Billeder på siden
[ocr errors]


and the touching expression in his last will and testament confirmed, in which he bequeaths his name to posterity after some time be past over.'

The influence of the academies we have been describing, and the absolute necessity of their formation in order to further the real progress of philosophy, cannot now be questioned. It is in vain that one philosopher thinks to labour with success when he relies on himself alone. Association is a law of our nature imposed upon us by the Great Author of our being, and indispensably necessary to our progress in civilisation. Nor less in the attainment of scientific truth. It has been well remarked by no less an authority than Laplace, that 'the principal advantage of such academies is the philosophic spirit which they introduce, and which from them overspreads the entire nation, and extends in every direction.' Since the origin of these academies true philosophy has become widely prevalent. In furnishing an example of submitting every fact to the test of a severe examination, they have caused to disappear the preconceived notions which had long oppressed science. Their influence on the public mind has been such that rising errors are continually dissipated and scattered to the winds. Laplace classes such academies as among the chief causes of the glory and prosperity of empires. But while such is now their position, let us again revert to the child-time of philosophy, when these academies were only in their infancy.

The Hon. Robert Boyle, in a letter inserted in his life, gives us an interesting view of the character of the philosophers of his day, and from it may be gathered some idea of his own. "Men,' he says, ' of so capacious and searching spirits, that the school-philosophy is but the lowest region of their knowledge. And yet, though ambitious to lead the way to any generous design, of so humble and teachable a genius as they disdain not to be directed to the meanest, so he can plead reason for his opinion.' It is evident from this that the philosophers of the period in question were like children just awakened. The morning dimness had not passed from their eyes; they were willing to believe anything-teachable, humble, possessed of much knowledge, but sensible only of their own ignorance. Such were the new philosophers, and as such they present an agreeable contrast to the dogmatic and self-conceited followers of the old system. Yet withal, they were like all children-full of a spirit which led them to behold unheard-of curiosities in everything. Mechanical puzzles and inventions were their toy, and optical deceptions their constant amusement. Experiments were made, but the spirit of mysticism could not be at once banished away, and the early results of such experiments were all overhung with a veil of the marvellous. Philosophers were then, in the words of an elegant writer a blissful race of children, rambling here and there in a golden age of innocence and ignorance, where at every step each gifted discoverer whispered to the few some half-concealed secret of nature, or played with some toy of art, some invention which with great difficulty performed what without it might have been done with great ease. The king himself became an experimental philosopher. Charles II., whom no one would have suspected to have had much to do with science, is said to have had ingenious mechanics at work at Whitehall; to have kept chemical operators in the palace; to have planted a physic garden ; and to have made astronomical observations in St James's Park! Science was now walking in her silver



slippers, and was pursued as much for the value of the truths she disclosed as for the romantic attractiveness of the garb in which she appeared. Dr Sprat is, however, it may be, a little too complimentary to the royal patron of the Royal Society:

An extraordinary accumulation of error had been gathered by the labours of the learned, and offered to the public mind at the period of which we are writing. Erroneous opinions and ideas in natural philosophy were more common than correct views. The most marvellous tales were circulated by travellers, and publicly accredited, and until now they never appear to have been questioned. To have travelled as Kircher did into China was to be in possession of a licence to relate anything of a marvellous kind with a certainty of its reception for truth. All the errors of astrology, alchemy, and magic existed, and were scarcely doubted even by the learned. A belief in witchcraft was universal. James I. in his ' Demonology' declares that witches and enchanters abounded in the country to a fearful extent. Bacon himself, as may be gathered from his works, had a fibre of the web of superstition clinging to his garment. He had a wart cured by magic. The time had come when light must be shed upon the minds of the people, and it is a high evidence of the good sense of the Royal Society, now the representative of the philosophic body in England, that their early labours were not only the elimination of truth, but the demolition of error.

Let us look at a knot of these children-philosophers at one of their early meetings.

