Popular Science Monthly/Volume 13/August 1878/Civilization and Science II
|←Notes||Popular Science Monthly Volume 13 August 1878 (1878)
Civilization and Science II
By Emil du Bois-Reymond
|Professor Huxley's Address at the Harvey Tricentenary→|
By Professor EMIL DU BOIS-REYMOND,
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF BERLIN.
VI.—The Technico-Inductive Period.
BUT there was still a long road to travel, before even the threshold of the temple of truth was reached. Nothing is better fitted to humble the spirit of speculation, which is ever and again lifting its head in Germany, than a contemplation of the first faltering steps of natural science, after it had at last been aroused from its slumber. If speculation were of any avail, one might suppose that it would succeed, above all, in throwing light upon a subject so comparatively accessible to our understanding as the laws of motion. But as Kant in later times failed to discover a priori the conservation of energy, so did the foremost minds of the Renaissance fail to find a priori the simplest truths of mechanics—truths since so transformed, if the expression be allowed, into flesh and blood of civilized man, that nativists might be tempted to regard them as innate. To us it appears inconceivable that once it required the profoundest meditation to discover the first law of motion, the inertia, as it is called, of matter, in virtue of which the motion of a body does not change without an external cause; that, down to the period of which we are speaking, no one had acquired a clear notion as to why a rolling ball at last stands still. Galilei even at first believed that a body, water, for instance, may move in a circle, without being held in that course by an external cause. 1 Kepler least of all had any clear conception of the laws of motion, but held views closely resembling those of Pythagoras. But when we consider that, not reckoning Archimedes, whose teaching was not understood or quickly forgotten, the human mind had for two thousand years not made a step of progress in this matter, we cannot but wonder at the rapidity with which such ideas are now developing; and herein we recognize the influence of that new sense which has been awakened among civilized nations by monotheism. Scarcely had the human mind abandoned the waving sea of speculation, escaped from the mare tenebrosum of scholastic theology, and set its foot on the firm land of inductive investigation, when it tri- umphantly sped along a track which brought it at one bound, as we might say, up to the highest accessible point; for only fifty years sepa- rate Galilei's "Discorsi" from Newton's " Principia," and the formula- tion by Leibnitz, in the same year 1686, of the doctrine of the conser- vation of energy.
And so at last with a rapid succession of geographical, astronomical, physical, and chemical discoveries, came the period whose benefits we enjoy, and to which we give the name of the technico-inductive period, because its results are due to the fact that in natural science speculation has given way to induction, the /ledodog eTcaKTUtrj, of which it is so hard to give an idea to an outsider, because strictly it is nothing else but common-sense applied to a given problem.
The study of this new phase of human history is as full of comfort and encouragement as the study of the mind's enslavement, by the phantasms of its own imagination during the " middle ages," was pain- ful and depressing. Nay, who will deny that, in reviewing the whole history of mankind, with the exception of the golden age of Grecian civilization, which passed away as rapidly as everything beautiful does, no nobler spectacle is to be seen than that which is beginning to unfold itself to our view, and which is even now becoming grander from day to day.
Here we have a universal history very different from the histories which commonly go by that name, and which tell of nothing save the rise and fall of dynasties and empires, treaties and disputed successions, wars and conquests, battles and sieges, rebellions and party strifes, dev- astation of cities and harassment of populations, murders and executions, court conspiracies and priestly intrigues; which exhibit to us, in the war of all against all, nothing but ambition, avarice, and sensuality, violence, treachery, and revenge, fraud, superstition, and hypocrisy. Only at rare intervals is this dark picture relieved by the cheering ap- parition of genuine princely magnanimity, or of peace and prosperity among the people, oftener by the soul-stirring deeds of a heroism which, alas! too often is spent in vain. For, whither ultimately leads this
1 Concerning this stage of the mind's development, consult Whewell, "History of the Inductive Sciences," vol. ii., p. 23, et seq. road, whose track lies across rivulets of tears and through a sea of blood? Can we discern in political history any steady progress effected by the play of the forces which constitute its subject-matter? Do kings grow wiser, or peoples more sober-minded? On the contrary, does not the lesson taught by history seem to be this, that history teaches no lesson? Till modern times, did humanity steadily and consecutively advance from step to step in liberty, morality, power, art, well-being, and science? Does not the history of which we speak present to our view rather a labor of Sisyphus, and does not the very conception of different periods of civilization imply the downfall of those civilizations?
