Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/723

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we see at times a disposition to exult in the scientific view of things as being fatal to all hopes and aspirations which do not rest on facts as material as those of physiology or mechanics. Man, however, has never yet confined himself to the circle of his material wants and satisfactions, nor is there any evidence that he is going to do so in the future. Individuals may choose to grovel, but the race, we may be sure, will, through all vicissitudes, strive after the highest life that is possible for it, and will not be turned away from its ideals simply because there are some who say that they do not know what an ideal is. The mission of science is a great and glorious one—far greater and more glorious than some who claim to speak for it have any conception of—but it has no mission, and no legitimate function, which would divorce it from the higher life of man or place it in antagonism to his deepest instincts and intuitions.




Very needless, in our opinion, was the confession of failure which formed so prominent a feature in the speech delivered by Lord Kelvin (Sir William Thompson) on the occasion of the jubilee celebration tendered to him at the University of Glasgow in the month of June last. The eminent professor's words were as follows: "I might perhaps rightly feel pride in knowing that the University and city of Glasgow have conferred on me the great honor of holding this jubilee. . . . I do feel profoundly grateful. But when I think how infinitely little is all that I have done I can not feel pride; I only see the great kindness of my scientific comrades, and of all my friends, in crediting me for so much. One word characterizes the most strenuous of the efforts for the advancement of science that I have made during fifty-five years; that word is failure. I know no more of electric and magnetic force, or of the relation between ether, electricity, and ponderable matter, or of chemical affinity, than I knew and tried to teach to my students of natural philosophy fifty years ago in my first session as professor. Something of sadness must come of failure, but. . . what splendid compensations for philosophical failures we have had in the admirable discoveries by observation and experiment on the properties of matter, and in the exquisitely beneficent applications of science to the use of mankind with which these fifty years have so abounded!"

Now, with all respect and deference to one of the very greatest scientific men of the century, we venture to affirm that Lord Kelvin here strikes a false note; we even go so far as to say that he indulges in false sentiment. If the labors of his life had been specifically devoted to finding out the essential nature of electric and magnetic force, at divining some ultimate mystery of Nature, we could understand his speaking of "failure" in the way he does; but seeing that nothing is more certain than that no such aim or ambition was present to his mind, but that his efforts were devoted to just those "discoveries by observation and experiment on the properties of matter" and those "applications of science to the use of mankind," in which he acknowledges the last fifty years to have been most fruitful; and considering that his distinguished success in that field of labor is recognized by the whole world, and was the cause and justification of the gathering held in his honor, we must say that the word "failure" in connection with such a career seems to us singularly out of place. One of his brother savants, Prof. A. Gray,