In 1833 Professor Powell gave promise of that courageous zeal
for truth which marked his later writings, by the publication of his discourse
upon "Revelation and Science," in which may be found the nucleus of the
arguments afterwards wrought out in so masterly a manner in his "Connection of
Natural and Divine Truth," published in 1838, and in his latest and most popular
volumes, "The Unity of World and of Nature" (1856), "Christianity without
Judaism" (1858), and "The Order of Nature" (1859). The large sale of these
latter volumes attests the public interest excited by them, and perhaps it would
not be too much to say that they have exercised a wide-spread and lasting
influence upon the educated mind of the time. Dealing with abstruse questions in
the most popular and interesting manner, they are bold, firm, and convincing.
They will bear comparison with Locke or Bacon in profundity and precision; with
George Combe in fertility of illustration; or with Brewster, or with the author
of the "Vestiges," for beauty of style and polished eloquence of language. We
never read any works in which the respective topics were handled in a manner so
entirely adequate to the actual state of knowledge, and in which the subjects
were invested with such literary charms, though arranged in the severest logical
method. No theologian can consider himself educated until he has studied the
writings of the Rev. Baden Powell.
Among other volumes of which Professor Powell was the author
were the following: -- "An Historical view of the Progress of the Physical and
Mathematical Sciences, from the earliest Ages to the present Times" -- a volume
in Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopedia, London, 1834; "Tradition Unveiled, a Candid
Inquiry into the views advocated in the Oxford Tracts;" "A General and
Elementary View of the Undulatory Theory of Light" - London, 1841; and a revised
second edition of the late Doctor Pereira's "Lectures on Polarized Light."
The sermons preached in Kensington Palace Chapel upon several
occasions have been printed for private circulation; two of these having an
especial reference to the "Sabbath question" have had a very wide circulation.
Their contents were subsequently amplified and completed in "Christianity
without Judaism." During the latter portion of his life he rarely appeared in
public, but continued the activity of his pen till within a very short time
before his decease. A letter, written with all the vigour and warmth of a man of
middle age -- dated but a few weeks back -- is in our desk; it refers to the
immediate prospective requirement of another edition of his last great work, the
first edition of which is only dated May, 1859 -- scarcely a year ago....
Devoted to his study, and incredibly industrious, the Rev.
Baden Powell yet found time for many labours of unpretending piety and true
philanthropy, for the culture of friendship, and for the extension of help to
those who were labouring in the same field of knowledge as himself. Of his
generous kindness to students in permitting the use of his most valuable
library, the writer has a personal knowledge, and he can also pay a melancholy
tribute of admiration, respect, and affection to the memory of a man who never,
amidst the profoundest speculations of science, or the abstractions of
philosophical pursuits, forgot the claims of friendship or the wants of those
less fortunate in intellectual wealth than himself. Professor Powell was, we
believe, born in 1796, and had recently attained the sixty-third year of his
age. His health had been declining for some time past, but his decease has,
nevertheless, come upon us as a sad surprise.
"The Aberdeen Herald," July 21,1860.
The LATE Rev BADEN POWELL, M.A., SAVILIAN PROFESSOR OF GEOMETRY IN OXFORD.
On Saturday, June 16th, at a private funeral, were consigned to
earth the mortal remains of the late Rev. Baden Powell. His death had occurred
on the previous Monday, and was eminently marked by his characteristic placidity
of mind and kindliness of feeling for all around him. Through the whole of the
last severe winter he had been labouring under a gradually increasing amount of
lung and heart disease, owing to which, notwithstanding the unceasing efforts of
the numerous members of his family and his able physician friends, he was at
length prostrated, and after a few days of extreme weakness, his existence
The career in life of the deceased was so decidedly eminent, as
much to call for a good biography; but his abilities were at the same time of so
many varied kinds, and his sentiments on many disputed topics so much in the van
of the general THOUGHTS AND OPINIONS OF THE AGE IN WHICH HE LIVED, THAT IT WILL
BE LONG BEFORE HIS character is done full justice to, or a biographer of equally
rare powers with himself be found to undertake the task.
Confining ourselves at present merely to the mention of a few
facts and dates, we may state that Baden Powell was born in 1796; he graduated
at Oxford in 1817, taking first-class honours in Mathematics; in 1800 he was
ordained to the curacy of Midhurst; and in 1821 was nominated to the Vicarage of
Plumstead, in Kent.
How laboriously he must have employed those years of retirement
was in a little time unexpectedly demonstrated by the brilliant series of
important works which he produced in quick succession immediately after his
elections, first to the Savilian Professorship of Geometry at Oxford, in 1827,
and then to the post of Public Examiner there in 1827, '28, and '31. Indeed,
from that time and ever afterwards, he stood out prominently in the estimation
of all scientific men as the acknowledged representative of mathematical and
physical science in the elder English University.
