Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

have described as that of the collections of glittering baubles by children, and their preservation in baby-houses. The most famous in London was at South Lambeth, and formed by the Tradescants. This museum was bequeathed to Ashmole, who bequeathed it to the University of Oxford, where it forms a portion of what is still called the Ashmolean Museum. Its collectors were in many respects remarkable men, having an extraordinary passion for the preservation and accumulation of rarities' of all kinds, and every place in Christendom and abroad was ransacked to supply its quota of things wonderful to the collection; and assuredly the museum contained rarities of no common order. The head of the dodo, that mysterious extinct bird, is contained therein; divers sortes of egges from Turkie-one given for a dragon's egge; two feathers of the Phønix tayle; the claw of the bird rocke, who, as authors report, is able to trusse an elephant; dodar from the island of Mauritius—it is not able to flie, being so big; birds of paradise, some with, some without legges. Among animal wonders were a hippopotamus, a salamander, a natural dragon, about two inches long, and-a cowe's tayle from Arabia! Perhaps the most remarkable and interesting entry next to that of the dodo is the following :—The plyable mazar-wood, being warmed in water, will work to any form. There can scarcely be a question that this was in reality a small specimen of gutta percha, whose discovery and introduction into our own country is generally considered to have taken place within the last five or six years. Another famous museum was one collected by a Mr Robert Hubert, and dayly to be seen at the place called the Minster - house at the Mitre, near the west end of St Paul's Church.' Bishop Wilkins had also a museum full of curiosities. Several coffeehouses and places of entertainment in London had museums of a similar kind. One of the most celebrated of this kind was Don Salter's Museum. This don had been a ci-devant servant of Sir Hans Sloane, who furnished his museum with many of its most attractive curiosities. The following is the whimsical title of his catalogue :- A Catalogue of Rarities. To be seen at Don Salter's Coffee-house in Chelsea; to which is added a complete list of the donors thereof. Price Twopence. O RARE!' The Royal Society now also began to form its museum. In a little time a very handsome collection of natural things was got together, and fresh accessions to the museum were continually being made. A separate apartment in Gresham College was dedicated to the reception and preservation of these curiosities. Some of these are extremely curious. Sir Robert Moray presented the stones taken out of Lord Balcarres's heart in a silver box, and a bottle full of stag's tears ! Great curiosity was excited by the arrival of the tooth of a giant, with a consignment of a few of his bones, from America! The tooth had been sold for a gill of rum, and the bones had been procured by digging near the place where the former was found. This notice has its interest to the geologist, shewing how little was known of the study of fossil comparative anatomy.

It may appear trifling to advert to such a circumstance as the formation of these museums; but it will not be so considered when we view the disposition to their collection as evidencing the spirit of the times. Such museums were an indispensable element in favouring the progress of the Rew philosopby. They afforded a perpetual standing testimony to which authority might appeal and the inquirer proceed for the satisfaction of his mind as to truth. Just as the old philosophy dealt with names, the new philosophy dealt with things; and it was necessary to preserve things described as a test of the truth and accuracy of their description. And it is unquestionable that such museums have assisted much in the instruction of all inquirers into natural knowledge—in giving stability to legitimate authority, and in communicating a state of decision to the mind respecting the things inquired after, in which it might safely repose. The value of museums in our own day is not similar, but it is equal to that of these early collections. By their means book-knowledge is confirmed, and indeed exchanged for thing-knowledge; and this may be perhaps taken as a summary of the utility of such collections. The perusal of these accounts of the museum also furnishes the best conception of the half-in-earnest half-atplay temper of mind possessed by the philosophers of this period. The same feature was also ludicrously manifest at their respective dwellings, some of which were almost turned into enchanted houses. The following extract from a talented writer before quoted corroborates the view we have thus taken of the state of matters during the childhood of experimental philosophy:- The arts as well as the sciences, at the first institution of the Royal Society, were of the most amusing class. The famous Sir Samuel Moreland had turned his house into an enchanted palace. Everything was full of devices which shewed art and mechanism in perfection: his coach carried a travelling kitchen, for it had a fireplace and grate, with which he could make soup, boil cutlets, and roast an egg?—(M. Soyer will perceive that his magic stove was anticipated some two centuries ago)

