Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/483

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ON THE METHOD OF ZADIG.

most perfect mill conceivable will not produce flour if only pea-pods are put into it, pages on pages of formulas will not give an exact result from inexact data."

 

ON THE METHOD OF ZADIG:

RETROSPECTIVE PROPHECY AS A FUNCTION OF SCIENCE.

By Professor T. H. HUXLEY.

"Une marque plus sûre que toutes celles de Zadig."—Cuvier.[1]

IT is a usual and a commendable practice to preface the discussion of the views of a philosophic thinker by some account of the man and of the circumstances which shaped his life and colored his way of looking at things; but, though Zadig is cited in one of the most important chapters of Cuvier's greatest work, little is known about him, and that little might perhaps be better authenticated than it is.

It is said that he lived at Babylon in the time of King Moabdar; but the name of Moabdar does not appear in the list of Babylonian sovereigns brought to light by the patience and the industry of the decipherers of cuneiform inscriptions in these later years; nor indeed am I aware that there is any other authority for his existence than that of the biographer of Zadig, one Arouet de Voltaire, among whose most conspicuous merits strict historical accuracy is perhaps hardly to be reckoned.

Happily Zadig is in the position of a great many other philosophers. What he was like when he was in the flesh, indeed whether he existed at all, are matters of no great consequence. What we care about in a light is that it shows the way, not whether it is lamp or candle, tallow or wax. Our only real interest in Zadig lies in the conceptions of which he is the putative father; and his biographer has stated these with so much clearness and vivacious illustration that we need hardly feel a pang, even if critical research should prove King Moabdar and all the rest of the story to be unhistorical, and reduce Zadig himself to the shadowy condition of a solar myth.

Voltaire tells us that, disenchanted with life by sundry domestic misadventures, Zadig withdrew from the turmoil of Babylon to a secluded retreat on the banks of the Euphrates, where he beguiled his solitude by the study of nature. The manifold wonders of the world of life had a peculiar attraction for the lonely student; incessant and patient observation of the plants and animals about him sharpened his naturally good powers of observation and of reasoning; until, at

  1. "Discours sur les Revolutions de la Surface du Globe," "Recherches sur les Ossemens fossiles" ed. iv, t. i, p. 185.