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Essays in the History of Civilization 


A History of Anesthesia 


Pathfinder in American Science 



7he Life and Work of Copernicus the Astronomer 



Essays in the Jiistory of Civilization 


Associate o/ ll>c Ginm/ic Institution o/ K^J 
TVo/cssor o/ (lie !Hi'sory of Scictiff, 7i(iri>nr(i 



Copyright i 94 8 by Henry Schuman, Inc. 
Manufactured in the I/. S. A. 

Designed by Stefan Sailer and 'Maurice Kaplan 


There is in the making a movement of thought toward a new focus 
in the history of science. Though interrupted by two world wars 
and a great depression, it has been steadily taking shape and gath- 
ering strength. It has drawn to itself a considerable number of our 
more thoughtful scientists, historians, and educators. So far, it has 
spoken the language of scholars. In The Life of Science Library, it 
is beginning to speak the language of lay men and women, girls 
and boys. 

Among the scholars, George Sarton, who holds the chair of the 
History of Science at Harvard University, is respected and loved 
as the leader of the movement. It was he who conceived and fash- 
ioned its two basic tools: the Introduction to the Jiistory of Sci- 
ence, which he has now brought through the fourteenth century, 
and the journal 7s is, with its systematic and critical bibliographies 
of current publications in the field. 

Dr. Sarton has not only led in developing a sound scholarly 
basis for the movement, but he has been the most eloquent voice 
of its ideals as a new form of humanism which is needed to do for 
our time what an older humanism did for the Renaissance. 

Many of the essays in which he has expressed these ideals can 
be read with understanding and enjoyment by the wider circle of 
readers for whom The Life of Science Library is intended. It has 
seemed to the publisher and sponsors of The Life of Science Li- 
brary that its purposes could not be better conveyed than by gath- 
ering together in the present volume a selection from these essays. 

The essays chosen, though far apart in time of composition, are 
united by spirit and intent. They were not planned with a view 
to being collected here. Yet, when read together, they have vir- 
tues a more formal treatment would lack. By their very diversity 
of subject and method, they give the beginner and the layman 


a livelier sense of the range of forms the history of science may 
take, and of the values that may be expected from it. They show 
by varied and lucid examples, both topical and biographical, that 
it is no narrow specialty but a liberating approach to human cul- 
ture as a whole. 

They are linked, moreover, by certain recurring themes : The 
unity of mankind, The unity of knowledge, The international 
character of science , The kinship of artists, saints, and scientists 
as fulfillers of human destiny, as creators and diffusers of spiritual 
values, The history of art, religion, and science as the essential 
history of mankind, which has so far been largely "secret history" , 
Science as progressive in a way in which art and religion are not. 
The dependence of other forms of progress upon scientific prog- 
ress, The history of science as, therefore, the leading thread in 
the history of civilization, the clue to the synthesis of knowledge, 
the mediator between science and philosophy, and the keystone 
of education. The reader learns to recognize and welcome the 
variations on these themes. They end by becoming signposts 
for his own thinking. 

Since reading these essays in proof, I have been turning over 
again the pages of the thirty-eight volumes of 75/5, and re-reading 
Dr. Sarton's contributions to them especially his prefaces. In an 
essay, "The Faith of a Humanist/' which did duty in 1910 as 
preface in Volume III, he quoted a sentence from the classical 
scholar Gilbert Murray: "One might say roughly that material 
things are superseded but spiritual things not; or that everything 
considered as an achievement can be superseded, but considered 
as so much life, not/' Dr. Sarton added : 

It is true that most men of letters, and, I am sorry to add, not a few sci- 
entists, know science only by its material achievements, but ignore its 
spirit and see neither its internal beauty nor the beauty it extracts con- 
tinually from the bosom of nature. Now I would say that to find in the 
works of science of the past, that which is not and cannot be superseded, 
is perhaps the most important part of our quest. A true humanist must 
know the life of science as he knows the life of art and the life of religion. 


When I suggested to my friend Henry Schuman that the phrase 
I have italicized be used as title for the series in which this vol- 
ume appears, I did not have this passage in mind, but it might well 
serve as a motto for the series. 

rjf . .. i . . MAX H. FISCH 

university of J/Jmois 




1 . The Spread of Understanding 3 

2. The History of Medicine versus the History 

of Art 15 

3. The History of Science 29 


4. Secret History 61 

5. Leonardo and the Birth of Modern Science 65 

6. Evariste Galois 83 

7. Ernest Renan 101 

8. Herbert Spencer 116 


9. East and West in the History of Science 1 3 1 


10. An Institute for the History of Science and 

Civilization 169 

1 1 . Casting Bread upon the Face of the Waters 175 


INDEX 191 




"How impatient you are!" He pats my shoulder with his heavy 
hand while he repeats: "How impatient you are!", But his kind 
eyes belie the severity of his voice and he hastens to add, as if 
fearing that he had been too harsh: "Of course that is just as 
it should be. Though they have so much more time before them, 
we must expect the younger people especially full-blooded 
ones to be in more of a hurry, to be less patient. It would be 
a sadder world if the young were tolerant. Yet, listen to me. 
You say the world is out of joint. I have heard that before. Has 
it ever been otherwise? The tree-dwellers and the cave men, I 
am sure, had already denounced the out-of-jointedness of their 
own jungle. So put it that way, if you please, but I believe it is 
wiser to conceive mankind as an organism, as yet undeveloped 
but moving steadily from chaos to order. The progress is very 
slow but undeniable. 

"And should we call it slow? How can we measure its speed? 
Think of it and you will realize that to speak of the slowness 
of evolution is nonsense. What we really mean is that our own 
span of life is very short. We can see but an absurdly small 
part of the play. How dare we criticise it, how dare we decide 
whether the action is slow or not? The great war was terrible 
enough, the wounds it made in millions of hearts may never 
be healed, but who can say how much of a scar it will leave 
on the fair face of the earth? It is considerably easier to de- 
stroy than to build. Why should we expect the reconstruction 
to be completed faster than the devastation? Why should we 
imagine that the world can be transformed or improved, as 
you say within our lifetime? Is that not foolish? . . . The 
world is not out of joint, my dear, but your telescope and your 
clock are out of order." 

Uncle Christiaan is one of the most lovable old gentlemen 



that the generous soil of Flanders has ever produced, but as 
the years go by, he becomes ever more opinionated and more 
tyrannical. Once he is well started, I know that my chances of 
escaping are very small. As he had now made up his mind to 
prove that I was wrong to expect the world to move as if its 
own life were hardly longer than my own, I knew that he would 
not let me go on until he had labored his argument at least ten 
times over and I resigned myself meekly to my fate for I love 
Uncle Christiaan, even if he drives me mad. And then his knowl- 
edge and his wisdom are very great and it is worth while to 
record at least the gist of what he said; but as he is hopelessly 
discursive and as I could not possibly reproduce the saving hu- 
mor of his tone, and his smiles and gestures, it will be best 
to tell the story in my own way. Not one story, but three stories, 
for the old man is nothing if not thorough. As a matter of fact 
he told me seven, and he would have told as many more but 
that I admitted he was right and promised that I would be more 
patient in the future 

7be first Story. One of the greatest discoveries man ever made 
is that of our numerals, but we are so familiar with them that 
we take them .too much for granted. Yet if you begin to think 
it over, is that system not very admirable which enables us 
not simply to write down any number very quickly and with- 
out ambiguity, but also to use those numbers in our computa- 
tions, to manipulate them according to a few fixed rules for 
any length of time, almost mechanically, and to obtain finally 
another number, written in the same short-hand, and represent- 
ing the very result which we had started to find out? 

To be sure, we might have obtained the same result by count- 
ing with pebbles, but that would have consumed far more time. 
It would have been on the whole more difficult, our chances of 
error greater and the errors themselves harder to detect. 

Our system of numerals is not so simple as it seems to be, 
for it involves at least three distinct ideas. To consider first the 


most conspicuous but the least important of them, we use only 
ten symbols to write any number. That is, our system is decimal. 
The beauty of this is that the number of figures is so small. It 
might have been smaller still a system of eight figures would 
have done very well or else, a little larger twelve would have 
made an ideal set but not much larger without sensibly increas- 
ing the difficulty of computations. For in the case of a duodeci- 
mal system, our children would have to learn by rote their table 
of multiplication up to 12, and so on. Why did we choose ten? 
The reason is simply that our ancestors made their family ac- 
counts on their fingers or on their toes, and they happened to 
be, just like ourselves, ten-fingered and ten-toed. Ten thus be- 
came naturally the basis of their numeration. It is true that some 
other people developed other systems : the Babylonians used the 
basis sixty and the Mayas most intelligent of the original Amer- 
icans the basis twenty. However, the basis ten is now almost 
universally used, at least as far as the numbers themselves are 

The second idea is what we now call the principle of local 
value. That is the very heart of this immense discovery. When 
we write 324, for example, we mean to represent a collection 
constituted by 4 units, plus 2 tens, plus 3 hundreds. We know 
at once that the 3 stands for hundreds, for it is written at the 
third place from the right; if it were written at the seventh place, 
it would mean 3 millions. 

The third idea is, so to say, an elaboration of the second : what 
would one do if there were no units of a certain order? How 
should we write three millions and four hundreds, for example? 
One might leave an open space between the 4 and the 3, and 
another between the 3 and a final dot, but that would be very 
ambiguous. Some unknown genius (or, maybe, many) hit upon 
the device of creating a special symbol, the zero, representing 
no number, but to be used only to mark that units of a certain 
order were missing. Thus if we write 3,000,400 there can be 
no misunderstanding. A careful definition of the new symbol 


enabled us to use it exactly as the older ones, without further 
ado. It seems that the Mayas knew the use of it, but they did 
not think of the decimal system. When, then, did the latter, that 
is, the combination of the three ideas, originate? 

It is very probable that it originated in India sometime about 
the fifth or sixth century, if not earlier. The system was already 
known in Western Syria about 662. The Moslems who trans- 
mitted Greek, Hindu and Iranian knowledge to the Christian 
West introduced also the new numerals (which are often called 
Arabic numerals because of that). Yet it took the West a very 
long time to understand and to assimilate them. The earliest coin 
bearing the Hindu numerals is one with an Arabic legend struck 
in 1138 to commemorate the reign of Roger of Sicily. But the 
conditions obtaining in Sicily, where Byzantines, Latins and 
Moslems met on an equal footing, were too exceptional to be 
representative of Western Europe. However, by the end of the 
twelfth century a small lite was apparently familiar with the new 
system. Their format and final introduction was due to Leonardo 
of Pisa, who published in 1102 a book containing a very clear 
explanation of the Hindu numerals and of the best ways of using 

Mind you, more than six centuries had already passed since 
this discovery and as far as Europe was concerned, this was only 
the beginning, the first satisfactory and successful introduction 
of the subject. At the close of the thirteenth century the bankers 
of Florence were forbidden to use these numerals and we may 
gather that they actually used them, but in the face of a strong 
opposition. The only alternative was the clumsy Roman notation 
which offered a means of writing numbers in a manner unequiv- 
ocal but very unclear; it was altogether out of the question to 
use them for any but the very simplest reckonings. One might say 
that the Roman numerals could be used solely because they were 
not used: all calculations were actually made by some kind of 
abacus or calculating table, and only the results, partial or final, 


were put down in Roman letters, the calculations themselves were 
lost in the sand or vanished with the motions of the counters. 

The heroic period was now long over and the rest of the history 
of our numerals is but one example, among so many others, of the 
difficulty of overcoming the enormous inertia of vested tradi- 
tions. The case is interesting because the new decimal system 
was a time- and labor-saving invention of the first magnitude. 

The Hindus had made to mankind a gift of inestimable value. 
No strings of any kind were attached to it, nor was the sug- 
gested improvement entangled with any sort of religious or philo- 
sophic ideas. Those proposing to use the new numerals were not 
expected to make any disavowal or concession; nor could their 
feelings be hurt in any way. They were asked simply to exchange 
a bad tool for a good one. Yet it was not until the fourteenth and 
fifteenth centuries that the new system was generally accepted in 
Italy, and not until the sixteenth and even the beginning of the 
seventeenth that it was finally established in the rest of civilized 

All counted, more than a millennium had elapsed between the 
discovery and its general acceptance, even in that primary stage. 
In the meanwhile, it is true, the center of civilization had moved 
from Southern Asia to Western Europe, but that had not been the 
cause of the delay. Mountains and seas and even desert plains are 
smaller obstacles to the diffusion of ideas than the unreasonable 
obstinacy of man. The main barriers to overcome are not out- 
side, but inside the brain. 

Second Story (which is very different, and yet not so dif- 
ferent). It is well known that the circulation of the blood in the 
human body was satisfactorily explained for the first time by Wil- 
liam Harvey. The first idea of this discovery occurred to him not 
later than 1616 but he did not publish it until 1628 in a little book 
dealing with the motion of the heart and blood. One is rather sur- 
prised to find that this book did not make more stir; neither did it 
arouse much opposition, at least in England. In France the oppo- 


sition to the new theory was considerable, but even there, and 
bitter as it was, it did not last very long. More happy in this than 
many other forerunners, Harvey was granted a taste of victory 
before his death in 1657. By 1673 his cause was definitely won, 
even in France, and the people who had been his contemporaries 
could witness the complete supremacy of the new doctrine. 

Thus less than half a century had been needed to ensure its tri- 
umph. The speed of this reception is less wonderful, however, 
than the lateness of the discovery itself, for as to Harvey's priority 
there can be no doubt. How is it then that no one anticipated him? 
There was nothing whatever in the nature of this discovery as 
Harvey made it to prevent its being made many centuries be- 
fore : nothing but prejudice. 

Until the time of Harvey, the prevalent conception was that 
promulgated by Galen, more than fourteen centuries earlier. It is 
not easy at all to give a complete account of Galen's ideas, but it 
will suffice to note the following points. According to him, the 
blood was produced in the liver from the materials furnished by 
our food and was then transported to the right half of the heart. 
Some of it passed into the left half, where it was imbued with 
new properties, and became fit to nourish the whole body. To use 
Galenic language, the blood of the right heart was endowed with 
"natural spirits/' that of the left heart with "vital spirits/' The lat- 
ter blood was thus essentially different from the former. They did 
not circulate in the body, but both moved in a ceaseless ebb and 
flow, each in its own domain. But how did the blood pass from the 
right to the left ventricle? To explain the impossible, Galen had 
been obliged to assume that it passed through innumerable in- 
visible pores in the solid wall which divides the right heart from 
the left. Nobody ever detected these pores for they are not simply 
invisible but nonexistent. Yet Galen, supreme pontiff of Greel 
medicine, and nine centuries later Avicenna, the infallible medical 
pope of the middle ages, had spoken ex cathedra with such indis- 
putable authority that this gratuitous assumption was generally 
taken for gospel. 


Even a man like Leonardo da Vinci, endowed with so much 
genius and originality, and who had himself dissected a large num- 
ber of bodies and examined very minutely many a heart, even he 
was subjugated by this intangible dogma. This is the more pa- 
thetic in that Leonardo was certainly on the scent of the true ex- 
planation, but the invisible holes were too sacred to be touched, 
and nothing but this prejudice caused his failure to discover and 
to proclaim the circulation of the blood. 

When I shut my eyes and evoke the past, I imagine that this 
great discovery was enclosed in a chest of which intelligent ob- 
servers like Leonardo, Vesalius, Servetus or Columbus could have 
easily found the secret if they had set their hearts upon it, but they 
did not dare approach near enough because Prejudice sat on the 
lid. I can see those great men standing shyly around the coffer, 
mysteriously attracted by it, yet awed into impotence, while Truth 
was prisoner inside. 

A moment of reflection will now convince you that the second 
story is not so widely different from the first as it might appear at 
first view. In both cases the application of a great discovery was 
delayed for more than a millennium by unreasonable prejudices. 
But in the first case the obstruction occurred after the discovery 
and prevented it from becoming effective, while in the second, 
prejudice blocked the way to the discovery itself, preventing it 
from being made. 

The Third Story (which is in some way a secfuel to the first). 
Prince Maurice of Nassau, stathouder of the Low Countries, took 
into his service about the year 1593 a Fleming of considerable 
genius, Simon Stevin of Bruges. He used to refer to him for mathe- 
matical advice and employed him as his chief hydraulic engineer 
and as quartermaster general of his armies. This Stevin has not 
yet received his full meed of recognition, for he certainly was one 
of the greatest men of the sixteenth century. Various important 
discoveries or inventions are ascribed to him and the historian of 
mechanics can quote no greater name for the whole interval (of 


more than eighteen centuries) between Archimedes and Galileo. In 
the year 1585 Stevin published, in both a Dutch and French edi- 
tion, a little booklet entitled J*be 7itbe, wherein he gave for the 
first time a systematic account of decimal fractions. Though he 
was not the first to think of such fractions, he showed such a deep 
understanding and gave such a masterly exposition of them, that 
we will not be far wrong if we call him their inventor. His manner 
of representing them was rather clumsy, however, and that might 
have delayed their diffusion, had this brilliant innovation not been 
reinforced a little later by another invention at least equally im- 
portant, that of the logarithms. The logarithms, like the decimals, 
made it possible to increase considerably the speed of computa- 
tion. It has been justly said that the discovery of logarithms dou- 
bled the lives of the astronomers. They were introduced at the be- 
ginning of the following century (1614, 1619) by John Napier, 
laird of Merchiston, who showed us at the same time a far sim- 
pler method of representing the decimal fractions, the very one we 
use today. The triumph of the logarithms was immediate no 
amount of prejudice could have prevented the astronomers from 
doubling their years! and the decimals shared the triumph as a 
matter of course. But here again our surprise is not that these frac- 
tions were accepted so readily, but that they were offered so late. 
Indeed what did they stand for? Just as the main idea of the 
decimal system was to collect the objects to be counted in tens, 
tens of tens, or hundreds, and so on/ so the gist of the decimal frac- 
tions was to count fragments of unity similarly in tenths, tenths of 
tenths or hundredths, etc. When this was consistently done it was 
found that those fractions could be written and used almost as 
simply as ordinary numbers. The decimal fractions, so to say, 
drove the fractions out of our calculations and the more so that 
one could always suppress them altogether if one wished. If it an- 
noyed you too much to speak of $3.53, you could say, without 
changing a single figure, 353 cents. The decimal fractions are so 
simple that most people handle them without being aware of their 


presence, just as Monsieur Jourdain spoke in prose, without his 
knowing it. 

The most convincing proof of Stevin's genius was perhaps that 
after having explained the decimal fractions, he did not rest there. 
He saw at once the logical consequences of their introduction and 
the immense possibilities which were involved. Decimal numbers 
are naturally introduced when we enumerate objects if we count 
them by tens, but what will happen if our numbers are the result 
not of a direct enumeration, but of a mensuration as when we 
want to know the length of a piece of cloth or the weight of a 
cheese? Then it is clear that we can only obtain the same fractions 
that are included in our instruments. Thus if we deal with feet and 
inches or shillings and pence we are driven to use duodecimal 
fractions which do not at all tally with our decimal system. Stevin 
was the first to realize that the adoption of a decimal system of 
numbers led irresistibly to that of a decimal system of weights 
and measures (and vice versa) and that neither adoption was 
truly complete without the other. To measure according to one 
system and to count according to another destroyed the economy 
of both. 

This great vision of Stevin's was beautifully simple, as simple as 
it was deep, yet it was not embodied until the end of the eighteenth 
century, when the French Revolution created the so-called metric 
system. The idea was accepted by the Assemblee Constituante in 
1790 and the system became legally established in France. During 
the last century it spread all over the world, except, strangely 
enough, in the Anglo-Saxon countries where it met and still 
meets with a resistance, which is the stronger in that it is irra- 
tional. In the fifteenth century, there were still any number of 
learned doctors and professors who claimed that the Roman let- 
ters were much clearer than the Hindu numerals. Was it not much 
simpler to write CCCXLVIII than 348? In the same way, there 
are still many English and American apostles, full of learning, who 
will prove to everybody who will listen that their incongruous sets 
of weights, measures and moneys are much more convenient than 


the metric system! How can they do it? I really don't know, but 
they do it with a fervor only equalled by the paradoxical ab- 
surdity of their plea. A Frenchman needs no fraction but the deci- 
mal,* and these can take care of themselves, so to say; he hardly 
notices them. On the contrary your Englishman uses vigesimal 
fractions if he speaks of pounds sterling and shillings; both Amer- 
icans and Englishmen need duodecimal fractions when dealing 
with feet and inches, and sixteenths to measure in pounds avoir- 
dupois and ounces, and many more varieties each of which seems 
to be entirely independent of the others. The factor ten is about 
the only one absent from his tables of weights and measures, yet 
he clings faithfully to the decimal system of numbers! It looks as 
if after having admitted the superiority of these numbers, his need 
of order had been exhausted and he stopped short, discouraged, 
on the road of improvement. 

When Uncle Christiaan had reached this point of the story 
the story which he was telling in order to instil into my soul the 
noble virtue of patience he became so enraged that he could 
hardly master his feelings or choose his words: ( "Think of it! Try 
to visualize this great discovery made in India about the sixth 
century, perfected in the Low Countries in the sixteenth, com- 
pleted in France at the end of the eighteenth : one of the greatest 
labor-saving discoveries which the human race has ever made. Can 
you imagine that the nations which are in many respects the most 
civilized of our own times have not yet grasped its importance? 
The work of more than ten generations has not sufficed to con- 
vince them with regard to a truth of the simplest and most ob- 
jective kind! 

"It makes me mad to think of the time which the children must 
need to become familiar with those grotesque assortments of 
weights and measures. As if they were not yet sufficiently handi- 

* Except when measuring time and angles, when he uses sexagesimal fractions, because 
the Babylonians wore such a deep rut with respect to these, some four thousand years ago, 
that mankind has not yet been able to extricate itself from it. 


capped by the most erratic spelling of all languages dead or alive. 
Poor children ! It did not matter so much in the past, when they 
had but little to learn, but now that we can not find enough time 
to teach them the essentials, it seems almost criminal to waste 
their attention upon such artificial knowledge. For even if they 
should know all the relations between those measures, and all the 
eccentricities of the English dictionary, and even, if you please, 
the peculiarities of many other languages, would they be able to 
understand the world any better? Certainly not. They might just 
as well have memorized the telephone directory. For example, to 
know that you must spell knee and pronounce nee is no real 
knowledge for it does not teach you anything about the nature of 
things in general or of knees in particular. This gives one at best 
a clearer notion of human perversity; it can give one no knowl- 
edge of nature, no understanding of the cosmos. Poor little chil- 
dren, victims of the insane obstinacy of their elders and of the 
ignorance and lack of imagination of the educators. . . ." 

Uncle Christiaan is so overcome that he will not talk any more. 
It is my turn now to soothe and humor him. Soon he will recover 
his enthusiasm and, maybe, his voice. 

To be sure, in the domain of pure science, progress has now be- 
come far more rapid because the value of discoveries is no longer 
judged by the crowds from an irrational point of view, but by ex- 
perts from a purely technical one. Even the most revolutionary 
theories, such as radioactivity, the quanta, or relativity, are exam- 
ined quietly by a very small body of scientists who are kept con- 
stantly on their guard by mutual criticism and who are expected 
to justify their every opinion. Their verdict, whichever it be, de- 
stroys any irrational obstruction in the egg. Unfortunately such 
improved methods can be used only in the case of problems amen- 
able to a scientific treatment, without any philosophic or senti- 
mental loophole, and which are of sufficient technicality to be 
beyond the reach of meddling people. In the field of technology, 
though so close to that of science, new ideas may be jeopardized 


or their success considerably delayed, by various irrelevant cir- 
cumstances. This explains why the proper launching of an inven- 
tion is so tremendously important. But when it comes to social or 
political problems (not to speak of religious ones) it is almost as 
difficult to obtain a proper appreciation of them as it was in the 
middle ages. Indeed a large number of the non- or half-educated 
people, even of the most enlightened nations, are still intellectually 
in the medieval stage. That is, they are uncritical, unable to judge 
matters dispassionately, unable to disentangle truth from its web 
of prejudice. We should not, in our turn, judge them too severely, 
for even the greatest heroes of truth were not entirely untram- 
melled. It humbles our minds but mollifies our hearts to realize that 
each of them, after having fought gallantly, one after another, the 
errors and the prejudices which lay ambushed along his way, was 
finally checked by some imaginary obstacle which he could not 
overcome, by a last prepossession which he durst not challenge. 




I appreciate the honor of having been invited to deliver this lec- 
ture, and I welcome the opportunity of paying homage to the 
memory of an old friend, who was a distinguished historian and 
did perhaps more than anybody else to promote the cultivation of 
the history of medicine in our country. There is no medical or 
reference library, however small, without a copy cf one of the edi- 
tions of his Introduction to the History of Medicine, and many 
American doctors have derived their knowledge of the subject al- 
most exclusively from it. They were fortunate in having such a 
good source of information, for Garrison's Introduction is, all 
considered, the best one-volume account of the medical past, espe- 
cially the more recent past which concerns more immediately our 


The subject of my lecture was selected on two grounds. Firstly, 
it enabled me to reassess the views formulated in the essay intro- 
ducing Isis t (1912); and secondly, it was a means of showing 
the humanity of Garrison's history. In spite of the lack of space 
(for the evocation of the whole medical past in less than a thou- 
sand pages is somewhat of an adventure) , Garrison always man- 

*The Fielding H. Garrison Lecture, read at the Seventeenth Annual Meeting of the Ameri- 
can Association of the History of Medicine, May 1941. 

t An international journal devoted to the history of science, the official quarterly organ of the 
History of Science Society. 



aged to add the human touch without which history remains hope- 
lessly dull. He thus illustrated his own sensitiveness to the essen- 
tial if elusive values without which our life has no savor and 
hardly deserves to be recorded. 

He was especially sensitive to music: witness his many refer- 
ences to it. These references were of necessity very brief, but I 
shall expand two of them in order to bring forth their rich im- 

I have the reputation of being a hard worker and among the 
physicians listening to me to-day are perhaps many who work as 
hard as I do, or harder still; yet, as compared with the famous 
Dutch physician, Hermann Boerhaave, we are but self-indulging 
weaklings. According to his early biographer, William Burton, 

The mornings and evenings he devoted to study, the intermediate 
part of the day to domestic and public affairs. He used to rise 
during summer at four in the morning, and at five in the winter, 
even in his later years; ten was his usual bed time. In severest win- 
ters he had neither fire nor stove in his study, where he passed the 
three or four first hours of the morning : his application to study 
was greater in the last ten years of his life, than in any space of 
equal duration from the year 1700. When business was over, he 
took the exercise of riding or walking, and when weary revived 
himself with music, his most delightful entertainment; being not 
only a good performer on several instruments, particularly the 
lute, which he accompanied also with his voice, but a good 
theorist likewise in the science, having read the ancient and best 
modern authors on the subject, as appears by the lectures he 
gave on sound and hearing; and during the winter he had once 
a week a concert at his own house, to which by turns were in- 
vited some select acquaintance of both sexes, and likewise pa- 
tients of distinction from other countries. 

His teaching should presumably be understood as a part of 
those "domestic and public affairs" which occupied the inter- 
mediate part of his day. Perhaps he thought, as many scholars do, 
that teaching was not real work but rather an interruption of it. 


And yet he taught a lot, not only clinical medicine and ophthal- 
mology (in 1708, he gave the first special course on that subject), 
but also physics, chemistry and botany! In those days, famous 
professors did not occupy a chair but a whole settee. 

Boerhaave's musical interest must have been deep, for he de- 
voted a special section to it in his autobiography. That section 
(XXII) is very brief (seven words) , but that is of a piece with the 
rest. Boerhaave was too busy a man down to his last day to in- 
dulge in reminiscences. Here it is: 

XXII. Fessus testudinis concentu solabatur lassitudinem. Mu- 
sices amantissimus. 

How eloquent are those few words ! Since I have read them and 
pondered upon them, Boerhaave is more alive to me than he was 
before, and I can almost see him with his "testudo" (not a tortoise 
that, but a lute) relaxing his mind when his duty was done. 


The other story concerns Theodor Billroth (1829-94), one of 
the greatest surgeons of his time; the pioneer of visceral surgery. 
Whatever be his greatness or his shortcomings as a surgeon, we 
shall love him better if we realize that he was a life-long friend of 
Johannes Brahms (1833-97). Brahms and he became very inti- 
mate in Zurich, and when Billroth was called to Vienna, Brahms, 
being a bachelor and without position, followed him there. 
Though they spent much of their time together and often trav- 
elled together, they exchanged a great many letters, of which 331 
are preserved. These letters deal chiefly with musical matters, most 
of Brahms' works being discussed in a friendly fashion. The sur- 
geon's villa in Alsergrund (a suburb of Vienna) became a mu- 
sical center. Indeed, he enjoyed the jus primae noctis over Brahms' 
new creations, and the friends of both masters were given oppor- 
tunities of hearing for the first time some of the masterpieces of 
chamber music. Did they appreciate their privilege? Probably 


not. But we are interested here primarily in the relationship be- 
tween the composer and the doctor, a relationship which is, I 
believe, unique in its intensity. Billroth was a good amateur, a 
clever pianist and a capable viola player much in demand for 
quartets (bless the gentle violists for we need them) . Under the 
combined influence of his scientific studies and of Brahms' conver- 
sations, Billroth devoted more and more thought to the psycho- 
physiological basis of music and gathered a number of notes on 
the subject which were edited after his death under the title '"Wer 
ist musikalisch?" by no less a person than Eduard Hanslick 
(1825-1904). Who remembers Hanslick to-day? Yet he was the 
leading critic of the German world, pontificating for a third of a 
century in the Weue freie Presse, defending with painful iteration 
the canons of "musical beauty" and of the "significant form" 
(beseelte Jorni). He was a member of the 'Brabmsgemeinde 
(Brahms clique) and was the champion of the Schumanns, of 
Brahms, of Dvorak against the JWusife der Zukunft. If Liszt and 
Wagner irritated him so much what would he have thought, I 
wonder, of the musical anarchists of our own days, of the "jazz" 
and "swing," of all the music which seems to be written for the 
spinal cord rather than for the brain? At that time the arch-of- 
fender was Wagner, and I sometimes ask myself whether Hans- 
lick was not right in his distrust of the Wagnerian witchery? His- 
torians discussing our times a few centuries hence will be able to 
discern more clearly than we can the spiritual origins of the pres- 
ent chaos. They will probably recognize Wagner and Nietzsche 
as the leaders in the movement to pull Germany back to the 
Wibelungen level. 


There is considerably more to be said about medicine and 
music, but these two examples must suffice. It is more pleasant to 
talk about that, I think, than to write, for the talking would be less 
deliberate and we could digress more capriciously, and perhaps 


stop talking, to listen to music. For what is the good of talking 
about music? Let us listen. Take the Third piano quartet in C 
minor (op. 60) . When Brahms sent the finished work to Billroth 
in 1874 he wrote: "I am showing you the quartet purely as a curi- 
osity! An illustration as it were, to the last chapter of the man in 
a blue swallow tail and yellow waistcoat. . . ." Or take the two 
'Rhapsodies for piano, dedicated to Frau Elisabeth von Herzogen- 
berg (op. 19, c. 1878). Listen, and remember Billroth's comment: 
"In these two pieces there lingers more of the titanic young 
Brahms than in the last works of his maturity/' Without the 
music itself, either present or remembered, these words are mean- 
ingless, and there is no point in quoting more. 

Let us return to the history of medicine. I am afraid that many 
physicians think of it too much in terms of a list of discoveries 
and achievements. In fact, such lists have been compiled in such a 
dry and impersonal manner that the names of physicians asso- 
ciated with each "item" might almost be replaced by an x f y, or z. 
Such lists are useful, but they are to the history of medicine hardly 
more than a skeleton is to a living body. The skeleton is indispen- 
sable to be sure, but insufficient. 

A mere list of discoveries is a falsification of the history of 
medicine, even from the purely scientific point of view, for such 
a list exaggerates the discontinuities in medical progress. A deeper 
study of almost any discovery reveals that what we call the dis- 
covery is only the final clinching of an argument developed by 
many men throughout a long period of time. However, such a 
list is a far greater falsification from the broad human point of 

The history of science, and in particular the history of medi- 
cine (we can not repeat it too often) is not simply an account of 
discoveries. Its purpose is to explain the development of the scien- 
tific spirit, the history of man's reactions to truth, the history of 
the gradual revelation of truth, the history of the gradual libera- 
tion of our minds from darkness and prejudice. Discoveries are 
evanescent, for they are soon replaced by better ones. The his- 


torian must try not only to describe these evanescent discoveries 
but to find in science that which is timeless. When he does that 
he comes very close to the historian of art. To put it in other 
words, a man's name may be immortalized by his discoveries. 
Perhaps there was nothing else in him deserving of remembrance? 
He may have been a poor sort of man, a man whose mind was as 
sharp and narrow as a knife-edge? Or else the historian betrayed 
him? In so far as a scientist is also an artist, his personality can 
survive, otherwise not. It is the historian's main duty to revive the 
personalities, rather than to enumerate their scientific excres- 
cences. Discoveries may be important, but personalities are in- 
finitely more so. 

The materials investigated by historians of art often are of great 
value to historians of medicine, because artistic traditions are 
likely to be more-tangible than purely scientific ones. This is espe- 
cially true of ancient and mediaeval times, during which the dif- 
fusion of knowledge was necessarily difficult and erratic. Beautiful 
monuments had on the whole a better chance of survival than 
others, and their language is easier to understand, even to-day. 
Dr. Sigerist has given remarkable examples of the mutual aid of 
the history of medicine and the history of art in his lecture, 'The 
historical aspect of art and medicine/' Remember his pictorial his- 
tory of the plague, and his account of the transformation of Apollo 
into St. Sebastian, both being saviors or intercessors in times of 

Such examples might easily be multiplied and a balanced ex- 
planation of them would enrich, as well as fortify, our traditions. 
I have adumbrated some of them in the first volume of Jsi's 
apropos of the history of cultivated plants and in my Introduc- 
tion to the History of Science, e.g., indicating the importance of 
the pilgrimage roads, such as the Way of St. James (to Santiago 


de Compostela) , and of the dispersion of Romanesque and Gothic 

Much as they are needed for the following up of Western tradi- 
tions, they are needed considerably more for the understanding of 
Eastern ones. Indeed, Western traditions are supported by literary 
witnesses in Greek, Latin or vernaculars which offer no special 
difficulties; while the Eastern literatures are generally closed to all 
but a few Orientalists, and the latter's knowledge is almost always 
restricted to a single group of languages. Now consider this case. 
In the beginning of the fourteenth century, a most remarkable cul- 
ture was developed in Tabriz under the patronage of the Mongol 
rulers of Persia. The spiritual leader was Rashid al-din, physician, 
theologian and one of the outstanding historians of the Middle 
Ages. He wrote chiefly in Persian, but had a deep knowledge of 
Arabic and was acquainted (directly or through secretaries) with 
documents written in Hebrew, Uighur, Mongolian and Chinese. 
A scientific edition of his works requires a good knowledge of all 
of those languages. This you will admit is a big order. Happily, the 
cosmopolitanism of that age and place can be perceived almost 
immediately by any person sensitive to artistic values and know- 
ing sufficiently the peculiarities of Asiatic arts. Indeed, under the 
patronage of the same Rashid al-din, there blossomed in Tabriz a 
school of miniaturists whose works reveal immediately the same 
Chinese influences which can only be detected in the text by that 
rara avis, an Orientalist as familiar with Chinese as with Persian 
and Arabic. Indeed Chinese traits are just as obvious in those 
fourteenth-century miniatures, as they were to become four cen- 
turies later in the ubiquitous "chinoiseries" which delighted our 
rococo ancestors. 


The view that we need art for the understanding of science and 
vice versa is by no means a new one, but it is so often forgotten or 
obscured by good scientists and by good historians that it is neces- 


sary to give it from time to time new strength and new life, and 
to treat it as if it were a novelty, the most important novelty of 
our own time. Among the best exponents of it in the last century, 
was a man who was also one of the pioneers of our own studies. 
Can you guess whom I mean? I will help you. He should not be 
difficult to find, for he was, a hundred years ago, the most famous 
man in the world. He is not so famous now, for the wheel of for- 
tune never stops turning, even after one's death. He is a bit for- 
gotten, and when our schoolboys are asked to name the most 
prominent men, no one would think of choosing him. After having 
received a scientific preparation which was as elaborate as it was 
diversified, and having crowned it with a literary initiation in the 
Weimar circle (Goethe, so critical of others, never wavered in his 
admiration of him) , he spent five years exploring South America, 
then thirty more discussing and publishing the results of his ob- 
servations. At the age of fifty-eight he delivered in Berlin a series 
of lectures which were but the sketch of the grand fresco of which 
he began the publication eighteen years later and to which he de- 
voted the remainder of his life. 

That man is need I name him Alexander von Humboldt, 
and the work of his old age to which I referred is the Cosmos. 
The first two volumes appeared in 1845 and 1847 (when he was 
76 and 78), vols. 3 and 4 between 1850 and 1858; he died in 1859 
at the age of 90, and volume 5 appeared three years later. We 
need consider only the first two volumes. The first contains an 
elaborate description and explanation of the physical world, and 
the second is a history of science. Thus Humboldt was a pioneer 
in geographical synthesis, and also in historical synthesis. He was 
a founder of the new geography and also of the new history. The 
first innovation was rapidly understood and was developed in 
many countries; the second was comparatively neglected. Geog- 
raphy and history are two necessary bases of a man's education; 
just as some knowledge of geography removes his provincialism 
with regard to space that is, teaches him that things are not 
necessarily better in his own village, in his own metropolis or in 


his own country than elsewhere even so, a knowledge of history 
is the only way of removing his provincialism with regard to time 
that is, of making him realize that things are not necessarily 
better in his days than in earlier or, maybe, in later ones. Neither 
geography nor history was new in Humboldt's days, but he in- 
creased considerably the scope and the implications of both. For 
example, he showed that history should be focussed upon the his- 
tory of science, and also upon the history of arts and letters; but 
most remarkable of all was his realization of the polarity of arts 
and sciences. After having described nature in volume one of the 
Cosmos, he devoted the second volume to a new description of 
nature as reflected in the human mind, by the imagination (that 
is art) or by the reasoning power (that is science) . In this respect, 
he was breaking ground so new that the vast majority of scientists 
and scholars of to-day have not yet grasped what he was trying 
to do. 

The project was so ambitious that realization fell far short of it, 
but we must not blame him. Pioneers are beginners/ they cannot 
be expected to complete their task; it is not their business to com- 
plete it. Some day the substance of thac second volume will 
have to be worked out again and rewritten, but it will take a man 
of unusual learning, artistry and wisdom to do it well. As I see it 
now, the great story which cries to be told is that of the rhythm of 
the mutual interrelations between science, art and religion. The 
story is very difficult to tell, because it is not a story of progress 
like the history of science, but of vacillations and vicissitudes, of 
harmony followed by chaos, and beauty mixed with horrors. It 
would be the story of man's sensitiveness to the fundamental 
problems and the main values of life. 

All honor to Alexander von Humboldt for having shown the 
way, and the more so that we are so slow in following it, and that 
our scientists, so intelligent in some respects, are so stupid in 
others, and our artists, so clever, yet so blind. Beauty is there for 
all to see, and truth, and virtue, but how few realize that they are 
but different aspects of the same mystery? 



The mention of the mystery brings us close to the heart of our 
subject, for it is there on its threshold that art and knowledge and 
faith meet and kneel together. This will appear more clearly when 
we have examined how far art and science diverge in the ordinary 
routine of life. After having completed that examination, briefly 
as we must, we shall retrace our steps and peep once more into the 

The outstanding difference between art and science is that the 
latter is progressive while the former is not. Scientific activities 
are the only ones which are cumulative and progressive. Thus 
reading the history of science gives us the exhilarating feeling of 
climbing a mountain; we may go downward sometime for a short 
run, or we may turn around its slopes, but the general direction is 
upward, and the top of the mountain is lost in the clouds. Every 
scientist is enabled to start off from the highest level reached by 
his predecessors, and if he have it in him, to go higher still. The 
history of art, on the contrary, is like a glacial landscape, a plain 
wherein many hills, are unevenly scattered. You may climb one of 
those hills and reach the summit, but then you cannot continue 
without going down to the level land; then up again, and so on. 

