Little Journeys To the Homes of Great Scientists
Printed and made into a Book by The Roycrofters, who are in East Aurora, Erie County, New York
Wm. H. Wise & Co. New York
Copyright, 1916, By The Roycrofters
SIR ISAAC NEWTON 9
WILLIAM HERSCHEL 163
CHARLES DARWIN 197
THOMAS H. HUXLEY 303
JOHN TYNDALL 333
ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE 365
JOHN FISKE 395
SIR ISAAC NEWTON
When you come into any fresh company, observe their humours. Suit your own carriage thereto, by which insinuation you will make their converse more free and open. Let your discourse be more in querys and doubtings than peremptory assertions or disputings, it being the designe of travelers to learne, not to teach. Besides, it will persuade your acquaintance that you have the greater esteem of them, and soe make them more ready to communicate what they know to you; whereas nothing sooner occasions disrespect and quarrels than peremptorinesse. You will find little or no advantage in seeming wiser, or much more ignorant than your company. Seldom discommend anything though never so bad, or doe it but moderately, lest you bee unexpectedly forced to an unhansom retraction. It is safer to commend any thing more than is due, than to discommend a thing soe much as it deserves; for commendations meet not soe often with oppositions, or, at least, are not usually soe ill resented by men that think otherwise, as discommendations; and you will insinuate into men's favour by nothing sooner than seeming to approve and commend what they like; but beware of doing it by a comparison.
—Sir Isaac Newton to one of his pupils
SIR ISAAC NEWTON
An honest farmer, neither rich nor poor, was Isaac Newton. He was married to Harriet Ayscough in February, Sixteen Hundred Forty-two.
Both were strong, intelligent and full of hope. Neither had any education to speak of; they belonged to England's middle class—that oft-despised and much ridiculed middle class which is the hope of the world. Accounts still in existence show that their income was thirty pounds a year. It was for them to toil all the week, go to church on Sunday, and twice or thrice in a year attend the village fairs or indulge in a holiday where hard cider played an important part.
Isaac had served his two years in the army, taken a turn at sea, and got his discharge-papers. Now he had married the lass of his choice, and settled down in the little house on an estate in Lincolnshire where his father was born and died.
Spring came and the roses clambered over the stone walls; the bobolinks played hide-and-seek in the waving grass of the meadows; the skylarks sang and poised and soared; the hedgerows grew white with hawthorn-blossoms and musical with the chirp of sparrows; the cattle ranged through the fragrant clover "knee-deep in June."
Oftentimes the young wife worked with her husband in the fields, or went with him to market. Great plans were laid as to what they would do next year, and the year after, and how they would provide for coming age and grow old together, here among the oaks and the peace and plenty of Lincolnshire.
In such a country, with such a climate, it seems as if one could almost make repair equal waste, and thus keep death indefinitely at bay. But all men, even the strongest, are living under a death sentence, with but an indefinite reprieve. And even yet, with all of our science and health, we can not fully account for those diseases which seemingly pick the very best flower of sinew and strength.
Isaac Newton, the strong and rugged farmer, sickened and died in a week. "The result of a cold caught when sweaty and standing in a draft," the surgeon explained. "The act of God to warn us all of the vanity of life." Acute pneumonia, perhaps, is what we would call it—a fever that burned out the bellows in a week.
In such cases the very strength of the man seems to supply fuel for the flames. And so just as the Autumn came with changing leaves, the young wife was left to fight the battle of life alone—alone, save for the old, old miracle that her life supported another. A wife, a widow, a mother—all within a year!
On Christmas-Day the babe was born—born where most men die: in obscurity. He was so weak and frail that none but the mother believed he would live.
The doctor quoted a line from "Richard the Third," "Sent before my time into this breathing world scarce half made up," and gave the infant into the keeping of an old nurse with an ominous shake of the head, and went his way, absolved. His time was too valuable to waste on such a useless human mite.
The persistent words of the mother that the child should not, must not die, possibly had something to do with keeping the breath of life in the puny man-child. The fond mother had given him the name of his father, even before birth! He was to live to do the work that the man now dead had hoped to do; that is, live a long and honest life, and leave the fair acres more valuable than he found them.
Such was the inauspicious beginning of what Herbert Spencer declared was the greatest life since Aristotle studied the starry universe.
* * * * *
Outside of India the lot of widows is not especially to be pitied. A widow has beautiful dreams, while the married woman copes with the stern reality.
Then, no phase of life is really difficult when you accept it; and the memory of a great love lost is always a blessing and a benediction to the one who endures the first cruel shock.
The young widow looked after her little estate, and with perhaps some small assistance from her parents, lived comfortably and as happily as one has a right to in this vale of tears. Her baby boy had grown strong and well: by the time he was two years old he was quite the equal of most babies—and his mother thought, beyond them.
It is quite often stoutly declared by callow folks that mother-love is the strongest and most enduring love in the world, but the wise waste no words on such an idle proposition. Mother-love retires into the shadow when the other kind appears.
When the Reverend Barnabas Smith began, unconsciously, to make eyes at the Widow Newton over his prayer-book, the good old dames whose business it is to look after these things, and perform them vicariously, made prophecies on the way home from church as to how soon the wedding would occur.
People go to church to watch and pray, but a man I know says that women go to church to watch. Young clergymen fall an easy prey to designing widows, he avers. I can discover no proof, however, that the Widow Newton made any original designs; she was below the young clergyman in social standing, and when the good man began to pay special attentions to her baby boy she never imagined that the sundry pats and caresses were meant for her.
Little Isaac Newton was just three years old when the wedding occurred, and was not troubled about it. The bride went to live with her husband at the rectory, a mile away, and the little boy in dresses, with long yellow curls, was taken to the home of his grandmother. The Reverend Barnabas Smith didn't like babies as well as he had at first thought. Grandparents are inclined to be lax in their discipline. And anyway it is no particular difference if they are: a scarcity of discipline is better than too much. More boys have been ruined by the rod than saved by it—love is a good substitute for a cat-'o-nine-tails.
There were several children born to the Reverend Barnabas Smith and his wife, and all were disciplined for their own good. Isaac, a few miles away, snuggled in the arms of his old grandmother when he was bad and went scot-free.
Many years after, Sir Isaac Newton, in an address on education at Cambridge, playfully referred to the fact that in his boyhood he did not have to prevaricate to escape punishment, his grandmother being always willing to lie for him. His grandmother was his first teacher and his best friend as long as she lived.
When he was twelve years old he was sent to the village school at Grantham, eight miles away. There he boarded with a family by the name of Clark, and at odd times helped in the apothecary-shop of Mr. Clark, cleaning bottles and making pills. He himself has told us that the working with mortar and pestle, cutting the pills in exact cubes, and then rolling one in each hand between thumb and finger, did him a lot of good, whether the patients were benefited or not.
The genial apothecary also explained that pills were for those who made and sold them, and that if they did no harm to those who swallowed them, the whole transaction was then one of benefit. All of which proves to us that men had the essence of wisdom two hundred years ago, quite as much as now.
The master of the school at Grantham was one Mr. Stokes, a man of genuine insight and tact—two things rather rare in the pedagogic equipment at that time. The Newton boy was small and stood low in his class, perhaps because book-learning had not been the bent of his grandmother. The fact that Isaac was neither strong nor smart, nor even smartly dressed, caused him to serve in the capacity of a butt for the bullies.
One big boy in particular made it his business to punch, kick and cuff him on all occasions, in class or out. This continued for a month, when one day the little boy invited the big one out into the churchyard and there fell upon him tooth and claw. The big boy had strength, but the little one had right on his side.
The schoolmaster looked over the wall and shouted, "Thrice armed is he who knows his cause is just!" In two minutes the bully was beaten, but the schoolmaster's son, who stood by as master of ceremonies, suggested that the big boy have his nose rubbed against the wall of the church for luck. This was accordingly done, not o'er-gently, and when Isaac returned to the schoolroom, the master, who was supposed to know nothing officially of the fighting, prophesied, "Young Mr. Newton will yet beat any boy in this school in his studies."
It has been suggested that this prophecy was made after its fulfilment, but even so, we know that Mr. Stokes lived long enough to take great pride in the Newton boy, and to grow reminiscent concerning his great achievements.
Our hearts surely go out to the late Mr. Stokes, schoolmaster at Grantham.
* * * * *
There is surely something in that old idea of Indians that when they killed an enemy the strength of the fallen adversary entered into themselves.
This encounter of little Isaac with the school bully was a pivotal point in his career. He had vanquished the rogue physically, and he now set to work to do as much mentally for the whole school. He had it in him—it was just a matter of application.
Once, in after-life, in speaking of those who had benefited him most, he placed this unnamed chucklehead first, and added with a smile, "Our enemies are quite as necessary to us as our friends."
In a few months Isaac stood at the head of the class. In mathematics he especially excelled, and the Master, who prided himself on being able to give problems no one could solve but himself, found that he was put to the strait of giving a problem nobody could solve. He was somewhat taken aback when little Isaac declined to work on it, and coolly pointed out the fallacy involved. The only thing for the teacher to do was to say he had purposely given the proposition to see if any one would detect the fallacy. This he gracefully did, and again made a prophecy to the effect that Isaac Newton would some day take his own place and be master of Grantham School.
In the year Sixteen Hundred Fifty-six the schooldays of Isaac Newton were cut short by the death of his stepfather.
