Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/September 1882/Editor's Table
|←Entertaining Varieties||Popular Science Monthly Volume 21 September 1882 (1882)
THE appearance of Sir John Lubbock's remarkable book on "Ants and Bees" lias awakened some interesting discussion as to why there are not more such authors, and why, especially, we have no representatives of the class in this country. Sir John Lubbock is a man of wealth, who could, if he pleased, "enjoy" his liberal means—that is, spend his time in dignified idleness or elegant amusement; but he finds his pleasure, on the contrary, in all kinds of hard work, and, although he takes abundant relaxation, he never wastes an hour. The "Scientific American" remarks that we have a wealthy, idle class of men, who have no need to labor with hand or head, and who are free from every care. But, impelled by fashion, hundreds of such young men are to-day scouring the Adirondacks, or shooting the rapids of the St. Lawrence, and boring themselves to death in quest of amusement, because "it is quite the thing, you know." Here is the material from which naturalists and independent investigators of nature ought to be recruited in this country.
To such men Sir John Lubbock has set a noble example. Something—much, indeed, is to be first of all allowed to genius, but more is to be allowed to a dominant purpose, and the unremitting assiduity which is pleasurable when there is a cultivated interest in the subject. There is an all-sided activity in this case which is quite remarkable. To begin with, Sir John Lubbock is by profession a banker, and so thoroughly a man of business as to be not only a successful money-maker, but a leading reformer of the English banking system. His important work in this direction is thus well summed up in the "Whitehall Review":
And yet all this is but the subordinate and incidental part of Sir John Lubbock's work. He is preeminently a scientific investigator, and it is as such that he will be chiefly known in the future. A sagacious, patient, plodding observer of minute phenomena, he is at the same time a comprehensive original thinker, and had made a world-wide reputation by his researches into prehistoric archaeology before he entered upon the systematic study of the social hymenoptera, the results of which are but just published.
If, now, we press the question why there are not more such men, particularly in this country, in the ranks of science, and helping forward its work, it will be an evasion to answer that it is for lack of native capacity or the talent for such labor. We have plenty of this good mind running to waste that might do invaluable service in the extension and diffusion of scientific knowledge. The difficulty is a lack of sufficient interest in such things to resist other solicitations. We do not begin early enough with the study of science to form deep, persistent controlling impressions. Other subjects get the start, and the loss of ground can not be subsequently recovered. Sir John Lubbock recognizes that this is a great deficiency of education in England, and he has again and again brought forward measures in Parliament for extending and rationalizing scientific study in the primary schools, so as to lay a better foundation for this mental pursuit in later life. We suffer sorely from the same neglect. Our primary school science is not genuine; it is book-science, and awakens no feeling or enthusiasm for the study of natural things. Our rich young men, however nominally educated, have never seriously taken hold of the study of nature, and, of course, care nothing about it. Intellectual ambition, therefore—and we have plenty of that—takes other directions. Two unregulated and overwhelming passions in this country stifle the growth of science: the intense and absorbing passion for wealth, and the universal infatuation for politics. These are great national diseases, not peculiar to America, but malignant in America, and the state of mind they engender makes the systematic cultivation of scientific thought next to impossible. Hence our education issues in moneymaking and politics as exclusive passions, with no cherished intellectual interests to counteract and restrain them. When our early scientific education becomes more perfected and better organized, so that a strong interest in the study of nature shall be enkindled in the minds of the young, we may then hope that American young men of affluence will be more inclined to seek their gratification in some of the varied and inexhaustible pursuits of scientific knowledge. As the "Scientific American" truly remarks:
The first article in the "North American Review" for August—an excellent number—is by Henry Ward Beecher, on "The Progress of Thought in the Church." It is an independent, a powerful, and a most significant discussion, which we recommend everybody to read. We shall not attempt to make any statement of the argument, and only call attention to the large and hearty recognition of science as an agency for the purification of religion. The progress of thought in the Church is forcibly shown to be a result of the progress of science outside the Church. The distinction between religion and theology is not new, but Mr. Beecher shows that it is wide and deep, and that religion must unload theology or sink with it. The doctrine of evolution is not only broadly accepted, but its coming is hailed as the greatest event of modern religions progress. It is destined to do what nothing else could so effectually do to sweep out of the way and into oblivion the great body of old orthodox theological dogma, by which the human mind has been perverted and enslaved for ages. We quote two or three passages, which will illustrate the positions taken by Mr. Beecher. After a brief but vivid statement of the working of the law of evolution upward through the various spheres of natural phenomena, until man and his higher development are reached, Mr. Beecher says:
The dread of Darwinian views is sincere; yet a secret fear prevails that they may be true. But have men considered what a relief they will be from some of the most disgraceful tenets of theology? Are they content to guard and defend a terrific scheme which ^ sullies the honor, the justice, and the love of God against a movement that will cleanse the abomination and vindicate the ways of God to man? Even if the great truth of evolution led to unbelief, it could not be so bad as that impious and malignant representation of God and his government which underlies all mediæval and most of modern theology. We shall quote from the Presbyterian Confession of Faith the account given by the Church of the origin of man and of his moral government, in the light of which the scientific account of the origin of man and the nature of sin is as health to sickness, as life to death. Instead of dreading the prevalence of the scientific doctrine. Christian men should rush toward it with open arms and exultation as a release from the hideous nightmare of ages.
