The Net Advance of Physics RETRO:
"The March of Science"

2014 August 25

The alleged "Hydrargos". [Wikimedia Commons]

The cult of "Science!" with a decidedly capital S flourished in the Long Nineteenth Century (along with Methodism and Theosophy). Much of the rhetoric of today's Dawkinsite movement dates to the period, even to the pre-Darwinian years. Modern authors, however, rarely have the exuberant confidence of their forebears. Today's blog features a sample of rationalist triumphalism at its loudest, and in verse yet!

The poem, obviously American, is anonymous. According to The Hidden Muse by Jesse Glass Jr. [Lincoln, Neb.: Writers Club, 2001], the Carroll County Democrat, a Maryland newspaper, ran a poem by one Charles Meade having this title on 1846 December 24; I do not know if it is the same one. Charles Mead (with no e), apparently a schoolteacher in Pennsylvania, wrote a book called The American Minstrel, Consisting of Poetical Essays on Various Subjects in 1828, with the same Enlightenment attitudes and anti-clerical bias; it has a fairly similar verse-style. Another work by Mead, a Romantic description of the West entitled Mississippian Scenery, is almost identical in format to The March of Science, but was published in 1819. If this Mead is our author, he was active for decades; The March of Science cannot have been written much before its stated date of publication in 1846, as it mentions the inaccurately (or mendaciously) reconstructed zeuglodon Hydrargos sillimani, "discovered" in 1845.

The original includes extensive prose notes, of which I have retained only one. As usual, the author's words are in bold.

Triumphant Science spreads her cheering light,
The joy of manhood, and the guide of youth;
And mingling millions can in peace unite
To learn her lessons of eternal truth.

By science men to lofty themes aspire;
The lightning now they guide from place to place;
Their work is done by water, wind and fire;
These all become the servants of our race.

By her assistance people now explore
The ways of Nature, and expatiate free;
In diving bells, balloons, descend or soar,
Travel the skies or walk beneath the sea.

What strange improvements Science now displays !
Distance and space she overcomes with speed;
While portrait painters use the solar rays,
The dumb hold converse, and the blind can read.

See mighty engines drive the ships afar.
Thro' adverse winds and waves they make their way:
The same by steam propels the ponderous car,
To run the iron road by night or day.

Metallic steeds now breathing smoke and fire,
With might and power outstrip the eagle's flight;
Their greatest speed will not with labour tire;
They need no rest, nor seek repose at night.

The air we breathe can run another team,
With equal power, and travelling thousands cheer;
No more dependent on the force of steam,
But moved by pressure of the atmosphere.

Mortals, behold what Science has display'd,
News, the companion of electric fire !
With lightning speed despatches are conveyed
From town to town by means of coated wire.

Dark clouds of heaven now cease to spread alarm,
Their fire attracted by metallic rods
That art has raised to shield our race from harm,
And turn aside the arrows of the gods.

Strange are the works that art and science show.
Galvani's labours we may scan awhile,
With anxious care astounding facts to know,
And gain instruction from th' Voltaic pile.

Nature's mysterious agents now are known,
To those who would improve this world of ours;
Electro-magnetism has been shown
Can be employ'd to aid mechanic powers.

In ev'ry branch of science may be found
Some wholesome facts for mortals to pursue,
That those who long with prejudices bound,
May cast the veil from off their mental view.

Astronomy the universe surveys,
And shows us worlds that roll in boundless skies;
While those that move within the solar blaze,
To men are known their circuits and their size.

Science has prophets she inspires to say,
The hour and minute of a distant year,
When darkness will obscure the source of day,
Or when the moon's eclipses will appear.

The shining orbs in the ethereal fields,
And flaming comets with elliptic flight,
Can joy impart to him who fondly yields
To contemplate the firmament at night;

Observatories risen in our land,
Now aid the view of those who love to trace
The heavenly host of worlds that roll so grand,
And shine resplendent in unbounded space;

Vast telescopes are seen, devoted to the skies,
Enormous tubes that have the weight of tons,
Science has formed, to aid the mortal eyes
To scan the heavens, and gaze at other suns.

Through the empyrean heights extended far
The view can reach, but find no bourn or coast,
Reach where our sun would seem a twinkling star,
And earth in distance be entirely lost

While some survey the universe sublime,
Others now muse where fossil forms repose,
And trace the marks the chariot wheels of time
Have made on earth when other mountains rose.

