Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/174

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166
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
LUCRETIUS AND THE EVOLUTION IDEA.
By Professor WILLIAM L. POTEAT, M.A.,
WAKE FOREST COLLEGE.
Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas,

atque metus omnes et inexorabile fatum
subiecit strepitumque Acherontis avari.
 —Virgil, Georg. II. 490-492.

 It seem'd
A void was made in Nature; all her bonds
Crack'd; and I saw the flaring atom streams
And torrents of her myriad universe,
Ruining along the illimitable inane.
Fly on to clash together again, and make
Another and another frame of things
Forever: that was mine, my dream, I knew it.
 — Tennyson, Lucretius.

Lucretius, nobler than his mood.
Who dropped his plummet down the broad,
Deep universe, and said, 'No God,'

Finding no bottom : he denied
Divinely the divine, and died
Chief poet on the Tiber-side

By grace of God : His face is stern
As one compelled, in spite of scorn,
To teach a truth he would not learn.
 — Mrs. Browning, A Vision of Poets.

IN the essay on Dante, Macaulay reproached the English poets with the tendency then showing itself among them to consider the objects and phases of external nature fit material for the exercise of their art. The reproach arose in part out of the fancied antagonism between poetry and science, and it has been often echoed since that day by poets as well as critics.

The judgment is a shallow one. Poetry is, indeed, imaginative. Whatever else it may have or want, it ceases to be poetry when the glow of imagination fades out of it. Science, on the other hand, occupies itself with fact only, with things as they are observed to be, not as they are imagined to be. But imagination and observation are not at war with each other. Distinction is not opposition. And, besides, the poet's constructive imagination is helpless without the materials supplied by observation; and the scientist's observation is aimless and unfruitful without the stimulus and guidance of imagination.