The tendency of recent scientific researches and disclosures respecting the mind of man and his origin and nature will be liar more pronounced upon the theories of theology than upon the institutions of religion. Christian churches are legitimate organizations for the development of religious emotion and for the application of truth to our daily life. Those churches which are organized for devotion will be less disturbed than academical churches which have hitherto aimed only to expound and defend a creed. But churches whose genius it is to develop religious thought, as distinguished from religious emotion, will gradually change, and the devotional element will take the place largely of the theologic, and the ethical the place of the philosophical.When the creeds of the past era have passed away, we shall enter upon the creeds of a new era. These will differ not alone in their contents from former doctrinal standards, but they will differ in the very genius and method of construction. Our reigning creeds begin with God, with moral government, with the scheme of the universe, with the great, invisible realm beyond. These are the weakest places in a creed, because the matters they contain are least within the reach of human reason, and because the alleged revelations from God upon them are the most scanty and uncertain. The creeds of the future will begin-where the old or ended: upon the nature of man, his condition on earth, his social duties and civil obligations, the development of his reason, I spiritual nature, its range, possibilities, education—the doctrine of the human reason, of the emotions, of the will—man as an individual. man social and collective; and, from a sound knowledge of the nature of the mind, developed within the scope of our experience; and observation, we shall deduce conceptions of the great mind—the God idealized from our best ascertainments—in the sphere within which our faculties were created to act with certainty of knowledge. Our creeds will ascend from the known to the unknown, which is the true law and method of acquiring knowledge. Hitherto they have expended their chief force upon that which is but dimly known.
A movement has been started in England to get up some kind of a memorial in honor of Mr. Charles Darwin. The English Executive Committee has requested the following American gentlemen to co-operate with them in promoting the object: Asa Gray, chairman; Spencer F. Baird, James D. Dana, Charles W. Eliot, D. C. Gilman, James Hall, Joseph Le Conte, Joseph Leidy. O. C. Marsh, S. Weir Mitchell, Simon Newcomb, Charles Eliot Norton, Francis A. Walker. Theodore D. Woolsey; Alexander Agassiz, Treasurer. Subscriptions may be sent to Alexander Agassiz, Cambridge, Massachusetts, who will acknowledge the same and forward them to the Treasurer of the English Executive Committee of the Darwin Memorial.
The American committee, in their circular, without date, say that the form which the memorial is to take has not yet been decided; it will probably include an endowment for a scholarship to carry on biological research. Nothing could be more appropriate to the character of the man whose memory is to be honored than thus to link his name with the progress of knowledge in the field which he has done so much to make his own. But the "Athenæum" announces that the memorial will take the customary form of a marble statue, and that the trustees of the British Museum will be asked to place it in the large hall of the museum South Kensington. The English subscriptions are reported as amounting to $12,500. The United Kingdom will probably be able without help to pay for a marble statue; and would it not be well for the American committee to entertain the idea of doing something independently in this country? The endowment for a biological scholarship, if abandoned in England, might well be taken up here.