George Everest.

A series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. online

. (page 2 of 13)
Online LibraryGeorge EverestA series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. → online text (page 2 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

sparingly expose their lives, their health, their comfort, and every
thing that tends to make existence worth possessing ?

Formerly, it was a proud saying, that the English were a
generous people, that they had too much manhood to wrong the
absent ; and is the national character so much deteriorated now,
that a man's absence is to be made a plea for setting him aside
in this cold-hearted spirit of displacement and indifference,
which would not be exercised towards him if present.

Please your Royal Highness, I turn in vain to search for any
cause to palliate, for any ground on which to defend, so pal-
pable a breach of the duty between man and man ; but, when I


further remember that I am myself a Fellow of the Royal So-
ciety, and that it is one of their own body against whom this cause-
less offence has been committed, I drop the attempt as hopeless.

There may be those who will urge that the distance between
England and her Indian possessions is so great, that it is
difficult to acquire accurate intelligence ; but I beg it may be
remarked, that this distance only adds another hardship to those
inseparable from my situation, and one more corresponding
claim on the sympathy and considerate regard of those who
profess to be my fellow votaries at the shrine of science.

There may be others who will advance, that they have no in-
formation of my proceedings ; that I publish nothing, and that
they are in a state of ignorance of what I am about ; but is
there one who will come forward and say, that he ever asked for
information which I evinced a disinclination to afford ?

Positively there is not, cannot be one ; and that the informa-
tion which is not worth asking for is not worth having, is a
truth too trite to need that I should dwell on it.

I was in Europe in 18261830, and passed a considerable
portion of that period in England, where I became personally
acquainted with several of the thirty-eight learned Fellows who
have signed the Address. Who of these learned men ever
applied to me in that period for information, or expressed the
slightest interest in the operations of the Great Trigonometrical
Survey of India, of which I was then, as I am now, known to
be the chief? Omitting Professors Airy and Hamilton, who have,
I allow, spoken a few words incidentally on that subject, there
was not, please your Royal Highness, one of the whole thirty-
eight who did not appear to look on the subject just in the same
manner as if he were under the tuition of that jocose gentleman,
Theodore Hook, so celebrated for diverting himself and his
readers at the expense of India, and all connected with it.

There are, however, not wanting those of whom our country
may well be proud, (though their names are not included in
those appended to the Address,) sufficient to clear me of the


charge of reluctance to talk in proper time and place regarding
my own professional pursuits ; and, such being the case, this
support, which might be brought forward to hang a defence on,
falls to the ground like a broken reed.

The late Mr. Edward Troughton and Gapt. Kater, for ex-
ample, if they had been alive, would certainly have been willing
to step forward in such a case ; and perhaps Mr. Babbage, if
his recollection of me be no more impaired by time than mine
is of him, will assure your Royal Highness, that I am far from
an uncommunicative person to those who show a desire to attend
to me.

But the instinctive reluctance which I feel to intruding infor-
mation where it is neither prized nor wanted ; my settled aver-
sion to jumping at conclusions, over the heads of facts; the
constant impulse which is within me to perform my work first,
and talk about it afterwards, and to consider nothing accom-
plished of my task whilst any portion remains undone and
uncertain ; these, if learned gentlemen please so to term them,
may be features of my idiosyncracy, but certainly cannot be
adduced as arguments for omitting towards me the common
forms of civility, which each and all of them would consider
indispensable in his own case.

The origin then must be sought for elsewhere ; and it is evident
to my mind, and I think it will be made clear to that of your
Royal Highness, that it is assignable to the following causes :

First. The habitual spirit of selfishness and monopoly of the
Royal Society, which prompts that body perpetually to form a
little clique, knot, or coterie of a particular set at their head,
within the compass of which all is gold pure refined gold
without it all dross mere dross.

Second. The action of self-sufficiency on an indifference
sublime, without parallel in comparison with that of any other
learned body in Europe, or America to the actual state of
society and natural features of that vast country in the East,
which owns the sway of Great Britain.


