Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/520

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"A final lesson of importance is forced upon us by the retrospect of so exceptional a career. We may hear it asked Low, in the face of powers of intellect and capacity for brain-work such as these, it can be pretended that the minds of women are essentially inferior to those of men. There are, it may be, those among us who would see in this highly-endowed and eloquent expositor of Nature a female Humboldt or Laplace. Far be it from us to speak disparagingly in a case in which the estimate of undoubted merit is enhanced by the sense of recent loss. Still in the balance of truth we must not allow affectionate regard to prevail over judicial candor, or gallantry outweigh critical and sober sense. No one would have been more prompt than Mrs. Somerville herself to disown any idea of intellectual rivalry between the sexes. It was in no sense as a rival to the great discoverers in science, or even as the author or setter-forth of truths novel and original, but simply as the interpreter and expounder in a popular form of what the masters of scientific truth, each in his own province of research, had brought to light, that she set herself her distinctive task. What the laureate has said of the passions of mankind and womankind applies, as experience shows, no less truly to their respective intellects. It is not invidious, still less discourteous, in us to say that the one is to the other as moonlight is to sunlight. Receptive, bright, and keen, the mind of woman may give back or diffuse the rays of knowledge for the source or emanation of which a stronger and more originative power is necessary. The knowledge of mathematics displayed in the 'Mechanism of the Heavens' took the world by surprise because it was that of a woman. Women have made themselves names before now in exact science, even among its higher branches. Maria Agnesi, we cannot forget, was Professor of Mathematics at Bologna in the last century, and Sophie Germain, whose works in pure and applied mathematics won her the Academy's medal, excited the esteem and wonder of the leading savants of France. But the high places of science, the seats of supreme authority and prime origination, exalted and few, are for a class apart."

A writer in the London Athenæum remarks:

"It is not too much to say that, the chief value of her version of Laplace's masterpiece resides in the fact that the work exhibits an unmistakable proof of her mathematical power. It it difficult to conceive that any student of science could profit by the study of the work. As a first introduction to celestial mechanism it fails, because all the portions which present any difficulty are left uninterpreted: while to the more advanced student the work is useless, because such explanations as are given relate to the simpler parts of the subject. But it is impossible to rise from the perusal of the work without feeling that Mrs. Somerville herself had fully grasped the meaning of the great mathematician, and had followed his reasoning even where it had led him to the highest range of the modern methods of analysis. At the same time, it must be admitted that nothing in this work suggests the idea that Mrs. Somerville possessed in any considerable degree the inventive power which is the distinguishing attribute of great mathematicians. When we consider her work in other branches of science, a similar quality of mind is discernible. We cannot recall any experimental researches of hers which were characterized by originality, or any passage in her writings suggesting new ideas on the scientific questions which she discussed. She possessed but little power of generalization; and we believe it is this peculiarity of mind rather than any want of distinctness in expression which has led to the defect characterizing her attempts to popularize science. It is not commonly recognized, but is nevertheless the fact, that the perfect concatenation of ideas throughout a chapter or section of a science treatise is altogether more important than distinctness of expression in individual sentences, desirable though the latter quality necessarily is. But in Mrs. Somerville's science writings there is a want of sequence; and this is seen not merely in her general treatment of her subjects, but even in paragraphs and sentences. We may take the following sentence from her latest work, 'Molecular and Microscopic Science,' as a noteworthy instance. Endeavoring to prove the eternity of the soul, she says: 'To suppose that the vital spark is evanescent while there is every reason to believe that the atoms of matter are imperishable, is admitting the superiority of mind over matter; an assumption altogether at variance with the result of geological sequence; for Sir Charles Lyell observes that sensation, instinct and sensation of the higher mammalia bordering on reason, and lastly, the improvable reason of man himself, presents us with a picture of the ever-increasing dominion of mind over matter.' The readers whom the popu-