Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/281

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CIVILIZATION AND SCIENCE.

To get an idea of the tardiness of their progress in the useful arts, we might compare the difference in material culture between the time of Pericles and that of Constantine on the one hand, and between Barbarossa's time and our own on the other. All industrial occupations among the ancients were, for the most part, confined to the servile class. This is the reason often assigned for the low state of industrial art among them. But may we not rather recognize, in the contempt of the freemen for industrial occupation, their small capacity for the same? However this may be, the material culture of the ancients evinces a one-sidedness and an imperfectness corresponding to the deficiencies we have already found to exist in their theoretical culture.

Hence comes the disproportion between technical and æsthetic performance, so often noticed in the products of ancient art-industry. In our museums, every one admires the candelabra brought from the villas of wealthy Romans, which were destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius. From light bronze branches, whose leaves seem to flutter in every breath of air, are suspended by slender chains a number of beautifully-fashioned lamps. By the light of these lamps Cæsar wrote his "Commentaries," Cicero rounded his periods, Horace gave the last polish to his "Odes." Each lamp is simply an oil-holder, into which dips a wick—a smoky affair, that no scullery-girl would tolerate nowadays. The idea of discovering the source of the light given by the lamp; of finding it in a more or less perfect combustion of a combination rich in carbon—a combustion carried only so far that, in the hot but not luminous flame produced by perfect combustion, some solid carbon-particles shall be brought to a white heat; of bringing about this degree of combustion by regulating the supply of air and oil; meantime, of protecting the flame from air-currents, saving the surrounding objects from smut, and guarding the organ of smell from the offensive odors of acrolein—such thoughts never once appear to have occurred to the minds of the artists of Magna Græcia. For them, the most perfect lamp was the one that was the most ornamental. If more light was needed, other smudgy lamps were added.

Thus the ancient culture resembled one of those coins on which a master-hand had stamped a noble countenance of some deity, but which he could not make round. We may, therefore, justly characterize this civilization as being essentially aesthetic, and the attitude of the ancients toward Nature as speculative and æsthetic.

The backwardness of the ancients in natural science was fruitful in most serious consequences to the human race. It was one of the chief reasons of the downfall of the old civilization. The greatest misfortune that ever befell humanity, namely, the overrunning of the Mediterranean countries by the barbarians, could have been prevented had the ancients possessed natural science as we understand that term.

This point has not, perhaps, been sufficiently noted hitherto. When Montesquieu and Gibbon described the fall of the Roman Empire, nat-