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A Manual of Microscopic Mounting

Nature volume 6, pages 490491 | Download Citation



SCIENCE in this country is certainly under great obligations to amateurs, or dilettanti as they are more correctly called. The fact is there are in Great Britain but a very few men of science, that is to say, men professionally devoted to scientific careers, as compared with Germany and even France—we are very poor in this source of power. Germany has a host of universities and high-schools in. each one of which there are more men whose lives are definitely told off to the cultivation of science, than there are in our greatest and richest seats of learning. Dilettantism is the fashion of some branches of science in this country, and under it they have thriven in a way of which we may be to some extent proud; but which seems likely enough to impede greatly their more systematic cultivation. Geology has perhaps more than any science benefited by the patronage of dilettanti; but it is not difficult to foresee the time when its problems will have become too arduous for any but trained and devoted specialists to make any way with them. The same is to a less extent true for the biological sciences, in which, besides the enthusiastic field-naturalists, the members of the medical profession have been conspicuous as dilettanti explorers. At the time when (some five and twenty years ago) the microscope was first brought to a state of efficiency in this country, a perfect army of amateurs entered the fields of animal and vegetable histology, equipped with the beautiful and costly instrument, and brought to light a considerable number of important facts bearing on the structure of tissues and the minuter forms of life. This was not the case on the Continent, the costliness of the instrument, in addition to the other causes which make Englishmen remarkable as scientific dilettouti, tending to limit the movement to this country. The taste for amusement with the microscope has by no means diminished of late years, the sales of instruments by English makers being something astonishing in point of number and implied outlay. But it is a fact—for which we can most positively vouch—that the good work done at the present time in England with the microscope has fallen very far behind its original proportion to the number of instruments in use. In fact we have in the history of English research with the microscope, a typical case of the breaking down of dilettantism. Nearly all the discoveries easy to hand, wlrich could be made byhalf-an-hour's pleasant peeping through a good microscope have been made, and the numerous observers formerly urged on by success have now become reduced to mere collectors of diatoms and mounters of fleas. On the other hand, in Germany, an efficient microscope was produced somewhat later than in this country, on a different system and at a far less cost. It was not taken up by men of leisure and means, nor were the makers tempted to produce the most elaborate and costly mechanical contrivances for no practical end but their own profit. The microscope in Germany fell into the hands of the professed students of science in the universities, and in consequence the art of applying this instrument to the study of structure has steadily advanced in that country, until not only are all the important observations which are made with the microscope made in German laboratories, or by those who have studied in them; but the whole art or “technic” of microscopy has become a German one. When we find that it is necessary, for some purposes, to watch a single cell for twelve hours or more consecutively, and that three or four months' daily labour is not considered too much to devote to advancing one small step in the knowledge of such a matter as the nerve branches which go to the glands in a frog's tongue, we are not surprised that the dilettanti are no longer of service in the progress of researches with the microscope. Thorough and single-purposed men are required for such work; in short, “men of science,” supported by special institutions.

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