While thus contributing to literature a treatise on the
Differential and Integral Calculus in 1829, on the Geometry of Curves in 1830,
on the History of Natural Philosophy in 1834, and on the Undulatory Theory Light
in 1841, he became an active and successful cultivator of some of the more
advanced branches of both practical and theoretical optics and thermotics. To
such good purpose, too, that in an epoch which produced a splendid array of
mathematical philosophers to carry on those particular inquiries from the
unfinished state in which they had been left by Newton, he held a recognized and
distinguished place; giving his researches in frequent memoirs to the Royal
Ashmolean Society, British Association, and Royal Astronomical Society. In these
papers, as well as in his lectures before the public at the London Royal
Institution and elsewhere, his mental grasp of the. theory, as well as his happy
adaptation of the simple means to practical illustration, were always successful
while his apparatus for explaining and exhibiting the undulatory theory of
light, and the phenomena of aberration and rotation, have been extensively
adopted in other Universities besides his own.
Combined, however, with his labour for the promotion of
science, the interests of humanity at large went on with him hand in hand; and
he was ever in the foremost ranks of educational reformers. In urging their
cause and their claims to public attention, his pen was frequently employed in
some of the principal reviews of the day, invariably producing for them articles
of sterling weight and worth, similarly with his well-known tract in 1840, on "
State Education," considered with "reference to prevalent misconceptions on
These points, and indeed liberal sentiments on almost all the
topics of human thought, he had deeply at heart; but more than everything else,
throughout the whole of his career, did he devote himself to the cause of true
religion. From his early labours as a curate at Midhurst, to the employment of
his last summer doing duty for a friend in Leicestershire, nay, even later, in
working for another friend in Buckinghamshire during the Christmas of 1859, when
he often walked several miles amidst cold and snow to officiate in cottages to
the aged and infirm -- he was justly as much appreciated for his ever ready
sympathy in visiting the sick, and engaging in prayer suitable to their
circumstances by their bedsides, and administering consolation to the dying, as
he was listened to with rapt attention in his sermons in the village church on "
the truth as it is in Jesus," or when he preached occasionally before the heads
of houses in Oxford on the more learned and polemic affairs of ecclesiastical
His maturer views on theological subjects were partly given to
the world in 1838, in his "Connection of Natural and Revealed Truth;" in 1839,
in his "Tradition Unveiled;" in 1855, in his "Christianity without Judaism;"
in 1859, in his "Order of Nature;" and in innumerable contributions to Biblical
and other religious publications. In these several works, his fearless assertion
of the results he was led to is as worthy of all praise as the strictness of his
chains of reasoning, or those searching analyses of enormous stores of
information by which he was led to them. Accordingly, with a limited but
steadily increasing class of reading and thinking minds, his books are acquiring
almost the character of a rule of faith; though a larger class, merely looking
to some few of his conclusions by themselves, are unfortunately shocked to find
some of their oldest and dearest prejudices treated with an unsparing hand.
Yet even these souls affrighted might have been won back to him
had his life instead of being cut short in the full prime of his reason and
judgment, and the active performance of his duties, been extended sufficiently
to have enabled him to give to the world the full circle of those deep and lofty
thoughts which filled his capacious mind, and formed there a chaste, orderly
cosmos; for well knew all his intimate friends that the grand end he was
ever striving for was "Spiritual Christianity," and well they knew too that with
all his learning his was the most meek and humbly inquiring of spirits.
Approachable to all, hearing all, and instinctively affectionate towards
children, he readily gained the love, respect, and confidence of all with whom
he came in contact.
Now that he is gone, it is only left for us to note how
extensive was the range of his capacities, and how usefully they were employed
up to the very last. At home, his spare moments for rest and relaxation, when
not occupied with painting as a fine art, or in reproducing from memory, wherein
he had a remarkable gift, the choral harmonies of church music, were closely
spent in reading; while in society, he was always listening, and garnering up
information; but, whether conversing, or reading, or writing, ever specially and
most perseveringly seeking, without departing from his peculiarly placid and
benevolent manner, to bring out in its full force, every argument of every side
of a question. And thus, perhaps, it came to pass that in almost every mental
walk in life in which he essayed anything, he was eventually looked up to
as a judge and a discriminator amongst men. In this manner it was that the
British Association requested him to undertake more than one report on the state
of certain branches of science, the Government appointed him one of the
Commissioners of Inquiry for Oxford, and the Aberdeen people chose him to be one
of the three Judges to award the Burnett Theological Prize.
The Rev. Baden Powell leaves a widow and eleven children to
mourn his death, which melancholy event took place only three weeks after the
birth of his youngest child.
Geological Society of London.
Anniversary Address of the President, LEONARD HORNER, Esq., F.R.S.L. & E., on the 15th of February, 1861.
The Rev. Professor Baden Powell died last June. He was elected
Fellow of this Society in 1837, and was a frequent attendant at our evening
meetings; and, although chiefly known for his labours in physics, and especially
in Light and Heat, he contributed much, by a variety of writings, to the general
acceptance by the public of the results of geological investigations He had
worked but little at field geology; but his unusual grasp of mind and habits of
industry enabled him, whilst closely engaged in other branches of science, to
keep pace with the recent observations and current literature of geology,
especially on the great general questions in our science, the most attractive to
a philosophical mind.
