Popular Science Monthly/Volume 15/June 1879/Modern Science in its Relation to Literature
|MODERN SCIENCE IN ITS RELATION TO LITERATURE.|
THE innovations made by science upon other modes of thought and study within the last half century are without a parallel in the history of human progress. It has swept away many of our most cherished convictions, hoary with the dust of ages, and left others in their places entirely irreconcilable with them. Marching on with the might and majesty of a conqueror, it has spread dismay in the ranks of opposing forces, and caused a complete abdication in its favor of many of those who were most hostile to it. Nor has it taken the field in an aggressive or bellicose spirit. On the contrary, almost all its conquests have been made without any design of inspiring opposition or terror, and while engaged in pursuits that of all others require for their prosecution the most pacific and philosophic temper.
It might be easily shown by the comparison, were this essential to my design, that in the three great departments of human study, namely, those of science, religion, and literature, the cultivators of science have always shown a disposition to be more tolerant of opposition and more lenient toward their enemies than those engaged in either of the other pursuits. It might be shown that religious controversies, and the animosities engendered by them, hold the first rank in the scale of bitterness. Next come those of a literary nature, which, in the last century, were scarcely less implacable; while, with few exceptions, the great problems that have engaged the attention of scientists have been singularly free from heated and acrimonious discussion.
Much of this serene treatment of scientific subjects is due, no doubt, to their peculiar nature. In a given investigation the truth must, sooner or later, come to the light. Either the investigation will have to be abandoned altogether, because it is found to be beyond the province of the human understanding, or the problem will eventually be solved. In either event, long-continued doubt and uncertainty can not hang over the result. Hence few will venture, if so disposed, to cast ridicule upon efforts which may be crowned with success, and which may in the end expose the scoffers to similar reproaches.
Besides, the study of science, which is the study of nature, engages the mind in the study and contemplation of truth; and, as has been well said, "Truth is without passion." The little asperities, therefore, which ruffle other controversial natures, find scarcely any lodgment in the breast of him who searches after experimental truth. And such would be the effect produced upon the students of theology and literature were their conclusions capable of verification like those of the scientist. But, dealing for the most part with abstract subjects which in the nature of things can not be subjected to rigid mathematical tests, they find themselves afloat upon a wide sea of conjecture, in which faith and imagination are almost the only guides.
At this triumphant entry and career of Science upon the stage of modern thought, Religion is the only power that has as yet sounded the note of alarm, or assumed any very hostile attitude. Nor could she well do otherwise, because, one by one, she has seen her adherents falling away from her, and joining the ranks of her ostensible adversary, and, one by one, she has seen some of the fairest portions of her territory invaded, and either falling a prey to anarchy and dissolution, or rudely wrested from her. In vain she has cried out for help, or tried to throw up barriers against this invasion. The sapping and mining process has nevertheless gone on; so that, if in the next half century the progress of science shall make as great inroads upon the prevailing popular belief as it has made within the last, it is safe to predict that only a moiety of it will be left, or, what is more probable, it will be changed into something more consonant with the new scientific discoveries, and with what is called "the spirit of the age."
If the changes thus following in the wake of physical discovery have been so marked and significant upon one of the interesting branches of human knowledge to which allusion has been made, how has it fared with the other, which, if not so widespread in its influences, can not nevertheless be affected in its character or career without producing results of the greatest consequence? Has literature as well as religion felt the wand of the mighty magician? and is it likely, in the future, to be retarded in its growth, crippled in its strength, or to any extent diverted from its purpose by this onward and sweeping march of science? These are questions of so much importance that the candid consideration of them can not be without its interest if not without its profit.
The commonwealth of literature embraces many states and distinct divisions, of which only those are particularly referred to in these pages that are usually comprehended under the title of polite or elegant literature, including works of the imagination, such as poetry and fiction, as well as authentic narratives, set off, as in history, with the graces of polished composition. Limited to even this description, literature has performed such an important part in administering to the instruction and delight of the world, that we could not afford to see it banished, even though a more efficient teacher should occupy its place. Nor can such a fate now in reality overtake it. Even should the number of its votaries ever be diminished, or should it ever fall into hands too feeble to sustain it, we would still have access to the ancient well-springs of its power, whose waters, though incapable of extension, can yet never run dry. It is a consolation to know that, though it may be impossible to add anything of sterling value to what has already been written, the great works of literary genius, treasured up in so many different languages, can never be taken away from us, and that their influence survives the manifold changes that happen to society in so many other respects.
