|GILBERT OF COLCHESTER.|
PROFESSOR OF PHYSICS IN MANHATTAN COLLEGE, NEW YORK CITY.
AT a period when natural science was taught and studied in the schools of Europe from text-books, we find Gilbert of Colchester proclaiming by example and advocacy the paramount value of experiment for the advancement of learning. He was unsparing in his denunciation of the superficiality and verbosity of mere bookmen, and had no patience with writers who treated their subjects 'esoterically, reconditely and mystically.' For him, the laboratory method was the only one that could secure fruitful results and effectively push back the frontiers of knowledge.
It is true that men of unusual ability and strong character strove before his time to adjust the claims of authority in matters scientific. While respectful of the teachings of recognized leaders, they were not awed into acquiescence by the customary academical 'magister dixit.' On the contrary, they wanted to test with their eyes in order to judge with reason; believing in the supreme importance of experiment, they sought to acquire a knowledge of nature from nature herself.
Such were Albert the Great and Friar Bacon. Albert did not bow obsequiously to the authority of Aristotle or any of his Arabian commentators; he investigated for himself and became, for his age, a distinguished botanist and physiologist.
Roger Bacon, after absorbing the learning of Oxford and Paris, wrote to the reigning Pontiff, Clement IV., urging him to have the works of the Stagyrite burnt in order to stop the propagation of error in the schools. The Franciscan monk of Ilchester has left us in his Opus Majus a lasting memorial of his practical genius. In the section entitled 'Scientia Experimentalis,' he affirms that "Without experiment, nothing can be adequately known. An argument proves theoretically but does not give the certitude necessary to remove all doubt, nor will the mind repose in the clear view of truth, unless it find it by way of experiment." And in his Opus Tertium: "The strongest arguments prove nothing so long as the conclusions are not verified by experience. Experimental science is the queen of sciences and the goal of all speculation."