DR. MACMILLAN explicitly informs his readers in his preface to his book, that his object is not so much to impart cut-and-dried information as to kindle their sympathy and awaken their interest “in a department of nature with which few, owing to the technical phraseology of botanical works, are familiar.” Such a purpose is very laudable indeed, and the book which carried it into effect might have been a very valuable one. Science has great need of evangelists. Students of its various branches experience the keenest interest in following up the lines of research and investigating the problems which belong to their own departments. But to feel this interest it is necessary to be instructed; and in an immense number of cases it is impossible to convey in non-technical language, so as to be understood by the uninstructed, in what the interest consists. Hence it follows that a large number of scientific workers have conceived a decided contempt for all attempts to popularise science. Their position is so far sound. Still, it is extremely important in the interests of science itself that its investigations should not be wholly withdrawn from the notice of the general community and confined to a small esoteric class. Here the function of the evangelists needs to be properly recognised; we want men with Dr. Macmillan's sympathy with the subject-matter and liking for exposition to, take a wider view of it in respect to general interest than it will ever be possible for the special student to take. If public funds are to be devoted to scientific purposes, it is absolutely necessary that the public mind should have some idea that they are being expended on something of more general importance than individual hobbies, as they will be too apt to believe, unless their sympathy with the work is occasionally kindled. It is not every branch of science which: is capable of yielding results which can at once be turned to commercial profit, and though knowledge in every line of investigation may be expected to yield practical applications in the most unexpected directions, it would be an evil time for scientific advancement when the community determined to shut its eyes and close its ears to everything which could not be shown to pay. It is very likely, however, to begin to do this unless scientific men take measures to excite intelligent interest where there is no obvious suggestion of profit to gratify the natural cupidity of a commercial country.
First Forms of Vegetation.
By the Rev. Hugh Macmillan, LL.D. Second edition, corrected and revised. (London: Macmillan and Co.).
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D., W. First Forms of Vegetation . Nature 10, 304–305 (1874). https://doi.org/10.1038/010304a0