When I began my ascension of the topless mountain, I used to 
gloat over that. Progress, here it was indeed and nowhere else. 
Unfortunately, there is the devil to pay for it. Because of the pro- 
gressive nature of science, its achievements are evanescent. Each 
one is bound to be superseded, sooner or later, by a better one 
and then it loses its practical value and becomes like a neglected 
tool in a museum showcase. On the other hand, because of art's 
very unprogressiveness, works of art are eternally young. It is very 
difficult to read an old scientific treatise, for in order to under- 
stand it properly, one must know equally well the old science and 
the new, and everything before and between. It is painful to read 
Newton, but the plays of Shakespeare are as timely and pleasur- 
able to-day as they ever were. " A thing of beauty is a joy forever/' 


The following remarks made by Picasso in 1923 throw a curious 
light on this. Said he, 

To me there is no past or future in art. If a work of art can- 
not live always in the present it must not be considered at all 
The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters 
who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is 
more alive today than it ever was. Art does not evolve by itself 
the ideas of people change and with them their mode of ex- 
pression. When I hear people speak of the evolution of an artist 
it seems to me that they are considering him standing betweer 
two mirrors that face each other and reproduce his image an in 
finite number of times, and that they contemplate the successiv< 
images of one mirror as his past, and the images of the other mirroi 
as his future, while his real image is taken as his present. The} 
do not consider that they all are the same images in differen 

Science is progressive and therefore ephemeral; art is non 
progressive and eternal. A deeper contrast could not be imagined 

In the field of science, the methods are supremely important. / 
history of science is to a large extent a history of the instruments 
material or immaterial, created by a succession of men to solv< 
their several problems. Each instrument or each method is, as i 
were, a crystallization of human genius. Look at the cockpit of ai 
airplane, and ask yourself what was the origin and development o 
each one of its tools; it is an endless story of patient accumula 
tion and adjustment. In art, on the contrary, the results matte 
more than the methods. I am not interested in knowing how < 
symphony was produced, how a fresco was painted, how a disl 
was cooked. The beauty of the symphony and the painting satisf j 
me, and so does the tastiness of the food; I do not ask for th< 

The scientist strives to be more and more objective and accu 
rate; the artist lets himself go and his accuracy is intangible. The 

* Picasso, forty years of bis art, 2nd ed., edited by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., issued by Museur 
of Modern Art (New York, 1939, p. 11). 


scientist says : " If you can measure the thing, you are beginning 
to know something about it, if not ... " but the artist answers, 
"What about beauty and love?" 

Science is essentially international, or perhaps we should say 
super-national. Men of science of all times and places cooperate 
together; they cannot help cooperating, even if they don't particu- 
larly wish to do so, because their task is essentially the same. They 
are ascending the same mountain, and even when their trails di- 
verge they are aiming at the same goal. Art is tribal, national. To 
be sure, it may transcend local peculiarities and reach the bed- 
rock of human nature. Yet when we speak of Spanish painting or 
Russian music we evoke fundamental differences, which may be 
difficult to analyze, not to say measure, but are as tangible as the 
air we breathe. Sometime ago I had to write a study on Borodin, 
who was a distinguished chemist as well as one of the leading 
Russian composers. In order to reconstruct his background, I had 
to investigate the contemporary state of international chemistry 
and of Russian music. 

The scientific procedure is essentially analytic; the artistic one 
synthetic, intuitive.. Scientific discoveries are the result of long 
evolutions, artistic achievements of short involutions. This applies 
not only to the creation of scientific or artistic works, but also to 
their interpretation. We cannot penetrate the thought of Faraday 
or Poincar without a sustained effort, but a Greek statue reveals 
to us immediately the best of Greece, and a Gothic cathedral il- 
luminates the Middle Ages. Science is the field of arduous and 
unremitting work; how beautiful the flowers in it are if we have 
earned them with honest travail of limbs or spirit! Art, by con- 
trast, is the paradise of immediate intuitions. 


All of which is very true, but it is not the whole truth, and I 
knew it all the time. Now let us look together at the other side of 
the picture. 


In science as in art, there is always a fundamental need of selec- 
tion. Just as an artist cannot paint every landscape, or a lover love 
every woman, just so the scientist cannot investigate every prob- 
lem. None of them has a ghost of a chance unless he restricts his 
goal. The immense success of science is due largely to the selec- 
tion of problems, one at a time, the simplest and easiest first, and 
so on. Genius in science as well as in art is essentially the ability 
to select properly. 

Then, too, there is technical progress in art. The history of 
music, like the history of science, can be written partly in terms of 
instruments. The modern symphony is as much an instrumental 
triumph as the transatlantic flights. Scientific knowledge is not 
simply rational, a good part of it is manual and intuitive. What a 
gulf there is between the born diagnostician and the physician 
who has learning enough but lacks insight! There is uncanny wis- 
dom in the hands of a surgeon as well as in those of a pianist. 

Science and art have both their collectivist aspects, as well as 
their individualist ones. The former are seen at their best in re- 
ligious art and in social medicine, and that rapprochement is sug- 
gestive. For what is religious art, but the highest form of the social 
art? And what else is social medicine but the finest realization of 
the second commandment: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as 
thyself"? Neither religious art nor social medicine can succeed 
unless they be sustained by a living faith. 

Science, every science and of course medicine above all, is an 
art as soon as it is applied. It becomes part and parcel of a man's 
religion as soon as he is thoroughly conscious of his own in- 
significance and of his solidarity with the rest of the universe. We 
cannot understand the history of medicine, unless we see in it not 
only discoveries and scientific achievements, but also personal de- 
feats and victories, the timeless fruits of men's love and faith. On 
the other hand, as Canon Streeter has remarked : " Science is the 
great cleanser of the human spirit, it makes impossible any religion 
but the highest/' The well-tempered historian will keep this in 
mind always, and think of men's art and religion, as well as of 


their learning. He will try to see the whole of their personalities 
and thus give to his own work its greatest value for other men. 
Science is the reason, art the joy, religion the harmony, of life. 
None is complete without the others. We cannot hope to under- 
stand the mystery of life unless we be prepared to consider it from 
these three angles, and this means, first of all, that we must drop 
our scientific conceit, and second, that we must never, never, sub- 
ordinate humanities to technicalities. 


The history of science is the study of the development of science, 
just as one studies the development of a plant or an animal 
from its very birth. We try to see it grow and unfold itself under 
many diverse conditions. And it is not enough as we shall see 
further on to study separately the development of each science; 
one has to study the development of all the sciences simultane- 
ously. Besides, it is impossible to separate them satisfactorily one 
from the other; they grow together and mingle continually in 
innumerable ways. 

While numberless books, many of them excellent, are published 
every year on the history of literature, of art, of religions, how is 
it that there is not yet a single history of science that can be com- 
pared with the best of them? When so many institutions, libraries, 
lectureships have been dedicated to the history of everything, 
how is it that the history of science has been so much neglected? 

People who have no knowledge of science, or but slight, are 
afraid of it. They are not inclined to read a book dealing with 
the history of science, because they think they are not equal to 
appreciating it. Now this is a mistake: every intelligent man or 
woman can understand the development of science, at least if it 
be properly presented and taken from the beginning. More than 
that, I am convinced that the historical method is the best for con- 
veying scientific facts and ideas to unprepared minds and to make 
them thoroughly understandable at least that is so in the case 
of grown-up people. On the other hand, those who know science 
or are supposed to know it because they have made a special 
study in some narrow field are often given to viewing history 
with contempt. They think that the study of history is hopelessly 
inaccurate and, according to their own definition of science, un- 
scientific. This is another mistake, which, however, it would take 
too long to refute completely. Suffice it to say that historical stud- 



ies, like all other studies, are approximate; the approximation ob- 
tained by historians may be looser, but the studies are none the 
less scientific for that. It is not so much its degree of approxima- 
tion, as a definite knowledge of this degree, that gives to a study 
its scientific character. 

Scientists and philosophers are at the present time unanimous 
in wishing that the general tendencies and fundamental principles 
of science be constantly extricated, criticized and stated with 
more precision. They are well aware that this is now an essential 
condition of progress and security. But how will it be possible to 
conciliate the imperious needs of synthesis and the division of 

It would seem that the only possible solution is that which 
was recommended by Auguste Comte and partly realized by him- 
self and his disciples : namely, to originate a new great specialty, 
the study of scientific generalities. To secure the unity of knowl- 
edge, it will be more and more necessary that some men make a 
deep study of the principles and of the historical and logical de- 
velopment of all the sciences. Of course, they will not be expected 
to be perfectly acquainted with all the technical details, but they 
must have at their command a thorough knowledge of the great 
lines and of the cardinal facts of each science. It is a very difficult 
but not an impossible task. The inconveniences of excessive spe- 
cialization will be happily counterpoised by this new branch of 
knowledge, which induces a collaboration of philosopher, his- 
torian and scientist. It will appear clearly from the following 
pages that the best instrument of synthesis, and the most natural 
hyphen between scientist and philosopher is the history of science. 

Auguste Comte must be considered as the founder of the his- 
tory of science, or at least as the first who had a clear and pre- 
cise, if not a complete, apprehension of it. In his Cowrs de philo- 
sophic positive, published from 1830 to 1842, he very clearly 
brought forward the three fundamental ideas which follow: (1) 
A synthetic work like his cannot be accomplished without having 


constant recourse to the history of science/ (2) It is necessary to 
study the evolution of the different sciences to understand the de- 
velopment of the human mind and the history of mankind; (3) It 
is insufficient to study the history of one or of many particular 
sciences; one must study the history of all sciences, taken to- 
gether. Besides this, as early as 1832, Auguste Comte made an 
application to the minister Guizot for the creation of a chair, de- 
voted to the general history of the sciences (bistoire generate des 
sciences). It was sixty years before this wish of his was granted; 
and the course entrusted to Pierre Laffitte was inaugurated at the 
College de France in 1892, thirty-five years after Comte's death. 
Another French philosopher, Antoine Cournot, also helped to 
clear up our ideas by the publication in 1861 of his book Jraite 
de I'encbainement des idees fondamentales dans les sciences et 
dans I'histoire. However, the real heir to Comte's thought, from 
our special point of view, is neither Laffitte nor Cournot, but Paul 
Tannery. It is hardly necessary to say much of him, because all 
who have the slightest knowledge of the history of science must 
needs have come across one of his numerous memoirs, all so re- 
markable for their originalitv and exactitude. Paul Tannery him- 
self attached importance to his intellectual connection with Comte 
and often expressed his admiration for the founder of positivism. 

Tannery's philosophy is very different from Comte's, but the 
greatest difference between them is that Comte's knowledge of 
the history of science was very superficial, whereas Paul Tannery, 
being extremely learned and having at his disposal a mass of his- 
torical research work which did not exist in the thirties, knew 
more of the history of science than anybody else in the world. 
Certainly no man ever was better prepared to write a complete 
history of science, at least of European science, than Paul Tan- 
nery. It was his dream to carry out this great work, but unfortu- 
nately he died, before realizing his ambition, in 1904. 

One can understand the history of science in different ways, 
but these different conceptions do not contradict each other; they 
are simply more or less comprehensive. My own conception does 


not differ much from Tannery's, except that I attach more im- 
portance to the psycho-sociological point of view. 

Auguste Comte had noticed all the bonds that unite the differ- 
ent sciences, but he did not give enough attention to them. If he 
had understood that these interactions and this interdependence 
have existed in all directions from the very beginnings of science, 
would not the rigid framework of his Cours de philosophic have 
burst asunder? 

On the other hand, some people seem to think that it is impos- 
sible to write the history of science as a whole, that the subject is 
too great. I should rather say that the impossibility is to pick out 
from this inextricable network the development of one single 
branch of human knowledge. Moreover, it is actually impossible to 
write the history of any important discovery without writing, 
willingly or not, a chapter of the history of science I mean the 
history of science as a whole. How could we explain, for instance, 
the discovery of the circulation of the blood if we did not explain 
the evolution of anatomy, of comparative zoology, of general 
biology, of natural philosophy, of chemistry, of mechanics? Like- 
wise, to make cle^r how the determination of longitudes at sea 
was discovered, little by little, we have to resort to the history of 
pure and applied mathematics, the history of astronomy and navi- 
gation, the history of watch-making, etc. It would be easy enough 
to give more examples of the same kind. 

Further, it is only by considering the history of science as a 
whole that one can appraise the scientific level of a definite period 
or of a definite country. It has happened more than once that one 
science became neglected while others were thriving, or that 
scientific culture moved from one country to another. But the his- 
torian is not deluded by these facts, and he does not think that 
human genius is suddenly quenched or rekindled; from his syn- 
thetical standpoint he sees the torch of light pass from one science 
to the other or from one people to another. He perceives better 
than anybody else the continuity of science in space and time, and 
he is better able to estimate the progress of mankind. 


But the historian's mind is not satisfied with the study of the 
interactions between the different sciences. He wishes to study 
also the interactions between the different sciences, on one hand, 
and all the other intellectual or economic phenomena, on the 
other. As a matter of fact, he has to give a great deal of attention 
to these reciprocal influences, but of course he does not forget 
that the aim of his work is essentially to establish the connecting 
links between scientific ideas. 

In short, the purpose of the history of science, as 1 understand 
it, is to establish the genesis and the development of scientific 
facts and ideas, taking into account all intellectual exchanges and 
all influences brought into play by the very progress of civiliza- 
tion. It is indeed a history of human civilization, considered from 
its highest point of view. 7he center of interest is the evolution 
of science, but general history remains always in the background. 

It follows from this definition that the only rational way to sub- 
divide this history is not at all to cut it up according to countries 
or to sciences, but only according to time. For each period of time, 
we have to consider at once the whole of its scientific and intellec- 
tual development. 

Of course, to make this general synthesis possible, it will often 
be expedient, even necessary, to write monographs or partial 
syntheses of different kinds. For instance, the study of the archives 
of a definite place leads naturally to the drawing up of an essay 
on the history of science in that place. On the other hand, a spe- 
cialized scientist will be tempted to look up the genealogy of an 
idea in which he is particularly interested, or to write the biog- 
raphy of a forerunner whose work and genius he can better ap- 
preciate than anyone else. But all this research is necessarily 
incomplete and does not acquire its proper significance so long 
as it cannot be inserted properly into a history of the sciences of 
the same age. It may be worth while to add that all monographs 
are not equally useful; some are so clumsy and absurd that they 
obscure, mislead and delay the next synthesis. 

To elaborate our historical work we have, of course, to use the 


same methods that are used by ordinary historians to appraise 
and criticize the materials available to them. But the historian of 
science has to use, independently, some other methods of a more 
special nature. I cannot explain them here, but it is easy to under- 
stand that, for instance, to establish at what date a discovery be- 
came a real part of science and enriched human experience, the 
historical exegesis must be supplemented by a scientific exegesis, 
based on the evidence given by the positive sciences. 

We must try to marshall all scientific facts and ideas in a defi- 
nite order; this means that we must try to assign to each of them a 
date as precise as possible not the date of their birth or of their 
publication, but that of their actual incorporation into our knowl- 
edge. Likewise, biographers have to exert themselves to find pre- 
cisely during which periods the influence of great scientists was 
the most felt, in order to range them in chronological series. This 
is generally a very difficult thing to do, and the reader will not fail 
to appreciate the work that is discreetly accomplished by such 
scholars. Such work of erudition is the bed-rock on which all his- 
torical writing is built up. 

These remarks complete and add precision to our definition of 
the history of science. However, it may be well to give some more 
details about the different exchanges which the historian has to 
consider in order to put the evolution of science in its proper light. 

I shall successively examine some of the other departments of 
life which are the most interesting for the historian of science: 
(1) General history or the history of civilization; (2) The history 
of technology; (3) The history of religions; and (4) The his- 
tory of fine arts, and arts and crafts. 

1. Science and Civilization. Since the eighteenth century, and 
notably under the influence of Vico, Montesquieu and Voltaire, 
the conception of history has become more and more synthetic. 
History, the principal interest of which once consisted in military 
records and court annals, is growing up into a history of civiliza- 
tion. It stands to reason that a sufficient knowledge of the history 


of civilization is absolutely necessary for the historian of science, 
were it only to locate the scientific facts in the very surroundings 
that gave rise to them. 

On the other hand, the historian of civilization can no longer 
remain unacquainted with the history of science. Some of the 
most recent historical manuals contain paragraphs devoted to it. 
It is true, the space allowed is rather scanty, but that is a begin- 
ning. I feel confident that, before long, general histories will be 
written in which the history of science, far from being banished 
to some obscure corner, will be the very center of the picture. Is 
not science the most powerful factor of evolution? 

Some examples will illustrate the significance of the history of 
civilization. How can one account for the fact that the Latin 
manuscripts containing translations of Greek authors made from 
Arabic texts for so long barred the way to the printed translations 
that had been elaborated directly from the Greek texts? The 
latter, indeed, were much better. Bjornbo has given some reasons 
that are very probably the true ones. The printed books that 
nobody cared to copy became rarer and rarer. On the other hand, 
the manuscripts were copied over and over again and continually 
multiplied. Besides, the copyists lacked knowledge and critical 
sense to a great extent, and they could not help being favorably 
impressed by the bulk of Arabic literature. 

Mere scientific reasons do not suffice to explain the creation of 
the metric system by the French revolutionaries. This creation 
was also in part a reaction against the "foot of the king" of the 
ancien regime. 

Financial or tariff regulations or the promulgation of labor laws 
can transform the business life of a country and, indirectly, its 
scientific production. 

To understand the beginnings and development of geography 
one has to take into account many facts that are quite foreign to 
science. For instance: the quest for mythical treasures/ con- 
querors' ambitions; religious proselytism; the adventurous in- 
stincts of daring young men. 


Lastly, it is necessary to know the history of epidemics and to 
study all the social facts that have been their causes or their re- 
sults, to estimate correctly the evolution of medical ideas. 

2. Science and Technology. Industrial requirements are always 
putting new questions to science, and in this way they guide, so to 
say, its evolution. On the other hand, the progress of science con- 
tinually gives birth to new industries or brings new life to old 
ones. It follows that the history of science is constantly inter- 
woven with the history of technology, and that it is impossible to 
separate one from the other. 

Let us see some examples. After exhaustion-pumps had been in- 
vented, there was such a demand for good pumps of this kind that 
special workshops were founded in the beginning of the eighteenth 
century, in Leyden, Holland, to make them, and of course these 
workshops soon undertook to make other scientific instruments. It 
is hardly necessary to point out how intimately connected the 
making of these instruments is with the history of physics or as- 

A geological discovery suffices to revolutionize a whole country 
and transform an agricultural nation into an industrial one. Of 
course, a transformation as complete as this involves a radical 
change in scientific needs. The working of mines has always 
exerted such a deep influence on the evolution of science and 
civilization that one might compare the importance of mines in the 
history of science with that of temples in the history of art. L. de 
Launay has very clearly shown that the silver mines in Laurion 
played a considerable part in the history of Greece. 

The history of chemistry would sometimes be unintelligible if 
the history of chemical industries was not studied at the same 
time. Let me simply remind the reader of the case of coloring 
matters. Industrial research made in this direction has deeply in- 
fluenced the progress of organic chemistry. On the other hand, it 
is well known how much has been done to improve this industry 
by the scientists of the German Chemical Society. 


A chemical discovery can revolutionize a whole country, just 
as completely as a geological one; as soon as it becomes possible 
to realize, on a business basis, the chemical synthesis of a natural 
product (like indigo, vanilla, India rubber), the agricultural in- 
dustry and civilization of immense countries are in danger. 

Technical inventions are more precisely determined every day 
by industrial needs. The manufacturer can often say very defi- 
nitely to the inventor: 'This is the invention which I now need 
to improve my production/' Besides, every invention starts a 
series of others that the first has made necessary and that it would 
have been impossible to realize, or even to conceive, previously. 

Lastly, commercial needs also influence the development of the 
sciences, not only the natural sciences and geography (that is too 
obvious to dwell upon), but even mathematics. It is necessary 
to take into account the evolution of book-keeping and banking 
business to understand thoroughly the introduction and the spread 
of Hindu- Arabic numerals into Europe, and later the invention of 
decimal fractions. It is also owing in great measure to commercial 
requirements that many astronomical discoveries were made, and 
that the different systems of weights and measures were created. 

3. Science and Religion. Science and religion have never ceased 
to influence one another, even in our own time and in the coun- 
tries where science has reached a high degree of perfection and in- 
dependence. But of course the younger science was, and the farther 
we go back through the ages, the more numerous these inter- 
actions are. Primitive people cannot separate scientific or technical 
ideas from religious ones, or, more exactly, this classification has 
no sense to them. Later, when the division of labor had created 
some scientists or engineers, distinct from the priests, or at least 
had given birth to a class of priests who had undergone a higher 
scientific training than their colleagues, even then the interpreta- 
tion of the holy books, the observance of rites, the needs of agri- 
culture and medicine, the making of the calendar, and above all, 
the hopes, the fears and the anxieties of a very precarious exist- 


ence, have been innumerable links between science and religion. 
The great plagues, and generally all cataclysms, for instance earth- 
quakes or wars, have been followed by religious revivals and often 
by violent outbursts of religious fanaticism. 

On the other hand I know many cases where the priests them- 
selves have been the transmitters of knowledge from one genera- 
tion to the following. The best example of this can be found 
during the period extending from the end of the second school of 
Alexandria to the ninth century. We owe, if not the advance- 
ment of science, at least its conservation, to the doctors of the 
Latin and Greek churches, to the Nestorians and other heretics. 

In some other cases the influence of religion is less direct, but 
not less important. For instance, A. de Candolle has proved that 
the Protestant families which were exiled from the Catholic coun- 
tries of Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries 
and even during the eighteenth, have given birth to an extraor- 
dinarily high number of distinguished scientists. This is not to be 
wondered at. These people who preferred the misery of exile to 
moral servitude were certainly above the average in their conscien- 
tiousness and earn'estness. 

The interactions between science and religion have often had 
an aggressive character. There has been, most of the time, a real 
warfare. But, as a matter of fact, it is not a warfare between science 
and religion there can be no warfare between them but be- 
tween science and theology. It is true that the man in the street 
does not easily differentiate between religious feelings and faith, 
on one side, and dogmas, rites and religious formalism, on the 
other. It is true also that the theologians, while affecting that re- 
ligion itself was aimed at when they alone were criticized, have 
not ceased from aggravating these misunderstandings. An excel- 
lent proof of this has been given in this country. One of the great 
men of these United States, Andrew Dickson White, pub- 
lished a splendid book on 7be 'Warfare 'Between Science and 
theology. Mr. White was a very godly man, and his book is, it is 
hardly necessary to state, extremely liberal and indulgent to every- 


body. Notwithstanding this, the author and his book had to bear 
the attacks of a great many fanatics. 

One of the saddest results of these misunderstandings is that 
some very religious and sincere souls have been misled and have 
treated science as an enemy. Another important result is that the 
evolution of science is very intimately interwoven with that of re- 
ligions and their heresies. 

4. Science and Art. It may be useful to tender some remarks 
upon the different characteristics of scientific and artistic work 
before pointing out what is interesting from our point of view in 
the history of art. In the history of art as it is generally taught, 
very little is said about technicalities. Are there many people who 
know, or care to know, what kind of colors Botticelli used, or 
what were the tools of Phidias? We love a work of art for itself. 
It is essentially the ultimate result that interests us, not the meth- 
ods used to obtain it. In the domain of learning, on the contrary, 
the result is generally less interesting than the methods em- 
ployed to reach it. 

The history of science is not merely a history of the conquests 
of the human mind, but it is much more a study of the instru- 
frients material and intellectual instruments created by our in- 
telligence; it is also a history of human experience. This long 
experience of the past has much more significance for the scien- 
tist than for the artist. The artist admires the work of his fore- 
runners, but the scientist does more than admire, he makes actual 
use of it. The artist may find an inspiration in it, but the scientist 
tries to incorporate it entirely in his own work. It is very difficult 
to conceive progress in art. Does Rodin carve better than Ver- 
rocchio or Polycletus? The pictures by Carriere, by Watts, or by 
Segantini : are they finer than those by Fra Angelico, by Van Eyck 
or by Moro? Have these questions even any sense? 

In the domain of science the matter is quite different. Un- 
doubtedly it would be foolish to discuss whether Archimedes was 
more or less intelligent than Newton or Gauss; but we can in all 


security assert that Gauss knew more than Newton, and that 
^lewton knew more than Archimedes. The making of knowledge, 
unlike that of beauty, is essentially a cumulative process. By the 
way, this is the reason why the history of science should be the 
leading thread in the history of civilization. Nothing that has been 
done or invented gets lost. Every contribution, great or small, is 
appreciated and classified. This cumulative process is so obvious 
that even very young men may be better informed and more 
learned than their most illustrious forerunners. As a matter of 
fact, they are standing on the shoulders of their predecessors, 
and so they have a chance to see further. If they are not very intel- 
ligent they may be inclined to think that it is useless to study his- 
tory, under the misapprehension that they already know from 
the past all that is really worth knowing. In short, we are not sure ' 
that men become more intelligent that is, whether intelligence 
increases but we know positively that human experience and 
knowledge grow every day. As I have said, one does not pay much 
heed to mediocre artists. What they do has not much importance. 
On the contrary, in the laboratories, libraries and museums where 
science is slowly* growing like an ever-living tree enormous 
quantities of excellent work is done by thousands of men who are 
not unusually intelligent, but who have been well trained, have 
good methods and plenty of patience. 

-^Scientific work is the result of an international collaboration, 
the organization of which is perfected every day. Thousands of 
scientists devote their whole lives to this collective work like 
bees in a hive but their hive is the world. This collaboration does 
not take place simply in space, but also in time; the oldest astro- 
nomical observations are still of some use. Perhaps this collective 
nature of scientific work is one of the causes of the general indif- 
ference concerning its history indifference strongly contrasting 
with the widespread curiosity about the history of literature and 
the fine arts. Science aims at objectivity; the scientist exerts him- 
self to decrease to a minimum his "personal equation/' Works of 
art, on the contrary, are extremely individual and passionate; so 


it is not to be wondered at that they excite more sympathy and 
interest. ^ 

The history of the fine arts and of literature is generally con- 
sidered as a history of the great artists and of the works they have 
bequeathed to us. But one could adopt a different point of view: 
just as the history of science gives us the materials of an evolu- 
tion of human intellect, so one could look to the history of arts 
and of literature for the story of the evolution of human sensibil- 
ity. The history of science is a history of ideas; just so the history 
of art could be considered as a history of man's dreams. Under- 
stood in this way, the two histories complete and enlighten one 
another J 

The interactions between science and art have been particu- 
larly vivid at times in naturalistic reactions against scholastic and 
pedantic excesses. It would be extremely interesting to make a 
closer study of the rhythm of the different tendencies that swayed 
plastic arts and music, and to look for similar rhythms in the con- 
temporary succession of scientific theories, or more exactly, atti- 
tudes. The appearance of men of genius, who were at one and 
the same time artists and scientists such as Leonardo da Vinci, 
Albrecht Diirer and Bernard Palissy gives us a splendid oppor- 
tunity to study these interactions in their deepest and most fasci- 
nating form. On the other hand, it is a fact that scientific ideas 
have often been transmitted by works of art; moreover, for all the 
period preceding the beginnings of popular printing, these works 
of art give us direct testimonies often the only ones we have 
of inestimable value. For instance, it would be impossible to trace 
the history of ancient chemistry but for all the works of art and 
decoration that have come to us; and, to understand the history 
of chemistry, not only in ancient times but even up to the thresh- 
old of the seventeenth century, it is still necessary to study the 
development of the arts and crafts the art of the potter, glass- 
maker, chaser, jeweler, miniature-painter, and enameler. 

But the history of art helps us, above all, to understand the 
spirit and the soul of vanished civilizations. From this point of 


view, works of art have an immense superiority over every other 
manifestation of the human mind; they give us a complete and 
synthetical view of times gone by; they offer us the information 
that we need at a glance; they bring the past to life again. A 
granite sphinx, a Nike, a picture by Giotto or by Breughel, a 
Gothic cathedral, a mass by Palestrina all these things teach us 
more in one flash than living men could do by long discourses. 

The following examples will show what kind of information the 
history of art can give us. It is by comparing various monuments 
that Viollet le Due has been able to find out some of the principal 
commercial roads of the twelfth century. Illustrations from Roman 
monuments give us exact information as to the origin of domestic 
and medical plants. Indeed, it is through Greece and Rome that 
most of them were introduced from the East into Europe. The his- 
tory of these plants tells us all the vicissitudes that modified the 
commercial and intellectual relations between those peoples. Here 
is another very curious fact. The great botanist H. de Vries dis- 
covered the variety monophytta of Jragaria vesca in a picture by 
Holbein the Elder ("The Saint Sebastian of Munich/' dated 
1516). This variety is now cultivated in botanic gardens as a 
rarity. One guesses that similar discoveries, however small they 
may appear, sometimes accomplish the solution of historical prob- 

Lastly, I wish to note that the history of science is also, to a 
certain extent perhaps less than some mathematicians think, but 
much more than the artists suppose a history of taste. Leaving 
aside the external beauty of many books of science, for many 
scientists were splendid writers (think of Galileo, Descartes, Pas- 
cal, Goethe, Darwin) , the very substance of their work has often 
a great aesthetic value. Scientists who are men of taste very easily 
distinguish the scientific theories that are beautiful and elegant 
from the others. It would be wrong to ignore this distinction, be- 
cause this beauty and harmony, that the average person cannot 
see but that the scientist does see, is extremely deep and significant. 
One might ask: 'These theories that are more beautiful are they 


more true?" Anyhow, they are easier to grasp and more fertile; 
and for these reasons alone it is worth while to give them our 


The history of science has a great heuristic value, especially if 
it has been worked out by somebody who is as well acquainted 
with modern scientific tendencies as with ancient ones. The se- 
quence of old discoveries suggests similar concatenations to the 
scientist, and so enables him to make new discoveries. Disused 
methods, cleverly modified, may be rendered efficient again. When 
this is understood, the history of science becomes really a research 
method. A great scientist of our own time, Ostwald, has even 
gone so far as to say that, "It is nothing but a research method/' 
We do not admit that much. Anyhow, new and old science com- 
plete and continuously help one another to advance and to di- 
minish the unknown that surrounds us everywhere. Does this 
idea not illuminate our conception of universal scientific col- 
laboration? Death itself does not interrupt the scientist's work. 
Theories once unfolded are eternally living and acting.-/ 

To give to our history all its heuristic value, it is not sufficient 
to retrace the progress of the human mind. It is also necessary to 
remember the regressions, the sudden halts, the mishaps of all 
kinds that have interrupted its course. The history of errors is 
extremely useful; for one thing, because it helps us to better ap- 
preciate the evolution of truth; also because it enables us to avoid 
the same mistakes in the future; lastly, because the errors of 
science are of a relative nature. The truths of today will perhaps 
be considered tomorrow, if not as complete mistakes, at least as 
very incomplete truths; and who knows whether the errors of 
yesterday will not be the approximate truths of tomorrow? Simi- 
lar rehabilitations frequently occur, and the results of historical 
research often oblige us to admire and honor people who have 
been misunderstood and despised in their own time. This inci- 


dentally proves that the study of the history of science has also 
some moral advantages. 

However, the history of superstitions and errors must not make 
us forget that it is the history of truth the most complete and 
the highest truths that interests us primarily. Besides, one may 
aim at retracing the history of truth in its entirety, because it is 
naturally limited/ but the history of errors is infinite! Therefore 
it is necessary to fix some artificial limits to the latter and to 
choose judiciously between the errors and the superstitions. A 
great simplification is obtained by classifying the errors in groups. 
Indeed, the same mistakes and superstitions appear over and over 
again in different shapes, and it is useful to know the various 
types of errors in order to understand the mechanism of intellect. 

It is much to be regretted that many scientists decline to admit 
the utility of historical research, or consider it simply as a kind 
of pastime of small importance. They base their contempt on the 
following argument: "All the best of ancient science has been 
assimilated and incorporated in our own science. The rest only 
deserves oblivion, and it is awkward to over-burden our memory 
with it. The science that we are learning and teaching is the result 
of a continuous selection which has eliminated all the parasitic 
parts in order to retain only that which is of real value/' 

It is easy to see that this argument is not sound. For one thing, 
who will guarantee that the successive selections have been well 
made? This is so much the more a matter of doubt in that this se- 
lective and synthetic work is generally done not by men of genius, 
but by professors, by authors of textbooks, vulgarizers of all 
kinds, whose judgment is not necessarily irreproachable and 
whose intuitions are not always successful. Besides, as science is 
constantly evolving, and as new points of view are introduced every 
day, any idea that has been neglected may be considered later on 
as very important and fertile. It often happens also that some 
facts, scarcely known, all at once become very interesting, because 
they can be inserted into a new theory that they help to illustrate. 
Of course scientific syntheses such as those represented by our 


textbooks are indispensable. Without them science could hardly 
be transmitted from one generation of students to the next, but it 
must be understood that they are always provisional and pre- 
carious. They must be periodically revised. Now, how would that 
be possible if the history of science did not show us our way 
through all the unutilized experience of the past? History is, so 
to say, the guide, the catalogue without which new syntheses and 
selections made from fresh points of view would hardly be pos- 
sible. All the vicissitudes and recantations of science prove con- 
clusively that no man can ever flatter himself that he has definitely 
and completely exhausted a scientific fact or theory. No particle 
of human experience, however small, can be entirely neglected. 
To assert this is to assert, at the same time, the necessity of his- 
torical research. 

Moreover, among scientific works there are some, the genesis 
of which cannot be explained in the ordinary analytical way. 
They introduce abrupt discontinuities into the evolution of 
science, because they so far anticipate their own time. These 
works of genius are never entirely explored, and the interest they 
offer is never entirely exhausted. It is perhaps because it is almost 
inexhaustible, that true genius is so mysterious. Sometimes cen- 
turies pass before the doctrines of a man of genius are appraised 
at their true value. A great deal of benefit is still to be reaped from 
reading in the works of Aristotle, Diophantus, Huygens or New- 
ton. They are full of hidden treasures. It is a gross mistake to think 
that there is nothing more in such works than the facts and ideas 
which are positively formulated; if that were true, of course, it 
would be useless to refer to them: the enunciation of these facts 
and ideas would suffice. But that is not true, and I cannot but ad- 
vise those who have any doubt about it, to try. They will find 
that nothing excites the mind more than this return to the sources. 
Here, also, it is the historian's business to point out to the scien- 
tist the very sources where he will most likely invigorate his mind 
and start a fresh impulse. 

I wish now to give a few examples to illustrate the preceding 


remarks. Any amount of them can be found in the history of 
medicine/ we need but recall how greatly the whole of medical 
evolution has been influenced by the Hippocratic teaching, our 
modern ideas on humorism and naturism/ or, again, the organo- 
therapeutic theories. Not only are the old ideas restored to vogue, 
but it sometimes seems that a kind of rhythm brings them back 
to light periodically. Georges Bohn has shown the periodical 
return, in the domain of comparative psychology, on one hand, 
of the animistic and anthropomorphic conceptions, and on the 
other hand, of the positivist conceptions. As a rule, the further 
science is removed from the mathematical form, the more likely 
these vicissitudes are. One can also say that when science is more 
accurate, that is to say, when the domain of uncertainty and 
hypothesis becomes narrower, the oscillations of the mind between 
divergent points of view are so much the less numerous, but they 
do not cease entirely. Thus E. Belot reintroduced into cosmology, 
in a very seductive shape, the vortex theory that one would have 
thought had been entirely banished by Newton's criticisms. 
Similarly weighty reasons exist for reinstating into optics the 
emission theory, which seemed to have been forever exploded 
by the discoveries of Huygens, Young and Fresnel. 

But the best examples of such return to ancient knowledge are 
given to us by the history of technology. The history of chemical 
industries is very significant from this point of view : this is due to 
the fact that here economic conditions play a considerable part. In 
order that an invention may be realized it does not suffice that it be 
theoretically possible; it must pay. Now thousands of circum- 
stances continually modify the material factors which the engineer 
is struggling with; many are of such a nature that nobody could 
foresee them, or (what amounts to the same thing) , that it would 
cost too much to insure oneself against all of them. If new products 
appear on the market, or if the prices of some of the raw materials 
happen to vary considerably, or if new discoveries are made, or 
if new residues are to be employed, old methods that were once too 
expensive may become economical, or vice versa. Hence the 


chemist and the engineer have a vital interest in knowing the 
processes that have fallen into disuse, but to which the very 
progress of science may give from one day to the next a new 
career. The history of science is to them, so to say, what aban- 
doned mines are to the prospector. 

But in my opinion, however important its heuristic value may 
be, there are still deeper reasons why the scientist should give 
his attention to the history of science. I am thinking of those 
which have been so splendidly illustrated by Ernst Mach in his 
"Mechanics. For one thing, it is obvious that "they that know the 
entire course of the development of science will, as a matter of 
course, judge more freely and more correctly of the significance of 
any present scientific movement than they who, limited in their 
views to the age in which their own lives have been spent, con- 
template merely the momentary trend that the course of intellec- 
tual events takes at the present moment/' In other words, in order 
to understand and appraise at its just value what one possesses, it 
is well to know what the people possessed who came before us; 
this is as true in the domain of science as it is in daily life. It is 
historical knowledge that discloses to the scientist his precise at- 
titude toward the problems with which he has to grapple, and that 
enables him to dominate them. 

Moreover, while research workers exert themselves to extend 
the boundaries of science, other scientists are more anxious to 
ascertain whether the scaffolding is really solid, and whether their 
more and more daring and complex edifices do not risk giving 
way. Now the task of the latter, which is neither less important 
nor less lofty than that of discovery, necessarily implies a return 
to the past. This critical work is essentially of an historical nature. 
While it helps to make the whole fabric of science more coherent 
and more rigorous, at the same time it brings to light all the acci- 
dental and conventional parts of it, and so it opens new horizons 
to the discoverer's mind. If that work were not done, science 
would soon degenerate into a system of prejudices; its principles 


would become metaphysical axioms, dogmas, a new kind of 

That is what some scientists come to, who, for fear of falling 
into literature or "metaphysics" (as they put it) , banish all histor- 
ical or philosophic considerations. Alas! the exclusive worship of 
positive facts makes them sink into the worst kind of metaphysics 
scientific idolatry. 

Fortunately, it happens at certain periods of evolution that re- 
sounding and paradoxical discoveries make an inventory and a 
thorough survey of our knowledge more obviously necessary to 
everybody. We are fortunate enough to be living at one of these 
critical and most interesting periods. 

The purpose of historical criticism is not merely to render 
science more accurate, but also to bring order and clarity into 
it, to simplify it. Indeed, it is the survey of the past that enables 
us best to extricate what is really essential. The importance of a 
concept appears in a much better light when one has taken the 
trouble to consider all the difficulties that were surmounted to 
reach it, all the errors with which it was entangled, in short, all 
the previous life that has given birth to it. One could say that the 
riches and fertility of a concept are a function of its heredity, and 
that alone makes it worth while to study its genealogy. 

The history of science is accomplishing an endless purification 
of scientific facts and ideas. It enables us to deepen them, which is 
undoubtedly the best way to make them simpler. This simplifica- 
tion is, of course, the more necessary as science grows bigger and 
more intricate. By the way, it is thanks to this progressive 
simplification that an encyclopedic knowledge does not become 
utterly impossible; in certain cases it becomes even more ac- 
cessible. For instance, is it not easier to study chemistry or as- 
tronomy I mean the essentials of it now than it was, say, in the 
fifteenth century? 

I think one can infer from all the preceding remarks that no 
scientist is entitled to claim a profound and complete knowledge 
of his branch of science if he is not acquainted with its history. 1 


have compared the scientific achievements of mankind with the 
collective work that the bees accomplish in their hives. This com- 
parison is particularly apposite to the scientists who have special- 
ized to excess and work diligently in their own narrow field, ignor- 
ing the rest of the world. Such men are doubtless necessary, as are 
the bees that provide honey. But their endeavors could never give 
birth to a systematic knowledge, to a science proper. It is the more 
necessary that other scientists raise themselves above the artificial 
partitions of the different specialties. Their investigations irresist- 
ibly lead them to the study of history, and they obtain from it a 
deeper apprehension of their own collaboration in the grand 
undertakings of mankind. Just as one experiences gratification in 
knowing where one is and why, similarly it gives them pleasure 
to locate their own task in the world's work and to grasp better its 
relative import. And also, they understand, better than others 
do, the significance of the thousand and one ties that connect 
them to their fellowmen and the power of human solidarity, 
without which there would be no science. 


Science is generally taught in a much too synthetical way.* 
It may be that this method is indeed the best for the average 
student who passively accepts the master's authority. But those 
whose philosophical mind is more awake can hardly be satisfied 
by this food, the preparation of which is unknown to them. In- 
stead of being assuaged by harmonious order and perfect science, 
they are devoured by doubt and anxiety : " Why does the master 
teach us so? Why has he chosen those definitions? Why?" Not 
that they are loath to use synthetical methods; on the contrary, 
these young men will probably be the first to admire the depth 
and elegance of such teaching once they have grasped from their 
own experience its logical appositeness, its generality and its 

*My experience refers especially to the European continent and to the teaching of the 
physical and mathematical sciences. 


economy. But first of all they want to know "how all that was 
built up/' and their minds instinctively recoil from a dogmatism 
that is still arbitrary to them. 

