Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

father, that Charles the Second was not infinite varieties of being, have laid open content with saying witty things about such new worlds in time and space, have his philosophers, but did wise things with grappled, not unsuccessfully, with such regard to them. For he not only be- (160 complex problems, that the eyes of Vesastowed upon them such attention as he lius and of Harvey might be dazzled by could spare from his poodles and his the sight of the tree that has grown out mistresses, but, being in his usual state of their grain of mustard seed. of impecuniosity, begged for them of the The fact is perhaps rather too much, Duke of Ormond; and, that step being than too little, forced upon one's notice, without effect, gave them Chelsea Col- nowadays, that all this marvellous (220 lege, a charter, and a mace: crowning his intellectual growth has a no less wonderfavors in the best way they could be ful expression in practical life; and that, crowned, by burdening them no further in this respect, if in no other, the movewith royal patronage or state inter- (170 ment symbolized by the progress of the ference.

Royal Society stands without a parallel Thus it was that the half-dozen young | in the history of mankind. men, studious of the “New Philosophy," A series of volumes as bulky as the who met in one another's lodgings in Transactions of the Royal Society might Oxford or in London, in the middle of | possibly be filled with the subtle speculathe seventeenth century, grew in numer- tions of the Schoolmen; not improb- 230 ical and in real strength, until, in its latter ably the obtaining a mastery over the part, the “Royal Society for the Improve products of mediæval thought might ment of Natural Knowledge” had already necessitate an even greater expenditure become famous, and had acquired a (180 of time and of energy than the acquireclaim upon the veneration of English- ment of the “New Philosophy”; but men, which it has ever since retained, as though such work engrossed the best the principal focus of scientific activity | intellects of Europe for a longer time than in our islands, and the chief champion of has elapsed since the great fire, its effects the cause it was formed to support. were “writ in water," so far as our social It was by the aid of the Royal Society state is concerned.

240 that Newton published his Principia. If On the other hand, if the noble first all the books in the world, except the Phil- President of the Royal Society could reosophical Transactions, were destroyed, visit the upper air and once more gladden it is safe to say that the founda- (190 | his eyes with a sight of the familiar mace, tions of physical science would remain he would find himself in the midst of a unshaken, and that the vast intellectual material civilization more different from progress of the last two centuries would that of his day, than that of the sevenbe largely, though incompletely, recorded. teenth was from that of the first century. Nor have any signs of halting or of de- | And if Lord Brouncker's native sagacrepitude manifested themselves in our city had not deserted his ghost, he (250 own times. As in Dr. Wallis's days, so would need no long reflection to discover in these, “our business is, precluding that all these great ships, these railways, theology and state affairs, to discourse these telegraphs, these factories, these and consider of philosophical en- (200 | printing-presses, without which the whole quiries.” But our “Mathematick” is fabric of modern English society would one which Newton would have to go to collapse into a mass of stagnant and school to learn; our “Staticks, Mechan- starving pauperism,—that all these pillars icks, Magneticks, Chymicks, and Nat- of our State are but the ripples and the ural Experiments” constitute a mass of bubbles upon the surface of that great physical and chemical knowledge, a spiritual stream, the springs of which [260 glimpse at which would compensate | only, he and his fellows were privileged to Galileo for the doings of a score of in- see; and seeing, to recognize as that quisitorial cardinals, our “Physick” and which it behoved them above all things "Anatomy” have embraced such (210 to keep pure and undefiled.

