Item 26 - Letter from William Whewell

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Letter from William Whewell


  • 19 Nov. 1826 (Creation)

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4 pp.

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WW has been meaning to write to HJR for some time 'for the purpose of remonstrating with you as to one or two things more hard than was necessary which you have said of my friends the experimental philosophers'. WW cannot imagine why HJR 'should charge mathematics with being useful and with strengthening the memory, when you may easily know that all of the science which we learn here is devoid of all practical use; and I can give you plenty of testimony that it may produce the effect of very thoroughly spoiling memories naturally good, besides giving you psychological reasons why it should do so if you wish for them. Nor do I think that you quite fairly represent the nature of progress in scientific knowledge when you talk of its consisting in the rejection of present belief in favour of novelty; at any rate if the novelty be true one does not see what else is to be done. But, to tell the truth, I am persuaded that there is not in the nature of science anything unfavourable to religious feelings, and if I were not so persuaded I should be much puzzled to account for our being invested, as we so amply are, with the faculties that lead us to the discovery of scientific truth. It would be strange if our Creator should be found urging us on in a career which tended to a forgetfulness of Him. I have undertaken to preach at St. Mary's next February, and may possibly take that opportunity of introducing some of my own views on this subject'. WW is not surprised HJR likes the Master of Trinity [Christopher Wordsworth] so much 'for he always strikes me as most admirable in respect of principles, affections and temper'. If French is made Lucasian Professor, WW will be very upset - 'It will be making the office contemptible, and will besides be a clear proof that there is no greater dispositiion here to select people for their fitness to offices than there has been in previous times; that we do not feel the responsibility of our situation. I wish Babbage had any chance. He would be an admirable person, and so would Airy who is also a candidate'.

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