Popular Science Monthly/Volume 2/February 1873/Literary Notices
The State of Wisconsin is but just of age, having emerged from its Territorial infancy and entered upon its sovereignty only twenty-two years ago. This is but a short period in the lifetime of an independent political community, yet much has been done within that period to give the State an impulse in the direction of civilized development. Taking journalism as a standard, the number of newspapers and periodicals printed in Wisconsin, in 1870, was no less than 174—of which 6 were monthly, 1 semi-monthly, 14 daily and weekly, and 153 weekly. In 1870, was organized, at Madison, the capital, the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, devoted to the material, intellectual, and social advancement of the State. This association numbers at present 55 annual members, 29 corresponding members, and 12 life-members. The first volume of the proceedings, now before us, is a very interesting document, the first part of which is a report to the Legislature by Dr. J. W. Hoyt, President of the Academy, which gives an account of its establishment, and a valuable inventory of the contributions to philosophy, political science, social science, natural science, and the useful and the fine arts, by distinguished citizens of the State, within the last few years. The remainder of the volume of proceedings is filled with a series of original papers in the several departments, many of which are able and instructive. The plan of the institution is comprehensive, and if it is sustained, as it ought to be, it cannot fail to be of great service in promoting the higher prosperity of the State.
The second volume of the "International Scientific Series" is now issued, and it is but just to say that it ably sustains the character of the enterprise. It was no easy task to follow Prof. Tyndall, the clearest of our scientific thinkers, and most elegant and eloquent of our scientific writers; and, had a similar subject been chosen, we could have hardly expected a monograph so finished as the "Forms of Water." But Mr. Bagehot's theme is widely dissimilar from that of Prof. Tyndall, and, although treating of a subject at the opposite pole of science (if we may so speak), is not less attractive, and is presented with great literary skill, keenness of analysis, and originality of view. The author is unknown in this country, except through various essays in the Economist, of which he is the editor, and in the periodicals; but he takes a high rank among the thinkers of England. His book on "The English Constitution," which will shortly be republished here, is unquestionably the ablest work on the philosophy of modern politics that has appeared in a long time, and at once placed its author in the front rank of writers upon the science of government.
The volume now issued is not only from the latest point of view, and stamped with all the freshness of recent inquiry, but it is a pioneer discussion which clears a path of investigation that is certain to be followed up in the future with the most marked and valuable results.
If any one were asked to name that field of thought which is at present most chaotic and discordant, where there are the fewest settled principles, and the most arbitrary assumptions, in which everybody can dabble with equal claims to attention, and where scientific knowledge is utterly scouted as of no manner of use or application—it would of course be that of politics. In almost every other field where the human mind requires to be used, a certain amount of knowledge is regarded as indispensable; but in politics the charlatan and the ignoramus put forth equal claims with the trained and painstaking thinker. This state of things cannot last. The advance of knowledge is irresistible, and it will as certainly produce a revolution in politics as it has already produced revolutions in so many other departments of thought. This pestiferous swamp of humbugs and impostures is bound to be drained and reclaimed to the higher uses of civilization.
"Physics and Politics" has been written to show that the noble field of political thought and activity is not necessarily the chaos it is generally supposed, but that it involves great natural laws, which it is the destiny of science to trace out and formulate, just as it has done with other branches of knowledge which have been made scientific by modern inquiry. In what does the progress of political communities consist, and how has it arisen? What were the first conditions and steps of social advancement? What are the uses of slavery, war, and other barbarities in the early tutelage of races? And when the rude stages of barbarism and violence are passed, what are the recent agencies which take up the work of amelioration and carry it up to still better and finer results? These are the questions which Mr. Bagehot answers in his successive disquisitions on "The Preliminary Age," "The Use of Conflict," "Nation-Making," "The Age of Discussion," and "Verifiable Progress Politically considered." In treating these questions, the author brings out the action of those laws of Nature and of human nature that precede the age of legislation, and are a thousand times more potent than the edicts of kings or the enactments of congregated law-makers.
