Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/813

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By Professor T. H. HUXLEY,

NEXT to undue precipitation in anticipating the results of pending investigations, the intellectual sin which is commonest and most hurtful to those who devote themselves to the increase of knowledge is the omission to profit by the experience of their predecessors recorded in the history of science and philosophy. It is true that, at toe present day, there is more excuse than at any former time for such neglect. No small labor is needed to raise ones' self to the level of the acquisitions already made; and able men who have achieved thus much know that, if they devote themselves body and soul to the increase of their store, and avoid looking back with as much care as if the injunction laid on Lot and his family were binding upon them, such devotion is sure to be richly repaid by the joys of the discoverer and the solace of fame, if not by rewards of a less elevated character.

So, following the advice of Francis Bacon, we refuse inter mortuos quœrere vivun (to seek what is living among the dead); we leave the past to bury its dead, and ignore our intellectual ancestry. Nor are we content with that. We follow the evil example set us, not only by Bacon, but by almost all the men of the Renaissance, in pouring scorn upon the work of our immediate spiritual forefathers, the school-men of the middle ages. It is accepted as a truth which is indisputable that, for seven or eight centuries, a long succession of able men—some of them of transcendent acuteness and encyclopedic knowledge—devoted laborious lives to the grave discussion of mere frivolities and the arduous pursuit of intellectual Will-o'-the-wisps. To say nothing of a little modesty, a little impartial pondering over personal experience might suggest a doubt as to the adequacy of this short and easy method of dealing with a large chapter of the history of the human mind. Even an acquaintance with popular literature which had extended so far as to include that part of the contributions of Sam Slick which contains his weighty aphorism that "there is a great deal of human nature in all mankind," might raise a doubt whether, after all, the men of that epoch, who, take them all round, were endowed with wisdom and folly in much the same proportion as ourselves, were likely to display nothing better than the qualities of energetic idiots, when they devoted their faculties to the elucidation of problems which were to them, and indeed are to us, the most serious which life has to offer. Speaking for myself, the longer I live the more I am disposed to think that there is much less either of pure folly or of pure wickedness in the world than is commonly supposed. It maybe doubted if any sane man ever said to himself, "Evil, be thou my good," and I have never yet had the good