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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/403

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THE HISTORY OF A DOCTRINE,

direction, is singularly misleading; and I state this more confidently here, because there are many in this audience who did not get their knowledge of nature from books only, but who have searched for the truth themselves; and, speaking to them, may I not say that those who have so searched know that the most honest purpose and the most patient striving have not been guarantees against mistakes—mistakes which were probably hailed at the time as successes? It was some one of the fraternity of seekers, I am sure, who said, "Show me the investigator who has never made a mistake, and I will show you one who has never made a discovery."

We have seen the whole scientific body, as regards this particular science of radiant energy, moving in a mass, in a wrong direction, for a century; we have seen that individuals in it go on their independent paths of error; and we can only wonder that an era should have come in which such a real advance is made as in ours.

That era has been brought in by the works of many, but more than by any other through the fact that in the year 1801 there came into the world at Parma an infant who was born a physicist, as another is born a poet; nay, more; who was born, one might say, a devotee of one department of physics—that of radiant heat; being affected in his tenderest years with such a kind of precocious passion for the subject as the childish Mozart showed for music. He was ready to sacrifice everything for it; he struggled through untold difficulties, not for the sake of glory or worldly profit, but for radiant heat's sake; and when fame finally came to him, and he had the right to speak of himself, he wrote a preface to his collected researches, which is as remarkable as anything in his works. In this preface he has given us, not a summary of previous memoirs on the subject, not a table of useful factors and formulæ, not anything at all that an English or American scientific treatise usually begins with, but the ingenuous story of his first love, of his boyish passion for this beloved mistress; and all this with a trust in us his readers which is beautiful in its childlike confidence in our sympathy. I must abbreviate and injure in order to quote; but did ever a learned physical treatise and collection of useful tables begin like this before?—

"I was born at Parma, and when I got a holiday used to go into the country the night before and go to bed early, so as to get up before the dawn. Then I used to steal silently out of the house, and run, with bounding heart, till I got to the top of a little hill, where I used to set myself so as to look toward the east." There, he tells us, he used, in the stillness of nature, to wait the rising sun, and feel his attention rapt, less with the glorious spectacle of the morning light itself than with the sense of the mysterious