Fragments Of Science "We Are Truly Heirs Of All The Ages"

"We Are Truly Heirs Of All The Ages"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: John Tyndall, Irish physicist and teacher, who carried out original research in various branches of physics, was noted for his popular lectures in England and America on science. In his lecture called "Matter and Force," delivered to the working men of Dundee and later included in his Fragments of Science, he speaks informally of the properties of matter and the forces at work in it. After explaining molecular attraction and the power produced by combining certain materials, he points out that once the initial power from the combination has been used no more power comes from the attraction. Then he digresses to comment on man's position in the world:

And here we might halt for a moment to remark on that tendency, so prevalent in the world, to regard everything as made for human use. Those who entertain this notion, hold, I think, an overweening opinion of their own importance in the system of nature. Flowers bloomed before men saw them, and the quantity of power wasted before man could utilise it is all but infinite compared with what now remains. We are truly heirs of all the ages; but as honest men it behoves us to learn the extent of our inheritance, and as brave ones not to whimper if it should prove less that we had supposed.