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The minute is signed by Robert Jameson, President.
In March 1856, a meeting of the members of the Society was summoned to consider its state and prospects.
The circular calling the meeting was subscribed by Messrs Adie, Fleming, Traill, Jardine, and Balfour, V.P.; Greville, Trevelyan, Goodsir, Deuchar, Councillors; Ellis, Treasurer; Torrie, Secretary ; Wilson and Hamilton, Librarians.
Various meetings took place on the subject. Proposals were made to revive the Society, and many members promised active support. But after full consideration it was finally resolved, in November 1857, to wind up the Society's affairs, and transfer the funds and property in certain proportions to the Royal Physical and the Botanical Societies.
Here, then, we have another instance of the failure of a Society which had during a long period a career of no small celebrity and usefulness. To what are we to attribute this? Chiefly, I think, to the fact of its absolute dependence on one man, Professor Jameson. Nothing was done without his sanction. He was perpetual president, and no meetings were called except by him. Along with the worthy secretary, Dr Neill, he managed all the business; and when, during the latter years of life, the Professor was incapacitated from taking an active part in the proceedings, no meetings took place, and the Society languished; and on his death all attempts to resuscitate it were found to be hopeless.
The connection of the Society with the Museum led, in a certain degree, to its dependence on the Professor of Natural History. Its dissolution is traced, then, to the want of an independent council, who could manage its affairs and keep up its membership. It possessed ample funds, a good museum, many books, as well as other property ; but it wanted zealous and active members to carry it on, and its exertions were crippled by the ill health of its president, who was allowed to be the
We have thus seen a student-society (Plinian) failing from want of successors to keep up the business with spirit, from depending on the fluctuation of natural-history zeal among students, and from the absence of senior men to co-operate with them and carry on the work; and we have seen another society (Wernerian) fail from decline of activity among senior naturalists, and the want of the infusion of young blood to carry on the scientific circulation.
Our own Society, the Physical, has had its times of prosperity and adversity, but it has survived all shocks, and its success seems to be owing, in a great measure, to the well-assorted co-operation of senior and junior members. The zeal and enthusiasm of the young naturalist has imparted animation to all; while rash theorising or hasty generalizations have been curbed by the prudent councils of such veterans as Fleming. There is a wholesome balance, which enables the Society to exhibit its vitality in well directed efforts for the advancement of true science.
The Society does not confine itself to the mere reading of papers and communications, but encourages active practical operations among its members. Its Committees for dredging, and for the prosecution of geology and of entomology, are wellfitted to bring out the zeal of its Fellows, and to initiate the junior votaries of science in the details of field work. Such a system is calculated to secure the permanence of the Society, and to produce valuable results. Mere reading will never make a man a naturalist. He must touch and handle the ipsissima corpora, and must observe the phenomena as presented to his senses by nature itself. Researches conducted under the auspices of those who have already in some measure mastered a science are of the highest value to the tyro.
If we wish the Society to go on prosperously, we should encourage young men to enter while they are studying here. We may thus hope to raise up naturalists who will do good service in after life, and who, when they visit different quarters of the globe in future years, may be expected to contribute papers to the Society, which may be published in our Proceedings.
On looking over the Records of the Society's Proceedings for last session, I find that Zoology has occupied the most prominent place. We have had a series of most valuable original papers on British Zoophytes, by Dr T. Strethill Wright, one of the best observers of the present day. We have also enlisted in our service one who devotes himself now entirely
to natural history, Mr Andrew Murray, who has enriched our Proceedings by his Zoological papers, and particularly his contributions on the Coleoptera of Calabar, and the Malapterurus beninensis. To Dr Cleland we owe some valuable anatomical papers, especially on the structure of Malapterurus ; and we also owe our thanks to Dr M.Bain, and Mr Peach, and to Dr John Alex. Smith, our indefatigable Secretary, for their excellent papers. .
We have to lament the want of the contributions to Geology which used to come to us from the pens of Fleming and Miller, and we have not been able during last session to induce other geologists, such as Mr Chambers, to favour us with papers.
We may hope that this session will be characterized by greater vigour in all departments.
For myself I must plead guilty to having done little for the Society, chiefly because my botanical efforts are made in connection with the kindred Botanical Society.
