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

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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 4 of 13)
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as the inhabitants may be, they are not to be kept in order without
some display of military force, or at least without the full consci-
ousness that such a display can be called into action ; that though
they are contented with less, and have fewer wants, perhaps, than
any other people on the habitable globe, yet they have a lively sense
of right and wrong, of justice and injustice; and, though they do
approach, in the opinion of some enthusiasts, to the primaeval
virtue of the golden age, still they are not so pure as that vice is
utterly extinct amongst them all which renders it not possible to
dispense with tribunals and courts of law, magistrates, prisons,


collectors of taxes and imposts, not to speak of residents at the
courts of foreign, or independent bordering states, in alliance with
the E. I. Company.

Now though it may seem very unreasonable, yet soldiers will
not serve without pay, even if the ammunition and other imple-
ments and equipments of their profession were to be had for
no cost, which has not yet been brought to pass ; collectors of
taxes and imposts, judges, magistrates, residents and others,
have a similar distaste for that condition ; therefore a vast pro-
portion of the revenues of the country is necessarily absorbed in
these modes, and it is only the residual quantity after they are
provided for, which can be considered disposable for scientific

Now, of this residue how to make the most, is a question on
which it is my persuasion that the Court are, and long have been
seriously bent ; and it is not by peremptory calls on them, or
high-sounding truisms of a mere general tendency, that their
well-meant intentions will be promoted, so much as by calm in-
vestigation and deliberate calculation, drawn from an intimate
knowledge of the peculiarities and bearings of the case.

Having admitted freely the amplitude of the field, I will, with
the permission of your Royal Highness, consider the next point
advanced, namely, the favourableness of the opportunity, which I
regret to say cannot be so easily conceded ; for of all periods that
can possibly offer themselves, that in which it is incumbent on the
British Government to show a bold front simultaneously on the
north-western, northern and eastern frontiers, to meet or deter
invasion, is, in my humble judgment, the very one which least
comes under the denomination of favourable.

Your Royal Highness is doubtless aware, and can inform the
learned Fellows, that at this instant a large British force is on its
march to Kabul, Kandahar, and probably Hirat, to frustrate
Russian intrigues and designs of conquest and invasion ; that the
bordering kingdom of Nipal is in a treacherous and doubtful
state of alliance and amity; and that the chieftain of the extensive


empire of Birma has given so many symptoms, barely to be called
equivocal, of enmity, as to leave little doubt that, sooner or later,
he will force the E. I. Company into a war with him, thereby
rendering a perpetual state of watchfulness and preparation an
indispensable part of prudence and discretion.

Now, since a large force cannot be assembled, kept together,
maintained in subordination and discipline, and led on against an
enemy in a style worthy of Englishmen, without the presence of
Officers, and since it is to military gentlemen that even the learned
Fellows themselves seem to be aware that the execution of their
projects is to be confided, therefore, when the presence of these
agents is so absolutely required in other quarters, and for other
duties, as to render their withdrawal necessary, I submit that it
cannot be legitimately assumed either that the opportunity is
favourable, or that the Officers at the disposal of the Court are
qualified to do justice to their munificent liberality.

But if it were otherwise, still the main question of how best to
direct and apply the definite portion of the residual revenue
still remains to be grappled with; and, setting aside all flowers
of rhetoric, ornamental phrases, common-places, and truisms,
which (as it is reasonable to suppose the Court do not need to
have such proved or inculcated to them) can only tend to com-
plicate a subject in itself clear, the propositions of the learned
Fellows simply resolve themselves into the fact, that it is de-
sirable to cultivate those branches of sciences which relate to
Physical Astronomy, Geology, Statistics, the improvement of
the geography of India and the countries stretching between its
frontiers and the Caspian Sea ; to construct an improved map
of India, and introduce into it an uniform system of ortho-
graphy ; to undertake experiments connected with the tides, with
the magnetic dip, intensity, and variation, as also other experi-
ments for comparing the standard of the Indian Survey with
other known standards of Europe : to the last of which Sir
John Herschell's recommendation is appended in reiteration, for
the sake, it may be presumed, of giving emphasis, confirmation,


