Inaugural Discourse by Julio Rey Pastor

The following is a translation of the beginning of: Julio Rey Pastor, Is it the progress of Spain in science, or is it the progress of science in Spain?, Spanish Association for the Progress of Science (Madrid, 1915).


The title of our Association invites us in these discourses, to concern ourselves with the progress of science in relation to Spain. However it occurs to me to ask: What is the objective of this Association? Is it the progress of Spain in science, or is it the progress of science in Spain? In other words: Are we able to collaborate yet in universal Science, or should we still be limiting ourselves to the assimilation of it?

Spanish mathematicians may be classified into two groups with respect to their vision of this vital problem.

First: Modern men, that is to say, lovers of progress, who have understood our position and wish to improve it.

Second: Those who negate the necessity of progress; some of whom because they are not modern since they do not recognise the European mathematical culture; others, who are ignorant and ignore the necessity despite knowledge of this culture through travel or lectures; and others still who are not acquainted with this culture and are not modern, nor would be even if they did recognise it.

It is easy to predict then, the attitude of the second group, upon hearing for the hundredth time that tiresome word: revision. Lovers of the semi-darkness, like spiders, they do not tolerate a single ray of light, which could illuminate the half-light of their comfortable position, obliging them perhaps to leave it.

They speak to us of patriotism, they whom have produced nothing useful, believing, without a doubt, that the patria is improved through books and vindicating speeches composed of rhetorical falsehoods. They speak to us of "deeply rooted national traditions, which ought not to be destroyed nor erased" as if we were able to assert influence over the geographical factor in a discipline so essentially international as mathematics.

We direct ourselves then, only to those of the first group, those of a modern spirit, lovers of progress, and therefore patriots, but patriots with facts not discourse. We begin then by looking at the progress of Spain in Mathematical Science throughout the 19th century.

The year 1845 is often highlighted as the birth of science in our nation. The wars of Independence, followed by the revolution and later, a civil war provided a particularly non-propitious environment in the first half of the century and severely hindered the tranquil cultivation of science.

Prior to this date, Scholasticism was the prevailing form of university tuition in physics and mathematics. "Everything was reduced", according to the erudite Vicuña, "so that any serious father, or curious layman, could read a book in Latin concerning mathematical or physical matters. The Physical-mathematical Sciences were reduced to: An extract of geometry by Euclid, a summary of arithmetic, notions on cosmology or on music, dissertations on natural phenomena, and almost nothing about algebra. Empirical rules substituted theoretical investigation, and in Salamanca they gave lessons in singing instead of in the acoustic theory of music."

The importance attached to the date 1845, lies in the reorganization of university tuition in the Physical and Mathematical sciences, which created a special section within the faculty of Philosophy; and, furthermore, in the foundation (in 1847) of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Madrid.

Unfortunately, any form of organization is useless unless there are men capable of representing it; and although there was an attempt to choose a committee of the most lucid personnel available, the chosen men, educated in old-school Mathematics, could not easily comprehend or introduce new ideas. However, it is true that before the plan in 1845, we were, culturally speaking, three hundred years behind the rest of Europe and it is therefore fair to earmark this esteemed progress.

This development continued at a steady rate, aided by the Moyano Law of 1857, which created the Faculty of Sciences and amplified the study of Mathematics. Additionally it established a section for Exact Sciences and began publishing extracts from French science papers, which, although basic, served to awaken curiosity for the study of mathematics.

Translation by: Jenny Kirkland (University of St Andrews)

Last Updated August 2005