It may not be too great a flight of im- our faith, nor that of our morals, which agination to conceive our noble revenant | keeps the plague from our city; but, 1320 not forgetful of the great troubles of his again, that it is the improvement of our own day, and anxious to know how often natural knowledge. London had been burned down since his | We have learned that pestilences will time, and how often the plague had (270 only take up their abode among those carried off its thousands. He would have who have prepared unswept and ungarto learn that, although London contains | nished residences for them. Their cities tenfold the inflammable matter that it must have narrow, unwatered streets, did in 1666; though, not content with foul with accumulated garbage. Their filling our rooms with woodwork and houses must be ill-drained, ill-lighted, light draperies, we must needs lead in ill-ventilated. Their subjects must (330 flammable and explosive gases into every be ill-washed, ill-fed, ill-clothed. The corner of our streets and houses, we never London of 1655 was such a city. The allow even a street to burn down. And cities of the East, where plague has an if he asked how this had come about, (280 enduring dwelling, are such cities. We, we should have to explain that the im- in later times, have learned somewhat of provement of natural knowledge has fur- | Nature, and partly obey her. Because nished us with dozens of machines for of this partial improvement of our natuthrowing water upon fires, any one of ral knowledge and of that fractional which would have furnished the ingenious obedience, we have no plague; because Mr. Hooke, the first “curator and ex that knowledge is still very imperfect (340 perimenter” of the Royal Society, with and that obedience yet incomplete, tyample materials for discourse before half phoid is our companion and cholera our a dozen meetings of that body; and that, visitor. But it is not presumptuous to to say truth, except for the progress (290 express the belief that, when our knowlof natural knowledge, we should not have edge is more complete and our obedience been able to make even the tools by which the expression of our knowledge, London these machines are constructed. And, will count her centuries of freedom from further, it would be necessary to add, typhoid and cholera, as she now gratethat although severe fires sometimes OC fully reckons her two hundred years of igcur and inflict great damage, the loss is norance of that plague which swooped (350 very generally compensated by societies, upon her thrice in the first half of the the operations of which have been ren seventeenth century. dered possible only by the progress of Surely, there is nothing in these exnatural knowledge in the direction of (300 | planations which is not fully borne out mathematics, and the accumulation of by the facts? Surely, the principles wealth in virtue of other natural knowl- | involved in them are now admitted among edge.

the fixed beliefs of all thinking men? But the plague? My Lord Brouncker's Surely, it is true that our countrymen observation would not, I fear, lead him are less subject to fire, famine, pestilence, to think that Englishmen of the nine and all the evils which result from a [360 teenth century are purer in life, or more want of command over and due anticifervent in religious faith, than the genera pation of the course of Nature, than tion which could produce a Boyle, an were the countrymen of Milton; and Evelyn, and a Milton. He might (310 health, wealth, and well-being are more find the mud of society at the bottom, abundant with us than with them? But instead of at the top, but I fear that the no less certainly is the difference due to sum total would be as deserving of swift the improvement of our knowledge of judgment as at the time of the Restora Nature, and the extent to which that tion. And it would be our duty to ex improved knowledge has been incorplain once more, and this time not with- porated with the household words of 1370 out shame, that we have no reason to men, and has supplied the springs of their believe that it is the improvement of daily actions.

Granting for a moment, then, the truth stocking-machine a mere provider of physof that which the depreciators of natural ical comforts? knowledge are so fond of urging, that its However, there are blind leaders of the improvement can only add to the resources blind, and not a few of them, who take of our material civilization; admitting it this view of natural knowledge, and (430 to be possible that the founders of the can see nothing in the bountiful mother of Royal Society themselves looked for no humanity but a sort of comfort-grinding other reward than this, I cannot con- (380 machine. According to them, the improve fess that I was guilty of exaggeration ment of natural knowledge always has when I hinted, that to him who had the | been, and always must be, synonymous gift of distinguishing between prominent with no more than the improvement of events and important events, the origin the material resources and the increase of of a combined effort on the part of man- | the gratifications of men. kind to improve natural knowledge might | Natural knowledge is, in their eyes, no have loomed larger than the Plague and real mother of mankind, bringing (440 have outshone the glare of the Fire; as them up with kindness, and, if need be, a something fraught with a wealth of with sternness, in the way they should go, beneficence to mankind, in compari- 1390 and instructing them in all things needful son with which the damage done by those for their welfare; but a sort of fairy godghastly evils would shrink into insignifi mother, ready to furnish her pets with cance.

shoes of swiftness, swords of sharpness, and It is very certain that for every victim omnipotent Aladdin's lamps, so that they slain by the plague, hundreds of mankind | may have telegraphs to Saturn, and see exist and find a fair share of happiness in the other side of the moon, and thank the world by the aid of the spinning jenny. God they are better than their be- (450 And the great fire, at its worst, could not nighted ancestors. have burned the supply of coal, the daily If this talk were true, I, for one, should working of which, in the bowels of the (400 not greatly care to toil in the service of earth, made possible by the steam pump, natural knowledge. I think I would just gives rise to an amount of wealth to which as soon be quietly chipping my own flint the millions lost in old London are but as axe, after the manner of my forefathers a an old song.