illustration or conviction ; as also two others from the learned
Baronet, the one, that an arc of longitude should be measured
trigonometrically ; and the other, that the zero points of the
thermometers used in every part of the process under Major
Jervis's direction (that is to be ?) should be fixed with the
utmost possible care ; as also one from Mr. Baily, that the pen-
dulum observations suggested by Col. Lambton, in his report of
1822, should be carried into effect ; the whole being wound up
by the condition, added by way of supplement, which amounts
in plain English to this : That Major Jervis, the mainspring, or
rather the great fly-wheel that is to be, of this complicated
system, is to place himself under the tuition of Sir John Herschell,
Francis Baily, Esq., the Rev. W. Whewell, and Professor
Airy, and do as they bid him.

Now, please your Royal Highness, this, though I have taken
some pains to reduce it to its lowest terms, is still what in my
department would be called rather a strong order, and coming
before the Honourable Court of Directors, who are merely plain
English gentlemen, endowed with a fair portion of the solid
common sense which is so peculiarly characteristic of our coun-
try, with all its raciness and bloom upon it, it must, I conjecture,
have astonished and mystified them not a little.

I am free to confess, in fact, that though I am myself but
little prone to wonder at any thing that I see or hear, being a
great admirer of the Preacher who teaches me that " there is
nothing new under the sun, "still I was somewhat startled at this
long enumeration of duties to be attended to by one person, and
that too in a climate where the thermometer stands ordinarily at
110 Fahrenheit in the shade, sometimes even as high as 125,
and between 1 1 and midnight is often known to rise from 95 to
100 ; but then the idiosyncracy of some men is peculiar, and as we
have the precedents, fabled or real, of the salamander and
M. Chaubert to guide us, there would certainly be no wisdom in
deciding a priori what any individual person might be equal to,
though as a general question a little scepticism might be par-


However, as I do not wish to take up the time of your Royal
Highness with needless discussions and doubts, I am quite con-
sentient to receive the fact of the Major's amazing prowess on the
attestation of the learned Fellows, who have no doubt taken
ample means to satisfy themselves on a point which seems to
have been selected as the favourite basis of their address ; for the
supposition is not to be entertained for a moment, or if it were
started, must be dismissed instantaneously, that gentlemen so
learned would pledge themselves to aught that was crude, indi-
gested, or doubtful, in a matter so grave and important.

Wherefore I will venture to consider, seriatim, the several
points of the recommendation of the learned Fellows ; and to
begin with that of Geology.

My knowledge of this branch of science is confessedly of so
limited a nature, that I cannot pretend to rest any thing which
I have to say regarding it on any other foundation than the
plain rules of common sense ; and, first of all, let me in all
deference offer the question, Is Geology in reality a branch of
science which men cannot master out of Europe ? If so, where
is the reason for this peculiarity, which makes it so different
from those of Chemistry, Astronomy, Mathematics, and other
branches of physical science, which confessedly require more
profound study than it does? These are all to be learned by
books, and by patient attention men may become great profi-
cients in them ; of which so many instances will doubtless occur
to the learned Fellows, that I need not mention a single one to
obtain for the fact universal assent.

Geology and Comparative Anatomy are not sciences on which
men have written sparingly; and, though it may be conceded
that, as in all parallel cases, an access to the acquired stores of
others who have dived into their recesses, and more particularly
a familiar intercourse with learned gentlemen divested of arro-
gance, and actuated by a pure love of truth, cannot fail vastly
to promote their attainment in him who is disposed to learn, yet
really I must beg to be pardoned for my ignorance and simplicity,


when I say, that the difference between the doctrines of those
who deny the possibility of their acquisition without those acces-
sories, and of the zealots who would put out of the pale all who
do not believe exactly as they do, is, to my plain reasoning facul-
ties, very slight and difficult to define.