Now with regard to the first of these, I shall, with your Royal
Highness's permission, refer to a celebrated Treatise on the
Decline of Science in England, by no less a person than Mr.
Babbage, to which I will add some other little facts of my own
in an ensuing letter ; and as to the second, the first principle
which I have specified, has the evident tendency of persuading
those who are subject to its influence that they know all about
a matter of which they in fact know nothing, and thus inducing
them to arrogate to themselves a sort of patent for universal
and intuitive insight ; whilst its particular operation in the case
before us is to blind the learned body to the labours and per-
formances of their own countrymen in the East, which they are
in consequence as unwilling as unable to appreciate.

I may be altogether wrong in these suppositions, and in that
case shall be very thankful to those who will set me to rights ;
for of all things, that which I would most seek to avoid, is to do
injustice in act or word to any man, or set of men, particularly
my own countrymen ; wherefore the learned gentlemen may
rest perfectly assured, that I have no desire to vie with them
in their oversight of the common courtesies of life, but am con-
tent to leave them in full and undivided possession of all the
renown that may result from such a procedure.

I have the honour to be, &c. &c.




" The Scian and the Teian muse,

The hero's harp, the lover's lute,

Have found that fame your shores refuse ;

Their place of birth alone is mute

To sounds which echo farther west,

Than your sire's ' Islands of the blest. "



IN my last letter I promised to add some little facts of my own,
illustrative of the habitual spirit of monopoly and selfishness of
the Royal Society, and of the tendency of that spirit to blind the
learned Fellows to the labours and performances of their own
countrymen in the East, which they are as unwilling as unable to
appreciate ; and as it would not be consistent with the deference
which I owe to your Royal Highness to leave my pledge unre-
deemed, I shall begin with a short account of the bearing which
the career of my honoured predecessor, the late Lieut.-Col.
Lambton, has on that question.

At the time of my joining the Lieut.-Col. at Hydrabad, in
1818, he gave to both Mr. Voysey and myself a general invitation
to his house : we were his constant guests, and formed part of his
family, in fact ; nay, we constituted his domestic circle, and were
of the very few with whom he discoursed familiarly, and without
restraint. My knowledge, therefore, of many circumstances
connected with the bygone days of our common profession, is
drawn from the fountain-head, and, as far as La Place's rules
respecting evidence are conceded, is entitled to just that portion


of weight which the learned Fellows may be pleased to C9mpute
as its due, but it goes to substantiate the following narrative :

Lieut.-Col. Lambton commenced the Great Trigonometrical
Survey of India in 1799, and up to the period when the allied
armies occupied Paris, he never received from the Royal Society
one word of encouragement, of sympathy, of assistance, of

Up to that period, the only learned Englishmen who ever
noticed him, or seemed to think him deserving of a moment's
thought, or his labours as meriting a passing comment, were the
Rev. N. Maskelyne, and the late Professor Playfair; of whom,
the former gentleman addressed him by letter, and the latter
made his labours a subject of discussion in some of the ablest
articles of the Edinburgh Review.

Up to that period, none of the proceedings on the Great Arc
of India, or the perpendicular arcs, or on the operations more
purely geographical and topographical, were ever published in
the Transactions of the Royal Society. They were given to the
world, as is well known, through the pages of a provincial society,
known by the name of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta; and only
those who had the discernment to appreciate the real merit and
sterling value of such labours, deemed themselves repaid by the
search for them in volumes emanating from so obscure a quarter
of the globe.

To this moment I remember well the gleam of gladness with
which my old master used to refer to the fact of Nevil Maske-
lyne's letter. It had reached him apparently in an appropriate
hour, when he was surrounded with difficulties, had few sup-
porters, and many opponents, and, what is worse, when he was in
vain endeavouring to impress the nature and utility of his opera-
tions on the local Government, eager for economy, of the country
where they were carried on ; for in such cases, it is necessary to
lay all technicalities aside, and dress all explanations in the
language of official intercourse and common parlance. The late
Lieut.-Col. used to dwell on this letter as the event which had


most cheered him under all his toils ; for with this solitary ex-
ception, until Professor Playfair took the subject up, and can-
vassed it in his well-known masterly style, he was to appearance
forsaken of all, and left to struggle alone with the current,
whilst his labours were treated by all his countrymen, who pro-
fessed to be his fellow votaries at the shrine of science, with the
most superlative indifference and neglect.

