Popular Science Monthly/Volume 18/January 1881/Editor's Table
|←Sketch of General Albert J. Myer|| Popular Science Monthly Volume 18 January 1881 (1881)
THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES.
THIS body held its November session in New York, and its meetings at Columbia College. In the absence of President William B. Rogers, Vice-President O. C. Marsh filled his chair. The proceedings were in a high degree interesting. It is commonly supposed that the disquisitions of this body belong to depths of profundity that are wholly unapproachable by ordinarily endowed mortals, but this is a quite erroneous view. There are often, to be sure, technical and mathematical papers intelligible only to those proficient in these subjects; but the principal topics considered at the recent meeting were not only of general interest, but they were so treated that well-instructed people could appreciate and enjoy them. The Academy, however, never bids for a crowd, and if there should be an influx of outsiders it would be immediately inferred that there is something wrong in the working of the association. Of the hundred members, thirty or forty usually get together at the meetings and devote themselves to reporting the results of research, and to the discussion of views presented. There are set papers, of course, but exposition is largely extemporaneous, and accompanied with blackboard and other illustrations.
The newspapers have given to the public notices of the main results of the late meeting, all of which will be more fully published in the "Transactions" of the Academy, or in the scientific periodicals. Among the novel and striking things brought forward was a new method of chemical analysis, by Dr. "Wolcott Gibbs; Professor Rood's experiments in perfecting the vacuum; Professor Langley's researches into the distribution of heat in the spectrum, and his new method of measuring infinitesimal amounts of heat; Professor Henry Draper's photographs of the Orion nebula; and Professor Marsh's account of a fossil animal with an extra brain at the other end of the spinal column. The progress of the electric light was also critically discussed, and various other important subjects were duly considered. In short, if our friends the Academicians will pardon us, their meeting was a "complete success."
THE STUDY OF GREEK AT CAMBRIDGE.
We drew attention, a year or two ago, to a movement in England, led by several head-masters of the public schools and other eminent gentlemen interested in education, to secure a relaxation in the university requirements regarding the study of Latin and Greek. The study of Greek was compulsory, and insisted upon as if it were the sole condition of turning out an educated man. A petition was sent to the authorities of Cambridge, asking that it be omitted if the student desired to take in its place a modern language. It was remarked that students entering the university "may be the peers of Airy and Adams in pure mathematics, of Tyndall and Huxley in natural science, of a Whewell and a Hamilton in moral science, but they must be able to read a play of Euripides and the Greek Testament, or Cambridge will not have them among its graduates." This state of things was such as to provoke decided protest on the part of liberal-minded men, and hence the public controversy upon the subject, and the petition that forced the issue upon the Cambridge authorities. A late number of the "Lancet" reports progress on the question in the follow- ing paragraph: "A discussion took place in the Arts Schools at Cambridge on Tuesday, October 26th, on the report of an influential syndicate, which had been appointed to consider a memorial sent by schoolmasters and teachers, in- eluding the head-masters of Eaton, Win- chester, Westminster, St, Paul's, Har- row, and Rugby Matthew Arnold, C. Darwin, Sir J. Hooker, Professor Hux- ley, Professor Tyndall, Dr. Vaughan, and the Bishops of Exeter and Win- chester. The memorial stated that ' the present regulations, according to which a knowledge of Greek is required from all candidates for the Previous Exami- nation at Cambridge, have the effect of excluding a large and increasing num- ber of able and deserving students from the benefits of university education,' and it respectfully prayed that the uni- versity would be pleased to take into consideration some means whereby can- didates for an honor degree may be re- lieved from the obligation of passing an examination in Greek. After much deliberation and inquiry, the syndicate reported 1. In favor of the relaxa- tion of the requirements of Greek in some cases; 2. That the relaxation should be restricted to candidates for honors; 3. That a knowledge of French and German should be accepted as a substitute for Greek."