Alas! we know only too well that this kind of history was for a long- time the only one known to man; and for the mass of people it will continue to be the only one. The mighty game of chance, played for stakes the value of which is known of all men, and the strife of passions it calls forth this drama, whereof man himself is at once the poet and the performer, irresistibly attracts the ingenuous mind, and is full of the profoundest lessons, however little they may be regarded.
But contemplate for a moment infinite space strewed with nebulae in the chaotic state, with star-clusters and solar systems. Imagine, as an invisible point in this infinity, our own sun as it speeds on into un- known regions of the heavens, surrounded by its planets, each one re- volving in its own proper orbit Jupiter, the giant-planet, with his moons, and Saturn with his rings. Again, imagine our earth, a point in this system, shooting through universal space at the rate of a falling star, and rotating on its axis from morning to night, from night to morning "mountain and sea borne along in the ever-rapid course of the spheres." Descend, in imagination, into its fiery interior, and learn the great out- lines of its history. After ages innumerable, the flood of molten lava at its surface became sufficiently cooled to admit of the existence of life; organisms succeeded one another till, at length, the history of our own race begins in the twilight of fable, now, however, fllumined by the discoveries of prehistoric research.
We will call this mode of looking at terrestrial phenomena, opposed as it is to the anthropocentric point of view, the Archimedean perspective, because thereby we in thought take a standpoint beyond the earth, just as Archimedes desired to have a locus standi outside the earth, in order to move it.
How lowly and insignificant do earthly things appear when thus contemplated! How petty now seem all those occurrences which we are wont to regard as so weighty, that we comprehend them under the high-sounding name of " universal history," whereas, in truth, one half of them belong to the history of the wars, and the other half to the his- tory of the hallucinations of only a few civilized nations! How vain and foolish are wars for a patch of land or for blood-stained laurels! In presence of the sublime spectacle of the universe, may we not exhort to reconciliation and harmony the race of man, ever wrangling about pitiable trifles? How odd, from the Archimedean perspective, appear the fevered imaginings of mankind about higher beings inhabiting some- where above our heads the icy, ether-filled cosmical space, vibrating with force-radiations, and pervaded by meteor-streams! How utterly absurd is the idea of an assembly of the gravest, most learned, and most pro- found men of their times sitting to decide whether Father and Son are of the same or of like substance! How ridiculous, were it not so tragical, was the scene of Galilei's abjuration, when we think of him and his judges being carried along together " in the ever-rapid course of the spheres!" But oh, how doubly hideous appear the massacre of St. Bar- tholomew and those autos da fe, whose atrocities reach their culmi- nation in the burnings of Giordano and Servetus! For the objects of veneration to whom these hetacombs were immolated there is no place in infinite space from the Archimedean standpoint, and they will have to be collocated in the fourth dimension.
In truth, in this so-called " universal history," there is but one light to guide us, which, however, has not often been employed hitherto: that is the doctrine of epidemic mental disease. As in mental diseases occurring in individuals, so here, it is hard to draw the lines of distinc- tion between insanity and depravity. But the few who contemplate, as it were, from the lofty summit of an intellectual crag, in an Archi- medean way, the doings of mankind here below, cannot be very far wrong in holding that to be the true history of the human race which, through all its ups and downs of fortune, its crimes and its errors, traces for us its gradual rise out of a state of semi-brutishness, its progress in arts and sciences, its growing dominion over Nature, its daily increasing well-being, its liberation from the bonds of superstition, and its steady approximation to those ends which make man what he is. In polity and war, whose unprofitable and monotonous oscillations are the sub- ject-matter of political history, man had predecessors among invertebrate animals even; but the human race alone offers a history of civilization. Hegel calls the horse and iron the " absolute organs for establishing civilized power." With greater justice we say that natural science is the absolute organ of civilization, and hence that the history of natural science is the proper history of the humayi race.
