Transition Studies 59
yet been recognised as moribund. His work, however good, perishes with its subject. The greatest tragedy in the history of discovery is the invention of a great improvement on some existing process, which process itself is then in a brief time completely replaced by some novel and wide-reaching development. x
Closely allied to Galton's meteorological work was his association with the Kew Observatory. The Kew Observatory, constructed for George III's amusement, had been handed over by the Government at the suggestion of the Council of the British Association (1842) as a centre for testing scientific instruments, and it ultimately fell under the control of the Royal Society (1872). We have already seen that Galton was placed on the Managing Committee in 1858 as a result of the movement set going by him for the standardisation of sextants and other portable angle-instruments. On this Committee Galton made or strengthened several scientific friendships, notably those with Sir Edward Sabine, who largely influenced Galton's scientific career, with J. P. Gassiot', and with Warren De la Rue. Galton succeeded De la Rue as Chairman of the Kew Committee in 1889 and held that post till 1901, when the Committee ceased to exist as an independent body on the constitution of the National Physical Observatory. Sabine had made Kew a central magnetic observatory for the world. Galton busied himself mostly with apparatus for the testing and standardisation of instruments of all kinds. Sextants, thermometers, watches, telescopes, fieldglasses, photographic lenses were all tested at Kew, and in many of these cases it was Galton on whom fell the chief responsibility for selecting the methods and instruments used in the tests. We have already referred to Galton's first proposal to test sextants2 by beliostatic processes, i.e. by flashing light from the Observatory to distant fixed mirrors, which would reflect the light for angular measurement back to the Observatory. This method was discarded owing to its dependence on suitable weather ; it was succeeded by a system of collimators. Next, an instrument for standardising thermometers devised by Galton with the aid of suggestions by De la Rue was made by Mr R. Munro, and set up at Kew in 1875. After two years service, which suggested certain modifications, the instrument and its method of use were described by Galton in a paper entitled : Description of the Process of Verifying Thermometers at the Kew Observatory," read at the Royal Society, March 15, 1877'. The apparatus reveals Galton's characteristic ingenuity, but is of too specialised a nature to be described here'. In 1890 a pamphlet entitled : Tests and Certificates of the Kew Observatory.
1 The Ga siots are frequently mentioned in L. G.'s Record, as present on social occasions and as joining the Galtons when on travel.
2 Even as late as 1889, if we exclude thermometers, sextants stood second only to Navy binoculars, 292 to 341, in the statistics of instruments tested at Kew. In 1912 over 1000 sextants a year were being examined.
$ Proc. Roy. Soc. Vol. xxvi, pp. 84-9,1877. See also Phil. Mag. 1877, pp. 226-31.
' In 1912 it was still in use at Kew and was familiarly called "The Galton." That it should have survived nearly forty years service is a strong testimonial to its inventor's instrumental thoroughness.