Now, if it be true—that complaint of Labruyère—that "we are come into the world too late to produce anything new, that nature and life are preoccupied, and that description and sentiment have been long exhausted"; if it be true that literary labor, in times past, has spent itself in producing those wonderful creations which, by the common consent of mankind, stand as the highest models of composition and the highest types of literary excellence, then we must conclude that literature has reached its climax and fulfilled its mission, and that consequently there is no reason to regret its decadence. Better employ the measure of strength and talent with which we are endowed in exploring new lands and cultivating new soils than waste them in a field that is already gleaned of its harvests and exhausted of its fertility. To such a gloomy view of the present condition and future prospects of literature many men of sound judgment are unwilling to subscribe. And yet it seems to me, if they carefully consider the subject, especially in connection with the new direction which has been given of late years to the studies and aspirations of the noblest minds, they must see good reason for modifying their judgment. Let us examine it for a few moments with respect to two of the departments of letters that are regarded among scholars at least with the highest esteem and veneration of any—I mean poetry and history.
Those who are most familiar with the poetry of different countries, and of ancient and modern times, must admit the remarkable resemblance and repetition to be found in it. Under the garb perhaps of a new diction, in one poet, will be found lurking the identical idea expressed by another. As Emerson says: "The originals are not original. There is imitation, model and suggestion, to the very archangels, if we knew their history. The first book tyrannizes over the second. Read Tasso, and you think of Virgil; read Virgil, and you think of Homer; and Milton forces you to reflect how narrow are the limits of human invention." And as Dry den somewhere says about the modern poets, "You may track them in the snow of the ancients." Even the imagery and what is called the "machinery" of poetry repeat themselves in different ages, in the pages of different writers. The only difference is in the language—the thought remains a constant quantity, being stereotyped and reproduced to suit the emergency.
Now, this perpetual recurrence of the same idea among different poets is often stigmatized as plagiarism. But such a charge is not necessary, and is, I believe, in the majority of cases, entirely without foundation. A man gifted, or who imagines himself gifted, with the power of composing verses, and who has read with care and attention the great masters of the art, will insensibly reproduce many of their best thoughts. Yet such a man is not a plagiarist. He is, at the worst, only an imitator, and an unconscious imitator at that. And for this reason, if not for the one Aristotle gave, poetry may be called emphatically an "imitative art." But there is a still higher reason why one poet should become, as it were, the echo of another; and that is to be found in the nature and limitations of the human mind itself.
The maxim, Poeta nascitur non fit, is the true expression and interpretation of the law which governs the poetical order of intellects. At rare intervals, Nature has sent into the world a few souls endowed with the largest possible measure of ideality and poetical power. Their number may be counted upon one's ten fingers. Inspired with song, this gifted few can not choose but sing. They are the leaders of the choir; while all the rest are but subordinates, obeying the heaven-born impulse given to them by the muses' elect. As well might the mocking-bird, essay the highest and sweetest notes of the nightingale, or the fledgling try the eagle's flight, as one of the non-elect aspire to reach the heavenly harmony of these natural minstrels and apostles of song. Such men as Homer, and Dante, and Shakespeare, constitute the grand natural hierarchy of genius, to which inferior minds instinctively pay homage, and before which they "pale their ineffectual fires." These are the great central lights of poetry, while all the rest are the little miniature worlds revolving around them, and really borrowing from them all their effulgence. Hence we ought not to be surprised to find nothing in the lesser luminaries which the greater do not contain. It is in the order of nature, which it were vain to attempt either to resist or reverse.