His mother, twice a widow, moved back to "Woolsthorpe," a big name for a very small estate. Isaac was made the man of the house. The ambition of his mother was that he should become a farmer and stock-raiser.
It seems that the boy entered upon his farm duties with an alacrity that was not to last. His heart was not in the work, but the desire to please his mother spurred him forward.
On one occasion, being sent with a load of produce to Grantham, he stopped to visit his old school, and during his call struck a bargain with one of the boys for a copy of Descartes' Geometry. The purchase exhausted his finances, so that he was unable to buy the articles his mother had sent him for, but when he got home he explained that one might get along without such luxuries as clothing, but a good Geometry was a family necessity. About this time he made a water-clock, and also that sundial which can be seen today, carved into the stone on the corner of the house. He still continued his making of kites which had been begun at Grantham; and gave the superstitious neighbors a thrill by flying kites at night with lighted lanterns made from paper, attached to the tails. He made water-wheels and windmills, and once constructed a miniature mill that he ran by placing a mouse in a treadmill inside.
In the meantime the cows got into the corn, and the weeds in the garden improved each shining hour. The fond mother was now sorely disappointed in her boy, and made remarks to the effect that if she had looked after his bringing up instead of entrusting him to an indulgent grandmother, affairs at this time would not be in their present state. Parents are apt to be fussy: they can not wait.
Matters reached a climax when the sheep that Isaac had been sent to watch, overran the garden and demolished everything but the purslane and ragweed, while all the time the young man was under the hedge working out mathematical problems from his Descartes.
At this stage the mother called in her brother, the Reverend Mr. Ayscough, and he advised that a boy who was so bound to study should be allowed to study.
And the good man offered to pay the wages of a man to take Isaac's place on the farm.
So, greatly to the surprise and pleasure of Mr. Stokes of Grantham, Isaac one fine day returned with his books, just as if he had only been gone a day instead of a year.
At the home of the apothecary the lad was thrice welcome. He had endeared himself to the women of the household especially. He did not play with other boys—their games and sports were absolutely outside of his orbit. He was silent and so self-contained that he won from his schoolfellows the sobriquet of "Old Coldfeet." Nothing surprised him; he never lost his temper; he laughed so seldom that the incident was noted and told to the neighbors; his attitude was one of abstraction, and when he spoke it was like a judge charging a jury with soda-water.
All his spare time was given up to whittling, pounding, sawing, and making mathematical calculations.
Not all of his inventions were toys, for among other things he constructed a horseless carriage which was run by a crank and pumping device, by the occupants.
The idea of the horseless carriage is a matter that has long been in the minds of inventors.
Several men, supremely great, have tried their hands and head at it. Leibnitz worked at it; Swedenborg prophesied the automobile, and made a carriage, placing the horse inside, and did not give up the scheme until the horse ran away with himself and demolished a year's work. The government here interfered and placed an injunction against "the making of any more such diabolical contrivances for the disturbance of the public peace." All of which makes us believe that if either Edison or Marconi had lived two hundred years ago, the bailiffs would have looked after them with the butt end of the law for the regulation of wizards and witches—wizards at Menlo Park being as bad as witches at Salem.
Newton's horseless carriage later came to grief in a similar way to Swedenborg's invention—it worked so well and so fast that it turned a complete somersault into a ditch, and its manipulation was declared to be a pastime more dangerous than football.
Not all the things produced by Isaac about this time were failures. For instance, among other things he made a table, a chair and a cupboard for a young woman who was a fellow-boarder at the apothecary's. The excellence of young Newton's handiwork was shown in that the articles just mentioned outlasted both owner and maker.
* * * * *
Much of the reminiscence concerning the Grantham days of Sir Isaac Newton comes from the fortunate owner of that historic old table, chair and cupboard. This was Mary Story, who was later Mrs. Vincent.
Miss Story was the same age as Isaac. She was just eighteen when the furniture was made roycroftie—she was a young lady, grown, and wore a dress with a train; moreover, she had been to London and had been courted by a widower, while Isaac Newton was only a lad in roundabouts.
Age counts for little—it is experience and temperament that weigh in the scale. Isaac was only a little boy, and Mary Story treated him like one. And here seems a good place to quote what Doctor Charcot said, "In arranging the formula for a great man, make sure you delay adolescence: rareripes rot early."
Isaac and Mary became very good chums, and used to ramble the woods together hand in hand, in a way that must have frightened them both had they been on the same psychic plane. Isaac had about the same regard for her that he might have had for a dear maiden aunt who would mend his old socks and listen patiently, pretending to be interested when he talked of parallelograms and prismatic spectra. But evidently Mary Story thought of him with a thrill, for she stoutly resented the boys calling him "Coldfeet."
In due time Isaac gravitated to Cambridge. Mary mooed a wee, but soon consoled herself with a sure-enough lover, and was married to Mr. Vincent, a worthy man and true, but one who had not sufficient soul-caloric to make her forget her Isaac.
This friendship with Mary Story is often spoken of as the one love-affair in the life of Sir Isaac Newton. It was all prosily Platonic on his part, but as Mary lived out her life at Grantham, and Sir Isaac Newton used to go there occasionally, and when he did, always called upon her, the relationship was certainly noteworthy.
The only break in that lifelong friendship occurred when each was past fifty.
Sir Isaac Newton was paying his little yearly call at Grantham; and was seated in a rustic arbor by the side of Mrs. Vincent, now grown gray, and the mother of a goodly brood, well grown up. As they thus sat talking of days agone, his thoughts wandered off upon quadratic equations, and to aid his mind in following the thread, he absent-mindedly lighted his pipe, and smoked in silence. As the tobacco died low, he gazed about for a convenient utensil to use in pushing the ashes down in the bowl of his pipe. Looking down he saw the lady's hand resting upon his knee, and he straightway utilized the forefinger of his vis-a-vis. A suppressed feminine screech followed, but the fires of friendship were not quenched by so slight an incident, which Mrs. Vincent knew grew out of temperament, and not from wrong intent.
She lived to be eighty-five, and to the day of her death caressed the scar—the cicatrice of a love-wound. All of which seems to prove that old women can be quite as absurd as young ones—goodness me!
* * * * *
When Isaac was eighteen, Master Stokes was so well impressed with his star scholar that he called in the young lad's uncle, the Reverend Mr. Ayscough, and insisted that the boy be sent to Cambridge. The uncle being a Cambridge man himself thought this the proper thing to do.
On June Fifth, Sixteen Hundred Sixty-one, Isaac presented his credentials from his uncle and Mr. Stokes, and was duly entered in Trinity College as a subsizar, which means that he was admitted on suspicion. A part of the duties of a subsizar was to clean boots, scrub floors and perform various other delightful tasks which everybody else evaded.
To be at Trinity College in any capacity was paradise for this boy. He thirsted for knowledge: to know, to do, to perform—these things were his desire. He had been brought up to work, anyway, and to a country boy toil is no punishment. "I knew that if worse came to worst I could get work in the town making furniture and earn a man's wage," he said.
In a month he had passed his first examinations and was made a sizar. Before this he had been fag to everybody, but now he was fag to the Seniors only. He not only made their beds and cleaned their rooms, but also worked their examples in mathematics, and thus commanded their respect.
Once, being called upon in class to recite from Euclid, he declined and shocked the professor by saying, "It is a trifling book—I have mastered it and thrown it aside." And it was no idle boast—he knew the book as the professor did not. When he arrived at Cambridge, he carried in his box a copy of Sanderson's Logic presented to him by his uncle—the uncle having no use for it. It happened to be one of the textbooks in use at Trinity. When Isaac heard lectures on Sanderson he found he knew the book a deal better than the tutor, a thing the tutor shortly acknowledged before the class. This caused young Mr. Newton to stand out as a prodigy. Usually students have to rap for admittance to the higher classes, but now the teachers came and sought him out. One professor told him he was about to take up Kepler's Optics with some post-graduate students—would young Mr. Newton come in? Isaac begged to be excused until he could examine the book. The volume was loaned to him. He tore the vitals out of it and digested them. When the lectures began, he declined to go because he had mastered the subject as far as Kepler carried it.
Genius seems to consist in the ability to concentrate your rays and focus them on one point. Isaac Newton could do it. "On a Winter day I took a small glass and so centered the sun's rays that I burned a hole in my coat," he wrote in his subsizar journal.
The youth possessed an imperturbable coolness: he talked little, but when he spoke it was very frankly and honestly. From any other his words would have had a presumptuous and boastful sound. As it was he was respected and beloved. At Cambridge his face and features commended him: he looked like another Cambridge man, one Milton—John Milton—only his face was a little more stern in its expression than that of the author of "Paradise Lost."
In two years' time Isaac Newton was a scholar of whom all Cambridge knew. He had prepared able essays on the squaring of curved and crooked lines, on errors in grinding lenses and the methods of rectifying them, and in the extraction of roots where the cubes were imperfect: he had done things never before attempted by his teachers. When they called upon him to recite, it was only for the purpose of explaining truths which they had not mastered.
In Sixteen Hundred Sixty-four, being in his twenty-second year, Isaac Newton was voted a free scholarship, which provided for board, books and tuition. On this occasion he was examined in Euclid by Doctor Barrow, the Head Master of Trinity.
Newton could solve every problem, but could not explain why or how. His methods were empirical—those of his own.
