Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 58.djvu/569

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APRIL, 1901.

By Professor WILLIAM A. LOCY,


AS Cuvier justly remarks, the seventeenth century was a fruitful one for science. It was then that the method of investigating nature by direct observation and experiment was reestablished. After the long period of intellectual decline, the mental life of mankind was to be lifted again to the level it had attained in the age of the highest development of Greek philosophy. The complete arrest of inquiry into the domain of nature and the adherence to tradition had lasted so long that the faculty of testing and experimeting seemed to be almost extinct. The unfriendliness of the ecclesiastics and other intellectual authorities to investigation, and the dire consequences to the individual of a movement towards intellectual freedom, served to repress the natural desire of the human intellect for a knowledge of itself and the universe. Any one who broke over the restraints went against every appeal to self-interest, and deserved much credit for independence and courage.

Nevertheless, in this untoward atmosphere the spirit of unbiased inquiry was awakened through the efforts of a few independent minds; among these select few, who, as pioneers in the revival of exact science, have an enduring interest for all educated people, we must remember Malpighi, Swammerdam and Leeuwenhoek. Although their work marks an epoch, they were not the only pioneers, nor the first ones; Vesalius, Galileo, Harvey and Descartes had started the reform movement in which our triumvirate so worthily labored.