« ElőzőTovább »
and the most subtle intellects, were forced to move round and round in the same dull circle, and thresh the straw that had been threshed a thousand times before: that the profoundest genius failed to make even the shallowest discovery either in art or science: that the most learned men occupied themselves, century after century, in piling up pyramids of commentaries on those wondrous men, Plato and Aristotle, who, like the Pillars of Hercules in the old mythology, separated the clear, the definite, the settled, and the known, from the dark, the vague, the boundless, and the obscure. When, moreover, our supposed inquirer, continuing his survey, would have learned that whole regions of the earth's surface were passing clean out of the knowledge of civilized man: that the ideas which learned professors and adventurous travellers formed about countries not far remote, were vague and contradictory: that less was known four centuries ago about the geography of the world than in the time of Herodotus, Strabo, Ptolemy, or even Agatharchides : that many inventions and curious processes in the arts had actually perished, and which have never to this day been rediscovered. When, along with this, looking to the political aspect of the world, he would have seen the very fairest and most hallowed regions of the earth's surface overrun by the wild fanatics of Arabia, or trodden down by the barbarian hordes of Turkistan, who, with wide unbroken front, were advancing like the ocean tide rushing up a narrow estuary, to overwhelm, in one undistinguishing flood, all that had remained of the ancient civilization; and when, lastly, it is recollected that to such an ideal spectator, reviewing the history of man's progress upon earth, that great renovating institution, the Church, would have presented herself, not as the living breathing incarnation of the Gospel, giving health and vigour to the worn out and used up nations of antiquity, but, like Niobe of old, petrified into stone, and become herself a huge stumbling-block in the way of progress--a rock of offence to those who saw not that her corruptions and errors were in some measure at least due to the trying times through which she had to pass. From such a retrospect of the past, could he have drawn, with regard to the future, other than the most desponding conjectures. No man could foresee that as the night is darkest before the dawn, so out of this dense moral night and darkness of the human understanding a new
order of things was soon to arise, and the light of a higher and better civilization to gladden our humanity. It is no wonder then that men, looking back through the long vista of time, and seeing that all that was worth preserving in literature, art, and science-whether it be poetry, oratory, or the drama-whether it be architecture, sculpture, or painting, was the creation of comparatively a small number of gifted minds, and the birth of a few remote centuries, it is no wonder, I repeat, that men in those days had come to the conviction that nearly everything that could be known was already known. In fact they had a special name for it. They called it the " scibili.” They called it not“ omne scitum,” but “omne scibili,” not merely everything that was known, but that could be known. It is not strange that for those who at once had reached the limits, and touched the very outer verge of human knowledge, a feeling of admiration, apparently akin to heroworship, should have been felt, as being the greatest benefactors of mankind.
Let us now shift our standing point to the present time, and view the wonderful change produced in the aspect of human advancement. I will not dwell upon the multitudinous discoveries in natural knowledge, the glory of our age, because they are familiar to most of you, but I will take the science of pure space or geometry as an example of this progress, and the rather as this science is the creation of the pure intellect depending neither on experiment nor observation, the great instruments of modern discovery. Within the last forty years mathematical science has received a far greater development than in the entire period that intervened between Archimedes and Newton. Such has been the fertility of methods of research recently invented, that while formerly the discovery of a new theorem was enough to render a man's name illustrious, now they may as easily be found, and with as little trouble, as nuggets of gold on the other side of the globe. It is not, therefore, strange that amidst the crowd and brilliancy of modern discoveries, those which have been so long before the world should somewhat pale their brightness.
