A PLEA FOR PURE SCIENCE.
change public opinion in our favor; and, indeed, we must always seek to lead it, and not be guided by it. For pure science is the pioneer who must not hover about cities and civilized countries, but must strike into unknown forests, and climb the hitherto inaccessible mountains which lead to and command a view of the promised land—the land which science promises us in the future; which shall not only flow with milk and honey, but shall give us a better and more glorious idea of this wonderful universe. We must create a public opinion in our favor, but it need not at first be the general public. We must be contented to stand aside, and see the honors of the world for a time given to our inferiors; and must be better contented with the approval of our own consciences, and of the very few who are capable of judging our work, than of the whole world besides. Let us look to the other physicists, not in our own town, not in our own country, but in the whole world, for the words of praise which are to encourage us, or the words of blame which are to stimulate us to renewed effort. For what to us is the praise of the ignorant? Let us join together in the bonds of our scientific societies, and encourage each other, as we are now doing, in the pursuit of our favorite study; knowing that the world will some time recognize our services, and knowing, also, that we constitute the most important element in human progress.
But danger is also near, even in our societies. When the average tone of the society is low, when the highest honors are given to the mediocre, when third-class men are held up as examples, and when trifling inventions are magnified into scientific discoveries, then the influence of such societies is prejudicial. A young scientist attending the meetings of such a society soon gets perverted ideas. To his mind, a mole-hill is a mountain, and the mountain a mole-hill. The small inventor or the local celebrity rises to a greater height, in his mind, than the great leader of science in some foreign land. He gauges himself by the mole-hill, and is satisfied with his stature; not knowing that he is but an atom in comparison with the mountain, until, perhaps, in old age, when it is too late. But, if the size of the mountain had been seen at first, the young scientist would at least have been stimulated in his endeavor to grow.
We can not all be men of genius; but we can, at least, point them out to those around us. We may not be able to benefit science much ourselves; "but we can have high ideals on the subject, and instill them into those with whom we come in contact. For the good of ourselves, for the good of our country, for the good to the world, it is incumbent on us to form a true estimate of the worth and standing of persons and things, and to set before our own minds all that is great and good and noble, all that is most important for scientific advance, above the mean and low and unimportant.
It is very often said that a man has a right to his opinion. This