S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
The strength of all sciences, which consisteth in their harmony, each supporting the other, is as the strength of the old mans fagot in the hand; for were it not better for a man in a fair room to set up one great light, or branching candlestick of lights, than to go about with a small watch-candle into every corner?
Sir William Hamilton, in his Lectures on Logic, defined science as a complement of cognitions, having in point of form the character of logical perfection, and in point of matter the character of real truth.
Science is knowledge certain and evident in itself, or by the principles from which it is deduced or with which it is certainly connected. It is subjective, as existing in the mind; objective, as embodied in truths; speculative, as leading to do something, as in practical science.
The fact is that common observers reason from the progress of the experimental sciences to that of the imitative arts. The improvement of the former is gradual and slow. Ages are spent in collecting materials, ages more in separating and combining them. Even when a system has been formed, there is still something to add, to alter, or to reject. Every generation enjoys the use of a vast hoard bequeathed to it by antiquity, and transmits that hoard, augmented by fresh acquisitions, to future ages. In these pursuits, therefore, the first speculators lie under great disadvantages, and, even when they fail, are entitled to praise. Their pupils, with far inferior intellectual powers, speedily surpass them in actual attainments. Every girl who has read Mrs. Marcets little dialogues on Political Economy could teach Montaigne or Walpole many lessons in finance. Any intelligent man may now, by resolutely applying himself for a few years to mathematics, learn more than the great Newton knew after half a century of study and meditation.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Milton, Aug. 1825.
It might be amusing to institute a comparison between one of the profoundly learned men of the thirteenth century and one of the superficial students who will frequent our library. Take the great philosopher of the time of Henry the Third of England, or Alexander the Third of Scotland, the man renowned all over the island, and even as far as Italy and Spain, as the first of astronomers and chemists. What is his astronomy? He is a firm believer in the Ptolemaic system. He never heard of the law of gravitation. Tell him that the succession of day and night is caused by the turning of the earth on its axis. Tell him that in consequence of this motion the polar diameter of the earth is shorter than the equatorial diameter. Tell him that the succession of summer and winter is caused by the revolution of the earth round the sun. If he does not set you down as an idiot, he lays an information against you before the Bishop, and has you burned for an heretic. To do him justice, however, if he is ill informed on these points, there are other points on which Newton and Laplace were mere children when compared with him. He can cast your nativity. He knows what will happen when Saturn is in the House of Life, and what will happen when Mars is in conjunction with the Dragons Tail. He can read in the stars whether an expedition will be successful, whether the next harvest will be plentiful, which of your children will be fortunate in marriage, and which will be lost at sea. Happy the State, happy the family, which is guided by the counsels of so profound a man! And what but mischief, public and private, can we expect from the temerity and conceit of sciolists who know no more about the heavenly bodies than what they have learned from Sir John Herschels beautiful little volume? But, to speak seriously, is not a little truth better than a great deal of falsehood? Is not the man who in the evenings of a fortnight has acquired a correct notion of the solar system a more profound astronomer than a man who has passed thirty years in reading lectures about the primum mobile and in drawing schemes of horoscopes?
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: The Literature of Britain, Nov. 4, 1846.
Take chemistry. Our philosopher of the thirteenth century shall be, if you please, an universal genius, chemist as well as astronomer. He has perhaps got so far as to know that if he mixes charcoal and saltpetre in certain proportions and then applies fire there will be an explosion which will shatter all his retorts and aludels; and he is proud of knowing what will in a later age be familiar to all the idle boys in the kingdom. But there are departments of science in which he need not fear the rivalry of Black, Lavoisier, or Cavendish, or Davy. He is in hot pursuit of the philosophers stone, of the stone that is to bestow wealth, and health, and longevity. He has a long array of strangely shaped vessels, filled with white and red oil constantly boiling. The moment of projection is at hand; and soon all his kettles and gridirons will be turned into pure gold. Poor Professor Faraday can do nothing of the sort. I should deceive you if I held out to you the smallest hope that he will ever turn your half-pence into sovereigns. But if you can induce him to give at our Institute a course of lectures such as I once heard him give to the Royal Institution to children in the Christmas holidays, I can promise you that you will know more about the effects produced on bodies by heat and moisture than was known to some alchemists who in the middle ages were thought worthy of the patronage of Kings.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: The Literature of Britain.
Shun no toil to make yourself remarkable by some talent or other. Yet do not devote yourself to one branch exclusively. Strive to get clear notions about all. Give up no science entirely, for science is but one.