Before I pass from the consideration of this, the second birth of human knowledge, far more prolific than the first, there is a remark I would desire to make, and it is one of great interest. It is this, that all our discoveries, wherever
made, in whatever art or science, all tend to the advantage of the masses, as contrasted with the great ones of the earth. Books, that once were in the hands of nobles and prelates only, sometimes worth even a king's ransom, are now, thanks to the art of printing, within the reach of the poorest of the community. Libraries existed before the days of Caxtonthe newspaper and the reading-room are of a subsequent date. Again, consider how much human labour has been relieved by the application of gunpowder- in great engineering and mining operations. Who shall compute the amount of human toil which a knowledge of the power of this agent would have saved in the piling up of the Pyramids of Egypt, in excavating the Temples of Ellora, or in cutting out the sculptured shrines of Elephanta? How much suffering of the masses would a little of our chemical science have averted in the building of the Roman aqueducts, which a scientific appreciation of the simplest law of the equilibrium of fluids, now known to every schoolboy, would have shown to be superfluous. Need I do more than allude to steam, or to the steamengine—that great modern Cyclops—or to the improvement and cheapening of iron, that most valuable of all the metals, or to the innumerable inventions in machinery, bearing on the cheap manufacture of textile fabrics, or to the application of mechanics and chemistry to agriculture ? Only consider the facilities afforded to the poor man of conveying his labour, his only capital, to the uttermost parts of the earth by steam navigation and railway locomotion. The great in every age could travel luxuriously if not expeditiously, but now the artizan can travel with as much personal comfort as the gentleman could thirty years ago. Suetonius, speaking of Augustus, says, “ He was borne along by slaves, and the gentle motion allowed him to read, write, and employ himself as in his cabinet. Though Tivoli is only sixteen miles from the city, he was always two nights on the road.” Well, then, to bear out my argument, there is gas more brilliant than waxlight and cheaper than the tallow dip. Electro-plating and photography bring the finest models and the most truthful landscapes within the reach, if not of the labourer, at least of the mechanic. On the other hand, but little advancement is to be found in those things which minister exclusively to the luxury of the rich. Marble, just as two thousand years ago,
must still be the material which, so to speak, encrusts the breathing statue. Oil and canvass still supply the material elements of our finest paintings. Pearls have not diminished in value or improved in lustre since Cleopatra dissolved them in the wine-cups of her guests to show the extravagant prodigality of her magnificence. Science has revealed to us the analysis of the diamond, but art has not yet discovered the synthesis of that precious bauble. So that the ruby and the diamond, the sapphire and the emerald, still continue as untractable and as unchanged, as brilliant and as costly, as when they constituted, in the vision of St. John, the foundations of that new and holy city which had no need of sun or moon, and neither light nor temple were there.
This is, indeed, the remarkable and striking characteristic of nearly all our great modern discoveries, that they tend to create or to cheapen, if already in existence, those things which improve the condition or tend to promote the welfare of the masses of mankind. Other discoveries, too, tend in the same direction. It is only a few days ago that in this room the intrepid and indefatigable explorer, Dr. Livingston, gave us an account of regions never hitherto trodden by European foot. He has made known to us the only terra incognita which remained on the surface of the globe, if we except some portions in the interior of Australia, which are even now, while I speak, opening up their arid steppes and barren plains to British science, energy, and enterprise. And here let me further strengthen my argument by referring to the mighty influences which at this very time are being inaugurated by the operation of that mysterious agent of civilization, the electric telegraph. Is not truth strange, stranger than fiction, when we are told that in this room we may have intelligence in a shorter interval of time from Constantinople or the Pyramids than from Primrose-hill. Why, the electric telegraph endows mankind with a sixth sense, and the fable of Lynceus becomes a tame and vapid story. Let me add further yet, that foci of the language in which I now address you are being established all over the globe, whence in ages yet to come will radiate the language of Shakspere and Milton, of Newton and Bacon, of Butler and Locke, and above all, that pure well of English undefiled, our standard translation of the Bible. The whole vast continent of North America, with the chief islands
of the Carib Sea, speaks the English tongue. In South Africa it is heard. Livingston has carried it into the remotest recesses of that least known of continents. In the vast regions of India it is the dominant language from Cape Comorin to Cashmere; the auriferous plains of Australia will speak no other; it resounds along the coasts of China, and like a watchword echoes from island to island in the great South Sea.
Surely the cumulative force of all these arguments and considerations, which I have placed before you, give irresistible weight to this conclusion, and I cannot express it so happily as in the words of H. R. H. Prince Albert, the President of the Society in whose house we are met this evening. In his address at the Mansion-house to the mayors and municipal authorities of the principal towns in the United Kingdom to promote the success of that splendid display of world-wide industry the Great Exhibition of 1851, the germ of which was first developed in the very room in which we are now assembled, The Prince is reported to have said :-“Nobody who has paid any attention to the peculiar features of our present era will doubt for a moment that we are living at a period of most wonderful transition, which tends rapidly to accomplish that great end to which indeed all history points ; the realization of the unity of mankind! Not a unity which breaks down the limits, and levels the peculiar characteristics of the different nations of the earth, but rather a unity, the result and product of those very national varieties- and antagonistic qualities. The distances which separated the different nations and parts of the globe are rapidly vanishing before the achievements of modern invention, and we can traverse them with incredible ease; the languages of all nations are known, and their acquirement placed within the reach of everybody; thought is communicated with the rapidity and even by the power of lightning.”
In direct antagonism to this pervading principle of modern discovery—the benefit of the masses—to which I have just now directed your attention, is a custom which has grown up quite recently, and which would not have become a custom had the practice not been abetted by wealthy amateurs and selfish collectors. It is the most signal instance of modern Vandalism on record, and deserving of your deepest reprobation. I refer to the barbarous practice of plate-destroying,