Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 75.djvu/603

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PRODUCTIVE SCHOLARSHIP

ENVIRONMENT AND PRODUCTIVE SCHOLARSHIP
By Dr. W. J. HUMPHREYS

WASHINGTON, D. C.

TO say that ours is the best age the world has ever known is to state a simple truth. Even though we can claim for literature no living Homer, nor Dante, nor Shakespeare; for art no Phidias, nor Michel Angelo, nor Rubens; for moral suasion no Confucius, nor Zoroaster, nor Mahomet, still the statement is true. True because for the west as well as for the far east this is the age of Meiji—the age of enlightenment. True because man to-day has more knowledge than ever before of the laws of the universe in which he is placed, and because this knowledge is power; the power by which he brings inanimate nature to his aid; the power that determines his efficiency and fixes his place on the scale of civilization. It is this knowledge, slowly gained through the ages, and his ability to use it, that raises man above the plane of the mere animal and gives him dominion over all the earth and its creatures.

He alone has discovered even so simple a thing as how, by putting the half burned logs closer together and by adding fresh fuel, to keep burning the fire that, like himself, many an animal enjoys but knows not how to obtain; a discovery that has been of incalculable benefit to him and will be. And so too each additional discovery, by the fuller knowledge and wider control of nature it brings, marks a gain in the struggle for life and for happiness. It lays broader and deeper the foundation upon which our arts and our civilization are based, and stamps, therefore, the discoverer as a benefactor of the human race.

There is no intention here to imply that people without originality are necessarily useless. In fact, they are very far from being so, for the practise of the arts is the end of science, and for this one does not need in the least to be original. Nevertheless, all material progress does depend absolutely upon the investigator and the inventor; upon that rare man, the genius that discovers the secrets of nature, and upon that host of skillful men who cleverly use these discoveries in devising mechanical and other means of meeting every-day needs.

Science, as just implied, is not an end within itself, at least not an important one, for it is the bringing of nature's forces to our service, the application of her laws to the development of useful arts, and not the abstract knowledge of the laws themselves, that chiefly concerns mankind; and, therefore, being cognizant of only its mediate benefactors, the public gives its laurels and its material rewards to the inventor and the manufacturer, rather than to the investigator and the scholar. But in this, as in so many other things, the decision of the majority is