Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/405

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CIVILIZATION AND SCIENCE.

lem beneath the elms of Cambridge. Who at the beginning of this century? Not, amid the ruins of Moscow, the indomitable man who invented chauvinism as the instrument of his ungovernable selfishness, but Alessandro Volta, contriving, at his villa on Lake Como, the artificial electrical organ which gave to man the power of omnipresence, as it were; or that other conqueror of space, George Stephenson, setting in motion, in his coal-blackened cottage at Killingworth, the model of his railway-locomotive.

It were a noble task to describe the revolution that natural science has quietly produced in the condition of the human race during the last two or three centuries. Just as it has lifted from over our heads the confining roof of a solid firmament, so, too, has it liberated us intellectually. For every one who hearkens to her teaching she has fulfilled the aspirations of the poet, who, amid the throng of courtiers in the antechamber of Octavian and all the splendor of historical greatness, wistfully bethought him of the disciple of Epicurus as he reposes in powerful calm:

"Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas,

Atque metus omnes et inexorabile fatum
Subjecit pedibus, strepitumque Acherontis avari."[1]

"How blest the sage whose soul can pierce each cause
Of changeful Nature and her wondrous laws;
Who tramples fear beneath his foot, and braves
Fate and stern Death, and hell's resounding waves!"
Sotheby's translation.

In the place of miracle, natural science has substituted law. Ghosts and spectres have disappeared before it as before the first rays of light in the east. It has broken the power of ancient lies; it has put out the fires in which witches and heretics used to be burned; it has placed a keen-edged weapon in the hands of historical criticism. But it has also curbed the pride of speculation. It has discovered the limits of knowledge, and taught its disciples to look down without dizziness from the airy heights of sovereign skepticism. How easy and free one breathes on those heights! How nearly inaudible to the mind's ear the hum of the vulgar multitude in the torrid lowland, the complainings of disappointed ambition, the battle-cries of nations! As of the anthropocentric, so, too, of the Europocentric idea natural science has made an end. As it opened the Ghetto, so it burst the fetters of the negro. How different its conquest of the world from that of Alexander or the Romans! If literature is the true intranational bond of nations, their international bond is natural science. Voltaire could abhor Shakespeare, but Newton he revered. The triumph of the scientific view of Nature will to future ages appear as a step in human development comparable to the triumph of monotheism 1,800 years ago. It matters not that the

  1. Virgil, "Georgies" ii., v., 490, et seq.