Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/461

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
451
SCIENCE AT THE MEDIEVAL UNIVERSITIES
may have been, brought them face to face with all the leading aspects of the many-sided mind of man. For these studies did really contain, at any rate in embryo, sometimes it may be in caricature, what we now call philosophy, mathematical and physical science and art. And I doubt if the curriculum of any modern university shows so clear and generous a comprehension of what is meant by culture, as this old Trivium and Quadrivium does.

It would be entirely a mistake, however, to think that these great writers and teachers who influenced the medieval universities so deeply and whose works were the text-books of the universities for centuries after, only had the principles of physical and experimental science and did not practically apply them. As a matter of fact their works are full of observation. Once more, the presumption that they wrote only nonsense with regard to science comes from those who do not know their writings at all, while great scientists who have taken the pains to study their works are enthusiastic in praise. Humboldt, for instance, says of Albertus Magnus, after reading some of his works with care:

Albertus Magnus is equally active and influential in promoting the study of natural science and of the Aristotelian philosophy. His works contain some exceedingly acute remarks on the organic structure and physiology of plants. One of his works bearing the title of "Liber Cosmographicus De Natura Locorum" is a species of physical geography. I have found in it considerations on the dependence of temperature concurrently on latitude and elevation and on the effect of different angles of the sun's rays in heating the ground which have excited my surprise.

It is with regard to physical geography of course that Humboldt is himself a distinguished authority.

Humboldt's expression that he found some exceedingly acute remarks on the organic structure and physiology of plants in Albert the Great's writings will prove a great surprise to many people. Meyer, the German historian of botany, however, has reechoed Humboldt's praise with emphasis. The extraordinary erudition and originality of Albert's treatise on plants drew from Meyer the comment:

No botanist who lived before Albert can be compared with him unless Theophrastus, with whom he was not acquainted; and after him none has painted nature in such living colors or studied it so profoundly until the time of Conrad Gessner and Cæsalpino.

These men, it may be remarked, come three centuries after Albert's time. A ready idea of Albert's contributions to physical science can be obtained from his life by Sighart, which has been translated into English by Dixon and was published in London in 1870. Pagel, in Puschmann's "History of Medicine," already referred to, gives a list of the books written by Albert on scientific matters with some comments which are eminently suggestive, and furnish solid basis for the remark that I have made, that men's minds were occupied with nearly the same problems in science in the thirteenth century as we are now, while the conclusions they came to were not very different from ours, though reached so long before us.