The punier man seems to be, as viewed from the Archimedean standpoint, the grander appear his achievements in the face of Nature, the nobler his efforts to subdue her, the more attractive the history of his intellectual conquests. As this history has memorable days and places different from those of political history, so, too, of course its kings and heroes differ from the kings and heroes to whom the thoughtless world is wont to pay homage. Who is it that in this history rivets our atten- tion at the beginning of the eighteenth century? Not that king, sur- rounded by his confessors, his mistresses, and his incendiary marshals, against whom, as Ranke said to Thiers, Ave still bore arms after Sedan; but that greatest of men, Sir Isaac Newton, deeply pondering on a problem beneath the elms of Cambridge. Who at the beginning of this century? Not, amid the ruins of Moscow, the indomitable man who invented chauvinism as the instrument of his ungovernable selfishness, but Alessandro Volta, contriving, at his villa on Lake Como, the artificial electrical organ which gave to man the power of omnipresence, as it were; or that other conqueror of space, George Stephenson, setting in motion, in his coal-blackened cottage at Killingworth, the model of his rail way -locomotive.
It were a noble task to describe the revolution that natural science has quietly produced in the condition of the human race during the last two or three centuries. Just as it has lifted from over our heads the confining roof of a solid firmament, so, too, has it liberated us intellectually. For every one who hearkens to her teaching she has fulfilled the aspirations of the poet, who, amid the throng of courtiers in the antechamber of Octavian and all the splendor of historical greatness, wistfully bethought him of the disciple of Epicurus as he reposes in powerful calm:
"Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas, Atque metus omnes et inexorabile faturu Subjecit pedibus, strepitumque Acberontis avari." x
"How blest the sage whose soul can pierce each cause Of changeful Nature and her wondrous laws; Who tramples fear beneath his foot, and braves Fate and stern Death, and hell's resounding waves!"
In the place of miracle, natural science has substituted law. Ghosts and spectres have disappeared before it as before the first rays of light in the east. It has broken the power of ancient lies; it has put out the fires in which witches and heretics used to be burned; it has placed a keen-edged weapon in the hands of historical criticism. But it has also curbed the pride of speculation. It has discovered the limits of knowledge, and taught its disciples to look down without dizziness from the airy heights of sovereign skepticism. How easy and free one breathes on those heights! How nearly inaudible to the mind's ear the hum of the vulgar multitude in the torrid lowland, the complainings of disappointed ambition, the battle-cries of nations! As of the anthropocentric, so, too, of the Europocentric idea natural science has made an end. As it opened the Ghetto, so it burst the fetters of the negro. How different its conquest of the world from that of Alexander or the Romans! If literature is the true intranational bond of nations, their international bond is natural science. Voltaire could abhor Shakespeare, but Newton he revered. The triumph of the scientific view of Nature will to future ages appear as a step in human development comparable to the triumph of monotheism 1,800 years ago. It matters not that the
1 Virgil, "Georgics" ii., v., 490, et scq. people will never be ripe for tbis form of religion, for where have they ever realized the ideal of Christianity?
If we ask ourselves where in literature did this conception of the universe first make its appearance, the answer will be, "In Voltaire." That mental characteristic of Voltaire, to which David Friedrich Strauss has not done full justice, namely, the scientific habit of thought which he contracted in England and developed at Cirey, enabled him clearly to perceive the difference between political history the only form of history known down to his time and the history of civilization; and in the latter with a boldness and perspicacity all his own to show retro- spectively and prospectively the part played by natural science. In a hundred of his essays, letters, and philosophical novels, this fundamental idea rises to the surface; but, with the amazing versatility of his genius, he to-day, as in the " History of Charles XII.," looks upon events from the anthropocentric standpoint; to-morrow, as in the " Micromegas," from the Archimedean perspective.
