Science

THE eighteenth-century philosopher made great strides in his studies of the physical properties of matter and the application of these properties in mechanics, as the steam-engine, the balloon, the optic telegraph, the spinning-jenny, the cotton-gin, the chronometer, the perfected compass, the Leyden jar, the lightning-rod, and a host of minor inventions testify. In a speculative way he had thought out more or less tenable conceptions as to the ultimate nature of matter, as witness the theories of Leibnitz and Boscovich and Davy, to which we may recur.

GALVANI AND VOLTA

The full importance of Young's studies of light might perhaps have gained earlier recognition had it not chanced that, at the time when they were made, the attention of the philosophic world was turned with the fixity and fascination of a hypnotic stare upon another field, which for a time brooked no rival. How could the old, familiar phenomenon, light, interest any one when the new agent, galvanism, was in view? As well ask one to fix attention on a star while a meteorite blazes across the sky.

As we have seen, it was in 1831 that Faraday opened up the field of magneto-electricity. Reversing the experiments of his predecessors, who had found that electric currents may generate magnetism, he showed that magnets have power under certain circumstances to generate electricity; he proved, indeed, the interconvertibility of electricity and magnetism. Then he showed that all bodies are more or less subject to the influence of magnetism, and that even light may be affected by magnetism as to its phenomena of polarization.

"Whatever difficulties we may have in forming a consistent idea of the constitution of the ether, there can be no doubt that the interplanetary and interstellar spaces are not empty, but are occupied by a material substance or body which is certainly the largest and probably the most uniform body of which we have any knowledge."

REFERENCE-LIST

CHAPTER I

THE SUCCESSORS OF NEWTON IN ASTRONOMY [1] (p. 10). An Account of Several Extraordinary Meteors or Lights in the Sky, by Dr. Edmund Halley. Phil. Trans. of Royal Society of London, vol. XXIX, pp. 159-162. Read before the Royal Society in the autumn of 1714. [2] (p. 13). Phil. Trans. of Royal Society of London for 1748, vol. XLV., pp. 8, 9. From A Letter to the Right Honorable George, Earl of Macclesfield, concerning an Apparent Motion observed in some of the Fixed Stars, by James Bradley, D.D., Astronomer Royal and F.R.S.

CHAPTER II

Modern systematic botany and zoology are usually held to have their beginnings with Linnaeus.

An obvious distinction between the classical and mediaeval epochs may be found in the fact that the former produced, whereas the latter failed to produce, a few great thinkers in each generation who were imbued with that scepticism which is the foundation of the investigating spirit; who thought for themselves and supplied more or less rational explanations of observed phenomena. Could we eliminate the work of some score or so of classical observers and thinkers, the classical epoch would seem as much a dark age as does the epoch that succeeded it.

The successors of Mohammed showed themselves curiously receptive of the ideas of the western people whom they conquered. They came in contact with the Greeks in western Asia and in Egypt, and, as has been said, became their virtual successors in carrying forward the torch of learning. It must not be inferred, however, that the Arabian scholars, as a class, were comparable to their predecessors in creative genius. On the contrary, they retained much of the conservative oriental spirit.

We have previously referred to the influence of the Byzantine civilization in transmitting the learning of antiquity across the abysm of the dark age. It must be admitted, however, that the importance of that civilization did not extend much beyond the task of the common carrier. There were no great creative scientists in the later Roman empire of the East any more than in the corresponding empire of the West. There was, however, one field in which the Byzantine made respectable progress and regarding which their efforts require a few words of special comment.

Syndicate content