Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/May 1882/Editor's Table

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 21 May 1882  (1882) 
Editor's Table



THE reception accorded to Professor Huxley's new volume, under the above title, by the leading organs of public opinion, is especially significant at the present time. The book is a collection of addresses, lectures, and essays, which have appeared at intervals during the last seven years, on a considerable variety of subjects, educational, biological, and philosophical. They are all of superior merit—the maturest and most finished of Professor Huxley's literary productions, and are all of popular interest; but the critics do not regard them as having equal claims to their attention. It is the first address, from which the volume takes its name—given at the inauguration of Josiah Mason's college}}to which they chiefly devote themselves, and their discussions are noteworthy, as indicating the great change that is going forward in the public mind with regard to the higher relations of science and education.

It is beyond doubt that the most formidable hindrance to the progress of rational education is the idolatry of an antiquated and effete system of study. on the ground that it is preeminently and exclusively adapted to the promotion of "culture." It is by association of classical studies with a dignified and venerated ideal of "culture" that they have acquired their superstitious ascendency, and have become the greatest drags we have on real educational progress. Human cultivation is, and always must be, the supreme thing, and it is, therefore, difficult to overestimate the injurious influence of a false ideal of its means and objects.

But the difficulty in this case is increased by the fact that the ideal of culture, which must now be rejected as wholly inadequate, was once true. The old and the still prevalent idea of culture is that which is derived from literary pursuits, and it is limited to certain literary forms, as most perfect for the purpose. Professor Huxley says of the great majority of educated Englishmen that, "in their belief, culture is obtainable only by a liberal education; and a liberal education is synonymous, not merely with education and instruction in literature, but in one particular form of literature, namely, that of Greek and Roman antiquity. They hold that the man who has learned Latin and Greek, however little, is educated, while he who is versed in other branches of knowledge, however deeply, is a more or less respectable specialist, not admissible into the cultured caste."

But the human mind is no longer to be cultivated merely by the forms or the arts of expression. That these are important things, and that in past times they may have been the main things, no one denies; but such an ideal of culture is essentially superficial, and breaks down before the serious intellectual demands of the present time. The mind of our age has passed from the consideration of verbal figments to the laws of reality. The correlative of form is substance, and the correlative of literary form is the substance of thought, and modern science has made this the fundamental concernment. There has been not only a change here, but a reversal of the order of importance. The question now is, not of the art of expression in itself, but to what is it subservient. We grow increasingly impatient of the rhetorician. The casket may be elegant, but what does it contain? The husks and shells of expression have had sufficient attention we have now to deal with the living kernel of truth. The old ideal is discredited by the new developments of knowledge, and the new ideal must contain more substantial elements than that which it supersedes. Under the old ideal of culture, a man may still be grossly ignorant of the things most interesting and now most important to know; but an ideal of cultivation begins to be demanded which does not comport with ignorance. Modern knowledge is the highest and most perfected form of knowledge, and it is no longer possible to maintain that it is not also the best knowledge for that cultivation of mind and character which is the proper object of education. This truth is making its way steadily, and although the traditional ideal of culture is strongly fortified in existing institutions, and maintained by old habits and associations, it is undermined on every side, and is certain to give place to more comprehensive and rational views of what constitutes a properly cultivated man.

The leading criticisms of Professor Huxley 1 s book, as we have said, illustrate this position decisively. They not only show that the question is uppermost and urgent with the thinking classes, but that science has already so clearly established its main positions that the old resistance is futile, and that a revised and enlarged conception of culture has become inevitable. Professor Huxley is even reproached by distinguished literary authorities for not fully perceiving the strength of his own case, and how far science has already pushed its educational conquests. It is even maintained that the scientific spirit and method have so far penetrated and revolutionized the classical system as to have given it a new lease of life; so that it will be conserved in future only by virtue of what it has borrowed from the progressive agency which it has hitherto so desperately resisted. The London "Saturday Review" discourses upon the subject as follows:

