Page images

Or The Spirit and Service of Science




G 7






The attention recently given to the position of science in the State, its relation to industry, and its relative neglect in education, suggests that the present is an appropriate time for putting into final shape a project contemplated for many years and practically completed before the outbreak of existing hostilities. This book represents the result; and its main purposes are to promote a more sympathetic attitude towards those who are engaged in the pursuit of scientific truth and to remove the widespread misconception which prevails as to the meaning and influence of science.

To the popular mind, a man of science is a callous necromancer who has cut himself off from communion with his fellows, and has thereby lost the throbbing and compassionate heart of a full life: he is a Faust who has not yet made a bargain with Mephistopheles, and is therefore without human interest. Scientific and humanistic studies are, indeed, supposed to be antipathetic, and to represent opposing qualities; so that it has become common to associate science with all that is cold and mechanistic in our being, and to believe that the development of the more spiritual parts of man's nature belongs essentially to other departments of intellectual activity.

When scientific work is instituted solely with the object of securing commercial gain, its correlative is


selfishness; when it is confined to the path of narrow specialisation, it leads to arrogance; and when its purpose is materialistic domination, without regard for the spiritual needs of humanity, it is a social danger and may become an excuse for learned barbarity. But scientific research is rarely inspired by these motives, and devotion to it does not necessarily inhibit response to other notes with which a well-balanced mind should be in symphony. Moreover, direct contact with Nature and inquiry into her laws produce a habit of mind which cannot be acquired in literary fields, and they are associated with a wide outlook on life more often than is usually supposed

The relative influence of different studies on the formation of character need not be discussed here; yet the following pages will perhaps show that the spirit of scientific research has inspired the highest ethical thought and action, as well as increased the comforts of life, and added greatly to material welfare. We seek to justify the claim of science to be an ennobling influence as well as a creator of riches; and therefore as much importance is attached to motive and method as to discovery and industrial development, however marvellous or valuable these may be.

Wherever purposeful inquiry is carried on in the field of Nature, there the spirit of science is manifest, and we learn that worthy intention defines its shape as much as brilliant achievement. For science is not to be measured by practical service alone, though it may contribute to material prosperity : it is an intellectual outlook, a standard of truth and a gospel of light.

Scientific investigation is not usually undertaken with personal profit in view, and the discoveries to

which it leads are not jealously kept within the precincts of the temple, but are offered freely to the world : selfhelp thus giving place to the higher attribute of help for others. This virtue, with the qualities of selfsacrifice, persistence, courage, duty, accuracy, humility, and hope may all be abundantly exemplified from the careers of men of science; yet such instances are rarely mentioned. From many countries and many times we have gathered incidents and allusions which display the nobility of scientific aims, and have accentuated them with words of wisdom from the biographies and writings of men who have devoted their lives to the extension of natural knowledge. In substance the book thus largely consists of selected testimony, while in intention it is a stimulus to high endeavour.

No attempt has been made to provide a complete record, in chronological or any other order, of natural philosophers and their triumphs, yet it is hoped that not many points of outstanding human interest have been overlooked. The aim has been eclectic rather than exhaustive; wherefore many scientific pioneers are not mentioned, while others find a place not so much on account of their distinguished eminence as because events in their careers, or results of their work, create a spirit of emulation in those who regard them. The whole is presented with a deep sense of humility before the extent and intricacy of scientific knowledge, and of dissatisfaction at the gap which persists between design and execution.

It remains only to be said that though none of the chapters have been published hitherto in their present form, a few parts have appeared in contributions to the Cornhill, Fortnightly, Nature, School World, Sunday al Home, and other magazines during a period extending

« PreviousContinue »