Зображення сторінки


Beyond question is it, that the view of human life taken by the "untutored mind" of this "poor Indian," is common to the unprogressive races; a fact worth noting. We should never forget that what we almost always have in view when we speak of Progress is confined to a small fraction of mankind; nay, to a small fraction even of the great family of the Aryans, "the excellent," as they called themselves, a title which their achievements may be taken to justify. What we commonly mean when we talk of Progress is the development of European civilization. Let us see wherein this consists.

Two thousand years ago Sophocles struck the true note of it in the noble choric song which celebrates the Seti'OTTjs—the might, the wondrou ness, the cleverness—of man. Man, who uses the stormvexed deep as his highway: man, who subdues the earth to the minister of his wants: man, who compels the other animals to his service: man, who hath taught himself language, and lofty thought, and civil polity: man, who has invented architecture: man, whose large discourse of reason enables him to meet the future with plans prepared: man, who at la&t, indeed, the victim of Death, has yet found remedies against many dire diseases. What a road has the Western world travelled since these words were written. Think of the stupendous discoveries in the phenomenal universe: the everextending dominion over matter and its forces: the continuous improvement in the industrial arts of life. Here not one inch of ground has ever been lost. A knowledge of the principles of mechanical action has been the instrument of ever advancing conquests over nature. The combination of facts of experience, according to clear and simple laws of thought, has initiated a Progress in physical science to which, apparently, no limits can be set. "Ingrediturque solo et caput inter sidera condit." The human intellect is so constituted that, by a sort of necessity, one discovery, one invention hegets another. Each generation enters into the labours of its predecessor, and capitalises their result. Here, too, it is true:

"Young children gather as their own
The harvest that the dead have sown;
The dead, forgotten and unknown."

And here is exemplified that solidarity of the race which assuredly is a fact, however difficult its explanation. '* Toute la suite des hommes," said Pascal, " pendant le cours de tant de siecles, doit ctre consideree comme un memo homme, qui existe toujours et qui apprend continuellement." Think of the invisible ties that bind into one fellowship with us the generations whose heirs we are and those which will inherit from us. Think, again, of one special characteristic of the time in which wo i.] THE TRIUMPHS OF PHYSICAL SCIENCE. 9

live—the rapidity with which every mechanical invention is developed, completed, and made accessible to all. The subject is too vast for me to dwell on. Only an encyclopedia could deal even with its outlines. Let it suffice to quote here a passage from Lord Macaulay which, indeed, presents so fine an example of his gorgeous rhetoric as to he well worth citing, however hackneyed. Physical science, he proclaims,

"has lengthened life; it has mitigated pain; it has extinguished diseases; it has increased the fertility of the soil; it has given new securities to the mariner; it has furnished new arms to the warrior; it has spanned great rivers and estuaries with bridges of form unknown to our fathers; it has guided the thunderbolt innocuous from heaven to earth; it has lighted up the night with the splendors of the day; it has extended the range of the human vision; it has multiplied the power of the human muscles; it has accelerated motion; it has annihilated distance; it has facilitated intercourse, correspondence, all friendly offices, all dispatch of business; it has enabled man to descend to the depths of the sea, to soar into the air, to penetrate securely into the noxious recesses of the earth, to traverse the land in cars which whirl along without horses, and the ocean in ships which run ten knots an hour against the wind."

In the sphere of physical science, then, our Progress is absolute. But more, the spirit in which the physicist works has vastly contributed to our advance in other provinces of the human intellect. It has impressed upon the minds of men this great truth: that everywhere the road to knowledge is to go by the facts: testing, verifying, analyzing, comparing, inducting. And in proportion as this lesson has been laid to heart, by investigators of all kinds, have their researches been rich in real results. Thus, for example, is it in the domain of historical studies. One function of history, and not the least important, is to explain how the past has become the present. And this task has been undertaken in our own age by scholars of whom it is not too much to say that they have worked in a new spirit. The great collections which we owe to the patient labour of the last century—those of the Benedictines are conspicuous among them—must be considered rather as the materials of history than as history itself. To apply to these materials a rigidly critical method, to examine, estimate, compare, classify them in a really scientific way, has been the work of the school which may perhaps claim Niebuhr as its founder. The special notes of that school are a subtle power regulating the sense of proportion, a faculty of distinguishing between the essential and the non-essential, a gift of evolving general laws from a mass of phenomena. And unquestionably these endowments, to which we owe such a luminous consciousness of the past, are, in no small degree, derived from methods whereby physical knowledge has been systcmatised and co-ordinated. True it is, indeed, that our Progress in the historical sciences has not the same regularity and certainty as in the exact sciences which are essentially impersonal. True also is it that critical and analytical skill are seldom found in combination with the creative i.] THE METHODS OF PHYSICS, 11

faculty, the "imaginous fancy "* essential to an historian of the highest order. The scientific method in history gives us a Taine. It is hardly likely to give us a Tacitus.

Philology is another sphere of intellectual labour outside the proper bounds of physical science, in which our Progress is largely due to the wise employment of its methods. Classical scholars will not need to be reminded how vast is the advance made during the present century in our knowledge of the tongue of ancient Hellas. Landor, a very competent judge, writes: "In no age, since the time of Aristarchus or before, has the Greek language been so profoundly studied, or its poetry, in its nature and metre, so fully understood as in ours. Neither Athens nor Alexandria saw so numerous and so intelligent a race of grammarians as Germany has recently seen."f The like might be said of almost all languages spoken by men. But more: the science of language is a creation of these latter days, due to the singular acumen and the untiring energy of the illustrious Bopp. He it was who first effectively introduced into linguistic studies the method of comparison and analysis, so fruitfully employed in physics. And the science which he created has given birth to the science, still in its infancy, of hierology, or

* "the stuff

Prepared for Arras pictures, is no picture
Till it be formed, and man hath cast the beams
Of his imaginous fancy thorough it."—
t Work, vol. viii. p. 357,

« НазадПродовжити »