It remains arbitrary indeed so long as the reasons that justify 
and render natural one arrangement in preference to any other 
have not been explained. I know that it is not easy to teach be- 
ginners in this way, but at least the deficiences of the present 
methods could be tempered, and I do not ask for more. 

Nothing would be more useful from this point of view than to 
work out some textbooks in which science would be expounded 
in chronological order; this is indeed a very important task for 
which Ernst Mach has given us some admirable models. These 
textbooks would not be employed for elementary study, unless 
the pupils used them at the same time as others composed along 
dogmatic lines. Students should be asked to study the latter and 
read the former. But in my opinion, these historical textbooks 
would especially stand professors in good stead, by enabling them 
to illustrate their lessons and make them more intuitive. Oral 
teaching, more pliable than written teaching, would easily admit 
of short historical digressions. Would not the students more easily 
remember the abstract truths that are impressed upon them in 
ever-increasing quantities, if their memory could lay hold of 
some live facts? 

But that does not exhaust the pedagogic importance of the 
history of science. Nothing is better fitted to awaken a pupil's 
critical sense and to test his vocation than to retrace for him in 
detail the complete history of a discovery, to show him the tram- 
mels of all kinds that constantly arise in the inventor's path, to 
show him also how one surmounts them or evades them, and 
lastly how one draws closer and closer to the goal without ever 
reaching it. Besides, this historical initiation would cure the young 
students of the unfortunate habit of thinking that science began 
with them. 

Good scientific biographies also have a great educational value/ 
they lead an adolescent's imagination in the best direction. Grit- 


ical and sincere biographies make excellent contributions to the 
history of mankind. Would not the students work with a better 
heart and more enthusiasm, would they not have a deeper re- 
spect for science, if they knew a little more about the heroes who 
have built it up, stone by stone, at the expense of so much suffer- 
ing, struggle and perseverance? Would they not be more eager to 
undertake some disinterested research work? Or, at least, would 
they not better appreciate the greatness and beauty of the whole 
if they had, more or less, partaken of the joy and intoxication of 
seeing it accomplished amidst continuous difficulties? 

Lastly, the history of science even more than ordinary history 
is a general education in itself. It familiarizes us with the ideas 
of evolution and continuous transformation of human things; it 
makes us understand the relative and precarious nature of all our 
knowledge; it sharpens our judgment; it shows us that, if 
the accomplishments of mankind as a whole are really grand, the 
contribution of each of us is, in the main, small, and that even 
the greatest amongst us ought to be modest. It helps to make 
scientists who are not mere scientists, but also men and citizens. 


The history of science, its birth, its evolution, its diffusion, its 
progress and regressions, irresistibly imposes upon us a series of 
psychological problems. We here enter the field of "universal 
history/' such as the much-lamented Karl Lamprecht has defined 
it; for the history of science in the main amounts to psycho- 
sociological investigation. 

It is necessary to make a preliminary distinction. The progress 
of science is due to two different kinds of causes: (1) Purely 
psychological causes, the intellectual work of the scientist; (2) 
Material causes, principally the appearance of new subject matter 
or the use of improved scientific tools. Of course, it is not difficult 
to show that the origin of these material causes is itself more or 


less of a psychological nature. But the distinction holds good; a 
discovery has not the same character, the same psychological im- 
portance, if it is the almost automatic result of a technical improve- 
ment, as it would have if it were the fruit of a mind's reaction. 

We propose to discover the general laws of the intellectual 
evolution of mankind, if such laws exist. These studies might also 
help us to better understand the intellect's mechanism. But of 
course we have given up the extravagant idea of establishing a 
priori the conditions of scientific development. On the contrary 
our aim is to deduce them from a thorough analysis of all the 
accumulated experience of the past. 

The best instrument for these studies is the comparative 
method, and this means that we must not expect to reach a degree 
of accuracy of which this method does not admit. But no scientific 
work would be possible in the domain of biology and sociology if 
we did not have the wisdom and patience to be satisfied with the 
approximation fhat is within our reach. The comparisons may be 
confined to the realm of science; I would call these the "internal" 
comparisons. They may also be made between the evolution of 
scientific phenomena and that of other intellectual or economic 
phenomena; and these I would call the "external" comparisons. 
The greatest difficulty, of course, is to find evolutionary processes 
that can be adequately compared and that are sufficiently inde- 
pendent one of another. 

The application of this method has already supplied some re- 
sults which have been very improperly called "historical laws," 
and the exactitude of which is very variable. The following are 
some examples which I list but shall refrain from discussing. Paul 
Tannery has shown that the development of calculation gener- 
ally precedes that of geometry. In their choice of decorative ele- 
ments, primitive peoples always pass from animals to plants; they 
never do the contrary. The hypothesis that has been expressed 
about the course of civilization from the South and the East to the 
North and West, is well known. Remember also the law of his- 
torical periods proposed by Lamprecht, and especially the famous 


law of the three states (la loi des trois etats), formulated by 
Auguste Comte. The theory of historical materialism, originated 
by Karl Marx, is also a proper example. 

It is sensible to undertake the study of intellectual activities in 
the same way that we study the industry of the beavers or the 
bees. Of the work produced by the human brain we generally 
know nothing but the results, but these are tangible and can be, if 
not actually measured, at least compared and appraised with 
more or less precision. The invention of a machine or the discovery 
of a natural law: are these npt, at bottom, phenomena of the 
same kind as the behavior of a crab or of a sea anemone under de- 
termined circumstances? They are, of course, much more com- 
plex and their study requires the use of new methods, scarcely 
explored; but can one not admit, at least as a working hypothesis, 
that they do not differ in essentials? The psychology of the su- 
perior functions of the brain is not necessarily more complicated 
than that of the inferior functions; I should be rather inclined to 
think the contrary. For instance, would it not be easier to retrace 
the development of a scientific idea in a clear mind than to dis- 
entangle, in the "pre-logical" head of a primitive man, the obscure 
roots of his instinct of property or imitation? 

It is from the comparison of these intellectual facts, as they can 
be collected by the historian of science from the whole intellectual 
experience of the world, that we may try to deduce the laws of 
thought. Human experience has been continuously increasing dur- 
ing the ages, but the intellect itself has it evolved? The methods 
of discovery, the mental experiences, the hidden mechanism of 
intuition have they not remained somewhat the same? 

Is there nothing invariable in men's intellectual behavior? What 
are those invariants, or at least those relative invariants, those 
more stable parts of ourselves? To what extent does the scientific 
environment exert its influence upon the scientists, and vice versa? 
How do social activities evidence themselves in the domain of 
science? By what mental processes are the ideas of the initiators 
integrated in the collective thought, to become, by and by, com- 


mon notions? All these questions, raised by the history of science, 
are so many psychological problems. 

As to research concerning the psychology of invention, choice 
materials will be found in the history of technology. The results of 
technical invention are material objects of a very concrete and 
tangible nature. Besides, the mechanism of industrial discoveries 
is especially interesting, because to materialize his ideas the 
engineer has actually to struggle with all the difficulties of real 
life. The struggle is more obvious here than in any other domain. 
It frequently happens that unexpected obstacles are so great that 
the idea cannot be carried out; but it also happens very often that 
the very clash of these obstacles gives birth to new ideas, deeper 
and richer than the original ones. Then one sees, so to say, the 
invention gush out from the conflict between matter and spirit. 

It would be apposite here to present some remarks about the 
"genealogical" research work that was initiated by Francis Galton 
and Alphonse de Candolle. These very interesting historico- 
statistical investigations, intimately connected with the eugenic 
movement, bring new testimonies to the importance of the history 
of science from the psycho-sociological point of view. But, in order 
to give a good idea of these studies, I should be obliged to make 
too long a digression from my subject. 


A deeper knowledge and a greater diffusion of the history 
of science will help to bring about a new "humanism/' (I beg the 
reader to excuse me for using a word that has already been em- 
ployed in at least two different senses, but I do not find any other 
that is more adequate to the idea I wish to convey.) The history 
of science, if it is understood in a really philosophic way, will 
broaden our horizon and sympathy; it will raise our intellectual 
and moral standards; it will deepen our comprehension of men 
and nature. The humanistic movement of the Renaissance was 
essentially a synthetic movement. The humanists were longing 


for a new atmosphere and a broader conception of life; their 
curiosity was insatiable. We have at least this much in common 
with them. We know also that if science were to be abandoned to 
narrow-minded specialists, it would soon degenerate into a new 
kind of scholasticism, without life or beauty false and wrong like 
death itself. This would be another good reason for comparing 
our task with that accomplished by the former humanists. How- 
ever, their movement was essentially toward the past/ ours is 
much more a movement toward the future. 

Science, divided into water-tight compartments, makes us feel 
uneasy; a world split into selfish and quarrelsome nations (simi- 
lar to the Italian and Flemish municipalities of the Renaissance) 
is too narrow for us. We need the full experience of other coun- 
tries, of other races; we need also the full experience of other ages. 
We need more air! 

It may be useful to lay some stress on the significance of science 
from the international point of view. Science is the most precious 
patrimony of mankind. It is immortal. It is inalienable. It cannot 
but increase. Does not this precious patrimony deserve to be 
known thoroughly, not only in its present state but in its whole 
evolution? Now most men most scientists are unfamiliar with 
the glorious history of our conquests over nature. Would it not be 
a great work of peace and progress to bring them to better under- 
standing and appreciation of this intellectual domain which is 
privileged among all others, because it is the only one that is 
entirely common to all? Science is not only the strongest tie, but 
it is the only one that is really strong and undisputed. 

Science makes for peace more than anything else in the world; 
it is the cement that holds together the highest and the most com- 
prehensive minds of all countries, of all races, of all creeds. Every 
nation derives benefit from the discoveries that have been made 
by the others. 

Just as scientific methods are the basis of well-nigh all our 
knowledge, just so science appears more and more as the bedrock 
on which every organization has to be built up to be strong and 


fertile. It is the most powerful factor of human progress. As Mach 
has perfectly put it: ''Science has undertaken to replace wavering 
and unconscious adaptation by a methodical adaptation, quicker 
and decidedly conscious/' It is the historian's duty to evidence all 
the scientific facts and ideas that make for peace and civilization; 
in this way he will make science's cultural function more secure. 

The international significance of the history of science has not 
been better grasped thus far, for the simple reason that very few 
historical studies have been inspired by a real international spirit. 
For one thing, universal histories have been almost exclusively 
devoted to the achievements of the Indo- Aryan race. Everything in 
them gravitates round the development of Europe. Of course this 
point of view is absolutely false. The history of mankind is too 
obviously incomplete if it does not include, on the same level as 
the Western experience, the immense experience of the East. We 
badly need the knowledge and wisdom of Asia. They have found 
other solutions to our own problems (the fundamental problems 
cannot but be the same) and it is of the greatest importance to 
consider these solutions, and to consider them with humility. They 
have very often been nearer to truth and beauty than we. Besides, 
although the development of the Far Eastern countries has been 
to a great extent independent of our own, there have been far 
more exchanges, especially in ancient times, than is generally be- 
lieved, and it is of paramount importance to investigate these 

The progress of mankind is not simply an economic develop- 
ment; it is much more an intellectual unfolding, as Henry Thomas 
Buckle has shown with so much force. The whole course of civili- 
zation is marked by the triumph of the mental laws over the 
physical a triumph of man over nature. But to my mind, Buckle 
has even gone too far in this direction. I am not ready to concede 
his claim that the changes in every civilized people are dependent 
solely on three things: (1) The amount of knowledge of the 
ablest men; (2) The direction of this knowledge; (3) Its diffusion. 


If Buckle were right all history would be included in the history 
of science. There are other things to consider. 

Moral factors do not deserve the contempt which Buckle 
showed them and I think that it is even possible to construct an 
ethical interpretation of history. To give a moral significance to 
history, the essential condition is to make it as complete, as sincere 
as possible. Nothing is more demoralizing than histories ad usum 
T)elpbini. We must display the whole of human experience, the 
best and worst together. The greatest achievement of mankind is 
indeed its struggle against evil and ignorance. Nothing is nobler 
than this endless struggle between the truth of to-day and that of 
yesterday. It stands to reason that if one side of the picture is not 
shown the evil side, for instance the other loses a great deal of 
its interest. The quest for truth and beauty is indeed man's glory. 
This is certainly the highest moral interpretation which history 

We must try to humanize science, better to show its various 
relations with other human activities its relation to our own 
nature. It will not lower science; on the contrary, science remains 
the center of human evolution and its highest goal; to humanize it 
is not to make it less important, but more significant, more impres- 
sive, more amiable. 

The new humanism as I venture to call the intellectual move- 
ment that has been defined in the preceding pages will also have 
the following consequences: it will disentangle us from many local 
and national prejudices, also from many of the common prejudices 
of our own time. Each age has, of course, its own prejudices. Just 
as the only way to get rid of local prejudices is to travel, simi- 
larly, to extricate ourselves from time-narrowness, we must wandei 
through the agc^. Our age is not necessarily the best or the wisest, 
and anyhow it is not the last! We have to prepare the next one, 
and I hope a better one. 

If we study history, it is not through mere curiosity, simply tc 
know how things happened in the olden times (if we have nc 
other purpose than this, our knowledge would indeed be of a pooi 


quality) ; nor is it for the mere intellectual joy of understanding 
life better. We are not disinterested enough for that. No; we wish 
to understand, to foresee more clearly; we wish to be able to act 
with more precision and wisdom. History itself is of no concern 
to us. The past does not interest us but for the future. 

To build up this future, to make it beautiful, as were those 
glorious times of synthetic knowledge, for instance that of Phidias 
or of Leonardo da Vinci, it is necessary to prepare a new synthesis. 
We propose to realize it by bringing about a new and more inti- 
mate collaboration between scientist, philosopher and historian. 
If that could be accomplished, it would give birth to so much 
beauty that the collaboration of the artist would also, necessarily, 
be secured; an age of synthesis is always an age of art. This syn- 
thesis is what I call "the new humanism/' It is something in the 
making not a dream. We see it growing, but no one can tell 
how big it will grow. 

The writer is convinced that the history of science that is to 
say, the history of human thought and civilization in its broadest 
form is the indispensable basis of any philosophy. History is but 
a method not an aim ! 




The history of mankind is double : political history which is to a 
large extent a history of the masses, and intellectual history which 
is largely the history of a few individuals. 

The first development is the obvious one; it is the one which has 
thus far claimed the attention of historians almost exclusively. 
The peoples of the earth and, within each nation, the different 
classes of men, are not equally fertile, ingenious, energetic, ambi- 
tious. Their ambition in the case of peoples one calls it, often, 
imperialism is a function of their strength and vitality. If they 
become conscious of their superiority without being restrained 
by moral or religious motives, they are bound to become aggres- 
sive. Between strong, numerous, hungry people on the one hand 
and a people, weak and few in number, on the other, there arises, 
so to say, a difference of potential which, if it reaches a certain 
limit, causes a sudden disruption war or revolution. Political or 
economic history can thus be explained in terms of forces chiefly 
material. (At least in theory, for in most cases the complexity of 
causes is too great to admit of a strict analysis and we must be con- 
tent to register most historical disruptions as we register earth- 
quakes or cyclones : we know the causes but only in a general way, 
and our grasp of them is very weak.) To be sure, other factors 
than the material must be considered moral and religious factors, 
for instance, but the fundamental causes are material. Leaders 
may exert a deep influence and modify the course of events, but 
only to a limited extent, for their energy remains always a function 
of the energy of their following. They can lead only to the extent to 
which they avail themselves of existing passions, of the differences 
of potential which already obtain: they cannot create these dif- 
ferences, but they can make use of them in various ways/ they 
can delay the discharge or else provoke it and modify its nature. 

The second development is far less obvious; in fact so far as the 



majority of people is concerned, it is almost secret. Yet it is the 
development of the activities which are most specifically human, 
the development of all that is best in humanity: I mean the de- 
velopment of art, of science, of justice, of moral and religious 
ideals; in short, the creation and evolution of spiritual values. 
These values are created by individuals; in most cases isolated 
individuals. Caesar and Napoleon cannot accomplish their destiny 
without the collaboration of millions; Spinoza, Newton, Pasteur 
do accomplish their own in seclusion. They thrive best in solitude. 
The elaboration of their sacred task the very fulfillment of 
human destiny is to a large degree independent of circumstances. 
At least, external circumstances seem purely accidental, not really 
creative. Society can poison Socrates, crucify Jesus or behead 
Lavoisier; it cannot cause them to be born, it cannot dictate 
their task. 

It is a very great pleasure to reveal to young students this 
second but essential aspect of human history the course of 
human progress for they know generally but little of it, and 
what they know has been obscured by the large mass of irrelevant 
and indifferent facts. They see kings enthroned, peoples in arms; 
they hear the clash of armies or of mobs; they may even hear the 
impassioned orations of statesmen or rebels. But how could they 
see the poor philosopher working in his miserable quarters; the 
artist wrung under the load of his inspiration; the scientist pursu- 
ing silently, obstinately, his self-imposed quest? It requires more 
wisdom and imagination than they can possibly have to see these 
things. They may know pretty well the historical background. It 
is the inestimable privilege of the historian of science to place in 
front of it these inconspicuous but central figures. 

Who cares to know the great business men and the financiers 
of Greece or Rome or of the Renaissance? Their very names are 
forgotten. The very few of them who escaped oblivion did so 
only because they patronized the disinterested activity of schol- 
ars, artists and scientists. Yet in spite of the high regard which 


mankind has for those who minister successfully to its material 
needs, as soon as they are dead and mankind's judgment is no 
longer influenced by these needs, such men are thrown into the 
background and their servants artists and scientists come into 
the center of the stage. The sober judgment of mankind thus con- 
firms our assumption : the few men who enrich its spiritual life are 
its true representatives in the light of eternity. Are we not right 
then in believing that it is they, and no others, who fulfill its 

This enables us finally to solve another paradox : how can one 
reconcile the unity of mankind with a chronic state of distrust, of 
discord and war, alas! all too obvious? Quite simply; the unity is 
hidden but deep-seated; the disunity widespread but superficial. 
The unity is felt and expressed primarily by the few men of all 
nations whose aims are not selfish, or provincial, nationalistic, 
racial or sectarian in any way, but largely human : the very few 
men upon whom has devolved the fulfillment of mankind's pur- 
pose. They realize intensely that their interests are different from 
the disunity, from the antagonism felt and expressed by an over- 
whelming majority : those who are jealous of their own brethren : 
whose contempt, distrust or even hatred of all other men is one of 
the emotional sources of their life, one of the stimulants of their 
activity. These strange feelings are reinforced by what little his- 
torical knowledge they may have. Indeed historical learning and 
teaching has dealt thus far largely with the most obvious and 
noisy part of human evolution, but the least important. In spite of 
many appearances to the contrary, man's essential purpose is not 
a struggle for existence or for supremacy, not a devastating 
scramble for the goods of this world, but a generous and fruitful 
emulation in the creation and the diffusion of spiritual values. 
Now this creation takes place to a large extent secretly, for it is 
not accomplished by crowds, nor by pompous dignitaries offici- 
ating in the eyes of the people, but by individuals often poor and 
unknown, who carry on their sacred task in mean garrets, in 


wretched laboratories, or in other obscure corners scattered all 
over the civilized world, with hardly any regard for political 
boundaries, social or religious distinctions. 'The wind bloweth 
where it listeth." The secrecy of their work is enhanced by the 
fact that it goes on in spite of the catastrophes, wars and revolu- 
tions which retain the whole attention of the people. Wars and 
revolutions are not essentially different from natural catastrophes 
such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods or epidemics; 
they are almost as impersonal and uncontrollable. For most men 
these catastrophes are by far the most important events, and this 
is natural enough, since their welfare is dreadfully affected by 
them. Galileo's or Newton's discoveries do not raise the price of 
food or shelter, at least not with sufficient suddenness to be per- 
ceptible. For us, on the contrary, these discoveries which must 
sooner or later transform man's outlook and, so to say, magnify 
both the universe and himself, are the cardinal events of the 
world's history. All the catastrophes, caused either by the untamed 
forces of nature or by the irrepressible folly of men, are nothing 
but accidents. They interrupt and upset man's essential activity 
but, however formidable, they do not and cannot dominate it. 

7he essential history of mankind is largely secret. Visible his- 
tory is nothing but the local scenery, the everchanging and capri- 
cious background of this invisible history which, alone, is truly 
ecumenical and progressive. From our point of view, peoples and 
nations, even as men, are not to be judged by the power or the 
wealth they have attained, not by the amount of perishable goods 
which they produce, but only by their imperishable contributions 
to the whole of humanity. 



Leonardo da Vinci died in the little manor of Cloux, near 
Amboise, where he had been for the previous three years the 
honored guest of Francis I, on May 1, 1519. He was not only one 
of the greatest artists, but even more the greatest scientist and 
the greatest engineer of his day. Indeed, with the passing of time 
his unique personality looms larger and larger and bids fair to 
attain, as soon as it is completely known, gigantic proportions. 

Leonardo the artist is so well known that I shall hardly speak of 
him, but it is worth while for the purpose that I have in mind to 
recall briefly the most important facts of his life. 

He was born in Vinci, a village in the hills between Florence 
and Pisa, in 1452, an illegitimate child, his mother being a peasant 
woman, and his father Ser Piero, a notary, a man of substance. 
The latter's family can be traced back to 1 339, through three other 
generations of notaries. Soon after Leonardo's birth, his father 
took him away from his mother, and both parents hastened to 
marry, each in his own set. Ser Piero must have been a man of 
tremendous vitality, mental and physical. He was one of the most 
successful notaries of the Signoria and of the great families of 
Florence, and his wealth increased apace. He married four times, 
the two first unions remaining childless. His first legitimate child 
was not born until 1 476, when Leonardo was already twenty-four, 
but after that ten more children were born to him by his third and 
fourth wives, the last one in the very year of his death, which 
occurred in 1 504, when he was seventy-seven. 

Thus Leonardo had five mothers. The real one disappears soon 
after his birth; she bore him and her mission ended there as far 
as Leonardo was concerned. What the four others were to him, 
we do not know, for he does not speak of them. He had five 
mothers and he had none. He is a motherless child, also a brother- 
less one, because he does not seem to have had much to do with 



his eleven brothers and sisters far younger than himself anyhow 
except when, at their father's death, they all leagued them- 
selves against him to deny him any part of the patrimony. A 
motherless, brotherless, lonely childhood; we cannot lay too much 
stress on this; it accounts for so much. 

In or about 1470 Ser Piero placed his son, now a very handsome 
and precocious boy, in the studio of Andrea Verrocchio, who 
since Donatello's death was the greatest sculptor of Florence; also 
a painter, a goldsmith, a very versatile man, indeed. Within the 
next years Leonardo had the opportunity to show the stuff of 
which he was made, and by 1480 his genius had matured. He was 
considered by common consent a great painter, and, moreover, 
his mind was swarming with ideas, not simply artistic ideas, but 
also architectural and engineering plans. 

Leonardo was born in the neighborhood of Florence and bred 
in the great city. It is well, even in so short a sketch, to say what 
this implies. The people of Tuscany are made up of an extraor- 
dinary mixture of Etruscan, Roman, and Teutonic blood. Their 
main city, Florence, had been for centuries a considerable em- 
porium, but also a center of arts and of letters. Suffice it to re- 
member that of all the Italian dialects it is the Tuscan, and more 
specifically its Florentine variety, which has become the national 
language. The prosperous city soon took a lively interest in art, 
but loved it in its own way. These imaginative but cool-headed 
merchants patronize goldsmiths, sculptors, draftsmen. They do 
not waste any sentimentality, neither are they very sensual : clear 
outlines appeal more to them than gorgeous colors. Except when 
they are temporarily maddened by personal jealousy or by a feud 
which spreads like oil, it would be difficult to find people more 
level-headed, and having on an average more common sense and 
a clearer will. 

Leonardo was a Florentine to the backbone, and yet this en- 
vironment was not congenial to him. He was distinctly superior to 
most of his fellow citizens as a craftsman, but he could not match 
the best of them in literary matters. The Medici had gathered 


around them a circle of men whose delight it was to discuss topics 
of Greek, Latin, and vernacular literature, and to debate, often in 
a very learned manner, the subject of Platonic philosophy. There 
is no gainsaying that these Neoplatonists were a brilliant set of 
men, but their interests were chiefly of the literary kind; they were 
men of letters and loved beautiful discourse for its own sake. On 
the contrary, young Leonardo, following an irresistible trend, was 
carrying on scientific and technical investigations of every sort. 
The engineer in him was slowly developing. Perhaps, he could 
not help considering these amateur philosophers as idle talkers; 
but it is just as likely that, being a motherless child, he was not 
endowed with sufficient urbanity to fare comfortably in this 
society of refined dilettanti. Nature more and more engrossed his 
attention, and he was far more deeply concerned in solving its 
innumerable problems than in trying to reconcile Platonism and 
Christianity. Neither could his brother artists satisfy his intel- 
lectual needs; they were talking shop and fretting all the time. A 
few had shown some interest in scientific matters, but on the 
whole their horizon was too narrow and their self-centeredness un- 
bearable. Also, Florence was becoming a very old place, and an 
overgrowth of traditions and conventions gradually crowded out 
all initiative and real originality. So Leonardo left and went to 
Milan, to the court of Ludovico Sforza, at that time one of the 
most splendid courts of Europe. Milan would certainly offer more 
opportunities to an enterprising and restless mind like his. The 
very desire of outdoing Florence was a tremendous impulse for 
Ludovico : he was anxious to make of his capital a new Athens, 
and of the near-by university town of Pavia a great cultural center. 
His happiest thought perhaps was to keep around him two men 
who were among the greatest of their day Bramante and 
Leonardo. The liberal opportunities which were offered to these 
two giants are the supreme glory of the Sforzas and of Milan. 

Leonardo was employed by the Duke as a civil and military 
engineer, as a pageant master, as a sculptor, as a painter, as an 
architect. How far he was understood by his patron it is difficult 


to say. But he seems to have thrived in this new atmosphere, and 
these Milanese years are among the most active and the most 
fertile of his life. He was now at the height of his power and full 
scope was given to his devouring activity. It is during this period, 
for instance, that he modelled his famous equestrian statue of 
Francesco Sforza, that he painted the "Virgin of the Rocks/' and 
the "Last Supper/' while he was also superintending important 
hydraulic works, and pursuing indefatigably his various scientific 
investigations. Yet even at this time of greatest activity and en- 
thusiasm he must have been a lonesome man. This brilliant but 
very corrupt court was of course the rendezvous of hundreds of 
dilettanti, parasites, snobs male and female and what could 
Leonardo do to protect himself against them but be silent and 
withdraw into his own shell? 

Milan justly shares with Florence the fame of having given 
Leonardo to the world; it was really his second birthplace. Un- 
fortunately, before long, heavy clouds gathered over this joyous 
city, and by 1500 the show was over and Ludovico, made prisoner 
by the French, was to spend the last ten years of his life most 
miserably in the underground cell of a dungeon. From that time 
on, Leonardo's life became very unsettled. It is true, he spent 
many years in Florence, employed by the Signoria, painting "la 
Gioconda" and the "Battle of Anghiari"; then for some years he 
was back in Milan, but he is more and more restless and some- 
how the charm is broken. After the fall of the Sforzas, Isabella 
d'Este, Marchioness of Mantua perhaps the most distinguished 
woman of the Renaissance tried to attach Leonardo to he- serv- 
ice, but he refused, and instead he chose, in 1502, to follow Cesare 
Borgia as his military engineer. One may wonder at this choice, 
yet it is easy enough to explain. At that time Leonardo was already 
far prouder of his achievements as a mechanic and an engineer 
than as a painter. It is likely that in the eyes of Isabella, however, 
he was simply an artist and he may have feared that this accom- 
plished princess would give him but little scope for his engineering 
designs and his scientific research. On the other hand, Leonardo 


found himself less and less at home in Florence. The city had con- 
siderably changed in the last ten years. Savonarola had ruled it, 
and many of the artists had been deeply swayed by his passionate 
appeals, and even more by his death. For once, fair Florence had 
lost her head. And then also, young Michael Angelo had appeared, 
heroic but intolerant and immoderate: he and Leonardo were 
equally great but so different that they could not possibly get on 

In 1513-15 Leonardo went to the papal court, but there, for the 
first time in his life, the old man was snubbed. Having left Rome, 
his prospects were getting darker, when fortunately he met in 
Bologna the young King of France, Francis I, who persuaded him 
to accept his patronage. The King offered him a little castle in 
Touraine, with a princely income, and there Leonardo spent in 
comparative quietness, the last three years of his life. It must be 
said to the credit of Francis I that he seems to have understood his 
guest, or at least to have divined his sterling worth. France, how- 
ever, did not appreciate Leonardo, and was not faithful to her 
trust. The cloister of Saint-Florentin at Amboise, where the great 
artist had been buried, was destroyed by a fire in 1 808, and his 
very ashes are lost. 

He was apparently an old man when he died, much older than 
his years, exhausted by his relentless mind and by the vicissitudes 
and the miseries of his strange career. Only those who have known 
suffering and anxiety can fully understand the drama and the 
beauty of his life. 

Throughout his existence Leonardo had carried on simultane- 
ously, and almost without a break, his work as an artist, as a 
scientist, as an engineer. Such a diversity of gifts was not as un- 
usual in his day as it would be now. Paolo Uccello, Leo B. Alberti, 
Piero dei Franceschi, even Verrocchio himself, had shown more 
than a casual interest in scientific matters such as perspective and 
anatomy, but Leonardo towers far above them. The excellence of 
his endowment is far more amazing than its complexity. His 


curiosity was universal to such a degree that to write a complete 
study of his genius amounts to writing a real encyclopaedia of 
fifteenth-century science and technology. From his earliest age he 
had given proofs of this insatiable thirst for knowledge. He could 
take nothing for granted. Everything that he saw, either in the 
fields or on the moving surface of a river, or in the sky, or in the 
bottega of his master, or in the workshops of Florence, raised a 
new problem in his mind. Most of the time neither man nor book 
could give an answer to his question, and his mind kept working 
on it and remained restless until he had devised one himself. This 
means, of course, that there was no rest for him until the end. In 
a few cases, however, a satisfactory answer suggested itself, and 
so a whole system of knowledge was slowly unfolding in him. 

His apprenticeship in Verrocchio's studio must have greatly 
fostered his inquiries in the theory of perspective, the art of light 
and shade, and the physiology of vision; the preparation of colors 
and varnishes must have turned his thoughts to chemistry; while 
the routine of his work woke up naturally enough his interest in 
anatomy. He could not long be satisfied by the study of the so- 
called artistic anatomy, which deals only with the exterior 
muscles. For one thing, the study of the movements of the human 
figure, which he tried to express in his drawings, raised innumer- 
able questions: how were they possible, what kept the human 
machine moving and how did it work? ... It is easy to 
imagine how he was irresistibly driven step by step to investigate 
every anatomical and physiological problem. There are in the 
King's library at Windsor hundreds of drawings of his which 
prove that he made a thorough analysis of practically all the 
organs. Indeed, he had dissected quite a number of bodies, in- 
cluding that of a gravid woman, and his minute and compre- 
hensive sketches are the first anatomical drawings worthy of the 
name. Many of these sketches are devoted to the comparison of 
human anatomy with the anatomy of animals, the monkey or the 
horse for instance; or else he will compare similar parts of various 
animals, say, the eyes or a leg and a wing. Other sketches relate 


to pathological anatomy: the hardening of the arteries; tubercu- 
lous lesions of the lungs; a very searching study of the symptoms 
of senility. 

On the other hand his activity as a practical engineer led him 
to study, or we might almost say to found, geology: he set to 
wonder at the various layers of sand and clay which the cutting of 
a canal did not fail to display; he tried to explain the fossils which 
he found embedded in the rocks and his explanations were sub- 
stantially correct. Moreover, he clearly perceived the extreme 
slowness of most geological transformations, and figured that the 
alluvial deposits of the river Po were two hundred thousand years 
old. He well understood the geological action of water and its 
meteorological cycle. 

His work as a sculptor, or as a military engineer (for instance, 
when he had to supervise the casting of bombards) , caused him 
to study metallurgy, particularly the smelting and casting of 
bronze, the rolling, drawing, planing, and drilling of iron. On all 
these subjects he has left elaborate instructions and drawings. He 
undertook in various parts of northern Italy a vast amount of 
hydraulic work: digging of canals, for which he devised a whole 
range of excavating machines and tools; building of sluices; estab- 
lishment of water wheels and pipes, and his study of hydro- 
dynamics was so continuous that notes referring to it are found in 
all his manuscripts. He also studied the tides, but did not under- 
stand them. 

In fact, it is impossible to give even a superficial account of all 
his scientific and technical investigations, and the reader must for- 
give me if the magnitude of the subject obliges me to limit myself 
to a sort of catalogue, for the adequate development of any single 
point would take many a page. Leonardo's manuscripts contain a 
great number of architectural drawings, sketches of churches and 
other buildings, but also more technical matters; he studied the 
proportion of arches, the construction of bridges and staircases; 
how to repair fissures in walls; how to lift up and move houses 
and churches. There is also much of what we would call town- 


planning; the plague of Milan in 1484 likely was his great oppor- 
tunity in this field, and he thought of various schemes to improve 
public sanitation and convenience, including a two-level system 
of streets. Botany repeatedly fixed his attention and we find many 
notes on the life of plants, the mathematical distribution of leaves 
on a stem, also beautiful and characteristic drawings of various 
species. A great deal of the work undertaken for his employers 
was of course connected with military engineering : hundreds of 
notes and sketches on all sorts of arms and armor, on all imagin- 
able offensive and defensive appliances; of course, many plans for 
fortifications and strongholds (how to attack them and how to 
defend them); portable bridges; mining and countermining; 
tanks; various devices for the use of liquid fire, or of poisoning 
and asphyxiating fumes. He adds occasional notes on military and 
naval operations. He had even thought of some kind of submarine 
apparatus, by means of which ships could be sunk, but the 
dastardliness of the idea had horrified and stopped him. 

No field, however, could offer a fuller scope to his prodigious 
versatility and ingenuity than the one of practical mechanics. A 
very intense industrial development had taken place in Tuscany 
and Lombardy for centuries before Leonardo's birth; the pros- 
perity of their workshops was greater than ever; there was a con- 
tinuous demand for inventions of all kinds, and no environment 
was more proper to enhance his mechanical genius. 

Leonardo was a born mechanic. He had a deep understanding 
of the elementary parts of which any machine, however compli- 
cated, is made up, and his keen sense of proportions stood him in 
good stead when he started to build it. He devised machines for 
almost every purpose which could be thought of in his day. I 
quote a few examples at random : various types of lathes ; machines 
to shear cloth; automatic file-cutting machines; sprocket wheels 
and chains for power transmission; machines to saw marble, to 
raise water, to grind plane and concave mirrors, to dive under 
water, to lift up, to heat, to light; paddle-wheels to move boats. 
And mind you, Leonardo was never satisfied with the applications 


alone, he wanted to understand as thoroughly as possible the prin- 
ciples underlying them. He clearly saw that practice and theory 
are twin sisters who must develop together, that theory without 
practice is senseless, and practice without theory hopeless. So it 
was not enough for him to hit upon a contrivance which answered 
his purpose; he wanted to know the cause of his success, or, as 
the case may be, of his failure. That is how we find in his papers 
the earliest systematic researches on such subjects as the stability 
of structures, the strength of materials, also on friction which he 
tried in various ways to overcome. That is not all: he seems to 
have grasped the principle of automaticity that a machine is so 
much the more efficient, that it is more continuous and more in- 
dependent of human attention. He had even conceived, in a 
special case, a judicious saving of human labor, that is, what we 
now call "scientific management." 

His greatest achievement in the field of mechanics, however, 
and one which would be sufficient in itself to prove his extraor- 
dinary genius, is his exhaustive study of the problem of flying. It 
is complete, in so far that it would have been impossible to go 
further at his time, or indeed at any time until the progress of the 
automobile industry had developed a suitable motor. These inves- 
tigations which occupied Leonardo throughout his life, were of 
two kinds. First, a study of the natural flying of birds and bats, 
and of the structure and function of their wings. He most clearly 
saw that the bird obtains from the air the recoil and the resistance 
which is necessary to elevate and carry itself forward. He ob- 
served how birds took advantage of the wind and how they used 
their wings, tails, and heads as propellers, balancers and rudders. 
In the second place, a mechanical study of various kinds of arti- 
ficial wings, and of diverse apparatus by means of which a man 
might move them, using for instance the potential energy of 
springs, and others which he would employ to equilibrate his ma- 
chine and steer its course. 

It is necessary to insist that most of these drawings and notes of 
Leonardo's are not idle schemes, vague and easy suggestions 


such as we find, for instance, in the writings of Roger Bacon; but, 
on the contrary, very definite and clear ideas which could have 
been patented, if such a thing as a patent office had already 
existed! Moreover, a number of these drawings are so elaborate, 
giving us general views of the whole machine from different direc- 
tions, and minute sketches of every single piece and of every 
detail of importance that it would be easy enough to reconstruct 
it. In many cases, however, that is not even necessary, since these 
machines were actually constructed and used, some of them 
almost to our own time. 

To visualize better the activity of his mind, let us take at ran- 
dom a few years of his life and watch him at work. We might 
take, for instance, those years of divine inspiration when he was 
painting the "Last Supper" in the refectory of Santa Maria delle 
Grazie, that is, about 1494-98. Do you suppose that this vast 
undertaking claimed the whole of his attention? 

During these few years we see him act professionally as a 
pageant master, a decorator, an architect, an hydraulic engineer. 
His friend, Fra Luca Pacioli, the mathematician, tells us that by 
1498 Leonardo "had completed with the greatest care his book on 
painting and on the movements of the human figure/' We also 
know that before 1499, he had painted the portraits of Cecilia 
Gallerani and of Lucrezia Crivelli. Besides, his note-books of that 
period show that he was interested in a great variety of other 
subjects, chief among them hydraulics, flying, optics, dynamics, 
zoology, and the construction of various machines. He was also 
making a study of his own language, and preparing a sort of 
Italian dictionary. No wonder that the prior of Santa Maria com- 
plained of his slowness! 

It so happened that during these four years he did not do much 
anatomical work, but during almost any other period he would 
have been carrying on some dissecting. Corpses were always hard 
to get, and I suppose that when he could get hold of one he made 
the most of it, working day and night as fast as he could. Then, 


as a change, he would go out into the fields and gaze at the stars, 
or at the earthshine which he could see inside the crescent of the 
moon; or else, if it were daytime, he would pick up fossils or 
marvel at the regularities of plant structure, or watch chicks break- 
ing their shells. . . . Was it not uncanny? Fortunate was he to 
be born at a time of relative toleration. If he had appeared a cen- 
tury later, when religious fanaticism had been awakened, be sure 
this immoderate curiosity would have led him straight to the stake. 
But remarkable as Leonardo's universality is, his earnestness 
and thoroughness are even more so. There is not a bit of dilet- 
tantism in him. If a problem has once arrested his attention, he 
will come back to it year after year. In some cases, we can actually 
follow his experiments and the hesitations and slow progress of 
his mind for a period of more than twenty-five years. That is not 
the least fascinating side of his notes; as he wrote them for his 
own private use, it is almost as if we heard him think, as if we 
were admitted to the secret laboratory where his discoveries were 
slowly maturing. Such an opportunity is unique in the history of 

Just try to realize what it means : Here we have a man of con- 
siderable mother-wit, but unlearned, unsophisticated, who had 
to take up every question at the very beginning, like a child. 
Leonardo opened his eyes and looked straight upon the world. 
There were no books between nature and him; he was untram- 
melled by learning, prejudice, or convention. He just asked him- 
self questions, made experiments and used his common sense. The 
world was one to him, and so was science, and so was art. But 
he did not lose himself in sterile contemplation, or in verbal gen- 
eralities. He tried to solve patiently each little problem separately. 
He saw that the only fruitful way of doing that is first to state the 
problem as clearly as possible, then to isolate it, to make the neces- 
sary experiments and to discuss them. Experiment is always at the 
bottom; mathematics, that is, reason, at the end. In short, the 
method of inductive philosophy which Francis Bacon was to ex- 


plain so well a century and a half later, Leonardo actually prac- 

This is, indeed, his greatest contribution: his method. He 
deeply realized that if we are to know something of this world, 
we can know it only by patient observation and tireless experi- 
ment. His note-books are just full of experiments and experimental 
suggestions, 'Try this ... do that . . ." and we find also whole 
series of experiments, wherein one condition and then another 
are gradually varied. Now, that may seem of little account, yet it 
is everything. We can count on our fingers the men who devised 
real experiments before Leonardo, and these experiments are 
very few in number and very simple. 