At Gresham College the meeting was held; the day was Wednesday in each week; and the time, after the lecture of the astronomy professor. Dr Wilkins would occupy the chair.'. After the usual formalities, which were very brief— for the philosophers considered that for them to be straitened by many strict punctualities would be a great encumbrance to them in their labours of painful digging and toiling into nature, as much

as it would be to an artificer to be loaded with many clothes while he is labouring in his shop '-they proposed the subject for discussion, or the experiments previously agreed upon were commenced. The king had sent five little glass bubbles by the hand of Sir Paul Neill, in order to have the opinion of these men of science relative to them. These bubbles were probably similar to those since called Prince Rupert's Drops. The assembled philosophers speculated awhile on their nature, and their "curiosity was much excited by the explosive phenomena they exhibited. Some suggestions of the method by which similar ones could be prepared were thrown out; and the amanuensis a gentleman with a salary of £4 a year—was ordered to prepare similar ones--if he could. This he succeeded in doing; and at the next meeting they were produced, greatly to the gratification of the assembled philosophers. These cracked equally well with the others; and in high spirits at their success, the philosophers sent some of their toys to the king in exchange for those sent by him to them. It appears, however, that they were not quite satisfied that they had hit upon the right mode of preparing these bubbles ; for in an entry of the journal kept at their command, we find that the matter was considered of sufficient importance to justify the appointment of a committee of investigation; and accordingly a committee was appointed to go to the glass-house


at Woolwich, to inquire into the experiment of those solid bubbles sent by the king-namely, Sir Paul Neill, my Lord Brouncker, Mr Slingsby, Mr Bruce. On another occasion of their assembly the philosophers were engaged in an interesting physiological investigation. Sir Robert Moray. laid before the society. a poisoned dagger, sent by the king, who had received it from the East Indies. It was resolved to make an immediate experiment upon a kitten. The poor little victim was produced, the murderous weapon was warmed, and the animal wounded thereby. The kitten, however, seemed to justify the proverb relating to older members of its family, and obstinately retained its vitality. Not dying while the philosophers remained together, the operator was appointed to observe what should become of it. At the next meeting the kitten was produced alive, and contempt fell on the dagger, whose virtues seemed to have departed. The extracts from their own minutes give us a curious picture of the state of philosophy at this time :

March 25. Dr Henshaw was desired to inquire of his brother concerning the boat that will not sink.

'Mr Boyle was desired to bring in the name of the place in Brazil where that wood is that attracts fishes; and also of the fish that turns to the wind when suspended by a thread!

March 27. To inquire whether the flakes of snow are bigger or less in Teneriffe than here.

* That adders be provided to try the experiment of the stone.

May 8. Proposed that the society write to Mr Wren, and charge him from the king to make a globe of the moone.

“Sir Robert Moray was desired to write to the Jesuits at Liege about the making of copperas there.

* Dr Clarke was intreated to lay before the society Mr Pellin's relation of the production of young vipers from the powder of the liver and lungs of vipers. Sir Kenelm Digby promised such another under my Lord

—'s hand. Dr Clarke and Mr Boyle were intreated to procure an history of vipers.

May 22. Mr Ponez was intreated to send to Bantam for that poyson related to be so quick as to turne a man's blood suddenly to gelly.

*My Lord Northampton was intreated to make inquiry for Mr Marshall's book of insects.

* The amanuensis was ordered to go to-morrow to Rosemary Lane, to bespeak two or three hundred more solid glasse balls !

June 5. Col. Juke related the manner of the rain-like corn at Norwich; and Mr Boyle and Mr Evelyn were intreated to sow some of those rained seeds to try their product.

• Magnetical cures were then discoursed of. Sir Gilbert Talbot promised to bring in what he knew of sympatheticall cures.

Those that had any powder of sympathy were desired to bring some of it at the next meeting.

Mr Boyle related of a gentleman who, having made some experiments of the ayre, essayed the quicksilver experiment at the top and bottom of a hill, when there was found three inches difference.

* Dr Charleton promised to bring in that white powder which, put into water, heats it.

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]



* The Duke of Buckingham promised to cause charcoal to be distilled by his chymist.

· His Grace promised to bring in to the society a piece of a unicorne's horne.

"Sir Kenelm Digby related that the calcined powder of toades reverberated, applyed in bagges upon the stomach of a pestiferate body, it cures it by severall applications.

June 13. Col. Juke brought in the history of the rained seeds, which were reported to have fallen down from heaven in Warwickshire and Shropshire. (These 'grains of wheat' turned out to be ivy - berries, deposited by starlings; and thus, says Mr Weld, one popular superstition was destroyed.)

"That the dyving engine be goeing forward with all speed, and the treasurer to procure the lead and moneys. Ordered that Friday next the engine be tried at Deptford.' (The diving-bell was accordingly tried in the Water Dock at Deptford. It appears, however, that the experimenters were so cautious as not to trust themselves in it. The poor curator stopped half an hour in it under water. It was made of cast lead, let down by & strong cable.)

