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2.-THE INFLUENCE OF SCIENCE ON THE WELLBEING AND PROGRESS OF SOCIETY.
HERSCHEL. [SIR JOHN HERSCHEL, the author of a • Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy,' (forming a volume of Lardner's Cyclopædia,) from which the following · Half-hour' is extracted, stands at the head of the men of science of our own times. This is not the place to enlarge upon his eminent merits as a philosopher; but he claims especial regard from us, and from our readers, as being amongst the ablest and most generous of advocates for the Diffusion of Knowledge. We cannot forbear the pleasure of quoting a beautiful passage from an 'Address to the Subscribers to the Windsor and Eton Public Library,' delivered by him in 1833,-a period when many eminent men believed, or affected to believe, that the people might be over-instructed. We give this as a fit introduction to a course of general reading, not selected for a class,--not diluted or mangled in the belief that the great body of readers have depraved intellectual appetites and weak digestions, but taken from the best and the highest works in all literature, gems from the rich treasury of instruction and amusement which the master minds of the world, and especially of our own nation, have heaped up for an exhaustless and imperishable store :
“ If I were to pray for a taste which should stand me in stead under every variety of circumstances, and be a source of happiness and cheerfulness to me through life, and a shield against its ills, however things might go amiss, and the world frown upon me, it would be a taste for reading. I speak of it of course only as a worldly advantage, and not in the slightest degree as superseding or derogating from the higher office and surer and stronger panoply of religious principles -but as a taste, an instrument, and a mode of pleasurable gratification. Give a man this taste, and the means of gratifying it, and you can hardly fail of making a happy man, unless, indeed, you put into his hands a most perverse selection of books. You place him in contact with the best society in every period of history - with the wisest, the wittiest---with the tenderest, the bravest, and the purest characters that have adorned humanity. You make him a denizen of all nations —a contemporary of all ages. The world has been created for him. It is hardly possible but the character should take a higher and better tone from the constant habit of associating in thought with a class of thinkers, to say the least of it, above the average of humanity. It is morally impossible but that the manners should take a tinge of good breeding and civilization from having constantly before one's eyes the way in which the best bred and the best-informed men have talked and conducted themselves in their intercourse with each other. There is a gentle, but perfectly irresistible coercion in a habit of reading, well directed, over the whole tenor of a man's character and conduct, which is not the less effectual because it works insensibly, and because it is really the last thing he dreams of. It cannot, in short, be better summed
“Emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros." It civilizes the conduct of men--and suffers them not to remain barbarous.”]
The difference of the degrees in which the individuals of a great community enjoy the good things of life has been a theme of declamation and discontent in all ages; and it is doubtless our paramount duty, in every state of society, to alleviate the pressure of the purely evil part of this distribution as much as possible, and, by all the means we can devise, secure the lower links in the chain of society from dragging in dishonour and wretchedness: but there is a point of view in which the picture is at least materially altered in its expression. In comparing society on its present immense scale, with its infant or less developed state, we must at least take care to enlarge every feature in the same proportion. If, on comparing the very lowest states in civilized and savage life, we admit a difficulty in deciding to which the preference is due, at least in every superior grade we cannot hesitate a moment; and if we institute a similar comparison in every different stage of its progress, we cannot fail to be struck with the rapid rate of dilatation which every degree upward of the scale, so to speak, exhibits, and which, in an estimate of averages, gives an immense preponderance to the present over every former condition of mankind, and, for aught we can see to the contrary, will place succeeding generations in the same degree of superior relation to the present that this holds to those passed away. Or we may put the same proposition in other words, and, admitting the existence of every inferior grade of advantage in a higher state of civilization which subsisted in the preceding, we shall find, first, that, taking state for state, the proportional numbers of those who enjoy the higher degrees of advantage increases with a constantly accelerated rapidity as society advances; and, secondly, that the superior extremity of the scale is constantly enlarging by the addition of new degrees. The condition of a European Prince is now as far superior, in the command of real comforts and conveniences, to that of one in the middle ages, as that to the condition of one of his own dependants.
The advantages conferred by the augmentation of our physical resources through the medium of increased knowledge and improved art, have this peculiar and remarkable property,—that they are in their nature diffusive, and cannot be enjoyed in any exclusive manner by a few. An eastern despot may extort the riches and monopolize the art of his subjects for his own personal use; he may spread around him an unnatural splendour and luxury, and stand in strange and preposterous contrast with the general penury and discomfort of his people ; he may glitter in jewels of gold and raiment of needle-work; but the wonders of well contrived and executed manufacture which we use daily, and the comforts which have been invented, tried, and improved upon by thousands, in every form of domestic convenience, and for every ordinary purpose of life, can never be enjoyed by him. To produce a state of things in which the physical advantages of civilized life can exist in a high degree, the stimulus of increasing comforts and constantly elevated desires must have been felt by millions; since it is not in the power of a few individuals to create that wide demand for useful and ingenious applications, which alone can lead to great and rapid improvements, unless backed by that arising from the speedy diffusion of the same advantages among the mass of mankind.