From things above to things on earth below,
Where struggling nature gave volcanoes births
Science can labor, and discov'ries show,
That give a lengthen'd hist'ry of the earth.

Geology now marks the ceaseless change,
To which our planet has been ever doom'd,
And lays before us from its downward range,
Remains of animals in rocks entomb'd.

Thousands of ages backward we may trace,
Compare the things that were with things that be,
Organic forms our senses can embrace,
Almost submerged in time's eternal sea;

Human research can clearly now explore
Remains of monsters that had once their birth
On land, in water and along the shore,
Ere man became a native of the earth.

The sons of science bring before our view
The numerous relics of the Mastodon,
The Hydrochos and the Missourean too,
Stupendous frames for men to muse upon.

From arctic climes organic forms are shown,
Fossil remains of animals and trees
That lived and died within a torrid zone,
Where spicy bowers perfumed the tepid breeze.

Change and mutation nature's works display;
These when survey'd by scientific ken,
Impressive lessons silently convey,
That make new changes in the minds of men;

The land extends its empire in the sea,
The sea in turn encroaches on the land,
Incessant billows wash the shores away,
Then regions rise from coral reefs and sand.

Volcanic agents, fire and gas and steam,
Upheave the land that swells to mountains high;
Earthquakes, in turn, can soon reverse the scene,
Now sunk to vales, once towering mountains lie.

The sweeping tempests and the howling storms,
The angry torrents mingling flood with flood,
Give to the surface of the earth new forms,
And change the mounds that have for ages stood.

Change is the fate of forms however fair;
Organs of thought and feeling soon may be
Resolv'd to atoms floating in the air,
Scattered on earth or mingled with the sea.

From these again new forms of life arise,
Combin'd with matter borne from clime to clime,
The work of death each living form supplies,
That hath its day upon the stream of time;

The smallest atom on the whirlwind's wing,
Will never to annihilation pass;
Nature a change of form and place may bring,
Each moat is lasting as the mountain mass.

The varied shapes organic life displays,
In nature's chain philosophy can trace,
See countless beings move in different ways,
And mark each link connecting race with race;

Chemistry can show how substances combine,
How change their qualities for something new,
Agents explain, affinities define
And nature's laboratory hold to view.

Mechanic arts, her handmaids, ever near,
Diffuse their social comforts through the land;
And husbandry improv'd will millions cheer,
And own the favors given by her hand.

The teeming earth from once impoverish'd soil,
Science has caused to yield a fourfold gain;
As a reward for agricultural toil,
Once naked waste land shows luxuriant grain.

Chemists renown'd our gratitude should claim,
As they for human usefulness aspire;
Let their discoveries herald forth their fame
For knowledge gained from mixture, heat and fire.

What novel facts has chemistry display'd !
What wonders now we meet at ev'ry turn !
In red hot crucibles can ice be made,
And fire in water may be seen to burn !

Improvements made, the human mind inspire,
To view a mighty change some few years hence;
Bricks may be burnt by means of solar fire,
And convex lens be used in making fence !

Era of light! shall men in darkness be,
The road to knowledge free for all to pass?
Science has trimm'd her lamps that all may see,
And cheers the face of night with blazing gas.

Through arts and science, Commerce spreads her sails,
And riches gathers from a thousand shores;
While spinning jennies, looms and cotton bales,
New fabrics furnish and increase her stores.

In all our workshops Science shows her power,
In mills that work for man her skill prevails.
She's seen alike where splendid structures tower,
And in machines for making pins and nails:

She oft invites to study what she yields.
Displays the charms of Flora's wide domain
In blooming vales, savannas, groves and fields,
To those who nature's workings would explain.

Botany can joy and usefulness combine;
In its wide range what varied plants are seen,
From humble moss up to the towering pine,
What classes, orders, tribes exist between!

What joy to wander o'er the hill or dale
Where blooming bowers perfume the calm retreat!
While balmy odours float upon the gale,
A fossil flora lies beneath our feet.

Science the gloomy depths of earth explores,
And in its bosom shining treasures finds;
She brings to light the long neglected ores,
And wealth creates from the prolific mines;

The rocks give way at industry's control,
Mechanic powers their greatest force engage,
Mountains of ore are melted down with coal,
'Mid golden dreams we're in an iron age.

