Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/464

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

other words, he was anticipating not vaguely, but very clearly and definitely, the conservation of energy. His teaching with regard to the composition of matter was very like that now held by physicists. He declared that matter was composed of two principles, prime matter and form. By forma he meant the dynamic element in matter, while by materia prima he meant the underlying substratum of material, the same in every substance, but differentiated by the dynamics of matter.

It used to be the custom to make fun of these medieval scientists for believing in the transmutation of metals. It may be said that all three of these greatest teachers did not hold the doctrine of the transmutation of metals in the exaggerated way in which it appealed to many of their contemporaries. The theory of matter and form, however, gave a philosophical basis for the idea that one kind of matter might be changed into another. We no longer think that notion absurd. Sir William Ramsay has actually succeeded in changing one element into another and radium and helium are seen changing into each other, until now we are quite ready to think of transmutation placidly. The Philosopher's Stone used to seem a great absurdity until our recent experience with radium, which is to some extent at least the philosopher's stone, since it brings about the change of certain supposed elements into others. A distinguished American chemist said not long ago that he would like to extract all the silver from a large body of lead ore in which it occurs so commonly, and then come back after twenty years and look for further traces of silver, for he felt sure that they would be found and that lead ore is probably always producing silver in small quantities and copper ore is producing gold.

Most people will be inclined to ask where the fruits of this undergraduate teaching of science are to be found. They are inclined to presume that science was a closed book to the men and women of that time. It is not hard, however, to point the effect of the scientific training in the writings of the times. Dante is a typical university man of the period. He was at several Italian universities, was at Paris and perhaps at Oxford. His writings are full of science. Professor K├╝hns, of Wesleyan, in his book "The Treatment of Nature in Dante," has pointed out how much Dante knows of science and of nature. Few of the poets not only of his own but of any time have known more. There are only one or two writers of poetry in our time who go with so much confidence to nature and the scientific interpretation of her for figures for their poetry. The astronomy, the botany, the zoology of Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, Dante knew very well and used confidently for figurative purposes. Any one who is inclined to think nature study a new idea in the world forgets, or has never known, his Dante. The birds and the bees, the flowers, the leaves, the varied aspects of clouds and sea, the phenomena of phosphorescence, the inti-