Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/512

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496

THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and suppressed. There may be a verbal recognition of the high claims of science, and many compliments turned to its heroic devotees, but the real feeling is evinced in exclamations of wonder at the curious eccentricity of mind that can forego the solid advantages of working for wealth, and prefer mental occupations that lead to empty honor and certain poverty.

An historical illustration will perhaps bring out more clearly this view, which is now coming to be regarded as so peculiarly American. There lived in England, in the last century, a man of science, named Henry Cavendish, who was born in 1731, and died in 1810. He was a gentleman of fine cultivation, an excellent mathematician, a profound electrician, and a most acute and ingenious chemist. He published many papers, containing results of recondite investigations and the most important discoveries. He was not only a great original thinker, but a most indefatigable and accurate experimenter, and one of his main lines of research was the chemical constitution of the atmosphere. He made no less than 500 analyses of the air, and it is to him that we owe our chief knowledge of the composition of the breathing medium. Now, there is not an American that will not commend all this as most proper and admirable. But there is another side to the case. Henry Cavendish was a man of enormous wealth, for which he cared absolutely nothing. He was one of the greatest proprietors of stock in the Bank of England, and when on one occasion his balance had accumulated to $350,000, and the directors, thinking it too much capital to lie unproductive, asked him if they should not invest it, he simply replied, "Lay it out, if you please." That small portion of his wealth which he could make use of in his investigations was so used, but he did not allow the remainder of it to divert his thoughts in the slightest degree from the unremitting prosecution of his scientific labors. He died worth $7,000,000, which was an immense sum of money at the beginning of this century, but he had not the slightest interest in those objects for which wealth is generally prized. Now, the whole case being given, to the eye of the typical American, Henry Cavendish will be regarded as a fool. "With all that money," the representative American would say, "I could keep a yacht, and a stud of fast horses, and build a church, and endow a college, and send a dozen missionaries to the heathen, and run a whole political campaign at my own expense; and you say this odd creature actually spent life in the smudge and stenches of a chemical laboratory, puttering with gases, and worried about the composition of the air!"

We do not here exaggerate the vulgar passion of Americans for money, and their relative and consequent indifference to other things. The country does not breed Cavendishes, and, if one should appear, he would stand a first-rate chance of getting into a lunatic asylum, as the bare fact of his indifference to riches would be held as prima-facie evidence of an unsound mind! The science that gives promise of immediate results, that can be turned into money, is appreciated; that which aims only at the extension of scientific truth wins little support. Prof. Tyndall devoted the profits of his lectures in this country, all the results of six months' labor, to assist in promoting the education of such young men as possess a talent for physical researches, and wish to qualify themselves for pursuing the work. It was a noble object, and one that had been nowhere provided for. Prof. Tyndall did not propose to found a school of research, but to help young men to avail themselves of the best institutions already existing for the acquisition of a special culture, the culture needed to carry on successful original inquiries. There have been many