Geology and Comparative Anatomy must, I conceive, by those
who advocate the opinion in question, be sciences which rest on
faith, and are not attainable by unassisted human reason ; but
those who cultivate them on such an hypothesis, must not shut
their eyes to the analogy which their doctrine would present with
all others based more on opinion than fact, which have, each in
its turn, had their day and run their course, and each been swept
oft' by the advance of knowledge, to make room for a successor.

The little which I have read, and I must own it is exceedingly
small in amount, all tends, most unqualifiedly, to rescue this
beautiful science from an imputation of a nature calculated, as I
conceive, to vilify and degrade it to a level with all that is purely
imaginary and dogmatical, in proportion to its uncertainty :
wherefore, leaving to the enthusiastic but ill-judging advocates
of a position of the kind, the task of defending it, I shall at once
conclude that the slur is unfounded and unmerited, and that, in
common with her amiable sisters, Geology is not doomed to wear
the veil, and be addressed, and interpreted for, only by the priests
of her temple ; but may walk abroad into foreign climates, and
go on her travels, just as they do, to all places where she is likely
to meet with a hospitable and gracious reception.

Then, please your Royal Highness, if that this fair privilege is
to be conceded to the lovely damsel, this Parbati, or daughter of
the mountains, why is it to be assumed that she shall not visit
her votaries in India? Is this alone of all lands to be con-
demned, to be deprived of her gracious presence, or receive her
dictates only from such sources as the thirty-eight learned Fellows
may decide as most fitting ? Are the labours and acquirements
of a Falconer, a Cautly, with many others, and though last, not
Jeast amongst them, of my own much-loved brother, the Reverend


R. Everest, to be treated as chaff, and passed over without notice,
in a question bearing on the very subjects to which they have
chiefly devoted themselves? And yet, of the three gentlemen
whose names I mention, to two has been awarded the gold medal
of the Royal Geological Society ; and the third has followed all
the forms prescribed by orthodoxy itself, that is to say, he studied
Geology at Oxford, and was balloted for in due form, and ad-
mitted as a member of the same society.

These then are a portion of the elements which the Address
of the learned Fellows goes to set aside as mere dross, to make
room for Major Jervis ; for to that the proposition clearly tends.
If Geological pursuits are to be taken by the hand by the Govern-
ment of India, from the very constitution of that Government it
can only happen by means of an establishment united to a chief
by the links and gradations of subordination. And do the thirty-
eight learned Fellows really and in downright earnest suppose,
that either of these, or other amateurs, whose names are well
known and universally respected in this country, will consent
to lend their aid and act in subordination to Major Jervis, of
whom they know nothing but the name, coupled with the fact
that he is undergoing a course of good advice and instruction
from the learned quartetto of self-election renown ?

If such be their opinion, I could assure your Royal Highness,
if necessary, that it is at total variance with my experience ; and
though I shall not do so in the present instance, because I see
how unavailing it would be to expect any weight to be attached
to my experience, or that of any person, when it militates against
a fancy, theory, or scheme of those who are in a wilful mood ;
yet, as the paroxysm may, it is to be hoped, eventually subside,
and the film fall from the eyes of the proposers and hatchers of
this sage project, their bantling will, no doubt, at last stand forth
in all its native deformity, and display a scene somewhat akin to
that which we owe to the imagination of our Bard of Avon :

" Oh Bottom, thou art changed ! what do I see on tliee V


Of all branches of science Geology and Botany seem to be
those which can be more safely entrusted to amateurs than any
others. They may be more easily laid aside and resumed at
pleasure : they demand less rigorous and undivided attention ;
the facts which relate to them call for fewer minutiae to be regis-
tered and recorded ; and provided there be not too great a scope
given to the imagination, the learned can always be able to ar-
range and combine those collected facts with greater facility than
they can those of any kindred branch ; Astronomy, Geodesy,
Chemistry, for example.

If then the question were merely to be, Whether, seeing the
insufficiency of our resources to meet all demands, it be better to
perform each part imperfectly ; or leave those branches to shift
for themselves, which are best able to do so, until the others,
which without support are totally powerless, are effectually pro-
vided for, there can, it may be presumed, be hardly the shadow
of an argument for the former procedure ?

