Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/179

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167
SCIENCE AND PRACTICAL LIFE.

What wonder, then, if these astonishing fruits of the tree of knowledge are too often regarded by both friends and enemies as the be-all and end-all of science? What wonder if some eulogize, and others revile, the new philosophy for its utilitarian ends and its merely material triumphs?

In truth, the new philosophy deserves neither the praise of its eulogists nor the blame of its slanderers. As I have pointed out, its disciples were guided by no search after practical fruits, during the great period of its growth, and it reached adolescence without being stimulated by any rewards of that nature. The bare enumeration of the names of the men who were the great lights of science in the latter part of the eighteenth and the first decade of the nineteenth century, of Herschel, of Laplace, of Young, of Fresnel, of Oersted, of Cavendish, of Lavoisier, of Davy, of Lamarck, of Cuvier, of Jussieu, of De Candolle, of Werner, and of Hutton, suffices to indicate the strength of physical science in the age immediately preceding that of which I have to treat. But of which of these great men can it be said that their labors were directed to practical ends? I do not call to mind even an invention of practical utility which we owe to any of them, except the safety-lamp of Davy. Werner certainly paid attention to mining, and I have not forgotten James Watt. But, though some of the most important of the improvements by which Watt converted the steam-engine, invented long before his time, into the obedient slave of man, were suggested and guided by his acquaintance with scientific principles, his skill as a practical mechanician, and the efficiency of Bolton's workmen, had quite as much to do with the realization of his projects.

In fact, the history of physical science teaches (and we can not too carefully take the lesson to heart) that the practical advantages, attainable through its agency, never have been, and never will be, sufficiently attractive to men inspired by the inborn genius of the interpreter of Nature, to give them courage to undergo the toils and make the sacrifices which that calling requires from its votaries. That which stirs their pulses is the love of knowledge and the joy of the discovery of the causes of things sung by the old poets—the supreme delight of extending the realm of law and order ever further toward the unattainable goals of the infinitely great and the infinitely small, between which our little race of life is run. In the course of this work, the physical philosopher, sometimes intentionally, much more often unintentionally, lights upon something which proves to be of practical value. Great is the rejoicing of those who are benefited thereby; and, for the moment, science is the Diana of all the craftsmen, But, even while the cries of jubilation resound and this flotsam and jetsam of the tide of investigation is being turned into the wages of workmen and the wealth of capitalists, the crest of the wave of scientific investigation is far away on its course over the illimitable ocean of the unknown.