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SCIENCE AND CULTURE J. L. SYNGE" T HERE is a monkey-like curiosity in a man- of science which does not elevate him in the opinion , of his cultured fellows. I have before me in two volumes the Works of an ancestor of mine who died in ' 1805: to pick a few titles, we find "De Sectionibus Conicis," "An Attempt to prove the Existence of the Supreme unoriginated Being," "On the Power 'of fixed Alkaline Salts to preserve the Flesh of Animals from Putrefaction," "Of Gravity, or the Attraction of Gravita~ tion." In one who was a Professor of Natural Philosophy , a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a Bishop, the range is not too varied-for the eighte,enth cen tury. When our descendants in the year 2100 pick over the yellowed memoirs of the present generation, will they also view them with the irreverent grin which the immediate association of Conic Sections, the Supreme Being, Putrefaction , and Gravitation brings to our faces? What solemn things are we doing which to our descendan ts of that date will be a source of mirth by us unthought of? Perh,aps the paper of. the present day will not last till then, or perhaps our descendants will not, but if they do, in all our endeavours we risk the distan t tinkle of posthumous laughter. As another sample of the eighteenth century, let us turn to a curious little book entitled "Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy Explain'd for the Use of the Ladies. In ~ix Dialogues on Light and Colours. 'From the I talian of Sig. Algarotti. Volume 1. London: 1739." These dialogues take place between the author and a fictitious lnarchioness, of whom the following pleasant description 1S gIven: 348 SCIENCE AND CULTURE To the charms of wit, and the most polite imagination she joined an uncommon strength of judgment, and to the most refined sentiments a learned curiosity. Superior to the rest of her sex, without being solicitous to appear so, she could talk of ornament and dress whenever there was occasion for it, and ask proper questions upon more important subjects., A natur~l negligence, an easy unaffectedness imbellished all she said. She had beauty enough to gain her consort many friends, and was judicious enough not to shew anyone a particular regard, and these accomplishments being seldom found united except in books and the imagination of authors, is the reason, I believe, that learning in ladies does not meet with so universal an applause from the world as their beauty. Tvvo further quotations, of which the first is worthy of perpetuation for its own sake, will show the tenor of the book: The mathematicians, answered I, are said to resemble lovers. If what you grant them at first be ever so little, they know how to make so good an advantage of it, as to lead you insensibly f~rther than you ever imagined. These refractions of the rays of light which were known though very imperfectly to the Antients, and to the consideration of which we in great measure owe the perfection of Astronomy, are the cause of an infinite number of strange and amusing phaenomena, which we every day observe; such as objects appearing out of place when viewed ·through a prism, an oar broken in the water, and the surprize of seeing ourselves deformed and crooked when in a bath. This is the very thing, said she, interrupting me, that I lately observed when I was in the bath, and I' was extremely surprized and p~zzled to ·find au t the reason of it. It is nothing else, answer'd I, but the refraction which the rays suffer in passing from air into water. These are relicsof an age that has utterly disappeared. In the eighteenth century Science was a playful girl who whispered of conic sections, putrefaction; and refraction in the ears of bishops and marchionesses. Now she is a stem matron who stands beside the chair in every council of war or industry. Upon her devotees she has impressed 349 THE UNIVERSITY 'OF TORONTO QUARTERLY a deadly seriousness, a puritanic in~ensity which turns scientists collectively, and (alas) often individually...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 348-358
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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