Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/83

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

an almost prophetic insight he foretold the evil consequences of the destruction of forests, and in our day not merely meteorologists and farmers, but governments find that he was in the right. But in spite of all his innovations in science and in industrial art—or rather in consequence of those very innovations—he was honored and protected by Catherine of Medicis and Henry III. That he was at last arrested, condemned to death, and allowed to die in the Bastile, was the consequence of his firm adherence to the doctrines of the Huguenots. Had it not been for his scientific greatness he would have perished earlier.

If Lavoisier perished on the scaffold amid the storms of the first Revolution, he merely shared the fate of his colleagues the fermiers généraux, none of whom were men of science. It is true that "the brutish idiot into whose hands the destinies of France had then fallen," as Professor Whewell justly remarks, declared that "the republic had no need of chemists." But these foolish words give us no right to assert, as a modern writer has done, that Lavoisier suffered death for his chemical ideas.

If Bailly likewise perished upon the scaffold, and if Condorcet poisoned himself to escape a similar fate, they died not as philosophers and mathematicians, but as victims of indiscriminate popular frenzy.

There are many other men whose names we are thus compelled to erase from the list of the martyrs of science—men whose inventions and discoveries have been of the highest order, but whose sufferings and death can not be justly looked on as a consequence of their achievements.

But there still remains a third and a too numerous class: thinkers and discoverers who have been persecuted in many cases to the death, not incidentally, but because of the very services they have rendered to science. Their persecutions have differed very much in nature and degree according to the age and the country in which they lived. In the dark ages it was practicable to arrest a troublesome thinker and to put an end to his researches, or at least to their promulgation, by the straightforward means of imprisonment, torture, banishment, and even death at the stake. Hypatia, of Alexandria, was seized by a mob of infuriated monks, who literally tore the flesh from her bones with fragments of pots, dragged her mangled remains outside the city, and there burned them. The Bishop Cyril, who had instigated the outrage, endeavored to screen the malefactors from justice. Virgilius, Bishop of Salzburg, was burned by Boniface, the papal legate, for asserting the existence of antipodes. Cornelius Agrippa, after much persecution, died at last of actual famine. Roger Bacon, perhaps the mightiest philosopher of the middle ages, of whom it has even been said that could he revisit the earth he would shake his head at the slowness of our progress since his death, suffered bitterly. He was first prohibited from lecturing at the University of Oxford and from communicating his researches to any one. The accession of Clemens IV. to the papal