Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/347

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EARLY HINDOO MATHEMATICS.

335

and contemplate his own perfections," or to the Egyptian who evolved pyramids, and obelisks, and avenues of sphinxes, out of his infinite leisure.

There are always "the complaining ones," for whom the times are stale, who would lament with Sir Thomas Browne that "mummy is become merchandise, Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsams;" but they forget that the great nineteenth century buys its mummies in order to have a good look at them, and that it studies the Rosetta Stone out of pure interest, and to make no money.

But the real interest of former ages is the study of their manner of thought. We study what they thought to determine how they thought it. We have an immense and vague curiosity to connect our minds with the minds of long ages ago. Half the fascination of Darwin, Tylor, Lubbock, and Wilson, is from this cause.

It piques us to know that, sixteen hundred years before our era, there was a poet who sang:

"Like as a plank of drift-wood
Tossed on the watery main,
Another plank encounters,
Meets—touches—parts again;
So, tossed, and drifting, ever
On life's unresting sea,
Men meet, and greet, and sever,
Parting eternally."[1]

This surely is not the verse of a primitive people; these are not the feeble lispings of the infants of our race; did it not require time to accustom the Hindoo mind to similes as complex as these? This verse would not seem childish if Tennyson had written it; it appeals to as deep a consciousness as Coleridge's "Hymn in the Vale of Chamounix," and would even bear comparison with the "Peter Bell" of the great Lake poet.

If this people was so old thirty-four hundred years ago, when was it young? We begin to believe, with Bailly,[2] in the existence of "ce peuple ancien qui nous a tout appris, excepté son nom et son existence."

It may, then, be interesting for us to glance at the state of science among these predecessors of ours. But let us remember that we are applying a severe test, when we compare their progress with the science of to-day. Let us remember that it is only within a hundred years that the return of comets has been predicted; that our knowledge of the constitution of the sun has been gained since 1859; that Newton has been dead only 147 years, and that Lagrange and La-

  1. "Book of Good Councils: written in Sanscrit, b. c. 1600;" translated by Edwin Arnold, M. A., Oxford, 1861.
  2. "This ancient people who have taught us every thing but their own name and their own existence."