But perhaps the best way to show how far he stood on the road 
to progress, is to consider his attitude in regard to the many super- 
stitions to which even the noblest and most emancipated minds of 
his day paid homage, and which were to sway Europe for more 
than two centuries after Leonardo's death. Just remember that in 
1484, the Pope Boniface VIII had sown the seed of the witch 
mania, and that this terrible madness was slowly incubating at the 
time of which we are speaking. Now, Leonardo's contempt for 
astrologers and alchemists was most outspoken and unconditional. 
He met the spiritists of his age, as we do those of to-day, by 
simply placing the burden of proof on their shoulders. It is true, 
for all these matters, his Florentine ancestry stood him in good 
stead. Petrarca had already shown how Florentine common sense 
disposed of them; but Petrarca, man of letters, would not have 
dared to treat the believers in ghosts, the medical quacks, the 
necromancers, the searchers for gold and for perpetual motion as 
one bunch of impostors. And that is what Leonardo did repeatedly 
and most decidedly. Oh! how they must have liked him! 

I must insist on this point: it is his ignorance which saved 
Leonardo. I do not mean to say that he was entirely unlearned, 
but he was sufficiently unlearned to be untrammelled. However 
much he may have read in his mature years, I am convinced that 


the literary studies of his youth were very poor. No teachers had 
time to mould his mind and to pervert his judgment. The good 
workman Verrocchio was perhaps his first philosopher, nature 
herself his real teacher. He was bred upon the experiments of the 
studio and of real life, not upon the artificialities of a mediaeval 
library. He read more, later in life, but even then his readings, I 
think, were never exhaustive. He was far too original, too im- 
patient, If he began to read, some idea would soon cross his mind, 
and divert his attention, and the book would be abandoned. Any- 
how, at that time his mind was already proof against the scholastic 
fallacies; he was able, so to say, to filter through his own experi- 
ence whatever mediaeval philosophy reached him either in print 
or by word of mouth. 

Neither do I mean to imply that all the schoolmen were dunces. 
Far from that, not a few were men of amazing genius, but their 
point of view was never free from prejudice; it was always the 
theological or legal point of view; they were always like lawyers 
pleading a cause; they were constitutionally unable to investigate 
a problem without reservation and without fear. Moreover, they 
were so cocksure, so dogmatic. Their world was a limited, a closed 
system; had they not encompassed and exhausted it in their 
learned encyclopaedias? In fact they knew everything except their 
own ignorance. 

Now the fact that Leonardo had been protected against them 
by his innocence is of course insufficient to account for his genius. 
Innocence is but a negative quality. Leonardo came to be what 
he was because he combined in himself a keen and candid intelli- 
gence with great technical experience and unusual craftsmanship. 
That is the very key to the mystery. Maybe if he had been simply 
a theoretical physicist, as were many of the schoolmen (their 
interest in astronomy and physics was intense), he would not 
have engaged in so many experiments. But as an engineer, a 
mechanic, a craftsman, he was experimenting all the while; he 
could not help it. If he had not experimented on nature, nature 
would have experimented on him; it was only a choice between 


offensive and defensive experimenting. Anyhow, whether he 
chose to take the initiative or not, these experiments were the 
fountainhead of his genius. To be sure, he had also a genuine in- 
terest in science, and the practical problems which he encountered 
progressively allured him to study it for its own sake, but that took 
time : once more the craftsman was the father of the scientist. 

I would not have the reader believe that everything was wrong 
and dark in the Middle Ages. This childish view has long been 
exploded. The most wonderful craftsmanship inspired by noble 
ideals was the great redeeming feature of that period unfortu- 
nately never applied outside the realm of religion and of beauty. 
The love of truth did not exalt mediaeval craftsmen, and it is un- 
likely that the thought of placing his art at the service of truth 
ever occurred to any of them. 

Now, one does not understand the Renaissance if one fails to 
see that the revolution I almost wrote, the miracle which hap- 
pened at that time was essentially the application of this spirit of 
craftsmanship and experiment to the quest of truth, its sudden ex- 
tension from the realm of beauty to the realm of science. That is 
exactly what Leonardo and his fellow investigators did. And 
there and then modern science was born, but unfortunately Leo- 
nardo remained silent, and its prophets came only a century 
later. . . . 

Man has not yet found a better way to be truly original than 
to go back to nature and to disclose one of her secrets. The 
Renaissance would not have been a real revolution, if it had been 
simply a going back to the ancients; it was far more, it was a 
return to nature. The world, hitherto closed-in and pretty as the 
garden of a beguinage, suddenly opened into infinity. It gradu- 
ally occurred to the people to only very few at first that the 
world was not closed and limited, but unlimited, living, forever 
becoming. The whole perspective of knowledge was upset, and 
as a natural consequence all moral and social values were trans- 


muted. The humanists had paved the way, for the discovery of 
the classics had sharpened the critical sense of man, but the revo- 
lution itself could only be accomplished by the experimental 
philosophers. It is clear that the spirit of individuality, which is so 
often claimed to be the chief characteristic of this movement, is 
only one aspect of the experimental attitude. 

It may seem strange that this technical basis of the Renaissance 
has been constantly overlooked, but that is simply due to the fact 
that our historians are literary people, having no interest what- 
ever in craftsmanship. Even in art it is the idea and the ultimate 
result, not the process and the technique which engross their 
attention. Many of them look upon any kind of handicraft as 
something menial. Of course, this narrow view makes it impos- 
sible for them to grasp the essential unity of thought and tech- 
nique, or of science and art. The scope of abstract thinking is very 
limited; if it be not constantly rejuvenated by contact with nature 
our mind soon turns in a circle and works in a vacuum. The fun- 
damental vice of the schoolmen was their inability to avow that, 
however rich experimental premises may be, their contents are 
limited; and there is no magic by means of which it is possible 
to extract from them more than they contain. 

The fact that Leonardo's main contribution is the introduction, 
not of a system, but rather of a method, a point of view, caused 
his influence to be restricted to the few people who were not im- 
pervious to it. Of course, at almost any period of the past there 
have been some people only a very few who did not need any 
initiation to understand the experimental point of view, because 
their souls were naturally oriented in the right way. These men 
form, so to say, one great intellectual family: Aristotle, Archi- 
medes, Ptolemy, Galen, Roger Bacon, Leonardo, Stevin, Gilbert, 
Galileo, Huygens, Newton. . . . They hardly need any incentive/ 
they are all right anyhow. However, Leonardo's influence was even 
more restricted than theirs, because he could never prevail upon 
himself to publish the results of his experiments and meditations. 


His notes show that he could occasionally write in a terse lan- 
guage and with a felicity of expression which would be a credit to 
any writer; but somehow he lacked that particular kind of moral 
energy which is necessary for a long composition, or he was per- 
haps inhibited, as so many scientists are, by his exacting ideal of 

All that we know of Leonardo's scientific activities is patiently 
dug out of his manuscripts. He was left-handed and wrote left- 
handedly, that is, in mirror- writing : his writing is like the image 
of ours in a mirror. It' is a clear hand, but the disorder of the text 
is such that the reading is very painful. Leonardo jumps from one 
subject to another; the same page may contain remarks on dy- 
namics, on astronomy, an anatomical sketch, and perhaps a draft 
and calculations for a machine. 

The study of Dante is in many ways far simpler. His scientific 
lore does not begin to compare with Leonardo's knowledge. The 
Divina Commedia is the sublime apotheosis of the Middle Ages; 
Leonardo's note-books are not simply an epitome of the past, but 
they contain to a large extent the seeds of the future. The world 
of Dante was the closed mediaeval world; the world of Leonardo 
is already the unlimited world of modern man : the immense vision 
which it opens is not simply one of beauty, of implicit faith, and 
of corresponding hope; it is a vision of truth, truth in the making. 
It is perhaps less pleasant, less hopeful; it does not even try to 
please, nor to give hope; it just tries to show things as they are: 
it is far more mysterious, and incomparably greater. 

I do not mean to say that Dante had not loved truth, but he 
had loved it like a bashful suitor. Leonardo was like a con- 
quering hero; his was not a passive love, but a devouring passion, 
an indefatigable and self-denying quest, to which his life and per- 
sonal happiness were entirely sacrificed. Some literary people who 
do not realize what this quest implies, have said that he was selfish. 
It is true, he took no interest in the petty and hopeless political 
struggles of his day; Savonarola's revival hardly moved him, 
and he had no more use for religious charlatanry than for scientific 


quackery. One would be a poor man, however, who would not 
recognize at once in Leonardo's aphorisms a genuine religious 
feeling, that is, a deep sense of brotherhood and unity. His gen- 
erosity, his spirit of detachment, even his melancholy, are un- 
mistakable signs of true nobility. (He often makes me think of 
Pascal.) He was very lonely, of course, from his own choice, be- 
cause he needed time and quietness, but also because, being so 
utterly different, it is easy to conceive that many did not like him. 
1 find it hard to believe that he was very genial, in spite of what 
Vasari says. Being surrounded by people whose moral standards 
were rather low or, if these were higher, who were apt to lose their 
balance and to become hysterical because of their lack of knowl- 
edge, Leonardo's solitude could but increase, and to protect his 
equanimity he was obliged to envelop himself in a triple veil of 
patience, kindness, and irony. 

Leonardo's greatest contribution was his method, his attitude; 
his masterpiece was his life. I have heard people foolishly regret 
that his insatiable curiosity had diverted him from his work as a 
painter. In the spiritual sphere it is only quality that matters. If 
he had painted more and roamed less along untrodden paths, his 
paintings perhaps would not have taught us more than do those 
of his Milanese disciples. While, even as they stand now, scarce 
and partly destroyed, they deliver to us a message which is so un- 
compromisingly high that even to-day but few understand it. Let 
us listen to it; it is worth while. This message is as pertinent and 
as urgent to-day as it was more than four hundred years ago. And 
should it not have become more convincing because of all the dis- 
coveries which have been made in the meanwhile? Do I dream, or 
do I actually hear, across these four centuries, Leonardo whisper: 
"To know is to love. Our first duty is to know. These people who 
always call me a painter annoy me. Of course, I was a painter, 
but I was also an engineer, a mechanic. My life was one long 
struggle with nature, to unravel her secrets and tame her wild 
forces to the purpose of man. They laughed at me because I was 


unlettered and slow of speech. Was I? Let me tell you: a literary 
education is no education. All the classics of the past cannot make 
men. Experience does, life does. They are rotten with learning and 
understand nothing. Why do they lie to themselves? How can 
they keep on living in the shade of knowledge, without com- 
ing out in the sun? How can they be satisfied with so little 
when there is so much to be known, so much to be admired? . . . 
They love beauty, so they say but beauty without truth is noth- 
ing but poison. Why do they not interrogate nature? Must we 
not first understand the laws of nature, and only then the laws 
and the conventionalities of men? Should we not give more im- 
portance to that which is most permanent? The study of nature is 
the substance of education the rest is only the ornament. Study 
it with your brains and with your hands. Do not be afraid to 
touch her. Those who fear to experiment with their hands will 
never know anything. We must all be craftsmen of some kind. 
Honest craftsmanship is the hope of the world. . . ." 


No episode in the history of thought is more moving than the life 
of Evariste Galois the young Frenchman who passed like a 
meteor about 1828, devoted a few feverish years to the most in- 
tense meditation, and died in 1832 from a wound received in a 
duel, at the age of twenty. He was still a mere boy, yet within 
these short years he had accomplished enough to prove indubi- 
tably that he was one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. 
When one sees how terribly fast this ardent soul, this wretched 
and tormented heart, were consumed, one can but think of the 
beautiful meteoric showers of a summer night. But this comparison 
is misleading, for the soul of Galois will burn on throughout the 
ages and be a perpetual flame of inspiration. His fame is incor- 
ruptible; indeed the apotheosis will become more and more 
splendid with the gradual increase of human knowledge. 

No existence could be more tragic than his and the only one 
at all comparable to it is, strangely enough, that of another 
mathematician, fully his equal, the Norwegian Niels Henrik Abel, 
who died of consumption at twenty-six in 1829; that is, just when 
Galois was ready to take the torch from his hand and to run with 
it a little further. Abel had the inestimable privilege of living six 
years longer, and think of these years not ordinary years of a 
humdrum existence, but six full years at the time that genius was 
ripe six years of divine inspiration! What would not Galois have 
given us, if he had been granted six more such years at the climax 
of his life? But it is futile to ask such questions. Prophecies too are 
futile, yet a certain amount of anticipation of the future may be 
allowed, if one does not contravene the experience of the past. For 
example, it is safe to predict that Galois' fame can but wax, be- 
cause of the fundamental nature of his work. While the inventors 
of important applications, whose practical value is obvious, re- 
ceive quick recognition and often very substantial rewards, the 



discoverers of fundamental principles are not generally awarded 
much recompense. They often die misunderstood and unre- 
warded. But while the fame of the former is bound to wane as 
new processes supersede their own, the fame of the latter can but 
increase. Indeed the importance of each principle grows with the 
number and the value of its applications; for each new application 
is a new tribute to its worth. To put it more concretely, when we 
are very thirsty a juicy orange is more precious to us than an 
orange tree. Yet when the emergency has passed, we learn to 
value the tree more than any of its fruits; for each orange is an 
end in itself, while the tree represents the innumerable oranges 
of the future. The fame of Galois has a similar foundation; it is 
based upon the unlimited future. He well knew the pregnancy of 
his thoughts, yet they were even more far-reaching than he could 
possibly dream of. His complete works fill only sixty-one small 
pages: but a French geometer, publishing a large volume some 
forty years after Galois' death, declared that it was simply a com- 
mentary on the latter's discoveries. Since then, many more conse- 
quences have been deduced from Galois' fundamental ideas 
which have influenced the whole of mathematical philosophy. It is 
likely that when mathematicians of the future contemplate his 
personality at the distance of a few centuries, it will appear to 
them to be surrounded by the same halo of wonder as those of 
Euclid, Archimedes, Descartes and Newton. 

Evariste Galois was born in Bourg-la-Reine, near Paris, on the 
25th of October, 1811 in the very house in which his grandfather 
had lived and had founded a boys' school. This being one of the 
very few boarding schools not in the hands of the priests, the 
Revolution had much increased its prosperity. In the course of 
time, grandfather Galois had given it up to his younger son and 
soon after, the school had received from the imperial government 
a sort of official recognition. When Evariste was born, his father 
was thirty-six years of age. He had remained a real man of the 
eighteenth century, amiable and witty, clever at rhyming verses 
and writing playlets, and instinct with philosophy. He was the 


leader of liberalism in Bourg-la-Reine, and during the Hundred 
Days had been appointed its mayor. Strangely enough, after 
Waterloo he was still the mayor of the village. He took his oath 
to the King, and to be sure he kept it, yet he remained a liberal to 
the end of his days. One of his friends and neighbours, Thomas 
Fran? ois Demante, a lawyer and judge, onetime professor in the 
Faculty of Law of Paris, was also a typical gentleman of the 
"ancien regime/' but of a different style. He had given a very 
solid classical education not only to his sons but also to his 
daughters. None of these had been more deeply imbued with the 
examples of antiquity than Adelaide-Marie who was to be 
Evariste's mother. Roman stoicism had sunk deep into her heart 
and given to it a virile temper. She was a good Christian, though 
more concerned with the ethical than with the mystical side of 
religion. An ardent imagination had colored her every virtue with 
passion. Many more people have been able to appreciate her char- 
acter than her son's, for it was to be her sad fortune to survive him 
forty years. She was said to be generous to a fault and original to 
the point of queerness. There is no doubt that Evariste owed con- 
siderably more to her than to his father. Besides, until the age of 
eleven the little boy had no teacher but his mother. 

In 1823, Evariste was sent to college in Paris. This college 
Louis-le-Grand was then a gloomy house, looking from the out- 
side like a prison, but within aflame with life and passion. For 
heroic memories of the Revolution and the Empire had remained 
particularly vivid in this institution, which was indeed, under the 
clerical and reactionary regime of the Restoration, a hot-bed of 
liberalism. Love of learning and contempt of the Bourbons divided 
the hearts of the scholars. Since 1815 the discipline had been 
jeopardized over and over again by boyish rebellions, and Evariste 
was certainly a witness of, if not a partner in, those which took 
place soon after his arrival. The influence of such an impassioned 
atmosphere upon a lad freshly emancipated from his mother's care 
cannot be exaggerated. Nothing is more infectious than political 


passion, nothing more intoxicating than the love of freedom. It 
was certainly there and then that Evariste received his political 
initiation. It was the first crisis of his childhood. 

At first he was a good student; it was only after a couple of 
years that his disgust at the regular studies became apparent. He 
was then in the second class (that is, the highest but one) and the 
headmaster suggested to his father that he should spend a second 
year in it, arguing that the boy's weak health and immaturity 
made it imperative. The child was not strong, but the headmaster 
had failed to discover the true source of his lassitude. His seem- 
ing indifference was due less to immaturity than to his mathe- 
matical precocity. He had read his books of geometry as easily as 
a novel, and the knowledge had remained firmly anchored in his 
mind. No sooner had he begun to study algebra than he read 
Lagrange's original memoirs. This extraordinary facility had been 
at first a revelation to himself, but as he grew more conscious of 
it, it became more difficult for him to curb his own domineering 
thought and to sacrifice it to the routine of class work. The rigid 
program of the college was to him like a bed of Procrustes, caus- 
ing him unbearable torture without adequate compensation. But 
how could the headmaster and the teachers understand this? The 
double conflict within the child's mind and between the teachers 
and himself, as the knowledge of his power increased, was in- 
tensely dramatic. By 1827 it had reached a critical point. This 
might be called the second crisis of his childhood : his scientific 
initiation. His change of mood was observed by the family. 
Juvenile gaiety was suddenly replaced by concentration; his 
manners became stranger every day. A mad desire to march for- 
ward along the solitary path which he saw so distinctly, possessed 
him. His whole being, his every faculty was mobilized in this 
immense endeavor. 

I cannot give a more vivid idea of the growing strife between 
this inspired boy and his uninspired teachers than by quoting a 
few extracts from the school reports: 



This pupil, though a little queer in his manners, is very gentle 
and seems filled with innocence and good qualities. ... He never 
knows a lesson badly: either he has not learned it at all or he 
knows it well. . . . 

A little later: 

This pupil, except for the last fortnight during which he has 
worked a little, has done his classwork only from fear of punish- 
ment. . . . His ambition, his originality often affected the 
queerness of his character keep him aloof from his companions. 


Conduct rather good. A few thoughtless acts. Character of which 
I do not flatter myself I understand every trait; but I see a great 
deal of self-esteem dominating. I do not think he has any vicious 
inclination. His ability seems to me to be entirely beyond the aver- 
age, with regard as much to literary studies as to mathematics. . . . 
He does not seem to lack religious feeling. His health is good but 

Another professor says: 

His facility, in which one is supposed to believe but of which I 
have not yet witnessed a single proof, will lead him nowhere: 
there is no trace in his tasks of anything but of queerness and 

Another still : 

Always busy with things which are not his business. Goes down 
every day. 

Same year, but a little later: 

Very bad conduct. Character rather secretive. Tries to be 
original. . . . 

Does absolutely nothing for the class. The furor of mathematics 
possesses him. ... He is losing his time here and does nothing but 


torment his masters and get himself harassed with punishments. 
He does not lack religious feeling; his health seems weak. 

Later still: 

Bad conduct, character difficult to define. Aims at originality. 
His talents are very distinguished; he might have done very well 
in "Rhetorique" if he had been willing to work, but swayed by 
his passion for mathematics, he has entirely neglected everything 
else. Hence he has made no progress whatever. . . . Seems to 
affect to do something different from what he should do. It is pos- 
sibly to this purpose that he chatters so much. He protests against 

In his last year at the college, 1828-1829, he had at last found 
a teacher of mathematics who divined his genius and tried to en- 
courage and to help him. This Mr. Richard, to whom one cannot 
be too grateful, wrote of him: 'This student has a marked superi- 
ority over all his schoolmates. He works only at the highest parts 
of mathematics/' You see the whole difference. Kind Mr. Richard 
did not complain that Evariste neglected his regular tasks, and, I 
imagine, often forgot to do the petty mathematical exercises which 
are indispensable to drill the average boy; he does not think it fair 
to insist on what Evariste does not do, but states what he does do : 
he is only concerned with the highest parts of mathematics. Unfor- 
tunately, the other teachers were less indulgent. For physics and 
chemistry, the note often repeated was : "Very absent-minded, no 
work whatever." 

To show the sort of preoccupations which engrossed his mind: 
at the age of sixteen he believed that he had found a method of 
solving general equations of the fifth degree. One knows that be- 
fore succeeding in proving the impossibility of such resolution, 
Abel had made the same mistake. Besides, Galois was already try- 
ing to realize the great dream of his boyhood: to enter the Ecole 
Polytechnique. He was bold enough to prepare himself alone for 
the entrance examination as early as 1828 but failed. This failure 
was very bitter to him the more so that he considered it as un- 


fair. It is likely that it was not at all unfair, at least according to the 
accepted rules. Galois knew at one and the same time far more and 
far less than was necessary to enter Polytechnique; his extra knowl- 
edge could not compensate for his deficiencies, and examiners will 
never consider originality with favor. The next year he published 
his first paper, and sent his first communication to the Academic 
des Sciences. Unfortunately, the latter got lost through Cauchy's 
negligence. This embittered Galois even more. A second failure to 
enter Polytechnique seemed to be the climax of his misfortune, but 
a greater disaster was still in store for him. On July 1 of this same 
year, 1829, his father had been driven to commit suicide by the 
vicious attacks directed against him, the liberal mayor, by his po- 
litical enemies. He took his life in the small apartment which he 
had in Paris, in the vicinity of Louis-le-Grand. As soon as his 
father's body reached the territory of Bourg : la-Reine, the inhabi- 
tants carried it on their shoulders, and the funeral was the occa- 
sion of disturbances in the village. This terrible blow, following 
many smaller miseries, left a very deep mark on Evariste's soul. 
His hatred of injustice became the more violent, in that he already 
believed himself to be a victim of it; his father's death incensed 
him, and developed his tendency to see injustice and baseness 

His repeated failures to be admitted to Polytechnique were to 
Galois a cause of intense disappointment. To appreciate his de- 
spair, one must realize that the Ecole Polytechnique was then, not 
simply the highest mathematical school in France and the place 
where his genius would be most likely to find the sympathy it 
craved, it was also a daughter of the Revolution who had 
remained faithful to her origins in spite of all efforts of the govern- 
ment to curb her spirit of independence. The young Polytech- 
nicians were the natural leaders of every political rebellion; lib- 
eralism was for them a matter of traditional duty. This house was 
thus twice sacred to Galois, and his failure to be accepted was a 
double misfortune. In 1829 he entered the Ecole Normale, but he 
entered it as an exile from Polytechnique. It was all the more diffi- 


cult for him to forget the object of his former ambition, because 
the Ecole Normale was then passing through the most languid 
period of its existence. It was not even an independent institution, 
but rather an extension of Louis-le-Grand. Every precaution had 
been taken to ensure the loyalty of this school to the new regime. 
Yet there, too, the main student body inclined toward liberalism, 
though their convictions were very weak and passive as com- 
pared with the mood prevailing at Polytechnique; because of the 
discipline and the spying methods to which they were submitted, 
their aspirations had taken a more subdued and hypocritical form 
only relieved once in a while by spasmodic upheavals. Evariste 
suffered doubly, for his political desires were checked and his 
mathematical ability remained unrecognized. Indeed he was easily 
embarrassed at the blackboard, and made a poor impression upon 
his teachers. It is quite possible that he did not try in the least to 
improve this impression. His French biographer, P. Dupuy, very 
clearly explains his attitude : 

There was in fiim a hardly disguised contempt for whosoever 
did not bow spontaneously and immediately before his superiority, 
a rebellion against a judgment which his conscience challenged 
beforehand and a sort of unhealthy pleasure in leading it further 
astray arid in turning it entirely against himself. Indeed, it is fre- 
quently observed that those people who believe that they have 
most to complain of persecution could hardly do without it and, 
if need be, will provoke it. To pass oneself off for a fool is another 
way and not the least savory, of making fools of others. 

It is clear that Galois' temper was not altogether amiable, yet 
we should not judge him without making full allowance for the 
terrible strain to which he was constantly submitted, the violent 
conflicts which obscured his soul, the frightful solitude to which 
fate had condemned him. 

In the course of the ensuing year, he sent three more papers to 
mathematical journals and a new memoir to the Acadernie. The 
permanent secretary, Fourier, took it home with him, but died 
before having examined it, and the memoir was not retrieved 


from among his papers. Thus his second memoir was lost like the 
former. This was too much indeed and one will easily forgive the 
wretched boy if in his feverish mood he was inclined to believe 
that these repeated losses were not due to chance but to sys- 
tematic persecution. He considered himself a victim of a bad social 
organization which ever sacrifices genius to mediocrity, and nat- 
urally enough he cursed the hated regime of oppression which 
had precipitated his father's death and against which the storm 
was gathering. We can well imagine his joy when he heard the 
first shots of the July Revolution! But alas! While the boys of 
Polytechnique were the very first in the fray, those of the Ecole 
Normale were kept under lock and key by their faint-hearted di- 
rector. It was only when the three glorious days of July were over 
and the fall of the Bourbons was accomplished that this oppor- 
tunist let his students out and indeed placed them at the disposal 
of the provisional government! Never did Galois feel more bitterly 
that his life had been utterly spoiled by his failure to become an 
alumnus of his beloved Polytechnique. 

In the meanwhile the summer holidays began and we do not 
know what happened to the boy in the interval. It must have been 
to him a new period of crisis, more acute than any of the previous 
ones. But before speaking of it let me say a last word about his 
scientific efforts, for it is probable that thereafter political passion 
obsessed his mind almost exclusively. At any rate it is certain that 
Evariste was in the possession of his general principles by the be- 
ginning of 1830, that is, at the age of eighteen, and that he fully 
knew their importance. The consciousness of his power and of 
the responsibility resulting from it increased the concentration 
and the gloominess of his mind to the danger point; the lack of 
recognition developed in him an excessive pride. By a strange 
aberration he did not trouble himself to write his memoirs with 
sufficient clearness to give the explanations which were the more 
necessary because his thoughts were more novel. What a pity that 
there was no understanding friend to whisper in his ear Descartes' 
wise admonition: "When you have to deal with transcendent 


questions, you must be transcendently clear/' Instead of that, 
Galois enveloped his thought in additional secrecy by his efforts 
to attain greater conciseness, that coquetry of mathematicians. 

It is intensely tragic that this boy already sufficiently harassed 
by the turmoil of his own thoughts, should have been thrown into 
the political turmoil of this revolutionary period. Endowed with 
a stronger constitution, he might have been able to cope with one 
such; but with the two, how could he how could anyone do it? 
During the holidays he was probably pressed by his friend, 
Chevalier, to join the Saint-Simonists, but he declined, and pre- 
ferred to join a secret society, less aristocratic and more in keep- 
ing with his republican aspirations the "Societe des amis du 
peuple." It was thus quite another man who re-entered the Ecole 
Normale in the autumn of 1830. The great events of which he 
had been a witness had given to his mind a sort of artificial ma- 
turity. The revolution had opened to him a fresh source of dis- 
illusion, the deeper because the hopes of the first moment had been 
so sanguine. The government of Louis-Philippe had promptly 
crushed the more liberal tendencies; and the artisans of the new 
revolution, who had drawn their inspiration from the great events 
of 1789, soon discovered to their intense disgust that they had 
been fooled. Indeed under a more liberal guise, the same oppres- 
sion, the same favoritism, the same corruption soon took place 
under Louis-Philippe as under Charles X. Moreover, nothing can 
be more demoralizing than a successful revolution (whatever it 
be) for those who, like Galois, were too generous to seek any 
personal advantage and too ingenuous not to believe implicitly in 
their party shibboleths. It is such a high fall from one's dearest 
ideal to the ugliest aspect of reality and they could not help 
seeing around them the more practical and cynical revolutionaries 
eager for the quarry, and more disgusting still, the clever ones, 
who had kept quiet until they knew which side was gaining, and 
who now came out of their hiding places to fight over the spoils 
and make the most of the new regime. Political fermentation did 
not abate and the more democratic elements, which Galois had 


joined, became more and more disaffected and restless. The di- 
rector of the Ecole Normale had been obliged to restrain himself 
considerably to brook Galois' irregular conduct, his "laziness/* 
his intractable temper; the boy's political attitude, and chiefly his 
undisguised contempt for the director's pusillanimity now in- 
creased the tension between them to the breaking point. The pub- 
lication in the "Gazette des Ecoles" of a letter of Galois' in which 
he scornfully criticized the director's tergiversations was but the 
last of many offenses. On December 9, he was invited to leave the 
school, and his expulsion was ratified by the Royal Council on 
January 3, 1831. 

To support himself Galois announced that he would give a pri- 
vate course on higher algebra in the backshop of a bookseller, Mr. 
Caillot, 5 rue cle la Sorbonne. I do not know whether this course, 
or how much of it, was actually delivered. A further scientific dis- 
appointment was reserved for him : a new copy of his second lost 
memoir had been communicated by him to the Academic; it was 
returned to him by Poisson, four months later, as being incom- 
prehensible. There is no doubt that Galois was partly responsible 
for this, for he had taken no pains to explain himself clearly. 

This was the last straw! Galois' academic career was entirely 
compromised, the bridges were burned, he plunged himself en- 
tirely into the political turmoil. He threw himself into it with his 
habitual fury and the characteristic intransigency of a mathe- 
matician; there was nothing left to conciliate him, no means to 
moderate his passion, and he soon reached the extreme limit of 
exaltation. He is said to have exclaimed: "If a corpse were needed 
to stir the people up, I would give mine/' Thus on May 9, 1831, 
at the end of a political banquet, being intoxicated not with wine 
but with the ardent conversation of an evening he proposed a 
sarcastic toast to the King. He held his glass and an open knife in 
one hand and said simply: "To Louis-Philippe!" Of course he 
was soon arrested and sent to Ste. Pelagic. The lawyer persuaded 
him to maintain that he had actually said: "To Louis-Philippe, 
if he betray," and many witnesses affirmed that they had heard 


him utter the last words, though they were lost in the uproar. But 
Galois could not stand this lying and retracted it at the public 
trial. His attitude before the tribunal was ironical and provoking, 
yet the jury rendered a verdict of not proven and he was ac- 
quitted. He did not remain free very long. On the following Four- 
teenth of July, the government, fearing manifestations, decided to 
have him arrested as a preventive measure. He was given six 
months' imprisonment on the technical charge of carrying arms 
and wearing a military uniform, but he remained in Ste. Pelagic 
only until March 19 (or 16?), 1832, when he was sent to a con- 
valescent home in the rue de Lourcine. A dreadful epidemic of 
cholera was then raging in Paris, and Galois' transfer had been de- 
termined by the poor state of his health. However, this proved to 
be his undoing. 

He was now a prisoner on parole and took advantage of it to 
carry on an intrigue with a woman of whom we know nothing, 
but who was probably not very reputable ("une coquette de bas 
etage," says Raspail). Think of it! This was, as far as we know, 
his first love and it 'was but one more tragedy on top of so many 
others. The poor boy who had declared in prison that he could 
love only a Cornelia or a Tarpeia * (we hear in this an echo of 
his mother's Roman ideal) , gave himself to this new passion with 
his usual frenzy, only to find more bitterness at the end of it. His 
revulsion is lamentably expressed in a letter to Chevalier (May 

. . . How to console oneself for having exhausted in one month 
the greatest source of happiness which is in man of having ex- 
hausted it without happiness, without hope, being certain that one 
has drained it for life? 

Oh! come and preach peace after that! Come and ask men who 
suffer to take pity upon what is! Pity, never! Hatred, that is all. He 
who does not feel it deeply, this hatred of the present, cannot really 
have in him the love of the future. . . . 

* He mast have quoted Tarpeia by mistake. 


One sees how his particular misery and his political grievances 
are sadly muddled in his tired head. And a little further in the 
same letter, in answer to a gentle warning by his friend : 

I like to doubt your cruel prophecy when you say that I shall 
not work any more. But I admit it is not without likelihood. To be 
a savant, I should need to be that alone. TAy beart has revolted 
against my head.* I do not add as you do: It is a pity. 

Can a more tragic confession be imagined? One realizes that 
there is no question here of a man possessing genius, but of genius 
possessing a man. A man? a mere boy, a fragik little body divided 
within itself by disproportionate forces, an undeveloped mind 
crushed mercilessly between the exaltation of scientific discovery 
and the exaltation of sentiment. 

Four days later two men challenged him to a duel. The circum- 
stances of this affair are, and will ever remain, very mysterious. 
According to Evariste's younger brother the duel was not fair. 
Evariste, weak as he was, had to deal with two ruffians hired to 
murder him. I find nothing to countenance this theory except that 
he was challenged by two men at once. At any rate, it is certain 
that the woman he had loved played a part in this fateful event. 
On the day preceding the duel, Evariste wrote three letters of 
which I translate one: 

May 29, 1832. 

Letter to all Republicans. 

I beg the patriots, my friends, not to reproach me for dying 
otherwise than for the country. 

I die the victim of an infamous coquette. My life is quenched in 
a miserable piece of gossip. 

Oh! why do I have to die for such a little thing, to die for some- 
thing so contemptible! 

I take heaven to witness that it is only under compulsion that I 
have yielded to a provocation which I had tried to avert by all 

* The italics are mine. 


I repent having told a baleful truth to men who were so little 
able to listen to it coolly. Yet I have told the truth. I take with me 
to the grave a conscience free from lie, free from patriots' blood. 

Good-bye! I had in me a great deal of life for the public good. 

Forgiveness for those who killed me; they are of good faith. 


Any comment could but detract from the pathos of this docu- 
ment. I will only remark that the last line, in which Galois ab- 
solves his adversaries, destroys his brother's theory. It is simpler 
to admit that his impetuosity, aggravated by female intrigue, had 
placed him in an impossible position from which there was no 
honorable issue, according to the standards of the time, but a 
duel. Evariste was too much of a gentleman to try to evade the 
issue, however trifling its causes might be; he was anxious to pay 
the full price of his folly. That he well realized the tragedy of his 
life is quite clear from the laconic post-scriptum of his second 
letter: Niiens lux, horrenda procella, tenebris ceiernis involute*. 
The last letter addressed to his friend, Auguste Chevalier, was a 
sort of scientific testament. Its seven pages, hastily written, dated 
at both ends, contain a summary of the discoveries which he had 
been unable to develop. This statement is so concise and so full 
that its significance could be understood only gradually as the 
theories outlined by him were unfolded by others. It proves the 
depth of his insight, for it anticipates discoveries of a much later 
date. At the end of the letter, after requesting his friend to pub- 
lish it and to ask Jacobi or Gauss to pronounce upon it, he added : 
"After that, I hope some people will find it profitable to unravel 
this mess. Je t'embrasse avec effusion" The first sentence is 
rather scornful but not untrue and the greatest mathematicians of 
the century have found it very profitable indeed to clear up 
Galois' ideas. 

The duel took place on the 30th in the early morning, and he 
was grievously wounded by a shot in the abdomen. He was found 
by a peasant who transported him at 9:30 to the Hopital Cochin. 
His younger brother the only member of the family to be noti- 


fied came and stayed with him, and as he was crying, Evariste 
tried to console him, saying : "Do not cry. I need all my courage 
to die at twenty/' While still fully conscious, he refused the as- 
sistance of a priest. In the evening peritonitis declared itself and 
he breathed his last at ten o'clock on the following morning. 

His funeral, which strangely recalled that of his father, was at- 
tended by two to three thousand republicans, including deputa- 
tions from various schools, and by a large number of police, for 
trouble was expected. But everything went off very calmly. Of 
course it was the patriot and the lover of freedom whom all these 
people meant to honor; little did they know that a day would 
come when this young political hero would be hailed as one of 
the greatest mathematicians of all time. 

A life as short yet as full as the life of Galois is interesting not 
simply in itself but even more perhaps because of the light it 
throws upon the nature of genius. When a great work is the nat- 
ural culmination of a long existence devoted to one persistent 
endeavor, it is sometimes difficult to say whether it is the fruit 
of genius or the fruit of patience. When genius evolves slowly it 
may be hard to distinguish from talent but when it explodes 
suddenly, at the beginning and not at the end of life, or when we 
are at a loss to explain its intellectual genesis, we can but feel that 
we are in the sacred presence of something vastly superior to 
talent. When one is confronted with facts which cannot be ex- 
plained in the ordinary way, is it not more scientific to admit our 
ignorance than to hide it behind faked explanations? Of course 
it is not necessary to introduce any mystical idea, but it is one's 
duty to acknowledge the mystery. When a work is really the fruit 
of genius, we cannot conceive that a man of talent might have 
done it "just as well" by taking the necessary pains. Pains alone 
will never do; neither is it simply a matter of jumping a little 
further, for it involves a synthetic process of a higher kind. I do 
not say that talent and genius are essentially different, but that 
they are of different orders of magnitude. 

Galois' fateful existence helps one to understand Lowell's say- 


ing: "Talent is that which is in a man's power, genius is that in 
whose power man is." If Galois had been simply a mathematician 
of considerable ability, his life would have been far less tragic, for 
he could have used his mathematical talent for his own advance- 
ment and happiness; instead of which, the furor of mathematics 
as one of his teachers said possessed him and he had no al- 
ternative but absolute surrender to his destiny. 

Lowell's aphorism is misleading, however, for it suggests that 
talent can be acquired, while genius cannot. But biological knowl- 
edge points to the conclusion that neither is really acquired, 
though both can be developed and to a certain extent corrected 
by education. Men of talent as well as men of genius are born, 
not made. Genius implies a much stronger force, less adaptable to 
environment, less tractable by education, and also far more ex- 
clusive and despotic. Its very intensity explains its frequent pre- 
cocity. If the necessary opportunities do not arise, ordinary 
abilities may remain hidden indefinitely; but the stronger the abili- 
ties the smaller need the inducement be to awaken them. In the 
extreme case, the case of genius, the ability is so strong that, if 
need be, it will force its own outlet. 

Thus it is that many of the greatest accomplishments of science, 
art and letters were conceived by very young men. In the field of 
mathematics, this precocity is particularly obvious. To speak only 
of the two men considered in this essay, Abel had barely reached 
the age of twenty-two and Galois was not yet twenty, perhaps 
not yet nineteen, when they made two of the most profound dis- 
coveries which have ever been made. In many other sciences and 
arts, technical apprenticeship may be too long to make such early 
discovery possible. In most cases, however, the judgment of Alfred 
de Vigny holds good. "What is a great life? It is a thought of 
youth wrought out in ripening years/' The fundamental concep- 
tion dawns at an early age that is, it appears at the surface of 
one's consciousness as early as this is materially possible but it 
is often so great that a long life of toil and abnegation is but too 
short to work it out. Of course at the beginning it may be very 


vague, so vague indeed that its host can hardly distinguish it him- 
self from a passing fancy, and later may be unable to explain how 
it gradually took control of his activities and dominated his whole 
being. The cases of Abel and Galois are not essentially different 
from those contemplated by Alfred de Vigny, but the golden 
thoughts of their youth were wrought out in the ripening years of 
other people. 

It is the precocity of genius which makes it so dramatic. When 
it takes an explosive form, as in the case of Galois, the frail carcass 
of a boy may be unable to resist the internal strain and it may 
be positively wrecked. On the other hand when genius develops 
more slowly, its host has time to mature, to adapt himself to his 
environment, to gather strength and experience. He learns to 
reconcile himself to the conditions which surround him, widely 
different as they are, from those of his dreams. He learns by and 
by that the great majority of men are rather unintelligent, unedu- 
cated, uninspired, and that one must not take it too much to heart 
when they behave in defiance of justice or even of common sense. 
He also learns to dissipate his vexation with a smile or a joke and 
to protect himself under a heavy cloak of kindness and humor. 
Poor Evariste had no time to learn all this. While his genius grew 
in him out of all proportion to his bodily strength, his experience 
and his wisdom, he felt more and more ill at ease. His increasing 
restlessness makes one think of that exhibited by people who are 
prey to a larvate form of a pernicious disease. There is an internal 
disharmony in both cases, though it is physiological in the latter, 
and psychological in the former. Hence the suffering, the distress 
and finally the acute disease or the revolt! 

