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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 83/July 1913/The Progress of Science

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Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker.

 
THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

LORD AVEBURY AND THE PASSING OF THE VICTORIAN ERA

During the nineteenth century, England was clearly the leading nation of the world. Previously it had been rivaled by Italy and France, even by Austria and Spain; now it has to contend for supremacy with Germany and the United States; soon Russia and China will be added; perhaps the Balkan states and Japan. The races which successively invaded the British islands were of fine stock; their struggles and their union left a people of high quality. In the development of the applications of science England took the lead, owing to the genius of its people, the convenient supply of iron and coal and the maritime situation. Vast wealth was accumulated, the most able and vigorous of its people being the most successful. Innumerable families were established with inherited ability and wealth. From them came the great men who gave distinction to the Victorian era.

Four years ago, after comments on Darwin and Tennyson in view of the centenary of their births, it was here remarked: "The greatness of the Victorian era is now represented among the living by men of science—Hooker, Wallace, Avebury, Huggins, Galton." Only Wallace is now left, still vigorous in body and mind at the age of ninety years. One after the other the world lost Lister, Huggins and Galton; Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker died on December the tenth last, in his ninety-fifth year; Lord Avebury died on May 28 at the age of seventy-nine years.

Avebury—not every reader of the works of Sir John Lubbock will recognize him under the name he bore in the peerage—was not among the greatest men of the nineteenth century, but there is no finer example of the performance of the Victorian era. Like Hooker lie inherited from his father superior natural ability directed to scientific work and at the same time ample wealth. He was perhaps without peer as an amateur, nor is he likely to have a successor. He is known for a long series of scientific and literary books which attained circulations in English and foreign editions running into the hundreds of thousands. As a neighbor and friend of Darwin 's at Down he may have been influenced by him in his work on natural history, beginning with "The Prehistoric Times" and "Ants, Bees and Wasps." Equally popular with his works on anthropology, entomology and botany were his "Scenery of England" and "Scenery of Switzerland," and his books of literary philosophy, such as "The Pleasures of Life" and "The Beauties of Nature."

While writing so many books concerned with science and letters and while most active in scientific and educational organization—he was president of the British Association at its jubilee meeting and president of a long list of scientific societies—Avebury conducted the banking business which he inherited from his father. He published important brochures on currency and commerce and had large influence in the financial world. At the same time he was an active member of parliament, taking special interest in questions of education and social reform, as in initiating the movement for early closing and public holidays.

Avebury so completely represented many aspects of the Victorian era that his death typifies the passing of that great period in history. Rule by the best and work for love of the work are

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Lord Avebury.

fine ideals in politics and in science, yet it is now scarcely a compliment to call a man an aristocrat and an amateur. Avebury himself could not follow the newer order. With other representatives of the old whig and liberal families, he parted from Gladstone in 1886 over the question of home rule for Ireland. He was out of sympathy with

the radical and socialistic democracy into which the party to which he once belonged has moved, amateurism in science, like aristocracy in government, is no longer credited. Avebury 's books are not now read so eagerly as in the past, and it may be that such books will not hereafter be written. We have moved forward into a new age which we may hope is an advance in the civilization of the world. But the Victorian era and its great men are not less memorable because they belong to a past which can not return.

 

VITAL STATISTICS AND THE MARRIAGE RATE

Tables of vital statistics make an appeal to the imagination not surpassed by any writings in verse or prose. The events in the career of an individual are insignificant compared with the vast exhibit of human life displayed in tables of births, marriages and deaths. If the birth of a child is of more consequence than anything else, it is surely momentous that in a single country such as England half a million children were not born last year who would have been born if the birth rate had remained what it was a few years ago. If one tries to fancy the tragedy of each single death, it is quite beyond the range of the imagination to realize the meaning of a statement such as thirty years ago there died in England more people from scarlet fever than from cancer, whereas in 1910 there were 2,370 deaths from scarlet fever and 34,607 deaths from cancer.

Reference has been made here to birth rates and death rates as compiled in the excellent report of the registrar general of England, and it may be worth while to call attention to the data concerning marriage rates. The decreasing birth rate, the employment of women in industry and other social conditions lead many to surmise

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Birth Rates. Death Rates and Marriage Rates in England and Wales for the past Forty Years. The birth rate has decreased from 36.3 to 24.4, the death rate from 22.6 to 13.5; the marriage rate has remained about stationary since 1880.


that marriage is less common now than formerly, but that is not the case. There has been little or no change in the marriage rate or in the proportion of people married in the course of the past fifty years. Curves are here drawn from the report of the English registrar general for births, marriages and deaths.

These curves exhibit the remarkable decline in the birth rate and in the death rate. If they should continue in their present course there would be neither births nor deaths in England seventy-five years hence. As a matter of fact, the death rate can not decrease much farther. The very low figure of 13.5 deaths for each thousand of the population is due not only to improved conditions and a great decrease in the deaths of children and of those under forty which can be maintained and increased, but also to the fact that a birth rate declining in the course of a single generation from 36 to 24 has given a population containing a comparatively small percentage of old people and of young children among whom deaths are most common. What will happen to the birth rate, no one can foretell. In France the births have fallen below the deaths, and this may happen in England and in Germany.

Unlike the birth rate and the death rate, the marriage rate has not altered appreciably in the course of the past forty years. It was, it is true, somewhat higher in the early seventies, but it was only 16 in the early sixties. The variation from year to year is caused by economic and social conditions, so that the marriage rate has been called the barometer of the prosperity of a nation. The lowest marriage rate in England was 14.2 in 1886; it increased to 16.5 in 1899 and has since declined to 15. The constitution of the English population is favorable to a low death rate, but to a high birth rate and a high marriage rate. Among each million of the population there were in 1901 in England 257,525 between the ages of 20 and 34; in Germany, 239,-

857; in France, 233,548; in Sweden, 210,773. Most marriages occur between these ages and nearly all children are born when the mother is between these ages. The excess of people of these ages in Great Britain would account for an excess of marriages and births of 10 per cent, over France and 20 per cent, over Sweden. As the English population becomes stationary we may expect a decrease in marriages and births to that extent.

In Germany as in England the marriage rate is now about the same as it was thirty years ago. It has increased somewhat in France. The percentages of women between 15 and 49 years old who were married in 1901 was: In France, 57.7; in Italy, 56.1; in the German empire, 52.8, and in England, 49.2. In the course of twenty years there was an increase in France and Italy, a stationary condition in Germany and a decrease in England. In France, where the children are the fewest, the proportion of married women is the greatest as is also the number of unlegitimized unions. The decreasing birth rate is not caused by a decreasing marriage rate. It appears that it is due to the fact that people now marry with the intention of having no children or no more children than is convenient.

 

SCIENTIFIC ITEMS

We record with regret the death of Dr. William Hallock, professor of physics in Columbia University, and of Dr. William McMurtrie, one of the leading industrial chemists of New York City.

The Paris Academy of Sciences has elected Professor W. M. Davis, of Harvard University, a correspondent in the Section of Geography and Navigation, in the place of the late Sir George Darwin.—The mathematical works of the late Henri Poincaré are to be published by the firm of Gauthier-Villars, under the auspices of the minister of public instruction and the Paris Academy of Sciences.