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character! If, in prosecuting such, the observer be overtaken by death, the destroyer has no power to arrest his observations. The fatal fiat but extends their field. The torch is not quenched in the grave. It burns far more brightly beyond than ever it did or can in this dim world of ours. Here the inquirer may grope and stumble, seeing but as through a glass darkly. Death, that has delivered so many millions from misery, will dispel bis doubts and resolve his difficulties. Death, the unriddler, will draw aside the curtain and let in the explaining light. That which is feebly commenced in this phase of existence will be far better prosecuted in another. Will the inquiry be completed even there? Who can tell ?
“He who, outside of pure mathematics, pronounces the word impossible, lacks prudence.”—ARAGO: Annuaire du Bureau des Longitudes, 1853.*
THERE was enacted, in April of the year 1493, and in the city of Barcelona, one of those great scenes which occur but a few times in the history of our race.
A Genoese mariner, of humble birth and fortune, an enthusiast, a dreamer, a believer in Marco Polo and Mandeville and in all their gorgeous fables,—the golden shores of Zipango, the spicy paradise of Cathay,-had conceived the magnificent project of seeking out what proved to be an addition to the known world of another hemisphere.
He had gone begging from country to country, from monarch to monarch, for countenance and means. His proposals rejected by his native city, he had carried them to Spain, then governed by two of the ablest sovereigns she ever had. But there the usual fortune of the theorist seemed to pursue him. His best protector the humble guardian of an Andalusian convent, his doctrine rejected by the queen’s confessor as savoring of heresy, his lofty pretensions scouted by nobles and archbishops as those of a needy foreign adventurer, his scheme pronounced by the learned magnates of the
* The original, with its context, is, “Le doute est une preuve de modestie, et il a rarement nui aux progrès des sciences. On n'en pourrait pas dire autant de l'incrédulité. Celui qui, en dehors des mathématiques pures, prononce le mot impossible, manque de prudence. La réserve est surtout un devoir quand il s'agit de l'organisation animale.”- Annuaire, p. 445.
COLUMBUS IN BARCELONA,
Salamanca council (for when was titled Science ever a pioneer?) to be "vain, impracticable, and resting on grounds too weak to merit the support of the government,”—he had scantily found at last, even in the enlightened and enterprising Isabella, tardy faith enough to adventure a sum that any lady of her court might have spent on a diamond bracelet or a necklace of pearl.*
And now, returned as it were from the dead, survivor of a voyage overhung with preternatural horrors, his great problem, as in despite of man and nature, triumphantly resolved, the visionary was welcomed as the conqueror; the needy adventurer was recognized as Admiral of the Western Ocean and Viceroy of a New Continent; was received, in solemn state, by the haughtiest sovereigns in the world, rising at his approach, and invited (Castilian punctilio overcome by intellectual power) to be seated before them. He told his wondrous story, and exhibited, as vouchers for its truth, the tawny savages and the barbaric gold. King, queen, and court sunk on their knees; and the Te Deum sounded, as for some glorious victory.
That night, in the silence of his chamber, what thoughts may have thronged on Columbus's mind! What exultant emotions must have swelled his heart! A past world had deemed the Eastern Hemisphere the entire habitable earth. Age had succeeded to age, century had passed away after century, and still the interdict had been acquiesced in, that westward beyond the mountain pillarst it belonged not to man to explore.
* Seventeen thousand forins was the petty amount which the fitting-out of Columbus's first expedition cost the crown of Castile. How incommensurate, sometimes, are even our successful exertions with the importance of some noble but novel object of research!
+ quella foce stretta Ovo Ercole segnò li suoi riguardi, Acciochè l'uom più oltre non si metta.
DANTE, Inferno, Canto XVI.
THE MARVEL OF MARVELS.
And yet he, the chosen of God to solve the greatest of terrestrial mysteries, affronting what even the hardy mariners of Palos had regarded as certain destruction, he, the hopeful one where all but himself despaired, --had wrested from the Deep its mighty secret,-had accomplished what the united voice of the Past had declared to be an impossible achievement.
But now, if, in the stillness of that night, to this man, enthusiast, dreamer, believer as he was, there had suddenly appeared some Nostradamus of the fifteenth century, of prophetic mind instinct with the future, and had declared to the ocean-compeller that not four centuries would elapse before that vast intervening gulf of waters—from the farther shore of which, through months of tempest, he had just groped back his weary way-should interpose no obstacle to the free communication of human thought; that a man standing on the western shore of Europe should, within three hundred and seventy years from that day, engage in conversation with his fellow standing on the eastern shore of the newfound world; nay,-marvel of all marvels!—that the same fearful bolt which during his terrible voyage had so often lighted up the waste of waters around him should itself become the agent of communication across that storm-tossed ocean; that mortal creatures, unaided by angel or demon, without intervention of Heaven or pact with hell, should bring that lightning under domestic subjection, and employ it, as they might some menial or some carrier-dove, to bear their daily messages ;—to a prediction so wildly extravagant, so surpassingly absurd, as that, what credence could even Columbus lend ? What answer to such a prophetic vision may we imagine that he, with all a life's experience of man's short-sightedness, would have given? Probably some reply like this: that, though in the future many strange things might be, such a tampering with
Nature as that short of a direct miracle from Godwas IMPOSSIBLE !
Arago was right. With exact truths we may deal in a positive manner. Of a hexagon inscribed within a circle each side is of the same length as the radius of that circle: it is impossible it should be either longer or shorter. The surface contained within the square of the hypothenuse is exactly of the same extent as the squares, taken together, of the two other sides of the same right-angled triangle: it is impossible it should be either greater or less. These things we declare to be impossible with the same assurance and the same propriety with which we assert that we exist; and there is no more presumption in declaring the one than in asserting the other. But, outside the domain of pure mathematics, or kindred regions of abstract or intuitive truth, cautious and modest in his pronouncings should be fallible and short-sighted man. By what warrant does he assume to determine what God's laws permit and what they deny? By what authority does he take upon himself to assert that to him all these laws are known? The term of his life but a day, the circumference of his ken but a spot, whence derives he his commission, groping about in his little span of the Present, arrogantly to proclaim what is and what is not to be in the illimitable Future? Does not History bear on every page a condemnation of the impiety? Does not Experience daily rise up and testify aloud against such egregious presumption ?
Not thus is it that those speak and reason whom deep research has taught how little they know. It occurs to the humble wisdom of such men that laws of nature may exist with which they are wholly unacquainted ;*
* I translate from La Place's “ Théorie analytique des Probabilités :"“We are so far from knowing all the agents of nature and their various modes of action, that it would not be philosophioal to deny any phenomena