Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/658

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

a narrow, utilitarian culture, but his main point is that it breaks down in presence of the higher human interests in which we are all mainly concerned. He declares of its expositors:

"It is assumed, in nearly all that many of them say about education, that it is with Nature only that man has to struggle in the pursuit of happiness; and that, if he can only discover what to eat, drink, and avoid, how mines may best be worked, and crops raised, and distance traversed, and storms foreseen, and the state of the market transmitted, he will have solved the problem of living.... It now begins to be discovered, however, that, no matter how successful we may be in wresting her secrets from Nature, or how familiar we make ourselves with her processes, or however conscientiously we may adapt our lives to her requirements, the best scientific education, after all, only half fits us for the battle of life, and for the simple reason that the battle has to be fought not only with hard, inexorable physical surroundings, but with very troublesome and mysterious social surroundings. In other words, in making a career, we have to deal with our brother man as well as with earth and air and water. Let us mine never so successfully, we have to settle with the crowd at the mouth of the shaft before we can carry home our earnings. Let us manufacture never so deftly, we have to establish a rule of distribution before our science or our dexterity does us any good. Let us build railroads as we may, we have to come to an agreement as to who shall work them, and what he shall receive, before they profit us. Heat, and light, and electricity, and steam, are great monarchs, but they cannot raise us out of grovelling barbarism, unless we can come to some understanding with our neighbors as to the ends and modes of living. The study of man, therefore, is really the most important of all studies, and must always continue to be so. Nothing can take its place in any curriculum. People must learn how to live in society before they can get any lasting benefit from science, and before they can have and retain any thing worth the name of art; and this they cannot do without observing human nature as it is, and without making themselves acquainted with the past experience of the race. Now, the past experience of the race is found in literature, and Languages, and laws, and monuments, or, in other words, in things of which our physicists are apt to make light."

We entirely agree with the writer as to the supreme importance of the study of man and his relations, but we totally dissent from his method of studying them. What we want to know concerning man and society is the laws of their constitution and action, and this it is the proper business of science to ascertain. It is not the office of literature to elucidate natural laws. We have had the literary method in its full power for thousands of years, without dispelling the illusions and obscurities which have shrouded the nature of man and human society. Literature was both incompetent in method and destitute of all the necessary data. Before man and society could be understood, it was necessary first to have correct notions of the workings and order of Nature. Light could only be thrown upon the higher phenomena, as the lower were first explained. To the preliminary work, literature and the literary method contributed absolutely nothing. We owe entirely to modern science that whole series of preliminary revelations concerning the method and operations of Nature, by which it becomes possible to interpret the individual and social phenomena of man. And to science we owe not only the solution of the preliminary problems, upon which the higher depend, but we are also indebted to it for that long and severe discipline, in the quest of truth — that apprenticeship of centuries in the mastery of mental methods — which are necessary to engage with the most difficult of all investigations, the unravelling of the complexities of human nature and the social state. Is all this preparation to go for nothing? Are we to be told that science is incapable of carrying on its own work, and that the agency which was incompetent to begin it is still able to complete it? Undoubtedly "the past experience of the race is found in literature, and languages, and laws, and monuments,"