Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/711

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.


THE attitude of the world in general toward chemistry is peculiar, and, as this paper is intended to show, it is not what it ought to be. This is due in turn to a peculiarity of the science itself, which distinguishes it from most other sciences. We refer to its close connection with matters of every-day experience, and of practical importance. It is unnecessary to dilate here upon this close connection. Every one who has any conception whatever of chemistry recognizes it to a greater or less extent. But, owing to this close connection, the unscientific world has grown into the habit of considering the practical problems as the problems par excellence of chemistry, and, having once recognized some object of the science, they inquire no further, and hence they fail to recognize its most important and only legitimate object.

In this respect chemistry as well as physics is unfortunate; though at the present day physics has an advantage over chemistry. Time was when the world looked upon physics also as mainly a practical science; but, of late, by the efforts of gentlemen of high standing, the attention of the people has been drawn to some of the higher problems of the science, and these have been rendered intensely interesting to every thinking being. Some of the grander results of physical investigation have also become familiar to the world, and have served to increase the respect for the science. The great truths of the conservation of energy and the transformations of energy; the application of the spectroscope to the investigation of heavenly as well as earthly bodies; the undulatory theory of heat; the nature of sound, and the beautiful relations of sounds to each other—these are all matters with which the world is fast growing familiar; and the popular discussion of these subjects is doing something, perhaps a great deal, to elevate mankind above that condition of superstition and darkness which still is the portion of most of the world. The great generalizations of science are ennobling, and, in the exercise which they afford the intellect, are productive of happiness of a very high order. Whatever good we may recognize, as having been effected by the practical application of electricity, heat, and other natural agents, to the satisfaction of the wants of man—and the good is undoubtedly great—an infinitely greater good springs from the dissemination of the immortal truths of physics. But the latter good is quietly effected; it consists in a growth of the ideas of the world, and thus contributes to the growth of manhood. We do not always recognize it, but it is ever present. With the growth of ideas concerning the physical universe, the ideas concerning the Creator of the universe must grow