Imágenes de páginas

new institution, and on the 16th of December, 1845, was established The Royal Academy of Science, Letters, and Fine Arts of Brussels. The first communication made by Quetelet to the new establishment was upon the history of art in Belgium; the manners and customs of the people at different ages; their habitations, ornaments, furniture, the instruments they used to supply the needs of life, &c. He recommended the formation of an ethnological museum to assist in the study of various types of the human race as well as of their habits, and in 1847, through his instrumentality, was formed the Museum of Antiquities of Belgium.

In 1853 Quetelet was appointed president of the maritime conference beld at Brussels on the suggestions of Lieutenant (afterward Captain) Maury. Its purpose was to establish a system of uniform observations at sea.

The regular astronomical observations of the Brussels Observatory commenced in 1836, although the small corps of the establishment, and the attention given to meteorological observations, did not permit of a great field of work. The observations made from 1837 to 1839 furnish in the Annals of the Observatory a catalogue of 666 stars. From 1848 these observations were carried on with renewed ardor; but all the regularity Quetelet desired could not be secured until 1857. From this year a great work bas been continued up to the present day. We refer to the catalogue of 10,000 stars, still in preparation, but which will soon be published, completing the monument raised to astronomical science by Adolphe Quetelet, and his son M. Earnest Quetelet, who during nearl y eighteen years has shared the work of the observatory, and whose labors have not been interrupted by his father's death.

Adolphe Quetelet contributed greatly to the progress of the study of shooting-stars, about the nature of which little was then known. His attention was first turned to them in 1819, when he wrote his thesis upon the orign of aerolites, and a few years later, he gave, in the first number of the Correspondance, a method for determining the height of a meteor from two observations in different places. In 1826 simultaneous observatious were organized by his efforts at Brussels, Gand, and Liege. He then abandoned the subject, and did not take it up again until ten years later, when he resumed bis observations, and continued them for the rest of his life. He first called attention to the periodicity of the starshowers of the 10th of August, and stimulated astronomers of his own and other countries to make numerous observations, which, taken together, bave prepared the way for the remarkable theories now formed as to the character of these interesting meteors. We are indebted to him for very valuable catalogues of their appearances, and also for conscientious and precise researches on their frequency and on the several peculiari. ties they present.

The direction of the establishment confided to his care did not hinder him from devoting himself to studies of another order, which show the variety of his powers and the habitual industry of his life. We refer to the statistical works, which obtained for him a high place in the world

of science. His first memoir upon this subject, The laws of birth and mortality in Brussels, was read before the academy on the 4th of June, 1825. " The establishment of life-insurance companies in our prov. inces,” says the author, " and the desire to see these laudable and, if well conducted, benevolent institutions continued among us has induced me to make some researches into the laws of birth and of mortality.”

After showing that during the preceding year the births and the deaths had followed almost exactly in the same proportion the variations of the thermometer, only in contrary directions, he gives some tables of mortality and population, with distinction of sex, aad shows how they might be made of use in the speculations of the life insurance companies. Two important remarks appear in the memoir. One, that the annual number of births and of deaths corresponds to a sinusoid, of which the abscissas represent the different times of the year, and the ordinates the number of births or of deaths at these seasons. The other rerifies the observation of Malthus, that the number of births increases when through any accidental cause an unusual loss of life has been sustained by a population. Another memoir, in 1827, upon the births, deaths, prisons, and poor-houses of the Pays-Bas, was intended to complete and develop the preceding. It contained another table of mortality for the lower provinces, but without distinction of sex. Researches upon population next appeared, and in 1828 Statistical researches in the kingdom of the Netherlands. In the importance of the facts given, in breadth of view and novelty of deduction, this memoir is superior to the two preceding. A short introduction gives the origin, aim, resources, and use of statistics, the degree of probability which may be obtained in deductions from them, the uncertainty, which can never be entirely overcome, and the objections of ignorance and false knowledge. The author divides the subject as follows: Extent of the kingdom of the Netherlands; population; imposts and commerce; libraries and daily papers; educational and benevolent institutions; crimes and delivquencies; comparative examination of the different parts of the kingdom. Some of the results obtained are very striking. Thus, in comparing the fecundity of marriage with us and with the English, he says: “Great Britain produces less than our country, but her fruit is more durable. She gives birth to fewer citizens, but she preserves them better. If her fecundity is less, her useful men are more numerous, and generations are not as often renewed to the detriment of the nation. Man during his early years lives at the expense of society. He contracts a debt which he ought some time to pay, and if he fails to do so, lis existence has been a loss instead of a gain to his fellow-citizens."

