Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/406

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people will never be ripe for this form of religion, for where have they ever realized the ideal of Christianity?

If we ask ourselves where in literature did this conception of the universe first make its appearance, the answer will be, "In Voltaire." That mental characteristic of Voltaire, to which David Friedrich Strauss has not done full justice, namely, the scientific habit of thought which he contracted in England and developed at Cirey, enabled him clearly to perceive the difference between political history—the only form of history known down to his time—and the history of civilization; and in the latter with a boldness and perspicacity all his own to show retrospectively and prospectively the part played by natural science. In a hundred of his essays, letters, and philosophical novels, this fundamental idea rises to the surface; but, with the amazing versatility of his genius, he to-day, as in the "History of Charles XII.," looks upon events from the anthropocentric standpoint; to-morrow, as in the "Micromegas," from the Archimedean perspective.

Following in Voltaire's footsteps, the encyclopedists further developed this conception. They still more positively than he called attention to the methodical utilization of the forces of Nature as perceived in their regular working. Hence Diderot's partiality for the mechanic and useful arts, a trait well noticed by Rosenkranz, in which Diderot agreed with a man who also in a moral sense had come to meet him from the other shore of an ocean—with Benjamin Franklin, the father of utilitarianism.

What they dreamed is now more than accomplished. Man, whom we first met as a tool-making animal, is now become a rational animal who travels by steam, writes with lightning, and paints with the sunbeam. The reconversion into work of the sunlight stored up in "black diamonds" multiplies his energy a million-fold. The Seven Wonders of antiquity, the engineering works of the Romans, bear no comparison with the enterprises every day undertaken by our own generation. The periphery of our planet threatens to become too narrow for man's genius. Hardly any secrets do its heights and its depths still conceal from him. Whithersoever man is powerless to go bodily, his mind penetrates with the aid of the magic key of calculation. In the blackest night, on the stormiest sea, his bark steers the shortest course; she dexterously shuns the track of the destroying typhoon. Geology does all that the divining rod was once supposed to do, giving us plentiful supply of water, salt, coal, and petroleum. The list of the metals is ever growing, and yet chemistry has not discovered the philosopher's stone; some day that too will be found, perhaps. In the mean time, it vies with organic Nature in producing things both useful and agreeable. From the black, noisome waste-products of coal-gas, which has transformed every city into another Baku, chemistry derives coloring-matters before which the splendor of tropic plumage pales. It prepares perfumes without sun and without flower-beds. And though it might not have solved Samson's riddle