CHAPTER IX. SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE AMONG THE ROMANS.
[Wonders of modern science.]
[Every great age distinguished for something never afterwards equaled.]
It would be absurd to claim for the ancients any great attainments in science, such as they made in the field of letters or the realm of art. It is in science, especially when applied to practical life, that the moderns show their great superiority to the most enlightened nations of antiquity. In this great department, modern genius shines with the lustre of the sun. It is this which most strikingly attests the advance of society, which makes their advance a most incontestible fact. It is this which has distinguished and elevated the races of Europe more triumphantly than what has resulted from the combined energies of Greeks and Romans in all other departments combined. With the magnificent discoveries and inventions of the last three hundred years in almost every department of science, - especially in physics, in the explorations of distant seas and continents, in the analysis of chemical compounds, in the explanation of the phenomena of the heavens, in the wonders of steam and electricity, in mechanical appliance to abridge human labor or destroy human life, in astronomical researches, in the miracles which inventive genius has wrought, - seen in our ships, our manufactories, our wondrous instruments, our printing-presses, of our observatories, our fortifications, our laboratories, our mills, our machines to cultivate the earth, to make our clothes, to build our houses, to multiply our means of offense and defense, to make weak children do the work of Titans, to measure our time with the accuracy of the orbit of the planets, to use the sun itself in perpetuating our likenesses to distant generations, to cause a needle to guide the mariner with assurance on the darkest night, to propel a heavy ship against the wind and tide without oars or sails, to make carriages ascend mountains without horses at the rate of thirty miles an hour, to convey intelligence with the speed of lightning from continent to continent, under oceans that ancient navigators never dared to cross; these and other wonders attest an ingenuity and audacity of intellect which would have overwhelmed with amazement the most adventurous of Greeks and the most potent of Romans. The achievements of modern science settle forever the question as to the advance of society and the superiority of modern times over those of the most favored nations of antiquity. But the great discoveries and inventions to which we owe this marked superiority are either accidental or the result of generations of experiment, assisted by an immense array of ascertained facts from which safe inductions can be made. It is not, probably, the superiority of the Teutonic races over the Greeks and Romans to which we may ascribe the wonderful advance of modern society, but the particular direction which genius was made to take. Had the Greeks given the energy of their minds to mechanical forces as they did to artistic creations, they might have made wonderful inventions. But it was so ordered by Providence. Nor was the world in that stage of development when this particular direction of intellect would have been favored. There were some things which the Greeks and Romans exhausted, some fields of labor and thought in which they never have been, and, perhaps, never will be, surpassed; and some future age may direct its energies into channels which are as unknown to us as clocks and steam-engines were to the Greeks. This is the age of mechanism and of science, and mechanism and science sweep every thing before them, and will probably be carried to their utmost capacity and development. Then the human mind may seek some new department, some new scope for energies, and a new age of wonders may arise, - perhaps after the present dominant races shall have become intoxicated with the greatness of their triumphs and have shared the fate of the old monarchies of the East. But I would not speculate on the destinies of the European nations, whether they are to make indefinite advances, until they occupy and rule the whole world, or are destined to be succeeded by nations as yet undeveloped, - savages, as their fathers were when Rome was in the fullness of material wealth and grandeur. We know nothing of the future. We only know that all nations are in the hands of God, who setteth up and pulleth down according to his infinite wisdom.
I have shown that in the field of artistic excellence, in literary composition, in the arts of government and legislation, and even in the realm of philosophical speculations, the ancients were our schoolmasters, and that among them were some men of most marvelous genius, who have had no superiors among us.
[The ancients deficient in the application of science.]
But we do not see the exhibition of genius in what we call science, at least in its application to practical life. It would be difficult to show any department of science which the ancients carried to any degree of perfection. Nevertheless, there were departments in which they made noble attempts, and in which they showed considerable genius, even if they were unsuccessful in great practical results.
[Labors of the ancients in astronomy.]