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A History of the Growth of the Steam-Engine

The fall of the Alexandrian Museum


When, seven centuries later, the destruction of this splendid institution was signalized by the death of that brilliant scholar and heathen teacher of philosophy, Hypatia, at the hands of the more heathenish fanatics who tore her in pieces at the foot of the cross, and by the dispersion of the library left by Caesar's soldiers in the Serapeum, a true philosophy had been created, and the inductive method was destined to live and to overcome every obstacle in the path of enlightenment and civilization. The fall of the Alexandrian Museum, sad as was the event, could not destroy the new philosophical method. Its fruits ripened slowly but surely, and we are to-day gathering a plentiful harvest.

Science, literature, and the arts, all remained dormant for several centuries after the catastrophe which deprived them of the light in which they had flourished so many centuries. The armies of the caliphs made complete the shameful work of destruction begun by the armies of Caesar, and the Alexandrian Library, partly destroyed by the Romans, was completely dispersed by the Patriarchs and their ignorant and fanatical followers; and finally all the scattered remnants were burned by the Saracens. But when the thirst for conquest had become satiated or appeased, the followers of the caliphs turned their attention to intellectual pursuits, and the ninth century of the Christian era saw once more such a collection of philosophical writings, collected at Bagdad, as could only be gathered by the power and wealth of the later conquerors of the world. Philosophy once again resumed its empire, and another race commenced the study of the mathematics of India and of Greece, the astronomy of Chaldea, and of all the sciences which originated in Greece and in Egypt. By the conquest of Spain by the Saracens, the new civilization was imported into Western Europe and libraries were gathered together under the Moorish rulers, one of which numbered more than a half-million volumes. Wherever Saracen armies had extended Mohammedan rule, schools and colleges, libraries and collections of philosophical apparatus, were scattered in strange profusion; and students, teachers, philosophers, of all--the speculative as well as the Aristotelian--schools, gathered together at these intellectual ganglia, as enthusiastic in their work as were their Alexandrian predecessors. The endowment of colleges, that truest gauge of the intelligence of the wealthy classes of any community, became as common--perhaps more so--as at the present time, and provision was made for the education of rich and poor alike. The mathematical sciences, and the wonderful and beautiful phenomena which--but a thousand years later--were afterward grouped into a science and called chemistry, were especially attractive to the Arabian scholars, and technical applications of discovered facts and laws assisted in a wonderfully rapid development of arts and manufactures.

When, a thousand years after Christ, the centre of intellectual activity and of material civilization had drifted westward into Andalusia, the foundation of every modern physical science except that now just taking shape--the all-grasping science of energetics--had been laid with experimentally derived facts; and in mathematics there had been erected a symmetrical and elegant superstructure. Even that underlying principle of all the sciences, the principle of the persistence of energy, had been, perhaps unwittingly, enunciated.

Distinguished historians have shown how the progress of civilization in Europe resulted in the creation, during the middle ages, of the now great middle class, which, holding the control of political power, governs every civilized nation, and has come into power so gradually that it was only after centuries that its influence was seen and felt. This, which Buckle[104] calls the intellectual class, first became active, independently of the military and of the clergy, in the fourteenth century. In the two succeeding centuries this class gained power and influence; and in the seventeenth century we find a magnificent advance in all branches of science, literature, and art, marking the complete emancipation of the intellect from the artificial conditions which had so long repressed its every effort at advancement.


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