- and he dressed his meat by clockwork. Another of these virtuosi, who is described as a gentleman of superior order, and whose home was a knick-knackaltory, valued himself on his multifarious inventions, but most in sowing salads in the morning to be cut for dinner. The house of Winstanley, who afterwards raised the first Eddystone lighthouse, must have been the wonder of the age. If you kicked aside an old slipper, purposely lying in your way, up started a ghost before you; or if you sat down in a certain chair, a couple of gigantic arms would immediately clasp you in. There was an arbour in the garden by the side of a canal: you had scarcely seated yourself when you were sent out afloat to the middle of the canal, from whence you could not escape till this man of art and science wound you up to the arbour. What was passing at the Royal Society was also occurring at the Académie des Sciences at Paris. A great and gouty member of that philosophical body, on the departure of a stranger, would point to his legs, to shew the impossibility of conducting him to the door; yet the astonished visitor never failed finding the virtuoso waiting for him on the outside to make his final bow! While the visitor was going down stairs, this inventive genius was descending with great velocity in a machine from the window; so that he found that if a man of science cannot hire nature to walk down stairs, he may drive her out at the window!' And in Italy the same oddities were perpetrated. Evelyn in his Diary records the several wonders which he beheld during his tour in that country. One of the most celebrated villas of the time that of the Cardinal Aldrobrendini-was replete with curiosities of this kind. In one room the spectator beheld a copper ball suspended about a yard from the floor, in the air, and dancing about in it without any cord attached to it. Underneath was a powerful blast of wind which kept it suspended. In the garden were an infinite number of contrivances of various kinds for playing hydraulic tricks. This was an extremely favourite practical joke of the time. In some of the gardens of the French philosophers were susiliers, of wood, who were accustomed to shoot visitors with a stream of water from their gun-barrels. In fact, in every direction, in the gardens and pleasurehouses of the learned at this period, some fantastic tricks were sure to be played upon the visitors, which they were of course expected to endure with the utmost good-humour. It was a time when philosophers played at being wise, and found matter of amusement in the marvels of science and the arts. The attraction thus given to scientific pursuits unquestionably furnished a powerful stimulus to their prosecution. Philosophy was not all work and no play! And for men just emerging from a time of superstition and universal belief in supernaturalities, it may well be imagined how charming an occupation it must have proved to have displayed to others those marvels of natural magic which science laid open to them. Scientific enthusiasm was high in these early days, and the fresh powers which experimental knowledge conferred upon men constituted without question one of its chief attractions. In other countries a similar state of matters was being arrived at: in France next in time to England, and in other continental states subsequently. Italy alone, however, endures comparison with England in the first time of which we have spoken. Experimental science flourished in both countries much more vigorously than elsewhere, although in a little while the Academy of Sciences at Paris began its long and vigorous career. The Royal Society of our own land, in its commencement, in the bright visions of its early members, in their enthusiasm and devotion to the cause they espoused, affords perhaps the best model and type of the early developments of experimental knowledge. Its subsequent career and high present position, together with those of its French compeer, speak highly for the countries which cherished the new philosophy in its days of infancy; while in Italy, where it may almost be said to have had its birth-where at least its first manifestations of life were displayed—the Academy del Cimento, its nurse, was, after a brief existence, similarly abandoned; and other institutions following, sustained the same fate.