few thousand years back, as be troubled

with the endless malady of thought which But spinning jenny and steam pump now infests us all, for such reward. But are, after all, but toys, possessing an acci I venture to say that such views are (460 dental value; and natural knowledge creates contrary alike to reason and to fact. Those multitudes of more subtle contrivances, who discourse in such fashion seem to me the praises of which do not happen to be to be so intent upon trying to see what is sung because they are not directly con- (410 above Nature, or what is behind her, that vertible into instruments for creating they are blind to what stares them in the wealth. When I contemplate natural face in her. knowledge squandering such gifts among I should not venture to speak thus men, the only appropriate comparison I strongly if my justification were not to be can find for her is, to liken her to such a found in the simplest and most obvious peasant woman as one sees in the Alps, facts,-if it needed more than an ap- 1470 striding ever upward, heavily burdened, peal to the most notorious truths to justify and with mind bent only on her home; but my assertion, that the improvement of yet without effort and without thought, natural knowledge, whatever direction it knitting for her children. Now stock- 1420 has taken, and however low the aims of ings are good and comfortable things, and those who may have commenced it-has the children will undoubtedly be much not only conferred practical benefits on the better for them; but surely it would | men, but, in so doing, has effected a revolube short-sighted, to say the least of it, to tion in their conceptions of the universe depreciate this toiling mother as a mere, and of themselves, and has profoundly

ity.

altered their modes of thinking and [480 that he went further, to find as we do, that their views of right and wrong. I say | upon that brief gladness there follows a that natural knowledge, seeking to satisfy certain sorrow,—the little light of awaknatural wants, has found the ideas which ened human intelligence shines so mere (530 can alone still spiritual cravings. I say a spark amidst the abyss of the unknown that natural knowledge, in desiring to and unknowable; seems so insufficient to ascertain the laws of comfort, has been do more than illuminate the imperfections driven to discover those of conduct, and that cannot be remedied, the aspirations to lay the foundations of a new moral that cannot be realized, of man's own na

ture. But in this sadness, this conscious

ness of the limitation of man, this sense of Let us take these points separately; (490

an open secret which he cannot penetrate, and first, what great ideas has natural

lies the essence of all religion; and the atknowledge introduced into men's minds?

tempt to embody it in the forms fur- (540 I cannot but think that the foundations

nished by the intellect is the origin of the of all natural knowledge were laid when

higher theologies. the reason of man first came face to face

Thus it seems impossible to imagine but with the facts of Nature; when the savage

that the foundations of all knowledge first learned that the fingers of one hand

secular or sacred-were laid when intelliare fewer than those of both; that it is

gence dawned, though the superstructure shorter to cross a stream than to head it;

remained for long ages so slight and feeble that a stone stops where it is unless 1500

as to be compatible with the existence of it be moved, and that it drops from the

almost any general view respecting the hand which lets it go; that light and heat

mode of governance of the universe. (550 come and go with the sun; that sticks burn

No doubt, from the first, there were ceraway in a fire; that plants and animals

tain phenomena which, to the rudest mind, grow and die; that if he struck his fellow

presented a constancy of occurrence, and savage a blow he would make him angry,

suggested that a fixed order ruled, at any and perhaps get a blow in return, while if

rate, among them. I doubt if the grossest he offered him a fruit he would please

of Fetish worshippers ever imagined that a him, and perhaps receive a fish in exchange.

stone must have a god within it to make it When men had acquired this much (510

fall, or that a fruit had a god within it to knowledge, the outlines, rude though they

make it taste sweet. With regard to such were, of mathematics, of physics, of chemis

matters as these, it is hardly question- (560 try, of biology, of moral, economical, and

able that mankind from the first took political science, were sketched. Nor did

strictly positive and scientific views. the germ of religion fail when science

But, with respect to all the less familiar began to bud. Listen to words which,

occurrences which present themselves, unthough new, are yet three thousand years

cultured man, no doubt, has always taken old:

himself as the standard of comparison, as “... When in heaven the stars about the the centre and measure of the world; nor moon

could he well avoid doing so. And finding Look beautiful, when all the winds are that his apparently uncaused will has a laid,