A more congenial environment might have saved Galois. Oh! 
would that he had been granted that minimum of understanding 
and sympathy which the most concentrated mind needs as much 
as a plant needs the sun! . . . But it was not to be; and not only 
had he no one to share his own burden, but he had also to bear 
the anxieties of a stormy time. 1 quite realize that this self-centered 
boy was not attractive many would say not lovable. Yet I love 


him; I love him for all those who failed to love him; I love him be- 
cause of his adversity. 

His tragic life teaches us at least one great lesson : one can never 
be too kind to the young; one can never be too tolerant of their 
faults, even of their intolerance. The pride and intolerance of 
youth, however immoderate, are excusable because of youth's 
ignorance, and also because one may hope that it is only a tempo- 
rary disorder. Of course there will always be men despicable 
enough to resort to snubbing, as it were, to protect their own posi- 
tion and to hide their mediocrity, but I am not thinking of them. 
I am simply thinking of the many men who were unkind to Galois 
without meaning to be so. To be sure, one could hardly expect 
them to divine the presence of genius in an awkward boy. But 
even if they did not believe in him, could they not have shown 
more forbearance? Even if he had been a conceited dunce, instead 
of a genius, could kindness have harmed him? ... It is painful 
to think that a few rays of generosity from the heart of his elders 
might have saved this boy or at least might have sweetened his 

But does it really matter? A few years more or less, a little more 
or less suffering. . . . Life is such a short drive altogether. Galois 
has accomplished his task and very few men will ever accomplish 
more. He has conquered the purest kind of immortality. As he 
wrote to his friends: "I take with me to the grave a conscience 
free from lie, free from partiots' blood." How many of the con- 
ventional heroes of history, how many of the kings, captains and 
statesmen could say the same? 


I am writing in Ogunquit, one of the loveliest towns on the shores 
of Maine, but my imagination takes me back to the other side of 
the Atlantic, to the rude coast of Brittany, somewhere between 
Saint Brieux and Roscoff. There are of course many points of 
comparison between the shores of Maine and the Cotes du Nord, 
but they are more generally a matter of contrast than of resem- 
blance. This side of the Atlantic is very gentle as compared with 
the Emerald Coast, the rugged, the fantastic, the awful defences 
of Brittany against a turbulent sea. Why then does my mind 
carry me thither? Reminiscences of a sentimental journey which 
I accomplished years ago might account for it, but the true reason 
is that having been imprisoned in my study for many days by the 
inclemency of the weather, I read or reread books of Renan's. Oh, 
the magic of this beautiful language, so melodious yet so simple 
and so direct that it reminds me as no other ever did of the 
best Greek prose, of the winged words of a Plato or a Xenophon! 
While I was reading 1 heard the song of the birds, the chirping of 
the crickets, the buzzing of other insects, and farther off the deep 
voice of the sea; and all of that intensified the music of his language 
and the rhythm of my joy. Thus when my eyes gaze over the 
blue water, when I smell at ebb-tide the acrid odor of seaweed, 
my mind flies back to that place across the mighty ocean, where 
Renan was born and spent his boyhood Trguier and to that 
old manor of Rosmapamon and the little fishermen's village, Per- 
ros-Guirec, where he lived his last summer and dreamed his last 

Ernest Renan was born on the 27th of February, 1813, in the 
old town of Trguier, one of those dead cities of Brittany, where 
there is so little bustle that one can almost hear the people muse 
and pray in the empty streets. He was a seven-month baby, ex- 



tremely frail, and for a while it was thought that he would not 
survive. But for a maternal grandfather hailing from Bordeaux, 
he was a pure Celt, and this means a great deal. These people of 
Brittany, however devoted they may be to their foster country, 
are very different from the ordinary Frenchman at least as much 
as a Welshman or an Irishman is different from your average 
Englishman. Their idiosyncrasies are deeply rooted in the past. 
For one thing, those out-of-the-way provinces of the West were 
hardly touched by the Roman colonization; they pursued undis- 
turbed their own development and such was their originality and 
their sturdiness that the most zealous propaganda of the gospel 
could not eradicate entirely their pagan beliefs; the Christian 
evangelists who came to minister to them were forced in many 
cases to close their eyes to older superstitions and compromise 
with them as best they might. Renan realized this very strongly 
as soon as he reached Paris, and even more when he first visited 
Athens in 1865. On that occasion he expressed the strange quali- 
ties of his native soil very strikingly in the prayer to Athena 
" which he made on the Acropolis when he had finally reached a 
proper understanding of its perfect beauty" : 

"O nobility! O beauty simple and true! Goddess whose cult 
means reason and wisdom, thou whose temple is an eternal lesson 
of conscience and sincerity: I bring to thine altar much remorse. 
To find thee cost me infinite research. The initiation which thou 
didst bestow upon the Athenian at his birth, in one smile, I have 
conquered only by strength of reflection, at the price of long efforts. 

"I was born, blue-eyed goddess, of barbarian parents among 
the kind and virtuous Cimmerians who live at the edge of a dark 
sea, bristling with rocks, ever beaten by storms. The sun is 
scarcely known there; our flowers are marine mosses, seaweeds 
and the colored shells which one finds tossed up in the lonely 
bays. The clouds there seem to be without color, and joy itself 
takes on a tinge of sadness, but springs of cold water burst from 
the rocks and the eyes of our young girls are like those green 
springs wherein the sky is mirrored over undulating grasses. . . " 


His father was a sea captain who, in his old age, in unwise 
commercial ventures had lost the savings of a laborious life. When 
he died at sea rather mysteriously in 1828, his widow was left 
with hardly any property and two children: Henriette, aged 
seventeen, and little Ernest, twelve years younger. But Henriette 
saved the family/ her little earnings as a teacher and later as a 
governess in a Polish castle, made it possible to give her brother 
the best opportunities. It had been taken for granted that he 
would become a priest; his intelligence and gentleness, his lack of 
strength, his poverty and the traditions of his family did not seem 
to leave any alternative. He received his first education in the 
excellent cathedral school of Trdguier, and achieved so much 
success that he was called in 1838 to the seminary of St. Nicolas 
du Chardonnet in Paris, then in the process of reorganization. 
Four industrious years at Saint Nicolas promoted one generally to 
the greater seminary of Saint Sulpice to work on higher studies. 
The first year was devoted chiefly to philosophy and that teach- 
ing took place, not in the main house, but in a country mansion 
located in Issy, near Vaugirard. This was a beautiful residence 
which had been inhabited at the beginning of the seventeenth 
century by Margaret of Valois, the first wife of Henry IV. It had 
kept much of its old-fashioned elegance and dignity. The park 
was particularly graceful and Renan spent much of his time in it, 
sitting on a stone bench in one of the long alleys, reading inde- 
fatigably and meditating to his heart's content. He said later that 
this park had been, after the cathedral of Treguier, the second 
cradle of his thought; he could never see an arbor or a hedge of 
yoke-elms cut in the conventional manner of his country, nor 
smell damp leaves in the autumn, without remembering his long 
and melancholy meditations of Issy. In 1843 he was finally ad- 
mitted into the main house of Saint Sulpice in Paris, and there he 
spent three fruitful years studying more theology, but also He- 
brew and Syriac. 

It was during these last school years that he resolved to devote 
his life to the study of the origins of Christianity, but his philo- 


logical research made it more and more difficult for him to accept 
implicitly the dogmas which had been hitherto the fixed stars of 
his thought. At first he had been troubled only by metaphysical 
difficulties, but such can be evaded, or at least one may nourish 
the illusion of evading them; the study of the original texts now 
revealed to him the existence of inadvertencies, errors and con- 
tradictions which could not be denied. Neither did the dating of 
those sacred documents by means of scientific methods tally at all 
with the traditional chronology. Once these hard facts had been 
faced, there was no honest way of shunning them, and his con- 
science was a prey to unremitting distress. For a while, however, 
he hoped against all hope that it would remain possible to recon- 
cile the facts with his faith; and maybe he would have suc- 
cumbed to his intense desire for such reconciliation, to his pas- 
sionate love of the church in which he had been brought up, to 
his fear of saddening the hearts of his teachers and of his beloved 
mother; he might have succeeded in persuading himself that it 
was his duty to silence the doubts of his mind and to follow the 
road which traditions of his family, his own inclinations and fate 
itself had traced for him from the beginning. Men, even the best 
of them, are only too often tempted to sacrifice the essential duty 
of their lives to some immediate duty, the importance of which is 
more tangible. Happily at this critical juncture, at this parting of 
the ways, Ernest received the assistance of his sister. Henriette 
was then tutoring in Poland, but there was a close correspond- 
ence between them; partly because of her age and experience, 
partly because of her greater decision and the simplicity of her 
character, she saw more clearly than her brother his main duty: 
there can be no compromise with truth as one sees it; to evade 
the dictates of one's conscience on a matter of fundamental im- 
portance is cowardice, however generous the reasons for such 
evasions be. She did not simply offer him spiritual assistance, but 
placed at his disposal her humble savings, some twelve hundred 
francs, which would enable him to face the first necessities with 
less anxiety. It would be futile to imagine what his course would 


ave been without his sister's help; at any rate her unparalleled 
ourage and devotion made it much easier for him to do the only 
ling which was completely honest. On the 6th of October, 1845, 
e left Saint Sulpice, wearing for the last time the cassock of a 

It must be said that his masters respected his decision and did 
ot cease, at least for some time, to be his friends/ they had had 
lany opportunities to test the purity of his heart and they well 
new that there was in it neither revolt nor sensuality, but the 
lost genuine and intense religion. On the other hand, he himself 
Iways spoke with the highest appreciation of the education 
/hich they had imparted to him. Saint Sulpice in Renan's day 
and perhaps even now) was essentially a seventeenth-century 
istitution; nothing could remind one more of Port Royal or the 
Id Sorbonne than did this college where time seemed to have 
tood still. The studies were extremely serious; there was a 
tealthy amount of freedom; the moral tone was the highest. The 
heological teaching was rigorously honest. Some at least of his 
eachers would have been the last, knowing the doubts preying on 
is mind, to let him tie himself forever by a half-hearted taking of 
acred vows. They did not try in the least to make proselytes by 
leans of equivocations or to dispose of dogmatic difficulties or 
sxtual contradictions by sleight-of-hand. They acted according to 
he truth as they saw it, and Renan did nothing but follow their 
dmonitions, though the light which he saw was more distant and 
Irew him reluctantly far away from them. He was especially 
rateful to his teacher of Semitic languages, and said of him : <f All 
hat I am as a savant, I owe to M. Le Hir. I sometimes think that 
have never known well the things that I learned without him. 
; or example, he was not very strong in Arabic, and therefore I 
tave always remained a mediocre Arabist." But his thankfulness 
^as extended to the whole school and when later he reviewed his 
ife in Marcus Aurelius' manner, trying to determine the various 
nfluences which had moulded it, he recognized that Saint Sulpice 
lad been by far the principal factor. The moral education of that 


great seminary had imbued his whole substance, and his anxious 
love for those from whom his conscience had obliged him to part 
caused him to declare (with some exaggeration) : "Since I left 
Saint Sulpice I have done nothing but decline, and yet with but 
one quarter of a Sulpician's virtues, I have still been, 1 believe, far 
above the average/' 

Nothing can be harder than to break with the faith of one's 
youth, with the traditions of one's people, with the ideals of one's 
teachers. Though Renan had taken no final vows, when he left 
Saint Sulpice on that fateful October day, he must have felt like 
an apostate. He was leaving a house which had been for him a 
second home and found himself alone and poor, without friends 
(except those he was deserting) , in a cold and indifferent world. 
Dark days followed, days of solitude and trial, which might have 
become unendurable but for the clear purpose which guided his 
mind like a star in the night. Then fate was kind to him. For the 
next month the hands of a new friend were stretched out to him, 
and before long they helped and enabled him to evoke a new and 
greater vision. 

This friend, four years younger than himself, was a student of 
science, Marcellin Berthelot, who became eventually one of the 
leading chemists of the century. He was fully Renan's equal both 
from the intellectual and the moral point of view, and, so to say, 
his complement in the matter of knowledge. At the time of their 
meeting, Renan's erudition was already considerable, but was re- 
stricted to the philosophical, historical and literary disciplines, 
while Berthelot had devoted most of his attention to the experi- 
mental sciences. Their political opinions were just as divergent, 
for Renan was a tory and a monarchist, while his friend was a 
liberal and a republican (the first republican Renan had ever 
met!). However, their love of knowledge was equally intense; 
they were animated by the same idealism, the same respect for hu- 
man reason; and, though the great tasks to which they had al- 
ready dedicated their young lives were very different, they were 
sustained by the same heroic devotion to them. Such a friendship 


was at once a great source of happiness and an incomparable 
opportunity. I like to imagine these two youths discussing to- 
gether, with equal candor and passion, either in Renan's garret 
or else in the quieter streets of the "Quartier Latin/' The conflicts 
of their points of view, the clashes of their enthusiasms, the piec- 
ing together of their information, the continual challenge of their 
respective prejudices could but be immensely fruitful. They dis- 
cussed endlessly every problem of life; and, as one of them re- 
marked, ''Social and philosophic questions must be very difficult 
indeed that we were not able to solve them in our desperate 

The two friends weathered together the Revolution of 1848, 
and the result of their incessant colloquies during that tremendous 
crisis was a book which, although written by Renan, bore traces 
of Berthelot's influence on almost every page: Jbe 7uture of 
Science. It was at once a social survey, a sort of general introduc- 
tion to scientific studies, an attempt to establish a general philos- 
ophy exclusively upon the data of experience, above all an im- 
passioned appeal to apply scientific methods to the solution of 
social and political issues. It was chaotic to a degree and as dog- 
matic and naive as we might expect the encyclopedic treatise of 
any young man to be. Crude, aggressive, tactless, poorly written 
(as it was) it was nevertheless full of excellent suggestions cleverly 
made, full of delicious remarks, full of learning and wisdom. 
Neither should we forget that much in it which may seem com- 
monplace to-day was relatively new in 1848; indeed, some parts 
signally his insistence that philosophy should be based on posi- 
tive knowledge are not yet generally understood. A careful anal- 
ysis of it would show that it contained the germs of the best 
thoughts of his maturity, and we could easily find in it a raw 
delineation of his later attitude. Though he was fully aware of 
the crudities and shortcomings of this maiden work, Renan never 
disavowed its main substance. Indeed, when his first revulsion 
against it, caused by his Italian journey, was softened, throughout 
his life he retained a tender feeling for it and used to call it affec- 


tionately his old Purana. Towards the end of his life he had the 
courage (or the weakness) to publish it in full without any 
change. Such a book is tremendously interesting; not so much as 
an achievement, however, as a promise. It could but be pleasant 
for the old man when he reread these lucubrations of his youth 
to realize not only that he had fully kept his promise, but also 
that the world had moved in the main along the lines he had 

Berthelot's influence upon the development of Renan's thought 
can not be overestimated. They remained to the last a unique pair 
of friends. Theirs was a sort of sacred union, excluding any fa- 
miliarity or indulgence, which must have seemed inhuman to those 
who were not actuated by the same earnest conception of life, 
the same absolute devotion to a great duty, the same inveterate 
habit of considering all things from the point of view of eternity. 
They were two young heroes walking along different paths to a 
single aim; their quests, however distinct to all appearances, were 
essentially the sameu They wanted to increase the light and to 
dissipate the clouds of darkness and their enemy was also the 
same dragon with a hundred heads, unreason, credulity, supersti- 
tion, intolerance. . . . 

The voyage to Italy which Renan made in 1849-50 is very im- 
portant because it was his artistic initiation. It brought suddenly 
to the surface of his soul the love of beauty which had been stifled 
by his immoderate studies and was almost buried under a tre- 
mendous load of knowledge. It mellowed his thought and made 
him realize that he too was an artist. His first published work 
his Averroes which appeared a couple of years later shows the 
progress that he had made in every respect. It is the fruit of a ma- 
ture mind which has found out that the duty of a writer is less 
to exhibit the sum of his knowledge than to deliver his message, 
the work of one who has learned the art of composing his thoughts 
and pruning his style, who has taken the trouble to recast his ideas 
until their form be as simple and elegant as possible. In fact, this 


Averroes, written before he was thirty, has remained a classic of 
philosophic literature. 

The artistic development of the young author was considerably 
hastened by his acquaintance with the Dutch painter Ary Schef- 
fer, whose niece Cornelie he married in or about 1 854. Since Hen- 
riette's return from Poland, she had been living with her brother. 
She now joined the young couple and became a warm friend of 
the bride and later of their children, Ary and Ernestine. A little 
later, Ernest's old mother joined them too. He had now to pro- 
vide for a large family, and it was sometimes difficult to keep the 
wolf from the door. He wrote articles for the Revue des Deux 
TWondes and the journal des Debits, and was employed in the 
Department of Manuscripts of the National Library, but all that 
hardly sufficed to keep such a large pot boiling. In 1857 the chair 
of Hebrew at the College de France became vacant by the death 
of Quatremere. Renan was the one man in France qualified to 
occupy it (he had published in 1855 his Qeneral Tiisiory of Se- 
mitic Languages and was already a member of the Institut) , but re- 
ligious prejudice blocked the way to his nomination. The injus- 
tice done to him was so flagrant, however, that the government 
entrusted to him as a sort of compensation a scientific mission 
to ancient Phoenicia. Nothing more fortunate could have hap- 
pened to him. This long voyage in the Near East completed his 
artistic initiation and gave him the archaeological and pictorial 
background which he needed to write to his satisfaction the first 
volumes of the Origins of Christianity. The devoted Henriette ac- 
companied him, acting as his manager, his secretary and his be- 
loved confidante. They travelled extensively in Palestine, visiting 
together one can easily imagine with what passion all the 
places hallowed by one of the greatest dramas of history. Unfortu- 
nately the hot and damp climate of the Syrian coast had told upon 
their health, especially upon Henriette who was very far from 
strong. Her condition soon reached such a critical stage that they 
decided to move into the hills and to settle in Ghazir, at the end 
of the Bay of Kesruan, one of the most beautiful spots in the 


world. It is there that Renan began the composition of his Life of 
Jesus. But the move had been too late; and in September 1861 a 
malignant fever laid them low and carried off Henriette. She had 
given the most perfect example of sisterly devotion; and it would 
be unfair to think of him, whom she loved so well, without think- 
ing also of her. She is buried under the palm trees of Amschitt, 
and our grateful thoughts linger there with her. Renan came back 
from Palestine with the sketch of a masterpiece, but he had paid 
a heavy price for it. 

The Vie de Jesus appeared in 1863. Its success was immense. 
Some of it, to be sure, was of a sensational nature. There was so 
much in that lofty book to shock and enrage the bigots that they 
could not ignore it. Its success, however, was due to a far greater 
extent to the warm sympathy which it aroused. Renan had spoken 
straight to the hearts of men and they had responded. From that 
time on, his fame as a writer was so solidly established that his 
livelihood was relatively secure. Oh! that Henriette had been able 
to share his triumph and his comfort! The heroic years were 
over after all, those were the best, and she had shared them 
fully. There remained thirty more years which his indefatigable 
activity filled to the brim, but the recital of such activity lacks in- 
terest. His was the retired life of a savant, outwardly monotonous, 
though inwardly so full and so rich, periodically interrupted by 
vacations in diverse parts of Europe. If one were telling the life of 
a third-rate personality one would make capital of such voyages; 
one would narrate them at great length as if they were journeys 
of discovery; one would draw the reader's attention to every dis- 
tinguished man whom one's hero met as if to divert a little of their 
brilliance to him. But when the traveller is himself a great person- 
ality, whose brightness is not borrowed but original; when he 
travels not to gratify an aimless curiosity or a despicable snob- 
bishness, but to recreate his mind, to attain a fresh point of view, 
to find material for his work and food for his thought, such stories 
become pointless. At least the history of his movements is so in- 
extricably mixed with that of his own mind that it is not possible 


to separate one from the other. Now, to explain the development 
of his mind would oblige me to analyze his works in their natural 
sequence, and I do not propose to do so. The only one of his 
many books which it would be unpardonable not to mention is his 
Souvenirs d'nfance et de 'Jeunesse, one of the most charming 
pieces of autobiography which has ever been written. The French 
people gave this little book the most enthusiastic welcome a wel- 
come which they had never given before to a book of the same 
kind, except perhaps to the Memoires d'Oirtre-Tombe. I suppose 
Renan wrote it during one of his vacations in his native province, 
when his growing age and failing health discouraged longer jour- 
neys and when nostalgia drew him back to the haunts of his boy- 
hood. At least, when I read those pages, I seem to hear the sea- 
voices of Brittany and smell the gomon. Here is told the story of 
his intellectual development to the time of the great crisis of his 
life, his departure from Saint Sulpice, but a few digressions carry 
the tale a little farther. The tone is familiar and the reminiscences 
are not complete but fragmentary, yet they offer us in an exquisite 
form the essential facts of his growth, the facts which he alone 
could tell us; the rest might as well be told by others or left untold. 
For with few exceptions (and Renan was not one of them) the 
fate of any great writer, scientist or artist has been largely de- 
termined before he was thirty. The initial struggle is the thing, 
not the victory. 

Renan died in Paris in October 1892. The work in which he 
himself took most pride was his edition, together with two col- 
leagues of the Institut, of the whole body of Semitic inscriptions; 
this great undertaking placed within the reach of the few scholars 
interested in it, the fundamental materials wherewith to rebuild 
the past with greater accuracy. However, he will be chiefly re- 
membered, among a large lite, by his noble efforts to purify the 
religious spirit, by his conception of history and philosophy as 
scientific disciplines, by his broad humanism and, last but not 
least, by the charm and the unaffected elegance, the simplicity, the 
perfect cadence of his prose. He was one of the leading philos- 


ophers among the historians of the last century and one of the 
greatest literary artists. 

The most characteristic trait of Renan's thought is his scientific 
conception of history and, conversely, his rare understanding of 
the spirit of positive science. To be sure this was largely due to 
his constant intercourse with Marcellin Berthelot, but the latter's 
influence would have been of little avail if Renan had not been 
fully prepared to receive it. When he exclaims in one of his 
prefaces to the ife of "Jesus, "History is a science like chemistry, 
like geology/' there comes to us an echo of their discussions on 
the subject. Renan, whose sole knowledge was historical, had been 
suddenly brought face to face with a man whose conceptions and 
ideals, though strangely similar to his own, were based on an 
altogether different set of facts. On the other hand Berthelot had 
probably been led to believe as most young scientists are that 
there was no real knowledge outside the field of the positive or 
experimental sciences, and we may expect him to have taken pains 
to impress his theological companion with this conviction. The 
test of knowledge, he might say, is the ability to foresee, to bring 
about definite results with certainty. The experimental sciences 
are the only ones which make such knowledge possible. Of course 
Renan could not share such an intolerant conception, but he would 
learn to understand the pure scientific point of view, as no other 
historian ever did. Thus, after having reviewed the intellectual 
conditions of Islam, he concludes, 'The purpose of mankind is 
not repose in submissive ignorance, but implacable war against 
error and struggle against evil. Science is the soul of society for 
science is reason ... It creates military and industrial superior- 
ity. It will some day create social superiority; I mean a state of 
society wherein the full amount of justice compatible with the 
essence of the universe will be available/' Berthelot would have 
expressed himself exactly in the same way, but he would have 
stopped there. Renan was not inclined to throw overboard as 
worthless his own treasure of facts, to the collection of which he 


had devoted so many years of intense study. He realized keenly 
that there was an immense field of knowledge to which the 
methods of positive science could not yet be applied and maybe 
could never be; but that was no reason to give up its exploration 
as hopeless. The duty in every case remained the same: to find as 
much of the truth as possible. If but little truth could be attained 
with certainty, it was nevertheless one's duty to find that little. 
The science of the human mind is essentially historical, for all that 
we do, all that we know, all that we are is the result of ageless 
labor and immemorial experience. The best way to understand the 
development of our mind and to fathom its nature and possibilities 
is to study the history of mankind to study it with the same 
scrupulous accuracy with which the naturalist seeks to unravel 
the succession of geologic or biologic changes. Renan understood 
all this very clearly and his philosophy was completed by a vague 
concept of evolution as a universal law of life. 

The idea of evolution was of course in the air, and the tumult 
and disruptions of 1848 had done much to replace in the popular 
mind the general notions of tradition and immobility by that of 
ceaseless change. Dynamical or historical explanations were every- 
where substituted for the merely static for the dogmatic de- 
scriptions of an immobile reality. It is interesting to note that 
Spencer and Darwin were thinking on this very subject at the 
same time as Renan it must be admitted with far greater depth 
but his contribution is nevertheless of great importance, for it 
came from the other pole of research. 

Renan's scientific attitude is best illustrated by his love of con- 
crete facts and his distrust of premature generalizations. Thus 
he would say, "Reason alone cannot create truth . . . The at- 
tempt to construct a theory of things by the play of empty for- 
mulas is as vain a pretense as that of the weaver who would 
produce linen without putting any thread in his shuttle/' and 
again, "It is philology or erudition which will provide the thinker 
with that forest of things (silva rerum ac sententiarum, as Cicero 
puts it), without which philosophy will never be more than a 


Penelope's weaving always to be recommenced." This was partly 
a revulsion against the theological arguments of his youth, partly 
a natural impulse intensified by Berthelot's example. 

I speak of natural impulse advisedly, for it is obvious that 
Renan was a born scientist. The fundamental qualities of a true 
scientist were genuine parts of his substance; the love of truth, of 
accuracy, and even more the disinterestedness and the courage 
without which this love is easily stifled at the very time when it 
is most needed. 

This leads us to examine his religion, a subject it is far easier 
to discuss now than in his own time, when some fanatics went so 
far as to consider him as a sort of Antichrist. The core of his 
religion, which was intense, was this very love of truth. One might 
be tempted to ask, is it possible that religion be based on some- 
thing else? But it is wiser to ask no such question; for it would 
oblige us to deny the religion of a large number of people who 
consider themselves, in perfect good faith, as deeply religious, 
though they have no idea of truth, no means of recognizing it, 
no love of it, no use for it. Their religion is irrational, but we 
cannot say that it is not genuine. 

Aside from this love of truth which remained the absorbing 
passion of his life, Renan had retained from his early education a 
double imprint; the conviction of the necessity of a moral aristoc- 
racy, and the feeling that such aristocracy was essentially one of 
service, enjoying no privilege but to be what it was and expecting 
no other, not even the privilege of wide recognition. According to 
him, the truly inferior men are the great mass of the self-centered, 
snobbish and stupid people, who have no other motives than the 
improvement of their position, the furthering of their own petty 
interests. On the contrary, the true mark of the aristocracy in 
which he had placed all his hope of moral progress is its dis- 
interestedness, its eagerness to devote itself to the community 
without the thought of any reward. He insisted repeatedly in 
every one of his writings on the essential importance of such dis- 


interestedness. The purpose of man, as far as we can understand 
it, is to create intellectual values, that is, to produce beautiful 
things, to discover and vindicate truth, to increase justice and hu- 
man solidarity. Every disinterested effort in that direction, how- 
ever humble, is a positive gain, however small, for the whole 
world. To put it in the simplest terms, he who takes life earnestly 
and forgets himself is, to that extent, religious; he who is frivolous, 
self-complacent, superficial, selfish, is, to that extent, irreligious. 
When Renan renounced the taking of the sacred orders to 
devote himself entirely to scholarly pursuits, the change appeared 
to the bigots immense, abysmal. Some of them could never forgive 
him; the boy educated to be a priest, but who had decided at the 
eleventh hour to follow another road, seemed to them a renegade, 
a vile traitor; and they hated and despised him accordingly. In 
fact the change was very small. He was fully convinced that the 
fullest use he could make of his life was to consecrate it to the 
quest of truth. He was born a priest, but what else is the true 
scientist?; he remained a lay priest a priest of science to the 
end of his days. His decision to leave the church affected his 
beliefs, changed his profession; but it did not alter the texture 
of his soul; it did not disturb his religion. Well might he say when 
he edited Jhe 7uture of Science after a thoughtful interval of forty 
years, "My religion is still the progress of reason, that is, of sci- 
ence/' And he added a little further in the same preface, 'Tor us 
idealists, one single doctrine is true, the transcendent doctrine 
according to which the purpose of mankind is the creation of a 
superior conscience or, as they put it in the old days, the greatest 
glory of God/' 


The life of a philosopher is generally less exciting than that of a 
war correspondent or a prima donna. Spencer's life is a very plain 
one indeed. If one does not insist on quoting the titles of the 
books and essays, which are the most conspicuous mile-stones of 
his career, it can be told in a few words. He was born in Derby 
on April 27, 1820, a thoroughbred Englishman. His father, George 
Spencer, was a teacher, a man of small means and little imagina- 
tion, but honest to the core and of an unbending type. His mother, 
who does not seem to have influenced him to any extent, was very 
different from her husband, as patient and gentle as he was 
irritable and aggressively independent. They do not seem to have 
been very happy together, and their union was not blessed 
with many children who survived; although nine were born to 
them, only one, Herbert, the eldest, passed the stage of infancy. It 
is as if already the 'parents had been obliged to pay the heavy 
ransom of genius. The boy was left a great deal to himself, and 
he followed his bent toward scientific information, learning also 
a little English and arithmetic. At the age of thirteen, he was sent 
to his uncle, the Reverend Thomas Spencer, but the discipline of 
this new home seemed at first so hard to him that he ran away to 
his father's, walking one hundred and fifteen miles in three days 
with hardly any sleep or food. However, after a while he re- 
turned to his uncle and stayed with him, being tutored by him, 
chiefly in mathematics, for the next three years. This was the 
end of his systematic education, which certainly was very in- 
complete. When he began to earn his living at sixteen, he knew 
probably less than the average well-to-do boy of his age. It is 
true he knew considerably more in other ways, and he had also 
exercised to a greater extent his mother-wit. He worked suc- 
cessively as an assistant schoolmaster (for three months), as 
an engineer, and, after a vain attempt to earn a living as a literary 



man, he finally became in 1848 sub-editor of the Economist. This 
last position had the advantage of bringing him in touch with 
many eminent men of his day; men like Huxley, Tyndall, and 
Lewes. During all these years, he had carried on desultory read- 
ing, he had made quite a number of trivial inventions, he had 
done some writing and a considerable amount of solitary think- 

The editing of the Economist left him time enough to complete 
his first book, Social Statics, which appeared early in 1851. In 
1853, having inherited five hundred pounds from his uncle, he 
abandoned this position and determined to support himself by 
his own literary work. Such a decision is always hazardous; per- 
haps never more so than in the case of a man like Spencer who 
was less a writer than a thinker, whose ability to express himself 
was constantly inhibited by the fear of error. Shortly afterward, 
returning from a holiday in Switzerland, his health began to break 
down. Yet he resolutely pursued the self-imposed task of which 
he had become more and more conscious, and after many years 
of work and meditation, of suffering and disappointment, on 
March 27, 1860, he published the program of A System o\ Philos- 
ophy, the outline of the work to which the best part of his life was 
to be devoted. This is to me the culminating date in Spencer's life. 
It is then that he reveals for the first time his dominant personality. 

Think of it! Here we have a man, whose systematic knowledge 
is rather small, whom many scientists (not the greatest, however) 
would have regarded as ignorant and such he was in many re- 
spects a man handicapped by lack of means and of health, 
but one who has been thinking hard and fast for a number of 
years, who has measured the world around him and himself, who 
knows exactly what he must do, who calmly estimates the im- 
mensity of the undertaking and the frailty of the means, who 
knows that his decision practically involves the surrender of his 
liberty for the rest of his days and makes of him a slave to his 
ideal yet his faith is so great that he does not hesitate. No handi- 
cap will stop him and he sends his program to the world; a 


program to the fulfilment of which the rest of his life was 
faithfully and unrestrictedly given. One should keep in mind that 
at that time Spencer was already a nervous invalid; he could only 
work a few hours a day and had to use all sorts of tricks to do 
so without suffering; in the afternoon he had to forsake not 
simply work but any excitement or he would lose his night's rest. 
Yet he went ahead and henceforth his life was one of single- 
hearted devotion to his self-imposed trust. The first volume of 
the "Synthetic Philosophy" appeared in 1862, the tenth and last 
in 1896. It took him thirty-seven years. 

It is not part of my present purpose to analyze, even briefly, 
Spencer's works. I will simply limit myself to a few remarks 
which may refresh the reader's memory and help him to appreciate 
Spencer's undertaking. Let us remember that his fundamental 
ideas are the following : First, an earnest belief in the value of phi- 
losophy as completely unified knowledge. Of course, without such 
belief, he could not have carried on his life's work. Secondly, the 
modern concept of Devolution both in its biological and its universal 
import. Thirdly, the ideal of freedom the core of his political 

I need not consider the first point because my whole essay is 
really devoted to it. It is remarkable that Spencer's first paper 
on evolution, one entitled 'The Development Hypothesis," ap- 
peared as early as 1852, and his system of philosophy, which 
was essentially based upon the law of progress, was drafted by 
him for the first time in the early days of 1858. It is in the middle 
of the same year that Darwin and Wallace announced their 
theory of natural selection to the Linnaean Society of London. 
Spencer's merit as a precursor cannot be denied; at the same time 
it must be said that if his general theory of evolution was right, his 
conception of its mechanism was wrong. He believed that bi- 
ologic progress was chiefly determined by the inheritance of 
characteristics gained by each individual during his lifetime, and 
although he later admitted the validity of Darwin's explanation, 
that is, natural selection, he nevertheless, remained a Lamarckian 


to the end of his life. Biologists are now generally agreed that ac- 
quired characters are not inherited, but their agreement on this 
subject is so recent that it would hardly be fair to blame Spencer 
on this score. Moreover, he was the first to extend this theory to a 
general conception of the universe and to retrace in the de- 
velopment not simply of living organisms, but of everything, an 
evolution or a progress "from the homogeneous to the hetero- 
geneous, from the simple to the complex, from the incoherent to 
the coherent, from the indefinite to the definite." Matter-of-fact 
people may object that such a generalization is equally uncon- 
trollable and useless, but that is to take a very crude view of the 
subject. Spencer's generalization, his insistence, was a powerful 
factor in the success of the evolutionary point of view. It helped 
mightily to create a new scientific and philosophic atmosphere. 
Is not that very much indeed, and what more could you expect 
a philosopher to do? 

The "Synthetic Philosophy" did not embrace all the sciences. 
Feeling the necessity of restricting his field, chiefly on account of 
his insufficient scientific training, he made a systematic study only 
of those branches of knowledge to which the application of scien- 
tific methods was relatively new, to wit: biology, ethics, sociology. 
Biological facts had inspired his theory of evolution, and his 
biology in turn was dominated by it. On the other hand, in his 
ethical and social studies he was chiefly guided by the concep- 
tion that liberty is the greatest good. The industrial and legal 
development of the last half-century seems to have proceeded in 
the opposite direction; yet the main difficulties of our moral and 
social life cannot be solved by artificial regulations, and now, even 
more than in Spencer's time, the greatest political problem to be 
solved is the one involved in the antinomy: freedom versus red 
tape, or initiative versus automatism, or life versus stagnation. Of 
course we all realize that a great many more regulations and social 
restrictions are needed than Spencer was prepared to admit, but 
the wise do not believe that these regulations are real factors of 
progress. The best that they can do is to prevent us from sliding 


backward; they cannot help us to go onward. They impede a 
certain amount of evil and they oblige another amount of it to 
assume a secret form, which may be on the whole less pernicious. 
They cannot create any parcel of positive good. Spencer's search- 
ing analysis of these subjects is of permanent value, and even 
if one assents to the temporary necessity of compulsory measures, 
there is no doubt that social progress lies mainly in the direction 
which he pointed out, the increase of voluntary co-operation. 

Spencer has often been reproached that his system is based far 
more upon preconceived ideas than upon the observation of 
reality. Yet it must be admitted that he managed to marshal an 
enormous mass of facts to support his theories. If it be true that 
the latter were generally ahead of his experience, is not the same 
true to a certain extent of every scientific hypothesis? Never mind 
where a man gets his theories if he can establish them on ex- 
perimental grounds. And Spencer, however biased and ignorant 
he may have been, took enormous pains to gather the experi- 
mental facts which he needed. Think only of the descriptive 
sociology whose publication began under his direction in 1873 
and is not yet completed. Although he was very poor in the first 
half of his life and never reached more than a small competence, 
he spent more than three thousand pounds on this great under- 
taking. It is a pity, by the way, that the frame of these descrip- 
tions is so rigid and their size so awkward; but as they are, the 
published volumes contain an enormous amount of material and 
deserve greater recognition than they have ever received. 

Spencer's main shortcoming was his dogmatism, his inability to 
consider the opinions of others. This dogmatism, which naturally 
increased as he grew older, arose partly from his initial ignorance, 
partly from his chronic neurasthenia, partly also from his lack of 
imagination, the singleness of his purpose, the exclusiveness of his 
thought. He was temperamentally a non-conformist, and although 
later in life he seemed to become more and more anxious to com- 
ply with the external conventions of society, I suppose he did 


so chiefly to eschew the criticism of fools and to protect his inner 

There is no justification whatever for the statement that Spencer 
was "all brains and no heart/' He was not sentimental, but very 
sensitive. Of course the accomplishment of his life's work did 
absorb the greatest part of his energy, including his emotional 
energy, and a man carrying such a burden on his shoulders could 
not be expected to run errands for others. 

As in the case of Leonardo da Vinci, the predominance of his 
intellectual concerns partly explains his sexual indifference, which 
overwhelming interests of another sort could but aggravate, as 
he became more engrossed in his work. At any rate, Spencer 
does not seem to have ever experienced love. When he was 
twenty, he came nearer to it than ever before or afterward, but 
this little encounter seems very shadowy indeed and would not 
even be quoted in the biography of a more normal person. Later, 
while he was editing the Economist, he often took to the theater, 
to share his free tickets, a young girl (she was a year older than 
he) who then enjoyed some small notoriety for her translation of 
Strauss's Life of Jesus. They saw a great deal of one another, but 
although there is no woman for whom Spencer ever had a higher 
esteem, there is no warrant for the statement that they ever were 
in love. Leaving temperament aside, maybe if Spencer had had a 
little more imagination and pluck, they would have married. And 
just try to imagine what would have happened if Herbert Spencer 
and George Eliot had been man and wife! Pity that such experi- 
ments are impossible and that each life is definitive. Anyhow, I 
do not think, as far as I know them both, that Spencer would 
have made her happy; at least he could not have inspired her as 
deeply as did, later, George Henry Lewes. 

It is very interesting to compare Spencer and Comte, and I love 
to bring them together in the field of my memory. Spencer did 
not like allusions to Comte apropos of himself, and he refused to 
own any indebtedness to his illustrious predecessor. It is true that 
he never made a formal study of Comte's works, yet he knew 


more of them than he himself was conscious of, as the result of 
his conversations with his friends, chiefly George Eliot and George 
Lewes, who were at one time enthusiastic followers of the French 
philosopher. They certainly had many opportunities of imparting 
to Spencer, willy-nilly, the gist of Comte's ideas. 

However different the great Frenchman and the great English- 
man were, they had very much in common. First of all their en- 
cyclopedic ideal, then their heroic faith and tenacity amidst 
untoward circumstances, their intolerance and dogmatism, their 
independence, their lack of those softening qualities which make 
men lovable. They attached a paramount importance to the study 
of sociology and positive polity, but they saw clearly that no real 
advance can be made which is not preceded by a moral transfor- 
mation. They both asserted themselves in a similar way. Auguste 
Comte wrote the first sketch of his "Course of Positive Philos- 
ophy" in 1826, and the course itself was the labor of the next 
sixteen years ; Spencer launched his manifesto in 1 860, and work- 
ing far more slowly, it took him more than double this time to pro- 
duce the whole of hfs own synthesis. 

Although both saw the importance of historical methods, they 
still have in common an extraordinary lack of historical sense. I 
am thinking of Comte, the philosopher not of the prophet of his 
latter days, who, jumping to the other extreme, made of history 
a sort of religion. Before that, he does not seem to have grasped 
any more clearly than Spencer that genuine synthetic knowledge 
must comprehend the whole past of knowledge as well as its latest 
stages. Knowledge indeed is not something fixed and rigid, neither 
is it perfect; it is an ever-progressing organism whose meaning 
can only be understood by one who knows its origin and its 
inner life. Comte saw well enough that the history of intellectual 
development is the key to social evolution, but he did not see 
that it is also a master-key to synthetic knowledge. Spencer 
generously spent considerable sums for the elaboration of his 
"Descriptive Sociology/' wherein the chronological sequence of 
events is faithfully abided by; yet what one might call his his- 


torical blindness was appalling. Nothing is more pitiful, nothing 
more calculated to make one doubt of his genius, than the meager 
notes he wrote while travelling in Egypt and Italy; to him the past 
was dead. 

