue'--the surreptitious, stolen edition, adorned with Halley's own preface, which Mr. Whewell has not the candour to call Halley's. Mr. Whewell, after abusing us for leaning on er parte authorities, rests his mighty charge against us on an appeal to this preface of Hallev's, and invites the reader to decide whether Newton's philosophical and moral character do not come out from this examination (of Halley's preface) blameless and admirable, as they have always been esteemed by thinking men.' Who ever uttered one syllable against either Newton's moral or philosophical character ? Not the Reviewer, nor Mr. Bailey, with the exception of the unhappy incident of the sealed packet and the transactions connected with it-on which
Mr. Bailey Mi. Bailey speaks as every honest man must do, and the Reviewer only quotes Mr. Bailey's words. The readiest and indeed the only mode of extricating Newton from the dirty business in which he was unfortunately involved is to suppose him to have been all along the dupe of Halley's intrigues; and thus allowing him to clear his conscience at the expense of his judgment.
This Preface, however, of that moral character, Halley, is also brought forward to decide whether the Reviewer has not shown extraordinary ignorance of that part of scientific history, &c.' The Reviewer is certainly ignorant of this preface, which is to guide men's judgments; he knows no more of it than what Mr. Whewell has extracted, and that is one tissue of falsehood, as proved in the · Life of Flamsteed:' it is, moreover, damning evidence against Halley. That it is so little known is due to the magnanimity of Flamsteed, who made • a sacrifice to heavenly truth' by burning 300 copies of the .purloined and mutilated book. The extract from this precious preface, given by Mr. Whewell to enlighten mankind, commences with a bold assertion that 'thirty years had nearly elapsed, and nothing had proceeded from the magnificent observatory with which Flamsteed was entrusted. This magnificent observatory was entered by Flamsteed without a chair, or table, or instrument of any kind within its naked walls, all of which he supplied out of his pitiful salary of 1001. a year, assisted by the liberality of his private friends. He left it a 'magnificent observatory,' it is true—and his widow was threatened with a prosecution on the part of government for insisting on keeping what was her own. The Preface' proceeds to say, 'Mr. Flamsteed appeared to have laboured only for himself, or for a small number of friends. Mr. Whewell would have done wisely to have suppressed this passage, for he has himself told us (p. 9) that 'the nation had a large share of Flamsteed's thoughts. He knows, too—if he really has read Mr. Bailey's · Life of Flamsteed'--that Flamsteed worked during many years for Sir Isaac Newton—and supplied him with a long series of observations, which were of the highest service to him and to science. Mr. Whewell says he takes a pleasure in quoting Newton's acknowledgment of having been favoured with those observations, and also his promise that he would not be less just to Flamsteed · for the future'- but he omits to record the remarkable fact, that Newton was not only regardless of this promise, but, in the second edition of his Principia, absolutely erased the acknowledgment that he had previously made; as if he wished to obliterate every trace of any favour conferred.
A word or two on the unblushing impudence of Halley in accusing Flamsteed of doing nothing in thirty years. This man had long been striving to supplant Flamsteed in the office of Astronomer Royal: and although he appeared so anxious to have the observations of Flamsteed published, even before they were fit for the press, yet, after he at last obtained the place, he suffered his own astronomical career of twenty-two years to pass away without publishing a single observa. tion, except the account of two or three eclipses. And what does Mr. Whewell imagine to have been the cause of this reserve? We will tell him—it is by Halley himself avowed that there being many uses to be made of the said observations for forming a method for better ascertaining the longitude of places, and a great reward being appointed, by Act of Parliament, for discovering such methods he had hitherto kept his own observations in his own custody, that he might have time to finish the theory he designs to build upon, before others might take advantage of reaping the benefit of his labours.' What does Mr. Whewell think of privale properly now? We will not believe that, with all his disparagement of Flamsteed, he can deliberately prefer this mean and selfish Halley to the noble and spirited Flamsteed, who communicated his observations with free and open hand to every person who asked for them; and who ultimately published them at his own expense. But enough and more than enough of this rash pamphlet, utterly unworthy of such a man as Mr. Whewell.