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The New Science and English Litera'
in lh«" ^W: cal Period



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The New Science and English Literature
in the Classical Period












Copyright 1913


C. S. Duncan

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I The New Science 1

II The Conflict op Old and New Ideas .... 29

III The New Science and Comedy 66

IV The New Science and Poetry Ill

V The New Science and Prose 147

VI Conclusion 178


The New Science

The new science, or the new experimental philosophy, arose in
England as a fresh intellectual impulse, too subtle and too penetrat-
ing to be readily confined within the bonds of a definition. Its
manifestations may be observed, its more obvious qualities may be
studied, yet back of all these there is an elusive psychological prob-
lem that fairly challenges solution. As the waters of a stream are
lost in the sea, where they are driven by unknown forces to break
on unexpected shores, so new ideas entering the minds of men are
lost to analysis only to reappear as ncAv points of view, new methods
of thinking, new attitudes toward life. Straightway men possessed
of these new ideas set to work reforming human thought. Simi-
larly, experimental philosophers in seventeenth century England,
quickened by this new intellectual impulse, began to lay, broad and
deep, the foundations for reconstructing the natural history of the

Scientific interest had existed in England long before the seven-
teenth century,^ of course, and can be called a new interest in that
period only in the sense that it received a new impetus. This new
impulse came from the influence of four men, two foreigners and
two Englishmen, Galileo and Descartes, Bacon and Harvey. When
Galileo made his telescope and saw the proof of the Copernican
theory, there was introduced the fundamental new principle, —
namely, the application of mechanical apparatus to the solution
of the problems of natural philosophy. ' ' Since that Galileo, ' ' wrote
John Wallis, "and (after him) Torricelli, and others have applied
Mechanick Principles to the salving of Philosophical Difficulties;
Natural Philosophy is well known to have been rendered more in-
telligible, and to have made a much greater progress in less than a
hundred years, than before for many ages".^ To Bacon is attrib-
uted the inductive method for scientific research, although as Pro-

' Of . Adamson's Roger Bacon; the Philosophy of Science in the Middle Ages; Berthe-
lot's Introduction to a Collection of Ancient Treatises on Chemistry and Alchemy ; Bridges's
Introduction to Roger Bacon's Opus Ma jus ; Bon's Roger Bacon; Charles's Roger Bacon
et Sa Tie; La Croix's Science and Literature in the Middle Ages; Phillips's Science in
England from Elizabeth to Charles II ; Wright's Science Written During the Middle Age*.

'Wallis, John, PhU. Trans, vol. Ill, p. 264, Letter to the R. S.


f essor Adamson truthfully says, "it is more than probable that in
all fairness, when we speak of the Baconian reform of science, we
should refer to the forgotten Monk of the thirteenth century rather
than to the brilliant and famous Chancellor of the seventeenth".^
The new philosophers themselves were not familiar with the Work
of "Friar Bacon", while they persistently praised and honored the
chancellor, and followed as well as they could his precepts as they
found them in the Novum Organum. They became his disciples
and "were not sIoav in carrying out the plan of a learned society
as sketched in the New Atlantis".* To him is due, then, the working
hypothesis — the inductive method — ,wherein a long and careful
process of experimentation and observation must precede the draw-
ing of conclusions.

The third element was furnished by Descartes. He was a
mathematician as well as a philosopher, and hence could bring math-
ematical accuracy and precision to the aid of philosophical thinking.
His great service, therefore, lay in his reducing to formulae the
facts gleaned from experiment and observation. "Monsieur Des-
cartes did not perfectly tread in his (Bacon's) Steps, since

he was for doing too great a part of his work in his Closet, con-
cluding too soon, before he had made Experiments enough ; but then
to a vast Genius he joined exquisite Skill in Geometry, and working

upon Intelligible Principles and an Intelligible Manner

obtained his results."^ He also joined forces with Bacon against
the power of ancient authority. "Bacon shares mth Descartes
the honour of inaugurating the modern period of philosophy.
Bacon's protest against the principle of authority, a principle
which had been accepted with more or less unhesitating loyalty by
the Scholastic philosophers, is no less vigorous than that of Des-
cartes. Both alike are eager to substitute for faith and tradition
the independent effort of the individual mind in pursuit of truth. ' '"

Harvey's chief influence was due to his achievements. Trained

' Adamson, R., Roger Bacon, p. 7.

