Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/713

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THE SCIENCE vs. THE ART OF CHEMISTRY.

the true scientific spirit is so deeply imbedded in the educated mind, that a subject which has a practical side is apt to be looked upon in a disrespectful manner; and so it happens that those who ought to know better are inclined to speak contemptuously of chemistry, simply because they accept the popular idea of the science as the true one, not stopping to ask whether there is anything higher in the subject than that which the public recognizes. An anecdote which illustrates this matter clearly may not be out of place here. Two students at a German university, one a philologist, the other a chemist, were conversing, on the eve of their examination for the degree of doctor of philosophy. The philologist asked, "What is the subject of your thesis?" The chemist answered: "Piperic acid; I have been working on the subject for a year and a half." When it was further stated, in reply to inquiries, that this acid could not, so far as was known, be used for any practical purpose, the philologist was loud in his expressions of pity for one who could work a year and a half without accomplishing something which would tend directly to improve the material condition of our race. A counter-question in regard to the subject of the thesis of the philologist elicited the answer: "My subject is an exceedingly interesting one; I have already written nearly a hundred pages on it and have not yet finished: it is the preposition ad in Tacitus" It is needless to add that he was unable to state to what practical use the preposition ad could be put. The condition of mind toward chemistry which this young man thus betrayed is that which we should most frequently find in educated as well as uneducated men in this and other countries. We would not throw ridicule upon the enthusiasm displayed—we admire it; but we ask to be allowed to have a similar enthusiasm for our prepositions.

We have thus found the chief cause for the idea commonly held in regard to the nature of chemistry to be that peculiarity of chemistry among the sciences which gives it its close connection with practical matters. It has already been remarked that it is right that this portion of chemistry should be recognized and appreciated. This recognition and appreciation should be encouraged, but not to such an extent as to sacrifice any appreciation which it is possible to awaken for the higher portions of the science.

There is another direct cause for the popular conception of chemistry, growing out of the more general and indirect cause already considered. This consists in bad attempts to present the truths of the science to the people. The popular lectures on chemistry which are usually delivered are not scientific lectures; they are frequently utterly lacking in everything that characterizes scientific method; and they leave no further impression on the minds of the hearers than that chemistry is a subject which enables men with the requisite degree of skill to become successful showmen. Though the lecturer is perhaps more respected, still the character of the respect which he has