I would desire to urge upon all the members the importance of bringing before the Society communications, however short, on the departments of Natural and Physical Science to which they are attached. There are few indeed who cannot contribute something. It is impossible for a careful observer, when he examines natural phenomena, not to detect some point of interest which has been overlooked. Brief notices are always useful, and no one should be deterred from coming forward by an idea that what he has to state is not of much importance. Let the young naturalist begin at once to record his observations, let him get into the habit of noting facts as they occur,—and he will find the benefit of this mode of procedure in his after career.
We have before us a noble and inexhaustible subject of study. None is better fitted for mental training, and none exercises a more beneficial effect on the observing powers.
At the present day natural history is assuming a higher position in our courses of study, and as a Society we are called upon to aid in promoting such a system of education as shall render our Edinburgh school famous in the annals of science. The phenomena presented by the material world around us
are well worthy of our earnest study, whether we regard them as means of exercising our mental powers, or as leading us to higher views of Him who has created all things, and for whose pleasure they are and were created.
The followers of science have sometimes been blamed for attempting to subvert religion by their speculations. There can be no doubt that in former times, and even at the present day, some have started theories which have a tendency to shake the faith of weak naturalists. But these are oppositions of science falsely so called, -vague theories not founded on facts. There is no fear of true science in its bearings on religion. It is only want of science which produces any jarrings. The more we investigate the wonders of creation, the more we shall see the harmony which subsists between the Word and the works of God.
I. Contributions to the Natural History of the Hudson's Bay Company's
Territories. Part II.— Mammalia (continued.) By Andrew MurRAY, F.R.S.E., President of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh.
Rein-DEER (Rangifer Caribou).—In my last communication on this subject, I drew attention to the antlers of the American rein-deer,—their peculiar form, their mode of growth, and the habits of the animal, -as bearing on the question of its identity with the Lapland rein-deer, and made some suggestions and speculations, with the hope that they might lead some of my correspondents to inquire more particularly into these points, and give us reliable information upon them, which might enable us to come to a correct conclusion on the subject. I am happy to say, that these observations have had the desired effect, and that, with an additional supply of horns and heads, I have this year received divers remarks on the points I indicated for inquiry. One intelligent correspondent, Mr J. Mackenzie of Moose Factory (from whose communications I have received much satisfaction), goes at some length into the subject, and his information, as to the time of the year when the horns are cast at the different periods of the animal's life, clears up the discrepancies which have been noticed in the statements of different authors on this subject. It will be seen that the casting takes place at different times in the young and older animals. I cannot do better than bring his views before the reader in his own words, particularly as he comes to a different opinion from that which I felt disposed to adopt on one or two of the points which I speculated upon. Mr Mackenzie says—" I have consulted one of our most intelligent natives, a man of about sixty years of age, who has been a deer hunter from bis youth, and the result of our “ conference" I will presently give you. I send by the ship a deer's head and antlers, which were received about last Christmas, and said to have been killed early in December; it bears some resemblance to the North American species, a representation of which is given in your pamphlet, although the brow antler, however, forms a small angle with the head, and does not come down parallel with it, as in the heads sent you by Mr Hargrave; it has also a second projecting prong, bent near the head, without any terminal points or fingers, but these it would have had, had the animal lived a year or two more; indeed the horns do not cease growing till the seventh year. I do not believe that the brow antler is intended for the purpose of clearing away the snow, but is intended rather as a means of defence against the animal's numerous enemies. The wolf, wolverine, and lynx, destroy them, I am informed, in great numbers; but the animal, on its guard, appears to me to have a good means of defence in his brow antler. Generally, however, he is taken at a disadvantage; when lying down, and off his guard, the lynx (of the cat tribe) moves stealthily along, and with a bound springs upon his back, and fastening his claws in his neck and throat, worries him to death. The wolf and wolverine are not numerous (the latter, indeed, is rarely found) in this part of the country, but of the three the latter is the most savage, and with him the deer has little chance of escape when attacked. Indian opinion here is, that for clearing away the snow, the animal uses his fore-legs alone; and whether it is hard or soft, they are well adapted for the purpose. My own opinion is, that our rein-deer is the same as the Lapland rein-deer. The following information, collected as I have already mentioned, may tend to throw some light on the subject. The rutting season is in September; the females carry