In our studies of the childhood of experimental philosophy we have been occupied hitherto chiefly with philosophers—their sayings and doings in the aggregate. While the information thus afforded as to the system pursued in the quest for knowledge has its value and importance in enabling the reader to form a judgment of the state of science at the time, not less valuable nor less interesting is that attainable from the study of individual characters of this period. There is truth in the general proposition, that one man is often the representative of his age ; and the same may be said of philosophy, and perhaps with greater justice. Yet there are men who lived at this period who could not be appropriately said to belong to itwho were as giants among children. Such a man was Bacon himself; such was Newton, the efforts of whose mighty intellectual powers carried them to a point of observation which some of our own day have scarcely attained. Would we, therefore, judge of the children of philosophy, we must draw aside one of the group for separate consideration, whose character and attainments assimilates most closely to those of the others. Perhaps it is scarcely fair to say that such a one was Sir Kenelm Digby, seeing that the element of superstitious credulity formed too large a part of his character ; yet he may be instructively considered as typical of some of the philosophers of the first commencement of the revival of knowledge, belonging, as he does, partly to a preceding and partly to the then present period. Sir Kenelm was born in 1603, received a liberal education, and at an early age went to Oxford to complete his studies. There he distinguished himself so much by his great abilities and comprehensive mind, that his career excited the highest anticipations of a brilliant future. He then went abroad, and was dignified with the honour of knighthood on his return. His political career was chequered with various reverses, for he lived, as did many of the young philosophers of the day, in a tempestuous time, and died in 1665. His appearance was that of a man of intellect, but beclouded with a heavy and superstitious look. Thus much for the external man.' His mind offers the most curious study. The one darling project of Sir Kenelm’s intellectual existence was what he calls the Doctrine of Sympathy. By this doctrine it was held that, in consequence of some mysterious sympathy subsisting between men and things, a curative influence could be transmitted to a person at a distance from the supposed curer. It is difficult to assign a distinct origin to this remarkable delusion, unless perhaps it be referred to a recollection of the miracles performed by our Lord when at a distance from the person benefited, and to an insane and indeed impious attempt to exercise a similar power. It appears to have been a notion acquired by Sir Kenelm during his travels, and on his return to England he made great noise thereabout, and attracted both to himself and his doctrine a degree of attention which otherwise they might not have claimed. In a German edition of his work on the Powder of Sympathy,' is a frontispiece representing some of the cures effected by sympathy, and some of the natural effects of this mysterious agency. Among the latter Sir Kenelm was disposed to attribute the phenomenon of one gåping- individual setting others all agape after his example, and this is represented by an appropriate drawing! It appears to be the natural result of any course of imposture, and unquestionably such must this have been, that in time its author becomes the dupe of his own deception; and such was Sir Kenelm Digby's case. In time he came to believe what probably at first he only half credited, and would make others give their full assent to. Sir Kenelm became at home what he professed to be abroad. He married a most beautiful lady, and in order to preserve her beauty he dieted her upon capons fatted with the flesh of vipers. He also invented a number of cosmetics for her use. Whether it was in consequence of these experiments or not can now scarcely be said, but his beautiful wife died at an early age. Sir Kenelm Digby's connection with experimental philosophy lies chiefly in his association from the first with the Royal Society. At the early meetings of philosophers, few of whom were as superstitious as himself, he astonished the assemblies with narrations of the effects of his wonderful powders. Of his attachment to science there can be no question;, but what has history left as the result of his labours?' What truth developed ?—what fact discovered ?-what useful experiment successfully performed? Not one. And if we ask why? --- simply because he loved science and experimental philosophy rather for their effects than for themselves; because his ambition was to astonish and perplex-not to enlighten and instruct mankind. Yet, as already observed, Sir Kenelm Digby was a type of many in his day: a man of vigorous intellect, skilled in six tongues,' attached to science and experiment, favouring the progress of the new philosophy, yet having enough of the perverse spirit of the old to make his labours fruitless, and to consign his name to posterity merely to point a moral or adorn a tale.

While Sir Kenelm Digby affords an instructive type of the superstitious philosopher of the birth-time of true philosophy, the learned Bishop Wilkins gives an excellent illustration of the ingenious and imaginative. Bishop Wilkins was born in 1614 and died in 1672. From its first institution he took a most active part in the society of philosophers whose youthful transactions we have described. “He has been described as a noted theologist and preacher, a curious critic in several matters, an excellent mathematician and experimentist, and one as well seen in mechanisms and new philosophy, of which he was a great promoter, as any man of his time.' Wilkins appears to have been a man too really pious to have been superstitious. His distinguishing trait of character is his ingenuity, apparent as it is alike in his works and in the experiments he conducted and directed. Although Sir Kenelm Digby was as profound an alchemist as he professed to be a sympathetic operator, we have considered his views on the latter subject typical of his character without reference to his other pursuits. In like manner may be taken the excellent Bishop Wilkins's grand project of a 'Journey to the Moon.' This, his first work, sheds light upon the whole of his mental character, displaying as it does both his learning, attainments, imagination, and ingenuity. The title is : “The Discovery of a New Worlde; or a Discourse tending to prove that it is probable there may be another habitable World in the Moon; with a Discourse concerning the probability of a Passage thither.' What would have been this worthy philosopher's joy had he lived in Montgolfier's time, and made the first trial of the way to the moon in the balloon? The consideration of one little circumstance lays the whole project in the dust. After the first forty-five miles of the journey—since philosophy teaches that to be the limit of our atmosphere—what would become of the breath of our philosophic travellers ? A famous lady attempted to defeat Bishop Wilkins by propounding another difficulty, which was this--the want of baitingplaces in the way; when the ingenious inventor replied by expressing his surprise that this objection should be made by a lady who had been all her life employed in building castles in the air. Bishop Wilkins was, however, a true experimental philosopher. With what ardour he watched Over the early gropings after truth of the little band of philosophers with whom he connected himself! With what patience and zeal he laboured himself therein! Out of his desire to facilitate the progress of knowledge, he composed his celebrated essay upon a 'Real Character and a Philosophical Language ;' a work held in great estimation by the early members of the Royal Society, but the fruit of which has not endured to the present day. The contents of his museum were very curious, their greatest attractions consisting in the mechanical toys and engines there treasured up. The ingenuity and imaginativeness which distinguished this philoso

« ForrigeFortsæt »