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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/227

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THE HISTORY OF A DOCTRINE.

These two great men, then, each looked around in the then darkness as far as his light carried him. All beyond that was chance to each; and Fate willed that Newton, whose light shone further than his rival's, found it extend just far enough to show the entrance to the wrong way. He reaches the conclusion that we all know; and with the result on other men's thought that, light being conceded to be material, heat, if affiliated to light, must be regarded as material too, for we may see this strange conclusion drawn from experiments of Herschel a century later.

It would seem that the result of this unhappy corpuscular theory was more far-reaching than we commonly suppose, and that it is hardly too much to say that the whole promising movement of that age toward the true doctrine of radiant energy is not only arrested by it, but turned the other way; so that in this respect the philosophy of fifty years later is actually further from the truth than that of Newton's predecessors.

The immense repute of Newton as a leader, on the whole so rightly earned, here leads astray others than his conscious disciples, and, it seems to me, affects men's opinions on topics which appear at first far removed from those he discussed. The adoption of phlogiston was, as we may reasonably infer, facilitated by it, and remotely Newton is, perhaps, also responsible in part for the doctrine of caloric a hundred years later. After him, at any rate, there is a great backward movement. We have a distinct retrogression from the ideas of Bacon and Hobbes and Boyle. Night settles in again on our subject almost as thick as in the days of the school-men, and there seems to be hardly an important contribution to our knowledge, in the first part of the eighteenth century, due to a physicist.

"Physics, beware of metaphysics," said Newton—words which physicists are apt so exclusively to quote, that it seems only due to candor to observe that the most important step, perhaps, in the fifty years which followed the "Optics," came from Berkeley, who, reasoning as a metaphysician, gave us during Newton's lifetime a conception wonderfully in advance of his age. Yet the "New Theory of Vision" was generally viewed by contemporary philosophers as only an amusing paradox, while "coxcombs vanquish [ed] Berkeley with a grin"; and this contribution to science—an exceptional if not a unique instance of a great physical generalization reached by a priori reasoning—though published in 1709, remains in advance of the popular knowledge even in these closing years of the nineteenth century.

In the mean time a new error had risen among men—a new truth, as it seemed to them, and a thing destined to have a strong reflex action on the doctrine of radiant energy. It began with the generalization of a large class of phenomena (which we now asso-