Professor Huxley's position as to the claims of the natural sciences on the one hand and the humanities on the other of the "modern" and the "classical" plan of education, as they are commonly called is, on the whole, if we rightly collect his meaning, something like this: The medieeval system of European universities, which with more or less minor diversity was in substance the same everywhere, embraced everything which to the best men of its day seemed best worth a man's knowing, and deserves our thanks and praise according to its time and work. But it became stereotyped and inexpansive. It was too narrow to hold the flood of new knowledge and interests let loose upon the world by the revival of classical learning. The Eenaissance, in so far as it affected education, was the protest of far-sighted reformers against the bondage of medievalism. The humanities fought their pitched battle against the scholastic curriculum, and won it. Our present classical education represents the triumph of the lilterai humaniores three centuries and a half ago. But the humanities, like the scholastic system before them, have in their turn become stereotyped. Now science has arisen and opened a new world, unfamiliar to the men of classical traditions, and often scorned by them; and science is fighting its way to its proper eminence as Greek did in the days of Erasmus. The leaders of science are the true humanists of our own time, and the old-fashioned humanities must give place to them. Now, if we were prepared to assume, as Professor Huxley to some extent seems tacitly to assume, that classical education had reached its final development, and that nothing more was to come out of scholarship and antiquities than was got out of them by English scholars forty or fifty years ago, we should entirely agree with Professor Huxley's conclusions. But, for our part, we are not prepared to assume anything of the kind. There are matters not adverted to by Professor Huxley, and to which, as they certainly lie outside his business, his attention may naturally have not been directed, which appear to us necessary to be taken into account before we acquiesce in the view of science and humanism as two litigant parties, or attempt to pass a final judgment upon their alleged strife.

It may seem a strange thing to say, but Professor Huxley has underrated the strength and the victories of science. They are not confined to the bounds of natural history or physics, or to any or every branch of what we call the natural sciences. The modern spirit of science is too mighty and subtile not to penetratt, into every region of the field of human knowledge. It is transforming and requickening the humanities themselves; and we make bold to say that classical studies, so far from waning before the light of science, are awakening and waxing to a new Renaissance of which not we, but our children and children's children, will see the full splendor. What is it that Sir Josiah Mason's foundation excludes, and in Professor Huxley's judgment rightly, from the benefits and encouragement of his bounty? "Mere literary education and instruction," such mere drilling in language as until a recent date was understood to be the staple of our so-called classical learning. But our universities are now awake to the truth that knowledge of the ancient languages is an instrument, not an end in itself. The end is another kind of knowledge, and knowledge not undeserving to be compared for worth with the knowledge of things and of nature. It is the knowledge of man in the works of his hands and his thought, of the men from whom we inherit our laws, our art, and our civilization; the praise of famous men, and our fathers that begat us. Socrates and Plato, the fathers of philosophy; Pericles, the father of statesmanship; Alexander, the father of conquering civilization; Ulpian and Papinian, the fathers of scientific law; Trajan and the Antonines, of administration and government; Homer, the father of poetry; Phidias and Praxiteles, of sculpture these last the masters' of all followers in their craft unto this day and Aristotle, the father of science itself; surely of these men and their work we can not know too mueh, and even a little knowledge of them would be ill exchanged, for a man who does not mean to be a chemist, for a little knowledge of the atomic weights of elements.

But {his, some one will say, is not what comes of our so-called classical education; what we get from our classical teachers is only verse-grinding, scraps and odds and ends of half-understood Latin and Greek, and a general contempt for knowledge that is not at Latin and Greek. This has been only too true; but we hope it will not be true much longer. Cambridge, the head and front of the old verbal scholarship, is transforming her classical curriculum. Not through mere linguistic attainments, but through scientific philology, scientific archaeology, scientific study of ancient history and philosophy, will henceforth lie the road to her highest honors. We shall no longer have accomplished classical scholars who stand mute before a coin or an inscription, and can not tell a work of the school of Phidias or Praxiteles from a late Asiatic or Eoman imitation. Let the teachers of natural science look to it on their side that their own special studies do not degenerate into mere book-work, such barren catalogues of undigested facts and such an empty show of paper knowledge as Professor Huxley lifts up no uncertain voice against. Then, when at last a true and lively knowledge of man and of his history goes hand in hand with a true and lively knowledge of Nature and her works, our schools will produce results worthy of their noble means, and science and culture will be no longer names to bandy in controversy, but firm and inseparable allies. Science has come upon our humanists as from a region of mystery, like the nameless champion of the legend, clad in magical armor and wielding invincible weapons. But the champion is a friend and deliverer; well for them that receive him, and ill for them that in rashness and little faith repel him. But is there not already a working alliance? Are modern philology and archaeology "mere literary education and instruction"? "We conceive not; and we call Professor Huxley himself to witness. In his Aberdeen address he expresses the wish that there should be a Professorship of Fine Arts in every university, and that its functions should somehow be regularly connected with the arts curriculum. We are happy to think that this is exactly what is being done, or in a fair way to be done, at Cambridge. The study of classical antiquity through classical art is there rapidly becoming a living and working branch of the general classical studies of the university. But this, some will again say, is dreaming of the future. Are we satisfied with the present? Are we content that there should be university dignitaries who do not know one end of the solar spectrum from the other, and bishops who show their competence to criticise biological theories by supposing that the blood-corpuscles are formed by coagulation after death? We answer, unquestionably not. We hold that the elements of natural knowledge should be an integral part of general education. But we would make room for them as we have already said on other occasions not by ceasing to teach the humanities, but by teaching them better.

