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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/90

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

ILLUSTRATIONS OF MEDIEVAL EARTH-SCIENCE
Dr. CHARLES R. EASTMAN

HARVARD UNIVERSITY

C'est vers le Moyen Age énorme et délicat,
Qu'il faudrait que mon cœur en panne naviguât.
Paul Verlaine.

MODERN experimental science dates only from the sixteenth century. The habit of interrogating nature, the application throughout all departments of research of the observational and inductive methods, the thirst for fresh discovery and invention, and the irrepressible curiosity that inquires into the innermost recesses of the wonderful world we live in, seeking to ascertain its laws and acquire mastery over its forces—all these leading characteristics of modern science were absent from its medieval prototype.

In reality, the so-called science of the middle ages is scarcely worthy of the name. Infinitely inferior as compared with modern science, it was still more crude, more distorted, more fantastic and illusory than that of ancient times. Medieval man had no clear-eyed perception of the visible world, actuality possessed for him little value, that which really is and happens was without special significance in his eyes. What the medieval man saw he interpreted as a symbol, what he heard he understood as an allegory. Dante himself is our best witness that cultivated men of his age esteemed the speculative life vastly superior to the practical.

Under the conditions of hopeless barbarism that existed from the seventh to the eleventh century there could be no real culture, and intellectual activity continued at an extremely low ebb. Religion absorbed almost all other occupations of the mind, faith was exalted as a sovereign virtue, mere empirical knowledge was disdained and rejected. As the Christian religion became the leading subject of men's thought and interest, so the principal business of their lives throughout the middle ages was the salvation of their souls. External conditions were unpropitious, subjective conditions inhibitory for the development of scientific ideas. Hence it was inevitable that learning should become decadent, and the proud record of ancient achievement forgotten. Indeed, as early as the fourth century of our era, before all relics of the old culture had disappeared, Eusebius wrote:

It is not ignorance which makes us think lightly of science in general, but contempt for its useless labor, while we turn our souls to better things.