Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/231

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219
A HALF-CENTURY OF SCIENCE.

found it impossible to refer. Such for instance are, in biology alone, Owen's memorable report on the homologies of the vertebrate skeleton; Carpenter's laborious researches on the microscopic structure of shells; the reports on marine zoology by Allman, Forbes, Jeffreys, Spence Bate, Norman, and others; on Kent's Cavern by Pengelly; those by Duncan on corals; Woodward on crustaceæ; Carruthers, Williamson, and others on fossil botany, and many more. Indeed, no one who has not had occasion to study the progress of science throughout its various departments can have any idea how enormous—how unprecedented—the advance has been.

Though it is difficult, indeed impossible, to measure exactly the extent of the influence exercised by this Association, no one can doubt that it has been very considerable. For my own part, I must acknowledge with gratitude how much the interest of my life has been enhanced by the stimulus of our meetings, by the lectures and memoirs to which I have had the advantage of listening, and, above all, by the many friendships which I owe to this Association.

Summing up the principal results which have been attained in the last half-century we may mention (over and above the accumulation of facts) the theory of evolution, the antiquity of man, and the far greater antiquity of the world itself; the correlation of physical force and the conservation of energy; spectrum analysis and its application to celestial physics; the higher algebra and the modern geometry; lastly, the innumerable applications of science to practical life as, for instance, in photography, the locomotive-engine, the electric telegraph, the spectroscope, and most recently the electric light and the telephone.

To science again we-owe the idea of progress. The ancients, says Bagehot, "had no conception of progress; they did not so much as reject the idea; they did not even entertain it." It is not, I think, now going too far to say that the true test of the civilization of a nation must be measured by its progress in science. It is often said, however, that great and unexpected as the recent discoveries have been, there are certain ultimate problems which must ever remain unsolved. For my part, I would prefer to abstain from laying down any such limitations. When Park asked the Arabs what became of the sun at night, and whether the sun was always the same, or new each day, they replied that such a question was childish, and entirely beyond the reach of human investigation. I have already mentioned that, even as lately as 1842, so high an authority as Comte treated as obviously impossible and hopeless any attempt to determine the chemical composition of the heavenly bodies. Doubtless there are questions, the solution of which we do not as yet see our way even to attempt; nevertheless the experience of the past warns us not to limit the possibilities of the future.

But, however this may be, though the progress made has been so rapid, and though no similar period in the world's history has been