But it seems that this reasonable report of the syndicate was not finally adopted. We learn from the London "Spectator" that the senate of the uni- versity decided against the petitioners by one hundred and eighty-five votes against one hundred and forty-five. The "Spectator" discusses this result in a way that is suggestive. It re- grets the Cambridge decision, not from want of appreciation of Greek, but be- cause the language is so poorly taught in the university. It declares that it heartily concurs in the following esti- mate of this study: "It is said that a knowledge of Greek is the only door
of access to a certain plane of culture which contains more of the seeds of free life and intellectual energy than all the rest of the intellectual discipline of our schools put together. The genius of the Greek language and literature, it is said, is the genius of freedom. The genius of the Latin language is the ge- nius of authority and law. We believe there is a great deal of truth in this view."
But no such ideal is realized in prac- tice, and the actual results are thus stated: "The fact, no doubt, is that in the present embarrassing wealth of dis- ciplinary studies a great many men, with a real gift for mathematics and physical science, and whose education at the university, so far as it is of any value at all, is carried through in the sphere of mathematics or physical sci- ence, take up Greek for the Previous Examination in the most perfunctory way, never attain even a rudimentary mastery of the language or the litera- ture, and even lose something in the thoroughness of their early studies, by entering on a subject which they intend to drop as soon as ever it has answered their temporary purpose. Now, for such as these, the compulsory cram- ming of a little Greek enough to ena- ble them, perhaps, to construe decently a little New Testament or a little bit of the ' Anabasis ' of Xenophon, after they have been carefully prepared by a tu- tor is of no kind of good, and yet takes the place of an acquisition which might be of very real use to them in the career they actually propose to themselves." Again: "The real reason for regretting the decision of the Uni- versity of Cambridge is the tendency of modern education toward superfi- ciality. Whatever can be done to pre- vent subjects being taken up which are never to be pursued, and which are never so far followed out that they give those who have entered upon them a new sense of power, should be done. Whatever any university can do to encourage the lona fide study of Greek, it ought to do. There is no study so cultivating; there are few studies so humanizing; there are not very many studies so ennobling. But just for this reason we think but little of it as a mere whetstone for the understanding of boys; and think a very great deal, on the other hand, of the vast impor- tance of not forcing on any one the necessity for a fragmentary acquisition which is to form no part of his future studies. Whatever else is necessary nowadays, this is most necessary to prevent that dispersion of the mind over a hundred unconnected morsels of half-knowledge, to which the enormous multiplication of intellectual interests too much tends."
With this demand for thoroughness of study we entirely agree; and it fa- vors the conclusion that of the multi- tude of subjects undertaken some must be cut off. We say, let those go that are demonstrated and acknowledged failures. The "Spectators" complaint that Greek is superficially crammed at Cambridge, is but a fresh example of the lamentations of thoughtful men over the same result at the universities for two hundred years. It is not that modern science crowds classical studies so that there is not sufficient time. John Milton made exactly the same complaint when the dead languages and their literatures were almost the exclu- sive objects of university study, and there was no such thing as the rivalry of scientific studies.
When we consider the force of tra- dition in a conservative country like England, it is not to be expected that reforms in these rich old universities will move very fast; yet the majority for retaining the customary Greek was not large. Common sense makes headway, but the surprising thing is that the old extravagant claims for this study should still be urged. The "Spectator" af- firms Greek to be the most cultivating of all studies, and among the very high-
est for its humanizing and ennobling in- fluences. The authority of the " Spec- tator " is outweighed by those who declare that the influence of classical studies is of a very different character. Dr. Whewell characterized it as " nar- row and enfeebling"; Macaulay says they have " a tendency to contract the views and deaden the sensibility"; and Sydney Smith speaks of the effect of classical learning as an " elegant imbe- cility." Certainly that can not be an eminently "cultivating" study which leaves whole important tracts of our mental nature uncultivated; nor can that be the most " humanizing " of studies which puts an ancient fraction of the human race, to be approached only through a dead language, in place of living humanity itself. And are we to regard that study as especially " en- nobling " which knows nothing of the conquests, aspirations, and encourage- ments of the knowledge and life of the present time?
