Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/452

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436
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

regarding the beauty and wonders of creation, and we see the glow of this noble poetry radiated upon those whom logic drew away from studies in natural science. Some of the results produced were indeed curious. Thus, in the science of zoölogy, so essentially connected with geology, Vincent de Beauvais and his compeers, while showing a great desire to display to their readers the glories and wonders of Nature, rely in their attempts to do so, not upon observation but upon authority. Neglecting the wonders which the dissection of any animal would have afforded them, they amplified statements found in various mediæval legends, and especially in the lives of the saints. Hence such additions to learning as careful descriptions of the unicorn and dragon mentioned in Scripture, and such statements as that the lion when pursued by hunters effaces his tracks with the end of his tail; that the hyena can talk with shepherds, and changes its sex every year; that a certain bird is born of the fruit of a certain tree when that fruit happens to fall into the water; and innumerable other statements equally valuable.[1]

Very pious uses were made of this science, especially by monkish writers. The phoenix rising from his ashes proved the doctrine of the Resurrection; the structure and mischief of monkeys proved the existence of demons; the fact that certain monkeys have no tails served to prove that Satan was shorn of his glory; the weasel, which constantly changes its place, was exhibited as a type of man estranged from the word of God, and finding no rest.[2]

The next great development, mainly under Church guidance, was by means of the scholastic theology. Phrase-making was substituted for investigation. Without the Church and within it wonderful contributions were thus made. In the eleventh century Avicenna accounted for the fossils by suggesting a "stone-making force";[3] in the thirteenth, Albert the Great attributed them to a "formative quality."[4] In the following centuries some philosophers ventured the idea that they grew from seed, and the Aristotelian doctrine of spontaneous generation was constantly used to prove that these stony fossils possessed powers of reproduction like plants and animals.[5]

Still, at various times and places, germs implanted by Greek and Roman thought were warmed into life. The Arabian schools seem to have been less fettered by the letter of the Koran than the contemporary Christian scholars by the letter of the Bible; and to Avicenna belongs the credit of first announcing substantially the modern geological theory of changes in the earth's surface.[6]

  1. See Berger de Xivrey, "Traditions tératologiques," and such mediæval books of exempla as the "Lumen animæ."
  2. See Rambaud, "Histoire de la Civilisation française," Paris, 1885, vol. i, pp. 368, 369.
  3. "Vis lapidifica."
  4. "Virtus formativa."
  5. See authorities given in Mr. Ward's essay, as above.
  6. For Avicenna, see Lyell and D'Archiac, and from these it appears that at least one