Many men with a modicum of mathematical genius work in this way, and in practical life the plan may serve all right. But now it was shown to Newton that a schoolman must not only know how to work out great problems, but also why he goes at it in a certain way; otherwise, colleges are vain—we must be able to pass our knowledge along. The really great man is one who knows the rules and then forgets them, just as the painter of supreme merit must be a realist before he evolves into an impressionist.
Newton now acknowledged his mistake in reference to Euclid, and set to work to master the rules. This graciousness in accepting advice, and the willingness to admit his lapse, if he had been hasty, won for him not only the scholarship, but also the love of his superiors. Milton was a radical who made enemies, but Newton was a radical who made friends. He avoided iconoclasm, left all matters of theology to the specialists, and accepted the Church as a necessary part of society. His care not to offend fixed his place in Cambridge for life.
It was Cambridge that fostered and encouraged his first budding experiments; it was there he was sustained in his mightiest hazards; and it was within her walls that the ripe fruit of his genius was garnered and gathered. When his fame had become national and he was called to higher offices than Cambridge supplied, Cambridge watched his career with the loving interest of a mother, and the debt of love he fully paid, for it was very largely through his name and fame that Cambridge first took her place as one of the great schools of the world.
* * * * *
Newton took his degree of Bachelor of Arts at Cambridge, in January, in the year Sixteen Hundred Sixty-five. The faculty of Trinity would not even consider his leaving the college: he was as valuable to them as he would be now if he were a famous football-player. Besides the scholarship, there were ways provided so he could earn money by private tutoring and giving lectures in the absence of the professors.
He had written his essay on fluxions, described their application to fluents and tangents, and devised a plan for finding the radius of curvity in crooked lines. In August of the same year that Newton was given his degree, the college was dismissed on account of an epidemic, and Newton went home to Woolsthorpe to kill time. In September, Sixteen Hundred Sixty-five, he then being twenty-three, while seated in his mother's garden, Newton saw that storied apple fall. What pulled it down? Some force tugging at it, surely!
Galileo had experimented with falling bodies, and had proved that the weight and size of a falling body had nothing to do with its velocity, save as its size and shape might be affected by the friction of the atmosphere. The first person to put into print the story of the falling apple was Voltaire, whose sketch of Newton is a little classic which the world could ill afford to lose. Adam, William Tell and Isaac Newton each had his little affair with an apple, but with different results.
The falling apple suggested to Newton that there was some power in the ground that was constantly pulling things toward the center of the earth.
This power extended straight down into the earth—he knew it—he had dropped a stone into a mine, and had also dropped things from steeples. He dropped apples from kites by an ingenious device of two strings, and he concluded that an apple taken a hundred miles up in the air would return to earth.
He then began to speculate as to just what a body would do a thousand or ten thousand miles from the earth. So high as we could go, or as deep as we could dig, this drawing power was always present. The Law of Gravitation!
If a cannon-ball was fired in a straight line at a distant target, the gunner had to elevate the aim if he would hit the target, for the ball described a curve and would keep dropping to the earth until it struck the ground. Something was pulling it down: what was it? The Law of Gravitation!
The moon was attracted toward us and would surely fall into us, but for the fact that there were other attractions drawing her toward them. The movements of the planets were owing to the fact that they were obeying attractions. They were moving in curves, just like cannon-balls in motion. They had two movements, also, like the cannon-ball.
Newton had noticed that the stars within a certain territory all moved in similar directions, and so must be acted upon by the same influences. The Law of Gravitation!
It is held by many people in East Aurora and elsewhere that Newton's invention is a devilish device originated for the benefit of surgeons and crockery-dealers. But this is not wholly true.
Without this Law of Gravitation the Earth could not retain her spherical shape: only through this constant drawing in toward the center could she exist.
The other planets, too, must be round or they could not exist, and so they also had this same quality of gravity in common with the Earth—a drawing in of everything toward the center. Here was clearly a positive discovery—this similarity of the heavenly bodies!
Every one of the heavenly bodies was exerting a constant attraction toward all other heavenly bodies, and this attractive power must be in proportion to the distance they were from the object acted upon. Thus were their movements and orbits accounted for.
At this time Newton was perfectly familiar with Kepler's Law, that the squares of the periodic times of a planet were as the cubes of its distance from the sun. And from this, he inferred that the attraction varied as the square of the planet's distance from the sun.
Here he was working on territory that had never been surveyed. At first, in his exuberance, he thought to figure out the size and weight of each planet quickly by measuring its attractive power. He did not realize that he had cut out for himself work that would require many men and several centuries to cover, but surely he was on the right scent—a finite man keen upon the secrets of the Infinite!
He was still at his mother's old home in the country, without scientific apparatus or the stimulus of colleagues, when we find by a record in his journal that antique groan because there were only twenty-four hours in a day, and that eight were required for sleep and eight more for recreation!
A subject a little nearer home than planetary attraction had now switched him off from measuring and weighing the stars. He was hard at work in his mother's little sitting-room, with the windows darkened, much to that good woman's perplexity.
By shutting out all light from the windows and allowing the sun's rays to enter by a little, circular aperture, he had gotten the sunlight captured and tamed where he could study it. This ray of light he examined with a small hand-glass he himself had made. In looking at the ray, quite accidentally, he found it could be deflected and sent off at will in various directions. When thrown on the wall, instead of being simply white light it had seven distinct colors beginning with violet and running down to red. So white light was not a single element: it was made up of various rays which had to be united in order to give us sunlight.
Eureka! He had found the secret of the rainbow—the sun's rays broken up and separated by the refracting agency of clouds!
Well does Darwin declare that the separation of sunlight into its component parts, and the invention of the spectrum, have marked an advance in man's achievement such as the world had not seen since the time of wonder-working Archimedes.
* * * * *
The Cambridge University was closed until October, year of Sixteen Hundred Sixty-seven. Most of the intervening time Newton spent at the home of his mother, but from accounts of his we can see that the College people kept their eagle-eye upon him, for they sent remittances to him regularly for "commons."
When he returned to Cambridge he was assigned to the "spiritual chamber," which was a room next to the chapel, that had formerly been reserved as a guest-room for visiting dignitaries.
In March, Sixteen Hundred Sixty-eight, he was given the degree of Master of Arts. His studies now were of a very varied kind. He was required to give one lecture a week on any subject of his own choosing. Needless to say his themes were all mathematical or scientific. Just what they were can best be inferred by consulting his cashbook, since the lectures themselves were not written out and all memoranda concerning them have disappeared. This account-book shows that his expenditures were for a Gunter's Book (he who invented the Gunter's Chain), a magnet and a compass, glue, bulbs, putty, antimony, vinegar, white lead, salts of tartar, and lenses.
And in addition there are a few interesting items such as one sees in the Diary of George Washington: "Lost at cards, five shillings." "Treating at tavern, ten shillings." "Binding my Bible, three shillings." "Spent on my cousin, one pound, two." "Expenses for wetting my degree, sixteen shillings."
The last item shows that times have changed but little: this scientist and philosopher par excellence had to moisten his diploma at the tavern for the benefit of good fellows who little guessed with whom they drank.
He also had "poor relations" come to visit him; and it is significant that while there are various items showing where he lost money at cards, there are no references to any money won at the same business, from which we infer that while there was no one at Cambridge who could follow him in his studies, there yet were those who could deal themselves better hands when it came to the pasteboards.
Evidently he got discouraged at playing cards, for after the year Sixteen Hundred Sixty-eight, there are no more items of "treating at the tavern" or "lost at cards." The boys had tried to educate him, but had not succeeded. In card exploitations he fell a victim of arrested development.
I suppose it will not cause any one a shock to be told that "the greatest thinker of all time" was not exactly a perfect man.
So let the truth be known that throughout his life Newton had a well-defined strain of superstitious belief running through his character. He never quite relinquished the idea of transmutation of metals, and at times astrology was quite as interesting to him as astronomy.
In writing to a friend who was about to pay a long visit to the mines of Hungary, he says, "Examine most carefully and ascertain just how and under what conditions Nature transforms iron into copper and copper into silver and gold."
In his laboratory he had specimens of iron ore that contained copper, and also samples of copper ore that contained gold, and from this he argued that these metals were transmutable, and really in the act of transmutation when the process was interfered with by the miner's pick.
He had transformed a liquid into a mass of solid crystals instantly, and all of the changes possible in light, which he had discovered, had enlarged his faith to a point where he declared, "Nothing is impossible."
It is somewhat curious that Isaac Newton, who had no soft sex-sentiment in his nature, quite unlike Galileo, still believed in alchemy and astrology, while Galileo's cold intellect at once perceived the fallacy of these things.
Galileo also saw at once that for the sun to stand still at Joshua's command would really mean that the Earth must cease her motion, since the object desired was to prolong the day. Sir Isaac Newton, who discovered the Law of Gravitation, yet believed that at the command of a barbaric chieftain, this Law was arrested, and that all planetary attraction was made to cease while he fought the Philistines for the possession of pasture-land to which he had no title.
Galileo did not know as much as Newton about planetary attraction, but very early in his career he perceived that the Bible was not a book that could be relied upon technically.
With Newton the Bible presented no difficulties. He regularly attended church and took part in the ritual. Religion was one thing and his daily work another. He kept his religion as completely separate from his life as did Gladstone, who believed the Mosaic account of Creation was literally true, and yet had a clear, cool, calculating head for facts.
The greatest financial exploiter in America today is an Orthodox Christian, taking an active part in missionary work and the spread of the Gospel.
