Cornhill Magazine,  8 (1863), 113–28.

Was Nero a Monster?

G H L, pseud.  [George H Lewes]




Scientism, Methodology, Psychology, Laboratories, Physiological Chemistry, Pharmaceuticals, Ancient Authorities, History of Science

    Reflects that the 'application of Science, and above all of scientific scepticism, to History, has yet to be made; [but] it will be fruitful in results'. Even such a 'keen-sighted' historian as Barthold G Niebuhr was 'as obtuse as his predecessors in all that related to psychology; and not being versed in science, was unable to detect fictions which any scientific sceptic would at once expose'. (113) Insists that the historian must become a 'scientific sceptic' because the 'mere possession of knowledge does not suffice to shake off that lethargy of credulity which oppresses the faculties of men whenever they pass beyond the laboratory into the wide spaces of History. They forget the lessons they have so laboriously learned, and so sedulously practised [...]. In Science we are forced to be vigilant' (114). Complains that 'our enlightenment is rarely brought to bear upon the past', and that while 'No physiologist of the present day would listen without a smile to people who assured him that Louis Napoleon preserved himself by antidotes against attempts at poisoning [...] even physiologists read statements of this nature in history in passive acquiescence' (117). Even 'one of the first toxicologists of our day [i.e. Alexander W M van Hasselt]' in his 'elaborate treatise on poisons' repeats arrant nonsense concerning the poisonings carried out by Roman Emperors (118). It is preposterous for such historical accounts of poisoning to rely upon 'the ancient idea of antidotes when chemistry was not in existence, and when toxicology was undreamed of', and to assume that the Romans were somehow able to 'anticipate the discoveries of chemistry' (121).

© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005 - 2020

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