I have promised to introduce you today to the fairy-land of science — a somewhat bold promise, seeing that most of you probably look upon science as a bundle of dry facts, while fairy-land is all that is beautiful, and full of poetry and imagination. But I thoroughly believe myself, and hope to prove to you, that science is full of beautiful pictures, of real poetry, and of wonder-working fairies; and what is more, I promise you they shall be true fairies, whom you will love just as much when you are old and greyheaded as when you are young; for you will be able to call them up wherever you wander by land or by sea, through meadow or through wood, through water or through air; and though they themselves will always remain invisible, yet you will see their wonderful poet at work everywhere around you.
Let us first see for a moment what kind of tales science has to tell, and how far they are equal to the old fairy tales we all know so well. Who does not remember the tale of the “Sleeping Beauty in the Wood,” and how under the spell of the angry fairy the maiden pricked herself with the spindle and slept a hundred years? How the horses in the stall, the dogs in the court-yard, the doves on the roof, the cook who was boxing the scullery boy’s ears in the kitchen, and the king and queen with all their courtiers in the hall remained spell-bound, while a thick hedge grew up all round the castle and all within was still as death. But when the hundred years had passed the valiant prince came, the thorny hedge opened before him bearing beautiful flowers; and he, entering the castle, reached the room where the princess lay, and with one sweet kiss raised her and all around her to life again.
Can science bring any tale to match this?
Tell me, is there anything in this world more busy and active than water, as it rushes along in the swift brook, or dashes over the stones, or spouts up in the fountain, or trickles down from the roof, or shakes itself into ripples on the surface of the pond as the wind blows over it? But have you never seen this water spell-bound and motionless? Look out of the window some cold frosty morning in winter, at the little brook which yesterday was flowing gently past the house, and see how still it lies, with the stones over which it was dashing now held tightly in its icy grasp. Notice the wind-ripples on the pond; they have become fixed and motionless. Look up at the roof of the house. There, instead of living doves merely charmed to sleep, we have running water caught in the very act of falling and turned into transparent icicles, decorating the eaves with a beautiful crystal fringe. On every tree and bush you will catch the water-drops napping, in the form of tiny crystals; while the fountain looks like a tree of glass with long down-hanging pointed leaves. Even the damp of your own breath lies rigid and still on the window-pane frozen into delicate patterns like fern-leaves of ice.