Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/510

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magnificent harvests of profit that had grown up from the toilsome and unselfish labors of men of science. He owed his fortune to the enterprising use of steamships and railways, which were made possible by the steam-engine, a machine produced by the scientific labors of many discoverers and inventors, accumulated through generations. Mr. Vanderbilt's millions were the ultimate but none the less direct consequence of the self-sacrificing exertions of men of creative genius, working in poverty, obscurity, and difficulty, with heroic devotion, to construct a mechanism which they saw was to become potent in the future, and which has fulfilled their anticipations by revolutionizing modern society and giving to civilization the greatest impulse it has ever received from any single agency. It is therefore by no means a piece of far-fetched sentimentality to claim that, when the results of their work had ripened to almost fabulous acquisitions of wealth, some portion of it, at least, should be devoted to the advancement of the interests of science. Of course, Mr. Vanderbilt had the right—the legal right—to do what he pleased with his money; but if we recognize any higher consideration, any sentiment of justice, if we assume that there are such things as moral indebtedness and obligations of honor in the distribution of surplus wealth for public objects, then was the great harvester of millions by steam travel bound to do something liberal and fair for the encouragement and promotion of the great, beneficent work of scientific investigation, which issues in such large advantages to the world.

And this was the more incumbent upon the rich custodian of the fruits of inventive genius, because so little of the scattered wealth of the rich finds its way into these channels. It is here that we see science and religion in practical rivalry, with the almost universal defeat of science. When rich old men and old women are about to distribute their wealth and die, science has but a sorry chance, and the Church generally has its own way. Where a dollar is got in such cases for the promotion of the study of Nature, and the elucidation of those laws upon which the amelioration of the condition of humanity most vitally depends, thousands are obtained by the representatives of ecclesiasticism for the propagation of faith. Religious societies abound in wealth, and scientific societies starve. If there is a scientific society in New York that owns a roof for shelter we do not know of it; yet, if we rightly remember the figures of the census, $53,000,000 are invested in its churches. We refer to these facts simply to illustrate the preponderance of theological influence and agencies over those that are available for the service of science, and to show the disadvantage at which science is placed in the struggle for means to carry on its work.

But although some portion, at least, of the immense wealth of Mr. Vanderbilt was morally mortgaged to the use of that class of men by whom it was in reality created, we are not aware that he ever in the slightest degree recognized such a claim. Some hundreds of thousands of dollars, however, were got out of him to found a sectarian university. But, though Mr. Vanderbilt had no care for science, one would have thought that the trustees and faculty of the institution which he endowed might have gracefully acknowledged that something was specially and honorably due from them to the interests of science, and have shaped the policy of the university accordingly. They might, at least, have been decently up to the times in the spirit of its management. An old educational establishment hampered by traditions, and running in the deep ruts of long-settled habit, has some excuse, perhaps, for guiding its course by the illiberal precedents of the past; but Vanderbilt University was a new organization,