WE can estimate the popularity of any branch of knowledge by the interest taken by the public in the lives of the men who are identified with it. We read with avidity the lightest details in the careers of military leaders for the glamour which is attached to war; but the victories and defeats of students of Nature pass unregarded.
The mediæval naturalist was artist and naturalist, or priest and naturalist. Permit me to quote a passage from Edward Forbes's Naked-Eyed Medusa: "The genus Sarsia was instituted by Lesson for a very remarkable Medusa discovered by the eminent naturalist of Norway, whose name it bears; a philosopher who, pursuing his researches far away from the world, buried among the grand solitudes of his magnificent country, where the pursuit of science is his recreation, and the holy offices of religion his sacred duty, has nevertheless gained name and fame wherever the study of Nature is followed. The unpretending writings of this parish priest have become models for the essays of learned professors in foreign lands, and his discoveries the texts of long commentaries by experienced physiologists." Father Sars, a priest and naturalist, appears to have been a representative of the mediæval type projected into the nineteenth century. While the conflict between science and religion is going on, the amenities of science and religion as exemplified by such a career should be acknowledged.
I shall sketch briefly the careers of two scientific worthies, one standing on the threshold of modern times, and the other well within. I allude to the naturalist and physician in the person of Sir Thomas Browne, and the naturalist and administrator in that of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. I shall present their claims as scientists, for these have been largely ignored.
Sir Thomas Browne was an English provincial physician of the time of Charles II. He was born in 1605 and died in 1682. We are informed that modern readers without special preparation can understand the spirit of this time. But we must acknowledge Browne is something of a puzzle. It is true we can dip into his mental life as we can read of an Owen. He is one of us. He thought and worked as we do. At other times he appears as a Rosicrucian in his physics—an Aldrovandus in his natural history.
- An address delivered before the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, December 7, 1894.