THE STUDY OF SEWERAGE IN LONDON.
The current standards of study and valuations of knowledge are factitious and false. Greek is not so ennobling a study as that of sfewerage. To trace out the obscure laws of our own and of surrounding nature, so as to get com- mand of natural agencies for beneficent ends, is the noblest object of study. If life be greater than any of its acci- dents, what study is so exalted as that which teaches how to save it, to im- prove it, and to perfect it? When diph- theria makes its dread appearance, and the priceless lives of beloved children are in mortal peril, then comes, with startling emphasis, the true answer to the question, "What knowledge is of most worth?" it is the knowledge that leads to self-preservation. There is such a thing as life-saving knowledge, but it is not of the classical sort, nor that which is most prized in colleges, even in these later times. It is scientific knowledge that teaches how hfe is to be protected and prolonged, disease prevented, health heightened, and hu- man existence made more valuable. "While at Cambridge they have been assiduous in conserving the more worth- less kinds of knowledge and preventing thoroughness in any, in London men have been voluntarily combining to se- CHre the more thorough application of sciientific methods to household sanita- tion. Great multitudes die from un- healthy habitations. Their dwellings are poisoned by noxious emanations that give rise both to slow undermining mal- adies and to swift malignant diseases. Prominent among these destructive con- taminations is sewer-gas, and science has at length grappled with the problem of getting effectually rid of it. It was at first supposed to be an easy task.
- ' Traps " were interposed to prevent
the refluence of sewage exhalations, and all was supposed to be well. But disease and death were still rife, and further investigation showed the inefB- cacy of the mechpanical arrangements, and. that " foul gases will pass steadily, continuously, and certainly through water in traps." Yet it can not be for a moment doubted that it is possible to obtain absolute protection in dwellings against sewer-air. The difficulty is to get the ignorant classes (including the educated) to give that serious attention to the subject which its gravity de- mands. The work must be done by the comparatively few who have mas- tered the science of the question.
Much has been accomplished by such men in this country as well as abroad. But we observe that they are organiz- ing in London for the most effectual prosecution of this important work. A Sanitary Assurance Association has been formed under the presidency of an eminent physician, Sir Joseph Fay- rer, the design of which is to unite the professions of medicine and architecture to secure the thorough supervision of sanitary arrangements and drainage in
the houses of the metropolis. It seems not to be a movement of evasion by getting up a cry for more " government inspection," but a voluntary association of qualified men who are ready to meet the responsibilities of the task they undertake. Assuming that defective drainage is a " great enemy to public health," and that " there is a terrible absence of all supervision of sanitary arrangements," the Sanitai-y Assur- ance Association will make a careful investigation of the health-conditions of houses, and give certificates to those that are in perfect sanitary order. This will be of most important service to the public, because people generally are incompetent to determine what houses are healthy and what are unhealthy. The names of the men who are fore- most in this movement are a guarantee that it will be well directed, and, if it achieves the success that it promises, kindred associations will spring up in many other places. A writer, giving a notice of this organization in " Natui-e," remarks: "It is surely as necessary to be assured against preventable diseases as it is to be assured against fire, and we see from the preliminary prospectus issued that it is intended to give per- sons who place their houses on the As- surance Register certificates that their houses are in a satisfactory sanitary condition, and to endorse such certifi- cates from time to time; this latter point is of great importance, as it is only by regular inspection at stated in- tervals that it is possible to ascertain that all continues to work satisfacto- rily."
A FIELD-NATURALISTS' CLUB.
"We have been much gratified in look- ing over a modest pamphlet of sixty- two pages that has been sent to us, bearing the title of " Transactions Jfo. 1 of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists' Club." Several young men of that Canadian city, interested in the subject, discussed for a year or two the possibility of starting a society devoted to the inves- tigation of the natural history of the vicinity, and, having resolved to try it, they issued a few circulars, called a meet- ing, which was attended by some forty gentlemen, drew up a few rules, and es- tablished the association. The object is so praiseworthy, and the plan so well worth imitating in other places, that some account of the operations of this club may prove acceptable to many readers.
