Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

1

astronomer, but requiring, nevertheless, careful correction; and in the accomplishment of this task he convinced himself that a transit of Venus, which Kepler had failed to predict, would actually occur on November 24 (O.S.), 1639. He had by this time taken orders in the Church of England, and been appointed to the curacy of Hoole, then a desolate hamlet situated on a strip of land half reclaimed from the overflow of the Ribble, about five miles south of Preston. It was here that, first among astronomers of all ages, he observed the passage of Venus across the sun.

The 24th of November fell on a Sunday, and, as the critical moment approached, the eager star-gazer was summoned from his telescope to his pulpit, returning, however, just in time to witness, as the clouds parted at a quarter past three, the punctual verification of his forecast in the projection of the dark body of the planet on the solar disc. "An interval of half an hour before sunset gave him time to make a series of observations surprisingly accurate considering the primitive character of the apparatus available for their execution.

A telescope bought for half a crown, and a circle of six inches in diameter, traced with a pair of compasses on a sheet of paper, stood to the young curate of Hoole in the stead of all the complicated and exquisitely delicate instruments which form the intermediaries between the senses of a modern astronomer and the phenomena he observes. Horrocks did not long survive this solitary triumph of his life. After many postponements, he at length saw a prospect of one day's extrication from his conflicting employments, and fixed January 4, 1641, for a visit of science and sympathy to his friend Crabtree. On the morning of the 3rd, however, he suddenly expired, thus exchanging, in a moment, his promised post among the radiant ranks of those who constitute the pride of humanity, for a place in the pathetic company of the inheritors of o unfulfilled renown.'

The career of Horrocks affords, throughout its course, a singular example of precocity. He matriculated at thirteen, was ordained at twenty, and died before he had completed his twenty-second year. On him, if on any man, might safely be passed the usually somewhat problematical eulogium: He

had done great things, had he lived. His mind was as quick to catch the differences of things like, as it was capacious to gather the similarities of things unlike. To the imaginative fervour of Kepler he joined the technical skill of Tycho, and something of the experimental sagacity of Galileo.

Short as was his life, and scanty his opportunities, he still left the imprint of his genius on astronomical theory. The movements of the moon had not yet been brought within the dominion of Kepler's Laws. Horrocks first pointed out that the apparent irregularities of our satellite could be harmonised into an orderly scheme, by supposing her to revolve in an ellipse of which the earth occupied one focus—the eccentricity of such ellipse being variable, and its major axis directly rotatory. Both these conditions Newton, in his investigation of the problem of three bodies, demonstrated to follow necessarily from the law of gravitation, thereby lending overwhelming corroboration to the views of his youthful predecessor. It has been unwisely said that Newton was indebted to Horrocks for the rudiments of his great generalisation. No statement could be more misleading. The passage in his writings principally relied on for its support is indeed remarkable, as containing a description of an ingenious experiment, illustrative of the compound nature of the planetary movements, used afterwards by Hooke, with a fuller understanding of the conditions of the problem; and some scattered indications may be found that the analogy between terrestrial gravity and the power exerted in the celestial mechanism was evident to him, as it had been to Gilbert, Bacon and Galileo; but we are unable to discover that his idea of central forces was notably in advance of the crude notions current among his contemporaries.

Little as we know of Horrocks, we might easily have known nothing. His legacy to posterity barely escaped total annihilation. Some of his papers were destroyed in the Civil War; some perished in the great Fire of London; some were carried to Ireland, and there lost. A remnant only was preserved by the care of William Crabtree, and after his death (which followed quickly npon that of his friend) passed into the hands of Dr. Worthington, of Cambridge. Hevelius, the celebrated astronomer of Dantzic, eventually obtained possession of his · Venus in Sole visa,' and published it in 1662, as an appendix to his own observations on the transit of Mercury. Whereupon the Royal Society, awakening to the merits of their countryman, commissioned one of their most distinguished members to edit what could still be recovered of his writings, and even voted, we are told, five pounds towards the expense of printing. Dr. Wallis accomplished his task satisfactorily. The disjecta membra of the Horroxian manuscripts, organised into a tolerably consistent form under the title - Astronomia Kepleriana defensa et promota,' were given to the public in 1672, together with those fragments of his correspondence

[ocr errors]

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

6

with Crabtree which, disguised in the uncouth Latin of the Savilian Professor, constitute all our knowledge of the life of Jeremiah Horrocks.

We have already seen that his scientific enthusiasm was not an isolated impulse. On all sides men were rising up eager to devote their best energies to physical enquiries; and society, whether fanatic or frivolous, animated them by its curiosity and rewarded them with its applause. The Long Parliament appointed, July 20, 1653, a Committee for the advancement of learning.' Evelyn drew up, in 1659, an elaborate scheme for the foundation of a Philosophic-Mathematic College.' Cowley dismounted for a moment from his · Pindaric Pegasus'

1 to make a • Proposition for the advancement of Experimental · Philosophy,' whereby the lost inventions, and, as it were, • drowned lands of the ancients, should be recovered; all things

of nature, delivered to us by former ages, weighed, examined, “and proved ; all arts which we now have, improved, and others which we yet have not, discovered.'* Samuel Pepys was scarcely less interested in astronomy than in the playhouse, and gossipped with as much zest about the experiments at Gresham College as about the pageants of Whitehall. Charles I. thought of founding a scientific repository at Vauxhall; the Earl of Worcester actually bought tenements there for the purpose; Sir William Petty recommended a comprehensive plan for the interpretation of nature, whereof there is so little, and that so bad, extant in the world. This design, breathed after' (as Evelyn says) by so many, was, at least in part, realised by the foundation of the Royal Society.

