Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/185

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THE EVANESCENCE OF FACTS 181

I took up the old portfolio. What is the matter with the facts? They seem just a little tarnished; the mind is not tempted to gild them over or rub them up, the imagination refuses to endow them with those winged words which carry newly quarried facts bright and shining to the work table of the appreciative student, unhaunted by any shade of historical perspective. Evidently the time to work a fact into the masonry of science, "the solid ground of nature" upon which her trusting and unsuspicious, non-historical, scientific children love to build, is when it is fresh and when the mortar will cling to it. Coat it over with the incrustations of criticism, the mould of age, and it must be fresh hewed to the point of losing its identity—its susceptibility of identification, I mean,—before it can be appreciated as a part of "the solid ground of nature"—made solid of course by eyes, not really myopic or hypermetropic when they have their errors of refraction properly corrected, made solid in a word by the unfailing, unerring use of sense—a veritable fact, not an old fact, of course, but a new one. It is true that an old fact is often not just the thing to trust to, but a new one, and new ones are so easy to find if you have not wasted your time with the old ones, lends that solidity of support which we love to contemplate in the hierarchical press of science. It unfortunately has come to look a little suspicious in the secular press, but a new fact, really approved by the hierarchy of science, unsmirched by any touch of the imagination and free of any suspicion of deductive birth, is a thing of beauty if not a joy forever. The old facts, though they continue to sing:

Du hast uns gepflanzt;

  Zu Tausenden kommen

Wir, Vater, getanzt.

are, I must confess, a pretty "poor run of shad." It is true it does not seem just the way a fact should behave. Its vintage should improve with age. It is undeniable, however, that in really choice circles of science, the old facts are not looked on with favor.

The imagery of Shakespeare, the flowers of eloquence in Demosthenes, need no burnishing, no drapery to hide their age, but the atoms of Democritus and the spheres of Ptolemy need considerable correction, and the cloud of insect facts which swarm up from my old yellow sheets, if not simply disgusting, are at least uninspiring. Is it possible then they lack something? A fact, it is true, should lack nothing. It should stand alone unshamed in its nakedness—for is it not the truth? Is not the truth divine?

The concatenation of circumstance should have nothing to do with it. The contemporaneous adornment it borrows from its environment must be non-essential. I do not know how many facts can pass through this crucible of criticism unscorched. All that I can say is that I have never