« PreviousContinue »
tions during this period than any other. Those who had most influence in bringing into vogue this branch of physical science, and conferring upon it that importance and extent which it has gained, are SCHEELE, KLAPROTH, LAVOISIER; and PRIESTLEY.
Upon a review of the foregoing sheets, it may also be remarked, that the physical sciences, during the period in question, appear to have been cultivated with unusual ardour in particular coun: tries. In Mechanical and Mathematical Philosophy, it is not easy to say to which of the scientific nations of Europe the palm of superiority ought to be awarded. In Chemistry, France is doubtless entitled to the first place. After her, Germany, Great-Britain, &c. follow in comparative merit. In Natural History, the different nations may be represented as standing in the following rank. First France, second Germany, third Sweden, fourth Great-Britain, fifth Switzerland, Italy, &c. &c. In Medicine, Great-Britain, beyond all doubt, has long held the first place, though it must be acknowledged, that the progress of medical science in France, Germany, and the United States, towards the close of the century, deserves to be noticed as very remarkable and promising. In Geography, Great-Britain and France must divide the larger portion of the mass of honours between them. "In Agriculture, the highest praise is un. questionably due to Great-Britain. · And in all those scientific researches which bear upon Arts, Manufactures, and Economy, the last mentioned country must also be pronounced to stand first in order.
3. The eighteenth century may, with propriety, be styled, THE AGE OF ECONOMICAL SCIENCE.
In all preceding ages, science, and the economical arts were too generally viewed as unconnected. The philosopher thought it beneath his dignity to direct his inquiries to the aid of the mechanic, and to the various details of public and domestic economy; and the mechanic and economist had been taught to consider the inquiries of the philosopher as mere curious speculations, with which the prac, tical concerns of life had little to do. The eighteenth century has produced a signal revolution, both in the aspect of scientific investigations, and in the state of public opinion on this subject. Philosophy has assumed a more practical and useful form. The artist and the philosopher have learned to go hand in hand. Many modern discoveries, in different branches of science, and especially in Natural Philosophy and Chemistry, while they gratify liberal curiosity, and give pleasure to the man of speculation, have also rendered essential service to the Mechanic arts, to Agriculture, to Medicine, to domestic economy, and, in general, to the abridgement of labour, and to the more easy and cheap preparation of the various comforts and elegancies of life. It would be easy to give a catalogue of economical philosophers of the eighteenth century, who were never equalled by any of preceding times. To mention no more, our illustrious countryman, Count RUMFORD, at the close of this period, presented to the world an example of practical science, of which we shall perhaps search in vain for a parallel in the history
4. The last century may also, in a peculiar and distinguishing sense, be called THE AGE OF EXPE
The mode of pursuing knowledge, by observation, experiment, analysis, and an induction of facts, though not absolutely begun by Lord BACON, was, for the first time, employed to any considerable extent by that enlightened philosopher. The influence of his example in this respect, in the sixteenth century, in which he lived, was comparatively small. In the seventeenth, his plan of philosophizing was more frequently adopted. But in the eighteenth, it obtained an ascendency and prevalence never before known in the history of science. Never were there so many heads and hands at work, to develope the arcana of nature, to investigate her laws, and to bring former principles, as far as possible, to the test of
weight, measurement, and vision. The amount of experiments of different kinds, and instituted for different purposes, laid before the public, within this period, by individuals, and by learned societies, forms a mass of stupendous extent, and presents one of the most prominent features of the age.
These remarks apply almost exclusively to the physical sciences; for there is too much reason to -suppose, as will be afterwards shown, that, in the philosophy of the human mind, and especially of human duty, the prevailing character of the age, and particularly of the latter part of it, has been that of vain speculation and fantastic theory, rather than of principles dictated by sober and enlightened experience. But in the physical sciences, amidst much false theory, such an immense variety and amount of facts and experiments have been laid before the public, as eminently to distinguish the eighteenth from all preceding centuries.
5. The last age was remarkably distinguished by REVOLUTIONS IN SCIENCE. Theorists were more numerous than in any former period, their systems more diversified, and revolutions followed each other in more rapid succession. In almost every department of science, changes of fashion, of doctrine, and of authority, have trodden so closely on the heels of each other, that merely to remember and enumerate them would be an arduous.task.
The frequency and rapidity of scientific revolutions may be accounted for in various ways. The extraordinary diffusion of knowledge; the swarms of inquirers and experimenters every where abounding; the unprecedented degree of intercourse which men of science enjoyed; and, of consequence, the thorough and speedy investigation which every new theory was accustomed to receive, all led to the successive erection and demolition of more ingenious and splendid fabrics than ever previously, within the same compass of time, passed before the view of man.
The rapid succession of discoveries, hypotheses, theories and systems, while it has served to keep the scientific world more than ever awake and busy, has done mischief by perplexing the mind with too many objects of attention, and by ren-dering the labour of the student more extensive, difficult, and tedious. If, in the seventeenth century, the inquirer had reason to complain, that the shifting aspect of science rendered necessary the most unremitting vigilance, and an endless repetition of his toil, this complaint might have been urged with an hundred fold more reason in the eighteenth. The advantages, however, of this state of things may be considered, on the whole, as predominant. The ardour, the competition, and the diligence in the pursuit of knowledge which it has inspired, deserve at once to be recognized as beneficial, and to be noticed as distinguishing characteristics of the age.
6. The last century is pre-eminently entitled to the character of THE AGE OF PRINTING, nerally known, that this art is but little more than three centuries old. Among the ancients, the difficulty and expense of multiplying copies of works of reputation were so great, that few made the attempt; and the author who wished to submit his compositions to the public, was under the neçessity of reciting them at some favourable meet. ing of the people. The disadvantages attending yol. II,
It is ge
this state of things were many and great. It repressed and discouraged talents, and rendered the number of readers extremely small. The invention of printing gave a new aspect to literature, and formed one of the most important eras in the history of human affairs. It not only increased the number, and reduced the price of books, but it also furnished authors with the means of laying the fruits of their labours before the public, in the most prompt and extensive manner. Considering this art, moreover, as a great moral and political engine, by which an impression may be made on a large portion of a community at the same time, it assumes a degree of importance highly interesting to the philanthropist, as well as to the scholar.
The extension of this art in the eighteenth century forms one of the leading features of the age. In the sixteenth and seventeeth centuries, especially in the former, printing presses were few, and, of course, publication was by no means easy. The century under review exhibited an immense extension of the art. This extension was not only general, but so great, that the most moderate estimate presents a result truly stupendous. There was probably a thousand fold more printing executed in the course of this century, than in the whole period that had before elapsed since the invention of the art.* The influence of this fact, in increasing the sum of public intelligence, and in keeping the minds of men awake and active, cannot but be noticed by the most superficial observer of the cha
* This will appear a moderate calculation, when it is considered that there is a prodigious increase, not only in the number of new works annually issued from the press, but also in the extent and number of editions constantly demanded by the public. And when to this is added the amount of printing which has been continually going forward, particularly within the last fifty years, in furnishing the whole literary world with such a number and variety of periodical publications, as Reviews, Magazines, Newspapers, &c. the estimate above stated will probably be thought rather to fall below than to exceed the truth.