If this be true of physical advantages, it applies with still greater force to intellectual. Knowledge can neither be adequately cultivated nor adequately enjoyed by a few; and although the conditions of our existence on earth may be such as to preclude an abundant supply of the physical necessities of all who may be born, there is no such law of nature in force against that of our intellectual and moral wants. Knowledge is not, like food, destroyed by use, but rather augmented and perfected. It requires not, perhaps, a greater certainty, but at least a confirmed authority and a probable duration, by universal assent; and there is no body of knowledge so complete, but that it may acquire accession, or so free from error but that it may receive correction in passing through the minds of millions. Those who admire and love knowledge for its own sake ought to wish to see its elements made accessible to all, were it only that they may be the
more thoroughly examined into, and more effectually developed in their consequences, and receive that ductility and plastic quality which the pressure of minds of all descriptions, constantly moulding them to their purposes, can alone bestow. But to this end it is necessary that it should be divested, as far as possible, of artificial difficulties, and stripped of all such technicalities as tend to place it in the light of a craft and a mystery, inaccessible without a kind of apprenticeship. Science, of course, like every thing else, has its own peculiar terms, and, so to speak, its idioms of language; and these it would be unwise, were it even possible, to relinquish: but every thing that tends to clothe it in a strange and repulsive garb, and especially everything that, to keep up an appearance of superiority in its professors over the rest of mankind, assumes an unnecessary guise of profundity and obscurity, should be sacrificed without mercy. Not to do this, is to deliberately reject the light which the natural unencumbered good sense of mankind is capable of throwing on every subject, even in the elucidation of principles : but where principles are to be applied to practical uses it becomes absolutely necessary; as all mankind have then an interest in their being so familiarly understood, that no mistakes shall arise in their application.
The same remark applies to arts. They cannot be perfected till their whole processes are laid open, and their language simplified and rendered universally intelligible. Art is the application of knowledge to a practical end. If the knowledge be merely accumulated experience, the art is empirical; but if it be experience reasoned upon and brought under general principles, it assumes a higher character, and becomes a scientific art. In the progress of mankind from barbarism to civilized life, the arts necessarily precede science. The wants and cravings of our animal constitution must be satisfied; the comforts, and some of the luxuries, of life must exist. Something must be given to the vanity of show, and more to the pride of power: the round of baser pleasures must have been tried and found insufficient; before intellectual ones can gain a footing; and when they have obtained it, the delights of poetry and its sister arts still take precedence of contemplative enjoyments, and the severer pursuits of thought; and when these in time begin to charm from their novelty, and sciences begin to arise, they will at first be those of pure speculation. The mind delights to escape from the trammels which had bound it to
earth, and luxuriates in its newly found powers. Hence, the abstractions of geometry—the properties of numbers—the movements of the celestial spheres—whatever is abstruse, remote, and extramundane-become the first objects of infant science. Applications come late: the arts continue slowly progressive, but their realm remains separated from that of science by a wide gulf which can only be passed by a powerful spring. They form their own language and their own conventions, which none but artists can understand. The whole tendency of empirical art is to bury itself in technicalities, and to place its pride in particular short cuts and mysteries known only to adepts ; to surprise and astonish by results, but conceal processes. The character of science is the direct contrary. It delights to lay itself open to inquiry; and is not satisfied with its conclusions, till it can make the road to them broad and beaten: and in its applications it preserves the same character; its whole aim being to strip away all technical mystery, to illuminate every dark recess, with a view to improve them on rational principles. It would seem that a union of two qualities almost opposite to each other--a going forth of the thoughts in two directions, and a sudden transfer of ideas from a remote station in one to an equally distant one in the other-is required to start the first idea of applying science. Among the Greeks, this point was attained by Archimedes, but attained too late, on the eve of that great eclipse of science which was destined to continue for nearly eighteen centuries, till Galileo in Italy, and Bacon in England, at once dispelled the darkness: the one, by his inventions and discoveries; the other, by the irresistible force of his arguments and eloquence.
Finally, the improvement effected in the condition of mankind by advances in physical science as applied to the useful purposes of life, is very far from being limited to their direct consequences in the more abundant supply of our physical wants, and the increase of our comforts. Great as these benefits are, they are yet but steps to others of a still higher kind. The successful results of our experiments and reasonings in natural philosophy, and the incalculable advantages which experience, systematically consulted and dispassionately reasoned on, has conferred in matters purely physical, tend of necessity to impress something of the well weighed and progressive character of science on the more complicated conduct of our social and moral relations. It is thus that legislation and politics become gradually regarded as experi