By Professor T. H. HUXLEY.
THE middle of the eighteenth century is illustrated by a host of great names in science — English, French, German, and Italian — especially in the fields of chemistry, geology, and biology; but this deepening and broadening of natural knowledge produced next to no immediate practical benefits. Even if, at this time, Francis Bacon could have returned to the scene of his greatness and of his littleness, he must have regarded the philosophic world which praised and disregarded his precepts with great disfavor. If ghosts are consistent, he would have said: "These people are all wasting their time, just as Gilbert and Kepler and Galileo and my worthy physician Harvey did in my day. Where are the fruits of the restoration of science which I promised? This accumulation of bare knowledge is all very well, but cui bono? Not one of these people is doing what I told him specially to do, and seeking that secret of the cause of forms which will enable men to deal, at will, with matter, and superinduce new natures upon the old foundations."
But, a little later, that growth of knowledge beyond imaginable utilitarian ends, which is the condition precedent of its practical utility, began to produce some effect upon practical life; and the operation of that part of Nature we call human upon the rest began to create, not "new natures," in Bacon's sense, but a new Nature, the existence of which is dependent upon men's efforts, which is subservient to their wants, and which would disappear if man's shaping and guiding hand were withdrawn. Every mechanical artifice, every chemically pure substance employed in manufacture, every abnormally fertile race of plants, or rapidly growing and fattening breed of animals, is a part of the new Nature created by science. Without it, the most densely populated regions of modern Europe and America must retain their primitive, sparsely inhabited, agricultural or pastoral condition; it is the foundation of our wealth and the condition of our safety from submergence by another flood of barbarous hordes; it is the bond which unites into a solid political whole, regions larger than any empire of antiquity; it secures us from the recurrence of the pestilences and famines of former times; it is the source of endless comforts and conveniences, which are not mere luxuries, but conduce to physical and moral well-being. During the last fifty years, this new birth of time, this new Nature begotten by science upon fact, has pressed itself daily and hourly upon our. attention, and has worked miracles which have modified the whole fashion of our lives.
- From "The Advance of Science in the Last Half-Century." New York: D. Appleton & Co. 1887.