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“ A just story of learning, containing the antiquities and originals of KNOWLEDGES, and their sects; their inventions, their diverse administrations and managings; their flourishings, their oppositions, decays, depressions, oblivions, removes ; with the causes and occasions of them, and all other events concerning learning, throughout all ages of the world ; I may truly affirm to be wanting.
* The use and end of which work I do not so much design for curiosity, or satisfaction of those that are the lovers of learning : but chiefly for a more serious and grave purpose ; which is this, in few words—that it will make learned men more wise in the use and administration of learning."
BACON, Advancement of Learning, book ii.
[T is my purpose to write the History of some of the most im
portant of the Physical Sciences, from the earliest to the most recent periods. I shall thus have to trace some of the most remarkable branches of human knowledge, from their first germ to their growth into a vast and varied assemblage of undisputed truths; from the acute, but fruitless, essays of the early Greek Philosophy, to the comprehensive systems, and demonstrated generalizations, which compose such sciences as the Mechanics, Astronomy, and Chemistry, of modern times.
The completeness of historical view which belongs to such a design, consists, not in accumulating all the details of the cultivation of each science, but in marking the larger features of its formation. The historian must endeavor to point out how each of the important advances was made, by which the sciences have reached their present position; and when and by whom each of the valuable truths was obtained, of which the aggregate now constitutes a costly treasure.
Such a task, if fitly executed, must have a well-founded interest for all those who look at the existing condition of human knowledge with complacency and admiration. The present generation finds itself the heir of a vast patrimony of science; and it must needs concern us to know the steps by which these possessions were acquired, and the documents by which they are secured to us and our heirs forever. Our species, from the time of its creation, has been travelling onwards in pursuit of truth; and now that we have reached a lofty and commanding position, with the broad light of day around us, it must be grateful to look back on the line of our vast progress ;—to review the journey, begun in early twilight amid primeval wilds; for a long time continued with slow advance and obscure prospects; and gradually and in later days followed along more open and lightsome paths, in a wide and fertile region. The historian of science, from early periods to the present times, may hope for favor on the score of the mere subject of his narrative, and in virtue of the curiosity which the men
of the present day may naturally feel respecting the events and persons of his story.
But such a survey may possess also an interest of another kind; it may be instructive as well as agreeable; it may bring before the reader the present form and extent, the future hopes and prospects of science, as well as its past progress. The eminence on which we stand may enable us to see the land of promise, as well as the wilderness through which we have passed. The examination of the steps by which our ancestors acquired our intellectual estate, may make us acquainted with our expectations as well as our possessions ;-may not only remind us of what we have, but may teach us how to improve and increase our store. It will be universally expected that a History of Inductive Science should point out to us a philosophical distribution of the existing body of knowledge, and afford us some indication of the most promising mode of directing our future efforts to add to its extent and completeness.
To deduce such lessons from the past history of human knowledge, was the intention which originally gave rise to the present work. Nor is this portion of the design in any measure abandoned; but its execution, if it take place, must be attempted in a separate and future treatise, On the Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences. An essay of this kind may, I trust, from the progress already made in it, be laid before the public at no long interval after the present history.'
Though, therefore, many of the principles and maxims of such a work will disclose themselves with more or less of distinctness in the course of the history on which we are about to enter, the systematic and complete exposition of such principles must be reserved for this other treatise. My attempts and reflections have led me to the opinion, that justice cannot be done to the subject without such a division of it.
To this future work, then, I must refer the reader who is disposed to require, at the outset, a precise explanation of the terms which occur in
my title. It is not possible, without entering into this philosophy, to explain adequately how science which is IndUCTIVE differs from that which is not so; or why some portions of knowledge may properly be selected from the general mass and termed SCIENCE. It will be sufficient at present to say, that the sciences of which we have
* The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences was published shortly after the present work.
nere to treat, are those which are commonly known as the Physical Sciences, and that by Induction is to be understood that process of collecting general truths from the examination of particular facts, by which such sciences have been formed.
There are, however, two or three remarks, of which the application will occur so frequently, and will tend so much to give us a clearer. view of some of the subjects which occur in our history, that I will state them now in a brief and general manner.
Facts and Ideas. In the first place then, I remark, that, to the formation of science, two things are requisite ;-Facts and Ideas ; observation of Things without, and an inward effort of Thought; or, in other words, Sense and Reason. Neither of these elements, by itself, can constitute substantial general knowledge. The impressions of sense, unconnected by some rational and speculative principle, can only end in a practical acquaintance with individual objects; the operations of the rational faculties, on the other hand, if allowed to go on without a constant reference to external things, can lead only to empty abstraction and barren ingenuity. Real speculative knowledge demands the combination of the two ingredients ;-right reason, and facts to reason upon. It has been well said, that true knowledge is the interpretation of nature; and therefore it requires both the interpreting mind, and nature for its subject; both the document, and the ingenuity to read it aright. Thus invention, acuteness, and connection of thought, are necessary on the one hand, for the progress of philosophical knowledge; and on the other hand, the precise and steady application of these faculties to facts well known and clearly conceived. It is easy to point out instances in which science has failed to advance, in consequence of the absence of one or other of these requisites ; indeed, by far the greater part of the course of the world, the history of most times and most countries, exhibits a condition thus stationary with respect to knowledge. The facts, the impressions on the senses, on which the first successful attempts at physical knowledge proceeded, were as well known long before the time when they were thus turned to account, as at that period. The motions of the stars, and the effects of weight, were familiar to man before the rise of the Greek Astronomy and Mechanics : but the “diviner mind” was still absent ; the act of thought had not been exerted, by which these facts were bound together under the form of laws and principles. And even at
: For the Antithesis of Facts and Ideas, see the Philosophy, book i. ch. 1, 2, 4, 5.