But when our interference would actually tend to deprive the
more self-sufficing branch of the fostering aid which it receives
from the hands of amateurs, without supplying any adequate
substitute, or one even equal in efficiency to that which it coun-
teracts ; is it the part of wisdom to dash headlong into such a
scheme of innovation ?

Yet even here nothing is said in the Address in reference to
the past arrangements of the Honourable Court of Directors : no
attempt is made to obtain information of what has been accom-
plished. The summons is brief, and almost peremptory, to do
what, for all the learned gentlemen know to the contrary, the
E. I. Company may have had done already.

Mr. Voysey, Mr. Laidlow, Mr. Turnbull Christie, have all been
regularly employed in their times, by the Government of India,
and received stipulated salaries, for the sole end of pursuing Geo-
logical enquiries. In 1817-18, a Geological Survey of the Hi-
malayan mountains was instituted under the conduct of the late
Capt. Herbert, and there are other instances of a like kind. Would
it not have been more in keeping with sound discretion, to have


first made zealous enquiry as to the results of the labours 'of all
these gentlemen, and pointed out, in the calm and dispassionate
language of sound logic, where the deficiency consisted, and what
were the best remedies to prevent its recurrence ? But in truth it
is so short and easy a process to condemn, and so much trouble
is saved by shrinking from investigation, shutting our eyes to
what has preceded, and making a peremptory and unlimited call
for a totally new order, that but for the respectability of the
source from which this call has sprung, it would hardly be rea-
sonable to experience surprise at its occurrence.

I too, though as a Geologist my pretensions are confessedly
nothing, and my other avocations have left me little leisure, have
not been altogether wanting as an humble instrument to advance
its interests. In the operations of the Great Trigonometrical
Survey, it is an invariable rule with all my subordinates to collect
specimens at my different stations, and give descriptions of the
formations of the countries we pass through ; a duty in which
my admirable assistant, Lieut. A. S. Waiigh, of the Bengal En-
gineers, stands preeminent amongst us. Of these, the details are
destined to appear when my next work is printed ; and therefore
it would be unfair to enumerate, amongst the other subjects of
reproach, that these have been passed over without notice, except
in so far as the very fact of a summons of the kind pervading the
Address, coming forth whilst the work to which it relates is still
in progress, argues want of that patience which men chiefly ex-
pect from the votaries of science.

But the same consideration cannot be adduced in palliation in
regard to another case, which I proceed to narrate.

In 1832, Lieutenants Waugh and Renny, of the Bengal En-
gineers, were appointed, on my application, to be my assistants
on the Great Trigonometrical Survey ; and as I had an opportu-
nity of employing them on a roving commission, without inter-
fering with the more important duties peculiar to their new pro-
fession, I obtained the sanction of Government to send them to
explore the vast tract marked Terra Incognita in the map of India,
lying between Rotas Garh, Omar Kantak, and Ihabalpur.


In the instructions which I drew out for these gentlemen,
Geology formed no inconsiderable feature ; their survey was com-
pleted in 1833; and in 1834, the maps, field-books, and several
beautifully-executed Geological and other drawings, were sent to
my office, and thence transmitted to the India House, where I
know they arrived in safety and good order, and were greatly

Now, please your Royal Highness, two gentlemen more highly
distinguished by all the qualities which adorn the soldier, the
gentleman, and the man of science, are not, I persuade myself,
to be met with in any part of the world, than the two whose
names I have above cited; yet their labours have passed un-
heeded, unnoticed, and unknown ; their names, it may be con-
cluded, have never been pronounced within the walls where the
Royal Society assemble ; and in an Address signed by thirty-
eight learned Fellows, with the signature of your Royal Highness
at their head, they stand tacitly condemned, as part of the rubbish
to be eliminated, to make a clearance for the representative of
achievements that are to be. Yet both Lieut. A. S. Waugh and
Lieut. T. Renny are brother masons, and belong to the same
fraternity with your RoyaV Highness and my humble self. They
are natives of Scotland too ; and if the national sympathies of
that country be not falsely assigned, we may expect that, in the
fulness of time, they will not want friends to back and protect
them against wrong ; though I, as an Englishman, may look in
vain for other backing than that which Sir John Falstaff so feel-
ingly deprecates.