* Becker, B. H., Scientific London, p. 2.

^ Wotton, William, Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learnint/, p. 30.

* "But one conclusion emerges out of these considerations, viz. not, indeed that
arithmetic and geometry are the sole sciences to be studied, but only, that in our search
for the direct road towards truth we should busy ourselves with no object about which
we cannot attain a certitude equal to that of the demonstrations of arithmetic and geom-
etry". — Descartes, Phil. Wks., vol. I, p. 5.


in the new scientific methods under Fabricius at Padua and filled
with an enthusiasm for discovery, he returned to England to apply
with clear-sightedness and commonsense the new principles to
physiological research. The result was that he startled the learned
world and stimulated intellectual curiosity with his discovery of
the circulation of the blood/

These are the elements underlying the new science of the seven-
teenth century in England in so far as they can be concretely de-
fined. * ' The period had arrived when that experimental philosophy
to which Bacon had held the torch, and which had already made
considerable progress, especially in Italy, was finally established
on the ruins of arbitrary figments and partial inductions".^ But,
while the mind can easily grasp these tangible elements, — the use
of scientific apparatus in solving philosophical problems, the in-
ductive method of investigation, and the reduction of philosophical
ideas to mathematical formulae — there still remains a subtle and
powerful force. The new science was more penetrating than the
above definition indicates; it was an attitude of mind, it was a
declaration of intellectual independence. "Nullius in Verda is not
only the motto of the Royal Society, but a received Principle among
all the Philosophers of the present Age."^ Not only are new dis-
coveries to be made, new investigations to be "carried on, but the
old beliefs are to be re-examined. Aristotle and Descartes are to
be of exactly the same authority so far as mere assertion is con-
cerned.^" No authority is to be convincing because it is ancient;
no conclusion is to be scouted because it is new.^^

This interest in scientific research crystallized into definitely
organized societies. The Society of Antiquaries was formed at
London in 1572 and continued into the seventeenth century until
dissolved by James I. A Royal Academy was attempted as early
as 1616-17, in which it was planned to devote some attention to
science. Sir Francis Kynaston renewed the attempt in 1635.^^

' Announced 1616 ; published 1628.

* Hall am, Henry, Introduction to the Lit. of Eur. vol. IV, p. 518. Of. also, Becker,
B. H., Scientific London, p. 1.

'Wotton, William, Reflections, p. 251.

" Wotton, William, Reflections, p. 364.

" Ibid.

^ Elton, Oliver, The Augustan Ages, p. 383.


But this study is centralized in the work and influence of the Royal
Society of London. It did not absolutely lead the way, but it had
a wholly independent development. There was in Florence an
earlier society, Accademia del Cimento, with "provando e ripro-
vando la natura" for its motto. "This body was more purely
scientific in its plan than the Royal Society", but it was clearly
an outgrowth of the same movement.^'^ In 1666 the French Acad-
emy of Science was founded, showing that scientific interest was
awakened in Paris. Bishop Sprat thought, with some show of
reason, that the French imitated the English." The question of
source is eliminated from the discussion of the history of the Royal
Society, because it had a definite English origin in Bacon's New

As early as 1645 this common interest in England had drawn to-
gether a group of men, who had grown weary of the political and
religious turmoil of the times.^® These men began a series of
weekly meetings in the lecture room of the Professor of Astronomy
at Gresham College. There was at first no definite organization or
plan of procedure, although by 1651 there were rules printed in-
tended for regulating the election of members, (fines for "defaults"
2s. 6d. ) , and even setting the time of meetings, — ' ' every Thursday,
before two of the clock"." This company was called by Sir
Robert Boyle, an early member, the "invisible College ".^^ Their
discussions were limited by agreement to the "New Philosophy",
i. e. to a study of things around them in nature, what they could
see, touch, feel, or hear, "(not meddling Avith Divinity, Meta-
physicks, Moralls, Politicks, Grammar, Rhetoric, or Logic) ".^'

The company slowly increased. In 1658 there were twelve mem-
bers, among whom were Wilkins, Seth Ward, Wallis, Sir Robert
Moray, and Boyle. During this year several of the members were

" Sprat, Thomas, History of the Royal Society, p. 56.