In my sketch of Spencer's life, I hope I have made it clear how 
ill prepared he was for the great undertaking upon which he had 
set his heart. At first view it seems unbelievable that he could do 
as much as he did with such inadequate equipment. In fact, he 
was not by any means as ignorant as one would expect such a 
poor student to be. If he had but few opportunities of systematic 
research or set studies, he had plenty, in his miscellaneous read- 
ings and his talks at the Athenaeum or in the streets, with the most 
distinguished of his contemporaries, to gather in a substantial 
amount of first class information. His sharp and ready mind could 
make the most of the vaguest hint. Being endowed with a real 
genius for synthesis and possessing a complete system of knowl- 
edge, he could at the same time keep out all superfluous informa- 
tion, and let in, and classify at once, all that which was pertinent 
to his purpose. 

In short, Spencer's mind was a genuine encyclopedic mind. 
The relative smallness of his knowledge was largely compensated 
by its congruity. The contemplation of such a mind helps one 
better than any explanation to understand what synthetic or 
encyclopedic knowledge actually is. It is not a mere accumulation 
of disconnected facts and theories. There are men who know 
thousands of facts, but have no skill in ordering them, no hooks 
in their brains to hang them on. The disintegrated knowledge of 
these men, of whom good people often speak as being very 
learned, is as remote from synthetic knowledge as crass ignorance. 
Knowledge is synthetic to the extent that it is unified, congruous, 
and the result of an organic growth. It cannot be obtained by mere 
juxtaposition of odd bits, but only by a slow digestion and re- 
elaboration of all the materials which the mind selects and ab- 

Nevertheless, the lack of systematic training at the outset of 


his life was to Spencer a considerable and, to a large extent, an 
irretrievable handicap. Genius cannot entirely make up for the 
absence of the fundamental technique which can only be properly 
acquired when one is young. It is astounding that, barring such 
as were unavoidable at the time of his writing, there are not more 
errors in Spencer's philosophy, and that there is so much truth 
truth of his day and prophetic truth in a system resting on such 
a fragile foundation. Indeed the amount of active substance which 
his works contain is unusually great; an excellent proof of this is 
afforded by the extraordinary influence they exerted upon the 
intellectual development of the end of the nineteenth century. 

The unification of knowledge is the more necessary as knowl- 
edge becomes more complex and specialized. If nobody had the 
courage to attempt it, the scientific world would soon become a 
new Tower of Babel. There are already too many specialists who 
know what they are doing hardly more than bees do. They work 
faithfully in their little corners, and their work is very useful. But 
science is far more than the sum of their fragmentary efforts. 
The growth of science is essentially an organic growth. That 
means that at least a few people must take the trouble to digest 
and assimilate the whole of it, in order to co-ordinate and to unify 
it. They may err; nay, they are bound to err ever and anon; but 
where one will err, the next one will go straight. It is so that every- 
thing progresses. 

If encyclopedic efforts were abandoned, the amount of scien- 
tific facts and little theories might go on increasing indefinitely, 
but science would perish. The same is equally true of every human 
activity. Everywhere synthetic and centripetal endeavors must 
counterbalance the more special and centrifugal ones, lest the 
whole fabric of life be ruined and fall to pieces. Business men, for 
instance, have a very clear notion of this, and in proportion as 
they standardize and specialize their industries, they are careful 
to provide co-ordinating agencies to keep the complete body 

But many will hasten to object: "Encyclopedic knowledge, 


however desirable it may be, has become impossible. Science is 
becoming vaster every day and men do not seem to grow bigger. 
Indeed they seem smaller than they were in the past. There are 
no more Aristotles, and if one of these giants were to come back, 
the immensity of accumulated knowledge would make him feel 
like a pigmy. However narrow be the field one has chosen, one 
finds it impossible to encompass and to exhaust it. How then can 
it be possible to know the whole of science?" Their argument 
seems peremptory. Yet it is a fallacy based on the assumption that 
the whole of science is greater than any one of its parts. This is 
wrong, for when the parts and the whole are infinite, they are of 
equal size. It is just as difficult to know the history of France, or 
say the history of Paris, as the history of the world, because both 
undertakings are equally endless. 

It is true that science is becoming more complex every day, but 
it is also becoming simpler and more harmonious in proportion 
as synthetic knowledge increases, that is, as more general rela- 
tions are discovered. It is this very fact which makes encyclopedic 
efforts still possible. In some respects one might even say that such 
efforts are easier now than they were before, because the very 
progress of science enables one to contemplate its development 
from a higher point of view. The synthetic philosopher who has 
taken the pains to understand the most difficult parts of science 
and to climb, so to say, to its summit, enjoys the same advantage 
as a traveller who can view a whole country from the top of a 
mountain. No longer do the fantastically shaped hills, the crooked 
valleys, the deep and mysterious forests delude him; he sees them 
all from above in their correct relations. Of course he does not 
know every plant of every nook as does the plant-hunter, nor 
every insect as the zoologist, nor every stone of the rocks as the 
prospector. His knowledge is different. This suggests another 
reason for the possibility of encyclopedic knowledge. Such knowl- 
edge indeed is not necessarily vaster than any specialized 
knowledge, because he who undertakes to master it does not 
attempt to know, or at least to store in his memory, facts of the 


same kind. Many of the generalizations which the special in- 
vestigator has reached at the cost of enormous pains are only 
elementary facts to the encyclopedist. It is easy enough for the 
map-maker to draw on his map a new river, to discover the true 
course of which many men have spent their lives; it is not more 
difficult for the encyclopedist to register new scientific facts and 
ideas, each of which is the fruit of considerable ingenuity and 
endless toil. 

Yet most men prefer to stand on the t*lid ground of immediate 
experience. Their habits of work increase their timidity, and 
before long the most circumspect endeavors to organize empirical 
knowledge seems to them adventurous. It is perhaps chiefly as a 
contrast to this timidity that undertakings like Spencer's take 
heroic proportions. 

There is a touch of heroism in them, because there is indeed a 
touch of adventure. Special research is generally less disappoint- 
ing, for it brings immediate results and moral comfort. The as- 
tronomer who sets our clocks right and the chemist who prepares 
our dyes are just as conscious of their usefulness as the baker is; 
no doubts will prey on their minds. Again, to put neatly written 
cards in a drawer, or to classify endless rows of insects or shells, 
and then to write long memoirs in which every one of them is 
fastidiously described, will bring peace and happiness to many 
people. They well know that they are working for eternity, be- 
cause it is they who bring together the materials of which any 
scientific synthesis is made. In the course of time many an edifice 
will be built with these materials; the buildings will pass, the 
materials will remain. Most scientists do not go beyond this; they 
prepare and collect material; they do not build. I suppose they 
obey a true instinct. They are quickly troubled with giddiness. 
They are right in refusing to go farther; they are wrong when they 
say that everybody is dizzy when they are. 

The proof that synthetic studies are not necessarily more diffi- 
cult than others, for one who has the proper constitution, is that 
Spencer, whose systematic training was so poor and who could 


not work more than two or three hours a day, succeeded so well. 
He succeeded because of the synthetic power of his mind, but also 
because of his indomitable will, of his tenacity, of his faith. 

And Spencer's relative success gives one much hope, for it is 
easy to conceive of a man having his synthetic grasp, his faith, and 
far more systematic knowledge and physical endurance. One has 
only to think of a Spencer endowed with a greater reserve of 
health and a competence which would have enabled him in his 
youth to pursue long university studies and to master the rudi- 
ments and the technique of many sciences. One may object that 
Spencer's audacity was partly the result of his ignorance. That is 
plausible. Ignorance has been more than once a source of inspira- 
tion; on the other hand, knowledge is always a heavy burden to 
bear. Many are so overburdened that they can hardly move. But 
again we may conceive a man strong enough to accumulate a 
great deal of experience, and yet to remain imaginative and young 
and keep a clear vision of his purpose. 

Let us think of Spencer with gratefulness, not so much for the 
knowledge which he added to ours, as for the example of moral 
courage and of faith which he gave us. He helped us to under- 
stand the nature and the desirability of synthetic science, to 
realize its possibility and to keep alive the need and the love of it. 
As long as there are men who care not simply for material results, 
but yearn for unified and harmonious knowledge, the memory of 
Herbert Spencer will be revered. 




When one speaks of the history of science most people think of 
experimental and mathematical knowledge as we know it now, 
with its inexhaustible harvest of applications; they think of what 
we would call rf modern science/' the development of which was 
hardly started before the seventeenth century. This is of course 
justifiable in some respects, yet he who was acquainted only with 
that part of the story would have a very misleading idea of the 
whole evolution. It is as if he knew a man only in his maturity 
and was not aware that such maturity was made possible only 
by the long years of childhood and adolescence. 

The comparison of mankind with a single man helps us to 
understand both. Let us make use of it. What would you think 
of a biography which began, let us say, at a time when the hero 
was thirty, was married and already had children, and was 
well started on his work? Would not such a biography be very 
disappointing? For we would want to know how he got started, 
whom he had married, how he became interested in his chosen 
work and gradually devoted all of his thought and energy to it. 
For exactly the same reasons a history of science beginning only 
in the sixteenth or seventeenth century is not only incomplete but 
fundamentally wrong. This is even more true in the case of man- 
kind than in that of a single man, because in the latter case we 
can at least imagine various possibilities. If we have read many 
biographies of men of science we have in our minds a sort of 
composite picture of their youth which may serve as a first ap- 
proximation. But in the case of mankind it is simply impossible 
to imagine the history of the four or five millennia of recorded 
experience which preceded the advent of modern science. 

It is unfortunately true that many scientists lack a cultural back- 



ground, and because of this do not like to look backward. It is a 
vicious circle : why should they look that way if there is nothing 
for them to see? Their history of science does not even go as far 
back as the seventeenth century; they are prone to believe that 
almost everything worthwhile was done in the nineteenth or in 
the twentieth century. Now in this they are most certainly wrong. 
The most astounding results were obtained in the most recent 
times, simply because they were the latest; but these results were 
made possible only by all antecedent efforts; they would have 
been utterly impossible without them. All the preparatory work 
left undone by our ancestors would have to be done by us now 
or by our children later. The results of the present are more com- 
plex, and more valuable than those of the past, in fact they have 
superseded the latter; but there is every reason to suppose that 
in their turn they will be superseded by those of the future. At 
all times there have been "moderns" who could not help thinking 
that their ways as compared with those of the "ancients" were 
almost final. One of the main functions of the history of science 
is to correct such mistakes and to give us, who are the "moderns" 
of today, a less conceited view of our share in the total of human 
evolution. Of course this age of ours is a very wonderful one, and, 
for us who are living in it, is undoubtedly for that very reason the 
most wonderful of all; but we must bear in mind that such 
privileged ages have succeeded one another as the generations 
themselves. Even as young lovers have sincerely felt in their ex- 
altation that the world was never more beautiful than as they saw 
it, even so each great discovery which enabled scientists to pene- 
trate somewhat deeper below appearances and to push the barriers 
of ignorance and darkness a little further away, may have given 
them the illusion that they had finally reached the heart of the 
mystery and that they were the first to understand the universe 

There is also a very good practical and philosophical motive 
for devoting at least as much attention to the more distant 
achievements as to the later ones, and that is, that the former, 


although so much easier to explain, give us a far better conception 
of the meaning of scientific evolution. To begin with, they are 
spread over a much longer period. Modern science, as defined 
above, is after all hardly more than three centuries old, while 
the previous evolution was a matter of more than four millennia, 
that is, without counting the innumerable centuries of which we 
have no definite records. The development of ancient and me- 
dieval science is not only a much longer stretch, but if I may 
put it so, a collection of stretches of various lengths interrupted 
and bent by all kinds of vicissitudes. When we consider the whole 
of it, we can verify the fact that human evolution is infinitely 
more complex than the very orderly progress of the last centuries 
would indicate. Scientific research is now organized with such 
elaboration and in so many countries that a long and complete 
interruption of it is hardly conceivable, and we almost expect dis- 
coveries to follow each other without cease and without end. In 
the distant past, on the contrary, there was so much discontinuity 
and hesitation in scientific progress, that the latter seemed to be 
even more fortuitous than it really was. A discovery was like a 
gold nugget one might stumble upon or not according to one's 
luck. By way of contrast much of the scientific work of to-day 
might be compared to the systematic exploitation of a gold mine, 
the average output of which can be foretold. 

That comparison is a little exaggerated on both sides, but the 
fact remains that scientific progress was far more erratic in the 
past than it is now, and that considerably more energy was 
wasted in vain efforts and along hopeless paths. As a result, a 
vision of medieval man groping for the truth is somewhat be- 
wildering: he seems to be going in too many directions at once 
and to be turning in circles. There is a general direction, however, 
but to perceive it one must look from a great distance and be able 
to disregard all the irrelevant movements, all the stops, lapses, 
detours and retrogressions. We are now sufficiently distant from 
ancient or even medieval science to appreciate the meaning of 
almost every step of it, true or false. On the contrary, we cannot 


yet see the latest developments of science in their true perspective. 
Of course, we believe we can; we think in good faith that we can 
single out the most pregnant discoveries of our own days, but 
the whole of past history is there to testify that contemporary 
judgments are always precarious. This is natural enough. The 
value of a theory, the importance of a fact, depend entirely on 
the conclusions which may be derived from them, on the fruits 
they will bear, and scientists are not prophets. Comte's saying, 
"Savoir afin de prevoir," is often misquoted. It is true the sci- 
entist is able to foresee and to anticipate the immediate conse- 
quences of certain events, and therein lies the secret of his material 
power. But he is not able to predict the future except within the 
very narrow sector controlled by his knowledge and even there 
he is hedged in with all kinds of restrictions. Indeed no man is 
more chary of predictions than the true scientist. 

There are two main reasons for studying the history of science : 
a purely historical one, to analyze the development of civilization, 
i.e., to understand man, and a philosophical one, to understand 
the deeper meaning of science. Now from either point of view, 
the history of ancient and medieval science is at least as useful as 
that of modern science. He who knows only one of these histories 
does not really know the history of science, nor does he know the 
history of civilization. 

I shall try to make this more concrete by dealing at greater 
length with the earlier parts of our history. If it were not so futile 
to pick out a single period as the best for each period was the 
best from a certain point of view and each was an indispensable 
link in the chain of ages I would say in opposition to the un- 
critical scientist that the most important was, not the latest, but 
the earliest. Nothing is more difficult than to begin. And what can 
be more fundamental than a good beginning? Is it not the founda- 
tion upon which all the rest will be built? 

Unfortunately we shall never have any adequate information on 
this, the most critical period of man's history, when he was grati- 


fying his urgent needs and slowly emerging out of the darkness, 
when his instinctive craving for power and for knowledge was be- 
ginning to appear. Who first thought of kindling a fire? Who in- 
vented the earliest stone implements? Who domesticated the 
animals which have shared our lives ever since? How did lan- 
guage develop? And later, much later, writing? Who conceived 
the wheel? Just think of these discoveries and of their infinite im- 
plications. Without articulate language man remained an animal. 
Without writing, the safe transmission and preservation of knowl- 
edge were impossible. Progress implies safe keeping of what we 
already have. Without writing, the accumulation of knowledge 
was precarious and limited, progress small and uncertain. Can 
any one of our modern discoveries, however startling, begin to 
compare with those which made possible all the others? And yet 
we know nothing about them. We can hardly guess. It is probable 
that they involved the secular collaboration of thousands of men, 
each big step forward being finally secured by the exceptional 
genius of some of them. The evolutions leading to each of these 
fundamental discoveries were exceedingly slow almost compar- 
able to the biologic transitions from one type to another so slow 
that the people who took part in them were utterly unaware of 
them. Genius was then required only from time to time to clinch 
the results obtained by the unconscious accumulation of infini- 
tesimal efforts, to secure what was gained and prepare another 
slow movement in the same general direction. 

The total evolution which prepared the dawn of science must 
have taken tens of thousands of years. By the beginning of the 
third millennium before Christ it was already completed in at least 
two countries: Mesopotamia and Egypt, and possibly in two 
others, India and China. The people of Mesopotamia and Egypt 
had then already attained a high stage of culture including the 
use of writing, and a fair amount of mathematical, astronomical 
and medical knowledge. Thus it would seem proved that civili- 
zation began in the East. x oriente lux, ex occidente lex. From 


the East came the light, from the West, law! This aphorism con- 
tains a good deal of truth and might be chosen as the motto of my 

Let me say right away that my aim is to show the immense 
contributions which Eastern people made to our civilization, even 
if our idea of civilization is focused upon science. We are used 
to thinking of our civilization as western, we continually oppose our 
western ways to the eastern ways, and we have sometimes the 
impression that the opposition is irreducible. 

"Ob, ast is ast, and West is West, and never the twain shall 

Now that impression is false, and as it is likely to do consider- 
able mischief in both East and West, it is worthwhile to disclose 
the error as fully as possible. However divided it may be with 
regard to material interests and other trifles, mankind is essen- 
tially united with regard to its main purpose. East and West are 
often opposed one to the other, but not necessarily so, and it is 
wiser to consider them as two visages, or let us say, as two moods 
of the same man. 

x oriente lux! There is no doubt whatever that our earliest 
scientific knowledge is of oriental origin. As to the possible 
Chinese and Hindu origins we cannot say much that is definite, 
but, on the contrary, with regard to Mesopotamia and Egypt we 
are on very solid ground. 

For example, as early as the middle of the fourth millennium 
before Christ the Egyptians were already acquainted with a 
decimal system of numbers. In an inscription of that time there is 
reference to 120,000 captives, 400,000 oxen, and 1,422,000 goats, 
each decimal unit being represented by a special symbol. By the 
middle of the following millennium Sumerians had developed a 
highly technical system of accounting. The astronomical knowl- 
edge of these people was equally remarkable. The Egyptian calen- 
dar of 365 days was established in 4241 B.C. Babylonians accumu- 
lated planetary observations for astrological purposes: e.g., 
elaborate observations of Venus go back to the twentieth cen- 


tury B.C. They compiled lists of stars and were soon able to predict 

That early knowledge was not only abundant, but highly 
systematized. In the case of Egypt we are especially well informed 
because we have two early papyri, each of which might be called 
a treatise. The earliest, the Golenishchev papyrus of Moscow, 
dates from the middle of the nineteenth century B.C. but is copied 
from an older document of the end of the third millennium; the 
second, the Rhind papyrus, kept in London and New York, dates 
from the middle of the seventeenth century B.C. but is a copy of 
a text which may be at least two centuries older. The second of 
these texts has been studied with extreme care by a number 
of investigators. The latest edition of it by Arnold Buffum Chace, 
chancellor of Brown University, Ludlow Bull, H. P. Manning, and 
R. C. Archibald (1927-29) is at once so complete and so attrac- 
tive that I am sure it will turn the hearts of many men and worner* 
to the study of Egyptian antiquities. I imagine that the first re- 
action of some people, if they were shown these sumptuous 
volumes, would be one of wonder that so much time and money 
should have been spent on an early text of so little scientific value 
from the point of view of our present knowledge, but I am sure 
that it would not take long to convert them to an entirely different 
attitude. For just think what it means. Here we have a mathe- 
matical treatise which was written more than thirteen centuries 
before the time of Euclid! To be sure it does not compare with 
the latter's Elements, and we are not surprised that more than 
a millennium of additional efforts were needed to build up the 
latter, but it contains already such elaborate results that we must 
consider it, not as a beginning, but rather as a climax, the climax 
of a very long evolution. The Egyptian mathematicians of the 
seventeenth century were already able to solve complicated prob- 
lems involving determinate and indeterminate equations of the 
first degree and even of the second; their arithmetical ingenuity 
was astounding; they used the method of false position and the 


rule of three; they could find the area of a circle and of a sphere 
with a very remarkable approximation; they could measure the 
volume of a cylinder and of the frustum of a square pyramid. But 
is it necessary to insist upon their mathematical accomplish- 

Pyramids? Did I mention pyramids? Do not these gigantic wit- 
nesses of the Egyptian genius speak loudly enough? The great 
pyramid of Gizeh dates from the beginning of the thirtieth cen- 
tury B.C. In our age of mechanical wonders, its mass is still as 
imposing as when it was built almost five thousand years ago; 
it seems as permanent as the hills and in all probability will out- 
last most of the skyscrapers of which we are so proud. However 
startling our first vision of it, our admiration increases as we 
analyze the achievement and measure the amount of mathematical 
and engineering skill, of experience and discipline, which were 
needed to bring it to a successful conclusion. No wonder that so 
many scholars lost their wits for pondering too much on the sub- 

If we pass to medicine, other surprises are in store for us. The 
Greek god of healing, Asclepius, was but a descendant of the 
Egyptian one, Imhotep, and the history of the latter can be traced 
back to a real personality, that of a learned physician who 
flourished probably at the beginning of the thirtieth century B.C. 
What does this mean again? We often speak of Hippocrates, and 
we like to call him the Father of Medicine; we shall better ap- 
preciate Imhotep's antiquity when we realize that Hippocrates is 
more than halfway between him and us. The chances are that 
Imhotep's medical knowledge was but rudimentary, but it cannot 
have been insignificant otherwise his apotheosis would hardly 
have occurred. However this was only a beginning, or more cor- 
rectly, a new beginning. Let some thirteen centuries elapse, and 
we reach the golden age of Egyptian science the age to which 
the Rhind papyrus belongs. Strangely enough we have also a 
medical treatise of the same age, the Edwin Smith papyrus, of 
which Professor Breasted has prepared an edition. This is not 


like other papyri, a collection of recipes and charms, but a system- 
atic treatise arranged "a capite ad cakem" from head to foot 
an order which was followed down to the end of our Middle 
Ages. It contains the consideration of forty-eight cases, each of 
which is reported in the same order : name, examination, diagnosis, 
judgment, treatment, gloss. 

These examples will convince you that a considerable body of 
systematized knowledge was far anterior to Greek science. In fact 
this helps to explain what one might call the miracle of Greek 
civilization. To be sure no intelligent man could read the Iliad and 
the Odyssey, which were the primitiae of that civilization, with- 
out wondering what had made such masterpieces possible. They 
could not possibly appear like bolts from the blue. Like every 
glorious beginning, this was not only the prelude of one evolu- 
tion but the end, the climax, of another. Students of Greek mathe- 
matics, of Greek astronomy, and Greek medicine could not help 
asking themselves similar questions. How could the relative per- 
fection of the Greek scientific treatises be accounted for? The 
explanation is still very incomplete, but no doubt exists as to the 
main fact : the Greeks borrowed a large quantity of observations 
and of crude theories from the Egyptians and the peoples of 
Mesopotamia. Unfortunately, it is hardly possible in any case to 
describe the complete transmission of elements from, say, Egypt 
to Hellas. This is partly due to the revolutionary events which 
occurred about the beginning of the first millennium/ these events 
were probably connected with the early use of iron (instead of 
bronze) and almost obliterated the older Aegean culture. Our 
ignorance may be dissipated by later archaeological discoveries, 
for example by the deciphering of Minoan and Mycenaean texts, 
but it is doubtful whether the whole story will ever be revealed 
to us, for the introduction of the iron age was an upheaval of 
extraordinary magnitude and destructiveness. At any rate, in the 
present state of our knowledge, there is a gap of more than a 
thousand years between the golden age of Egyptian science and 
the golden age of Greek science. We are certain that much of the 


Greek knowledge was borrowed from eastern sources but we 
do not know exactly when or how the borrowings took place. 

For example, the incubation rites which were practiced in the 
Greek Asclepieia were in all probability derived from Egyptian 
models. These rites were very important from our point of view 
because, thanks to them, a large number of clinical observations 
were concentrated in the temples, especially in the most famous 
ones, Epidauros and Pergamon, Cos and Cnidos. The value of 
such concentration requires no emphasis, least of all for the 
medical art; for to make scientific inductions, it is not enough 
to have observations, one must have plenty of them. Without 
some means of collecting abundant clinical cases such as were af- 
forded by the Asclepieia, the progress of medicine would have been 
considerably slower. It is not too much to say that the Asclepieia 
were the cradles of Greek medicine, and they help to account for 
the extraordinary richness of the Hippocratic collection but we 
must not forget that they themselves inherited and continued 
Egyptian traditions. 

On the other hand, Greek astronomy was largely of Babylonian 
origin, though it was also inspired by Egyptian examples. The 
Babylonian influence continued to make itself felt throughout 
historic times, and it is probable that the precession of the 
equinoxes was first discovered not by Hipparchos but by the 
Babylonian astrologer Kidinnu (c. 343 B.C.) ; whether Hipparchos 
borrowed that discovery from Kidinnu or not, it is certain that 
he could not have made it without reference to the ancient Baby- 
lonian observations. With regard to arithmetic, the continuation 
of Babylonian and Egyptian influences is very striking. The Greek 
preference for expressing ordinary fractions as the sum of frac- 
tions with numerator unity and their use of a special symbol for 
2/3 were obviously Egyptian relics, while their sexagesimal frac- 
tions were Babylonian. 

There is perhaps no more fascinating subject than the study of 
the transition from oriental science to the early Greek, and the 
archaeological investigations which are being feverishly con- 


ducted by scholars of many nationalities all over the Near East 
are keeping it in a state of flux which is in itself a stimulus. It is 
perhaps wiser not to indulge in predictions with regard to such a 
live subject; yet it is safe to say that, however numerous the 
Greek borrowings may prove to have been, the blossoming of the 
Greek scientific genius remains almost equally difficult to account 
for. Students of art and literature are confronted with a similar 
difficulty, and when we speak of the "Greek miracle" we do noth- 
ing but confess to it and admit our ignorance. In fact the diffi- 
culty and the miracle are even greater in the case of science than 
in that of art, for there are Egyptian statues of the early dynasties 
which are not a whit inferior to the best Greek productions, while 
the Egyptian scientific treatises, however remarkable, especially 
when their high antiquity is considered, do not begin to compare 
with their Greek offspring. Between the scribe Ahmose (the 
writer of the Rhind papyrus) and, say, Hippocrates of Chios, 
there is such a gigantic difference that some critics have gone so 
far as to deny the scientific nature of the Egyptian work altogether 
and to consider it only as a collection of empirical recipes. In this 
they were certainly mistaken, for the Egyptian knowledge was far 
from being fragmentary and accidental; it was already methodical 
to a degree, and hence scientific. Yet the doubts of these critics 
are somewhat justified by the immensity of the gap. We do not 
know what happened between the seventeenth and the sixth cen- 
turies B.C., and it would be rash to conclude that the Egyptian 
knowledge was not gradually improved; however the chances are 
that the main improvements were made not by Egyptians, nor by 
Minoans or Mycenaeans (whoever these were), but by Greeks, 
the favored people whose earliest "Book" and witness was the 
Iliad. And these improvements were of such magnitude that they 
raised science to a higher level. When a student of ancient science 
grows a little rhapsodical about it, we may be tempted to ascribe 
his enthusiasm to the one-sidedness and the consequent blindness 
of his devotion. But I have devoted far more time and thought to 
the science of the Middle Ages than to that of Antiquity, and my 


admiration for the latter has not ceased to increase as I knew the 
former better. 

The spirit of Greek science, which accomplished such wonders 
within a period of about five centuries, was essentially the western 
spirit, whose triumphs are the boast of modern scientists. But we 
must bear in mind two important qualifications. First, that the 
foundations of that Greek science were wholly oriental, and, how- 
ever deep the Greek genius, it is not certain that it could have 
built anything comparable to its actual achievements without those 
foundations. When discussing the fate of a man of genius we 
may make many suppositions, but it would be absurd to wonder 
what would have happened if he had had other parents, for then 
he would never have been. In the same way we have no right to 
disregard the Egyptian father and the Mesopotamian mother of 
the Greek genius. In the second place, while that genius was 
creating what might be called (in opposition to Egyptian science 
on one hand and to medieval science on the other) the begin- 
ning of modern science, another development, equally miraculous, 
but of an entirely different kind, was taking place in an oriental 
country near the easternmost end of the Mediterranean Sea. 
While Greek philosophers were trying to give a rational explana- 
tion of the world and boldly postulated its physical unity, the 
Hebrew prophets were establishing the moral unity of mankind 
upon the notion of a single God. These two developments were 
not parallel but complementary; they were equally momentous 
but entirely independent; in spite of their spatial proximity they 
proceeded for centuries in almost complete ignorance of one an- 
other. They did not really come together until the end of ancient 
times, and their union was finally cemented upon the prostrate 
bodies of the two civilizations which gave birth to them. 

I shall come back to that presently. But I must first explain the 
decadence and fall of the Greek spirit. After having made so many 
conquests in such magnificent style, why did it stop? One can- 
not help feeling that if that spirit had kept its valor for a few 


more centuries, human progress would have been considerably 
accelerated and the course of civilization would have been very 
different. What befell it? It is impossible to answer such a ques- 
tion; one can only guess, and even our guesses are necessarily 
very timid. What would we answer in the case of a single man if 
his best work was done when he was twenty, and the rest of his 
life spent in sterile idleness? We would say simply. His genius 
failed him. That would not be a complete explanation, but it 
would satisfy us. But can such an explanation hold for a whole 
nation? Why not? If we speak of the Greek genius at all, as a sort 
of natural integration, we may conceive the possibility of its 
gradual corruption and disappearance. If it could emerge, why 
could it not be submerged again and fail altogether? 

What happened to Greece is that the intellectual activities of 
its people were hopelessly out of proportion to their political 
wisdom and their morality. A house divided against itself must 
necessarily fall, a body rent by internal strife is foredoomed to 
destruction, above all such a body is soon incapable of any kind 
of creation.* It was not simply Greek science that disappeared, 
but Greek art and literature as well. One might speculate as to 
what would have happened if the Greek and Hebrew ideals had 
been nursed together instead of separately, or at any rate, if they 
had not grown for so long in complete isolation. Such speculations 
are vain of course, and yet they force themselves upon us. The 
fact is, the Greek and the Hebrew spirits were incompatible; they 
could not have grown together and corrected one another; rather 
they would have destroyed each other. After all, it was perhaps 
necessary that each be built as solidly as possible on its own basis. 
It is likely that any premature synthesis would have stunted the 
development of both. When studying the records of the past, one 

*The following quotation from Euripides is typical, for it betrays political indifference as 
well as scientific interest. The Greeks carried their political sluggishness and immorality 
so far that they ceased to exist as a nation, and jeopardized not only their political but also 
their intellectual life. "Blessed is he who has attained scientific knowledge, who seeks 
neither the troubles of citizenship nor rushes into unjust deeds, but contemplates the ageless 
order of immortal nature, how it is constituted and when and why. . . ." 


has often the impression that men can grasp but one idea at a 

The reader knows how Greece was finally conquered by Rome, 
and how in the course of time it conquered its conquerors. Yet the 
old spirit was subdued, and Roman science even at its best was 
always but a pale imitation of the Greek. The Romans were so 
afraid of disinterested research, the excess of which had been one 
of the causes of the Greek corruption, that they went to the other 
extreme and discouraged any research the utilitarian value of 
which was not immediately obvious. 

In the meanwhile, Jesus Christ had appeared and told the world 
a new message, a message of love and humility, universal in its 
scope: Charity does not need knowledge; blessed are the pure in 
spirit, the pure in heart; on the other hand, knowledge without 
charity is not only useless but pernicious; it can but lead to pride 
and damnation. The development of Christianity was a first at- 
tempt to bring together the Hebrew and the Greek spirits, but 
as the Roman Christians hardly understood the former and mis- 
understood the latter thoroughly, the attempt was an utter failure. 

A good example of those misunderstandings may be found in 
the work of Tatian, a Syrian convert who lived in Galen's time. 
His Greek oration "against the Greeks" contains not only an 
account of the weaknesses of paganism but the most extravagant 
claims in behalf of oriental peoples. According to him the Greeks 
had invented nothing; they had borrowed all their knowledge from 
others Assyrians, Phoenicians, Egyptians; their only superiority 
was in the art of writing and of lying. Thus after centuries of 
ignorance of Eastern achievements, some pastern Greeks, whose 
minds were poisoned against Greek civilization by Christian 
prejudices, were going to the other extreme. Apparently Greeks 
and Orientals were not fated to understand one another. 

We may say that the Greek spirit, that disinterested love of 
truth which is the very spring of knowledge, was finally smothered 
by the combination of Roman utilitarianism and Christian senti- 
mentality. Again let us dream for a moment, and wonder what 


might have happened if the Greeks and the Christians had seen 
their respective good points instead of seeing only the evil ones. 
How beautiful if their two types of other-worldliness could have 
been harmonized! How many miseries mankind would have been 
spared! But it was not to be. The path of progress is not straight 
but very crooked; the general direction is clear enough, but only 
if one considers a very long stretch of it from far off. Before being 
able to reconcile the love of truth with the love of man, the 
scientific spirit with the Golden Rule, mankind was obliged to 
make many strange and cruel experiments. 

To begin with, under the influence of Christian education com- 
bined with Roman narrow-mindedness and later with Barbarian 
ignorance, the connection with Greek culture which was the 
only source of positive knowledge became looser and looser. 
The debasement of thought is well illustrated by the fact that 
even in the Byzantine empire, where there was no linguistic bar- 
rier to the transmission of ancient science, much of the latter 
remained practically unknown. This is so true that in the thir- 
teenth and fourteenth centuries, when the Latin world was finally 
awakened, Byzantine scholars preparing a scientific revival re- 
translated from the Arabic and the Latin a number of writings 
which were nothing but translations from the Greek or poor imita- 
tions of such translations. Their intellectual indigence was such 
that they did not recognize the work of their own ancestors. 

The contact between ancient Greece and western Christendom 
ended by being so precarious that it might have conceivably been 
broken altogether, but for the intervention of another oriental 
people, the Arabs. Please note that this was the third great wave 
of oriental wisdom, the third time that the creative impulse came 
from the East. The first initiative and the most fundamental of 
all came from Egypt and Mesopotamia; the second from Israel, 
and though it influenced science only in an indirect way, it was 
also of incalculable pregnancy; the third, with which I am going 
to deal now, came from Arabia and from Persia. 


About the year A.D. 610, a new prophet appeared at Mecca, in 
Hejaz, Abu-1-Qasim Muhammad of the tribe of Quraysh, who 
was like a new incarnation of the old Hebrew prophets. At first the 
people did not pay much attention to him, but after he had 
abandoned his native town and moved two hundred and fifty-five 
miles northward to al-Medina, in 622, his success was phe- 
nomenal. No prophet was ever more successful. By the time of his 
death ten years later, he had managed to unite the Arabian tribes 
and to inspire them with a single-hearted fervor which would 
enable them later to conquer the world. Damascus was captured 
in 635, Jerusalem in 637; the conquest of Egypt was completed 
in 641, that of Persia in the following year, that of Spain some- 
what later in 710/12. By this time the Muslims, that is the 
Prophet's followers, were ruling a large belt of the world all the 
way from Central Asia to the Far West. The conquest of Persia 
was especially momentous because it brought the invaders, brave 
but uncouth, into touch with an old and very refined civilization, 
that of Iran. I did not speak of it before because it is difficult to 
state its earlier contributions with sufficient brevity, and more 
difficult, if not impossible, to date them. For the purpose of a 
sketch like this, it is sufficient to introduce Iran at this juncture, 
but its part henceforth was considerable. The new dynasty of 
Muslim caliphs, the 'Abbasid (750-1258) established its capital 
in Baghdad on the Tigris, and for a time that new city was one 
of the main centers of the civilized world. The 'Abbasids were 
from the beginning under the Iranian spell. Their religious and 
moral strength was derived from their ancestral home, Arabia; 
their urbanity, their humanism, from Persia. To put it in a nut- 
shell, the new Muslim civilization was essentially due to the graft- 
ing of the vigorous Arabic scion upon the old Iranian tree. This 
explains at once its astounding robustness and its changing 

Under the impulse of these two tremendous forces, Muslim 
fanaticism and Persian curiosity, and under the guidance of a 
series of 'Abbasid caliphs who had a passion for knowledge 


al-Mansur, Harun al-Rashid, al-Ma'mun the new civilization 
developed with incredible speed and efficacy. It was doubly rooted 
in the past: the Prophet had transmitted to them with very few 
modifications Semitic monotheism and morality, and their Persian 
tutors had incited them to drink deeply from the older sources of 
learning, Sanskrit and Greek. From the Hindus they learned arith- 
metic, algebra, trigonometry, iatrochemistry; from the Greeks, 
logic, geometry, astronomy, and medicine. It did not take them 
long to realize the immensity of the Greek treasure and they had 
no rest until the whole of it (that is, as much as was available to 
them) was translated into Arabic. 

In this enterprise they received invaluable help from the Syrians 
and other Christian subjects of the Caliphate who spoke Greek, 
Syriac, and pretty soon Arabic. These Oriental Christians, though 
somewhat Hellenized, had always been treated with suspicion and 
disfavor by the Byzantine government, and if (as is very prob- 
able) they shared Tatian's views, it is not surprising that no love 
was lost between them. Being repulsed and persecuted by the 
Greeks, their readiness to help their Muslim conquerors was not 
astonishing. The Syrians spoke Arabic with so much alacrity 
that they gradually allowed this new language to supersede their 
own. These born polyglots were natural intermediaries; it is they 
who prepared the earliest translations from the Greek into Arabic 
and who initiated their masters in the Greek knowledge. Thus 
were the first bridges between Hellas and Islam built by Chris- 

The immense cultural importance of Islam lies in the fact that 
it finally brought together the two great intellectual streams which 
had flowed independently in ancient times. Previous attempts, as 
I have already indicated, had failed. Jews and Greeks had mixed 
in Alexandria but, in spite of the fact that the former had learned 
the language of the latter and that one of their learned men, Philo, 
had made a deep study of both traditions, there had been no real 
fusion. The Christians had not succeeded any better, because of 
their single-hearted devotion to the new Gospel, which reduced 


everything else to futility in their eyes. Now, for the first time in 
the history of the world, Semitic religion and Greek knowledge 
actually combined in the minds of many people. Nor was that 
integration restricted to a single city or country; the new culture 
spread like a prairie fire from Baghdad eastward to India, Trans- 
oxiana and further still, and westward to the very edge of the 

Muslim culture was at once deeply unified and very diversified. 
The peoples of Islam were kept together and separated from the 
rest of the world by the two strongest bonds which can bind a 
human community, religion and language. One of the few duties 
of a learned Muslim is the reading of the Qur'an (their Bible), 
and it must be read in Arabic. Thanks to this religious obligation, 
Arabic, which before Muhammad had no more than a tribal 
importance, became a world language. After the eleventh century 
it lost its hegemony, but remained very important; it is still one 
of the languages most widely used at the present time. It has 
gradually been split into a number of dialectal forms, even as 
Latin disintegrated into the various Romance languages; but 
with these radical distinctions that, up to this day, every literate 
Muslim must have some knowledge of classical Arabic to read the 
Qur'an, and that the written language e.g., that used in the news- 
papers continues to approximate more or less the classical stand- 
ards. While each Romance language has its own written form, its 
own standards of perfection, one may say that there is for the 
Arabic writer all over the world but one model of excellence, 
that given by the Qur'an and by the best authors of the classical 
age. Because of their single language and of their common faith,* 
ideas traveled with astounding regularity and speed from one end 
of the Dar al-Islam to the other. 