In his family he is gentle, kind and tender; he is a good neighbor, a punctilious churchgoer, a leader in Sunday-School, and a considerate teacher of little children.
In business relations he is as conscienceless as Tamerlane, who built a mountain of skulls as a monument to himself. He is cold, calculating, and if opposed, vindictive. On occasion he is absolutely without heart: compassion, mercy or generosity are not then in his make-up.
The best lawyers procurable are paid princely sums to study for him the penal code, and legislatures have even revised it for his benefit. Eviction, destruction, suicide and insanity have even trod in his train. A picture of him makes you think of that dark and gloomy canvas where Caesar, Alexander and Napoleon ride slowly side by side through a sea of stiffened corpses. Bribery, coercion, violence and even murder have been this man's weapons. He is the richest man in America. And yet, as I said in the beginning, all this represents only one side of his nature: he reads his chapter in the Bible each evening by his family fireside, and tenderly kisses his grandchildren good-night.
The individual who imagines that embezzlers are all riotous in nature, and by habit are spendthrifts, does not know humanity. The embezzler is one man; the model citizen another, and yet both souls reside in the one body.
Nero had a passion for pet pigeons, and the birds used to come at his call, perch on his shoulder and take dainty crumbs from his lips.
The natures of some men are divided up into water-tight compartments. Sir Isaac Newton kept his religion in one compartment, and his science in another—they never got together.
Voltaire has said, "When Sir Isaac Newton discovered the Law of Gravitation he excited the envy of the learned men of the world; but they more than got even with him when he wrote a book on the prophecies of the Bible."
* * * * *
When Newton was only twenty-seven years old he was elected the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Trinity, an office that carried with it a goodly salary and also very much honor. Never before had so young a man held this chair.
Newton was a pioneer in announcing the physical properties of light.
Every village photographer now fully understands this, but when Newton first proclaimed it he created a whirlwind of disapproval.
When a man at that time put forth an unusual thought, it was regarded as a challenge. Teachers and professors all over Great Britain, and also in Germany and France, at once set about to show the fallacy of Newton's conclusions.
Newton had issued a pamphlet with diagrams showing how to study light, and the apparatus was so simple and cheap that the "Newton experiments" were tried everywhere in schoolrooms.
People always combat a new idea when first presented, and so Newton found himself overwhelmed with correspondence.
Cheap arguments were fired into Cambridge in volleys. These were backed up by quibbling men—Pro Bono Publico, Veritas and Old Subscriber—men incapable of following Newton's scientific mind. In his great good-nature and patience Newton replied to his opponents at length.
His explanations were construed into proof that he was not sure of his ground. One man challenged him to debate the matter publicly, and we hear of his going up to London, king that he was, to argue with a commoner.
Such terms as "falsifier," "upstart," "pretender," were freely used, and poor Newton for a time was almost in despair.
He had thought that the world was anxious for truth! Some of his fellow-professors now touched their foreheads and shook their heads ominously as he passed. He had gone so far beyond them that the cries of "whoa!" were unnoticed.
It is here worth noting that the universal fame of Sir Isaac Newton was brought about by his rancorous enemies, and not by his loving friends. Gentle, honest, simple and direct as was his nature, he experienced notoriety before he knew fame.
To the world at large he was a "wizard" and a "juggler" before he was acknowledged a teacher of truth—a man of science.
When the dust of conflict concerning Newton's announcement of the qualities of light had somewhat subsided, he turned to his former discovery, the Law of Gravitation, and bent his mighty mind upon it. The influence of the moon upon the Earth, the tilt of the Earth, the flattening of the poles, the recurring tides, the size, weight and distance of the planets, now occupied Newton's attention. And to study these phenomena properly, he had to construct special and peculiar apparatus.
In Sixteen Hundred Eighty-seven the results of his discoveries were brought together in one great book, the "Principia." Newton was forty-five years old then.
He was still the Cambridge professor, but was well known in political circles in London on account of having been sent there at various times to represent the University in a legal way.
His diplomatic success led to his being elected a member of Parliament. Among other great men whom he met in London was Samuel Pepys, who kept a diary and therein recorded various important nothings about "Mr. Isaac Newton of Cambridge—a schoolteacher of degree, with a great dignity of manner and pleasing Countenance." It seems Newton thought so well of Pepys that he wrote him several letters, from which Samuel gives us quotations. Pepys really claimed the honor of introducing Newton into good society.
Among others with whom Newton made friends in Parliament was Mr. Montague, who shortly afterward became Secretary of the Exchequer. Montague made his friend Newton a Warden of the Mint, with pay about double that which he had received while at Cambridge.
In this public work Newton brought such talent and diligence to bear that in Sixteen Hundred Ninety-seven he was made Master of the Mint, at a salary of fifteen hundred pounds a year—a princely sum in those days.
There is no doubt that the fact that Newton was a devout Churchman and an upholder of the Established Order was a great, although perhaps unconscious, diplomatic move.
His delightful personality—gracious, suave, dignified and silent—won for him admiration wherever he would go. In argument his fine reserve and excellent temper were most convincing. Had he turned his attention to the law he would have become Chief Justice of England.
In Seventeen Hundred Three he was elected President of the Royal Society, an office he held continuously for twenty-five years, and which tenure was only terminated by his death.
In Seventeen Hundred Five the Queen visited Cambridge, and there with much pageantry bestowed the honor of Knighthood which changed Professor Newton into Sir Isaac Newton.
But the man himself was still the simple, modest gentleman. The title did not spoil him—he was a noble man from boyhood.
His duties as Master of the Mint did not interfere with his studies and scientific investigations. He revised and rewrote his "Principia," and in Seventeen Hundred Thirteen the new edition was issued. One copy was most sumptuously bound, and Sir Isaac, who was a special favorite at Court, presented it in person to the Queen. Those who are interested in such things may, by applying to the Curator of the British Museum, see and turn the leaves of this book, reading the gracious inscription of the author, while a solemn man in brass buttons stands behind.
Newton died March Twentieth, Seventeen Hundred Twenty-seven, at the age of eighty-five, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
The verdict of humanity concerning Sir Isaac Newton has been summed up for us thus by Laplace: "His work was pre-eminent above all other products of the human intellect."
I am inclined to believe that the intention of the Sacred Scriptures is to give to mankind the information necessary for their salvation.
But I do not hold it necessary to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, with speech, with intellect, intended that we should neglect the use of these, and seek by other means for knowledge which these are sufficient to procure for us; especially in a science like astronomy, of which so little notice is taken by the Scriptures that none of the planets, except the sun and moon and once or twice only Venus, by the name of Lucifer, are so much as named at all.
This therefore being granted, methinks that in the discussion of natural problems we ought not to begin at the authority of texts of Scriptures but at sensible experiments and necessary demonstrations.
With the history of Galileo and Copernicus, there is connected a man of such stern and withal striking individuality that the story of the rise and evolution of astronomy can not be told and this man's name left out. Giordano Bruno was born in Fifteen Hundred Forty-eight. His parents were obscure people, and his childhood and early education are enveloped in mystery. Occasional passages in his writings refer to his sympathy for outcast children, and he quotes the saying of Jesus, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." He then refers to himself as having been a waif and robbed of the love that was his due, "the lawful, legal heritage of every child, sent without its consent into a world of struggle and strife, where only love makes existence possible."
Evidently, the early life of Bruno was a symbol and shadow of what Fate held in store for him.
The first authentic knowledge we have of Bruno was when he was twenty-two years old. He was then a Dominican monk, and he is brought to our attention because he distinguished himself by incurring the displeasure of his superiors. His particular offense was that he had declared, "The infallibility of the Pope is only in matters spiritual, and does not apply to the science of material things."
Strangely enough, these words of Bruno are almost identical with words recently expressed by Cardinal Satolli.
The difference in their reception is owing to a mere matter of a few hundred years. Truth is a question of time and place. Bruno was banished for his temerity, and Satolli wears the red hat. Verily, yesterday's heresy is today's orthodoxy.
* * * * *
The attitude of the Church toward the teachings of Copernicus, after the death of the man, was one of patronizing pity.
Instead of putting his great book, "Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies," on the "Index," the wiser plan was adopted of paying no attention to it. Occasionally, however, the subject was broached by some incautious novitiate, and then the custom was to treat the Copernican Theory as a mere hypothesis, and its author as a mental defective.
Bruno would not have it so. To him it was a very important matter whether the sun revolved around the earth as the priests taught, or the earth revolved around the sun as set forth in the work of Copernicus. He came to the conclusion that Copernicus was right, and said so.
It was ordered that he should cease lecturing on the subject of astronomy and apply himself to spiritual matters. He argued that he should be allowed to think and speak what he pleased about the stars, since the whole matter was one of opinion, and even the Pope did not know, positively, the final facts of astronomy, and if the Copernican Theory was a hypothesis, so also was the Ptolemaic Theory held by the Church.
It will be seen that Copernicus and Bruno were very different in temperament: one was gentle, diplomatic, cautious; the other was headstrong, firm and full of argument.
Bruno was given his choice: to cease the study of astronomy or to lay aside the Dominican frock. The hardihood of the young man was seen in that he unfrocked himself, thinking that once outside of the order he was not responsible to a superior and could teach what he pleased, so long as it was not "heresy."
