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Biographies of Distinguished Scientific Men First Series   By: (1786-1853)

Book cover

First Page:

BIOGRAPHIES

OF

DISTINGUISHED SCIENTIFIC MEN.

BY FRANÇOIS ARAGO,

MEMBER OF THE INSTITUTE.

TRANSLATED BY

ADMIRAL W.H. SMYTH, D.C.L., F.R.S., &c.

THE REV. BADEN POWELL, M.A., F.R.S., &c.

AND

ROBERT GRANT, Esq., M.A., F.R.A.S.

FIRST SERIES.

BOSTON:

TICKNOR AND FIELDS.

M DCCC LIX.

RIVERSIDE, CAMBRIDGE:

PRINTED BY H.O. HOUGHTON AND COMPANY.

TRANSLATORS' PREFACE.

The present volume of the series of English translations of M. Arago's works consists of his own autobiography and a selection of some of his memoirs of eminent scientific men, both continental and British.

It does not distinctly appear at what period of his life Arago composed the autobiography, but it bears throughout the characteristic stamp of his ardent and energetic disposition. The reader will, perhaps, hardly suppress a smile at the indications of self satisfaction with which several of the incidents are brought forward, while the air of romance which invests some of the adventures may possibly give rise to some suspicion of occasional embellishment; on these points, however, we leave each reader to judge for himself. In relation to the history of science, this memoir gives some interesting particulars, which disclose to us much of the interior spirit of the Academy of Sciences, not always of a kind the most creditable to some of Arago's former contemporaries.

But a far higher interest will be found to belong to those eloquent memoirs, or éloges of eminent departed men of science, who had attained the distinction of being members of the Academy.

In these the reader will find a luminous, eminently simple, and popular account of the discoveries of each of those distinguished individuals, of a kind constituting in fact a brief history of the particular branch of science to which he was devoted. And in the selection included in the present volume, which constitutes but a portion of the entire series, we have comprised the accounts of men of such varied pursuits as to convey no inadequate impression of the progress of discovery throughout a considerable range of the whole field of the physical sciences within the last half century.

The account given by the author, of the principal discoveries made by the illustrious subjects of his memoirs, is in general very luminous, but at the same time presupposes a familiarity with some parts of science which may not really be possessed by all readers. For the sake of a considerable class, then, we have taken occasion, wherever the use of new technical terms or other like circumstances seemed to require it, to introduce original notes and commentaries, sometimes of considerable extent, by the aid of which we trust the scientific principles adverted to in the text will be rendered easily intelligible to the general reader.

In some few instances also we have found ourselves called upon to adopt a more critical tone; where we were disposed to dissent from the view taken by the author on particular questions of a controversial kind, or when he is arguing in support, or in refutation, of opposing theories on some points of science not yet satisfactorily cleared up.

We could have wished that our duty as translators and editors had not extended beyond such mere occasional scientific or literary criticism. But there unfortunately seemed to be one or two points where, in pronouncing on the claims of distinguished individuals, or criticizing their inventions, a doubt could not but be felt as to the perfect fairness of Arago's judgment, and in which we were constrained to express an unfavourable opinion on the manner in which the relative pretensions of men of the highest eminence seemed to be decided, involving what might sometimes be fairly regarded as undue prejudice, or possibly a feeling of personal or even national jealousy. Much as we should deprecate the excitement of any feeling of hostility of this kind, yet we could not, in our editorial capacity, shrink from the plain duty of endeavouring to advocate what appeared to us right and true; and we trust that whatever opinion may be entertained as to the conclusions to which we have come on such points, we shall not have given ground for any complaint that we have violated any due courtesy or propriety in our mode of expressing those conclusions, or the reasons on which they are founded... Continue reading book >>




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