Thus the task being almost hopeless of trying to achieve any lasting distinction or success in a field already preoccupied, and incapable of further profitable cultivation, many of the most gifted intellects, in our day, are diverted from it by the greater prospect of reward held out by science, whose territory is vastly more extensive as well as prolific. It were easy to name more than one man eminent in science, whose natural gifts would qualify him to shine in the lists of poetry, and yet who has wisely chosen the path leading to higher honor and remuneration. Hugh Miller might have stood high among the Scottish bards, had he devoted himself to the muses with the same ardor and enthusiasm with which he grappled some of the profoundest questions in geology; and with how much more of justice might that line of Pope—
have been applied to Tyndall than to Lord Mansfield, had Tyndall also cultivated the muses! And yet it is safe to say that neither Hugh Miller nor Tyndall, by rivaling some of the first poets of the day, would have acquired as much honor, and, what is of far more importance, would have been of as much service to the world, as in filling so worthily and performing so honestly the respective spheres of scientific labor assigned to each of them.
Besides opening up such an avenue to men of real genius, the pursuit of science, when properly understood, is far more attractive and more in harmony with their tastes than can possibly be the cultivation of an art already touched by the hand of decay, and passing into the limbo of faded and effete systems. In the pursuit of science we go in quest of natural laws that there is every reason for believing are almost innumerable and inexhaustible; in poetry, the search is for phantoms of the imagination which, ten to one, have already flitted across other minds and been appropriated by them. In science, we search for the real, oftentimes more wonderful and beautiful than the most splendid visions; in poetry we search for the ideal, which, if it be new, now almost impossible, fails to command admiration, unless it be set before us in the most pleasing colors, and in a style of the highest finish. This elaborate toilet being unnecessary, though admissible to some extent in the treatment of scientific subjects, more range is given to the reason and less to the discursive faculties. And herein lies one of the chief advantages of the scientific method. While giving sufficient rein to the imagination to keep it in healthy exercise, it makes use of the reflective and perceptive powers in an eminent degree. Hence it engenders the greatest strength and breadth of the intellect; and it is no exaggeration to say that, if all other methods were abandoned, the study of science alone is capable of raising the mind to the loftiest possible standard of development.
Sooner or later educational institutions must take notice of this fact, and give it the heed its vast importance deserves. It seems impossible that a few narrow-minded patrons and disciples of the old system, watching at the gates, should much longer shut out from our seminaries of learning that great herald of freedom, of reform, and of progress, panoplied in the armor of truth, who has already dethroned so many idols of the forum, the pulpit, and the market-place, and who stands ready, on entering these seminaries, to perform a similar lustration. And nothing needs it more. Palsied almost by a régime which administers public instruction on pretty much the same plan upon which wars are conducted in some of the countries of the Old World—that is, without adopting either the new discipline or the new arms which have enabled other countries to achieve victories—our system of public schools is sinking into decrepitude and decay for want of a new stimulus. Give it this in the shape of lessons in modern science, in all its freedom and amplitude, and it will be infused with new life. Give it this, and the education of our youth will be something more and something higher than injecting into the mind several new languages, to the sad neglect of the mother tongue, and loading the memory with a useless mass of rules, and definitions, and other abstract forms, which are forgotten as soon as the student enters upon the stage of practical life.
But to return from what may seem a digression. The influence exerted by the march of modern science upon history and historical composition is even more direct and decided than its influence upon poetry. Dealing with the actions of man either in his individual or collective capacity, even the best historians have been in the habit, until within a few years past, of regarding them as the result either of self-directed will or of special providences. Consequently their pages are filled with the marvels wrought by heroes and conquerors, particularly those who were regarded as the especial favorites of Heaven. No margin has been left in these pages for the operation of general laws, guiding and controlling human conduct. And it is only within a recent period that the theory has been formulated that the progress of society is not to be attributed to the casual disturbances made by powerful individuals, or to the ascription of supernatural means, but wholly to the force of laws working out their results without the interference of either divine or human agency. This contribution, or rather new direction to history, constituting by far its most essential feature and element, we owe to science. A few great minds, chief among whom may be mentioned Comte in France and Herbert Spencer in Great Britain, taking their stand upon the recognized principles and harmonies prevailing in the material universe, have transferred this grand conception of law and order amid apparent discordances into the sphere of human societies. Here, as well as in the material universe, the relations existing between different communities, and between the individual members of each, are relations due to the interaction of natural forces; and here, as well as in the material universe, the changes that have been wrought out by these forces are changes analogous to those we see exhibited in the consolidation of the crust of the earth, and in the genesis and growth of the solar and stellar systems—changes, that is to say, from a state of homogeneity to greater and greater complexity and apparent elaboration of detail.