June 26. Dr Ent, Dr Clarke, Dr Goddard, and Dr Whistler were appointed curators of the proposition made by Sir G. Talbot, to torment & man presently with the sympatheticall powder. Sir G. Talbot brought in his experiments of sympatheticall cures. The register of the Royal

' Society contains a full account of these, which strongly indicate the superstition of the times. As this account, together with the other extracts from the early transactions of this little gathering of philosophers, is not accessible to general readers, we shall still hold ourselves indebted to Mr Weld's History, which contains much instructive and interesting matter relative to the childhood of experimental philosophy, drawn from the journals and registers of this body. Sir Gilbert Talbot is the narrator of the following extraordinary sympatheticall cure 'effected by him :- An English mariner was wounded at Venice in four several places soe mortally, that the murderer took sanctuary : the wounded bled three days without intermission; fell into frequent convulsions and swoonings; the chirurgeons, despayring of his recovery, forsook him. His comrade came to me, and desired me to demand justice from the duke upon the murderer (as supposing him already dead); I sent for his blood, and dressed it, and bade his comrade haste back and swathe up his wounds with clean linnen. He lay a mile distant from my house, yet before he could gette to him all his wounds were closed, and he began visibly to be comforted. The second day the mariner came to me, and told me his friend was perfectly well

, but his spirits soe exhausted he durst not adventure so long a walke. The third day the patient came himself to give me thanks, but he appeared like a ghost; noe bloud left in his body.'

In an entry in May 14, 1661, a great horn was produced before the society,' said to be a unicorn's.' In the previous year the philosophers had, however, shaken the faith in unicorn's horn—not in the existence of this mythical member of the zoological kingdom, but in its reputed powers.

A circle was made with powder of unicorn's horne, and a spider set in the middle of it, but it immediately ran out several times repeated. It is,


[ocr errors]

however, recorded as a noticeable fact, that 'the spider once made some stay upon the powder.' There was a little stone which in those days greatly puzzled philosophers, and had obtained a reputation not far removed from the magical. This is partly intimated by its name-Oculus Mundi, the Eye of the World. That which gave to this stone its wonderful reputation was the fact, that when put into water it became transparent from having been cloudy and opaque. Dr Goddard had his attention particularly drawn to this wonderful stone, and communicated to the Royal Society the result of his labours. The account is a very sensible one, and he shews that the transparency was simply due to the fact of its having absorbed a certain quantity of water. Thus was another mystery unravelled, and the oculus mundi dethroned from its false position.

Where precluded themselves from making the experiments or obtaining the information they desired, these zealous inquirers after truth sent letters of inquiry to persons of reputation in distant countries. It appears that they were resolved in pursuing their high task of destroying the reign of falsehood, and bringing in that of fact, to put to the test some of the voyagers' tales which appeared the most marvellous, but which they could not positively disprove. Dr Sprat, in his record of their early transactions, gives in full a letter, from which we shall select a few extracts strongly demonstrative of the state of information as to foreign marvels which then existed even in the philosophic world. The respondent to the following inquiries was Sir Philberto Vernetti, ' resident in Batavia in Java Major.'

Query 1.- Whether diamonds and other precious stones grow again after three or four years, in the same places where they have been digged out ?' To this inquiry the very sensible answer was returned—Never; or at least as the memory of man can attain to. Query 4th was—What river is that in Java Major that turns wood into stone ? There is none such, replied Sir Philberto, 'to our knowledge; yet I have seen a piece of wood with a stone at the end of it which was told me that was turned into stone by a river in Pegu; but I took it but for a foppery, for diverse arbusta grow in rocks, which, being appropriated curiously, may easily deceive a too hasty believer. It is observed throughout these inquiries that the inquirers appear generally to take the things stated for granted, in which their spirit of childlike faith is evidenced - yet to be also solicitous to have certain knowledge on the subjects--an evidence of the strivings of the spirit of the new philosophy within them. Sir Philberto evinces great sobriety of judgment, and a willingness to do his best to put the marvellous aside, and to bring forth the true facts of the case. None of the queries sent to him for resolution equal the following :- Whether, in the island of Sumbero, which lyeth northward of Sumatra about eight degrees, northern latitude, there be found such a vegetable as Mr James Lancaster relates to have seen, which

grows up to a tree, shrinks down, when one offers to pluck it up, into the ground, and would quite shrink unless held very hard? And whether the same, being forcibly plucked up, hath a worm for its root, diminishing more and more, according as the tree growth in greatness; and as soon as the worm is wholly turned into the tree, rooting in the ground, and so growing great? And whether the same, plucked up young, turns by the time it is dry into a hard stone, much like to white coral?' We may well wonder at the conscience of that Mr James Lancaster who could

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsæt »