Page images
PDF
EPUB

civilized nations. When I was asked in this country: “Is there an American art?” I answered: “There is no American art; no more than there is at present a French art. There is the art, that is all.”

It was for the Americans, a national, cosmopolitan people, as no other, to defend this idea of the universal art. By this idea we artists become the champions of the alliance of all the civilized nations. A noble mission indeed. You must aid us to fulfil it worthily.

Therefore, let us salute here the man who has by his liberality made the splendid idea of a universal art possible in America—Mr. Andrew Carnegie. Let us salute also his co-workers, the officers and members of the Board of Trustees and the Director of Fine Arts. And I shall ask you to salute the excellent artist who for twenty years has devoted every moment to the art of which he is one of the noblest champions in this country—William M. Chase, who has done so much for art and eminent teaching in America. And let us congratulate one another in this idea. There is only one art in the world, as there is only one God. There is only one art, as there is only one ideal among civilized people. There is only one art, as there is only one brain in a head, as there is only one heart in a body, as there is only one soul in every one of us. [Applause.]

WILLIAM NORTH RICE

SCIENTIFIC THOUGHT IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

[Address by William North Rice, professor of geology in Wesleyan University (born in Marblehead, Mass., November 21, 1845; ), delivered at the Centennial Celebration of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, October 11, 1899.]

GENTLEMEN:—It is an interesting fact that the life of our Association is almost coextensive with that Nineteenth century of Christian civilization which is now drawing to a close. In intellectual, as in physical phenomena, we are tempted to overestimate the magnitude of near objects and to underestimate that of distant ones; but science and art tend to advance with accelerated velocity, and we are undoubtedly right in ranking the achievements of our age in science and its applications as far greater than those of any previous century.

When our predecessors assembled a hundred years ago to organize this Academy, they could avail themselves of no other means of transportation than those which were in use before the time of Homer. If they were required to traverse distances overland too great for convenient walking, they were carried or drawn by horses. If they had occasion to cross bodies of water, they used oars or sails. We have been brought to our destination to-day by the forces of steam and electricity. The harnessing of these mighty forces for man's use has transformed not only the modes of transportation, but also the processes of production of all kinds of commodities. It has wrought a revolution in the whole industrial system. The day of the small workshop is gone. The day of the great factory is come. Every phase of human life is affected by those arts which have arisen from the applications of science. Comforts and luxuries which a hundred years ago were beyond the reach of the most wealthy, are now available for the use of even the poor. Aniline dyes give to fabrics used for clothing or decoration colors beside which those of the rainbow are pale neutral tints. Sanitary science arrests the massacre of the innocents, and increases the average duration of human life. Anaesthetics and antiseptics take away from surgery its pain and its peril. But, though our Association is an Academy of Arts and Sciences, it has, at least in its later life, devoted itself chiefly to the cultivation of pure science, leaving to other organizations the development of the applications of science. Fitly, then, our thoughts to-day dwell, not upon the vast progress of the useful arts, but upon the progress of pure science. Not the economic and the industrial, but the intellectual history of our century claims our attention. I do not propose, in the few moments allotted to me this afternoon, to give an inventory of the important scientific discoveries of the Nineteenth century. The time would not suffice therefor, even were my knowledge of the various sciences sufficiently encyclopaedic to justify me in the attempt. I wish rather to call your attention to a single broad, general aspect of the intellectual history of our age. I wish to remind you in how large a degree those general ideas which make the distinction btween the unscientific and the scientific view of nature have been the work of the Nineteenth century. The first of these ideas is the extension of the universe in space. The unscientific mind looks upon the celestial bodies as mere appendages to the earth, relatively of small size, and at no very great distance. The scientific mind beholds the stellar universe stretching away, beyond measured distances whose numerical expression transcends all power of imagination, into immeasurable immensities. The second of these ideas is the extension of the universe in time. To the unscientific mind, the universe has no history. Since it began to exist, it has existed substantially in its present condition. Among Christian peoples, until the belief was corrected by science, the Hebrew tradition of a creative week six thousand years ago was generally accepted as historic fact. If, on the other hand, unscientific minds not possessed of any supposed revelation in regard to the date of the world's origin, thought of the universe as eternal, that eternity was still conceived as an eternity of unhistoric monotony. The scientific mind sees in the present condition of the universe the monuments of a long history of progress. The third of these ideas is the unity of the universe. To the unscientific mind the universe is a chaos. To the scientific mind it becomes a cosmos. To the unscientific mind, the processes of nature seem to be the result of forces mutually independent and often discordant. Polytheism in religion is the natural counterpart of the unscientific view of the universe. To the scientific mind, the boundless complexity of the universe is dominated by a supreme unity. One system of law, intelligible, formulable, pervades the universe, through all its measurelèss extension in space and time. The student of science may be theist or pantheist, atheist or agnostic; polytheist he can never be. What then, let us ask ourselves, has been the contribution of our century to the development of these three ideas, which characterize the scientific view of nature:— the spatial extension of the universe, the historic extension of the universe, and the unity of the universe. The development of the idea of the extension of the universe in space belongs mainly to earlier times than ours. The Greek geometers acquired approximately correct notions of the size of the earth and the distance of the moon. The Copernican astronomy in the Sixteenth century shifted the center of the solar system from the earth to the sun, and placed in truer perspective our view of the celestial spheres. But, though astronomy, the oldest of the sisterhood of the sciences, attained a somewhat mature development centuries ago, it has in our own century thrown new light upon the subject of the vastness of the universe. The discovery of Neptune has greatly increased the area of the solar system; the measurement of the parallax of a few of the brightest, and presumably the nearest, of the stars has rendered far more definite our knowledge of the magnitude of the stellar universe; and telescopes of higher magnifying power than had been used before have resolved many clusters of small and distant StarS. If the development of the idea of the spatial extension of the universe belongs mainly to an earlier period, the idea of its historic extension belongs mainly to our century. It is true, indeed, that Pythagoras and others of the ancient philosophers did not fail to recognize indications of change in the surface of the earth. And, in the beginning of the Renaissance, we find Leonardo da Vinci and others insisting that the fossils discovered in excavations in the stratified rocks were proof of the former existence of a sea teeming with marine life, where cultivated lands and populous cities had taken its place. Hutton's “Theory of the Earth,” which in an important sense marks the beginning of modern geological theorizing, appeared in the Edinburgh “Philosophical Transactions” in 1788, but was not published as a separate work till seven years later. Not till 1815 was published William Smith's Geological Map of England, the first example of systematic stratigraphic work extended over any large area. To the beginning of our century belong also the classical and epoch-making researches of Cuvier upon the fossil fauna of the Paris basin. By far the larger part, therefore, of the development of geologic science, with its farreaching revelations of continental emergence and submergence, mountain growth and decay, and evolution and extinction of successive faunas and floras, belongs to the Nineteenth century. Far on into our century extended the conflict with theological conservatism, in which the elder Silliman, James L. Kingsley, and others of the early members of our Academy bore an honorable part, and which ended in the recognition, by the general public, as well as by the select circle of scientific students, of an antiquity of the earth far transcending the limits allowed by venerable tradition. To our century also belongs chiefly the development in astronomy of the idea of the history of the solar system. It is, indeed, true that, in the conception of the nebular hypothesis, Laplace, whose “Théorie de la Monde’’ was published in 1796, was preceded by Kant and Swedenborg. But the credit of a discovery belongs not so much to the first conception of an idea as to its development into a

« PreviousContinue »