Following in Voltaire's footsteps, the encyclopedists further devel- oped this conception. They still more positively than he called atten- tion to the methodical utilization of the forces of Nature as perceived in their regular working. Hence Diderot's partiality for the mechanic and useful arts, a trait well noticed by Rosenkranz, in which Diderot agreed with a man who also in a moral sense had come to meet him from the other shore of an ocean with Benjamin Franklin, the father of utilitarianism.
What they dreamed is now more than accomplished. Man, whom we first met as a tool-making animal, is now become a rational animal who travels by steam, writes with lightning, and paints with the sunbeam. The reconversion into work of the sunlight stored up in " black diamonds " multiplies his energy a million-fold. The Seven Wonders of antiquity, the engineering works of the Romans, bear no comparison with the enterprises every day undertaken by our own generation. The periphery of our planet threatens to become too narrow for man's genius. Hardly any secrets do its heights and its depths still conceal from him. Whithersoever man is powerless to go bodily, his mind penetrates with the aid of the magic key of calculation. In the blackest night, on the stormiest sea, his bark steers the shortest course; she dexterously shuns the track of the destroying typhoon. Geology does all that the divining- rod was once supposed to do, giving us plentiful supply of water, salt, coal, and petroleum. The list of the metals is ever growing, and yet chemistry has not discovered the philosopher's stone; some day that too Avill be found, perhaps. In the mean time, it vies with organic Nature in producing things both useful and agreeable. From the black, noisome waste-products of coal-gas, which has transformed every city into another Baku, chemistry derives coloring-matters before which the splendor of tropic plumage pales. It prepares perfumes without sun and without flower-beds. And though it mijrht not have solved Samson's riddle who could have solved its own riddle of how to get sweetness out of what is disgusting? Gay-Lussac's art of preserving articles of food has done away with the distinction of seasons for the poor as well as for the rich. The poisoner, with impotent rage, sees all his crafty schemes unveiled. The destroying angels of small-pox, plague, and scurvy, are chained. Lister's bandage excludes from the wounds received on the battle-field the insidious and poisonous germs revealed by the sunbeam. Chloral spreads the wings of the god of sleep over the most tortured soul; and Chloroform sets at naught, at our pleasure, the Biblical curse of woman.
Thus is fulfilled the saying of that prophet of science, Francis Bacon, that knowledge is power. All European nations, the Old World and the New, are running a race on this course. A distinguished critic of art not long ago laid down the proposition that in the development of the plastic arts is to be found the measure of the height attained by humanity at any given time. If that is so, then the time from Phidias down to Lysippus, and the cinque-cento, would have seen the highest development of humanity ever reached hitherto, and perhaps never to be attained again; the present century would at best give out but a feeble flicker of culture, as having produced the cartoons of Cornelius! This measuring the height of man's development by one single aspect of human activity is in itself a false idea, and hence the judgment ex- pressed above is as erroneous as is, for instance, the one-sided ethical conception of man held by Semitism. But if there exists any criterion which, per se, gives a measure of man's progress, it would appear rather to be the degree of mastery over Nature that has been attained in any age. The history of art is influenced by accidental circumstances, as talent, taste, patronage, prosperity. In the investigation and subjuga- tion of Nature alone there is no standing still; the store is ever increasing, and the creative force is ever producing more and more. Here alone does each successive generation stand securely on the shoulders of their predecessors. Here alone is the disciple disheartened by no nee plus ultra, oppressed by no weight of authority, and even mediocrity finds an honorable place, if it does but seek the truth diligently and conscientiously. Finally, it is not art that saves civilization from an- other downfall. Art, with all its glory, would to-day, as often before, under the same circumstances, fall a helpless prey to barbarism, were it not that natural science gives to our present life a security, which we are so accustomed to consider as the natural condition of the existence of modern civilization that we do not even think of asking whence that security is derived.
