Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/740

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tion, and, on being told that it is likely to prove too learned to amuse her, only insists the more on the perfect capacity of her sex for the reception of the most philosophic ideas, and demands a lesson on the stars at once.

"No!" replies Fontenelle, "never shall it he said of me that in a wood, at ten o'clock at night, I talked philosophy to the most charming person of my acquaintance. Seek your philosophers elsewhere!"

But it is vain for him to try to bring the conversation back to its former channel, and to represent how much better it would be to talk nonsense, "as any reasonable people would do in our place"—he has to yield; but the dialogue, often very lively, is represented through the book as carried on by the gentleman with the wish to pay his court under cover of talking science; while the lady is ever on the alert to call him back to his ostensible theme when she finds him trying to wander from it. We must perforce omit this in giving only a part, and that chiefly Fontenelle's; but even in teaching he will be found anything but dull. As his pupil is as ignorant as she is intelligent, he begins at the beginning:

"All philosophy, I said, is founded on two facts, that we have curious minds and poor eyes, for if your eyes were better you might see for yourself if the stars were suns lighting other worlds, or if, on the other hand, you felt less curiosity, you would not care to learn, which would come to the same thing; but everybody wants to know more than he can see, and there is the difficulty. If we could even see unmistakably what we see at all, that would be something gained, but we see quite wrongly, and so your true philosophers pass their lives in the unenviable condition of doubting what they do see, and trying to divine what they cannot. I always think of Nature as a great spectacle, something like the opera. From your opera-box you do not see the theatre quite as it really is, for the scenes and stage-apparatus are arranged for effect at a distance, and they keep the weights and wheels which put all in motion out of your sight. Naturally, you do not pay much attention to the principle on which all this works. But then, again, there may be a machinist down by the orchestra, who is puzzled by some stage-flight, which is unaccountable to him, and who feels that he must find out how it was done.

"The machinist, you observe, is something like the philosophers; but what makes the difficulty worse for them is, that in Nature's machines the cords are all hidden—hidden so neatly that people were a long time conjecturing as to what caused the movements of the universe. Just imagine, for instance, Pythagoras, and your Platos and Aristotles, at the opera—they and all their kind whose names are in such reputation. Suppose that they saw the representation of Phaethon borne off by the winds, that they could not discover the cords, and did not know what lay behind the scenes. One of them" (the author is here giving us samples of the philosophy still current