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Hereditary Genius
MY choice of Men of Science, like that of the men of literature,
may seem capricious. They were both governed to some extent by
similar considerations, and therefore the preface to my last chapter is
in a great degree applicable to this. There is yet another special
difficulty in the selection of a satisfactory first-class of scientific men.
The fact of a person's name being associated with some one
striking scientific discovery helps enormously, but often unduly, to
prolong his reputation to after ages. It is notorious that the same
discovery is frequently made simultaneously and quite independently,
by different persons. Thus, to speak of only a few cases in late years,
the discoveries of photography, of electric telegraphy, and of the
planet Neptune through theoretical calculations, have all their rival
claimants. It would seem, that discoveries are usually made when the
time is ripe for them—that is to say, when the ideas from which they
naturally flow are fermenting in the minds of many men. When
apples are ripe, a trifling event suffices to decide, which of them shall
first drop off its stalk; so a small accident will often determine the
scientific man who shall first make and publish a new discovery.
There are many persons who have contributed vast numbers of
original memoirs, all of them of some, many of great, but none of
extraordinary importance. These men have the capacity of making a Previous page Top Next page