Metallic ships now through the ocean glide,
And bear the treasures of our hills and plains,
Diffusing wealth upon the flowing tide
And cheering those who live in far domains.

Improvements made in implements of war,
By which the chance for life may wholly cease;
From mortal combats these will men deter;
Engines of death become the means of peace.

The hostile fleets with vaunting pride no more
Can now in safety in our harbors glide;
Unseen destruction slumbers near the shore,
From young volcanoes sunk beneath the tide;

Another engine made of simple frame,
A smokeless batt'ry, when at work it flings
In quick succession and with certain aim,
The balls of cannon from revolving slings.

Inventions now must awe the stoutest hearts,
As they are made to show their dreadful powers,
To guard our country and our rising marts,
By hurling death in horizontal showers;

Armies may yet behold death -dealing cars,
To strew with slain the fields and vallies green,
Putting to flight the veterans skill'd in wars,
While in their tracks ensigns of peace are seen.

May justice, peace and harmony prevail,
And earth no more the field of war and strife;
Ambitious schemes of heartless tyrants fail,
When men refuse to take each other's life.

How great the wonders Science has display'd,
That ancient priests and sages never saw!
At which the people would have been dismay'd,
And fill'd with fear and superstitious awe.

What strange illusions optics can convey
To cheat the senses and mislead the eye !
Deceptive mirrors in the face of day
Reflect a painted image in the sky.

Organs of thought can Science now explain,
And useful knowledge to mankind impart;
Show our desires depend upon the brain,
The head is seen an index to the heart.

Mesmer's philosophy revived again,
If true, astounding facts before us keep;
Men's limbs cut off without producing pain,
Without disturbing the magnetic sleep !

Music improv'd, fresh energies inspire,
The passing winds breathe animating airs
To touch the soul and kindle good desires,
To drown our sorrows and dispel our cares.

The sons of Science roam the earth and sea,
And gather knowledge in remotest isles,
Scan nature's works with spirits bold and free,
Where winter frowns or summer wears her smiles;

On mountain tops, in caverns dark and drear,
'Mid polar ices and in torrid climes,
Zealous defenders of her cause appear,
To furnish facts for our enquiring times;

Historic records and the works of Art
Of distant ages, lead the enquiring mind
To gather knowledge from what they impart,
That we may read with care what others find.

Stupendous monuments of pride no more
Can modern science or research defy;
Egyptian Pyramids they now explore,
Their hist'ry meets the scrutinizing eye.

Old China's realm the bold enquirer's trace;
Though long secluded yet she now displays
To other portions of the human race
The faithful records of her early days.

Modern research on Hindoo plains appears
In quest of truth, from annals old and rare
To trace events beyond four thousand years,
When ancient science flourished at Benair,

Where crowded streets once gay with life and joy,
Long sunk in earth, from light of heaven debarr'd,
Enquiring minds their energies employ,
To gather facts from cities disinterr'd;

Where earth's volcanoes hurl around their fire,
And roll their thunders o'er a world below,
There friends of Science anxiously aspire
Nature to scan and new discoveries show.

Let Science and Philosophy combin'd,
Spread cheering light where clouds and darkness lower;
And millions free from those who mould the mind,
To aid deception and increase their power;

When human rights are understood by all,
And ethics taught from just and equal laws,
Tyrants upheld by cant and craft must fall,
And all be moving in a righteous cause;

A mass of legal chaos will give way
To laws so plain that all may understand.
And justice rule with undisputed sway.
And work a reformation in the land.

The Press sends forth her messengers of lights
Diffusing knowledge --- people are awake,
Where once they hugg'd their chains in mental night,
And spurn'd the hand that would their fetters break.

When useful labor be the test of worth,
And needful efforts with the plough and pen
Shall be more prized than accidental birth,
Then right, not might, will give fresh joy to men;

When justice rules with reason in her train,
Earth's feudal tyrannies will shortly cease.
And all partaking of the world's domain,
Enjoy the products of their toil in peace,

Science upheld by bold enquiring minds,
By facts made clear she conquers reason's foes.
New friends from former enemies she finds;
Where armies cannot pass, in peace she goes.