Heresy is treason to the Church, but Bruno could not see how spiritual dogma could cover the facts of Physical Science, since new facts were constantly being discovered, and the material universe could only be understood by being studied. He was too innocent to comprehend that a vast majority of the people believed that popes, cardinals and priests knew everything, and that when any branch of knowledge was questioned it placed the priests in doubt. Certainly the Church has not opposed Science—she has only opposed heresy. But the curious fact is that advancing Science has usually been to the Church heretical. When Bruno opposed anything that the priests taught, he opposed the Church. He was warned to leave Rome—his life was in danger. He fled to Geneva, the home of Calvin.
Here he thought, surely, he could speak and write as he chose. But alas! Protestantism cared even less about Science than did the monks, and "heresy" to John Calvin was quite as serious a matter as it was to Calvin's competitor, the Pope of Rome.
The Protestants of Geneva gave Bruno scant attention; they had never heard of Copernicus, and the movements of the stars were as nothing to them, since the world was soon to come to an end.
The learned men were even then making mathematical calculations, based on the prophecies of the Old Testament, as to how soon the general destruction would take place.
Bruno sought to argue them out of their childishness, with the result that he got himself marked as an infidel and a dangerous man.
From Geneva he went to Lyons, then to Paris, where his personality made itself felt, and he was given a hearing at the University. Here he remained for several years, when he went to England, arriving there in Fifteen Hundred Eighty-four, the same year that a rustic by the name of William Shakespeare, from Stratford, reached London. Whether they ever met is doubtful.
Bruno spoke five languages, and his polite accomplishments afforded him an immediate entry into the best circles of society. He was entertained at the home of Sir Philip Sidney, and afterward carried on an extensive correspondence with this prince of gentlemen. Greville presented Bruno to Queen Elizabeth, who invited him to lecture at the Court on his favorite theme.
This he did, and it is quite probable that the noble lords and ladies left "calls" so they could be awakened when the lecture was over and congratulate the speaker of the evening on his effort.
At Oxford there were disputations where Bruno's faultless Latin impressed the pedants much more than did his argument, so they offered him a position as Professor of Languages, but this he smilingly declined, excusing himself on the grounds that he had important business on the Continent: and he had. Already they were collecting fagots for his benefit.
He returned to Paris and began his lecturing on Science. His arguments had convinced one person at least, and that was himself, that as the Church knew nothing of Physical Science, why, possibly it stood in a like position regarding spiritual truth. That is to say, the so-called "sacred truths" were mere assumptions piled up to satisfy the people, and the ignorance and superstition of the many marked high water for the teaching of the priests. The business of the Church was to satisfy the people, and not enlighten them, for if the people became enlightened enough they would see that they did not need the Church, and then where were the honors and the riches and the red hats!
Bruno cleared his mind of its cobwebs by expression, just as we all do—that is what expression is for.
The people really dictate to the priests what they shall teach; moreover, the people absolutely refuse to listen to anything in which they do not believe, and decline to pay for preaching that is not done to their own dictation. The business, then, of the Church is to study carefully the ignorance of the people and conform to it. On this one thing does its stability depend. Therefore it must, as a matter of self-preservation, suppress any chance intellect that is ahead of its time, lest this man honeycomb the whole structure of churchly dogma.
Bruno said that, just as the world seemed to stand still and the stars move around us, so did the Church seem to most people a fixed fact. But exactly the opposite was true; the Church moves as the people move, and unless men outside of the Church educate the people, or the people educate themselves, they will forever remain in darkness.
Bruno offered to debate the question publicly with the Bishop of Paris. That worthy was no match for Bruno in point of oratory, but when we can not answer a man's reasons, all is not lost, for we can at least call him vile names, and this is often quite as effectual as logic.
The Bishop launched a fusillade of theological lyddite at Bruno, declaring that any Churchman who would so much as hold converse with such a wretch was disgraced forever, and that the propositions Bruno wished to argue were unthinkable to a self-respecting man. He declared that it was only the mercy of God that kept the lightning from striking Bruno dead as he wrote his heresies.
Matters were getting strained, and the authorities, fearing insurrection, acted upon the advice of the good Bishop and expelled Bruno from France. He went to Wittenberg, in his innocence, intending to tack on the church-door there his theses. But Wittenberg had no use for Bruno—he believed too much, or too little, Luther could not tell which.
The University of Zurich now offered to let the exile come there and teach what he wished. Thither he journeyed and there his restless mind seemed for the first time to find a home. His writings were slowly making head, and around him there clustered a goodly group of students who believed in him and loved him.
In the midst of this oasis in a troubled life, word came from some of the old-time friends he had known in Rome. They were now in Venice, and wished to have him come there and lecture. Bruno thought that his little leaven was leavening the whole lump—he was not without ambition—he was flattered by the invitation. He accepted it and went to Venice.
It was simply a ruse to get the man within striking distance. Very soon after his arrival in Venice he was arrested by agents of the Inquisition and secretly taken to Rome. He was lodged in a dungeon of the Castle Saint Angelo. Just what his experience was there we can not say—the horrors of it all are not ours, for no friend of Bruno's was allowed to approach, and what he there wrote was destroyed.
We do know, however, that he was asked to recant, and we know he refused. We also know that he repeated his heresies and hurled back into the teeth of his accusers the invective they heaped upon him.
Bribery, persuasion, threat and torture were tried in turn, but all in vain, for Bruno would not swerve. Unlike Savonarola his quivering flesh could not wring from his heart an apology.
He scorned the rack and thumbscrew, declaring they could not reach his soul. He knew that death would be the end; he prayed for it, and even thought to hasten it by an aggravating manner and harshness of speech toward his captors, seemingly quite unnecessary.
For seven long years he was in prison. He was burned alive on the Seventh of February, Sixteen Hundred, aged fifty-two.
When bound to the stake he turned his face from the crucifix that was held before him, and sought to kiss the fagots. His ashes were thrown to the four winds. Thus perished Bruno.
* * * * *
In the year Fifteen Hundred Sixty-four, Galileo Galilei was born; consequently, he was thirty-six years old when Bruno was executed. He had known Bruno, had attended many of his lectures, and had followed his career with interest; and while he agreed with him concerning the Copernican theory of the earth's revolution, he took exceptions to Bruno's arbitrary ways of presenting the matter, and also to his scathing criticisms of theology. At this time Galileo could not see that the extravagant words of Bruno were largely forced from him by the violence of the opposition he had encountered. Galileo fully believed that Bruno had been put to death for treason to the Church, and not on account of his astronomical teachings.
These men had come up from totally different stations in life. Bruno was a man of the people—a self-made man—who bore upon his person the marks of the hammer. Galileo was of noble blood, and traced an ancestry to a Gonfalonier of Florence. From early infancy he had enjoyed association with polite persons, and had sat on the knees of greatness.
When eighteen he was graduated from the University of Pisa; and at that early age his family and friends were comparing him, not without reason, to a Genius who had come out of Tuscany some years before, Leonardo da Vinci.
Parents either exaggerate the talents of their children or else belittle them. The woman who bore George Gordon called him "that lame brat"; but we call him "The Poet Byron."
Benjamin Franklin ran away from home, and his family thought themselves disgraced by his printed utterances. George Washington's mother, after being told that her son had been made Commander-in-Chief, laughed knowingly and said, "They don't know him as well as I do!" Voltaire's father posted his son as irresponsible, tied up a legacy so "the scapegrace could not waste it," invested good money in daily prayers to be said for the scapegrace's salvation, and then died of a broken heart, just as play-actors do on the stage, only this man died sure enough. Alfred Tennyson at thirteen wrote a poem addressed to his grandfather; the old gentleman gave him a guinea for it, and then wrote these words: "This is the first and last penny you will ever receive for writing poetry." The father of Shelley misquoted Job, and said, "Oh, to be brought down to the grave in grief through the follies of an ungrateful child!" And Labouchere says that one of the four brothers of Shakespeare used to explain that he wasn't the play-actor who wrote "Hamlet" and "Othello," lest, mayhap, his name should be smirched.
Galileo's mother had that beautiful dream which I believe all good mothers have: that her son might be the savior of the world. As he grew to manhood, her faith in him did not relax.
In childhood Galileo showed great skill in invention. He made curious toys with cogs and wheels and eccentrics; whittled out violins, and transformed simple reeds into lutes, upon which he played music of his own composition. In fact, so great was his skill in music that at twenty they wished to make him official organist and choirmaster of the Cathedral. His personal taste, however, ran more to painting; for some months he worked at his canvases with an ardor too great to last long. If ever a man was touched by the Spirit of the Renaissance, it was surely young Galileo. The Archbishop of Pisa said, "Upon him has fallen the mantle of Michelangelo."
He gave lectures on Art, and taught Painting by actual example. One of his pupils, and a great artist, Lodovico Cigoli, always maintained that it was to the inspiration and counsel of Galileo that he owed his success.
There are really only two things to see at Pisa: one is the Leaning Tower, from which Galileo with his line and plummet made some of his most interesting experiments; and the other is the Cathedral where the visitor beholds the great bronze lamp that is suspended from the vaulted ceiling. When he was about twenty-one, sitting in the silence of this church (which the passing years have only made more beautiful), he noticed that there was a slight swinging motion to this lamp—it was never still. Galileo set to work timing and measuring these oscillations, and he found that they were always done in exact measure and in perfect rhythm. This led, some years later, to perfecting an astronomical clock for measuring movements of the stars. And from this was originated the pendulum-clock, where before we had depended on sundials.