There were two assistants prior to this period with the late
superintendent, Captains Kater and Warren, both of H. M.
army, of whom, the former gentleman subsequently became too
well known to need anything that I can say regarding him. The
latter was a gentleman of French extraction, and connected, as
it seems, with the old noblesse of that country, his family having
been of those who emigrated in the intestine troubles of the Re-

Hence when the allied armies entered Paris, and the new
regime gave place to the old, under the revived dynasty of the
Bourbons, the way seemed opened to Capt. Warren to re-estab-
lish his family pretensions; in consequence of which, on the
arrival of the intelligence of the new state of things, he proceeded
to Europe, and shortly afterwards made his appearance at Paris.

Here he soon found not only that he was no stranger, but that
his acquaintance was eagerly courted by the learned men of the
day, particularly the late M. De Lambre, who was familiar with
the Geodetical Operations of India, and the names of Lambton
and himself, that great man and others of his class not having
deemed it beneath them to search through the pages of the
obscure provincial Society of Calcutta, and the articles of the
Edinburgh Review ; and many were the questions which he put
regarding the man who had contended so well, so ably, and so
long, with the difficulties of a foreign land, and an alien people ;
and much must he have been surprised and shocked at the supine
inattention of learned gentlemen in England to one so well
deserving of their countenance, and who reflected such high
honour on the nation, and on the army of the reigning sove-


In the course of the conversation of Capt. Warren with M. De
Lambre, the latter, it appears, asked whether Lieut. -Col. Lamb-
ton would like to be a Corresponding Member of the Institute ;
and on receiving an answer in the affirmative, and being assured
that he would certainly consider it as a very high and gratifying
compliment, the diploma was forthwith made out by unanimous
consent, and under cover of a very flattering letter from M. De
Lambre, was sent to India, where it reached the Lieut. -Col. not
very long prior to my joining him at Hydrabad in 1818.

Shortly after this affair at Paris, Capt. Warren went to Lon-
don, and as he was apparently not a person of much reserve, the
whole story soon got into circulation, when the contrast presented
was really too striking even for the Royal Society to sit quiet
under ; so, having taken the prudent precaution to ascertain
whether the Lieut.-Coloners bankers would pay his fees of
entrance and subscription, they too followed in the train of the
Institute, and elected the great man a Fellow of their body. The
date of this latter event will of course be ascertainable from a
reference to the records of the Society ; to the best of my remem-
brance, the Lieut.-Coloners election took place in 1817-8, after
eighteen to nineteen years of toil in this land of pagans and aliens.

An event of this kind, which was recent when I and Mr. Voy-
sey first formed Lieut. -Col. Lambton's acquaintance, was mani-
festly not calculated to enhance the esteem which either of us felt
for the Royal Society. It was familiarly known to both of us, and
to the late Dr. Lamb of the E. I. Company's service ; but with the
exception of us three, I am not certain that it was ever spoken of
to any person ; if there be a fourth, Mr. Henry Russel, who was
then the British Resident at Hydrabad, and was also on terms
of intimacy with the Lieut. -Col., is the most likely person, if his
memory serves him, to be able to substantiate this narrative.

And now, please your Royal Highness, what are we to think
of the Society, within whose walls he who first started the
doctrine of the figure of the earth, presided ?

Newton, Maclaurin, Thomas Simpson, the three names most


celebrated in connexion with the homogeneous figure, were
Englishmen ; and was it more becoming in the English nation and
the Royal Society to abandon this beautiful indigenous branch of
science to its fate, than to investigate it practically ?

