Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/329

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315
GOETHE'S FARBENLEHRE.

incredible delusions. The colors of tempered steel, he says, and kindred phenomena, may perhaps be quite conveniently deduced from the action of turbid media. Polished steel powerfully reflects light, and the coloring produced by heating may be regarded as a feeble turbidity, which, acted upon by the polished surface behind, produces a bright yellow. As the turbidity augments, this color becomes dense, until finally it exhibits an intense ruby-red. Supposing this color to reach its greatest proximity to darkness, the turbidity continuing to augment as before, we shall have behind the turbid medium a dark background, which appears first violet, then dark blue, and finally light blue, thus completing the cycle of the phenomena. The mind that could offer such an explanation as this must be qualitatively different from that of the natural philosopher.

The words "quite conveniently deduced," which I have italicized in the last paragraph, are also used by Goethe in another place. When the results of his experiments on prismatic colors had to be condensed into one commanding inference, he enunciated it thus: "Und so lassen sich die Farben bei Gelegenheit der Refraction aus der Lehre von den trüben Mitteln gar bequem ableiten." This is the crown of his edifice, and it seems a feeble ending to so much preparation. Kingsley once suggested to Lewes that Goethe might have had a vague feeling that his conclusions were not sound, and that he felt the jealousy incident to imperfect conviction. The ring of conscious demonstration, as it is understood by the man of science, is hardly to be found in the words "gar bequem ableiten." They fall flaccid upon the ear in comparison with the mind-compelling Q. E. D. of Newton.


Throughout the first 350 pages of his work, wherein he develops and expounds his own theory, Goethe restrains himself with due dignity. Here and there, there is a rumble of discontent against Newton, but there is no sustained ill-temper or denunciation. After, however, having unfolded his own views, he comes to what he calls the "unmasking of the theory of Newton." Here Goethe deliberately forsakes the path of calm, objective research, and delivers himself over to the guidance of his emotions. He immediately accuses Newton of misusing, as an advocate, his method of exposition. He goes over the propositions in Newton's "Optics" one by one, and makes even the individual words of the propositions the objects of criticism. He passes on to Newton's experimental proofs, invoking, as he does so, the complete attention of his readers, if they would be freed to all eternity from the slavery of a doctrine which has imposed upon the world for a hundred years. It might be thought that Goethe had given himself but little trouble to understand the theorems of Newton and the experiments on which they were based. But it would be unjust to charge the poet with any want of diligence in this respect. He repeated Newton's experiments, and in almost every case obtained his