Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 47.djvu/62

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54
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

nary animals or repeats fanciful tales, he seldom fails to record his own opinion of their value, unless they are contained in letters from correspondents, who are always treated with courtesy.

Modern writers have disputed Gesner's title to a position among men of science on two grounds. It is held by some that since science is the reference of the phenomena of the universe to the fundamental properties of matter, none of the old naturalists who did not have this aim have any scientific standing; but as this point of view shuts out men like Wallace, Gesner is expelled in good company.

Others hold that Gesner's weakness is his lack of the conception of systematic zoölogy, and his failure to so arrange his facts as to exhibit natural affinity and do away with endless repetition.

PSM V47 D062 Gesner bull.jpg
Fig. 6.

As a matter of fact, he does recognize natural relationship, and often treats allied animals together; thus, for example, under Bos we find not only Taurus, Vacca, and Vitulus, but also Bison, Bonasus, and Urus.

He says, in the introduction to the book on water animals, that he has followed the alphabetical order, rather than a more philosophical system, for the sake of easy reference, and on account of his uncertainty regarding the affinities of many of them.

This criticism was to be expected from the systematists of the last generation, but the modern morphologist can not cast it in Gesner's face, for, while he feels sure that there is a natural or genealogical classification of animals, he admits, like Gesner, his "uncertainty about the affinities of many of them."

We are told (Encyclopædia Britannica, article Gesner) that "his life was singularly pure and blameless; his love of knowledge was as disinterested as it was engrossing. He was always ready and glad to acknowledge any help he received. When obliged to engage in controversy, he did so in a dignified and courteous manner. His medical writings show him to have been far above the silly prejudices of his day. A cheerful and amiable piety was a prominent feature in his character — a character chastened, not soured, by the trials of a hard lifetime."