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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 40.djvu/773

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SCIENCE AND FINE ART.

SCIENCE AND FINE ART.[1]
By EMIL DU BOIS-REYMOND.
I.

WHEN we represent to ourselves the mental stature of the extraordinary man in whose honor we meet every year on this day, we are ever anew astonished at the boundless breadth of his view and the almost endless diversity of the subjects in which he was interested. It appears hardly comprehensible that the state paper which adjudged the principality of Neufchâtel to the King of Prussia came from the same pen as the Protogea, the Analysis of the Infinite, and the true measure of force from the same head as the pre-established harmony and the Theodicy. Yet on closer examination a gap is revealed in this picture which at first sight appeared all-inclusive. Aside from the Latin poem in which Leibnitz extravagantly glorifies Brand's discovery of phosphorus, we seek in vain for any relation of our hero to art. That his Ars combinatoria had nothing to do with fine art does not need to be said. Only occasionally and rarely do we meet in his writings and letters remarks on art and the beautiful. Once he permits himself to be heard at length on the pleasure we receive from music, the causes of which he seeks in a uniform though invisible order in the movements of the trembling strings "which . . . produces in us . . . a harmonious resonance, by which our vital spirits are also moved."[2] But the world of feeling was only dimly visible to Leibnitz. He saw the Alps and the Italian art treasures with his eyes, but was, as we now say, soul-blind. The same lack of appreciation of fine art is seen in Voltaire, who was comparable for his various learning with Leibnitz; and we have to come down to a third generation, to Diderot in France, and Winckelmann and Lessing in Germany, to find decisive interest in fine art and appreciation of its position in the culture-life of the people.

The period thus defined was, aside from a few phenomenal examples, one of decline in art, while it was one of the most famous in science. When we regard the historical development of these two lines of human activity, we find no conformity in their courses. During the highest bloom of Grecian plastic art there was hardly any science. At the beginning of the art period which we are accustomed to call the cinque-cento stands out the giant figure of


  1. Address on Leibnitz Commemoration-day in the Academy of Sciences at Berlin, July 3, 1890.
  2. Die philosophischen Schriften von G. W. Leibnitz. Published by C. J. Gerhardt. Vol. ii, p. 87. Berlin, 1890.