Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

Page

.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

.

.

.

[ocr errors]

THE

EDINBURGH REVIEW,

JULY, 1880.

No. CCCXI.

Art. 1.-1. The Posthumous Works of Robert Hooke, M.D., F.R.S. With the Author's Life. By RICHARD

WALLER. London : 1705. 2. Micrographia ; or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute

Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses. By ROBERT HOOKE, F.R.S. London: 1664. 3. The Transit of Venus across the Sun. A Translation of the

celebrated Discourse thereupon by the Rev. JEREMIAH Horrox. To which is prefixed a Memoir of his Life and Labours. By the Rev. ARUNDELL BLOUNT WHATTON, B.A., LL.B. London: 1859. THE The seventeenth century must be regarded as the most

memorable in the history of science; our own age has been remarkable for the skilful application of scientific analysis, but it has not produced a Bacon and a Galileo, a Harvey and a Newton. Between 1600 and 1700 theoretical knowledge received an increase far outweighing in importance the sumtotal of what has been achieved between 1700 and the present time. The definitive acceptance of the true theory of the world, and its triumphant establishment on a basis of universal and harmonious law; the constitution of physiology as a science by the great discovery of the circulation of the blood; the vast stride made in mechanics by the clear recognition of the laws of motion; the knowledge of the fundamental truths relating to light and colour; the foundation of the sciences of magnetism, electricity, and chemistry, are all due to that period. The nineteenth century is not more pre-eminent for the invention of mechanical agencies by which the external conditions of human VOL. CLII. NO. CCCXI.

B

life have been revolutionised than the seventeenth for the production of those momentous aids to sense'*—the telescope, microscope, barometer, and thermometer-by which an indefinite series of new worlds have been annexed to the domain of human intelligence. In the abstract region of mathematics, the performances of the epoch under consideration are equally remarkable. By the invention of logarithms, calculation was hardly less expedited than communication has been in our time by the discovery of the electric telegraph; while the differential and integral calculus, through the enormous increase of power conferred by it, might not inappropriately be termed the steam-engine of the intellect. Yet, notwithstanding the utilitarian character of the prevalent philosophy, inventions of practical utility remained comparatively rare; and no advance, corresponding in any degree with that accomplished in science,

was made in the comforts and conveniences of everyday life. Thus, by a singular irony, a generation which sought in its experiments fruit,' found light;' while our own age, which, with the dying Goethe, demands ‘more light,' has received instead · fruit' not always sweet to the taste.

To Englishmen the seventeenth century is rendered of peculiar interest by the circumstance that, during its course, the centre of scientific progress was shifted, through the overwhelming force of genius, from the Continent to this island. When it opened, our countrymen were in the position of disciples; when it closed, they were recognised as the teachers of Europe. The advance made in the interval was enormous. In 1600, Tycho Brahe was still inculcating at Prague the geocentric theory of the universe; Galileo was expounding the * sphere on Ptolemaic principles; Harvey was listening at Padua--the 'Quartier Latin of Venice, as M. Renan has called it—to the cloudy conjectures of Fabricius as to the purpose served by the valves in the veins. In 1700, the

Principia’ had been for thirteen years the common property of mankind; Newton was acknowledged as the arbiter of science by the greater part of the civilised world ; the principles of mechanics were settled on the same footing on which they stand to-day; and the last cavil against the innovation of the Folkestone physician had long ago been forgotten. We propose, in the following pages, to sketch, in its broader outlines, the movement of thought which led to such great results, and to devote some brief attention to a man whose career was the most conspicuous failure of the century, and who, aspiring to

* Novum Organum, lib. ii, Aph. xxxix.

« ForrigeFortsett »