Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/499

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481
SCIENCE AS A FACTOR IN AGRICULTURE.

attempted to do, ceases thereby to be a miracle. The essence of religion is mystery; the sole aim of science is to clear up and thus do away with mysteries—a goal which it is always tending toward but will never reach, for the same reason that an asymptotic line never meets the curve which it is constantly approaching.

 
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SCIENCE AS A FACTOR IN AGRICULTURE.[1]
By M. BERTHELOT,
OF THE INSTITUTE OF FRANCE.

GULLIVER relates that in the course of his travels he found a curious country which was governed entirely by academies, according to the most exact rules of science and reason. These bodies had attempted to reform the whole social organization. For the superannuated principles of the old and good agriculture, especially, they had substituted ingenious inventions based on modern discoveries. This was a hundred and fifty years ago, when, instead of digging the ground by the old-fashioned processes, machines had been introduced by the aid of which one man could do the work of several. The cultivation of the soil was carried on by new methods, and the history of English agriculture in the eighteenth century shows that the author intended in the romance to criticise by his fable the first attempts at chemical cultivation. Fair weather and rain, according to the satire, did not escape the innovators. The flying island of Laputa, held suspended above any particular point, permitted it to be withdrawn or submitted at will to the action of the sun. In short, the people of this ideal country had everywhere suppressed or corrected the action of Nature. The effects of this conduct, says Swift, were not long in making themselves felt. The land was miserably devastated. The people, in rags, lived in ruined huts and were dying of hunger, while they were kept in obedience by terror.

Such is the view under which the writers of the day regarded the first preludes of scientific agriculture; and I do not know that there is any need of going very far to find well-informed persons still infected with similar prejudices. But the general opinion has changed; the benefits derived from science have been such, and they have so transformed society in the nineteenth century, that no enlightened mind would dare to-day to use the ironical language of the author of Gulliver.

In truth, I am not sure that our great-nephews may not suc-


  1. Presidential address before the National Agricultural Society of France, July 6, 1892.