The endeavor of Galileo's parents had been to keep him ignorant of mathematics and practical life, that he might blossom forth as a saint who would sing and play and make pictures like those of Leonardo, and carve statues like Michelangelo, only better.
But parents plan, and Fate disposes.
In Fifteen Hundred Eighty-three, Ostilio Ricci, the famous mathematician, chanced to be in Pisa, on his way from Rome to Milan, and gave a lecture at the Court, on Geometry.
Galileo was not interested in the theme, but he was in the speaker, and so he attended the lecture.
This action proved one of the pivotal points in his life.
"Whether other people really teach us anything, is a question," says Stanley Hall; "but they do sometimes give us impulses, and make us find out for ourselves."
Ricci made Galileo find out for himself.
He turned to Archimedes from Plato. Geometry became a passion, and a very wise man has told us that we never accomplish anything, either good or bad, without passion. Passion means one hundred pounds of steam on the boiler, with love sitting on the safety-valve, when the blow-off is set for fifty.
It surely is risky business, I will admit; accidents will occur occasionally and explosions sometimes happen, but everything is risky, even life, since few get out of it alive.
And so, to drop back to the original proposition, nothing great and sublime is ever done without passion.
Galileo had his mechanical whooping-cough, musical mumps, artistic measles, and now the hectic flush of mathematics burned on his cheeks. He talked and dreamed mathematics.
Euclid was in the saddle.
Ricci became interested in the talented young scholar and remained longer at Pisa than he had intended, that they might sit up all night and surprise the rising sun, discussing beauties of dimensions and the wonders of dynamics.
Together they went to Florence, where Ricci introduced his pupil as a pedagogic sample of the goods, just as Booker Washington usually takes with him on his travels a few ebony homo bricks as his specimens from Tuskegee.
The beauty and the grace of Galileo's speech and presence put the abstract Ricci in the shadow. The right man can make anything interesting, just as Dean Swift could write an entrancing essay with the broomstick as a central theme. The man's the thing, Hamlet to the contrary, notwithstanding.
Galileo knew the Florentine heart, and so he gave lectures on a Florentine: one Dante, who loved a girl named Beatrice.
The young Pisan drew diagrams of Dante's Inferno—and surely it was nobody's else. He gave its size, height, weight, and told how to reach it.
He gave lectures on the Hydrostatic Balance and the Centers of Gravity, and then published them as serials.
The Florentines crowned him with bay and enthusiastically proclaimed him, "The Modern Archimedes."
* * * * *
Pisa now put forth efforts to have her gifted son come home. There was always rivalry between Pisa and Florence. Pisa could not afford to supply Florence her men of genius—let her depend upon production from home, or go without.
Galileo became Professor of Mathematics at the University of Pisa, a life position, or at least one he could hold during good behavior.
One of the time-honored dictums of the day was that falling bodies fell with a velocity proportioned to their weight. The question was first thrashed out in the classroom; and after Galileo had slyly gotten all of these scientific wiseacres to commit themselves, he invited them, with their students, to the Leaning Tower.
Then he proved by ocular demonstrations that they were positively wrong.
It is very beautiful to teach Truth, but error should not be corrected with too much eclat. If the love of Truth, alone, was the guiding impulse of Galileo, he might have secretly explained his theory to one of the wiseacres, and this wiseacre could have casually demonstrated it, so all the rest could have said, "That is what we always knew and taught."
Instead of this, Galileo compelled the entire faculty to back water and dine on fricasseed crow.
They got even by calling him "a scientific bastardino," and at his next lecture he was roundly hissed. Soon after he was bluntly informed that his office was to teach the young, and not to undo the old.
And that is the way the troubles of Galileo began.
He might then have apologized, and slipped back into peace and obscurity and later been tucked in by kind oblivion. But he had tasted blood, and the rabies of setting straight the scientific world, for its own good, was upon him.
That he was wrong in the correction of his elders, he would not for a moment admit; and he was even guilty of saying, "Antiquity can not sanctify that which is wrong in reason and false in principle." Soon after he committed another forepaugh by showing that a wonderful boat invented by Giovanni de Medici for the purpose of fighting hostile ships, would not work, since there were no men on board to guide it, and its automatic steering apparatus would as likely run its nose into land, as into the hull of the enemy.
He also decorated his argument with a few subtle touches as to the beauty of fighting battles without going to war and risking life and limb.
Men who are not kind to the faults of royalty can hope for small favor in a monarchy, though the monarchy be a republic. Galileo was cut off the Standard Oil payroll, and forced to apply to a teachers' agency, that he might find employment.
He did not wait long; the rival University of Padua tendered him a position on a silver platter; and the Paduans made much dole about how unfortunate it was that men could not teach Truth in Italy, save at Padua—alas! The Governing Board of Padua made a great stroke in securing Galileo, and Pisa fell back on her Leaning Tower as her chief attraction.
From a position of mediocrity, the University of Padua gradually rose to one of worldwide celebrity. Galileo remained at Padua from Fifteen Hundred Ninety-two to Sixteen Hundred Ten, which years are famous not alone through the wonderful inventions of Galileo, but because in that same interval of time, at least thirty of Shakespeare's thirty-seven plays were written. Surely, God was smiling on the planet Earth!
Galileo's salary was raised every year, starting at two hundred florins, until it reached over one thousand florins, not to mention the numerous gifts from grateful pupils, old and young. Students came to Padua from all over the world to hear Galileo's lectures.
Starting with only a common classroom, the audience increased so fast that a special auditorium was required that would seat two thousand persons. It was during this time that Galileo invented the proportional compasses, an instrument now in use everywhere, without the slightest change having been made in it.
He also invented the thermometer; but greatest, best and most wonderful of all, he produced an instrument through which he could view the stars, and see them much magnified. With this instrument, he saw heavenly bodies that had never been seen before; he beheld that Jupiter had satellites which moved in orbits, and that Venus revolved, showing different sides at different times, thus proving that which Copernicus declared was true, but which, for lack of apparatus, he could not prove.
Galileo Galilei was getting to be more than a professor of mathematics—he was becoming a power in the world.
The lever of his mighty mind was indeed finding a fulcrum.
* * * * *
The year Sixteen Hundred Nine is forever fixed in history, through the fact that in that year Galileo invented the telescope.
Every good thing is an evolution. "Specilla," or helps to read, had been made, and sold privately and mysteriously, as early as the year Fourteen Hundred. These first magnifying-glasses were associated with magic, or wonder-working; the words "magnify" and "magic" having a common source and a similar meaning. Magicians wore big square glasses, and by their aid, some of them claimed to see things at a great distance; and also to perceive things stolen, hidden or lost. Occasionally, the magician would persuade his customer to try on the glasses, and then even common men could see for themselves that there was something in the scheme—goodness me! The use of spectacles was at first confined entirely to these wonder-workers—or men who magnified things forever. During the Fifteenth Century, public readers and occasionally priests wore spectacles. To read was a miracle to most people, and a book was a mysterious and sacred thing—or else a diabolical thing. The populace would watch the man put on his "specillum," and the idea was everywhere abroad that the magic glasses gave an ability to read; and that anybody who was inspired by angels, or devils, who could get hold of spectacles, could at once read from a book.
We hear of one magician who, about the year Fifteen Hundred, made a box with a glass cover that magnified the contents. This great man would catch a flea and show it to the people. Then he would place the flea in the box and show it to them, and they would see that it had grown enormously in an instant. The man could make it big or little, by just taking off and putting on the cover of the box!
This individual worked wonders for a consideration, but Fate overtook him and he was smothered under a feather bed for having too much wizard in his cosmos. A wizard, be it known, is a male witch, and the Bible says, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," although it does not say anything about wizards.
But please note this: the wizard who had that magic box and flea had really the first microscope.
Galileo bought a pair of "magic glasses," or spectacles, about the year Sixteen Hundred Seven; and his action, in so doing, was freely criticized.
On a visit to Venice, where glass had been manufactured since long before the Flood, Galileo was looking through one of the glass-factories, just as visitors do now, and one of the workmen showed him a peculiar piece of glass which magnified the hairs on the back of his hand many times.
In a very few days after this, Galileo heard that a Dutch spectacle-maker had placed certain queer-shaped pieces of glass in a tube, and offered to sell this tube to the Government, so by its use, soldiers could see the movements of an enemy many miles away.
That night Galileo did not close his eyes in sleep. He thought out a plan by which he could place pieces of glass in a tube, and bring the stars close to the earth. By daylight the whole plan was clear in his mind, and he hastened to the shop of the glassmakers.
There, two lenses were made, one plano-convex, and the other plano-concave, and these were placed in a tube made of sheet copper. It was tested on distant objects; and behold! they were magnified by three. Would this tube show the stars magnified? Galileo knew of no reason why it should not, but he paced his room in hot impatience, waiting for the night to come with its twinkling wonders, that he might verify his convictions. When the first yellow star appeared in the West, Galileo turned his tube upon it, and behold! instead of twinkling points of light, he saw a round mass—a world—moving through space, and not a scintillating object with five points. The twinkling spikes, or points, were merely an optical illusion of the unaided senses.
Galileo made no secret of his invention. It was called "Galileo's Tube," but some of the priests called it Galileo's "Magic Tube."
Yet it marked an era in the scientific world. Galileo endeavored constantly to improve his instrument; and from a threefold magnifying power, he finally made one that magnified thirty-two times.
