Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/45

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35
UNSOLVED PROBLEMS OF SCIENCE.

student's microscope was turned inward upon the recesses of his own brain; and when the supply of facts and realities failed, as it very speedily did, the scientific imagination was not wanting to furnish to successive generations an interminable series of conflicting speculations. That science science in our academical sense—had its day of rapid growth, of boundless aspiration, of enthusiastic votaries. It fascinated the rising intellect of the time, and it is said—people were not particular about figures in those days—that its attractions were at one time potent enough to gather round the university thirty thousand students, who for the sake of learning its teaching were willing to endure a life of the severest hardship. Such a state of feeling is now an archæological curiosity. The revolt against Aristotle is now some three centuries old. But the mental sciences which were supposed to rest upon his writings have retained some of their ascendency even till this day, and have only slowly and jealously admitted the rivalry of the growing sciences of observation. The subject is interesting to us, as this undecided state of feeling colored the experiences of this association at its last Oxford visit, nearly a generation later, in 1860. The warmth of the encounters which then took place have left a vivid impression on the minds of those who are old enough to have witnessed them. That much energy was on that occasion converted into heat may, I think, be inferred from the mutual distance which the two bodies have since maintained. Whereas the visit of 1832 was succeeded by another visit in fifteen years, and the visit of 1847 was succeeded by another visit in thirteen years, the year 1860 was followed by a long and dreary interval of separation, which has only now, after four-and-thirty years, been terminated. It has required the lapse of a generation to draw the curtain of oblivion over those animated scenes. It was popularly supposed that deep divergences upon questions of religion were the motive force of those high controversies. To some extent that impression was correct. But men do not always discern the motives which are really urging them, and I suspect that in many cases religious apprehensions only masked the resentment of the older learning at the appearance and claims of its younger rival. In any case, there is something worthy of note, and something that conveys encouragement, in the difference of the feeling which prevails now and the feeling that was indicated then. Few men are now influenced by the strange idea that questions of religious belief depend on the issues of physical research. Few men, whatever their creed, would now seek their geology in the books of their religion, or, on the other hand, would fancy that the laboratory or the microscope could help them to penetrate the mysteries which hang over the nature and the destiny of the soul of man. And the old learning no