^* It became an era for societies. Cf. Minerva's Museum; eee alio, account of
"Academy at the great Tew", The Rota, The Hartlib Group, The Athenian Society, So-
ciety for Physicians and Surgeons. Later branch societies sprang up in outlying towni;
cf. Spalding, Lincolnshire.

^ Bacon, Francis, The New Atlantis, Solomon's House.

'" Ranke, Leopold von. History o/ England, vol. VI, p. 361.

" Weld, C. R., History of the Royal Society, pp. 38-4.

"Ibid. p. 38.

»» Wallis, John, Letter to the Royal Society, 1696.


called away to Oxford, whither they carried the new interest, and
where they began a similar series of meetings. In this manner the
scientific enthusiasm continued through the Commonwealth. In
1660 the two sections were united at Gresham College, and were
formed into a definite organization. The number of members in-
creased during the year to 115. The next year the attention of the
new King was called to it by Elias Ashmole, and the King took an
immediate interest in it. Dr. Johnson has suggested that his in-
terest was not wholly scientific, but rather political. "It has been
suggested", he writes, "that the Royal Society was instituted soon
after the Restoration, to direct the attention from public discon-
tent".-** From whatever motive, Charles II did grant the Society a
Royal Charter and the privilege of using the Royal Arms, and gave
it a silver mace which it possesses and uses to this day.^^ The or-
ganization was completed August 29, 2- 1662, at which time the King
declared himself to be the founder of the Society. In this way
came into being the Royal Society of London for the Promotion of
the Natural Sciences (Societas Regalis Londini pro Scientia
Naturali Promovenda) , which has continued from that time to this,
growing in power and influence. The "Invisible College" had be-
come the ' ' Visible Church of Philosophy ' '. ^^

Out of that tumultuous mid-century, therefore, came this new
interest, called the New, or Experimental Philosophy. Its followers
were called philosophers, or more usually, virtuosi. What was their
aim? In brief, it was to realize if possible the ambition of Bacon,
to reconstruct the natural history of the world.-* The broad foun-
dation of this stupendous and profound history was to be laid
by means of experiments. Everything was to be examined anew,
and a careful record was to be kept, so that gradually but surely
there should arise out of the chaos of scholastic discussion this new
understanding ; this solid mass of truth should grow into definition.
These scientists were to accept nothing simply from report (nwZ-
litis in verba) ; there must be demonstration wherever possible,

^° Johnson, Samuel, Works, vol. X, p. 36.

" Masson, David, Life of Milton, vol. VI, p. 395; Becker, B. H., Scientific London,
Chap. I.

"The Charter was dated April 22, 1662.

^ Weld, C. R., History of Royal Society, p. 73.

^ Boj le, Robert, Phil. Trans, vol. I-II, p. 186. Cf. also. Bacon's plan for Book
VI, Instatiration of the Sciences.


otherwise the best evidence that could be obtained. When it
is remembered that some of these men actually believed in witch-
craft (Glanvil), sympathetic powder (Sir Kenelm Digby), curing
by stroking (Boyle), and whatnot of superstition, this broad and
liberal intellectual policy is remarkable. The appeal, it will be
seen, was directly to commonsense and to reason, which at first led
to a general sceptical attitude. "When a discussion arose regard-
ing St. Andrew's Day (Nov. 30) for celebrating the anniversary of
their foundation, after St. George and St. Isidore (a canonized
philosopher) had been suggested as more fitting patron saints. Sir
William Petty said, — 'No, I Mould rather have had it on St.
Thomas's Day, for he would not believe till he had seen and put
his hands into the holes of the nails' ".-^

In order to reconstruct the natural history of the world, their
aim was to study nature as Bacon had advised; — ''The end of our
foundation is the knowledge of causes ".^^ "The business and de-
sign of the Royal Society is —

"To improve the knowledge of Naturall Things, and all useful
Arts, Manufactures, Mechanick Practices, Engynes and Inventions
by Experiments

"To attempt the recovering of such allowable Arts and In-
ventions as are lost.