Galileo made hundreds of telescopes, and sold them at moderate prices to any one who would buy. He explained minutely the construction of the instrument, showing clearly how it was made in accordance with the natural laws of optics. His desire was to dissipate the superstition that there was something diabolical or supernatural about the "Magic Tube"—that, in fact, it was not magic, and the operator had no peculiar powers; you had simply to comply with the laws of Nature, and any one could see for himself.
It is hard for us, at this day, to understand the opposition that sprang up against the telescope. We must remember that at this time belief in witchcraft, fairies, sprites, ghosts, hobgoblins, magic and supernatural powers was common. Men who believe in miracles make rather poor scientists.
There were books about "Magic," written by so-called scientific men, whose standing in the world was quite as high as that of Galileo.
In Sixteen Hundred Ten, Galileo published his book entitled, "Sidera Medicea," wherein he described the wonders that could be seen in the heavens by the aid of the telescope. Among other things, he said the Milky Way was not a great streak of light, but was composed of a multitude of stars; and he made a map of the stars that could be seen only with the aid of the telescope.
There resided in Venice at this time a scientific man by the name of Porta, who was much more popular than Galileo. He was a priest, whose piety and learning was unimpeached.
The year after Galileo issued his book, Porta put out a work much more pretentious, called "Natural Magic." In this book Porta does not claim that magicians all have supernatural powers; but he goes on to prove how they deceive the world by the use of their peculiar apparatus, and intimates that they sometimes sell their souls to the Devil, and then are positively dangerous. He dives deep into science, history and his own imagination to prove things.
The man was no fool—he constructed a kaleidoscope that showed an absolute, geometrical symmetry, where in fact there was only confusion. He showed how, by the use of mirrors, things could be made big, small, tall, short, wide, crooked or distorted. He told of how magicians, by the use of Galileo's Tube, could show seven stars where there was only one; and he even made such a tube of his own and called the priests together to look through it. He painted stars on the glass, and had men look at the heavens. He even stuck a louse on the lens and located the beast in the heavens, for the benefit of a doubting Cardinal. It was all a joke, but at the time no sober, sincere man of Science could argue him down. He owned "bum" telescopes that proved all kinds of things, to the great amusement of the enemies of Galileo. The intent of Porta was to expose the frauds and fallacies of Galileo. Porta also claimed that he had seen telescopes by which you could look over a hill and around a corner, but he did not recommend them, since by their use things are often perceived that were not there. And so we see why the priests positively refused to look through Galileo's Tube, or to believe anything he said. Porta, and a few others like him, showed a deal more than Galileo could and offered to locate stars anywhere on order. Galileo had much offended these priests by his statements that the Bible did not contain the final facts of Science, and now they were getting even with a vengeance. It was all very much like the theological guffaw that swept over Christendom when Darwin issued his "Origin of Species," and Talmage and Spurgeon set their congregations in a roar by gently sarcastic references to monkey ancestry.
* * * * *
Amid the general popping of theological small-arms, Galileo moved steadily forward. If he had many enemies he surely had a few friends. As he once had proved more than Pisa could digest, so now he was bringing to the surface of things more truth than Padua could assimilate.
Venice too was getting uncomfortable. Even the Doge said, in reply to an enthusiastic admirer of Galileo, "Your master is not famous: he is merely notorious."
It was discovered that Galileo had been living with a woman by the name of Marina Gamba, at Venice, even while he held the professorship at Padua, and that they had a son, Vincenzo Gamba, and two daughters. One of the enemy drew a map of the heavens, showing Galileo as the sun, Marina Gamba as the moon, and around them circulated numerous little satellites, which were supposed to be their children. The picture had so great a vogue that the Doge issued an order that all copies of it be destroyed.
Of Marina Gamba we know very little; but the fact that she made entries in Galileo's journal and kept his accounts proves that she was a person of considerable intelligence; and this, too, was at a time when semi-oriental ideas prevailed and education was supposedly beyond the feminine grasp.
Galileo did not marry, for the reason that he was practically a priest, a teacher in a religious school, living with and looking after the pupils; and the custom then was that whoever was engaged in such an occupation should not wed.
The stormy opposition to Galileo was not without its advantages. We are advertised no less by our rabid enemies than by our loving friends. Cosimo the Second, Grand Duke of Tuscany, had intimated that Florence would give the great astronomer a welcome. Galileo moved to Florence under the protection of Cosimo, intending to devote all his time to Science.
In giving up schoolteaching and popular lecturing, Galileo really made a virtue of necessity. No orthodox lyceum course would tolerate him; he was neither an impersonator nor an entertainer; the stereopticon and the melodramatic were out of his line, and his passion for truth made him impossible to the many.
He was treading the path of Bruno: the accusations, the taunts and jeers, the denials and denunciations, were urging him on to an unseemly earnestness.
Father Clavius said that Galileo never saw the satellites of Jupiter until he had made an instrument that would create them; and if God had intended that men should see strange things in the heavens, He would have supplied them sufficient eyesight. The telescope was really a devil's instrument.
Still another man declared that if the earth moved, acorns falling from a high tree would all fall behind the tree and not directly under it.
Father Brini said that if the earth revolved, we would all fall off of it into the air when it was upside down; moreover, its whirling through space would create a wind that would sweep it bald.
Father Caccini preached a sermon from the text, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?" Only he changed the word "Galilee" to "Galileo," claiming it was the same thing, only different, and as reward for his wit he was made a bishop.
Cardinal Bellarmine, a man of great energy, earnest, zealous, sincere, learned—the Doctor Buckley of his day—showed how that: "if the Copernican Theory should prevail, it would be the absolute undoing of the Bible, and the destruction of the Church, rendering the death of Christ futile. If the earth is only one of many planets, and not the center of the universe, and the other planets are inhabited, the whole plan of salvation fails, since the inhabitants of the other spheres are without the Bible, and Christ did not die for them." This was the argument of Father Lecazre, and many others who took their cue from him.
Galileo was denounced as "atheist" and "infidel"—epithets that do not frighten us much now, since they have been applied to most of the really great and good men who have ever lived. But then such words set fire to masses of inflammable prejudices, and there were conflagrations of wrath and hate against which it was vain to argue.
The Archbishop of Pisa especially felt it incumbent upon him "to bring Galileo to justice."
Galileo was born at Pisa, educated there, taught in the University; and now he had disgraced the place and brought it into disrepute.
Galileo was still in communication with teachers at Pisa, and the Archbishop made it his business to have letters written to Galileo asking certain specific questions. One man, Castelli, declined to be used for the purpose of entrapping Galileo, but others there were who loaned themselves to the plan.
In Sixteen Hundred Sixteen, Galileo received a formal summons from Pope Paul the Fifth to come to Rome and purge himself of heresies that he had expressed in letters which were then in the hands of the Inquisition.
Galileo appealed to his friends at Florence, but they were powerless. When the Pope issued an order, it could not be waived. The greatest thinker of his time journeyed to Rome and faced the greatest theologian of his day, Cardinal Bellarmine.
The Cardinal firmly and clearly showed Galileo the error of his way. Galileo offered to prove for the Cardinal by astronomical observations that the Copernican Theory was true. Cardinal Bellarmine said that there was only one truth and that was spiritual truth. That the Bible was true, or it was not. If not, then was religion a fallacy and our hope of Heaven a delusion.
Galileo contended that the death of Christ had nothing to do with the truth, so Science and these things should not be shuffled and confused.
This attitude of mind greatly shocked the Inquisitors, and they made haste to inform the Pope, who at once issued an order that the astronomer should be placed in a dungeon until he saw fit to disavow that the sun was the center of the universe, and the earth moves.
A sort of compromise, it seems, was here effected by Galileo's promise not to further teach that the earth revolves.
He was kept at Rome under strict surveillance for some months, but was finally allowed to return to Florence, and cautioned that he must cease all public teaching, speaking and writing on the subject of astronomy. On March Fifth, Sixteen Hundred Sixteen, the consulting theologians of the Holy Office reiterated that the propositions of Galileo, that the sun is the center of the universe, and that the earth has a rotary motion, were "absurd in philosophy, heretical, and also contrary to Scripture."
The works of Copernicus were then placed upon the "Index," and Pope Paul issued a special decree, warning all Churchmen to "abjure, shun and forever abstain from giving encouragement, support, succor or friendship to any one who believed or taught that the earth revolves."
The name of Copernicus was not removed from the "Index" until the year Eighteen Hundred Eighteen.
* * * * *
Galileo made his way back to Florence, defeated and disappointed. He had not been tortured, except mentally, but he had heard the dungeon-key turned in the big lock and felt the humiliation of being made a captive. The instruments of torture had been shown to him, and he had heard the cries of the condemned.
The cell that Bruno had occupied was his, and he was also taken to the spot where Bruno was burned: the place was there, but where was Bruno!
He realized how utterly impossible it was to teach truth to those who did not desire truth, and the vanity of replying to men for whom a pun answered the purposes of fact.
As he could neither teach nor lecture at Florence, his services to the Court were valueless. He was a disgraced and silenced man.
He retired to a village a few miles from the city, and in secret continued his studies and observations. The Grand Duke supplied him a small pension and suggested that it would be increased if Galileo would give lectures on Poetry and Rhetoric, which were not forbidden themes, and try to make himself either commonplace or amusing.
We can imagine the reply—Galileo had but one theme, the wonders of the heavens above.
