Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/491

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Hence he encouraged education, for he found it furnished men capable of serving him effectually in all his aspirations. But who could give education? None but the clerks or book-men, who were then the only men of science.

Passing beyond this reign, we see the effects of this policy gradually developing themselves. During the tenth century, the arithmetical figures we now use to write down numbers were first introduced into Europe. Previously the Roman letters I, V, X, L, C, etc., had been employed to express numeric quantities. The advantage of the new method we can all appreciate, for it is the method we all use at present. But who first introduced and taught this improvement in arithmetical notation, with all the facilities it affords for the calculations? We owe the importation to the book-men who traveled to acquire knowledge from the Arabs who had conquered Spain, and whose schools at Cordova had acquired great celebrity. Thus we see the advance of science was from one set of book-men to another set of book-men, and from their schools to the people.

In this and the preceding century too, we find that it had become a common practice for the doctors of philosophy and theology to challenge each other to public debates; and that it became fashionable for the gentry to be present at these intellectual duels, where thought met thought in a struggle to convince of truths or convict of error.

From theologians arose the most distinguished philosophers of the times. We could, in our advanced state of knowledge, consider the scientific opinions they advanced as unworthy of our serious consideration; but then they were of the utmost importance, in this, that they were incitements to thought and to further investigation. This was the main thing in an age of intellectual obscurity, to bring forth more and more light from the first sparks of truth. The mind once awakened, curiosity and reflection once aroused, a process of development of right reason was inaugurated, which in time spread itself from the mind of man over all nature.

This takes place in the midst of the first Crusades, by which hundreds of thousands were led to perish disastrously; but restless and curious philosophers followed in the wake of war and rapine, and hovered around the armies to bring back from the East all the science they could gather. We often read of the improvement in science the West of Europe derived from the Crusades; but the story is always told so as to leave the impression that the plunder the mind brought back from Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria, was gathered there by the boorish soldiers and their captains. A moment's thought will, however, set us right on this point. Science could only be gathered by men already partially acquainted with science, by men having a taste for it, by the scholars and the book-men. To them, therefore, must we award all the praise for any scientific advantage