Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/568

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
568
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

number of very eminent men of science, with all of whom he formed the most satisfactory relations. "The philosophers of Germany," he says—and the testimony is one of which Germans may be proud—"were men of the loftiest moral tone." It was the recognition which Tyndall's scientific essays received in Germauy which awakened the world of science in England to a sense of his greatness. In 1852 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in June of the year following he was appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Royal Institution, of which, on the retirement of Faraday a few years later, he became superintendent.

It is needless to give an enumeration of the works which Prof. Tyndall gave to the world, but we may remark that his life-work falls into two portions, original research into the most abstruse questions of science and earnest attempts at the popularization of scientific knowledge. There are those who are pleased to say that scientific knowledge can not be popularized; but the statement would be safer if it affirmed merely their own inability to popularize it—an inability which, in some cases, we have very little doubt, springs from unwillingness. No man ever knew better or felt more strongly than Prof. Tyndall how rigorous are the demands of scientific investigation in the way both of preparation and of method, and yet no man was more willing than he, whenever his severer engagements permitted, to open, or try to open, the door of knowledge to the unlearned public. "Look jealously," he said twenty years ago, on the occasion of the banquet to him in this city, "upon the investigator who is fond of wandering from his true vocation to appear on public platforms. The practice is absolutely destructive of original work of a high order." True enough, the man who, being supposedly equipped for the work of advanced investigation, is fond of wandering from that work in order to appear on public platforms, is a man our confidence in whom as an original investigator is apt to be weakened; but it is one thing to be fond of escaping from the severer tasks of science and quite another to relinquish them from time to time under a sense of duty; and we should be inclined to say that no man should be so immersed in the specialties and technicalities of minute investigation as to be unable to lay before a popular audience a general view of some portion of the scientific field. How the possession of the power to do the latter would interfere with the power of carrying on even the profoundest studies we are at a loss to imagine, though we are prepared to admit that possibly the constant habit of dealing with difficult and abstruse problems, the very language and symbolism of which are absolutely unintelligible to the lay mind, may, if allowed to do so, develop a real incapacity for popular exposition. It did not, however, lead to this result in the case of Prof. Tyndall, nor in that of his even greater predecessor Faraday; and we venture to conjecture that the great Sir Isaac Newton himself could, if he had wished, have delivered a very good popular lecture in astronomy.

We have spoken of Prof. Tyndall's visit to this country. No man of science from abroad was evermore heartily received; perhaps none was ever so heartily received, and yet we have had among us Huxley and Spencer, who both stand very high in the opinion and regard of the American people. How disinterestedly he pursued his vocation here is doubtless known to all our readers. Had his object been to make money he could have returned to England with the respectable sum—for a scientific man—of thirteen thousand dollars in his pocket. That was not his object, however; and, finding himself possessed of this sum over and above all the expenses of his tour, he placed it in the hands of trustees for the assistance of