The fruits of these studies were embodied in numerous articles,
in reviews, and in a series of works devoted, in great part, to inquiries into
the relations between physical science and religion. Such were,-- "The
Connection of Natural and Divine Truth," 1838; "Essays on the Spirit of the
Inductive Philosophy, &c.," 1855; "The Unity of Worlds and of Nature,"
1856; "The Order of Nature," 1858. In the latter work there is a most
interesting sketch of the progress of geology, from which I am tempted to quote
the following admirable passage:-- "The evidence of the true influence and
progress of philosophical principals in this grand department of science --
grand in itself, but more transcendently so in relation to the ' cosmos,' as
carrying back the dominion of physical law through the abysses of past time --
in its earlier stages was found where perhaps we might least have looked for it
-- among the Italian writers. The mantle of Galileo descended, in some measure,
on Vallisneri and Moro, and more amply on Generelli, though a Carmelite monk We
here perceive perhaps the first great advance in true philosophical ideas of
geology, and the anticipation and prototype of the real inductive independent
views of Hutton and Lyell, under the vivifying influence of whose principles the
English school of geologists is but now beginning to cast off the lingering
remnants of its hereditary bondage to mystical paroxysms, occasional recurrences
of chaos and creation, subversions and renewals of the order of nature, and
miraculous originations of new species out of nothing -- in a word, the spirit
of invoking the supernatural to cover our ignorance of natural causes."
His broad and liberal views, and his fearless assertion of the
truths to which he was conducted by reasoning on facts, exposed him to the
shafts of prejudice and bigotry, the more envenomed from the fact of his being
himself in holy orders. But, although conscious that he was thereby putting a
bar on his prospects of worldly advancement, he continued to the end to work
steadily in the course which his conscience dictated, satisfied that at a later
day justice would be rendered to his arguments. He was at the same time ever
ready to give to his opponents the same credit for that sincerity of belief and
honesty of purpose by which he, doubtless, felt he was himself actuated, and to
which we all know he might justly have laid claim.
His lucid style, philosophical tone, and extensive learning
secured for him, as a writer, the sympathy and support of the friends of
intellectual progress, whilst his private friends had to admire his constant
readiness to assist and instruct, his lively interest in and great acquaintance
with most branches of knowledge, his skill as a musician and draughtsman, and
his unassuming kindness of disposition. For many years he formed one of a small
band at Oxford who kept alive the study of the physical sciences during a season
when they were not regarded with so much favour as at the present day; and when,
in 1850, he was appointed to be one of the Oxford University Commissioners, he
had the satisfaction of aiding to introduce some of those modifications which
have now given the physical sciences a recognized position in the system of
studies adopted the University.
From "The Gentleman's Magazine,"
THE LATE REV. BADEN POWELL,, M.A., F.R.S., F.R.A.S., F.G.S,
The deceased was the eldest son of the late Baden Powell, Esq.,
of Langton, Kent, and Stamford Hill. He was born at the latter place in the year
.... Although in holy orders, Professor Baden Powell held no
living, but was always ready to oblige his friends by temporarily undertaking
parochial duties, or by occasional sermons. In this way the congregations of
several of the churches in London had frequent opportunities of hearing his
discourses, which were remarkable for the masterly manner in which important
Christian truths were enunciated with the clearness and precision of a
mathematical demonstration. He also occasionally appeared as a lecturer at the
Royal and other scientific institutions. But it is by his writings that
Professor Powell was chiefly known to the world. These may be divided into two
distinct classes:-- 1. Those of a purely scientific character; 2. Those which
treat of the relations of science to theology.
The principal aims of the last-named works, to which Professor
Baden Powell devoted so large a portion of his great intellectual powers, were
to define the limits between the objects of faith and of knowledge, and to show
that the progress of modern scientific discovery, although necessitating
modifications in many of the still prevailing ideas with which the Christian
religion became encrusted in the times of ignorance and superstition, is in no
way incompatible with a sincere and practical acceptance of its great and
fundamental truths. The ability and boldness with which these views were
advocated was only excelled by another quality, unfortunately rare in
theological discussions, the calm and temperate spirit, and just allowance for
the feelings and opinions of others, which pervades them.
Although his published works afford abundant evidence of
unusual powers of reasoning and originality of thought, as well as a most
extensive and profound acquaintance with the writings of his predecessors, only
those who had the privilege of Professor Powell's private friendship could
appreciate his extraordinary talents and accomplishments in nearly every branch
of science and art, which, combined with his extreme good nature and gentleness
of disposition, made him beloved by all those who had the best opportunities of
estimating his character.
He leaves behind him a widow (daughter of Vice Admiral W. H.
Smyth, K.S.F., D.C.L., F.R.S.) and a numerous family.
" Journal of the Society of Arts," November
The Rev. Baden Powell, F.R.S., and Savilian Professor of
Geometry at Oxford, although not a member of the Society, had acted as a member
of the Board of Examiners. His general knowledge was extensive; his
understanding was vigorous; his mind had been disciplined by laborious study;
his habits were characterized by unwearied industry; and his eminence in
physical and mathematical science is indicated by the distinguished position
which he attained early, and enjoyed long, in the University at Oxford. His
contributions to science were numerous and important, and he contributed largely
to the reforms which have taken place at both our Universities.