* * * * *
So the years went by, and Galileo, sixty-seven years old, was impoverished and forgotten, yet in his proud heart burned the embers of ambition. He believed in himself; he believed in the sacredness of his one mission. Pope Paul had gone on his long journey, for even infallible popes die. Cardinal Barberini had become Pope Urban the Eighth. Years before, Galileo and Barberini had taught together at Padua, and when Galileo was silenced, a long letter of sympathy had come from his old colleague, and occasionally since they had exchanged friendly letters. Galileo thought that Urban was his friend, and he knew that Urban, in his heart, believed in the theory of Copernicus.
Galileo then emerged from his seclusion and began teaching and speaking in Florence. He also fitted up an observatory and invited the scholars to make use of his telescope.
Father Melchior hereupon put forth a general denunciation, aimed especially at Galileo, without mentioning his name, to this effect: "The opinion of the earth's motion is, of all heresies, the most abominable, the most pernicious, the most scandalous: the immovability of the earth is thrice sacred.
"An argument against the existence of God and the immortality of the soul would be sooner tolerated than the idea that the earth moves."
In reply to this fusillade, in Sixteen Hundred Thirty-two Galileo put forth his book entitled, "The Dialogue," which was intended to place the ideas of Copernicus in popular form.
Galileo had endeavored to communicate with Urban, but the Pope had chosen to ignore him—to consider him as one dead. Galileo misconstrued the silence, thinking it meant that he could do and say what he wished and that there would be no interference.
A copy of Galileo's book reaching the Pope, his silence was at once broken. The book was condemned and all copies found were ordered to be burned by the hangman in the public streets. But the book had met with a wide sale and many copies had been carried to Germany, England and France, and in these countries the work was reprinted and sent back to Italy.
Urban ordered Galileo to present himself at Rome forthwith. A score of years had passed since Galileo's former visit—he had not forgotten it.
He wrote to the Pope and apologized for having broken the silence imposed upon him by Pope Paul; he offered to go into retirement again; stated that he was old, infirm, without funds, and excused himself from obeying the order to go to Rome.
But excuses and apologies were unavailing.
A preventory order was issued and sent to the Papal Nuncio at Florence.
This was equivalent to an arrest. Galileo must go to Rome and answer for having broken the promises he had made to the Inquisition. If he would not go willingly, he should go in chains.
Arriving at Rome, he had several audiences with the Pope, who said nothing would answer but a specific recantation.
What Barberini had once believed was one thing, and what the Pope must do was another. Galileo should recant in order to keep the people from thinking Pope Urban would allow what his predecessors would not.
The matter had become a public scandal.
Galileo tried to argue the question and asked for time to consider it.
An order was issued that he should be imprisoned. It was done.
Galileo asked for pens and paper that he might prepare his defense. These were refused, and an order of torture was issued. It was not a trial, defense was useless. Again he was asked to recant—the matter was all written out—he had but to sign his name. He refused. He was brought to the torture-chamber.
Legend and fact separate here.
There are denials from Churchmen that Galileo was so much as imprisoned. One writer has even tried to show that Galileo was a guest of the Pope and dined daily at his table. The other side has told us that Galileo was thrust into a dungeon, his eyes put out, and his old broken-down form tortured on the wheel.
Recent careful researches reveal that neither side told the truth. We have official record of the case written out at the time for the Vatican archives. Galileo was imprisoned and the order of torture issued, but it was never enforced. Perhaps it was not the intention to enforce it: it may have been only a "war measure."
Galileo was alternately taken from dungeon to palace that he might realize which course was best for him to pursue—oppose the Church or uphold it.
Thus we see that there was some truth in the statement that "he dined daily with the Pope."
That the man was subjected to much indignity, all the world now knows. The official records are in the Vatican, and the attempt to conceal them longer is out of the question. Wise Churchmen no longer deny the blunders of the past, but they say with Cardinal Satolli, "The enemies of the Church have ever been o'er-zealous Churchmen."
On bended knees, Galileo, a man of threescore and ten, broken in health, with spirit crushed, repeated after a priest these words: "I, Galileo Galilei, being in my seventieth year, a prisoner, on my knees before your Eminences, the Cardinals of the Holy See, having before mine eyes the Holy Bible, which I touch with my hands and kiss with my lips, do abjure, curse and detest the error and heresy of the movement of the earth."
He also was made to sign the recantation. On arising from his knees, legend declares that he said, "Yet the earth does move!"
It is hardly probable that the words reached his lips, although they may have been in his mind. But we must remember the man's heart was broken, and he was in a mental condition where nothing really mattered. To complete his dishonor, all of his writings were placed on the "Index," and he was made to swear that he would inform the Inquisition of any man whom he should hear or discover supporting the heresy of the motion of the earth. The old man was then released, a prisoner on parole, and allowed to make his way home to Florence, which he did by easy stages, helped along the way by friendly monks who discussed with him all questions but those of astronomy.
Galileo's eldest daughter, a nun, whose home was near his, was so affected by the humiliation of her father that she fell into a nervous decline and died very soon after he reached home.
Between these two there had been a close bond of love and tender sympathy, and her death seemed almost the crowning calamity.
But once back in his village home at Arcetri, Galileo again went to work with his telescope, mapping the heavens.
A goodly degree of health and animation came back to him, but his eyesight, so long misused, now failed him and he became blind. Thus John Milton found him in Sixteen Hundred Thirty-eight.
Castelli, his lifelong friend, wrote to another, "The noblest eye that God ever made is darkened: the eye so privileged that it may in truth be said to have seen more wonderful things and made others to see more wonderful things, than were ever seen before." But blindness could not subdue him any more than it could John Milton. He had others look through the telescope and tell him what they saw and then he would foretell what they would see next.
The policy of the Pope was that Galileo should not be disturbed so long as he kept to his village home and taught merely the few scholars or "servants," as they called themselves, who often came to him; but these were to be taught mathematics, not astronomy. That he was even at the last under suspicion is shown that concealed in the mattress of the bed upon which he died were records of his latest discoveries concerning the revolution of the planets. Legal opposition was made as to his right to make a will, the claim being that he was a prisoner of the Inquisition at his death. For the same reason his body was not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. The Pope overruled the objection and he was buried in an obscure corner of the little cemetery of Saint Croce, the grave unmarked.
So the last few years of Galileo's life were years of comparative peace and quiet. He needed but little, and this little his few faithful, loving friends supplied. His death came painlessly, and his last moments were sustained by the faith that he would soon be free from the trammels of the flesh—free to visit some of the worlds that his telescope had brought so near to him.
Galileo was born the day that Michelangelo died; the year of his death was the year that Sir Isaac Newton, the discoverer of the law of gravitation, was born.
To know the mighty works of God; to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful working of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance can not be more grateful than knowledge.
When a prominent member of Congress, of slightly convivial turn, went to sleep on the floor of the House of Representatives and suddenly awakening, convulsed the assemblage by demanding in a loud voice, "Where am I at?" he propounded an inquiry that is indisputably a classic.
With the very first glimmering of intelligence, and as far back as history goes, man has always asked that question, also three others:
Where am I?
Who am I?
What am I here for?
Where am I going?
A question implies an answer and so, coeval with the questioner, we find a class of Volunteers springing into being, who have taken upon themselves the business of answering the interrogations.
And as partial payment for answering these questions, the man who answered has exacted a living from the man who asked, also titles, honors, gauds, jewels and obsequies.
Further than this, the Volunteer who answered has declared himself exempt from all useful labor. This Volunteer is our theologian.
Walt Whitman has said:
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained, I stand and look at them long and long. They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
But we should note this fact: Whitman merely wanted to live with animals—he did not desire to become one. He wasn't willing to forfeit knowledge; and a part of that knowledge was that man has some things yet to learn from the patient brute. Much of man's misery has come from his persistent questioning.
The book of Genesis is certainly right when it tells us that man's troubles came from a desire to know. The fruit of the tree of knowledge is bitter, and man's digestive apparatus is ill-conditioned to digest it. But still we are grateful, and good men never forget that it was woman who gave the fruit to man—men learn nothing alone. In the Garden of Eden, with everything supplied, man was an animal, but when he was turned out and had to work, strive, struggle and suffer, he began to grow.
The Volunteers of the Far East have told us that man's deliverance from the evils of life must come through killing desire; we will reach Nirvana—rest—through nothingness. But within a decade it has been borne in upon a vast number of the thinking men of the world that deliverance from sorrow and discontent was to be had not through ceasing to ask questions, but by asking one question more. The question is this, "What can I do?"
When man went to work, action removed the doubt that theory could not solve.
The rushing winds purify the air; only running water is pure; and the holy man, if there be such, is the one who loses himself in persistent, useful effort. By working for all, we secure the best results for self, and when we truly work for self, we work for all.
In that thoughtful essay by Brooks Adams, "The Law of Civilization and Decay," the author says, "Thought is one of the manifestations of human energy, and among the earlier and simpler phases of thought, two stand conspicuous—Fear and Greed: Fear, which, by stimulating the imagination, creates a belief in an invisible world, and ultimately develops a priesthood."
The priestly class evolves naturally into being everywhere as man awakens and asks questions. "Only the Unknown is terrible," says Victor Hugo. We can cope with the known, and at the worst we can overcome the unknown by accepting it. Verestchagin, the great painter who knew the psychology of war as few have known, and went down to his death gloriously, as he should, on a sinking battleship, once said, "In modern warfare, when man does not see his enemy, the poetry of the battle is gone, and man is rendered by the Unknown into a quaking coward."