We are all familiar with Macaulay's prophecy of the tourist from New Zealand who, while the Roman Church still exists in undiminished vigor, shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's. In this gloomy picture Macaulay indulges pessimistic views such as are very likely to be entertained by the historical investigator who has constantly before his eyes the vicissitudes of political affairs. But in his taoerat r\\iap the great rhetorician falls into the same error as he falls into immedi- ately afterward in holding that the foundation of natural theology is to-day just what it was in earlier times; that, in philosophizing about the origin of things, a thinker at the present day is not more favorably situated than Thales and Simonides; and that, as concerns the question, what becomes of man after death, a highly-educated European, left to his unassisted reason in other words, unaided by revelation is as little likely to be in the right as is a Blackfoot Indian. In both cases Macaulay overlooks a fact alien to him as a writer of political history, and, as it would appear, particularly so to his special genius namely, the changes wrought, and daily being brought about with ever-increas- ing rapidity, in the condition of the human race by natural science. Modern humanity is different from mediaeval and ancient humanity; the condition, the views, and the ideas of our race, in ancient and in modern times are no longer comparable inter se, thanks to the new ele- ments introduced by natural science. Our science and civilization securely rest on the basis of induction and the useful arts; ancient science and civilization were built upon the shaky foundation of specu- lation and aesthetics.
VII. The Dangers which threaten Modern Civilization.
What now can check modern civilization? What lightnings can ever shatter this tower of Babel? It makes one dizzy to think of what mankind is destined to be a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hun- dred thousand or more years hence. What is there to which it may not attain? As it nowadays, mole-like, works its way through moun- tain-chains and under the ocean, why may it not at some future time imitate the flight of the bird? And, as it has solved the enigmas of mechanics, why should it not solve also the enigmas of mind?
Alas! it is decreed that trees shall not reach the sky. It is more than doubtful that man will ever fly; but the time never will come when he can tell how matter thinks. It is easier for us to reconcile ourselves to these limitations than to that everlasting age of ice which science remorselessly points out to us as the last scene in the drama of human affairs. Thus curiously enough it happens that, whereas natural science had seemed to promise to civilization a perpetual duration by insuring it against the inroads of barbarism, it again makes the assur- ance void and robs us of our hopes of a stable habitation on the earth. The day will come when man no longer can say, "Lo! Homer's sun sends down his beams even on us; " l a day when the earth, over and over ice-clad, will travel sluggishly around the sun, whose fires will then burn only with a ruddy glow; a day when, just as in the begin-
1 "Und die Sonne Homer's, siehe, sie lachelt auch uns" concluding pentameter of Schiller's " Spaziergang." ning, "Light was," because then the first eye opened, so " Darkness will be," because then the last eye closes.
But from this fate millions of years still separate our race. A young man does not allow himself to be thwarted either in his pleasures or in his ambitions by thoughts of the infirmities of age which await also him, or of the inevitableness of death. So, too, we are but little concerned about the fate that threatens our unimaginably remote posterity. Should we feel greater alarm for the immeasurably nearer dan- ger which threatens our present civilization in the exhaustion of our coal-fields within a calculable period of time? No one, who knows how difficult it is to substitute another source of power, can contemplate without solicitude our scandalous waste of coal. The present demands of manufacturing industry are not very easily checked, it is true; besides, "the living are always in the right," ' and later generations must find out for themselves a means of navigating the ocean without coal; nevertheless, the British Parliament would be better employed in de- vising measures to prevent the waste of coal (which is greater in Eng- land than elsewhere), than in busying itself with questions of experi- mental physiology, as it has lately been doing to the injury of science and the impairment of its own dignity. 8
Civilization is also threatened in another quarter. In the face of a new barbaric invasion, it need have no fear; but in the heart of everjr great city, in the busy hives of industry, civilization has itself brought forth a race which, misguided by insane or reprobate leaders, may be to it a source of greater danger, by their ignorance and brutality, than were the Huns and Vandals to the civilization of the ancient world. So wrote Macaulay, and Macaulay did not live to see the year 1871. Again, he takes too dark a view. In point of fact, these dangers are confined to certain points in time and space. Culture in general has nothing to fear even from the Red Internationale. The Servile War, the War of the Peasants, and the Revolt of the Anabaptists, were class- psychoses of the same character as the present disturbances. As we regard the former, so will future generations regard the insurrection of June and the Commune; and they will themselves have to deal with the same disease under other forms.