The club was organized by the ap- pointment of a President, two Vice- Presidents, a Secretary-Treasurer, and a committee of five other members, all of whom are to constitute a Council of Management. Ladies and gentlemen de- siring to join the club may become members by paying a fee of fifty cents a year. The club secures its objects by means of excursions in the summer for making observations and collecting specimens; and by holding evening meetings and soirees in the winter for reading papers, discussion, and exhi- bition, and the display and comparison of natural history objects, the general direction of these proceedings being vested in the Council.
The Council reports at the end of the first year that the work has gone on satisfactorily so as to alFord every en- couragement for continuing it. Large numbers, of course, do not take to such projects as this; and of those who do, or who join with entire good will, only a small portion have interest enough in the objects to be attained to discharge well the duties of member- ship. This is always to be counted upon in such undertakings, and should wisely moderate the expectations of the more sanguine. We are informed that the Council met twenty times during the year for the transaction of business, at irregular intervals, as occasion re- quired; and at these meetings there was an average attendance of nearly seven out of nine of the Councilors,
This certainly shows well, but the offi- cers were of course picked for their in- terest in the work. The members were less dutiful. There were five excur- sions in the course of the summer to attractive points in the vicinity of Ot- tawa, but only a small part of the mem- bers accompanied them. This indiffer- ence is thus referred to in the annual report: "The Council feel compelled to express their regret that, although these excursions were to the most in- teresting places in the neighborhood, and the price of tickets put so low that three of them did not pay expenses, so few of the members thought them worth attending. It does not say much for the interest the members take in the club's work, that, with a membership of over eighty, the average attendance at the excursions should be only thirty, fully one third of whom were visitors; and they hope that during the coming season the excursions will be better supported by the members of the club," But if the members did not care to go on the summer expeditions, they were less remiss when it came to the winter meetings. The winter course of soirees and conversaziones was suc- cessful in every respect. There was a well-sustained attendance, and the papers read were not only of consider- able range but also of serious scientific interest. They were on the following subjects: 1. "Inaugural Address," on the pleasure of understanding common ob- jects; 2. "Graphite of the Ottawa Val- ley"; 3. "On the Forms and Structures of some Spongillaj found in the Ottawa"; 4. "The Connection of Botany with Mythology"; 5. "Cystidian Life"; 6, "Museum Education"; 7. "On the Contractility of the Spores of Palmella Hytilina"; 8, "Asbestos"; 9, "A Practical Demonstration of the Human Brain"; 10, "Design in Nature"; 11, "Land and Fresh-water Shells of the Ottawa Valley"; 12, "On some In- sects captured at our Excursions"; 13, "On some Plants collected during our Excursions." Abstracts of these papers are given in the "Transactions," and thej are of a very instructive charac- ter.
If we had space we would print the whole of the admirable " Inaugural Ad- dress," by Mr. James Fletcher, who hap- pily remarks in his opening: "One of the chief benefits bestowed by an or- ganization such as ours, is, that it en- ables one always to know where to find a sympathetic companion. Of all recreations, there is none, to my mind, more enjoyable than a walk in the coun- try with a congenial friend. No kind of intercourse brings you into closer contact with a companion than taking a walk. You can not take ten steps, even with a stranger, without feeling a necessity of saying something, and, if there is anything in a man, you can soon bring it out of him in a country walk. Now, it is very clear that a judicious choice with regard to your companion is a most important matter; but it is not always easy to find one who has the same tastes or takes an in- terest in the same subjects as yourself. John Burroughs, in ' Winter Sunshine,' writes as follows: ' Professional walk- ers are very fastidious in choosing or admitting a companion, and hence the truth of a remark of Emerson that " you wiU generally fare better to take your dog than to invite your neighbor." Your cur dog is a true pedestrian; he enters into the spirit of the enterprise; he is not indifferent or preoccupied; he is constantly sniffing adventure; laps at every spring; looks upon every field or wood as a new world to be explored; is ever on some new trail; knows some- thing important will happen a little far- ther on; whatever the spot, or what- ever the road, he is always satisfied with it. In short, he is just that happy excursive vagabond that touches one at so many points, and whose human pro- totype in a companion, when such can be found, robs miles and leagues of half their power and fatigue.'