Speaking of criminals and delinquents, he says: “ The proportion condemned to the number accused in the criminal and police courts is the same in Belgium and in France; but in the courts of assize the proportion of the condemned to the accused in Belgium is 84 to 100, while in France and England it is only 65; a fact due to the want of the jury in Belgium at the time the observations were made. When that institution was restored, the number of the condemned was reduced to that of France. The author then gives a table indicating the number of crimes committed at different ages, and also giving the amount of what he calls the tendency to crime.

" What is very remarkable,” he observes, “is the frightful regularity with which crimes are repeated. Year after year are recorded the same crimes, in the same order, with the same punishments; in the same proportions. Sorrowful condition of the human race! The number condemned to the prison, irons, and the scaffold is as certain as the revenue of the state. We can tell in advance how many individuals will poison their fellows, bow many will stain their hands with human blood, how many will be forgers, as surely as we can predict the number of births and of deaths.

During the years 1831 and 1832 Quetelet deroted most of bis time to, statistical researches, and the five following memoirs were the fruit of bis labors: Upon the law of the growth of man; Upon the tendency to crime at different ages; Upon the weight of man at different ages; Upon: reproduction and mortality; and Statistics of the courts of justice of Belgium from the years 1826 to 1831. The researches in regard to the size and. weight of man were new at the time. Quetelet found that the law of growth, at least from birth until the thirteenth year, could be repre.. sented by a hyperbola. Twenty years later MM. Bravais and Martins adopted a hyperbola as the curve of the diametrical increase of the Norway pine, which is at least a singular coincidence. In the memoir upon the tendency to crime, be enlarges upon the ideas already given, passes in review the different causes which lead to the development or suppression of this tendency, and denies the favorable influence ordi. narily attributed to education. “We too often," he says, “confound, moral instruction with the merely learning to read and write, which in many instances only provides new instruments for the commission of crime. On the other hand, as to the injurious moral effects of poverty, some of tbe provinces of France reputed to be poorest are also the most virtuous.

In connection with these two memoirs he says::6 Man, without knowing it, and supposing that he acts of his own free will, is governed by certain laws from which he cannot escape. We may say that the human species, considered as a whole, belongs to the order of physical phenom. ena. The greater the number, the more the individual will is subordi. Dated to the series of general results which proceed from general causes. that control the social condition. These causes ought to be sought out, and only observation can discover them." Man, as the author considers. him, is analogous to the center of gravity in a body. “If the average man were determined for a nation, he would represent the type of that nation; if he could be determined for an assembly of all men, he would represent the type of an entire human species. Although his will is restrained within very narrow limits, man contains within him moral forces which distinguish him from the animal, and by wbich be cau, to

some extent, modify the laws of nature. These perturbing forces act so slowly that the modifications they produce may be called secular perturbations, since they are analogous to those astronomical variations in the systems of the world which require centuries for their investigation. The study of the natural and perturbing forces of man, in other words, social mechanics, would develop laws as admirable as those which govern celestial and inanimate bodies. As to the accusation of materi. alism, to which these results are said to lead, it has been made so often whenever science has essayed a new step into the unknown regions of nature, that it is not worth while to answer it; especially at the present day, when it can no longer be followed by the rack or imprison. ment. Who can justly accuse us of insulting the Divinity, when we exercise the most noble faculties He has given us in meditating upon the sublime laws of the universe, or in endeavoring to make manifest the admirable economy and infinite wisdom which presided over their formation? Or who can regard with indifference the sciences which have substituted for the narrow, insignificant world of the ancients, our magnificent solar systein, and so extended our starry vault that we can. not attempt to fathom its depths without a feeling of religious awe? Certainly a knowledge of the marrelous laws which govern the universe gives a much grander idea of the power of the Divinity than that which blind superstition would impose upon us. If the material pride of man is humbled by the thought of the small space he occupies even upon the grain of dust he calls his world, how much he should rejoice in bis intelligence, which allows him to penetrate so far into the secrets of the heavens. If science has advanced thus in the study of worlds, may we not look for equal progress in the study of man? Is it not absurd to suppose that, while all else is controlled by admirable laws, the human race alone is abandoned to blind chance, and possesses no principle of conservation ? Such a belief is surely more injurious to the Divinity than the research we propose.