The criticism of the London "Academy" still further illustrates the advance of rational ideas on this subject:

The address on "Science and Culture," which gives its name to the volume, is a discussion of the place of scientific and of literary training in education. T he form in which the question in debate between the advocates of "science" and of "culture" is presented is not which of these two things is the more valuable, but whether the idea of complete culture does not include within itself that of scientific discipline. This way of stating the question brings out clearly the fundamental agreement that there is if we leave out of account the devotees of "useful knowledge" between the advocates of the classics and of physical science. For it is seen that the' advocates of science admit that every one ought to know something of literature, though they think it possible sufficiently to cultivate the sense of literary form by means of the modern languages alone; while the advocates of the classics, in maintaining that classical studies give the best possible intellectual training, admit that culture is not complete if nothing but the sense for literary form has been cultivated. The questions that are really in debate are, therefore, the subordinate ones whether, though real intellectual as well as aesthetic education is given by the study of the classics, physical science is not the typical intellectual discipline, for which anything else is an imperfect subsitute; and whether, though some literary culture can be got out of modern books alone, a certain knowledge of the classics is not necessary as a preparation for the the full appreciation of European literature in general. Professor Huxley decides both these questions in favor of the advocates of scientific education. He suggests incidentally that modern men of science have more of the spirit of antiquity than "the modern humanists. ... "We falsely pretend," he says, speaking of the Greeks, "to be the inheritors of their culture, unless we are penetrated, as the best minds among them were, with an unhesitating faith that the free employment of reason, in accordance with scientific method, is the sole method of reaching truth."

He points out, near the end of the essay, that the higher sciences, those that deal with man and society, can only be constructed by the application of the methods of physical science. As regards the literary side of education, he expresses the opinion that "for those who mean to make science their serious occupation; or who intend to follow the profession of medicine; or who have to enter early upon the business of life; ... classical education is a mistake." It is possible to get sufficient culture out of modern literature perhaps out of English literature alone.

Something might be said against this last opinion, even by those who agree with Professor Huxley entirely as to the necessity of scientific discipline as part of a complete education. But, granting that knowledge of classical literature is not an essential part of culture, there is still a difficulty about omitting Greek and Latin from education in some cases and not in others. For, if the classical languages are to be taught at all, it is desirable that the study of them should begin at an earlier age than that at which a decided preference either for literature or for science usually manifests itself.

This last remark is very important in its bearing upon the general issue between classical and scientific studies. It is a concession of what we have constantly maintained, that, if the study of Greek and Latin is to be worth anything at all, it must consume a portion of the time devoted to education that is out of all relation to the value of the acquisitions, compared with others that are necessarily excluded. If that time is not given to them, the acquisitions are so worthless that the effort is wasted; but, if the full time is taken by the classical tongues, there is no room left for any fullness or thoroughness of scientific study. Hence the need, as the "Academy" remarks, of beginning so early with the Greek and Latin that the pupil is unable to form an opinion of the uses and value of his studies. But this period of immature judgment is exactly the proper time for the training of the powers of observation and the acquisition of elementary science. These early years, therefore, belong rightfully, and by the laws of the mental constitution, to science and the rudimentary study of natural things. It is a sufficient outrage in itself to put children at the dead languages, whereby there is certain to be engendered a hatred of study; but it is no less an outrage upon the childish nature to neglect those studies which are best suited to this stage of his unfolding faculties.