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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/489

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THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION MEETING.

to participate in its discussions! Or imagine Mr. Speaker Cannon as president of the section of economics and taking a real part in the debates! This lack of touch between scientific men and politicians in our country as compared with the older European countries is due to several causes. The high places in political life are in the older nations mainly in the hands of university men (a process that is going on with us), but more than this the profession of politics in them is not incompatible with the spirit and work of the scholar.

Jefferson more than any other president was a representative of the science of his time. During a part of his first term he was president of the American Philosophical Society and set apart some of the rooms in the executive mansion for the study of fossils, particularly of those of mammoths. It is safe to say that no other president since his day has found the time to give any serious thought to the encouragement of science or of education as a part of national development.

Perhaps the criticisms which Jefferson called down upon himself by his scientific tendencies have not served to encourage other presidents. His geological studies were pointed to, about the time of the Louisiana purchase, with great bitterness by his critics as indicating those radical and godless tendencies which culminated in the act of purchase. There is a poem of William Cullen Bryant on this transaction which is addressed to Jefferson and which begins

Go wretch, resign the presidential chair;
Reveal thy secret purpose, foul or fair;

In the course of the poem 'frogs' are significantly made to rhyme with 'Louisianian bogs.' The fact that the poet was but thirteen at the time may be taken as a measure of the sharpness of the criticism which awaits a president who compromises himself by too great intimacy with science. It is easier, if not safer, for a president to look after the post offices and let science take care of herself.

Mr. Balfour himself did not altogether escape this sort of criticism. His address had for a title 'Reflections Suggested by the New Theory of Matter.' The opposition papers were not slow to suggest that the prime minister and practical ruler of a great commercial country could spend his time to better advantage than in discoursing transcendental philosophy to admiring audiences of scientists!

The critics were so far right in terming Mr. Balfour's address philosophical rather than scientific. By disposition and by education Mr. Balfour is a speculative philosopher rather than a man of science, and his address leaned strongly toward that mildly pessimistic attitude of the speculative philosopher, which balances in a nice way this and that conclusion, and goes no whither.