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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/558

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

whose contact with reality was necessarily slight, catches at the problems of nineteenth century feeling. Tennyson, as all men know, gave us poetry that was inwrought of the latest word of science, the last aspiration of religious hope, the newest sure conclusion in the field of social endeavor for the betterment of man.

And Tennyson in "In Memoriam," as Browning in "Paracelsus" and Lowell in "The Cathedral," has taught us that abstract truth may be made into poetry and that of the loftiest and most vitalizing kind. And to such poetry the world is ready to give a willing ear, though it will not be satisfied with the mere tricking out in rhyme and meter of scientific truth. The difficulty for the poet to-day is not merely that of new knowledge, but that of a science advancing so rapidly that the poet, whose art is meditative, can hardly avail himself of its latest revelations before their significance has vanished in the light of some new and revolutionary discovery announced from some investigator's laboratory. This is so new a thing that literary conditions have not yet. been adjusted to it, as we may fairly hope that they will be some time in the not distant future.

A thing, almost if not quite, as distinctive of our time as the progress of scientific discovery is the growth of the democratic spirit. This latter has been a thing of common observation for over a century, and about that long ago Wordsworth and Shelley, Burns and Byron voiced with glowing enthusiasm the new revolutionary gospel. Since then it has been the theme of other pens and has become a matter of commonplace, and yet, though it has not lost interest because of the fulfilment of the hopes of man, it is not now a vital force in literature of the better class. The reason for this is, perhaps, not far to seek. In the domain of politics the advance in thought and feeling from a hundred years ago is a matter of no great moment. The poet who would voice for the world a message of brotherhood, thrilled with the spirit of a new humanity, inevitably finds himself harking back; he is compelled to repeat the sentiments of Mrs. Browning's perfervid Italian poems, or Whittier's simple songs, or Shelley's vague theorizing: he ceases to be individual. Under present conditions, strenuously vocal as the world is with the voices of those trying to be heard, failure to be distinctly and positively individual is failure to gain attention.

And it is significant that we are approaching the solution of social problems in the scientific way. The development of a better state of society is to come about, as we now realize, through the operation of natural laws, and not by the sensational process of awakening in the hearts of men a flashing enthusiasm for new forms of government.

Benjamin Kidd's 'Social Evolution' indicates quite clearly the new point of view from which all problems of society are to be considered, and perhaps, not less remarkable for a like significance is Henry Drummond's 'Ascent of Man.' As the laboratory gives up its secrets, as the mysteries of biology and processes of growth in the organic world become less mysterious, we are approaching nearer and nearer to a knowledge of the laws that are concerned in all growth, whether of the star fish or of the modern state. Assuming that man is the most vitally concerned in the organization of society here in this present world, and with the problem of another world, whether real or imaginary, whether a perfect state, or state of growth as that of earth, one cannot escape the reflection that both these problems have become in a measure problems of science, rather than problems of intuition or authority or emotional susceptibility.

And when science has come so close to all the inmost convictions and aspirations of man, there must follow a poetry of science, fuller, richer, more vitalizing and more enduring than any that has gone before it. It will appeal to a nobler and loftier sense of beauty, a