In 1832–33 appeared an article Upon the possibility of measuring the influence of the causes which modify social elements," and one Upon the influence of the seasons upon the faculties of man.As soon as Quetelet obtained a new result he hastened to make it known, often before his idea was sufficiently matured or the fact at all certain, which accounts for the repetition in his articles. This mode of working has some ad. vantages; it excites interest and parallel efforts, but it occasions loss of time, and renders the co-ordination of the researches more difficult. In 1835 appeared the admirable work, “Man and the development of his faculties;" or, “An essay upon social physics.” It is a review of all his previous works on statistics; "a sketch,” he calls it, "of a vast picture, the details of which can only be supplied by patient investigation." It is divided into four volumes: the first two are devoted to the physical qualities of man, the third to his moral and intellectual qualities, and the fourth treats of the properties of the average man, and of the social system. The author considers, first, the determination of the average

man in general; second, with respect to physical qnalities. He then proceeds to examine all that relates to the life of man ; his birth, death, strength, height, agility, &c. We give some extracts: “The appreciation of the pbysical qualities of the average man is by no means difficult, either when measured directly or through their effects; it is quite otherwise with the moral and intellectual qualities, though they also, to some extent, may be judged of through the effects they produce.” “Man pos. sesses at his birth the germ of all the qualities which are successively developed, to a greater or less degree; prudence predominates in one, imagination in another, avarice in a third. We sometimes observe great size in proportion to age, or a precocious imagination, or unusual vigor in old age, and the fact alone that we notice these exceptional cases proves that we are conscious of a general law of development, and even make use of it to form our judgment.” The author successively considers the average man, first, with reference to letters and the fine arts; second, in relation to the medical or natural sciences. “The consideration of the average man," he says,“ is so important in medical science that it is almost impossible to judge of the condition of an individual without comparing it with that of a fictitious being, supposed to be in the normal state; in fact, the average man we have been considering.” Third, in relation to philosophy and morals; and, fourth, in relation to politics. It is quite curious to see how he regards political systems. He is opposed to the system which consists, when there are two dominant ideas in a country, in taking a kind of mean between the two, but would found a system upon the elements common to all parties; or, where there was divergence, upon the ideas held by the largest number. “Govern. ments," he says, “have their states of equilibrium, which may be either stable or unstable. The stable equilibrium exists when, after action and reaction of every kind, a government constantly returns to its ncrmal condition. If, on the contrary, from any cause whatever, a government tends to diverge more and more from its normal condition, changing constantly, without sufficient motive, its form and institutions, its end is near. Revolutions are only the reactions of the people, or a party, against abuses, real or supposed, and would not take place if the provocation did not exist. The liberty of the press, singularly enough, by facilitating these reactions, renders great revolutions almost impossible, for it does not allow forces to accumulate. The reaction is manifested immediately after the action, sometimes almost before the action has time to propagate itself.” This essay gave its author a high place in the scientific world. It was translated into both English and German. We have not-space to notice other papers upon statistics, which appeared in 1845–46–48. He was happy in his application of mathematics to statistical questions. He formulated the now well-known binomial theorem, and insisted, more especially in his last years, on its remarkable generality. He organized the first statistical congress, which was held in Brus. sels in 1853, and was appointed its president. He was also president of the commission of statistics of the kingdom of Belgium. On account

« AnteriorContinuar »