Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/465

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455
SCIENCE AT THE MEDIEVAL UNIVERSITIES

mate habits of bird and beast and the ways of the plants, as well as all the appearances of the heavens, Dante knew very well and in a detail that is quite surprising when we recall how little nature study is supposed to have attracted the men of his time. Only that his readers appreciated it all, Dante would surely not have used his scientific erudition so constantly.

So much for the undergraduate department of the universities of the middle ages, and the view is absolutely fair, for these were the men to whom the students flocked by thousands. They were teaching science, not literature. They were discussing physics as well as metaphysics, psychology in its phenomena as well as philosophy, observation and experiment as well as logic, the ethical sciences, economics, practically all the scientific ideas that were needed in their generation—and that generation saw the rise of the universities, the finishing of the cathedrals, the building of magnificent town halls and castles and beautiful municipal buildings of many kinds, including hospitals, the development of the Hansa League in commerce and of wonderful manufacturers of all the textiles, the arts and crafts, as well as the most beautiful book-making and art and literature. We could be quite sure that the men who solved all the other problems so well could not have been absurd only in their treatment of science. Any one who reads their books will be quite sure of that.

While most people might be ready then to confess that possibly Huxley was not mistaken with regard to the undergraduate department of the universities, most of them would feel sure that at least the graduate departments were sadly deficient in accomplishment. Once more this is entirely an assumption. The facts are all against any such idea.

There were three graduate departments in most of the universities—theology, law and medicine. While physical scientists are usually not cognizant of it apparently, theology is a science, a department of knowledge developed scientifically, and most of these medieval universities did more for its scientific development than the schools of any other period. Quite as much may be said for philosophy, for there are many who hesitate to attribute any scientific quality to modern developments in the matter. As for law, this is the great period of the foundation of scientific law development, the English common law was formulated by Bracton, the deep foundations of basic French and Spanish law were laid, and canon law acquired a definite scientific character which it was always to retain. All this was accomplished almost entirely by the professors in the law departments of the universities.

It was in medicine, however, where most people would be quite sure without any more ado that nothing worth while talking about was