Now, this evident leaning of historians, in common with almost every other class of writers, at the present day, toward the theory of evolution, is so great, and so much is expected of them on account of this theory, that if they were practically to disregard it, in writing history, they would be almost left without readers. I might go further, and say that the tendency to connect the facts of history with the overruling operations of law is fast breaking down the barriers which separate our views of the government of the material world from those we hold concerning the affairs of man; so that it is safe to predict that the time is not far distant when, in a philosophical point of view, no very perceptible difference will be seen between the forces which control the conduct and career of nations and those which preside over the movements and revolutions of planets.
In view of this overshadowing influence, it were useless to touch upon the minor disturbances which science is producing upon history. It may almost be described as the grand motive power, which, in our day, is dragging the car of history along with it, as it drags all the rest in the train of literature. Whether they are the luxurious palace cars, like poetry and history, furnished with all the elegance which man's inventive genius has been accumulating for centuries, and which only the richly-endowed may enter, or whether they are the plainer passenger-cars, like fiction and eloquence, filled with a group of motley characters, of greater or less pretensions and importance, and tricked out in a variety of costumes—they are all whirled along over the same road, obedient to the impulse given them by the mighty machine which stands, or rather flies, at the head of the train.
The highest aim of science is to discover the truths of nature. Literature, aspiring to something similar to this, recognizes the highest merit of literary composition in what is called its "truth to nature." In delineations of character, in descriptions of scenery, in the skillful weaving together of the component parts of a play or a novel, in the birth of sentiment, or in the happy turn given to an expression, what we most admire is the writer's adherence to certain rules or standards that have the closest conformity with what we observe in the internal or external worlds. From what we perceive in ourselves or in things around us, we derive the measure and gauge of all literary excellence. True, our own perceptions are trained and quickened by the thoughts and perceptions of others; so that what we read or hear aids us in correcting, enlarging, or refining our literary judgments. But we must be able to combine empirical tests with subjective analysis, before the intellectual process can be completed which authorizes us to determine whether any given production reaches that highest grade of excellence implied in its being "true to nature." But what, it may be asked, does this truth to nature actually consist in? Is it necessary that the author should set before us something that really exists?—something to be seen in nature, like a tree or a waterfall? Do we require of him an absolute verity? So far from this, it is only necessary that he should not shock us with anything that, at first sight, is repugnant to our tastes or feelings—anything that bears on its face the marks of falsehood or extravagance. Within these limits, a "counterfeit presentment" is as good as the original. All that the most fastidious reader can ask in an author is a certain similitude to nature. He never looks for anything more than what is called vraisemblance or plausibility. What seems to he true satisfies him as well as what is true.
How opposite to this the mental discipline and research required of the scientist! No illusions or half-truths can ever satisfy his mind. Engaged in prolonged labors to find out the laws of natural phenomena, he counts nothing as gained so long as these remain undiscovered. One after another chimeras vanish from his mind; theories are tried, only to be discarded, if found not to fit in with facts; verifications from many opposite quarters are applied to test the value of a given hypothesis; and, if, after all, any of them are seen to be at variance with it, the hypothesis is abandoned, though it may have been cherished with all the ardor of a first and only affection.