"The most interesting companion in anything is undoubtedly the one who can tell you most about it. Therefore, the best companion in the country must be a naturalist, who can point out ob- jects of interest and explain their beau- ties and wonders. No one looks upon the world so kindly as he does; no one else gives so much attention to, or takes so much enjoyment from, the country as he does, and he holds a more vital relation to nature, because he is freer, and his mind is more at leisure. Moreover, when a naturalist gets a friend, who is not one, out in the coun- try, he feels a sort of moral responsi- bility resting upon him to find some- thing particularly interesting to point out, so as to arouse his curiosity, and, if possible, to convert him to the study of 'La Belle Science.' I say particu- larly interesting, because everything in nature is interesting and beautiful; and I defy any one to bring me a single ob- ject, picked up by a country roadside, which is not beautiful, and even ex- quisitely so a stick, a piece of straw, a leaf, or a stone, it matters not what, if properly examined and understood, they are aU wonderful and lovely."
As before remarked, we refer to the early experience of this club be- cause it may aff'ord guiding suggestions for the formation of similar associations elsewhere. In smaller towns there might not be found so many men culti- vated in natural history to sustain such a society as in Ottawa, but that is not essential. In every village of five thou- sand inhabitants there is cultivated capacity enough, if it were combined, to carry on with some method and to valuable results the work of scientific self-improvement. It may be done to some extent anywhere, in many ways and with few facilities. All over the country there are individuals working alone and to great disadvantage; these would help others and be helped in turn by such combination and' cooper- ation as might be almost everywhere practicable. The high-school of every town ought to be the headquarters of a Field-Naturalists' Club that shall have for its object to study the natural history of the locality.
It has not been our habit in this Monthly to make much parade about what we are going to do, being quite content with plain statements of what we are doing. In this spirit we ask attention to an important series of articles now begun on the subject of "Physical Education," and which may be expected to continue through the year. Dr. Oswald is widely known to the American public as a vigorous, thoroughly-informed thinker, and one of the most racy, incisive, and brilliant writers of the period. He will treat the subject from an original and especially modern point of view. It is a suggestive circumstance that in all modern languages the terms corresponding to what we call physical culture have acquired a specific meaning, being applied nearly exclusively to gymnastics and calisthenics as a branch of practical education. Yet the advocates of physical training in this limited sense were the first to take issue with the educational methods of the mediæval system—of the anti-natural school, as it has been justly termed, since its exponents ignored the physical interests of man as persistently as they denied his right to temporal happiness. The founders of the Turn-bund, like their Grecian prototypes, held that our highest physical and our highest moral well-being can only be conjointly attained; that health is the principal condition of happiness, and the normal condition of all whose mode of life is not grossly at variance with the simple laws which Nature proclaims in the unmistakable language of our instincts.
These principles Dr. Oswald has applied to the science of Physical Education in the widest sense of the word. The serial will comprise an exposition of "Dietetics," the first installment of which is herewith issued, to be followed by chapters on "Indoor Life," "Out-door Life," "Gymnastics," "Hereditary Influences," "Clothing," "Remedial Education," etc.
Dr. Oswald has studied the social conditions and sanitary habits of many communities, having traveled in Mexico, South America, and Southern Europe, so that his articles will be enriched with the results of wide and careful personal observation; and it will be found that the author has solved the problem of making a scientific work as attractive to the most fastidious amateur of belles-lettres as to the scientific reader and the public in general.