Let us examine what our neighbours across the channel did,
we may be assured whatever it was, that it was the exact reverse
of what the English did. That gallant and chivalrous nation
found the doctrine of Newton totally impugned the theories of
their favourite Descartes ; in spite of which they had the wit to
discern that it had truth on its side, and as those amongst whom
it was propagated, and with whom the onus probandi rested, had
thrown it aside with the indifference so peculiarly characteristic
of the Royal Society, they took it up, and fitted out expeditions
to the equator and polar circle, besides incurring the trouble and
expense of carrying a series of meridional triangles through

I am writing in camp, and far from my head-quarters and
library, and therefore your Royal Highness will graciously ex-
cuse me, if, in citing from memory, I should inadvertently commit
small errors in dates. It was I think in 1735, that M. M.
Godin, Bonguer, and De la Condamine, set out on their equatorial
expedition, and about the same time that M. M. Clairaut, Mau-
pertius, Camus, Le Mounier, and Celsius, went to Torneo and
Kittis; whilst it was not till 1790, that the English nation ever
stirred hand, foot, or head in the affair, in which they preceded
the Court of Directors of the E. I. Company by only nine

It is wrong to say, as Major Jervis has done (vide page 14, of
his Address at the eighth Meeting of the British Association),
that the large theodolite was sent as a present to the Emperor
of China ; the fact is otherwise. The large theodolite was con-
structed by Ramsden to the order of the E. I. Company, for the
Trigonometrical Survey of India, and on account of some en-
hancement of price for improvements introduced without their
previous consent, by the maker, was thrown on his hands, and


purchased by the late Col. Twiss, of the Board of Ordnance:
but the Court speedily had a fac-simile of this very instrument
made by Gary, the Identical one referred to in my book, pp.
45-6, and which, if my recollection serves me rightly, was taken
in its passage to India by the Piemontaise French frigate, landed
at the Mauritius, then a French possession, and gallantly for-
warded on to its destination by De Caen, the governor, with a
complimentary letter to the Government of Madras.

Hence then, considering the supineness and long lethargy in
which the Royal Society had indulged with regard to this
question, so interesting to mankind at large, so peculiarly inter-
esting to them, as it might naturally have been presumed to be
from its indigenity, it might have been supposed, that when at
last they aroused themselves from their trance, they would have
considered it incumbent on them to make some abends, and to
show that their indifference was not assignable to any want of
sensitiveness to the national character, or a reluctance to appre-
ciate the labours of their own countrymen in whatever part of
the planet they were carried on.

Those who had formed such an expectation, however, may
now undeceive themselves; and as, without -being one of their
number, I still was unwilling lightly to abandon any portion of
my respect for an assembly which I had looked up to from my
early youth as the receptacle of all that was most learned and
respectable among rny countrymen, I attributed the neglect
which my predecessor had experienced, to the circumstance of
his having omitted to comply with prescribed forms ; and con-
soled myself with the reflection, that if he had timely taken the
precaution to have himself enrolled as one of the fraternity, the
treatment he would have met with would have been of a differ-
ent order.

In this view of the case, I resolved when I was in England, in
1826, to leave no forms unattended to. I found no difficulty of
admission. My friend Capt. Kater proposed me : there was no
want of other learned men to second his proposition. I was


elected without opposition, and took my seat, deeming it a suffi-
cient honour to be allowed to sit within the walls which had
been honoured by the presence of a Newton, a Bradley, a Brook
Taylor, and a Waring.

But, please your Royal Highness, in as far as I could see or
learn, the Council of this august body seemed to be perpetually
involved in angry squabbles and discussions about jobs and
matters of patronage, hard words, jealousies, and fears ; and,
instead of a quiet philosophical assembly, each individual of
which was steadily bent on pursuing his own favourite branch of
science, and revealing the results of his experiments, investiga-
tions, and inquiries to his associates, I could remark little else
than bickerings, reciprocal accusations of trickery and impo-
sition ; men of no merit or acquirement thrust into high posts ;
the first philosophers of our land living retired and almost un-
noticed and unknown ; whilst a total absence of all genuine love
of science (except where one of the self-elected coterie was con-
nected with it), seemed to be the prevalent feature.

