Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/407

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CIVILIZATION AND SCIENCE.

who could have solved its own riddle of how to get sweetness out of what is disgusting? Gay-Lussac's art of preserving articles of food has done away with the distinction of seasons for the poor as well as for the rich. The poisoner, with impotent rage, sees all his crafty schemes unveiled. The destroying angels of small-pox, plague, and scurvy, are chained. Lister's bandage excludes from the wounds received on the battle-field the insidious and poisonous germs revealed by the sunbeam. Chloral spreads the wings of the god of sleep over the most tortured soul; and Chloroform sets at naught, at our pleasure, the Biblical curse of woman.

Thus is fulfilled the saying of that prophet of science, Francis Bacon, that knowledge is power. All European nations, the Old World and the New, are running a race on this course. A distinguished critic of art not long ago laid down the proposition that in the development of the plastic arts is to be found the measure of the height attained by humanity at any given time. If that is so, then the time from Phidias down to Lysippus, and the cinque-cento, would have seen the highest development of humanity ever reached hitherto, and perhaps never to be attained again; the present century would at best give out but a feeble flicker of culture, as having produced the cartoons of Cornelius! This measuring the height of man's development by one single aspect of human activity is in itself a false idea, and hence the judgment expressed above is as erroneous as is, for instance, the one-sided ethical conception of man held by Semitism. But if there exists any criterion which, per se, gives a measure of man's progress, it would appear rather to be the degree of mastery over Nature that has been attained in any age. The history of art is influenced by accidental circumstances, as talent, taste, patronage, prosperity. In the investigation and subjugation of Nature alone there is no standing still; the store is ever increasing, and the creative force is ever producing more and more. Here alone does each successive generation stand securely on the shoulders of their predecessors. Here alone is the disciple disheartened by no nec plus ultra, oppressed by no weight of authority, and even mediocrity finds an honorable place, if it does but seek the truth diligently and conscientiously. Finally, it is not art that saves civilization from another downfall. Art, with all its glory, would to-day, as often before, under the same circumstances, fall a helpless prey to barbarism, were it not that natural science gives to our present life a security, which we are so accustomed to consider as the natural condition of the existence of modern civilization that we do not even think of asking whence that security is derived.

We are all familiar with Macaulay's prophecy of the tourist from New Zealand who, while the Roman Church still exists in undiminished vigor, shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's. In this gloomy picture Macaulay indulges pessimistic views such as are very likely to