The peril of which I would here speak is not one which directly threatens the stability of civilization. We are concerned rather about the questionable form which civilization tends to assume, judging from the direction in which it is at present developing. It is not easy to define this peril, inasmuch as it is the product of a multitude of trivial circumstances, amid which we ourselves live, and whose influence steals
1 " Der Lebende hat Recht." Schiller.
2 See Ludimar Hermann, "Die Vivisectionsfrage," Leipzig, 1877. Translated into English by Archibald Dickson, under the title of " The Vivisection Question popularly discussed," London, 1877. E. Du Bois-Reymond, "Der physiologische Unterricht sonst und jetzt," Berlin, 1878, 21-23. over us so insensibly that some degree of abstraction and keen observa- tion is needed in order to detect it. This danger has already often been pointed out with apprehension; in fact, it is a very common thing to speak of the state of affairs from which it results as being one of the evils of our time; but yet it is not always clearly perceived that we have here to do with a necessary consequence of the progress of civiliza- tion as set forth in the preceding considerations.
When cultivated one-sidedly, natural science, like every other form of activity under the same conditions, narrows the mental horizon. Under such circumstances natural science confines our vision to what lies nearest to us, what is palpable, what can be directly apprehend- ed with apparent certitude by the senses. It turns the mind away from more general and less positive considerations, and disaccustoms it to act in the region of the quantitatively indeterminable. In a cer- tain sense we hold this to be a priceless advantage for natural science; but, where this tendency dominates exclusive^, it is not to be denied that the mind becomes poorer in ideas, the fancy in images, the heart in sentiment, and the result is a narrowness, a dryness, and a hardness of mental constitution, abandoned by the Muses and Graces. Again, it is a peculiarity of natural science that on the one hand it has a part in the highest aspirations of the human soul, while on the other by insensible gradations it passes into handicraft, into activities whose sole end is lucre. Under the ever-rising demands of every-day life, a steady deviation in the latter direction is inevitable. That side of scientific activity which has to do with the useful arts is ever, unnoticed, coming more and more into the foreground; generation after genera- tion find themselves more and more bent on caring for material interests. Even the universal participation in the over-estimated benefits of political life diminishes the respect for ideas. Amid the unrest which has taken possession of the civilized world, men's minds live as it were from hand to mouth. Who now has the time or the inclination to go down into the deep well of truth, to plunge into the sea of the Ever Fair? Education nowadays, too often an unorganized patchwork, consists of individual facts plucked up by the roots, so to speak, useful it is true, but dry and crude. Few now are concerned about the mode in which the truth has been discovered, or about the relations be- tween things perceivable only in reascending to their origin to say nothing of the charm of perfect form. Art and literature prostitute themselves to the gross and variable taste of the multitude, swayed hither and thither by the daily newspaper. Where fame lasts only for a day, one of the noblest incitements of human nature the thought of being famous after death ceases to have any effect. Hence the decay of intellectual production, which brings forth imperishable mas- terpieces only when the mind gives itself to its work with whole- hearted devotion and with patient fidelity. And if, as Fontenelle has said, industry is indebted for its quickening impulse mostly to pure science, even industry is compromised by what is in part its own work. In short, Idealism is succumbing in the struggle with Realism, and the kingdom of material interests is coming.