In such a falling-off from what my imagination had taught
me to expect, it will be evident that I could have no disposition
to be over-communicative. Having no desire to participate either
in jobs or squabbles, I sat a silent observer, and studiously kept
aloof, whilst the learned Fellows played their fantastic tricks
before high Heaven; and as I sought no friends, so I sedulously
avoided every procedure which could make unto me enemies.
But I still hoped, especially after the severe lashings which had
with such bounteous profusion been dealt out by Mr. Babbage
and Mr. Daniel, that the learned gentlemen would have had the
good sense to forbear to trespass irregularly on the domain of
which I am guardian ; and that the circumstance of my being
now one of themselves, in name at least, would have alarmed the
pride of one and all, at seeing an act of rudeness or indignity per-
petrated towards me in my absence in a far distant land, which
none would have ventured on if I had been present, and which
none would have silently endured in his own case.


It will be seen from the premises deducible from the foregoing
narrative, that the burden of maintaining the national character
in matters where Geodesy, in its bearing on the question of the
figure of the earth, is concerned, has chiefly devolved on the
E. I. Company since the year 1799; for without meaning to
arrogate to the operations of India any undue claim on the
score of accuracy, in which respect I may legitimately assume
that they are on a par with others, the fortuitous circumstance of
the greater extent of unbroken meridian presented by this than
any other country which has yet been the scene of such opera-
tions, is in itself a decidedly preponderating advantage.

For example, Col. Lambton's station of Punnae, which is the
southernmost of the Great Arc, is in latitude 8 9', whilst my
station of Kaliana is in latitude 29 31', nearly, which gives a
total amplitude of about 21 22'. It has been a subject of dis-
cussion, to connect Ceylon as far as Donder Head with the great
arc series, but this would not be an unbroken meridian ; and it
has also been contemplated as a possible occurrence, to continue
the series across the Himalaya mountains, (provided it be prac-
ticable to pass that snowy wall), which would, if desirable, give
a far greater extent, limited in fact only by such obstacles as the
different forms of society in the intervening hordes, and the
features of the country might present.

The very circumstance, however, of these bold projects being
entertained, when combined with all that has been actually
accomplished at the sole expense of the E. I. Company, is suffi-
cient, I presume, to establish what I have just advanced; and in
the meantime, let me beg permission to inquire into what the
Royal Society have ever been instrumental to at all in keeping
with this ?

The colonial possessions of Great Britain furnish a field to the
full as extensive as, if not much more so than, those of the E. I.
Company. New Holland, for example, the Cape of Good Hope,
or, if the Royal Society thought the example of their continental
neighbours not unworthy of them to follow, Cape Horn, and


South America, afford as expanded a theatre as the most ener-
getic could desire. Why have no attempts been made to carry
a meridional series through such countries as these? Seeing,
particularly that in as far as the southern hemisphere is con-
cerned, data are of more urgent necessity than in the northern,
on account of the comparative abundance of the latter, and
paucity of the former, if an arc equal in extent to that between
Punnoe and Kaliana could be measured, it would be really a
boon of no small magnitude, and throw a light incalculably
great on the true figure of the earth.

Are the Royal Society not aware that I brought forward, so
far back as 1820, strong facts of locality to impugn the validity
of De La Caille's operations at the Cape of Good Hope, which
supply the only datum referable to the southern hemisphere ?

I know that Professor Airy has objected to my conclusion ;
but with all due deference to the learned Professor, that only
reduces the question to a matter of opinion against opinion,
which can manifestly never be settled by hypothesis, or by any
method short of actual trial, in circumstances where the two
limits of the section are free from all palpable cause of disturb-
ance by lateral attraction.

Why, may I ask, after having displayed for so many years so
unphilosophical a disregard of all that, it is in their own province to
do, and of all that the E. I. Company have done, do the learned
body suddenly start up into life, and assume a dictatorial tone, as
if they were entitled to intermeddle with, and pronounce judg-
ment in, an affair which has gone on prosperously without their
aid, and is now in process of being brought to a conclusion,
honourable alike to those who have cherished, and those who
have conducted it, and of the proceedings and progress of which,
their knowledge is of the smallest possible amount ?

It has not been for want of opportunity that this indifference
has been manifested. Major Rennel, Captain Horsburg, Dr.

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryGeorge EverestA series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. → online text (page 2 of 13)