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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/420

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

be guarded against and mitigated. Such lines as the following from Bryant could not have been written by a Greek poet since they express sentiments to which entire antiquity was a stranger:

Look on this beautiful world and read the truth
On her fair page; see, every season brings
New change to her, of everlasting youth;
Still the green soil with living joyous things
Swarms; the wide air is full of joyous wings,
And myriads still are happy in the sleep
Of oean's azure gulfs, and where he flings
The restless surge, eternal love doth keep,
In his complacent arms, the earth, the air, the deep.

The same affirmation may be made of Bryant's 'To a Cloud,' 'To a Waterfowl,' and other of his poems not a few; or of Shelley's 'Cloud' or the 'Skylark,' and many more. In Plato's Phædrus, one of the characters says: "Here is this lofty and spreading plane-tree, and the agnus castus high and clustering, and the fullest blossom and the greatest fragrance; and the stream which flows beneath the plane-tree is deliriously cool to the feet. . . . How delightful is the breeze; and there is a sound in the air shrill and summer-like which makes answer to the cicadæ." Here we have, it is true, a flash of the love of nature. But some centuries later Plutarch refers to this passage as rather silly. While we are not sure that he is uttering his own sentiments, such seems to be the case.

In reading Greek authors we are perpetually confronted by the fact that they were acute thinkers and poor observers. They used their minds a great deal more than their senses. When they undertake to explain phenomena, they usually try to think out an explanation instead of first taking care that the phenomena in question have been correctly observed and registered. As for the Romans, not one of them ever had an original idea except on matters that could be turned to practical use.

Tacitus, for example, says that north of the Orkneys the waters are so sluggish, according to report, that they yield with difficulty to the oar and are not even raised by the wind. He then proceeds to assign as a probable reason that the extreme depth of the water makes it difficult to set in motion. Equally lucid is his explanation of the long days in the same region. Believing that night is produced by shadow, he tells us that owing to the flatness of the earth the darkness does not rise sufficiently high to reach the sky and the stars. He did not know that the nights are equally long. The Greek original from which our word eclipse is derived means a 'leaving' or 'departure.' So Herodotus, when speaking of an eclipse, says, the sun "Suddenly quitted his seat in the heavens and disappeared, though there were no clouds in sight, hut the sky was clear and serene." This is quite equal to an argument I once heard upon the question whether the moon is inhabited. The rustic logician declared that such could not be the case