520 powerful effect in giving rise to many 1570 And every height comes out, and jutting occurrences, he naturally enough ascribed peak

other and greater events to other and And valley, and the immeasurable heavens greater volitions, and came to look upon Break open to their highest, and all the stars the world and all that therein is, as the Shine, and the shepherd gladdens in his product of the volitions of persons like heart.” 1

himself, but stronger, and capable of being

appeased or angered, as he himself might If the half savage Greek could share our

be soothed or irritated. Through such feelings thus far, it is irrational to doubt

conceptions of the plan and working of ? Need it be said that this is Tennyson's English for Homer's Greek? (Huxley]

the universe all mankind have passed, 1580 or are passing. And we may now consider | trine that all matter has weight, and that what has been the effect of the improvement the force which produces weight is coof natural knowledge on the views of men extensive with the universe,-in short, who have reached this stage, and who have to the theory of universal gravitation begun to cultivate natural knowledge with and endless force. While learning how no desire but that of "increasing God's to handle gases led to the discovery of (640 honor and bettering man's estate.”

oxygen, and to modern chemistry, and For example, what could seem wiser, to the notion of the indestructibility of from a mere material point of view, more matter. innocent, from a theological one, to (590 Again, what simpler, or more absolutely an ancient people, than that they should practical, than the attempt to keep the learn the exact succession of the seasons, axle of a wheel from heating when the as warnings for their husbandmen; or the wheel turns around very fast? How useful position of the stars, as guides to their for carters and gig drivers to know somerude navigators? But what has grown out thing about this; and how good were it, of this search for natural knowledge of so if any ingenious person would find out (650 merely useful a character? You all know the cause of such phenomena, and thence the reply. Astronomy,—which of all educe a general remedy for them. Such sciences has filled men's minds with gen an ingenious person was Count Rumford; eral ideas of a character most foreign (600 and he and his successors have landed us to their daily experience, and has, more in the theory of the persistence, or indethan any other, rendered it impossible for structibility, of force. And in the infinitely them to accept the beliefs of their fathers. minute, as in the infinitely great, the Astronomy,—which tells them that this seekers after natural knowledge of the so vast and seemingly solid earth is but kinds called physical and chemical, have an atom among atoms, whirling, no man everywhere found a definite order and (060 knows whither, through illimitable space; succession of events which seem never to which demonstrates that what we call the be infringed. peaceful heaven above us, is but that space, And how has it fared with "Physick" filled by an infinitely subtle matter (610 and Anatomy? Have the anatomist, the whose particles are seething and surging, physiologist, or the physician, whose like the waves of an angry sea; which opens business it has been to devote themselves up to us infinite regions where nothing is assiduously to that eminently practical known, or ever seems to have been known, and direct end, the alleviation of the but matter and force, operating according sufferings of mankind,-have they been to rigid rules; which leads us to contem- | able to confine their vision more ab- (670 plate phenomena the very nature of which solutely to the strictly useful? I fear demonstrates that they must have had | they are the worst offenders of all. For a beginning, and that they must have an if the astronomer has set before us the end, but the very nature of which also [620 infinite magnitude of space, and the pracproves that the beginning was, to our con tical eternity of the duration of the uniceptions of time, infinitely remote, and verse; if the physical and chemical that the end is as immeasurably distant. philosophers have demonstrated the in

But it is not alone those who pursue finite minuteness of its constituent parts, astronomy who ask for bread and receive and the practical eternity of matter and ideas. What more harmless than the of force; and if both have alike pro (680 attempt to lift and distribute water by claimed the universality of a definite and pumping it; what more absolutely and predicable order and succession of events, grossly utilitarian? Yet out of pumps the workers in biology have not only acgrew the discussions about Nature's [630 cepted all these, but have added more abhorrence of a vacuum; and then it was startling theses of their own. For, as discovered that Nature does not abhor a the astronomers discover in the earth no vacuum, but that air has weight; and centre of the universe, but an eccentric that notion paved the way for the doc- speck, so the naturalists find man to be

« AnteriorContinuar »