Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Science and Revolution
By Thomas Chalmers (17801847)
From Mathematical Lectures
THE ELEMENTS of Euclid, gentlemen, have raised for their author a deathless monument of fame. For two thousand years they have maintained their superiority in the schools, and been received as the most appropriate introduction to geometry. It is one of the few books which elevate our respect for the genius of antiquity. It has survived the wreck of ages. It had its days of adversity and disgrace in the dark period of ignorance and superstition, when everything valuable in the literature of antiquity was buried in the dust and solitude of cloisters, and the still voice of truth was drowned in the jargon of a loud and disputatious theology. But it has been destined to reappear in all its ancient splendour. We ascribe not indeed so high a character to it because of its antiquity; but why be carried away by the rashness of innovation? why pour an indiscriminate contempt on systems and opinions because they are old? Truth is confined to no age and to no country. Its voice has been heard in the Temple of Egypt, as well as in the European University. It has darted its light athwart the gloom of antiquity, as well as given a new splendour to the illumination of modern times. We have witnessed the feuds of political innovationthe cruelty and murder which have marked the progress of its destructive career. Let us also tremble at the heedless spirit of reform which the confidence of a misguided enthusiasm may attempt in the principles and investigations of philosophy. What would have been the present degradation of science had the spirit of each generation been that of contempt for the labours and investigations of its ancestry? Science would exist in a state of perpetual infancy. Its abortive tendencies to improvement would expire with the short-lived labours of individuals, and the extinction of every new race would again involve the world in the gloom of ignorance. Let us tremble to think that it would require the production of a new miracle to restore the forgotten discoveries of Newton.