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A CRITICAL INTRODUCTION TO FOURIER'S THEORY OF
ATTRACTIVE INDUSTRY AND MORAL HARMONY.
BY HUGH DOHERTY.
of the Influence of Prejudice in retarding the Practical
Application of New Inventions.
“ The first table of chemical affinities, published in 1718, by Mr. Geoffroy, was the result of experiments tolerably well made; and, consequently, it was the expression, more or less correct, of real facts: but that was not the light in which it was viewed by his contemporaries; for when it was presented to the French Academy, it was not well received. The idea of affinities, or attractive and repulsive forces, was indignantly rejected by the academic authorities, who obstinately refused to listen to such a speculation ; and when the reporter of the committee for examining scientific papers and propositions took notice of Geoffroy's Table of Affinities, he said that it was difficult, if not impossible, to explain the cause of chemical action and reaction, the natural effects of superior laws of harmony; and, that the theory of affinities might do very well to explain these effects, if affinities and attractions were any thing more than imaginary notions.
“In 1731, thirteen years later, when Geoffroy died, and his eulogium was pronounced at the Academy, by the same person who had made the report on his Table of Affinities, it was stated as a thing to be regretted, that he had imagined a singular system of chemical affinities, which gave great annoyance to men of science, through fear of these affinities being a sort of disguised attractions, the more to be dreaded because some talented people had already clothed them in seductive forms."
“ Such was the cry of alarm made by the professors of the fallacious physical theories of that time, who made no attempt to detect the merits or defects of Geoffroy's ideas on chemical affinities."-(Dumas, Phil. de la Chimie, 368.)
“ At length, however, the Academy of Rouen offered a prize for the best table of affinities ; and the prize was gained in 1758 by Limbourg, who examined the subject in a practical point of view."-(Id. 370.)
“ Newton, also, admitted the effects of attraction in chemical operations."-(Id. 372.)
In speaking of the discovery of the composition of water, Mr. Dumas expresses himself thus :
“ Water was decomposed (by electricity): the hydrogen gas was attracted to the negative pole, and the oxygen to the positive. The composition of water was not generally admitted when this took place (in the beginning of the nineteenth century). Though the experiments of Lavoisier had long before established the fact, beyond a doubt, a great number of prejudiced minds refused to believe the thing possible, and it is difficult to conceive the influence which prejudice and false notions had over the judgment of men of science.”
These extracts prove that men of science are not less subject to the chilling influence of prejudice than the ignorant multitude, and therefore it would be folly to rely on them implicitly for sound opinion, even in matters which fall within the limits of their special competence. When Newton discovered the laws of attraction which govern the planetary motion, he was contradicted by almost all the mathematicians of his time; nor were his principles generally admitted until fifty years after publication, as the following extract will clearly prove
“ Long after the publication of his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, the principles which it contained were contested by very celebrated mathematicians, and amongst others by John Bernoulli. Fontenelle never admitted the principles of attraction, but persisted to the last in preferring the whirling planetary systems or Tourbillons of Descartes. ' In fact, more than fifty years elapsed before Newton's principles of attraction were admitted by mathematicians and astronomers."—(Biographie Universelle.)
The History of Navigation and the Discovery of America, furnish additional proof of the blindness of prejudice.
OP NAVIGATION AND THE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA. The principal element of improvement in navigation, was the invention of the mariner's compass, the origin of which is more or less obscure and uncertain. Some authors say that it was imported into Europe by merchants from the East, while others contend that it was invented by an European. Dr. Robertson, in his History of America, page 20, gives the following account of this invention :
“ The compass may be said to have opened to man the dominion of the sea, and to have put him in full possession of the earth, by enabling him to visit every part of it. Flavio Gioia, a citizen of Amalfi, a town of considerable trade in the kingdom of Naples, was the author of this great discovery, about the year 1302. It hath been often the fate of those illustrious benefactors of mankind, who have enriched science and improved the arts by their inventions, to derive more reputation than benefit from the happy efforts of their genius. But the lot of Gioia has been still more cruel ; through the inattention or ignorance of contemporary historians, he has been defrauded even of the fame to which he had such a just title. We receive from them no information with respect to his profession, his character, the precise time when he made this important discovery, or the accidents and inquiries which led to it.” *
It is said that the Chinese made use of this instrument more than a thousand years before the Christian era; but whether this be true or not, it is certain that it was not known in Europe before 1300.