"To examine all Systems, Theories, Principles, Hypotheses,
Elements, Histories, and Experiments of Things, Naturall and
Mechanical, invented, recorded, or practiced, by any considerable
author ancient or modern. In order to a compiling of a complete
system of solid philosophy for explicating all phenomena produced
by Nature or Art, and recording a rational account of the causes of
things. In the meantime this Society will not own any Hypothesis,
System, or doctrine of the Principles of Naturall Philosophy, pro-
posed or mentioned by Philosopher ancient or modern, nor the
explication of any phenomena whose recourse must be had to
originall causes (as not being explicable by Heat, Cold, Weight,
Figure, and the like, as Effects produced thereby) ; nor dogmatical-
ly define, nor fix axioms of scientific Things, but will question and
canvass all till by mature debate and clear arguments, chiefly such

'^ Wheatley, H. B., Samuel Pepys and the World he Lived In, p. 123.

'» Weld, C. R., History of R. S. "Natural opposed to supernatural", p. 126.


as are deduced from legitimate Experiments, the Trutli of such
Experiments be demonstrated".-^ This is certainly a most ambiti-
ous program with which to begin, and yet there is sometliing vali-
ant and attractive about it. May one not call this the intellectual
]\Iagna Charta of the seventeenth century !

This band of philosophers had thus early set for tliemselves the
task of founding a system of philosopliy, not for England, nor for
Scotland, nor Ireland, nor the Pope, nor the Protestants, but for
mankind.-^ Men were admitted to membership "of different Re-
ligions, Countries, and Professions of Life". When Charles II
learned that a Tradesman had contributed a paper to the Society, he
sent a note of congratulation to the members and urged them to
admit as many such men as possible. "On the 20th November,
1663, the Royal Society consisted of 131 Fellows, of whom 18 were
Noblemen, 22 Baronets and Knights, 47 Esquires, 32 Doctors, 2
Bachelors of Divinity, 2 ]\Iasters of Arts, and 8 Strangers, or
Foreign Members."-^ This enumeration has certain elements of
interest. A clear majority are gentlemen of leisure, who must de-
pend upon an innate or acquired devotion to scientific research in
order to save their efforts from mere dilettanteism. Then a goodly
number are physicians whose work ought, at least, to be of a seri-
ous character. That Bachelors of Divinity belong is noteworthy
in the light of subsequent charges of atheism levelled at the mem-
bers of this scientific organization.

The early historian of the Royal Society, himself a member,
has given an interesting description of the ideal philosopher.
"First, he should have the industry, activity, and Inquisitive
Humour of the Dutch, French, Scotch, and English in laying the
groundwork, the heap of Experiments. And then he should have
added the cold, and circumspect, and wary disposition of the
Italians and Spaniards, in meditating upon them, before he fully
brings them into speculation".'"' This is, of course, a composite
character combining the chief qualities of all the leading European
nations as then known. From our standpoint, with a knowledge
of the later accomplishments in science of these peoples, this early

^^ Hooke, Robert, MS. Papers, quoted by Weld, History of R. S. p. 146.
=» Sprat, Thomas, Eist. of R. S. p. 63.

^Manuscript List of Felloics of Royal Society; — Brit. Museum MSS. 4442.
** Sprat, Thomas, History of the Royal Society, p. 64.


analysis is interesting. It must be remembered that Englishmen
were still going to Italy for advanced scientific study, especially
in medicine, after the example set by Harvey.

Bacon had held up a high standard of accuracy in The New
Atlantis; — observe, experiment, and at last conclude, had been
his dictum. The ideal philosopher was to have industry, activity,
and an inquisitive humor, a cold, circumspect and wary disposi-
tion in drawing conclusions. This was the theory; what was the
practice? An example of method from the work of one of the
foremost members of the Society will illustrate it. Some observa-
tions had been made and reported to the Royal Society on "phos-
phorescent glow" arising from rotting wood and decaying vegetable
and animal matter. Robert Boyle grew interested. In a letter
dated February 15, 1672, he reports a number of experiments car-
ried on by himself. One night when he was retiring, his servant
announced to him a remarkable phenomenon in the larder. Among
many pieces of meat hanging there was one, a neck of veal, that
was luminous. Boyle, like a true philosopher, began an investi-
gation, and, though at the time almost bedfast from a cold con-
tracted during some recent atmospheric experiments, caused the
piece of meat to be conveyed to his bedroom. For several hours
that night he lay and watched it closely for indications of varia-
tions in brilliancy. Then he put it under a receiver and pumped
out the air; — "whereupon", he says, "the light was well-nigh
eclipsed". He kept the bit of "lucid flesh" in his bedroom during
several days, convenient for observation, and manifold were the
experiments performed. For instance, a servant was commanded
to run her hand over the phosphorescent surface. The hand was
found to shine, but no heat was felt. "By great good fortune",
he declares, "I had a copy of the Philosophical Transactions with
me. I was able so to apply that flexible paper to some of the more
resplendent spots that I could plainly read divers consecutive let-
ters of the title". The writer then summarizes his observations:
"(1) Twenty places did shine. (2) The patches were of varying
size. (3) It shone best where the Butcher's cleaver passed through.
(4) The light was varying in colour. (5) There was no heat.
(6) There was no stench, etc "