To the cultivated reader who enjoys literary excellence, fine analysis, fresh and striking views, with many passages of picturesque eloquence, and all vivifying and illuminating a current of close and vigorous reasoning, this little treatise on "Physics and Politics" will prove a rare treat. We had marked several passages for quotation, but lack of space prevents their insertion.
In this discourse, which was given at the first annual celebration of a young chemical society, Prof. Silliman regards the problem of higher education from the modern and American point of view—not as a radical innovator, but as a friend of rational progress and judicious reform. He says:
"Public opinion, however, has made itself felt by the outward pressure it has exerted, and the demand, which has grown up for men better trained in general science, and in its several departments, has brought about a change, visible on every hand, alike in the modification of the studies, as in the development of new departments with separate Faculties devoted to science-training; as also occasionally in the establishment of new institutions, on entirely independent foundations, in some of which only special subjects are taught, while in others the experiment is on trial of a curriculum, in which the modern languages, either wholly, or in part, replace the ancient, and where the student is trained during three or four years by a course of studies in which the inductive sciences have a prominent part."
Prof. Silliman admits the former excess of deductive training in our colleges, and recognizes the necessity of so modifying the curriculum as to introduce a larger amount of inductive science to correct the evil, and afford a sounder and more symmetrical culture. On this point he observes:
"The defect of an education based on the study of the deductive methods of geometry, the pure mathematics, jurisprudence, and ancient literature, will now be readily understood. Intuitive principles, those which underlie geometrical and mathematical studies, or those principles obtained by common consent, and of human authority, which are the foundations of jurisprudence; or again, the study of the historical, poetical, and literary precedents, images, and ideas of ancient writers, and their rendering into English, which is the staple of the ancient classics, leaves completely undeveloped the entire body and soul of ideas connected with the experimental and demonstrative sciences, which have to do with natural phenomena, and the entities of natural history in the broadest sense. In other words, no room is left for the study of the inductive methods, the logic of science, by the aid of which we, in this nineteenth century, find ourselves so immeasurably in advance of all former times, in our ability to comprehend and control the powers of Nature, and adapt them not only to the service of our human wants, but, what is more, to the interpretation of cosmical laws, and the hidden mysteries of molecular physics."
The professor protests alike against the narrowness of the traditional culture on one side, and the newer policy of our scientific and technological schools.
"In urging the plea for science-education, let it be remembered that we speak of education in its broad and well-rounded sense, by which all the powers of the human mind are to be developed into a symmetry which shall dwarf none of them. We claim, with great reason, the existing system does not do this, and is incapable of doing it, owing to the overshadowing importance attached to the ancient classics, absorbing so much of the time given to education that only a fragment can be grudgingly given to the study of the inductive sciences. But no institution, as we have before remarked, which is confined to the training of men for special professional work can be regarded, in the broader sense of that term, as an educational institution, however ably it may discharge the more limited work which is assigned to it. The want of ethical and literary training and general culture at West Point has always been recognized as a deficiency, in a system in many other respects unsurpassed, and the same is true of all institutions similarly organized."
This volume completes the first collection yet made of Mr. Spencer's miscellaneous essays. It contains thirteen papers, most of which have not before appeared in this country, and there are sis more articles added to the present edition. The volume is especially valuable, as containing Mr. Spencer's complete discussion of the system of Comte, the classification of the sciences, the genesis of knowledge, and the work of discovery of general laws. The other articles are "Specialized Administration"—a reply to some views of Prof. Huxley in his articles on "Administrative Nihilism," "What is Electricity?" "The Constitution of the Sun," "The Collective Wisdom," "Political Fetichism," and "Miss Martineau on Evolution." As remarked in the preface to this work, "these several discussions have been drawn from Mr. Spencer at various times to correct misapprehensions and misrepresentations that have been made regarding the doctrines of his system of philosophy. Some of them form valuable extensions of these doctrines, and all will be useful in promoting their right interpretation."
- Pronounced Bá-jote.