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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

XV. The Progress of Science

§ 2. Outburst of Scientific Enquiry in the Seventeenth Century and its Causes

The great outburst of scientific enquiry which occurred during the seventeenth century was partly the result, and partly the cause, of the invention of numerous new methods and innumerable new instruments, by the use of which advance in natural knowledge was immensely facilitated. Early in the century (1614), Napier of Merchiston had made known his discovery of logarithms, and logarithmic tables were first published in 1617. Seven years later, the slide rule, which to-day plays a large part in physical and engineering science, was invented by Edmund Gunter. Decimals were coming into use and, at the close of the sixteenth century, algebra was being written in the notation we still employ. William Gilbert, physician to queen Elizabeth, published his experiments on electricity and magnetism in the last year of the sixteenth century. Galileo was using his newly constructed telescope; and, for the first time, Jupiter’s satellites, the mountains in the moon and Saturn’s rings were seen by human eye. The barometer, the thermometer and the air pump, and, later, the compound microscope, all came into being at the earlier part of our period, and by the middle of the century were in the hands of whoever cared to use them. Pepys, in 1664, acquired

  • a microscope and a scotoscope. For the first I did give him £5.10.0, a great price, but a most curious bauble it is, and he says, as good, nay, the best he knows in England. The other he gives me, and is of value; and a curious curiosity it is to discover objects in a dark room with.
  • Two years later, on 19 August, 1666, “comes by agreement Mr. Reeves, bringing me a lantern”—it must have been a magic lantern—“with pictures in glass, to make strange things appear on a wall, very pretty.”

    As we pass from Elizabethan to Stewart times, we pass, in most branches of literature, from men of genius to men of talent, clever men, but not, to use a Germanism, epoch-making men. In science, however, where England led the world, the descent became an ascent. We leave Dr. Dee and Edward Kelly, and we arrive at Harvey and Newton.