That the semblance of truth answers the purpose of almost every kind of literature, as well as the reality, and thus places it in marked contrast with the rigid requirements of science, is further manifest from this, that we often see two propositions or apothegms, entirely repugnant to each other, equally applauded by the multitude, and maintaining a place and a good character in current literature; while of two rival theories or doctrines in science, either both are sooner or later rejected, or they become reconciled, or one is finally substantiated. Every one's reading, if at all extensive, will readily suggest illustrations of the truth of this remark. A few of these inconsistencies or contradictions in literature may not be out of place here. First, we will compare what is said by two distinguished philosophers upon the subject of anger. "To be moved by passion," says Marcus Aurelius, "is not manly, but mildness and gentleness, as they are more agreeable to human nature; so, also, are they more manly; and he who professes these qualities possesses strength, nerve, and courage—and not the man who is subject to fits of passion and discontent. For in the same degree in which a man's mind is nearer to freedom from all passion, in the same degree also is it nearer to strength. And as the sense of pain is a characteristic of weakness, so also is anger. For he who yields to pain and he who yields to anger are both wounded, and both submit." On the other hand, Bacon: "To seek to extinguish anger utterly is but a bravery of the Stoics. We have better oracles. . . . In refraining from anger, it is the best remedy to win time, and to make a man's self believe that the opportunity of his revenge is not yet come; but that he foresees a time for it, and so to still himself, in the mean time, and reserve it." Next, hear what two others of the same guild have to advise us concerning knowledge: "It is a vanity to waste our days in the blind pursuit of knowledge; it is but attending a little longer, and we shall enjoy that by instinct and infusion which we endeavor at here by labor and inquisition. It is better to sit down in a modest ignorance, and rest contented with the natural blessings of our own reason, than buy the uncertain knowledge of this life with sweat and vexation, which death gives every fool gratis" (Sir Thomas Browne). "No way has been found for making heroism easy even for the scholar. Labor, iron labor, is for him. . . . There is so much to be done that we ought to begin quickly to bestir ourselves. This day-labor of ours, we confess, has hitherto a certain emblematic air, like the annual plowing and sowing of the Emperor of China. Let us make it an honest sweat" (Emerson). Who shall decide when doctors disagree? Once more, look at what Herbert Spencer calls the "great-man theory" in history. He and Macaulay and Buckle, on one side, are as wide apart as the poles of the earth from Carlyle and Emerson, on the other, concerning this theory. Hear Carlyle first: "We can not look, however imperfectly, upon a great man without gaining something by him. He is the living light fountain, which it is good and pleasant to be near—the light which enlightens, which has enlightened, the darkness of the world; and this not as a kindled lamp only, but rather as a natural luminary, shining by the gift of Heaven." To the same effect, Emerson: "Literary history, and all history, is a record of the power of minorities, and of minorities of one. . . . The importance of the one person who has truth over nations who have it not is because power obeys reality and not appearance, according to quality and not quantity. How much more are men than nations!. . . So that, wherever a true man appears, everything usually reckoned great dwarfs itself. He is the only great event; and it is easy to lift him into a mythological person."
On the other side, hear Macaulay: "Those who have read history with discrimination know the fallacy of those panegyrics and invectives which represent individuals as effecting great moral and intellectual revolutions, subverting established systems, and impressing a new character on the age. The difference between one man and another is by no means so great as the superstitious crowd supposes. . . . The sun illuminates the hills while it is still below the horizon; and truth is discovered by the highest minds a little before it becomes manifest to the multitude. This is the extent of their superiority. They are the first to catch and reflect a light which, without their assistance, must, in a short time, be visible to those who lie far beneath them." And here is what Herbert Spencer offers on the same side: "The origin of the great man is natural; and, immediately he is thus recognized, he must be classed with all other phenomena in the society that gave him birth as a product of its antecedents. Along with the whole generation of which he forms a minute part, along with its institutions, language, knowledge, manners, and its multitudinous arts and appliances, he is a resultant of an enormous aggregate of causes that have been operating for ages. . . . If it be a fact that the great man may modify his nation in its structure and actions, it is also a fact that there must have been those antecedent modifications constituting national progress before he could be evolved. Before he can make his society, his society must make him; so that all those changes, of which he is the proximate imitator, have their chief causes in the generations which gave him birth. If there is to be anything like a real explanation of these changes, it must be sought in that aggregate of conditions out of which both he and they have arisen."
