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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/203

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AMERICA'S INTELLECTUAL PRODUCT

after the model of the English colleges, which, being intended for the education of certain classes in the community, were long dominated by medieval ideas and traditions, and made their main business the teaching of the ancient languages, for, if we include what was then known as "the mathematics" we find it to have been restricted to so much mathematics as was known to the Greeks, as if man's brain had lain dormant since their day. Such was the condition at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and even much later in this country. During this time, however, the modern sciences had arisen, and many of them had obtained a great development, especially mathematics, which, by the invention by Descartes of coordinate geometry, and by Newton and Leibnitz of the Infinitesimal Calculus, had forever emerged from the chrysalis in which the Greeks left it, and had become a thing of marvelous power, fit to display the highest flights of the human intellect. Were these triumphs of mathematics now exhibited to the academic youth? Far from it, they were not even informed that such existed. In fact, we have good reason to doubt whether their existence was known to any one in the country. As far as colleges were concerned, if we consult the diaries of students written a little over one hundred years ago, we find that they were instructed in matters now considered fit for the grammar school. A student at Harvard speaks of running away from recitations and going out to work with a surveyor's compass by way of diversion, but there is no suggestion that he knew anything even of trigonometry, now considered a proper subject for the high school. At the period in question the sciences of physics and chemistry were beginning that marvelous development which has continued to our day. Were the students of seventy years ago made acquainted with the discoveries of Thomas Young and Fresnel in light, of Oersted and Ampère in electricity? We must again return the same negative answer. But come down to the period of forty years ago, when the country was advanced enough to be in daily communication with Europe and to take an interest in intellectual matters, and had by its successful termination of a great civil war put itself in a place of respect among the great nations of the earth. It was then possible, to be sure, to learn a little science in college, but as for the advances that were being daily made in Europe, little enough was known of them. In fact, we must confess that during this whole period we remained in this country in the Rip van Winkle stage with regard to knowledge merely of what was going on in scientific Europe. Did it occur to any of our people that this country had anything to do in connection with this great creative movement of knowledge? That our standing among the nations of the earth was in any way dependent on the production of new knowledge on American soil, and that if we did not expect forever to occupy a position of intellectual mediocrity, it