This invention and the improvements of geographical and astronomical science, added to the impulse of a mercantile spirit in the fifteenth century, excited considerable speculation concerning the science of
Collinag-et Trombellas, de Acus Nauticæ Inventore, Instit. Acad. Bonon. tom. ii. part ii. p. 372.
navigation, and the advantages which
might be derived from the discovery of a western passage by sea to India; but prejudice stepped in, as usual, to thwart the attempts of genius, and prevent public opinion from encouraging the spirit of discovery. It is curious to compare the short-sighted reasonings of prejudice against the rational speculations of genius concerning navigation and discovery in the fifteenth century, with those that are commonly opposed to the science of association and its probable results in the nineteenth century; and, as the results of Columbus's speculations and previsions concerning navigation and the discovery of unknown regions are familiar to every body, we cannot do better than transcribe the sophistical reasonings which were opposed to him at that time. These sophisms will show what degree of credit should be given to similar reasonings in present circumstances. The following extracts are taken from Dr. Robertson's History of America, and, as this authority will hardly be disputed, we may form a very correct idea of the influence of prejudice in that age, as well as in our own.
As the Portuguese were the first who conceived the idea of sailing in unknown seas, we will quote a passage concerning them before we speak of Columbus and the Spaniards.
“ Hitherto (in 1433) the Portuguese had been guided in their discoveries, or encouraged to attempt them, by the light and information which they received from the works of the ancient mathematicians and geographers. But when they began to enter the torrid zone, the notion which prevailed amongst the ancients, that the heat, which reigned perpetually there, was so excessive as to render it uninhabitable, deterred ihem, for some time, from proceeding. Their own observations, when they first ventured into this unknown and formidable region, tended to confirm the opinion of antiquity concerning the violent operation of the direct rays of the sun. As far as the river Senegal, the Portuguese had found the coast of Africa inhabited by people nearly resembling the Moors of Barbary. When they advanced to the south of that river, the human form seemed to put on a new appearance. They beheld men with skins as black as ebony, with short curled hair, flat noses, thick lips, and all the peculiar features, which are now known to distinguish the race of negroes. This surprising alteration they naturally attributed to the influence of heat; and if they should advance nearer to the line, they began to dread that its effects would be still more violent. Those dangers were exaggerated; and many other objectionsagainst attempting further discoveries were proposed by some of the grandees, who, from ignorance, from envy, or from that coLD AND TINID PRUDENCE which rejects whatever has the air of novelty or enterprise, had hitherto condemned all Prince Henry's schemes of discovery. They represented that it was altogether chimerical to expect any advantage from countries situated in that region which the wisdom and experience of antiquity had pronounced to be unfit for the habitation of men; that their forefathers, satisfied with cultivating the territory which providence had allotted to them, did not waste the strength of the kingdom by fruitless projects, in quest of new settlements; that Portugal was already exhausted by the expense of attempts to discover lands which either did not exist, or which NATURE DESTINED TO REMAIN UNKNOWN ; and was drained of men, who might have been employed in undertakings attended with more certain
success, and productive of greater benefit. But neither their appeal to the authority of the ancients, nor their reasoning concerning the interests of Portugal, made any impression upon the determined philosophic mind of Prince Henry. The discoveries which he had already made, convinced him that the ancients had little more than a conjectural knowledge of the torrid zone. The Portuguese ventured at length to cross the line, and, to their astonishment, found that region of the torrid zone, which was supposed to be scorched with intolerable heat, to be not only habitable, but populous and fertile."
