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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/181

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SCIENCE AND PRACTICAL LIFE.

knowledge simply because they crave for it. They have their weaknesses, their follies, their vanities, and their rivalries, like the rest of the world; but whatever by-ends may mar their dignity and impede their usefulness, this chief end redeems them.[1] Nothing great in science has ever been done by men, whatever their powers, in whom the divine afflatus of the truth-seeker was wanting. Men of moderate capacity have done great things because it animated them; and men of great natural gifts have failed, absolutely or relatively, because they lacked this one thing needful.

To any one who knows the business of investigation practically, Bacon's notion of establishing a company of investigators to work for "fruits," as if the pursuit of knowledge were a kind of mining operation and only required well-directed picks and shovels, seems very strange.[2] In science, as in art, and, as I believe, in every other sphere of human activity, there may be wisdom in a multitude of counselors, but it is only in one or two of them. And, in scientific inquiry, at any rate, it is to that one or two that we must look for light and guidance. Newton said that he made his discoveries by "intending" his mind on the subject; no doubt truly. But to equal his success one must have the mind which he "intended." Forty lesser men might have intended their minds till they cracked, without any like result. It would be idle either to affirm or to deny that the last half-century has produced men of science of the caliber of Newton. It is sufficient that it can show a few capacities of the first rank, competent not only to deal profitably with the inheritance bequeathed by their scientific forefathers, but to pass on to their successors physical truths of a higher order than any yet reached by the human race. And if they have succeeded as Newton succeeded, it is because they have sought truth as he sought it, with no other object than the finding it.

  1. Fresnel, after a brilliant career of discovery in some of the most difficult regions of physico-mathematical science, died at thirty-nine years of age. The following passage of a letter from him to Young (written in November, 1824), quoted by Whewell, so aptly illustrates the spirit which animates the scientific inquirer that I may cite it:

    "For a long time that sensibility, or that vanity, which people call love of glory, is much blunted in me. I labor much less to catch the suffrages of the public than to obtain an inward approval which has always been the mental reward of my efforts. Without doubt I have often wanted the spur of vanity to excite me to pursue my researches in moments of disgust and discouragement. But all the compliments which I have received from MM. Arago, De Laplace, or Biot, never gave me so much pleasure as the discovery of a theoretical truth or the confirmation of a calculation by experiment."

  2. "Mémorable exemple de l'impuissance des recherches collectives appliquées à la découverte des vérités nouvelles!" says one of the most distinguished of living French savants, of the corporate chemical work of the old Académie des Sciences. (See Berthelot, "Science et Philosophie," p. 201.)