And so on through the literature of all nations, from the earliest times down to the present day, it abounds in antagonism of sentiment. And when two or more authors happen to agree, others will be found who will refute their positions, and convict them of mistakes; so as almost to justify that saying of Voltaire, that "the history of human opinion is scarcely anything more than the history of human error." More than this: not only will these various disagreements be discovered among different authors, but different passages in the same author will show a similar want of harmony, and, what is a greater wonder and anomaly still, the same passage, which will not want for admirers on account of its beauty and the justice and accuracy of the sentiments it expresses, will sometimes find just as many, even though its meaning be entirely reversed. Take the commencement of one of Emerson's latest essays, called "Resources," to illustrate what I mean. I place side by side with the original affirmative propositions their negatives:
|"Men are made up of potences. We are magnets in an iron globe. We have keys to all doors. We are all inventors, each sailing out on a voyage of discovery, guided each by a private chart, of which there is no duplicate," etc.||Men are made up of impotences. We are magnets in a wooden globe. We have keys to no doors. Scarcely any are inventors, sailing out on a voyage of discovery. Scarcely any are guided by a private chart, of which there is no duplicate, etc.|
Or take this passage from one of Dr. Johnson's essays: "It seems to be the fate of man to seek all bis consolations in futurity. The time present is seldom able to fill desire or imagination with immediate enjoyment, and we are forced to supply its deficiencies by recollection or anticipation. . . . Thus every period of life is obliged to borrow its happiness from time to come. In youth we have nothing past to entertain us, and in age we derive little from retrospect but hopeless sorrow." If there are persons to be found who will subscribe to these views, there are more who will adopt the contrary, as thus: It seems to be the fate of man to seek all his consolations in the present. The future is seldom able to fill desire or imagination with sufficient enjoyment, and hence we are forced to supply its deficiencies with that which is immediate. . . . Thus every period of life is obliged to borrow its happiness from the present moment, etc.
Now, as I have before hinted, there is no chance for such contradictions in science; or, if they ever occur, their existence, from the very nature of the pursuit, can not be of permanent duration. There is no such thing as imaginary laws controlling phenomena. Nature abhors a fallacy or a fiction more than a vacuum; and though for a stated period the true cause of a given phenomenon may be hidden from view, owing to the imperfect means or the imperfect intelligence employed to unravel it, and thus a fictitious origin be assigned for it, yet in course of time the error is sure to be detected and the truth to be revealed. Thus it was with the astronomical system of Ptolemy. Up to the time of Copernicus the learned world as well as the illiterate were led to believe that the sun and all the rest of the heavenly bodies revolved around the earth, as the center of the entire system. Yet, as soon as the error was exploded, and the truth demonstrated, there was a universal rejection of the one and a universal recognition of the other. So, at a later period, when the true theory of ethereal undulations, as applied to light, fought its way against much opposition into popular belief, the old theory of emanations was dropped, never to be again taken up.
Nevertheless, from what has been said, it must not be inferred that what are called coincidences of thought never occur among scientists. On the contrary, these are so common as to give license for believing in the existence of a law, akin to that of evolution if not a part of it, by virtue of which, in the progress of knowledge, certain new truths dawn upon the world, receiving expression simultaneously from more than one mind. Given the age which is ripe for any discovery, and it breaks out in many different quarters of the globe at the same moment. Men seem to be watching for it, and, like a meteor glancing across the heavens, it is witnessed by several observers from many points of the compass. Take, for example, the great law of natural selection, as applicable to man's origin—it was discovered simultaneously in England by Darwin and Wallace; while in Germany, at the same time, Haeckel had promulgated a similar theory; and in France, in a preceding age, Lamarck had laid the foundation for it in the most unmistakable manner.
But it is only in this single point of occasional coincidence or identity that the leading thoughts of science take on a certain likeness with those of literature. The analogy ends with the admission that each of these thoughts may have rival paternities. Beyond this the difference becomes manifest; and it consists in this: While the utterances of different literatures may seem to be original, this is often owing to a variation in their phraseology, an examination of which will show them to be identical; and, in addition to this, there is no criterion by which their truth can be tested. But in science, while different claims may be made for originality of discovery, each truth stands out in bold relief, is distinct and well defined, and, after it has been submitted to all the various verifications of which it is susceptible, it no longer admits of any doubt and becomes a part of the common stock of human knowledge, possessing, as nearly as possible, the attributes of positive, absolute, and immutable truth.