No sooner had the news of these experiments been noised abroad
than pieces of "lucid flesh" began to appear to many. One, J.


Beal, wrote to the society May 22, 1676," that he had heard of "a
piece of fresh Beef shining in the Strand". It became a sensation
as remarkable as Moses' burning bush, — a seven days' wonder.
These men of the New Science began to look at such commonplace
phenomena with the wondering eyes of children. Here is an in-
quisitive humor, an industry, an activity, but one doubts the ex-
istence of a cold, circumspect and wary disposition.

The experiment cited above is typical. It can be duplicated
from attempts at transfusing blood, from observing thunderstorms,
from watching the circulation of blood in the foot of a frog, from
the trials of the effects of rarified air, from almost any page of
Hooke's Micrographia. Always the attitude is the same; wonder
and interest, experiment and observation, then a careful record and
report, with conclusions. William "Wotton, in his defence of the
"Modern Methods of Philosophizing", writes: —

"1. No arguments are received as cogent, no principles al-
lowed as current, but what in themselves are intelligible.

2. The Forming of Sects and Parties as Followers of a certain

man is discarded. (Condensed).

3. ]\Iathematics joined with Physiology is necessary to under-

stand the economy of Nature. (Condensed).

4. The new Philosophers, as they are commonly called, avoid

making general Conclusions, till they have collected a great
number of Experiments or Observations upon the thing in
hand; and, as new Light comes in, the old Hypotheses
fall without Noise or Stir."^*^
And he continued : — ' ' Now as this Method of Philosophizing
laid down above is right, so it is easie to prove, that it has been
carefully followed by Modern Philosophers. My Lord Bacon was
the first great Man who took much pains to convince the world that
they had hitherto been in the wrong Path, and that Nature her-
self, rather than her Secretaries, was to be addressed to by those
who were desirous to know much of her Mind. '"'^

Scientific investigation had not yet reached the point of spec-
ialization. Robert Boyle, whose experiment was noted above, was
really a Chemist, but he made investigations in Physics, Astronomy,

»i Phil. Transactions. Dec. 16, 1672.

*^ Wotton, William, Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning, p. 364.

"Ibid. p. 370.


and Physiology as well, and even contributed to the Philosophical
Transactions, February 22, 1675, an essay entitled "Theological
Considerations about the Possibility of the Resurrection". The
Philosophers had not yet learned that the whole province of knowl-
edge was too broad. The scope of their studies was, therefore,
practically unbounded. Dr. Wallis, a charter member of the
Royal Society, wrote in 1696: — "Our business was (precluding
matters of Theology and State affairs) to discourse and consider of
philosophical inquiries, and such as related thereunto ; as Physick,
Astronomy, Geometry, Anatomy, Navigation, Staticks, Magneticks,
Chymicks, Mechanics, and Natural Experiments; with the state of
these studies, and their cultivation at home and abroad. "We then
discoursed of the Circulation of the Blood, the valves in the
veins, the venae lactae, the lymphatic vessels, the Copemican
hypothesis, the nature of comets, and new stars, the satellites of
Jupiter, the oval shape (as it then appeared) of Saturn, the spots
on the sun and its turning on its axis, the inequalities and seleno-
graphy of the moon, the several phases of Venus, and Mercury,
the improvement of telescopes and grinding of glasses for that
purpose, the weight of air, and the possibility or impossibility of
vacuities and Nature's abhorrence thereof, the Torricellian experi-

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Online LibraryCarson Samuel DuncanThe new science and English literature in the classical period .. → online text (page 1 of 18)