The Scientific Method

    While I was working hard on my translation of the memoire of the illustrious Ignaz Venetz, I found that the need to indulge in some hermeneutic and other studies had me nicely side-tracked on more than one occasion.   In order to know what an author meant by his words of 1821, one must see how those words were used by his or her contemporaries.

    This led me to some works in French by a little-known historian and geographer : Alexandre Dumas,  père.  His Impressions de Voyage Suisse, 1833, reminds me greatly of the wit of Mark Twain.  The great difference between Twain and Dumas is that one always knows when the latter is just kidding along.  I haven't seen an English translation of Dumas' Impressions of Swiss Travels - if there isn't one I may, possibly, tackle the task.  If I do, I'll publish it here at  After all, although it is a very witty account of one man's experiences in Switzerland, it does contain scientific words such as 'glacier', 'moraine' and 'evaporation', so I guess it qualifies as a scientific treatise.

    Now, to my mind, any scientist worth his salt - or her salt, I'm not biased - will, before embarking on a groundbreaking new theory, investigate to see what others have discovered or postulated before.  Ignaz Venetz, who developed an almost literally ground-breaking new theory about moraine formation and erratics, had this to say apropos the investigation of the question of the variation of temperature in the Swiss Alps:

   Before deciding this question, much lengthy research is required, and many comparisons, often remembering what Virgil said in his Georgics, Book I:
Ventos et varium coeli praediscere morem
    Cura sit ...

That Latin snippet side-tracked me very nicely: from translating French to translating Latin.  Not being content with any existing translation of the pertinently perspicatious passage from the venerable Virgil, I had a little dabble with it myself.  I must confess that in order to fit the semantic data to a linguistic illustration I had to indulge myself in cherry picking to some degree.  I hope I may be forgiven this scientific heresy.  After all, to my mind, Virgil illustrates a key part of the scientific method rather nicely.

From Virgil's Georgics, Book I:

At prius ignotum ferro quam scindimus aequor,
ventos et varium caeli praediscere morem
cura sit ac patrios cultusque habitusque locorum
et quid quaeque ferat regio et quid quaeque recuset.

Before our iron ploughshare cleaves new clay,
   The winds and augured skies our task concerns,
And tillage of the land the ancient way,
  And what each region grows, and what it spurns.

    Just in case you think that I am simply taking time out to show off my linguistic and poetical skills, let me assure you that

I am indeed.  ;-)

    But seriously, the simple fact is that I love poetry.  Venetz was a poet to the depths of his soul, as witness this passage from page 21, item 9,  of his memoire -

    ... In vain we should attempt to paint what one experiences on a stage so picturesque and majestic which presents a large number of peaks clustered around the aerial giants of the Alps, which sometimes carry their bold fronts into the sombre clouds, sometimes uncovering a head crowned with a thousand rays, whose light, enhanced by the reflection of ice, transports the soul by performing the sweetest charms. If the effect of this sight is so amazing even to an inhabitant of the Alps, accustomed to seeing nature in all its majesty, what may not be the rapture of the city dweller or one who, living far from the mountains, has never seen the like ?