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TO SIR JOHN FREDERICK WILLIAM HERSCHEL,
MY DEAR HERSCHEL,
It is with no common pleasure that I take up my pen to dedicate these volumes to you. They are the result of trains of thought which have often been the subject of our conversation, and of which the origin goes back to the period of our early companionship at the University. And if I had ever wavered in my purpose of combining such reflections and researches into a whole, I should have derived a renewed impulse and increased animation from your delightful Discourse on a kindred subject. For I could not have read it without finding this portion of philosophy invested with a fresh charm; and though I might be well aware that I could not aspire to that large share of popularity which your work so justly gained, I should still have reflected, that something was due to the subject itself, and should have hoped that my own aim was so far similar to yours, that the present work might have a chance of exciting an interest in some of your readers. That it will interest you, I do not at all hesitate to believe.
If you were now in England I should stop here: but when a friend is removed for years to a far distant land, we seem to acquire a right to speak openly of his good qualities. I cannot, therefore, prevail upon myself to lay down my pen without alluding to the affectionate admiration of your moral and social, as well as intellectual excellencies, which springs up in the hearts of your friends, whenever you are thought of. They are much delighted to look upon the halo of deserved fame which plays round your head; but still more, to recollect,
as one of them said, that your head is far from being the best part about you.
May your sojourn in the southern hemisphere be as happy and successful as its object is noble and worthy of you ; and may your return home be speedy and prosperous, as soon as your purpose is attained. Ever, my dear Herschel, yours,
W. WHEWELL. March 22, 1887.
P.S. So I wrote nearly ten years ago, when you were at the Cape of Good Hope, employed in your great task of making a complete standard survey of the nebulæ and double stars visible to man. Now that you are, as I trust, in a few weeks about to put the crowning stone upon your edifice by the publication of your “Observations in the Southern Hemisphere,” I cannot refrain from congratulating you upon having had your life ennobled by the conception and happy execution of so great a design, and once more offering you my wishes that you may long enjoy the glory you have so well won.
W. W. TRINITY COLLEGE, Nov. 22, 1846.
TO THE THIRD EDITION.
N the Prefaces to the previous Editions of this work, sev
eral remarks were made which it is not necessary now to repeat to the same extent. That a History of the Sciences, executed as this is, has some value in the eyes of the Public, is sufficiently proved by the circulation which it has obtained. I am still able to say that I have seen no objection urged against the plan of the work, and scarcely any against the details. The attempt to throw the history of each science into EPOCHS at which some great and cardinal discovery was made, and to arrange the subordinate events of each history as belonging to the PRELUDES and the SEQUELS of such Epochs, appears to be assented to, as conveniently and fairly exhibiting the progress of scientific truth. Such a view being assumed, as it was a constant light and guide to the writer in his task, so will it also, I think, make the view of the reader far more clear and comprehensive than it could otherwise be. With regard to the manner in which this plan has been carried into effect with reference to particular writers and their researches, as I have said, I have seen scarcely any objection made. I was aware, as I stated at the outset, of the difficulty and delicacy of the office which I had undertaken ; but I had various considerations to encourage me to go through it; and I had a trust, which I
have as yet seen nothing to disturb, that I should be able to speak impartially of the great scientific men of all ages, even of our own.
I have already said, in the Introduction, that the work aimed at being, not merely a narration of the facts in the history of Science, but a basis for the Philosophy of Science. It seemed to me that our study of the modes of discovering truth ought to be based upon a survey of the truths which have been discovered. This maxim, so stated, seems sufficiently self-evident; yet it has, even up to the present time, been very rarely acted on. Those who discourse concerning the nature of Truth and the mode of its discovery, still, commonly, make for themselves examples of truths, which for the most part are utterly frivolous and unsubstantial (as in most Treatises on Logic); or else they dig up, over and over, the narrow and special field of mathematical truth, which certainly cannot, of itself, exemplify the general mode by which man has attained to the vast body of certain truth which he now possesses.
Yet it must not be denied that the Ideas which form the basis of Mathematical Truth are concerned in the formation of Scientific Truth in general; and discussions concerning these Ideas are by no means necessarily barren of advantage. But it must be borne in mind that, besides these Ideas, there are also others, which no less lie at the root of Scientific Truth; and concerning which there have been, at various periods, discussions which have had an important bearing on the progress of Scientific Truth ;—such as discussions concerning the nature and necessary attributes of Matter, of Force, of Atoms, of Mediums, of Kinds, of Organization. The controversies which have taken place concerning these have an important place in the history of Natural Science in