The objections made against the conjectures of Columbus at the court of Spain, fifty years after these sophisms had been opposed to Prince Henry of Portugal, were not less ignorant or presumptuous, as the following extracts will clearly prove
“Ferdinand and Isabella, though fully occupied by their operations against the Moors, paid so much regard to Columbus, as to remit the consideration of his plan to the Queen's confessor, Ferdinand de Talavera. He consulted such of his countrymen as were supposed best qualified to decide with respect to a subject of this kind." But true science had hitherto made so little progress in Spain, that the pretended philosophers, selected to judge in a matter of such moment, did not comprehend the first principles upon which Columbus founded his conjectures and hopes. Some of them, from mistaken notions concerning the dimensions of the globe, contended that a voyage to those remote parts of the East, which Columbus expected to discover, could not be performed in less than three years. Others concluded, that either he would find the ocean to be of infinite extent, according to the opinion of some ancient philosophers; or, if he should persist in steering towards the West beyond a certain point, that the convex figure of the globe would prevent his return, and that he must inevitably perish, in the vain attempt to open a communication between the two opposite hemispheres, which nature had for ever disjoined. Even without deigning to enter into any particular discussion, many rejected the scheme in general, upon the credit of a maxim, under which the ignorant and unenterprising shelter themselves in every age—that it is presumptuous in any person to suppose that he alone possesses knowledge superior to all the rest of mankind united.' They maintained, that if there were really any such countries as Columbus pretended, they could not have remained so long concealed; nor would the wisdom and sagacity of former ages have left the glory of this invention to an obscure Genoese pilot.
"It required all Columbus's patience and address to negotiate with men capable of advancing such strange propositions. He had to contend, not only with the obstinacy of ignorance, but with what is still more intractable—the pride of false knowledge. After innumerable conferences, and wasting five years iu fruitless endeavours to inform and to satisfy judges so little capable of deciding with propriety, Talavera, at last, made such an unfavourable report to Ferdinand and Isabella, as induced them to acquaint Columbus that, until the war with
• Robertson's History of America, page 25.
the Moors should be brought to a period, it would be imprudent to engage in any new and expensive enterprise.
“ Columbus, however, had convinced some gentlemen at court; and they, three years later (eight years in all), prevailed on Isabella to enter into the scheme of Columbus. Accordingly she fitted out three small vessels, but so sparingly, that the whole expense did not amount to more than four thousand pounds. But notwithstanding the insufficiency of such an equipment, Columbus put to sea, and realized the conjectures of his wild theory.”
He set sail from the port of Palos, in Andalusia, on Friday, the third day of August, 1492.
These were the short-sighted reasonings of prejudiced incredulity, which the most influential and well-informed men of that age opposed to the discoveries of genius, merely because they were unable to understand a rational theory which had never been realized : those who have sufficient time and patience to examine the principles of association, and the objections made against them by prejudiced and unqualified opponents, or even by philosophers and politicians, who may be deemed best qualified for judgement in such matters, will find that the objections are equally groundless in both cases, and the theories equally rational.“ We shall therefore conclude our remarks on the blindness of prejudice, by showing the utility of neutralizing its influence. It may, perhaps, be urged by modern sophists, that Columbus was deceived in his previsions, and that instead of discovering a western passage to India, the object of his speculations, he fell by chance upon the discovery of a New World, &c. To this we reply, first, That he discovered more than he expected by finding the American continent; and that this fact alone proves the utility of exploring unknown worlds. The same reason holds good with regard to ihe moral as well as to the material world. Second,
That his previsions were not altogether erroneous; they were only incomplete; for the western passage to India is really guaranteed by the economy of nature, with the sole reserve of a trifling effort on the part of man, either for effecting a practical road across the Isthmus of Panama, or by cutting a navigable canal through it. Such an operation would be a'mere trifle for several nations uniting their means to achieve it. When civilization has passed from a state of incoherency, maintaining armies of destruction, to a combination of social interests, with armies of peaceful industry, to destroy physical difficulties and facilitate universal commerce, such an undertaking as that of cutting a navigable canal through the Isthmus of Panama, would be easily accomplished; as well as that of planting trees in deserts, and otherwise rendering barren regions fertile and habitable: but these operations will be impossible so long as nations continue to war with each other and destroy themselves instead of uniting for useful purposes.
The original idea of Columbus, then, was not erroneous; a western passage does exist in reality; it only requires a slight exertion on the part of humanity (we say humanity, because the labour would be too great for an individual nation) to render it effectually and permanently practicable. The economy of Nature has left hardly anything for man to do in this individual case, if we consider the extent of the globe,