Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/41

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
37
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUMS

followed and heard their master in the open air. In such an academy the teacher had his own doctrines most at heart, not those of others, consequently did not try to accumulate a library. Libraries arose in the orient earlier than in Europe, partly from the reverence of the eastern nations, particularly the Mohammedans, for the written word, partly from the greater age of eastern civilization; through Europe libraries arose in kingly palaces and in priestly monasteries, and these were, before the days of the printing press, the centers of book making. The foundation of distinct natural-history museums was considerably later than that of libraries for the reason that the voice of authority long took precedence over the concrete object: witness the long contention of bookly scholars over the number of legs of an insect, all disputing over various renditions of Aristotle, none condescending to catch a house fly and count its members. Alexander brought home great collections of living animals from the east, and founded therewith a zoological garden for this teacher of his, but we have few records of this collection; the beasts the Roman emperors secured were used mostly for combats in the circus, for these emperors had political and popular effects in mind and not the increase of knowledge.

The materials for the study of the natural sciences in medieval times were the libraries, museums growing up in Italy and England, and universities starting in Italy, Spain, England, France and Germany. These early universities were at first much of the type of Grecian academies, with didactic teaching; they arose from the desire of certain free spirits to gain knowledge of other kinds than that prescribed by the church. We can say that the museum was in most instances the mother of the empirical natural sciences, for it stood for the accumulation of objects of study rather than the accumulation of books. Men of inquiring mind grew up, inspired partly by curiosity, partly by superstition and belief in the black magic, who collected monstrosities and other strange specimens, without any definite idea to guide their choice; their preference was for fossils and crystals, salamanders and hedgehogs, and in general the most heterogeneous objects as one may learn from "Hudibras" or from the plates in Johnston's "Natural History." The wish was for the unusual, and specimens from foreign lands inspired much more interest than those of the native fauna and flora. The chief growth of these museums dated from the times of colonial expansion, when the ships of the Dutch and Spaniards and English brought home collections from the new and old Indies. The governments then lent their help to the museums, as an exploitation of the products of their new possessions, and the great collections of London, Paris and Amsterdam jumped in their growth and importance and have justly become objects of national pride.

The universities came to join with the museums in many cities, but