Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/270

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saw all its weaknesses and defects; and that he enforced his insight by constant, bold, vigorous and searching criticism. If we analyze the scientific methods of Galileo, Huyghens and Newton we shall find that, in their large lines, they are the same as those of the Experimental Science based upon mathematics, of which Bacon was the first inventor and almost the only exponent for three hundred years

The thirteenth century, as a whole, received its full expression in the works of Albertus Magnus. We can only comprehend the admirable independence and originality of Bacon's mind when we have compared him, point by point, with his great rival. They are literally worlds apart. One epitomizes the old world; the other foretells the new. Seen in this summary way Bacon appears a lusus naturæ—as a man born quite out of his own time; and he is usually so regarded. When, however, we consider his whole career with a minuteness that has been impossible in this short sketch, we discover that the seeds of the rich harvest of his mind were sown by his great teacher, Robert of Lincoln; that in Paris Peter of Mericourt—the author of De Magnete, from which Gilbert of Colchester derived many of his ideas—was his master in experimental science; and that both in Oxford and Paris he found many kindred spirits. We have proofs, therefore, that in the first half of the thirteenth century there were at least two companies of open-minded and liberal scholars. The fame of Bacon's lectures at the universities testifies to the existence of the same spirit in other large companies. It is only because the annals of the time are so deficient, and especially because the history of that time has been written by the Dominicans, his enemies, that we cannot adduce other specific instances, with names and dates, to demonstrate more fully that Bacon had the fellowship of men of his own stamp; that, in a strict sense he was the highest product of his age; that he was not, at least for half his life, utterly isolated. Until we understand these conditions we cannot comprehend his true relations to his age. At the beginning of the century there was a striving towards sound learning—a veritable revival—of which Bacon is the highest exponent. We are not concerned to here exhibit how and why the spirit of the century changed when its years were half run out.

If his career could have been, like that of Albertus Magnus, molded into a reasonable conformity to the spirit of his time, his works would have also been the text-books of the schools of the thirteenth century; his influence would have been immense and immediate; the revival of learning would have dated from Bacon, not from Petrarch; the foundations of modern science would have been firmly laid three centuries before Copernicus. Why these changes were not to be is explained by his character: and his character was his fate.