Chapter 13: - Page 2 of 9

The Class in Physics

(English version of “El Filibusterismo”)

But let us return to the class.  The professor was a young Dominican, who had filled several chairs in San Juan de Letran with zeal and good repute.  He had the reputation of being a great logician as well as a profound philosopher, and was one of the most promising in his clique.  His elders treated him with consideration, while the younger men envied him, for there were also cliques among them.  This was the third year of his professorship and, although the first in which he had taught physics and chemistry, he already passed for a sage, not only with the complaisant students but also among the other nomadic professors.  Padre Millon did not belong to the common crowd who each year change their subject in order to acquire scientific knowledge, students among other students, with the difference only that they follow a single course, that they quiz instead of being quizzed, that they have a better knowledge of Castilian, and that they are not examined at the completion of the course.  Padre Millon went deeply into science, knew the physics of Aristotle and Padre Amat, read carefully his Ramos, and sometimes glanced at Ganot.  With all that, he would often shake his head with an air of doubt, as he smiled and murmured: transeat.  In regard to chemistry, no common knowledge was attributed to him after he had taken as a premise the statement of St. Thomas that water is a mixture and proved plainly that the Angelic Doctor had long forestalled Berzelius, Gay-Lussac, Bunsen, and other more or less presumptuous materialists.  Moreover, in spite of having been an instructor in geography, he still entertained certain doubts as to the rotundity of the earth and smiled maliciously when its rotation and revolution around the sun were mentioned, as he recited the verses

El mentir de las estrellas

Es un cómodo mentir.[1]

He also smiled maliciously in the presence of certain physical theories and considered visionary, if not actually insane, the Jesuit Secchi, to whom he imputed the making of triangulations on the host as a result of his astronomical mania, for which reason it was said that he had been forbidden to celebrate mass.  Many persons also noticed in him some aversion to the sciences that he taught, but these vagaries were trifles, scholarly and religious prejudices that were easily explained, not only by the fact that the physical sciences were eminently practical, of pure observation and deduction, while his forte was philosophy, purely speculative, of abstraction and induction, but also because, like any good Dominican, jealous of the fame of his order, he could hardly feel any affection for a science in which none of his brethren had excelled—he was the first who did not accept the chemistry of St. Thomas Aquinas—and in which so much renown had been acquired by hostile, or rather, let us say, rival orders.

This was the professor who that morning called the roll and directed many of the students to recite the lesson from memory, word for word.  The phonographs got into operation, some well, some ill, some stammering, and received their grades.  He who recited without an error earned a good mark and he who made more than three mistakes a bad mark.

[1]To lie about the stars is a safe kind of lying.Tr.

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