The universal extension of that culture caused necessarily many 

* To be sore, Islam was soon divided into a number of sects and schools, and one finds ir 
it the same gamut of religions forms as in Christianity from the extreme fundamentalism 
and the strangest mystical aberrations at the right to the purist unitarianism at the left; yet, 
however different, these were all forms of the same Muslim faith. Every Muslim read th< 
same Scriptures. 


diversities. Muslims were brought closely into touch with all kinds 
of unbelievers in the East, Chinese, Mongols, Malays, Hindus; 
further West, Magians, Syrians, Greeks, Copts; further still, 
Berbers in Africa; Sicilians, Spaniards, and other Franks in south- 
ern Europe; Jews everywhere. These contacts were generally 
friendly, or at least not unfriendly, for the Muslims treated their 
ra'aya (subjects) with kind and tolerant condescension. Under 
their patronage, many important works were published in Arabic 
by non-Muslims: Sabians, Christians, Jews, Samaritans. The 
great chemist, Jabir ibn Haiyan, was probably a Sabian; al-Battam 
was certainly of Sabian origin but had embraced Islam; the 
physicians Hunain ibn Ishaq, Ibn Butlan and Ibn Jazla were 
Christians. Down to the twelfth century Arabic was the philo- 
sophic and scientific language of the Jews; for example, the 
famous Quide oj the Perplexed, the greatest Jewish treatise of 
the Middle Ages, was written by Maimonides in Arabic. What is 
more, the earliest Hebrew grammars were composed also in 
Arabic, not in Hebrew. In other words the medieval Jews were so 
deeply Arabicized, that they needed Arabic assistance for the 
scientific study of their own sacred language.* 

During the first two centuries of the Hegira the whole of Islam 
was ruled by the Ummayad and 'Abbasid caliphs, but after that 
the caliphate was gradually broken into an increasing number of 
independent kingdoms of all kinds and sizes. The political dis- 
integration caused intense rivalries, intellectual ones as well as 
others, between the different Muslim courts. Instead of one or 
two centers of culture, like Baghdad and Cordova, there grew up 
little by little a whole series of them : Ghazna, Samarqand, Marv, 
Herat, Tiis, Nishapur, Ray, Isfahan, Shiraz, Musul, Damascus, 
Jerusalem, Cairo, Qairawan, Fas, Marrakush, Toledo, Seville, 
Granada, etc., etc. The obligation for every Muslim to perform, 
if possible, the Pilgrimage to Mecca brought about incessant com- 
munications between the different parts of Islam and originated 

* In a similar way, American Jews study Hebrew grammar in English books, but the 
analogy ends here. Hebrew grammar was actually born in an Arabic cradle. 


numberless personal meetings between scholars hailing from the 
more distant countries. Under that influence many learned Muslims 
seemed to be affected with a kind of Wanderlust, for it was not 
unusual for them to perform the Pilgrimage more than once, 
making considerable stops in the main cities on their way, re- 
newing contacts with their colleagues, engaging in long discus- 
sions, copying manuscripts, or composing their own writings; 
this one in Andalusia, another in the Maghrib, another in Egypt, 
and so forth. Thus (and also because of the common language) 
scientific knowledge obtained in any part of Islam was trans- 
mitted with astounding celerity to the others, and fresh stimula- 
tions were constantly exchanged. 

The almost unbelievable vigor of the new culture may be well 
measured by the international triumph of the Arabic language, a 
triumph which was the more remarkable because that language 
was not ready for the occasion but had to be elaborated as the 
need for it increased, and became more and more technical. The 
Qur'anic idiom was very beautiful indeed but limited. As the im- 
mense task of pouring out the Greek treasure into the Arabic 
vessels proceeded, it was necessary to make new vessels and better 
ones. Not only that, but a great majority of the people who used 
them had to begin by learning how from the very rudiments. And 
yet within a couple of centuries multitudes had acquired some 
familiarity with that language which had been utterly unknown 
to their ancestors, if not to their parents. 

The briefest enumeration of the Arabic contributions to knowl- 
edge would be too long to be inserted here, but I must insist on 
the fact that, though a major part of the activity of Arabic-writing 
scholars consisted in the translation of Greek works and their 
assimilation, they did far more than that. They did not simply 
transmit ancient knowledge, they created a new one. To be sure, 
none of them attained the highest peaks of the Greek genius. No 
Arabic mathematician can begin to compare with Archimedes or 
Apollonius. Ibn Sina makes one think of Galen, but no Arabic 
physician had the wisdom of Hippocrates. However, such com- 


parisons are hardly fair, for a few Greeks had reached, almost 
suddenly, extraordinary heights. That is what we call the Greek 
miracle. But one might speak also, though in a different sense, of 
an Arabic miracle. The creation of a new civilization of inter- 
national and encyclopedic magnitude within less than two cen- 
turies is something that we can describe, but not completely ex- 
plain. This movement, as opposed to the Greek, was perhaps 
more remarkable for its quantity than for its quality. Yet it was 
creative; it was the most creative movement of the Middle Ages 
down to the thirteenth century. The Arabic-writing scientists 
elaborated algebra (the name is telltale) and trigonometry on 
Greco-Hindu foundations; they reconstructed and developed 
though, it must be said, very little Greek geometry; they col- 
lected abundant astronomical observations and their criticisms of 
the Ptolemaic system, though not always justified, helped to pre- 
pare the astronomical reformation of the sixteenth century; they 
enriched enormously our medical experience; they were the dis- 
tant originators of modern chemistry; they improved the knowl- 
edge of optics, and meteorology, the measurement of densities; 
their geographical investigations extended from one end of the 
world to the other; they published a number of annals of capital 
interest, dealing with almost every civilized country outside of 
western Christendom; one of their historians, the Berber Ibn 
Khaldun, expounded a philosophy of history which was by far 
the most elaborate and the most original of medieval times; finally 
they laid down the principles of Semitic philology. 

Surely these were no mean achievements. If they lacked the 
supreme quality of the best ancient efforts, we must remember 
that few men have ever come as near to perfection as the best of 
the Greeks. On the other hand, if we place them in their own 
environment and compare the Arabic with other medieval efforts, 
the immense superiority of the former is obvious. We may say 
that from the middle of the eighth century to the end of the 
eleventh, the Arabic-speaking peoples (including within their 
ranks, it is true, a number of Jews and Christians) were march- 


ing at the head of mankind. Thanks to them Arabic became 
not only the sacred language of the Qur'an, the vehicle of God's 
own thoughts, but the international language of science, the 
vehicle of human progress. Just as to-day the shortest way to 
knowledge for any Oriental is the mastery of one of the main 
occidental languages, even so during these four centuries Arabic 
was the key, and almost the only key, to the new expanding 

Indeed the superiority of Muslim culture, say in the eleventh 
century, was so great that we can understand their intellectual 
pride. It is easy to imagine their doctors speaking of the western 
barbarians almost in the same spirit as ours do of the "Orientals." 
If there had been some ferocious eugenists among the Muslims 
they might have suggested some means of breeding out all the 
western Christians and the Greeks because of their hopeless back- 
wardness. At that time Muslim pride would have been the more 
conceivable because they had almost reached their climax, and 
pride is never so great as when the fall is near. On the contrary, 
only a few Christians were then aware of their inferiority; that 
awareness did not come upon them until much later by the 
middle of the thirteenth century when Islam was already on the 
downward path and Latin Christendom was climbing higher and 
higher. This is very interesting, but the rule rather than the excep- 
tion; when people boast too much of their culture it means either 
that it is so new that they have not yet grown accustomed to it 
or else that it is already decadent and that they try to hide their 
incompetence (even from themselves) under the cloak of past 
achievements. In the thirteenth century Islam was in the decadent 
and boasting stage, while Christendom had finally realized the 
richness of the Greco-Arabic knowledge and made gigantic efforts 
to be allowed to share it, and hence was relatively in a chastened 

For the sake of illustration let us consider the levels of mathe- 
matical knowledge among Muslims and among Christians in the 
first half of the eleventh century. There was then a splendid 


mathematical school in Cairo, made famous by the great astron- 
omer, Ibn Yunus and the great physicist Ibn al-Haitham; al- 
Karkhi was working in Baghdad, Ibn Sina in Persia, al-Birunl in 
Afghanistan. These mathematicians and others, like Ibn al-Husain 
and Abu-1-Jud, were not afraid to tackle the most difficult prob- 
lems of Greek geometry/ they solved cubic equations by the 
intersection of conies, they investigated the regular heptagon and 
enneagon, developed spherical trigonometry, Diophantine analy- 
sis, etc. Pass to the West and what do we find? Wretched little 
treatises on the calendar, on the use of the abacus, on Roman 
(duodecimal) fractions, etc. We have a "mathematical" cor- 
respondence exchanged (c. 1025) by two schoolmasters, Ragim- 
bold of Cologne and Radolf of Ltege. It is truly pitiful. Their 
geometry was on the pre-Pythagorean level; they were not bad 
computers, it is true; we might compare them to the Egyptian 
scribe Ahmose, who had done his task almost twenty-seven 
centuries before! 

How is it that the Muslim or oriental supremacy ended about 
the end of the eleventh century? There was a double cause for 
this: the Arabic genius was less vigorous and less fertile; the 
power and knowledge of the Latin world was growing faster and 
faster. The Arabic achievements did not stop, not by any means. 
Great Arabic scientists and scholars continued to appear until 
the fourteenth century and even later. For example, mathe- 
maticians and astronomers like Jabir ibn Aflah, al-Bitruji, al- 
Hasan al-Marrakushi, Nasir al-Dln al-Tusi; physicists like 
al-Khazim, Qutb al-Dm al-Shlrazi, Kamal al-Dln ibn Yunus; 
geographers like Yaqut, al-Qazwim, Abu-1-Fida', Ibn Battuta; 
philosophers like Ibn Rushd, Fakhr al-Dm al-Razi, 'Abd al-Latif ; 
physicians like Ibn Zuhr and Ibn al-Baitar; botanists and agri- 
culturists like Ibn al-Suri and Ibn al- f Awwam; historians like 
Ibn Khallikan, Rashid al-Dln, Ibn Khaldun, al-Maqrizi, etc., etc. 
This list might be lengthened considerably and yet contain only 
very distinguished names; as it is, it includes some of the most 


illustrious ones in the whole history of civilization. The men I 
have mentioned hailed from every part of Islam; a few of them 
wrote in Persian, but even for those Arabic was a privileged lan- 
guage. Yet by the end of the eleventh century the main task of 
the Arabic scientists as far as it concerned the whole world and 
not only themselves was already completed, and after that time 
the relative importance of Muslim culture declined steadily. Dur- 
ing the twelfth century its prestige was due even more to its past 
than to its present achievements, great as these were. In the mean- 
while, Christians and Jews were feverishly pouring out the Greco- 
Arabic learning from the Arabic vessels into the Latin and Hebrew 

The Christians were far ahead of the Jews in this new stage 
of transmission, and that for a very simple reason. Down to the 
eleventh century the philosophic and scientific (as opposed to 
the purely rabbinical) activities of the Jews were almost exclu- 
sively confined to the Muslim world. The Jewish philosophers, 
grammarians, and -scientists who lived under the protection of 
Islam were generally well treated, and some of them like Hasdai 
ibn Shaprut in Cordova attained positions of high authority and 
became the intellectual as well as the political leaders of their 
time. These Jews of the Dar al-Islam were bilingual; Hebrew was 
of course their religious language and probably also their do- 
mestic one, but for all philosophic and scientific purposes they 
thought in Arabic. They had no need of translations. On the 
contrary it was much easier for them to read a medical book in 
Arabic than in Hebrew. Sometimes they would copy Arabic manu- 
scripts in Hebrew script, but even that was not really indispen- 
sable; it was more a matter of convenience than of necessity. 

On the other hand, as soon as the Latin Christians began to 
realize the importance of the Arabic literature, since only a few of 
them could ever hope to master a language as alien to their own 
and written in such illegible and mystifying script, they longed for 
translations and did all they could to obtain them. By the end of 
the eleventh century their longing was partly fulfilled by Con- 


stantine the African, aptly called "magister orientis et occidentis"; 
he was indeed one of the great intermediaries between the East 
and the West. Constantine translated a large number of Greco- 
Muslim works from Arabic into Latin at the monastery of Monte 
Cassino, where he died in 1087. As we might expect, the results 
of his activity, far from appeasing the hunger of European 
scholars, stimulated it considerably. It now dawned upon the 
most advanced of them that the Arabic writings were not simply 
important but essential, for they contained vast treasures of 
knowledge, the accumulated learning and experience of the whole 
past. It is no exaggeration to say that during the twelfth century 
and down to about the middle of the thirteenth century, the fore- 
most activity of Christian scholars was the translation of Arabic 
treatises into Latin. There appeared a succession of translators of 
such size that they have almost the dignity of creators : Adelard 
of Bath, John of Seville, Domingo Gundisalvo, and many others 
including the greatest of all times, Gerard of Cremona. By the 
end of the twelfth century, the main body of Greco- Arabic knowl- 
edge was already available to Latin readers, but the more they 
had, the more they wanted. By the end of the following century, 
and even by the middle of it, there was little of real importance 
in the Arabic scientific literature which they were not aware of. 
Moreover, under the stimulus of the Arabic writings, some trans- 
lators took pains to rediscover the Greek originals, and their 
translations straight from the Greek followed closely upon the 
heels of those from the Arabic. A remarkable case is that of the 
Almagest. This was actually translated from the Greek before 
being translated from the Arabic; the direct translation was made 
in Sicily about 1 160, the indirect one was completed by Gerard of 
Cremona at Toledo in 1175. Yet such was the strength of the 
Arabic tradition and Gerard's own prestige, that the earlier ver- 
sion, though presumably better, was entirely superseded by the 

At first the eastern Jews and those of Spain were much better 
off than the Christians, for the whole of Arabic literature was 


open to them without effort. But in the twelfth century the scien- 
tific life of Judaism began to move from Spain across the Pyrenees, 
and in the following century it began to decline in its former 
haunts. By the middle of the thirteenth century a great many 
Jews had already been established so long in France, Germany, 
and England, that Arabic had become a foreign language to them. 
Up to this period the Jews had been generally ahead of the Chris- 
tians, and far ahead; now for the first time the situation was 
reversed. Indeed, the Christians had already transferred most of 
the Arabic knowledge into Latin; the translations from Arabic 
into Hebrew were naturally far less abundant, and hence the 
non-Arabic-speaking Jews of Western Europe were not only in a 
position of political inferiority (the Crusades had caused many 
anti-Semitic persecutions and the Jews of Christendom were 
everywhere on the defensive) but also and this was perhaps 
even more painful in a position of intellectual inferiority. To be 
sure, this was soon compensated by the fact that many of them 
learned Latin and could then read the Arabic texts in their Latin 
versions, but even then they no longer held an intellectual mo- 
nopoly with regard to the Christians; they came but second. 
While the early Jewish physicians had possessed "secrets" of 
learning which were sealed to their Christian colleagues (this was 
especially true with regard to eye-diseases which were thoroughly 
investigated in Arabic treatises) , the later ones had no such privi- 
leges. The gravity of the change is well illustrated by the appear- 
ance in the fourteenth and following centuries of an increasing 
number of translations (e.g., of medical works) from Latin into 
Hebrew. Thus the stream of translations which had been running 
from East to West was again reversed in the opposite direction. 
Note that a curious cycle had been completed, for the source of 
these writings was Greek; their Arabic elaborations had been 
translated into Latin and had inspired new Latin treatises; these 
treatises were now translated into Hebrew. From East to East 
via the West! But other cycles were even more curious. In the 
fourteenth century and later, Arabic, Persian, and Latin writings 


which were ultimately of Greek origin were re-translated into 
Greek. For example, the most popular logical textbook of the 
Middle Ages, the Summulce logicaks of Peter of Spain (Pope 
John XXI), was not only translated into Hebrew, but also into 
the very language from which its main sustenance had been in- 
directly derived. From Greek to Greek via Arabic and Latin! 

Incidentally, this will help the reader to realize the usefulness 
of studying ancient translations. These give us the best means of 
appreciating the relative levels of various civilizations at definite 
periods. We can watch their rise and fall and, so to say, measure 
them. Streams of knowledge are constantly passing from one 
civilization into the others, and in the intellectual, even as in the 
material world, streams do not run upward. From a single trans- 
lation one could deduce nothing, for its occurrence might be 
erratic. In the past even as now it was not necessarily the best 
writings which were translated; indeed some of the worst enjoyed 
that distinction more than any others. But if we consider the 
whole mass of translations, we can reconstruct the cultural ex- 
changes and draw conclusions of the greatest interest. To return 
to my comparison of mankind with a single man, the activity of 
translators helps us to evoke the intellectual evolution of the 
former: we can tell which was the dominating influence at each 
time, and, so to say, retrace his wandering steps across the schools 
and the academies of the old world. 

During the twelfth century the three civilizations which exerted 
the deepest influence upon human thought and which had the 
largest share in the molding of the future, the Jewish, the Chris- 
tian, and the Muslim, were remarkably well balanced; but that 
state of equilibrium could not last very long, because it was due 
to the fact that the Muslims were going down while the two others 
were going up. By the end of the twelfth century it was already 
clear (that is, it would have been clear to any outside observer, 
as it is to ourselves) that the Muslims would soon be out of the 
race, and that the competition would be restricted to the Chris- 
tians and the Jews. Now the latter were hopelessly jeopardized 


by their political servitude and by the jealous intolerance and the 
utter lack of generosity (to put it mildly!) of their rivals. More- 
over, for the reason explained above, the main sources of knowl- 
edge were now less available to them than to their persecutors. 
This went much deeper than it seems, for when an abundant 
treasure of knowledge becomes suddenly available to a group of 
people, it is not only the knowledge itself that matters, but the 
stimulation following in its wake. The Jews were steadily driven 
into the background, and in proportion as they were more isolated, 
they tended to increase their isolation by devoting their attention 
more exclusively to their own Talmudic studies. 

Toward the end of the thirteenth century some of the greatest 
doctors of Christendom, Albert the Great, Roger Bacon, Ramon 
Lull, were ready to acknowledge the many superiorities of Arabic 
culture. It is paradoxical but not surprising that at the very time 
when that full realization had come to them, that culture was 
already declining, and their own was finally triumphing. From 
that time on, the Christians enjoyed the political and intellectual 
hegemony. The cefiter of gravity of the learned world was in the 
West and it has remained there until our own days; by a strange 
irony of fate it may even pass some day beyond the western 
ocean which was then supposed to be an insuperable barrier. 
Moreover, because of the decadence and fall of Muslim Spain 
and of the growing isolation and aloofness of the Jews, the 
West became more and more westernized. Of course Muslim 
and Jewish efforts went on and both faiths produced many great 
men in the following centuries, yet the western supremacy con- 
tinued to wax until a time was reached, in the sixteenth century, 
when the expanding civilization was so deeply westernized that 
the people even those of the Orient began to forget its oriental 
origins, and when the very conception of Muslim and Jewish 
science almost disappeared. That conception may seem artificial 
to us, but I believe I have made it clear enough that it was a per- 
fectly natural and necessary one in medieval times. The final 
results of science are, of course, independent of the people who 


discovered them, but we are anxious to find out how much we 
owe to each of them, in what kind of environment knowledge 
developed, and which devious ways the human spirit followed 
throughout the ages. After the sixteenth century, when science 
was finally disentangled from theology, the distinction between 
Jewish, Christian, and Muslim science ceased to be justified, 
but it keeps its historical value. In spite of his deep Jewishness and 
of his abundant use of Jewish sources, we do not count Spinoza 
any more as a Jewish philosopher in the same sense that we count 
Maimonides or Levi ben Gershon; he is one of the founders of 
modern philosophy, one of the noblest representatives of the 
human mind, not eastern or western, but the two unified. 

Perhaps the main, as well as the least obvious, achievement of 
the Middle Ages, was the creation of the experimental spirit, or 
more exactly, its slow incubation. This was primarily due to 
Muslims down to the end of the twelfth century, then to Chris- 
tians. Thus in this essential respect, East and West cooperated 
like brothers. However much one may admire Greek science, one 
must recognize that it was sadly deficient with regard to this 
(the experimental) point of view which turned out to be the 
fundamental point of view of modern science. Though their 
great physicians instinctively followed experimental methods, 
these methods were never properly appreciated by their philos- 
ophers or by the students of nature. A history of Greek experi- 
mental science, outside of medicine, would be exceedingly short. 
Under the influence of Arabic alchemists and opticians, and later 
of Christian mechanicians and physicists, the experimental spirit 
grew very slowly. For centuries it remained very weak, com- 
parable to a delicate little plant, always in danger of being ruth- 
lessly trampled down by dogmatic theologians and conceited 
philosophers. The tremendous awakening due to the western 
re-discovery of printing and to the exploration of the new world, 
accelerated its development. By the beginning of the sixteenth 
century it was already lifting its head up, and we may consider 


Leonardo da Vinci its first deliberate vindicator. After that, its 
progress became more and more rapid, and, by the beginning of 
the following century, experimental philosophy was admirably 
explained by another Tuscan, Galileo, the herald of modern 

Thus if we take a very broad view of the history of science, we 
may distinguish in it four main phases. The first is the empirical 
development of Egyptian and Mesopotatnian knowledge. The 
second is the building of a rational foundation of astounding 
beauty and strength by the Greeks. The third, and until recently 
the least known, is the medieval period many centuries of 
groping. Immense efforts were spent to solve pseudo-problems, 
chiefly to conciliate the results of Greek philosophy with religious 
dogmas of various kinds. Such efforts were naturally sterile, as 
far as their main object was concerned, but they brought into 
being many incidental results. The main result, as I have just 
explained, was the incubation of the experimental spirit. Its final 
emergence marks the transition between the third period and the 
fourth, which is the period of modern science. Note that out of 
these four periods the first is entirely oriental, the third is mostly 
but not exclusively so; the second and fourth are exclusively 

To return to the fourth period which is still continuing the 
final establishment of the experimental philosophy was indeed its 
main distinction, its standard, and its glory. Not only did the new 
method open the path to untold and unimaginable discoveries, but 
it put an end to unprofitable quests and idle discussions; it broke 
the vicious circles wherein philosophers had been obstinately 
turning for more than a thousand years. It was simple enough in 
itself, but could not be understood as long as a series of intel- 
lectual prejudices obscured man's vision. It may be summed up 
as follows : Establish the facts by direct, frequent, and careful ob- 
servations, and check them repeatedly one against the other; these 
facts will be your premises. When many variables are related, find 
out what happens when only one is allowed to vary, the others re- 


maining constant. Multiply such experiments as much as you can, 
and make them with the utmost precision in your power. Draw 
your conclusions and express them in mathematical language if 
possible. Apply all your mathematical resources to the transforma- 
tion of the equations/ confront the new equations thus obtained 
with reality. That is, see what they mean, which group of facts 
they represent. Make new experiments on the basis of these new 
facts, etc., etc. 

All the triumphs of modern science have been due to the appli- 
cation, more or less deliberate, of that method. Moreover experi- 
mental scientists have laid more and more emphasis on the needs 
of objective verification. Truth is relative but it becomes less and 
less so, and more and more reliable, in proportion as it has been 
checked oftener and in a greater variety of ways. The experi- 
mental method, simple as it may seem to anyone who approaches 
it with an open mind, developed only very gradually. Little by 
little, scientists learned by experience to trust their reason more 
than their feelings, but also not to trust their reason too much. 
The results of any argument, just like the results of any mathe- 
matical transformation, are not entirely valid until they have been 
checked and re-checked in many ways. Facts can only be ex- 
plained by theories, but they can never be explained away; thus, 
however insignificant in themselves, they remain supreme. They 
are like the stones of a building; individual stones are worthless 
but the building would have no reality without them. 

It is amusing to hear the old humanists speak of restraint and 
discipline as if they had the monopoly of these qualities, when the 
experimental method is itself the most elaborate discipline of 
thought which has ever been conceived. To be sure, it does not 
apply to everything; nor does it claim any monopoly for itself ex- 
cept within its own domain. 

It is the experimental method which has given to human reason 
its full potency, but at the same time it has clearly shown its limi- 
tations and provided means of controlling it. It has proved the 
relativity of truth, but at the same time has made it possible to 


measure its objectivity and its degree of approximation. Above 
all it has taught men to be impartial (or at least to try to be) , to 
want the whole truth, and not only the part of it which may be 
convenient or agreeable. Such impartiality was obviously impos- 
sible, and almost inconceivable, so long as the objectivity of truth 
could not be appreciated. 

The experimental method is in appearance the most revolution- 
ary of all methods. Does it not lead to astounding discoveries and 
inventions? Does it not change the face of the world so deeply 
and so often that superficial people think of it as the very spirit 
of change? And yet it is essentially conservative, for it hesitates 
to draw conclusions until their validity has been established and 
verified in many ways; it is so cautious that it often gives an im- 
pression of timidity. It seems revolutionary because it is so effi- 
cient; its conclusions, because of their restraint, cannot be op- 
posed; because of their strength they cannot be frustrated. When 
thought is as severely disciplined as scientific thought, it is irre- 
sistible, and yet it 4s the greatest element of stability in the world. 
How shall we account for that paradox? Progress implies sta- 
bility; it implies the respect of traditions. Scientific thought is, or 
seems, revolutionary because the consequences it leads to are so 
great and often unexpected, but it leads to them in a steady way. 
The history of science describes an evolution of incomparable 
magnitude which gives us a very high idea of man's intellectual 
power, but this evolution is as steady as that which is caused by 
natural forces. 

You have heard the story of the cowboy who, coming suddenly 
upon the rim of the Grand Canon, exclaimed : "Good Lord, some- 
thing has happened here!" Now, as you know, the cowboy was 
wrong if he meant that something had happened at a definite time, 
and had been rapidly completed. In that sense nothing ever hap- 
pened in the Grand Canon. In the same way the development of 
science, though incomparably swifter than the cutting of a canon, 
is a steady process; it seems revolutionary, because we do not 
really see the process, but only the gigantic results. 


From the point of view of experimental science, especially in its 
present stage of development, the opposition between East and 
West seems extreme. However and this is the burden of my essay 
we must bear in mind two things. 

The first is that the seeds of science, including the experimental 
method and mathematics, in fact, the seeds of all the forms of 
science, came from the East; and that during the Middle Ages 
they were largely developed by Eastern people. Thus, in a large 
sense, experimental science is a child not only of the West, but 
also of the East; the East was its mother, the West was its father. 

In the second place, I am fully convinced that the West still 
needs the East to-day, as much as the East needs the West. As 
soon as the Eastern peoples have unlearned their scholastic and 
argumentative methods, as we did in the sixteenth century, as 
soon as they are truly inspired with the experimental spirit, there 
is no telling what they may be able to do for us, or (heaven for- 
bid!) against us. To be sure, as far as scientific research is con- 
cerned they could only work with us, but their applications of it 
might be very different. We must not make the same mistake as 
the Greeks who thought for centuries that their spirit was the only 
one, who ignored altogether the Semitic spirit and considered 
foreign people barbarians; their ultimate fall was as deep as their 
triumph had been high. Remember the rhythm between East and 
West; many times already has our inspiration come from the East; 
why should that never happen again? The chances are that great 
ideas will still reach us from the East and we must be ready to 
welcome them. 

The men who assume a truculent attitude against the East and 
make the most extravagant claims for the Western civilization, 
are not likely to be scientists. Most of them have neither knowl- 
edge nor understanding of science; that is, they do not in the least 
deserve the superiority of which they boast so much and which 
their incoherent desires would soon extinguish, if they were left 
to themselves. 
We are justly proud of our American civilization, but its rec- 


ords are still very short. Three centuries! How little that is as com- 
pared with the totality of human experience; hardly more than a 
moment, a wink of the eye. Will it last? Will it improve or wane 
and die out? There are many unhealthy elements in it and if we 
wish to uproot them before the disease has spread beyond our 
control, we must expose them mercilessly, but that is not my 
task. If we want our civilization to justify itself, we must do our 
best to purify it. One of the best ways of doing this is the cultiva- 
tion of disinterested science; the love of truth as a scientist 
loves it, the whole of it, pleasant or unpleasant, useful or not; the 
love of truth, not the fear of it; the hatred of superstition, no mat- 
ter how beautiful its disguises may be. Whether our civilization 
will last or not, at any rate it has not yet proved its longevity. 
Hence we must be modest. After all the main test is that of sur- 
vival, and we have not yet been tried. 

New inspirations may still, and do still, come from the East, 
and we shall be wiser if we realize it. In spite of its prodigious 
triumphs, the scientific method is not all-sufficient. It is supreme 
when it can be applied and when it is well applied, but it would 
be foolish not to recognize the two kinds of limitations which this 
implies. First, the method cannot always be applied. There are 
immense realms of thought where it is thus far inapplicable art, 
religion, morality. Perhaps it will always be inapplicable to them. 
Second, it can be very easily misapplied, and the possibilities of 
misapplication of such an inexhaustible source of power are ap- 

It is clear that the scientific spirit is unable to control its own 
applications. To begin with, these applications are often in the 
hands of people who have no scientific knowledge whatever; for 
example, it is not necessary to have any education or instruction 
in order to drive a high-powered car which may cause any amount 
of destruction. But even scientists might be tempted to misapply 
their knowledge under the influence of a strong passion. The 
scientific spirit must be itself assisted by other forces of a different 


kind by religion and morality. In any case, it must not be arro- 
gant, nor aggressive, for it is like all other things human, essen- 
tially imperfect. 

The unity of mankind includes East and West. They are like 
two moods of the same man; they represent two fundamental and 
complementary phases of human experience. Scientific truth is 
the same East and West, and so are beauty and charity. Man is 
the same everywhere with a little more emphasis on this or that. 

East and West, who said the twain shall never meet? They 
meet in the soul of every great artist who is more than an artist 
and whose love is not restricted to beauty; they meet also in the 
soul of every great scientist who has been brought to realize that 
truth, however precious, is not the whole of life, that it must be 
completed by beauty and charity. 

Let us remember with gratitude all that we owe to the East 
the moral earnestness of Judea, the Golden Rule, the very rudi- 
ments of the science we are so proud of this is an immense debt. 
There is no reason why it should not be indefinitely increased in 
the future. We must not be too sure of ourselves/ our science may 
be great, our ignorance is greater still. By all means let us develop 
our methods, improve our intellectual discipline, continue our 
scientific work, slowly, steadily, in a humble spirit; but at the 
same time let us be charitable and ever mindful of all the beauty 
which surrourfds us, of all the grace which is in our fellowmen 
and perhaps in ourselves. Let us destroy the things which are 
evil, the ugliness which mars our dwelling places, the injustice 
which we do to others, above all, the lies which cover all sins; but 
let us beware of destroying or hurting even the smallest of the 
many things which are good and innocent. Let us defend our tra- 
ditions, all the memories of our past, which are our most valuable 

To see things as they are by all means! But the highest aspira- 
tions of my soul, my nostalgia for things unseen, my hunger for 
beauty and justice, these are also realities and precious ones. The 
many things which are beyond my grasp are not necessarily un- 


real. We must always be ready to reach out for these intangible 
realities which give to our life its nobility and its ultimate di- 

x oriente lux, ex occidente lex. Let us discipline our souls, and 
be loyal to objective truth, yet heedful of every phasis of reality, 
whether tangible or not. The scientist who is not too proud, who 
does not assume an aggressively "western'' attitude, but remem- 
bers the eastern origin of his highest thoughts, who is not ashamed 
of his ideals will not be more efficient, but he will be more hu- 
mane, a better servant of the truth, a better instrument of destiny, 
a gentler man. 




There has been much talk in recent years of the need of hu- 
manizing science, but nothing has been done on a sufficient scale 
to satisfy that need. Large endowments are found for the creation 
of new laboratories and observatories, but the relatively small 
endowment needed for historical and humanistic purposes is ap- 
parently unavailable. There is plenty of money for instruments of 
increasing cost, but no money is available to make sure that the 
men using these instruments will remain sufficiently educated. 
Putting it bluntly, a certain percentage (say 5%) of the scientific 
budget should be devoted to the humanization of science as an in- 
surance against its gradual barbarization. Scientific studies and 
teaching are so lop-sided on the purely technical side that a 
healthy balance cannot be restored by pious exhortations and 
half-hearted measures. 

Secular continuity The most disheartening feature of his- 
torical work to-day is the frequent replacement of older books by 
newer ones which are less good and give a new currency to old 
errors. This is due to the inexperience of many historians of 
science, to the historical dilettantism of some distinguished scien- 
tists, and above all to the lack of standards. 

The best way to cure these evils is slowly to produce accounts 
of the history of science as comprehensive and accurate as pos- 
sible, and sufficiently massive to justify the publication of peri- 
odical errata and addenda, and from time to time of new editions 
incorporating the accumulated improvements. My Introduction to 
the History of Science and Isis are good but insufficient begin- 
nings in that direction. I cannot do more, though I am desperately 
straining all my energy and every resource in the effort, because I 
am not sufficiently supported. 



Indeed such accurate and systematic work is slow, tedious, 
difficult and austere; also expensive, though in the long run it is 
far more economical than fast and inaccurate work, which is un- 
reliable and ephemeral. 

The establishment of the history of science as I understand it, 
is a secular undertaking; it cannot be realized except by the co- 
operation of successive generations of disciplined scholars work- 
ing together quietly, humbly, without undue haste but without 
cease. To illustrate, consider two other secular undertakings. The 
Jesuits, Heribert Rosweyde (d. 1629) and John Holland (d.1665) 
organized the study of hagiology. The first volume of the Ada 
sanctorum appeared in 1643; the work has been continued ever 
since by a devoted band of scholars called Bollandists; it is not yet 
completed. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Dom An- 
toine Rivet de la Grange and other Benedictines of the Congrega- 
tion of St. Maur undertook to write the history of French lit- 
erature on a scientific basis. The first volume appeared in 1733; 
in 1807 the work was continued by the Academic des Inscrip- 
tions; they have now reached the fourteenth century. 

The work I have undertaken, the writing of the history of 
science and learning, the history of the development of objective 
knowledge of every kind in every country at every time, is much 
broader in scope than either of these two examples. Its comple- 
tion will be far more difficult, and will involve the cooperation 
of many generations of scholars. Our main task is to train the 
first group of scholars and to establish sound traditions. 

"Need of an Institute It is because this project is secular that 
an Institute is needed. As it is beyond the grasp of a single scholar, 
or of a single generation, its organization must be intrusted to a 
body of scholars, in order that the work may be continued and 
indefinitely perfected. I hope that at the time of its Fourth Cen- 
tenary, Harvard University may find within its orbit an Institute 
of the History of Science and Learning in full swing, continuing 
its immense task with extreme care and reasonable speed. By 
that time it may already have produced a few standard works, and 


thus have raised the level of historiography throughout the world. 

The Institute would consist of a staff of experts using the ap- 
paratus criticus bequeathed to them by earlier colleagues and 
gradually enriched by themselves, and following definite tradi- 
tions of scholarship subject to continuous selection and improve- 
ment. The men come first to be sure, but the best men cannot do 
their best without a very elaborate equipment, the preparation of 
which implies the uninterrupted devotion of many generations. 
Succeeding scholars do not gradually improve the earlier ones 
may be better than their successors but their equipment be- 
comes better and richer and their traditions more exacting. 

Strangely enough, while there are many similar institutes de- 
voted to the history of art, or religion, or of other phases of cul- 
ture, there is none really well equipped devoted to the history of 
science. There is no need of many such institutes, but there should 
be at least one, established preferably in or near one of the largest 
libraries, within the orbit of a great university. 

Science and learning Since the beginning of my efforts in 
1912, my conception of science has been continually broadening. 
It now includes the whole of objective and verifiable knowledge. 
However, much of that knowledge is often classified under the 
heading of "learning" rather than that of "science," and "learned 
societies" are often opposed to "scientific societies" though their 
aim is essentially the same, to determine the most probable truth 
in their respective fields. President Conant's suggestion to speak 
of "science and learning" instead of science alone is thus very 
welcome; it helps to bring together scholars and scientists by mak- 
ing them realize their kinship. The history of science is enriched 
in many ways if it is made to include the history of learning. 

ast and West Many scientists conceive the history of science 
only from their own western point of view, and do not realize how 
much of it is of eastern origin. That conception is not only incom- 
plete but false. Western and eastern influences are complemen- 
tary, and one cannot neglect the one or the other without loss 
of perspective. The antithesis East-and-West is somewhat com- 


parable to the one considered in the previous section. Failure to 
take both sides into account (East and West, science and learn- 
ing) implies the same intellectual distortions and shortcomings in 
either case. 

Contemporary science Even as the smallest institute should 
devote a part of its activities to the history of learning and to east- 
ern thought lest it be unbalanced, even so provision should be 
made from the beginning for the study of contemporary science 
as well as of the earlier achievements. Contemporary science may 
be understood in general as nineteenth- and twentieth-century 
science/ or more strictly as beginning in the nineties of the last 
century. Historians of science must be trained to interpret the 
present in terms of the past and vice- versa. However, the study of 
contemporary science implies the use of methods of a very differ- 
ent kind, the emphasis being necessarily laid on the selection of the 
most significant materials, rather than a study of all the materials 
which would defeat its own purpose. Means must be taken to 
analyze gradually the scientific production of our time, and to 
prepare careful annals, without which the synthesis of later his- 
torians will hardly be possible. In a sense this task is more urgent 
than the others; it makes not much difference whether an ex- 
haustive survey of fourteenth-century science is available in 1930 
or 1950, but the philosophically- and historically-minded scientist 
of to-day should be able to review as easily as possible the efforts 
of his older contemporaries and to see them in their proper per- 

Ethical trends The members of the Institute would not be 
simply annalists and historians, but humanists. One of their main 
functions would be to interpret the ethical and social implications 
of science in all ages, and especially in our own, to integrate 
science into general education, in a word, to "humanize" science. 
This has been understood best by historians of medicine, and no 
wonder, medicine being more intimately concerned than any 
other science with every aspect of individual and social life. Thus 
in some universities students are taught in the same courses the 


history of medicine, medical deontology, and even social medicine. 

It has been claimed that science is not concerned with moral 
issues. That may be true, yet scientists are members of the com- 
munity and their aloofness is seldom excusable. 

Some historians of science should be as well acquainted as pos- 
sible with the history of religions, of ethics, and of social endeavors 
of every kind. It would be their special duty to harmonize the re- 
sults of their inquiries with those concerning the history of 
science, and to help explain each in terms of the others. 

Unification of good will An Institute devoted, as this one, to 
the study of the most precious common good of mankind might 
be considered a clearing house of good will, irrespective of its 
origin. Its highest function would be to interpret, primarily but 
not exclusively in scientific terms, the development of culture; not 
the culture of any nation, race, faith, or profession but the culture 
of mankind. Indeed the ideals of humanity transcend immeasur- 
ably those of any group. 

Defense of the scientific spirit and method One of these uni- 
versal ideals is the love of truth, and the disinterested search for 
it, irrespective of desires and consequences. The history of science 
is to a large extent a history of the liberation of thought, of the 
conflict between rationalism and superstition (not religion), of 
man's quest for truth and gradual approach to it, of his struggle 
against error and unreason. 

Iconography A department should be devoted to the collec- 
tion of iconographic documents (e.g., portraits, medals) per- 
tinent to the general purpose. This field of study would connect 
the Institute with art museums; in addition to the realization of 
a practical aim it would introduce a new point of view and a new 
form of humanism. 

Physical organization Details of organization need not be 
examined before the value of the Institute is understood and its 
general principles accepted, but a few generalities may help to 
complete this outline. 

The ideal location of the Institute would be inside a large 


library, the largest available. Indeed the historian of science may 
be called upon to consult almost every kind of book or periodical, 
not only scientific but many others as well. However, such a loca- 
tion may be impossible to obtain or to retain, for an Institute 
growing within a Library would easily conflict with the latter. 
The next best location would be in a modest but extensible build- 
ing, close to a very large library. 

The building should be large enough to accommodate a refer- 
ence library, the apparatus criticus (pamphlets, MSS, portraits, 
etc.), offices for members, reading rooms for students and visitors, 
a seminar room and perhaps a lecture room. It should be as beau- 
tiful as possible, which does not mean luxurious or expensive. 
Though open to every bona fide student, it should not be a show 
place. The best comparison, perhaps, is with an observatory, 
where astronomical data are patiently accumulated for immedi- 
ate and secular use. In this Institute historical data would be 
collected, classified and interpreted, historical methods improved, 
humanistic traditions guarded, enriched, and transmitted. 

Staff The staff would include the director, librarian and ar- 
chivist, and scholars of three grades: senior fellows, junior fel- 
lows and apprentices. In the selection of fellows and students one 
would have to take into account, on the one hand, the diverse 
needs of the Institute (e.g., science vs. learning, East vs. West, 
contemporary vs. ancient science) and on the other hand, the 
men available. Some fundamental needs (e.g., the care of the 
library and archives) should be satisfied at once, while the other 
departments would be allowed to grow according to the oppor- 


A good many years ago when I was a student in Ghent, I spent a 
holiday with my father in Holland, travelling from place to place 
across the little kingdom. One night we landed in the island of 
Texel, and I was at first horrified by its bleakness. At the inn we 
met two Dutch girls who told us they were spending the whole 
summer in Texel; they were collecting plants, resting, and having 
a good time, so they said. The whole summer in that God- 
forsaken place! I was a conceited young ass in those days (I am 
quite sure that whatever else I may be I am no longer a conceited 
young ass) , and the quiet extravagance of these two girls seemed 
very funny to me. Years afterwards it occurred to me that they 
had far better grounds for chaffing me than I them, and that 
sobering thought has come back to me many times since, but 
never with greater strength than at the time when I was gazing at 
the sea from the Santa Cruz Mountains of Jamaica, across the 
Pedro plains. 