It is no surprise that this aspect of modern civilization should be most noticeable in a country where the creation of material resources and the removal of natural obstacles were for a long time of prime necessity; where an immigrant population had, in a measure, to begin a new life, and most of them had as it were burned their ships behind them; where no historic memories and literary traditions were availa- ble for stopping the tendency of the popular life, too exclusively directed toward the useful arts and the acquisition of wealth. It is no wonder that America has become the principal home of utilitarianism. While at times the very first conditions of human society are there in dispute, it is in America especially that those existences come into being whose wealth, luxury, and external polish, contrasting as they do with their ignorance, narrowness, and innate coarseness, give one the idea of a neo-barbarism. In view of this aspect of American life, which has been again and again portrayed by writers, from Sealsfield down to Bret Harte, it has come to be the custom to characterize as an Ameri- canization the dreaded overgrowth and permeation by realism of Euro- pean civilization, and the rapidly-growing preponderance of manufact- uring industry. Later the starry flag has waved in a war for an idea, a glory which the tricolor has been wont to claim for its own and then has, like your true mercenary, demanded its pay for service done. Still another starry flag may the land of the future confidently oppose to such reproaches as are implied in the term " Americanization " the flag of its young literary honors, each star being some name illustrious in science, in song, or in story. However, the term " Americanization " is now naturalized, nor will non-Americanized Americans object to the employment of it, as most of them are quite ready to admit the weak point in the young giant's education which this term is used to designate.
But, in thus animadverting on American civilization, is it not a fact that we see the mote in our brother's eye, but perceive not the beam that is in our own eye? What of the resistance that ought to be made to these redoubtable tendencies by our German civilization, ancient and firmly rooted as it is, when compared with the American? Unless we give way to one of our latest-cherished self-delusions, w T e must confess that we have already made such progress in " Americanization " as should give us pause. Germany is become united and powerful, and the longing of our youth to see the German name again respected by land and sea has been fulfilled. Who would find fault with such an achievement? But go back in thought to the divided, powerless, pro- vincial Germany of our youthful days passing as it were from the cold splendor of the imperial city into the narrow streets of some old town in Middle Germany, with their overhanging gables, and the house- fronts hung with grape-vine and ivy is there not something lacking in the noisy Present, with all its glittering and dazing magnificence? Must we not, in the words of the "Schwalbenlied," exclaim, "Oh, how remote from me is that which once was mine!" In the revolution which Germany has undergone within a generation, has not the good been sacrificed as well as the evil? Besides its vague longings, its futile struggling, its uneasy doubts as to its own powers, has not the German nation furthermore dropped somewhat of its enthusiasm for ideals—its unselfish striving after truth, its deep and quiet inner life? Like a dream the short-lived bloom of our literature has vanished. As politics and natural science, with their harsh realities, have silenced the delightful causerie of the Parisian salons, so here, too, have they given poor entertainment to the descendants of the heroes of classic story and of romance. Goethe himself, were he now a young man, would, in all probability, leave "Götz," and "Werther," and "Faust," unwritten, and would rather practise in the Imperial Diet his power of public oratory, diagnosed in him by Gall, but which, during his life, he tested only with the "birds of Malcesine." With all the splendor of German science to-day, we painfully miss, in the rising generation, the noble passion which alone guarantees the continuity of intellectual effort. The recently reawakened liking of the Germans for philosophic speculation simply proves the truth of the old saying—
"Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret;"
but it is not calculated to quiet our apprehensions, with regard to the universally-diffused and rapidly-increasing indifference of our youth toward everything that they cannot see through and through, or that does not bring money or advancement.
[To be continued.]
- An address delivered before the Scientific Lectures Association of Cologne. Translated from the German by J. Fitzgerald, A.M., and carefully revised by the author.
- Upholders of the doctrine of innate ideas.
- Birds in Aristophanes's sense. The allusion is not easy to explain in a few words.—(See Goethe's "Italian Journey.")