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A Budget of Paradoxes, Volume I by De Morgan

Further vibration produced Mercury


An elderly man came to me to show me how the universe was created. There was one molecule, which by vibration became--Heaven knows how!--the Sun. Further vibration produced Mercury, and so on. I suspect the nebular hypothesis had got into the poor man's head by reading, in some singular mixture with what it found there. Some modifications of vibration gave heat, electricity, etc. I {14} listened until my informant ceased to vibrate--which is always the shortest way--and then said, "Our knowledge of elastic fluids is imperfect." "Sir!" said he, "I see you perceive the truth of what I have said, and I will reward your attention by telling you what I seldom disclose, never, except to those who can receive my theory--the little molecule whose vibrations have given rise to our solar system is the Logos of St. John's Gospel!" He went away to Dr. Lardner, who would not go into the solar system at all--the first molecule settled the question. So hard upon poor discoverers are men of science who are not antiquaries in their subject! On leaving, he said, "Sir, Mr. De Morgan received me in a very different way! he heard me attentively, and I left him perfectly satisfied of the truth of my system." I have had much reason to think that many discoverers, of all classes, believe they have convinced every one who is not peremptory to the verge of incivility.

My list is given in chronological order. My readers will understand that my general expressions, where

slighting or contemptuous, refer to the ignorant, who teach before they have learned. In every instance, those of whom I am able to speak with respect, whether as right or wrong, have sought knowledge in the subject they were to handle before they completed their speculations. I shall further illustrate this at the conclusion of my list.

Before I begin the list, I give prominence to the following letter, addressed by me to the _Correspondent_ of October 28, 1865. Some of my paradoxers attribute to me articles in this or that journal; and others may think--I know some do think--they know me as the writer of reviews of some of the very books noticed here. The following remarks will explain the way in which they may be right, and in which they may be wrong. {15}

* * * * *


"Sir,--I have reason to think that many persons have a very inaccurate notion of the _Editorial System_. What I call by this name has grown up in the last _centenary_--a word I may use to signify the hundred years now ending, and to avoid the ambiguity of _century_. It cannot conveniently be explained by editors themselves, and _edited_ journals generally do not like to say much about it. In _your_ paper perhaps, in which editorial duties differ somewhat from those of ordinary journals, the common system may be freely spoken of.

"When a reviewed author, as very often happens, writes to the editor of the reviewing journal to complain of what has been said of him, he frequently--even more often than not--complains of 'your reviewer.' He sometimes presumes that 'you' have, 'through inadvertence' in this instance, 'allowed some incompetent person to lower the character of your usually accurate pages.' Sometimes he talks of 'your scribe,' and, in extreme cases, even of 'your hack.' All this shows perfect ignorance of the journal system, except where it is done under the notion of letting the editor down easy. But the editor never accepts the mercy.

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