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




" So when your speculations tend
Above their just and lawful end,
Although they promise strange and great
Discoveries of things far set,
They are but idle dreams and fancies,
And savour strongly of the Ganzas."



WHAT has been advanced in my last letter on the subject of
Geology, will, as it seems to me, apply with very little alteration
to the next point in order in the Address, Statistics ; which also,
for the reasons shown, cannot be taken up by the Government of
India as a separate consideration, without infringing on the dis-
posable residue of the resources of the revenue.

Statistics, however, may certainly be attended to, in conjunction
with topographical surveys ; and, when I learn that the learned
Fellows have taken such measures as are conceived necessary in
ordinary life to ascertain the fact of this subject having been
overlooked or neglected, and that their summons to the Honour-
able Court of Directors is founded on this circumstance, with
the existence of which they have taken due pains to acquaint
themselves, it will be time enough to enter into an explanation,
and either acquiesce in or refute their censure ; failing the latter
of which, I shall be consentient to unite my humble voice to
theirs, whenever they may be raised in a tone free from dictato-
rial clamour, and in such wise as it may be befitting the Court
to receive, or me to offer.


Though it is not the business of the Great Trigonometrical
Survey, which is peculiarly that of triangulation, to attend to
Statistics, yet, perhaps, the learned Fellows may discover upon
maturer search, (if indeed that may be put into the comparative
degree which has none to compare withal,) that there are in the
India House diverse statistical details (more particularly in
former years) from the Madras side of India, but also in latter
days from the Revenue Survey Department of Bengal, not so
totally undeserving of the notice of learned gentlemen who desire

That these ought to be published, will be another consideration
after their existence has been ascertained ; but previous to this
step, gentlemen who have had to deal with printers and pub-
lishers need not surely be informed by me, that a considerable
arrangement of the materials might perchance be necessary ; and
as the Court have of late years been deprived by death of no
less than four of those best able to assist and advise them in
such a task, Rennell, Horsburg, Wilkins, Salmond, there
might, perhaps, be now a little more difficulty than would have
been experienced, if at any time during the last forty years such
a proposition had been made.

I throw this out merely as a suggestion, for it is my entire
persuasion that, so far from having any reluctance to publish
such data, the Court would be very thankful to any person who
would gratuitously undertake the arrangement of such documents
for publication, from the pure impulse of that disinterested
public spirit which, there can be no doubt, is the ruling motive
of the learned Fellows ; and it stands to reason, that a body of
English gentlemen, so conscious as that Court must feel, of their
fair claim on the respect of their scientific countrymen, and so
sensible as they cannot but be to the neglect which their exer-
tions and sacrifices have been met with, would rather prefer to
let the result of operations so confessedly honourable to their
character see the light, than moulder away by atoms on tha ob-
scure shelves of their offices.


I am speaking, please your Royal Highness, from conjecture*
not authorisedly at all : the fact may be otherwise for aught that
I can vouch ; but has the experiment been made, and failed ?
If not, my hypothesis is at least as good as any other that can be

To proceed in the order which is most convenient to me, and I
presume not objectionable to your Royal Highness : the next part
of the Address points out to the Honourable Court the propriety
of undertaking experiments connected with the tides, the mag^-
netic dip and intensity ; to which I can perceive no other general
objection than what I have so often urged, namely, the utter im-
possibility of depending on amateurs for doing aught but what
suits their own pleasure ; the total elimination of the exertions of
that class, which would follow the interference of Government ;
and the impossibility of making such experiments a state affair,
without incurring a large expense ; which the local Government
might, perhaps, think would be better applied to other purposes
of more urgent need.

In questions of this sort, however, even the small range of
imagination and theory which might be pardoned in the instances
of Geology, Botany, and Statistics, cannot, in my humble judg-

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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 4 of 13)