Texel had a message for these two girls which I was too im- 
mature to grasp. I blamed Texel, but the blame came back upon 
me like a boomerang. When we travel we create everywhere a 
new environment of which we are an essential part; wherever we 
may go we meet ourselves more often than other people. I found 
nothing in Texel because I went there with empty hands. The 
bleakness of the place was partly the bleakness of my own 
ignorance. I have learned a few things since then, and to-day 
should I be a little hasty in condemning things which I do not 
know, I have but to whisper to my soul 'Texel/' and I stop and 
ponder. On the other hand, when other people belittle my activity 
without trying to find out what I am driving at, or adjudge me a 



fool simply because they have not taken the trouble of under- 
standing me, I say to myself "Texel" and smile it off. 

I used to worry a good deal because so many students do not 
really understand my lectures. Out of an average number of 
students I hardly expect more than two or three to take a genuine 
interest in them. Is it worthwhile? I sometimes thought it was a 
waste of time, but I think differently now. Even if I could not 
reach more than two or three minds each year the effort would 
be justified, but it is probable that my lectures reach many more 
who are not yet aware of it then and there, but will realize it later 
elsewhere. Did it not take me a long time to grasp the simple 
Texel message? Should the blindness, deafness, and inertia of my 
own youth not warn and help me to be patient with others? Ob- 
viously those students are still in Texel, but some of them will even- 
tually sail to Jamaica. 

What is perhaps more irritating and disheartening than plain 
ignorance is that so many of them get to know the facts of the 
course but miss its spirit. Of course we should know a number 
of facts, though nobody can be expected to retain them as faith- 
fully as does a good book. I myself do not try to remember the 
facts of my own lectures except in a general way. The essential 
is their main purpose, and this is often misunderstood even by the 
students who know the details best. In every examination I in- 
clude among the more technical questions at least one very broad 
question, such as this: "Why on earth did you take my course?" 
and it pains me to discover how few students are able to answer 
the broader questions in a satisfactory manner. Their papers show 
that they have studied the course, but somehow they have failed 
to grasp its meaning. They have carefully gathered all the husks 
and lost the seeds. 

What then is the purpose? The immediate purpose is to explain 
the development of scientific ideas in time and space the grad- 
ual elaboration of theories and of new branches of science: the 


growth of the whole tree and its growing complexity and splen- 
dor. The technical aspects of this are obvious, the purely human, 
less so but hardly less important. That development is a part of 
the history of mankind, not an incidental but an essential part; 
it gives us opportunities of illustrating man's inherent greatness 
and goodness, the gradual realization of his highest destiny, the 
slow unfolding and revealing of the best in him. The purpose is to 
bring scientists and humanists more closely together by explain- 
ing to the latter the inward meaning of scientific discoveries (not 
simply their outward usefulness), and to the former their deep 
humanity; it is to educate the barbarians in our midst, not the 
least of whom are those technicians and scientists who, however 
expert in their own pursuits, fail to harmonize science with life 
and art and to appreciate human values. 

Once, long ago, when Fan Ch'ih asked the meaning of vir- 
tue, the Master (Confucius) replied "Love your fellow men/' 
Upon his asking the meaning of knowledge, the Master said: 
"Know your fellow men/' Our modern definition of knowl- 
edge or of science which is simply organized knowledge is 
much broader, but it is possible that in the process of broadening 
it, the essential has been lost. For that essential : is it not the same 
as it was in Confucius' days, two and a half millennia ago? How- 
ever abstract our knowledge may be, and however hard we may 
try to eliminate subjective elements, it is still in the last analysis 
intensely human. Everything which we think or do is relative to 
man. Science is nothing but the reflection of nature in a human 
mirror. We may improve the mirror indefinitely; and though we 
may rid it, or ourselves, of one cause of error after another, it is 
and will always be, for good or for evil, irremediably human. 

Now it is one thing to purify our theories and our instruments, 
to increase their abstraction, their generality, their invariance, 
and to minimize to the limit of our ability the disturbing and er- 
ratic elements, especially those introduced by our own person- 
alities; it is quite another to appraise the human meaning and 
value of those theories and instruments. In the first case, we con- 


sider the matter from the technical and practical point of view; 
in the second, we consider it from the purely human one. There 
is no conflict, for the generalization and abstraction are made by 
men and for men/ both points of view are not opposite or ex- 
clusive; on the contrary they complete one another. The second 
is essentially that of the historian of science. It is not only legiti- 
mate but necessary if we wish to integrate science into our cul- 
ture and not use it only as an instrument foreign to it. 

Historians of science like other specialists are so busy, so 
deeply immersed in their own activity, that they have no time to 
think about it, to consider it as it were from the outside, and they 
run the risk of adding new misunderstandings : namely, these two 
capital ones : the exaggerated value accorded to scientific progress 
on the one hand, and the underestimation of progress in other 

Let us examine the second first, for it is perhaps the more com- 
mon as well as the more blatant. The reality of social progress is 
not only underestimated but often called into question. Are we 
better morally and socially than our ancestors; is the body 
politic of which we are units healthier? There are plenty of rea- 
sons to make us doubt it. The organization of good activities may 
be steadily improving, but the organization of vicious ones is also 
improving, and one may well wonder: which side is gaining? 

Virtues and vices are as old as mankind but their forms and 
combinations vary: are the modern forms better or worse? Is any 
advance in the right direction tangible enough, and other than 
precarious? Our suspicions and fears cannot be quelled for very 
long. Consider war : though the number of wars may be steadily 
decreasing (is it really?) their size is increasing. Where is the 
gain? If there be social progress it is exceedingly slow, interrupted 
by many vicissitudes, and jeopardized by many retrogressions. 
However, is our impatience justified? Beginning with ancient 
Egypt and Mesopotamia we have some sixty centuries of re- 
corded experience: this may seem very much; it is in reality very 


little only about two hundred generations. (Thomas Hunt Mor- 
gan and his school have already been able to study a far larger 
number of generations of the fruit fly, Drosopbila melanogasterfy 
Yet it is not even necessary to consider the whole sweep of his- 
tory to realize that the progress, however slow, is tangible. To be 
sure, it is never so certain and irrevocable as the progress in 
the discovery of truth, but its precariousness itself decreases 

To illustrate the reality of a change for the better let us go back 
only a few generations to the middle of the eighteenth century 
and to the city which was then the main center of culture in the 
world : Paris. The French "society" of that time was exceedingly 
polite and elegant. Nowhere in that age did the refinements of 
life reach a higher pitch. Well and good. Let us repair to the 
Place de greve, on March 28, 1757. A large crowd has gathered 
there to witness a very exciting spectacle: a criminal being tor- 
tured to death. There had been such competition to hire the win- 
dows overlooking the square, that some people paid as much as 
twelve louis for a single one. What was the occasion of that ex- 
traordinary entertainment? 

On January 5 of the same year, a jobless servant named 
Damiens, had a chance of approaching Louis XV at Versailles and 
stabbed him with a knife. The wound was slight. The man was 
obviously a monomaniac. He explained that his purpose had not 
been to kill the king but to touch and warn him. This crime ex- 
cited deep emotion and horror, for in spite of the king's vicious- 
ness and insane profligacy which were well known, he was still 
in the eyes of the multitude a sacred person. Damiens was sub- 
mitted to frequent tortures for more than two months. The refine- 
ments of medieval cruelty were found insufficient and a new 
kind of rack was introduced from Avignpn for his supplice. All 
this to no avail, for he confessed nothing; the poor devil had 
nothing to confess except the crime itself which had been public. 
Finally he was condemned to be quartered alive and the execution 
was fixed for the 28th of March. It was arranged that the show 


Jbe as long as possible, and the society people who hired windows 
knew that they would get their money's worth. The poorer spec- 
tators had to stand in the square or lose their places, but the richer 
ones would retire to the rooms whenever there was an intermezzo 
and play cards. The intermezzi were needed to enable the pris- 
oner to recruit his strength for the next turn. The Count de 
Tocqueville remarks: "La plume se refuse a retracer les effroy- 
ables details des souffrances d'un malheureux insense sur lesquels 
les bourreaux s'acharnerent pendant plusieures heures." On the 
morning of that fateful day Damiens was submitted to a final tor- 
ture in the "chambre de la question," and it was carried to within 
an inch of his life, being discontinued only when the physicians 
and surgeons declared that death was dangerously near. This 
torture having been as fruitless as the preceding ones it was de- 
cided to proceed with the punishment. Damiens was entrusted to 
the clergy for the care of his soul, and then carried to the Place 
de greve more dead than alive. 

However ghastly and shocking these tortures were to any nor- 
mal person, what is far more shocking is the fact that so many 
people of fashion found pleasure and excitement in them. In this 
crucial respect that extra-refined Parisian society was on the same 
level as the Iroquois Indians whose delight it was to prolong the 
sufferings of their victims on the same level as those untutored 
savages but with no excuse. 

The admirable elegance of the eighteenth century was indeed, 
as measured by later standards, only a veneer, concealing the most 
disgusting license and brutality, not only in the underworld but 
in the upper one, in the very highest spheres, even in the sphere 
of royalty which was generally supposed to be almost divine. The 
damning point is that the evil conduct of royalty and nobility was 
well known to the multitude, and yet the authors of such misdeeds 
were not disgraced (as they would certainly be to-day) but hon- 
ored and even adored. Louis XV was called "Le bien aim," the 
Beloved! There are plenty of brutes and swine among our own 
contemporaries, but they have to hide themselves very carefully. 


Exposure would throw them back into the mud where they be- 

I admit that there were also many noble men and women, 
whose nobility appeared not only in their coats of arms but in 
their character and conduct, and who were able to enjoy all the 
elegances of the age and at the same time to exemplify its finest 
virtues. But even at best, that society was extremely limited, and 
the famous "douceur de vivre" of the eighteenth century of which 
some of our literary men and artists are dreaming as if it were 
the supreme reward of a golden age, cannot have been more com- 
mon then than it is now. In fact, life was so far from sweet for the 
masses that they were finally goaded into the despair of revolt. 
Revolutions, it should be noted, do not happen without cause or 
reason; they are generally the result of a long preparation not of 
years but of centuries; and those who prepare them are not the 
revolutionaries, the so-called leaders, but rather the privileged 
people who abuse their privileges and increase the burdens of the 
people beyond endurance. 

We have abundant proofs of the cruelty, barbarism, and in- 
humanity of those times in the Encyclopedic (if one can read be- 
tween the lines) and in the writings of the "philosophers." La 
Bruyere's description of the peasants had appeared in the preced- 
ing century (1688), but it was still as cruelly true in the eight- 
eenth, for their condition hardly improved before the Revolution. 
Listen to this old English version of it. 

We meet with certain wild Animals, Male and Female, spread 
over the Country, black and tann'd with the Sun, link'd down to 
the Earth, which they are always digging and turning up and down 
with an unweary'd Resolution; they have something like an articu- 
late Voice, and when they stand erect discover a human Face, and 
indeed are Men; at Night they retire into their Burrows, where 
they live on brown Bread, Water, Roots and Herbs: They save 
other Men the trouble of sowing, labouring, and reaping for their 
Maintenance, and deserve, one would think, not to want the Bread 
they sow themselves. 


Could a more terrible indictment be penned? Truly the 
"douceur de vivre" which some of the paintings and music of that 
time suggest, was restricted to a very small company. And could 
the nobler spirits of that age continue to enjoy that "sweetness" 
as soon as they realized the unlimited miseries and the degrading 
servitude of the majority of their neighbors? 

In contrast with the rustics of La Bruyere, hopelessly crushed 
down below the level of humanity, I shall always recall with 
pleasure the black peasantry of Jamaica, whom I was privileged 
to observe during my stay in that beautiful country. Though they 
were still slaves less than a century ago, they have developed re- 
markably well. It is a joy to meet them along the ways and paths 
of the island, walking or riding with considerable dignity and 
greeting the stranger with courtesy. Even small children gave 
me appropriate salutations in good English. I attended a Nativity 
Play in Bethlehem College, a Moravian school for colored girls in 
Malvern, and was deeply touched by their gracious performance. 

To be sure there is still a superabundance of misery, ignorance, 
and vice, even in our most enlightened communities, and it is bet- 
ter that we should always bear it in mind, and be very humble 
and penitent: when I derided the "douceur de vivre" of the eight- 
eenth century and suggested that our times were better, I did not 
imply that they were "sweet/" No kind person can truly enjoy 
life while he knows that so many of his fellowmen are wantonly 
ground under the wheels. The real meaning of that ancient 
"douceur de vivre" is that we may be excused if we forget the 
evils of the eighteenth century while we should never forget those 
which it is in our power to cure. However, the consciousness of 
our social imperfections should not hide from us another truth: 
the reality of social progress which any detailed comparison be- 
tween the conditions of to-day and those of a thousand or a hun- 
dred years ago would reveal. We are still very far from the goal. 
This is the more offensive, because that goal is not an invisible 
one like the goal of science, but on the contrary plainly visible 


and attainable/ yet we are moving, be it ever so slowly, in the 
right direction. 

On the other hand, there is perhaps too much boasting about 
the progress of knowledge, especially by those who are foreign to 
it and understand it least. The knowledge revealed by scientific 
research is undoubtedly wonderful; but the wonder does not 
necessarily increase with the size and complexity of the universe, 
and the latest achievements of science are not more marvelous 
(as achievements) than the earlier ones. Some simple-minded 
people exult because the universe of modern science is immeasur- 
ably larger than that of Ptolemy or even of Herschel, but it does 
not make such a great difference after all, if they continue to be 
such fools and humbugs. It is equally silly to disdain scientific 
endeavors or to overestimate them to the detriment of others, 
such as the creation of beauty or justice. The best fruit of these 
endeavors is not any definite result, but a new attitude of mind : 
the appreciation of truth. Veracity, complete and unrestricted, is 
a conquest of science, even of modern science, and earlier people 
could have no conception of it. It is significant that "to tell the 
truth" was not one of the Ten Commandments; it is more signifi- 
cant still that lying, or tampering in various ways or degrees with 
the truth is not yet the disgrace that it ought to be, except within 
the narrow scientific field. This shows that however deep and 
comprehensive our scientific knowledge may be, our scientific 
spirit is still very weak. The progress of veracity which ought to 
be our measuring rod for the real scientific advance is just as 
slow and precarious as social progress. Hence there is nothing 
much to boast about. It is clear that scientific enlightenment can 
purify life only to the extent that veracity favors its diffusion. All 
the social evils will eventually wither in the light of knowledge, 
but this can only happen when that light actually reaches them 
and is not screened off by our greed and hypocrisy. 

Knowledge is not valuable in itself but in relation to other 
things. Like any other form of power, it may be (and often is) 


misused, in which case it is evil and dangerous. Without being 
misused it may be spoiled and made worthless and contemptible 
by the lack of charity or the excess of conceit. We must try to 
know things as they are: this is fundamental, but not final. There 
is a world of difference between what we know on the one hand, 
and what we are and do on the other. The perfect humanist must 
take all this into account. 

We can only find ourselves by losing ourselves. This is in my 
opinion the deepest saying of the Gospels, without exact equiva- 
lent as far as I know in other Scriptures. There is much emphasis 
of course in other sacred writings, especially those of India, on 
the need of self abandonment to attain reality, but the implications 
are metaphysical and mystical rather than ethical. People who are 
always talking of metaphysical truth are just as likely as not to be 
inveterate liars. I am not very interested in the theories of knowl- 
edge; my concern is truthfulness as honest men and scientists un- 
derstand it. Lawyers, theologians, and even philosophers may in- 
dulge in distinctions and equivocations and get away with it; 
scientists cannot do that without disgrace. 

To return to Christ's saying, it is often misinterpreted; it is con- 
sidered unworldly, and indeed the climax of unworldly wisdom 
and sanctity. To me it seems to be simply the expression of com- 
mon sense. One may find verifications of it in almost every human 
life in frustrated ambitions as well as in those whose very fulfill- 
ment could not conceal their vanity. The self-seeker finds nothing 
but his own poor self, and sundry trifles, such as wealth, to which 
his disorderly brain attaches a false value. He can reach nothing 
but the phantoms of his own imagination, and this would not 
matter so much if he did not abandon, for the sake of reaching 
them, precious realities. It is not necessary to search for the abid- 
ing values of life; all that is needed is to prepare oneself for them. 
Utter renouncement is the shortest and surest road to the estab- 
lishment of one's personality, or more exactly to the accomplish- 
ment of what one was born to do. 

The love of truth and the search for it for its own sake are the 


scientific aspects of this abnegation. One must learn to love the 
truth, irrespective of its use and application whether it be prof- 
itable or not, pleasant or not, encouraging or the opposite. One 
must forget oneself completely in the presence of and search for 
truth, and love it in advance whatever it may be. Then only can 
one find it. This is the main lesson of science. Just as soon as we, 
as a people, are able to understand it, we shall be truly scientific- 
minded, and then social justice will be easy enough to accomplish. 
It is a magnificent prospect, but we have still a long way to go : 
indeed some of us have just started, and most of us not yet. 

Of course our real goal is even more distant, for truth and 
justice, however necessary, are not sufficient. The purest and 
sweetest flower of the human heart is charity. In the last analysis 
there can be no greatness in the human order (as opposed to the 
order of nature) without magnanimity. 

It is surprising that a seed sown in Texel should blossom in 
Jamaica, for it would be difficult to find two more completely dif- 
ferent islands. One is a mere sandbar at the edge of a cold and 
foggy sea, with but few trees to adorn its bleakness, while the 
other is set like a jewel in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, its 
innumerable hills and dales covered with luxuriant vegetation of 
every clime and kind: pimento trees lending to the landscape a 
touch of classical beauty, bamboo groves suggesting all the graces 
of Asia, and other trees and shrubs without number. Yet this was 
my strange experience: I understood fully only in Jamaica what 
had been hinted to me in Texel many years before. The strange- 
ness lies merely in the remoteness of the places, otherwise the ex- 
perience is very common. Indeed it is one of the rules of life. 
Farmers may complain of the uncertainty of their harvests, but 
this is regularity itself as compared with the capricious ingather- 
ing of spiritual crops. Ideas do germinate but nobody can ever 
foretell when and where. Cast your bread upon the face of the 
waters, fling the seed and I do not say that you will reap (why 
should you?) but there will be a harvest. One must be prepared 


to sow widely, generously, to cast much bread upon many waters, 
and to gather in but little and late if at all. The personality of the 
reaper is unknown, but the reaping is almost certain. That is 

The scientists and scholars who appreciate the history of 
science to-day are very few in number, but that does not matter 
very much. The essential is that there be a small body of men who 
do appreciate it and who try to interpret the human past and 
present in such terms; they are walking in the right direction and 
more scientists and scholars will follow them by and by. Selfish- 
ness and patience are incompatible because of the brevity of our 
lives, but just as soon as we forget ourselves either in search of 
truth or in the evangelical way or preferably in both ways, it is easy 
enough to be patient. The speed of human progress is less im- 
portant than its direction. Let us use our best scientific and his- 
toric means to determine and to correct that direction; it cannot 
be determined once and forever, but must be continually cor- 
rected as our knowledge and wisdom improve. Then let us follow 
it as faithfully and as humbly as possible, allowing for the de- 
velopment of whatever gentleness and kindness there may be in 
us. It is a long way to go, but we should enjoy every step of it. 


The essays making up this volume have been chosen to give both 
the general reader and the student a better understanding of the 
history of science, its scope, purpose, and methods. They have 
been selected from the author's writings over a period of some 
thirty years. "East and West in the History of Science" was sug- 
gested for inclusion by Professor Henry Guerlac of Cornell. "Cast- 
ing Bread Upon the Face of the Waters" was suggested by Mrs. 
George Sarton. The remaining essays were chosen and prepared 
for publication by Frances Davis Cohen and I. Bernard Cohen. 

Although some of these essays have been printed elsewhere, 
chiefly in scholarly journals of limited circulation, they have not 
hitherto been available to the reader at large. In reprinting them, 
no attempt has been made to publish them verbatim et literatim. 
Since they appeared in different places, and at different times, 
there was a certain amount of repetition which has been elimi- 
nated. In one case, selections from two separate essays were com- 
bined in order to form an introductory section to Part Two: 
"Secret History/* the title of which derives from an essay which 
appeared in Scribner's Magazine, 1970, 67: 187-191; in other 
cases, sections primarily of interest to research scholars and scien- 
tists, as well as references to contemporaneous matters no longer 
of immediate concern, have been eliminated; finally, the extensive 
bibliographic and iconographic footnotes, as well as facsimiles, 
have been suppressed, since they are of interest only to the special- 
ist. In the list which appears below, all such deletions and emenda- 
tions are indicated. 

Grateful thanks are offered the publishers of the essays listed 
below for permission to reprint them in this volume. 




"The Spread of Understanding" is printed from a hitherto unpub- 
lished manuscript of 1922. 

"The History of Medicine versus the History of Art" was the 
Fielding H. Garrison Lecture read before the Seventeenth Annual 
Meeting of the American Association of the History of Medicine, 
Atlantic City, N. J., 4-6 May 1941. It first appeared in Bulletin of 
the History of Medicine, 1941, *0; 123-135, and is reprinted with 
a few minor emendations, and without the bibliographic footnotes. 

'The History of Science" is reprinted with a few deletions and 
minor emendations from 7he Monist, 1916, 26: 321-365. 


"Secret History" is made up of a portion of "The Teaching of the 
History of Science," Jsis, 1921-2, 4 ; 225-249 and a portion of "The 
New Humanism," Jsis, 1924, 6: 9-41. 

"Leonardo and the Birth of Modern Science" was first pub- 
lished under the title "The Message of Leonardo : His Relation to 
the Birth of Modern Science," in Scribner's Magazine, 1919, 
65: 531-540/ it is reprinted here with several deletions and emen- 

"Evariste Galois" was first printed in 7he Scientific Monthly, 
1921, 13: 363-375, and was reprinted in Osiris, 1937, 3.- 241- 
259 (with portrait, facsimiles, and bibliography) . 

"Ernest Renan" is printed from an original manuscript of 1922; 
a portion of this essay was printed in 7he Nineteenth Century 
and After, 1922, 92: 953-961. 

"Herbert Spencer" is an abbreviated form of an essay with the 
same title in Scribner's Magazine, 1920, 67: 695-701; reprinted 
in Isis, 1921, 3 ; 375-390 (with portrait and elaborate biographical 
and iconographic notes) . 


"East and West in the History of Science" was originally the 
second of the Colver Lectures at Brown University for the year 
1930, which were printed under the title, 7be Jiistory of Science 
and the New Humanism (first published by Henry Holt and 
Company, New York, 1930; reprinted by the Harvard University 
Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1937). The essay as printed here differs 
from the previously printed version in the omission of several 
paragraphs and the bibliographic references, and in several minor 
emendations, including the introduction of a footnote from an- 
other section of that book. The title has been enlarged from the 
original "East and West" to the more suggestive title, "East and 
West in the History of Science/' which was used in the Spanish 
translation appearing in Al-Andalus, 1934, 2: 161-297. 


"An Institute for the History of Science and Civilization" is the 
author's third article on this subject; the previous two having been 
published in Science, 1917, 45: 284-286; 46: 399-401. The pres- 
ent version was issued in a small mimeographed edition on 5 
December 1936, and was published with an introduction and an 
appendix in Isis, 1938, 28: 7-17. It is printed here with a few 
slight emendations. 

"Casting Bread upon the Face of the Waters" is reprinted from 
Isis, 1934, 2i: 488-501 with a few deletions and without the 
bibliographic footnotes. 


Abacus, use of, 6, 153 
Abel, N. H, 83, 88, 98-99 
Accounting, system used by Sume- 

rians, 136 

Adelard of Bath, 155 
Ahmose, 141, 153 
Al- * * *, see under part of name 

following a\ 
Albert the Great, 158 
Alberti, L. B., 69 
Algebra, 151; Hindu, 147 
Almagest, 155 
Anatomy, 70, 80 
Angelico, Fra, 39 
Animals, domestication of, 135 
Apollonius, 150 
Arabic contributions to knowledge, 

150 ff. ; numerals, 6; treatises, trans- 
lation of into Latin, 155 
Arabs, intervention between ancient 

Greece and western Christendom, 

145 ff. 

Archibald, R. C., 137 
Archimedes, 10, 39-40, 79, 84, 150 
Architecture, Romanesque and 

Gothic, 21 
Aristocracy, 1 1 4 
Aristotle, 45, 79 
Arithmetic, 140; Hindu, 147 
Art, needed for the understanding of 

science, 21; compared to science, 

24; religious, 27; technical progress 

in, 27; science and, 39 ff. 
Asclepieia, 140 
Asclepius, 138 

Asiatic arts, peculiarities of, 21 
Astrologers, 76 

Astronomical observations, 151 
Astronomy, Greek, 140, 147 
Athena, Renan's prayer to, 102 

Automaticity, principle of, 73 
Averroes, by Renan, 108 
Avicenna, 8, 150, 153 
al- c Awwam, ibn, 153 

Babylonian science, 5; numeral sys- 
tem, 5; origin of Greek astronomy, 
140; planetary observations, 136 

Bacon, R., 74, 79, 158 

al-Baitar, ibn, 153 

Banking, 37 

Barr, A. H., Jr., 25 

al-Battani, 149 

Battuta, ibn, 153 

Belot,' E., 46 

Berthelot, M., 106, 107, 112, 114; in- 
fluence on Renan, 108 

Billroth, T., 17-19 

al-Biruni, 153 

al-Bitruji, 153 

Blood, circulation of, 7, 32 

Boerhaave, H., 16-17 

Bohn, G., 46 

Bolland, J. de, 170 

Bollandists, 170 

Boniface VIII, Pope, 76 

Book-keeping, 37 

Borgia, Cesare, 68 

Borodin, A. P., 26 

Botany, 72 

Botticelli, S., 39 

Brahms, J., 17 

ftrahmscjemeinde, 18 

Bramante, L., 67 

Breasted, J. H., 138 

Breughel, P., 42 

Brittany, 101 

Buckle, H. T., 56-57 

Bull, L., 137 



Burton, W., 16 
Butlan, ibn, 149 

Caesar, J., 62 

Calculation, precedes geometry, 52 
Calendar, 37; Egyptian, 136; trea- 
tises on, 153 
Canals, 71 

Candolle, A. de, 38, 54 
Carriere, E, 39 
Cauchy, A. L., 89 
Chace, A. B., 137 
Charles X, 92 
Chemistry, history of, 36, 41 ; modern, 

origin of, 151; organic, 36 
Chevalier, A., 92, 94, 96 
China, science in, 135 
Christianity, development of, 144 

Christianity, Origins of, 109 
Cicero, 113 

Circulation of blood, 7, 32 
Columbus, M. R., 9 
Commercial needs, 37 
Computation, 10 

Comte, A., 30 ff., % 53, 122; and 
Spencer, compared, 121 

Conant, J. B., 171 

Confucius, 177 

Conies, 153 

Constantine the African, 154 

Cosmos, 22 

Cournot, A., 31 

Course of Positive Philosophy, 122 

Crivelli, Lucrezia, 74 

Cubic equations, 153 

Damascus, capture of, 146 
Damiens, 179 

Dante, and Leonardo, compared, 80 
Dar al-Islam, 154 
Darwin, C, 42, 113, 118 
Decimal fractions, 10-11, 37 
Decimal system of numbers, 5-7, 136 
Densities, measurement of, 151 
Demante, T. R, 85 
Descartes, R., 42, 84, 91 

Development Hypothesis, 118 
Diophantine analysis, 153 
Diophantus, 45 
Discoveries, industrial, 54 
Discovery, psychological importance 

of, 52 

Domestic plants, origin of, 42 
Donatello, 66 

Duodecimal fractions, 11, 153 
Dupuy, P., 90 
Diirer, A., 41 
Dynamics, 74, 80 

Earthshine, 75 

Eastern people, contributions to our 

f civilization, 136 

Ecole Normale, 89 

Ecole Polytechnique, 89 

Edwin Smith papyrus, 138 

Egypt, 137; science in, 135; capture 
of, 146 

Egyptian mathematicians, 137 

Eliot, George, 121-122 

Enneagon, regular, 153 

Epidemics, history of, 36 

Equations, cubic, 153; determinate 
and indeterminate, 137; fifth de- 
gree, 88 

Errors, history of, 44 

Este, Isabella d', 68 

Euclid, 84, 137 

Euripedes, 143 

Evolution, 113 

Experiment, 75, 77 

Experimental method, 160-161, 162; 
development of, 159 

Experimental spirit, incubation of, 

Exploration, 159 

Eyck, H. van, 39 

Eye-diseases, 156 

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, 153 
False position, method of, 137 
Fan Ch'ih, 177 
Faraday, M., 26 



Flying, 74; problem of, 73 

Fossils, 71, 75 

Fourier, J. B. J., 90 

Fractions, decimal, 10-12, 37; duo- 
decimal, 10-12, 153; vigesimal, 10- 
12; sexagesimal, 10-12, 140 

Franceschi, P. dei, 69 

Francis I, 65, 69 

Fresnel, A. J., 46 

future of Science, 107, 115 

Galen, 8-9, 79, 144, 150 

Galileo, 10, 42, 64, 79, 160 

Gallerani, Cecilia, 74 

Galois, Adelaide-Marie, 85 

Galois, E., 83 ff. 

Galton, F., 54 

Garrison, F. H., 15 

Gauss, K. F., 39-40, % 

General education, science in, 172 

Qeneral [History of Semitic Lan- 
guages, 109 

Geography, understanding of, 35 

Geographical investigations, 151 

Geometry, Greek, 147, 151 

Gerard of Cremona, 155 

Gilbert, W., 79 

Giotto, 42 

Goethe, J. W. von, 22, 42 

Golenishchev papyrus, 1 37 

Good will, unification of, 173 

Great scientists, influence of, 34 

Greek astronomy, Babylonian origin 
of, 140 

Greek geometry, 151 

Greek science, 139; spirit of, 142 

Greek spirit, 144; decadence and fall 
of, 142-144 

Quide of the Perplexed, 149 

Guizot, F. P. G., 31 

Gundisalvo, D., 155 

Hagiology, 170 
al-Haitham, ibn, 153 
Hanslick, E., 18 
Hirun al-Rashid, 147 

Harvey, W., 7-8 

Hasdai ibn Shaprut, 154 

Hebrew grammar, 149 

Hebrew prophets, 142 

Hebrew spirit, 144 

Henry IV, 103 

Heptagon, regular, 153 

Herschel, Sir W., 183 

Herzogenberg, Elisabeth von, 19 

Hindu-Arabic numerals, 6, 37 

Hindu numerals, 6 

Hipparchos, 140 

Hippocrates, 138, 150 

Hippocrates of Chios, 141 

Hippocratic teaching, 46 

Historical laws, so-called, 52 

History, conception of, 34; intellec- 
tual, 61 ; political, 61 

History of Medicine, 15 ff., 19, 46 

History of Science, purpose of, 19, 
33; our modern idea of, due to 
Comte, 30; possibility of writing 
it as a whole, 32; interwoven with 
history of technology, 36; the 
leading thread in the history of 
civilization, 40; as a history of 
ideas, 41; a history of taste, 42; a 
research method, 43; pedagogic 
importance of, 50; international 
significance of, 56; the indis- 
pensable basis of any philosophy, 
58; four main phases of, 160; need 
of an institute for, 169 ff.; the 
writing of, 170; as a history of the 
liberation of thought, 173 

History of Science and General Edu- 
cation, 15 

History of Science Society, 15 
Holbein the Elder, 42 
Humboldt, A. von, 22-23 
Hunain ibn Ishaq, 149 
al-Husain, ibn, 153 
Huxley, T. H., 117 
Huygens, C, 45, 46, 79 
Hydraulics, 74 
Hydrodynamics, 71 



latrochemistry, Hindu, 147 

Ibn * * *, see under part of name 

following ibn 
Iconography, 173 
Ideas, history of, 41 
Imhotep, 138 
Imperialism, 61 
Incubation rites, 140 
India, origin of numeral system 

(probably), 6; science in, 135 
Industrial needs, 37 
Intellectual evolution, general laws 

of, 52 

Invention, 37, 53 
Inventions, technical, 37 
Iran, 146 
Jsis, 15, 169 
Islam, intellectual conditions of, 112 

Jabir ibn Aflah, 153 
Jabir ibn Haiyan, 149 
Jacobi, K. G. J., 96 
Jazla, ibn, 149 
Jerusalem, capture ,of, 146 
Jesus Christ, 62, 144, 184 
Jesus, Life of, 110, 112 
John of Seville, 155 
John XXI, Pope, (Peter of Spain), 

Kamal al-Din ibn Yunus, 153 
al-Karkhi, 153 
Khaldun, ibn, 151, 153 
Khallikan, ibn, 153 
al-Khazini, 153 
Kidinnu, 140 

Knowledge, making of, a cumulative 
process, 40 

La Bruyere, J. de, 181-182 
Laffitte, P., 31 
Lagrange, J. L., 86 
Lamprecht, K., 52 
al-Latif, c Abd, 153 
Launay, L. de, 36 
Lavoisier, A. L., 62 

Leonardo da Vinci, See Vinci, Leon- 
ardo da 

Leonardo of Pisa, 6 
Levi Ben Gershon, 159 
Lewes, G. H. f 117, 121-122 
Life of Jesus, 110, 112 
Local value, principle of, 5 
Logarithms, 10 
Logic, Greek, 147 
Longitudes, determination of, 32 
Louis-Philippe, 92-93 
Louis XV, 179-180 
Lull, R., 158 

Mach, Ernst, 47, 50, 56 

Machine, invention of, 53 

Maimonides, 149, 159 

al-Ma'mun, 147 

Mankind, unity of, 63 

Manning, H. P., 137 

al-Mansur, 147 

al-Maqrizi, 153 

Marcus Aurelius, 105 

Margaret of Valois, 103 

Marx, K., 53 

Materialism, historical, 53 

Mathematics, 75; See also: Equa- 
tions, Fractions, Numerals, etc. 

Mathematical knowledge, among 
Muslims and among Christians, 

Maurice, Prince of Nassau, 9 

Mayan numeral system, 5 

Mecca, Pilgrimage to, 149 

Mechanics, 72; See also: Dynamics, 

Medical ideas, evolution of, 36 

Medical plants, origin of, 42 

Medici, 66 

Medicine, 37; history of, 15 ff., 19, 
46; social, 27; Greek, 138, 147; 
Egyptian, 138 

Mesopotamia, science in, 135 

Metric system, 11, 35 

Michelangelo, 69 

Mines, 36 



Modern science, born, 78 
Monte Cassino, 155 
Montesquieu, C. de S., 34 
Morgan, T. H., 179 
Moro, A., 39 
Muhammad, 146, 148 
flftisifc der Zukunft, 18 
Muslims, 146 ff. 
Muslim culture, decline of, 154 

Napier, J., 10 

Napoleon, 62 

Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, 153 

Natural law, 53 

Natural product, chemical synthesis 

of, 37 

Neoplatonists, 67 
Nestorians, 38 
New humanism, 57 
Newton, I., 24, 39-40, 45-46, 62, 64, 

79, 84 

Nietzsche, F., 18 
Nike, 42 
Numerals, 4, 6, 37 

Observations, clinical, 140 
Ophthalmology, first special course 

in, 17 
Optics, 74 

Organic chemistry, 36 
Origins of Christianity, 109 
Ostwald, W., 43 

Pacioli, Fra Luca, 74 

Palestrina, 42 

Palissy, B., 41 

Papyrus, Edwin Smith, 138; Golen- 

ischev, 137; Rhind, 137-138, 141 
Pascal, B., 42, 81 
Pasteur, L., 62 
Persia, capture of, 146 
Peter of Spain (Pope John XXI), 


Petrarca, 76 
Phidias, 39, 58 
Philo, 147 

Philosophic positive, Cours de, 30 

Picasso, P., 25 

Pilgrimage roads, importance of, 20 

Plague, 72 

Plant structure, 75 

Plato, 101 

Platonic philosophy, 67 

Poincare', J. H., 26 

Poisson, S. D., 93 

Polycletus, 39 

Positive Philosophy, Course of, 122 

Practice, without theory, 73 

Priests, as transmitters of knowledge, 


Printing, re-discovery of, 159 
Progress, causes of in science, 51 
Progress of knowledge, boasting 

about, 183 

Psycho-sociological point of view, 32 
Ptolemy, 79, 183 
Ptolemaic system, 151 
Pumps, exhaustion, 36 
Pure science, progress in domain of, 

Pyramids, 138 

al-Qazwini, 153 
Quatremere, E. M., 109 
Qwrmt, 148, 152 
Qur'anic idiom, 150 
Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi, 153 

Radolf of Liege, 153 
Ragimbold of Cologne, 153 
Rashid al-Din, 21, 153 
Raspail, F. V., 95 
Richard, L. P. E., 88 
Religion, science and, 37 
Renan, Ernest, 101 ff.; Averroes, 
108; Berthelot's influence on, 108 
Renan, Henriette, 103 ff. 
Research, genealogical, 54 
Rhind papyrus, 137-138, 141 
Rivet de la Grange, Dom A., 170 
Rodin, F. A. R., 39 
Roman numerals, 6 



Roman science, 144 
Rosweyde, H., 170 
Rule of three, 138 
Rushd, ibn, 153 

Saint Sebastian of Munich, 42 

Saint-Simonists, 92 

Savonarola, G., 69, 80 

Scheffer, Ary, 109 

Science, pure, 13; progressive nature 
of, 24; international, or superna- 
tional, 26; success of, due to selec- 
tion of problems, 27; continuity 
of, in space and time, 32; and 
civilization, 34; and technology, 
36; and religion, 37; and theology, 
38; and art, 39 ff.; aims at objec- 
tivity, 40; teaching of, 49; sig- 
nificance of, from international 
point of view, 55; most powerful 
factor in human progress, 56; the 
humanizing of, 57; the dawn of, 
135; Chinese and Hindu, 136; 
Greek, 139; transition from orien- 
tal to Greek, 140; Egyptian, 142; 
Roman, 144; Arabic, 150 ff./ in re- 
lation to moral issues, 173; defi- 
nition of, 177; main lesson of, 185. 

Science, history of, see History of 

Science, future of, 107, 115 

Scientific biographies, educational 
value of, 50 

Scientific development, conditions of, 

Scientific knowledge, of oriental 
origin, 136; part manual and in- 
tuitive, 27 

Scientific method, 164; see also: Ex- 
perimental method 

Segantini, G., 39 

Semitic Languages, Qeneral History 
of, 109 

Semitic philology, 151 

Servetus, M., 9 

Sexagesimal fractions, 12, 140 

Sforza, F., 68 

Sforza, L., 67 

Shakespeare, W., 24 

Sigerist, H. E., 20 

Sina, ibn, 150, 153, see also Avicenna 

Smith, Edwin, 138 

Social Statics, 117 

Socie'te' des amis du peuple, 92 

Socrates, 62 

Sources, return to, 46 

Souvenirs d'nfance et de Jeunesse, 


Spherical trigonometry, 153 
Spain, capture of, 146 
Spencer and Comte, compared, 121 
Spencer, G., 116 
Spencer, H., 113, 116 ff. 
Spencer, the Rev. T., 116 
Spinoza, B., 62, 159 
Stevin, S., 9-10, 11, 79 
Strauss, D. F., 121 
Streeter, Canon, 27 
Sumerians, system of accounting, 136 
Summulae logicales, 157 
Superstitions, 76 
al-Suri, ibn, 153 
Synthetic Pbilosopby, 118-119 
Syrians, 147 

Tabriz, 21 

Talmudic studies, 158 

Tannery, P., 31, 52 

Tatian, 144 

Technical inventions, 37 

Technology, history of, 54 

Textbooks, 50 

Theology, and science, 38 

Theory, without practice, 73 

Three, rule of, 138 

Tides, 71 

Tocqueville, Count de, 180 

Translation, of Arabic treatises into 

Latin, 147; from Greek into 

Arabic, 147 
Trigonometry, 151; Hindu, 147; 

spherical, 153 

Tyndall, J., 117 

Uccello, P., 69 

Unity, 81 / of thought and technique, 

Vasari, G. ; 81 

Venus, observations of by Baby- 
lonians, 136 

Verrocchio, A. del, 39, 66, 69-70 

Vesalius, A., 9 

Vico, G. B., 34 

Vie de Jesus, 110 

Vigesimal fractions, 12 

Vigny, A. de, 98-99 

Vinci, Leonardo da, 41, 58, 65 if, 
121, 160 

Viollet-le-Duc, E. E, 42 

Voltaire, 34 

Vries, H. de, 42 


Wagner, R., 18 

Wallace, A. R., 118 

Warfare between Science and Jbe- 

ology, 38 
Watts, G. F., 39 
Weights and measures, systems of, 


Weimar circle, 22 
White, A., 38 
Writing, art of, 135, 144 

Xenophon, 101 

Yaqut, 153 
Young, T., 46 

Zero, use of, 5 
Zoology, 74 
Zuhr, ibn, 153