Through earthly frauds pretended beings rise,
To give men laws and governments and rules;
The Greeks with gods could populate the skies,
Phantoms of thought were deified by fools.

While bigots fight about divine commands,
The friends of science can united join,
They meet in fellowship from distant lands,
And in sweet concord worship at her shrine,

Magicians work their miracles no more,
For she detects the agents they employ!
And those the ways of nature can explore,
Will yet the trade of mystery destroy.

Enquiring minds engaged in reason's cause,
Now gather facts from demonstration plain,
And learn their destiny from nature's laws,
Nor strive with myst'ry myst'ry to explain.

The mental agitations, like the sea,
That throws successive surges on the shore,
Will wash the mounds of prejudice away,
And leave men free to study and explore.

Hail sun of Science, let its light expand,
To chase delusion's gloomy clouds away.
Witchcraft no longer dwells upon the land,
Where men enjoy an intellectual day.

What once was thought effects of demons' power,
To rule the mind and subjugate the heart,
Are known diseases mortals oft endure;
They yield submission to the healing art.

Physicians now with scientific skill,
By aiding nature banish our complaints;
Impostors neither frighten, cure nor kill,
By using charms or by invoking saints;

Omens and dreams now fail to raise alarms,
And ghosts to men of sense dare not appear;
And fancied spectres raise their hostile arms
To none but slaves of ignorance and fear.

The reign of bigotry may soon be o'er;
Where reason rules no conquests can she make,
And holy judges can commit no more
Judicial murders for religion's sake.

Oft have the victims of delusion's ire
In dungeons groan'd men's holy wrath to please,
Or lost their lives by slow consuming fire,
While shouts of joy were borne upon the breeze.

The ranting zealots, fill'd with strife and care,
From Science feel no tranquil joys arise,
They make their vision castles in the air,
And build their El Dorados in the skies.

No more our race by fiery bigots led,
When men shall learn their dearest rights to know;
Grim persecution then will hide her head,
And lay aside her instruments of woe;

The hoary dogmas of the days of yore
By bigots fram'd, will cease to rule the mind
When men the ways of wisdom shall explore,
Through Science and Philosophy combin'd;

When truths of Science are to all made known,
The angry feud and fights of faith may cease,
And stubborn prejudice be overthrown,
And man with man claim fellowship and peace.

Pretended agents of celestial power,
The grand deceivers of the human race,
In reason's empire will be known no more,
When mind is free like air's expansive space.

From Science soon will dawn a brighter day,
And human progress ev'ry nation cheer,
And war no more its cruelties display,
Nor Superstition fill the world with fear.

"And war no more its cruelties display." Nevertheless, our author had a militaristic side, adding the following note on the line "Armies may yet behold death-dealing cars":

Steam wagons to run on common roads have been invented in England. They are made to ascend rising ground and go down declivities at a suitable regulated speed.

From reflecting on this invention and the late improvements of the implements of war, my mind is fully impressed with the belief that a steam car could be so constructed as to be impenetrable to cannon balls, and prove a most deadly engine of destruction to an invading army. It should contain a cover extending over the car and locomotive reaching near to the ground, so as to protect the wheels of both: this protecting cover should be made in the form of an elliptical cone, but nearly sharp at each end, and to have suitable slant on all sides from its downward extremities towards the top, so that balls coming from any direction would strike it obliquely and bound off. It might be made of tough sheet iron of a suitable thickness, supported by elastic springs firmly attached to the framework within: the inner surface to consist of strong wire-work about two inches from the sheet iron, and the space filled in with sponge or wool driven together with considerable force. It should contain a sufficient number of portholes on all sides for the discharge of rifles and muskets, each of which might contain several charges of bullets or buck-shot, that could be let off in quick succession. This car might require wheels of much greater diameter than those used on the common rail-roads, and very broad tyre; it might have one or more sky lights in the top, and a trap-door for entrance in the floor. The outside cover should be oiled or be thoroughly rubbed with hard soap on all sides previous to its being brought into action.

A war-car thus constructed, it is believed, would prove the most destructive engine ever used in battle: it might bid defiance to the artillery; its very appearance would throw the cavalry into confusion, and it could march through columns of infantry without receiving the least injury from rifle bullets.

This chariot of Mars would soon clear the way for one to be directed by the Goddess of Peace.