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Centenary of the Literary and Philosophical
Society of Manchester.
When the Society was near its Centenary it seemed good to the members that I should be requested to write some account of its doings. I said that I could not give time to write a history : it was well known that I was much occupied. I was told, however, to do just as much or as little as it suited, since no one seemed inclined to take up the subject. I should have preferred to see the work done by one who had lived from his earliest years in Manchester, and whose romance of life was associated with the neighbourhood, as then the treatment might have suited more readers. My deepest local interests are still in Scotland, although most of my life has been spent here; still I have of course no small pleasure in tracing the course of ideas in chemistry, and in looking at general progress amongst us and everywhere.
There are men now living who could tell much of the early members, and this volume
call them forth. I pretend only to give the origin of the Society and a sketch of its main work, and that to a large extent in the language of the writers, so that much of the book is made up of quotations from their sayings, to which I have at times amused myself by making replies as if taking part in a conversation. I have often looked to the red-book of the late Alderman Shuttleworth as a store of interesting matter. As a boy he paddled about Medlock Bridge, in Oxford Road, not knowing that it was a skew-bridge, a kind which was said to have been invented long afterwards; and he climbed up trees in St. Ann Square for birds' nests, as I have heard him say. There are many persons in Manchester well able to search and to obtain much information : I must be excused if I avoid almost all
personal history, making a slight exception in honour of our founder, and in two or three cases where information did not cost research.
The names of a few living men have been mentioned, but no account has been given either of their lives or their labours, with an exception where the atomic theory was treated, since I hold that the work of Dr. Joule was a continuation of Dalton's; and the works of Dalton and Joule have given, and must continue to give, the main honour, and that is not a small one, due to the Society. Of Dr. Joule, whose chief discovery has here been spoken of, too slightly I believe, and who is the great successor of Dalton, and must stand as a prominent figure in any society of which he is a member, I would gladly have said more. Dr. Dalton filled up very fully a large portion of the first part of our history, and Dr. Joule has stood, and stands, the main figure in the second. We can claim only a part of the honour arising from Mr. Sturgeon's labours, since he came here after much of his work was done.
I must especially thank Dr. James Bottomley for the trouble he has taken. A committee was appointed to assist me, but a committee cannot write a book.
I regret that I have been unable to devote more time and energy to the work; it may appear ungracious not to have given it my whole heart. Had I the hope of a life as long as that of the Society, the result might have been more than these notes.
There have been, mainly, two objects in the volume : first, to give a fair specimen of the spirit