This celebrated institution had its origin in the meetings of the · Invisible College, of which Robert Boyle, John Wallis, and Dr. Wilkins, afterwards Bishop of Chester and author of a novel project for travelling to the moon, were members. It was in 1645 that these, with several other no less eminent men, began to seek in the so-called · New Philosophy’a refuge from the turmoil of civil war, their scientific symposia being sheltered either in Gresham College or the less dignified retreat of the Bull's Head’Tavern in Cheapside. Their fortunes were destined to expand. Fifteen years later they constituted themselves a society for the promotion of experimental science, and were incorporated by royal charter, July 15, 1662.

Thus the Solomon's House of the New Atlantis' received a 'local habitation’ in Bishopsgate Street, and Bacon's splendid

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

* Weld, ' History of the Royal Society,' vol. i. p 51.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

fable was brought to the test of actual, if only partial, embodia, ment in a living institution. Nothing can be more evident than the enormous influence exercised by the incomparable • Verulam 'over the founders of the Royal Society. Not only were his praises celebrated amongst them, but his precepts were, as far as possible, obeyed by them. Their foreign correspondents acted the part of the merchants of light' appointed to enrich the Island of Bensalem with the knowledge of other lands. The 'mystery-men,' dowry-men,' pioneers,' and compilers' of Solomon's House had all their representatives amongst the learned knot,' who designed

To make themselves a corporation

And know all things by demonstration.* Their offices, it is true, were not so sharply defined, nor the division of labour so strictly enforced, as in the ideal College

of the Six Days' Works ; : but the Actual never fails to blur the dividing lines of the Imaginary. What it is important to observe is that Bacon's Prophetic Scheme' did in truth kindle the fancy of the generation which succeeded him, and that his maxims swayed their purposes. What it is equally important to observe is that, in so far as they followed his method in its larger bearings, they were on the track of discovery, and already began to pick up stragglers from the great army of discoverable truths; but the moment they descended to particulars, and took him, as it were, at his word, they found themselves in a cul-de-sac. It was as if an astronomer, not content with imparting a means of taking the longitude, should attempt to prescribe rules for managing the ship, and the sailors, finding that flapping sails and fouled rigging invariably followed upon a literal compliance, should finally come to the conclusion to steer their course on scientific principles, but handle the ropes as nautical experience might suggest.

What then is the truth as regards the vexed question of Bacon's influence on the progress of science? We take it to be this. His capacious imagination enabled him to grasp, and his vast powers enabled him to guide, a movement which he had not originated. He caught up the floating ideas of his time, spread them abroad by his eloquence, sank them deep by his enthusiasm, gave them universality and consistence by his sagacity, and thus not_unworthily earned the title of the Father of the Inductive Philosophy: It must be confessed, indeed, that the great · Secretary of Nature' was entirely

MS. verses signed W. G’quoted by Weld, “History of Royal Society,' vol. i. p. 79.

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

deficient in what we may call official training. His lucid thoughts and splendid diction were not coupled with exact knowledge or scientific experience. He was innocent of mathematics. He was grossly ignorant of astronomy. He knew nothing of Kepler. He despised Galileo. He passed over in silence the most fruitful discovery in physiological, and the most striking invention in numerical, science that had been made since the world began, although both were made in his own time. He ranked among the idols' besetting the human mind that orderly instinct which recommends, primâ facie, the harmonious simplicity of the Copernican hypothesis in preference to the outrageous complexity of the Ptolemaic system. He cumbered his phraseology and confused his argument by the adoption into physical reasoning of the metaphysical abstractions of the schools, and weakened his philosophy by the rejection of their deepest wisdom.

Bacon was in truth the English representative of that abortive but brilliant school of thought to which belonged Ramus, Patricius, and Bruno. His relations were far closer with the Cosentine than with the Lyncean Academy. As far as he was the disciple of any man, he was the disciple of Telesius, its founder. Although his name was commonly associated

. with that of the Tuscan astronomer as inventor of the philosophy of nature, he was in reality the English Campanella rather than the English Galileo. He was Campanella with a sounder understanding, a deeper insight, and a larger humanity. To Campanella's prophetic zeal he united incomparable practical sagacity. He not only preached a millennium of universal knowledge, but endeavoured to guide men's halting footsteps towards the goal, and to bridge the gulf between the future towards which he pointed and the present to which he belonged. Hence his profound and persistent design was to establish a method, not to found a school. The message that he had it in him to deliver related to men's works, not to their thoughts. His speculative teaching not only was subordinate to his physical precepts, but was suggested by them ; and displays the characteristic defects due to such an origin.

Thus his intellectual progeny divided itself into two classes —those who developed the philosophical principles implied rather than professed in his writings, and those who adopted, or endeavoured to adopt, the scientific method of which the • Novum Organum'exhibits the majestic torso. Among the first we reckon Hobbes, Locke, and Hume in this country, and abroad, Bayle, Condillac, and the Encyclopedists—all of whom, while setting themselves problems which Bacon had

« ForrigeFortsett »