Owing to the endless tautologies of literature, it requires little discernment to see that it must be approaching a crisis in, if not a completion of, its destiny. Traveling in the same old circle, and treating us perpetually to the same round of entertainment without change or variety, it must gradually cease to interest, and eventually die a natural death. With no new oil to fill its lamps, steeped in a kind of Stygian darkness of its own creation, one may well exclaim with Othello:
That can its light relume.
And that this would have been a natural result if modern science had not come to the rescue at the right moment, and furnished its proper share of this "Promethean heat," admits of scarcely a doubt, especially in view of the fact that the most successful cultivators of letters in modern times are found resorting, for their choicest inspiration, to the new fountains thus opened to use. Notably among poets such men as Tennyson, among historians such men as Buckle, and among critics such men as Taine, have availed themselves of these helps to their genius; while by differentiating the condition of man, in some of the most important particulars, science has so wrought upon his character and destiny as to render it possible for such splendid intellects as Goethe, Dickens, and Victor Hugo to say something original of him. For, if you strip their pages of what may be called their scientific coloring, if you take away what directly or indirectly may be traced to the magic web which science has woven all through the affairs of modern life, you strip them of much of their witchery and of most of their originality.
Now, without going into particulars, we may say generally that the way in which science has wrought this great reform and revolution in literature has been by widening our survey of both man and nature. From a being of comparative insignificance, ruled by the rod of a tyrant, or made the sport of demons, and whose views of things were bounded by the narrowest horizon, she has transformed man into a being of the highest order of which we have any knowledge, having risen to it by the operation of laws that have been shaping his destiny for ages. Step by step his powers have been unfolding and the range of his vision enlarging, until he has been able to find some clew to his origin, and some interpretation of natural laws that before were a mystery to him. By the aid of what may be considered a sort of "second sight," namely, instruments of his own invention, he has been enabled to explore the remotest bounds of creation, and thus literally open to himself a new heaven and a new earth. With the telescope he has reached the most distant of planets, with the spectroscope he has discovered many of their constituent elements, and with the microscope he has penetrated into the secrets of the minutest forms of insect life. Through molecular physics and the grand modern triumph of evolution, both in its relation to man and the totality of nature, he has brought near to him many of the outlying provinces of human knowledge, and poured upon them. a flood of light.
To the investigation of principles has succeeded the application of useful inventions. Theories have almost invariably germinated into practical science. From the study of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and geology, industries have been developed which have made the commonest dwelling of modern times a palace and the poorest cities a miracle of magnificence, compared with those of the past.
And all of this material advancement has been attended by a corresponding diffusion of knowledge and awakening of intellectual activity, so that the merest tyro in knowledge, at the present day, surpasses in intellectual acquisitions all that the most successful scholar of Greece and Rome could boast of, even though he had mastered all the learning of antiquity. More marvelous still, the latest expression of psychological science forces upon us the conviction that the mental faculties themselves, in harmony with the results of evolution everywhere else, are brought within its grasp, that they are thus enlarged in their capacity, and made equal to the task of furnishing through the revolving ages disclosures of the almost limitless secrets of the material world, and of the agency which brought it into being.
Here then, finally, we may look for the only avenue of escape from the doom with which literature was threatened—a doom not unlike that which settled over the Empire of Dullness as painted by the poet. In that picture the whole assembled concourse of wits and critics are represented as falling into a profound slumber, while listening to the sleepy literary performances of one or two of their heroes. Nor did they ever rise out of this lethargy. Fortunately, the comparison ends here. For while, without doubt, the same leaden slumber was fast settling over the prostrate form of modern Literature, the mighty enchantress, modern Science, touched it at the propitious moment with her potent rod, and woke into new life its exhausted and dying energies.