The Eighteenth Century

Shortly before his death, in 1727, Isaac Newton said:

‘I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.’

Newton’s observation was very valid so far as hydrology is concerned. The development of the subject, even at the beginning of the eighteenth century, was extremely modest, and very few fundamental principles have been realized, let alone universally accepted. The establishment of the learned societies in England, France, and Italy during the latter half of the seventeenth century provided the impetus necessary for the rapid development of natural and physical sciences. The downfall of the old masters was rapidly nearing completion. The motto of the Royal Society of London was Nullius in verba (on the words of no man). According to Cardwell:

‘Although the scientific achievements of the 18th century were substantial, the technological triumphs were of at least equal interest. The men associated with these triumphs, men like Newcomen, Smeaton, Watt, Wedgewood, etc., were scientific technologists, capable of using scientific method and knowledge in their practical work and often, in return, making contribution to ‘pure’ science. The rise of these scientific engineers was, paradoxically unaccompanied by a systematic development of applied science.’

It was the same with hydrology.

By Asit K. Biswas, Chapter 12 of the book: History of Hydrology, 1970, North-Holland Publishing Company, Amsterdam.

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