Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/384

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370
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

vigor (and it was impossible with such a man that it could be otherwise), that their ablest theological writers were overmatched. By the established Church of England, he came to be regarded with such feelings, that instances occurred in which those who had successfully answered him were rewarded with the highest dignities; a circumstance which gave origin to his remark, that he appointed the bishops of England. Priestley forgot that the experience of all nations and of thousands of years has proved the utter impossibility of any one man convincing the whole human race, and converting them all to his views. He shut his eyes to that anarchy of opinion infesting the world, brought on in no small degree by such polemics as those in which he delighted. In an exact science, like chemistry, he could describe some new discovery, and every man in Europe at once admitted its truth. He never realized how different it is in politics and theology. The library of volumes he wrote on these topics has already dropped into that gulf of oblivion which has received all the works of the authors of the early and middle ages, and no man cares to learn what he wrote or what he thought of the matter. But not so with his philosophical labors: they stand out clear and distinct, monuments of the advance of the human mind in knowledge and power during the eighteenth century. His discovery of oxygen gas will last as long as the world endures."

But, if Priestley erred by meddling with men's political and religious opinions, he paid the full penalty of it. While living in Birmingham, the mob broke open and sacked his house. His philosophical instruments, most of them made by himself, were broken up; his library and original papers, the fruits of a frugal life, were destroyed, scraps of manuscript covered the floor several inches deep, and his books were strewn over the high-road for half a mile. His life was endangered; he was obliged to flee from the place with his family, and for three days one of the chief cities of the nation was the scene of riot. The blow was crushing. His society was avoided even by his philosophical associates, and, finding that further tranquillity in England was impossible, he resolved to come to America. He arrived in New York in January, 1794, and took up his residence in Northumberland, Pa., where he died in February, 1804.

Such was the career of the discoverer of oxygen; but, as Dr. Draper intimates, while oblivion has swallowed his theology and politics, his scientific fame grows brighter with the advance of knowledge. The rancorous feelings which drove him from his native country have subsided, and a more just generation is preparing to grant his memory the honor that is over-due. Subscriptions are being raised to erect a statue to Priestley in Birmingham.

Would it not be well for the country which gave him refuge to do the same? And apart from the question of doing justice to a great man's memory, which has been obscured for a century, what could be more fitting than to celebrate the centennial of a mighty discovery on August 1, 1874, by unveiling a monument to the illustrious discoverer?

 


LITERARY NOTICES.

Botany for Beginners. By Maxwell T. Masters, M. D., F. R. S., late Lecturer on Botany at St. George's Hospital. London: Bradbury & Evans.

In form, typographical execution, and illustrations, this is a beautiful book; in its scientific statements it is a sound and trustworthy book; but, for the purposes indicated in its title, it is a worthless book. Dr. Masters knows much about plants, but of the minds of children he seems to know nothing. How long will it take these educational book-makers to find out that there