Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/333

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
319
SCIENCE IN AMERICA.

When the Royal Society of London was founded it encountered a bitter opposition. Had it not been for the "merry monarch," Charles II., it must have succumbed beneath the fierce maledictions launched against it.

As in Italy, when the opportunity was offered, men of the same inclination of thinking sought each other, so here, to the surprise of the most enthusiastic chemists, when such an association was proposed, persons seeking membership came crowding in. The society I have the honor of addressing this evening was the result. Already it has completely organized itself; already it has published the first number of its "Proceedings," a publication which I am sure will procure for it approval and respect.

In these organizations of scientific effort, an opportunity of assisting is given to those who, not having dedicated themselves to philosophical pursuits, have yet achieved success in other walks of life, and who, recognizing that the progress of civilization very largely depends on the increase of knowledge, may desire to aid in promoting that great result by the application of their means. See what immense benefits have arisen from the money grants that foreign governments have placed at the disposal of their scientific bodies; see what a stimulus there has been in the award of medals of honor, and, if you desire to witness the effect of a well-judged benefaction, look at the Smithsonian Institution. I would not say one word in disparagement of gifts to colleges and universities, for it is indeed a noble purpose; but endowments for the promotion of a knowledge of Nature conferred on scientific societies for the good of all men, no matter what their country or color, no matter what their religious profession or political condition, are still nobler. The one is a local and transitory benefaction, the other an enduring and universal benevolence.

In our own special science, chemistry, all that has been done has only served to extend the boundary of what remains. The thousands of analyses that have been made have brought us into a wilderness of results. We have not been able to rise to a point of view sufficiently high to discover what is the true place of those results in Nature. We try to represent on the pages of our books and on our black-boards formulas of the constitution of things, conscious all the time that these are at the best only convenient fictions, which must necessarily change as we gain a more perfect insight into that grandest of all problems, the distribution of Force in Space, and the variations to which it is liable. The geometry of chemistry is that of three dimensions, not of two. We have to consider the relation of points not situated on one plane, and hence it is necessary to employ three axes of reference; nay, even more, we cannot avoid the conception of the mathematical method of quaternions. Our inadequate information respecting the real grouping of atoms is followed as a necessary con-