Popular Science Monthly/Volume 23/May 1883/Editor's Table

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 23 May 1883  (1883) 
Editor's Table
 

EDITOR'S TABLE.

GREEK AND LATIN AGAINST NATURE AND SCIENCE.

NOTWITHSTANDING all the efforts to reconcile and bring into harmony these great elements of education, it must be admitted that the antagonism stands out to-day more decisive than ever before. All the tendencies concur to sharpen and intensify it. In the light of the Baconian conception that "man is the interpreter of Nature, and Science its right interpretation," natural knowledge is rapidly extending and vindicating its increasing claims upon the mental cultivation of the age. But the capacities of acquisition on the part of youth remain limited; life is short, the period of study shorter, and the competition of subjects has forced more urgently than ever the necessity of choosing what shall be adopted as means of education and what passed by. Meantime the traditional culture fights every inch of the ground, will concede nothing, and redoubles its efforts for extension at every opportunity. The colleges raise their standards of the amount of Latin and Greek required for admission, and thus react upon the preparatory schools to stimulate classical studies and give them a higher place in popular consideration. There is, besides, a vigorous and wide-spread movement in behalf of what is called the "higher education of woman," which simply means the traditional ideal of culture. The female colleges are proud to duplicate the curriculums of the old classical establishments, and boast that they do not lower the standard of Latin and Greek. The boys have had a Latin school in Boston for two hundred and fifty years, to prepare for college; and the girls of that city, after failing to get into the old one, have established another within the past five years, which is said to be most flourishing and successful: rivalry and conflict are therefore inevitable, and our age has before it the broad issue between Latin and Greek on the one hand, and Nature and Science on the other hand, as means of cultivating the youthful mind.

The classical education is old, established, and invested with historic dignity, and as a consequence it is imperious and arrogant. That it has gone on for many centuries, is offered as its best reason why it should always go on. That there has been a progress in knowledge and in the human mind which has brought about a new order of things is ignored by it as of no significance. Nature and Science are regarded by it as mere upstarts of yesterday, full of vain pretension, and deserving only to be snubbed and thrust contemptuously aside. The last expression which we have seen of studied disparagement of Nature and Science in connection with education is an article by Mr. E. E. Sill, that appeared in the "Atlantic Monthly" for February, on "Herbert Spencer's Theory of Education." Mr. Spencer's little book upon that subject, as is well known, is a plea for more of nature and of science in our methods of mental cultivation, and Mr. Sill's article is a protest against this whole doctrine. He comes forward as a partisan of the old classical education, as opposed to the modern study of nature by the method of science. Exactly what he means by "Nature" does not so plainly appear, but by his instincts as a classicist, alive to the present emergencies, he is "down upon it" whatever it be—witness the following passage:

For what is this "Nature" (with a capital N) which figures so largely as a final arbiter in the enthusiastic eulogies of Science (with a capital S)? Does this Nature include man and his operations, or does it not? If it does, then these very interferences are also a part of Nature. And certainly the human part of Nature has as good a claim to be the arbiter as any other part. But if it does not include man, and is merely a name for the forces and processes of the world outside of the human world, then we may safely assert our right to come down upon this Nature, and mold and control it according to our needs. Or if, to take a third supposition, this capital-lettered Nature is meant to include man only in his "natural" condition—the wild man so called, the savage, the animal—then surely the very effort of all civilization, and of education as its chief instrument, is to oppose, and whip in, and convert, and take command of these untamed forces of Nature, that we may develop the savage into the higher human being.

Now, the nature about which Mr. Sill is here so dubious, and of which he seems to be so jealous, is by no means a difficult thing to define and understand. For the purpose here in view it is the order of things in which man is placed, of which he is a part, and of which it is his highest intellectual prerogative to be the interpreter. And it is to be remembered that "this Nature" is something which had no existence in that golden age of classical antiquity which gave origin to those literatures still claimed to be best for the cultivation of the human mind.

It is sufficiently obvious that relatively to man what nature is depends upon what he is. To him who is ignorant of it, nature is one thing; to him who understands it, nature is another and a very different thing. How the savage regards the world, we need not here inquire, but it is desirable to know how it was possible to regard it after human culture had become greatly advanced.

Man did not begin his mental career by the study of nature. The earlier forms of mental cultivation were literary. The Greeks and Romans developed poets, dramatists, orators, historians, critics, and artists of fine accomplishments while yet nothing was known of nature. The external aspects of things were described with great fidelity, but the view was sentimental, poetic, and superficial. Into the secrets of nature at that time men could not penetrate, its course they could not explain, its order they could not conceive. They had no clew to the interpretation of even its simplest phenomena. They could look, but they could not observe; they could construct, but they could not experiment; they could guess, but they could not verify; they could speculate, but they could not create positive knowledge. There is much of interest, art, and beauty in the literatures of Greece and Rome that has been a source of pleasure to all succeeding times; but these proficiencies brought no capacity to explore and understand the surrounding world. In all the thinking, therefore, of the classical ages, nature was simply left out.

But this was not always to continue. The earlier and lower forms of mental effort gave a preparation for profounder work. Yet it was only in modern times that men began to learn how properly to inquire, and to prize the truth that results from inquiry. After much vagrant exertion, and a long and painful apprenticeship in the processes of investigation, science began to take definite form as a higher manifestation of intellectual power. Humanity had grown to a new function. The art of questioning Nature through observation and experiment was slowly perfected; the facts arrived at were classified and inductive truths established, and there grew up a new order of knowledge, which, at the same time that it gave insight into the constitution of natural things, conferred also vast power for the purposes of human improvement. We are justified in saying that in a high sense a new universe was thus created for the human mind. Through scientific knowledge man entered upon a higher intellectual career and first gained a real conception of his own possibilities and true position in the world. A new civilization followed, which is signalized in a thousand ways; and the answer to Mr. Sill's question, "What is this Nature (which figures so largely as a final arbiter in the enthusiastic eulogies of Science)?" is given in the powerful mental movements of all enlightened nations for the cultivation and extension of that natural knowledge which has become the controlling agency in the improvement of human society.

And is it to be supposed that this new power in the intellectual world is to remain impotent in the domain of modern education? Can the great revolution of ideas in regard to nature fail to bring about a corresponding revolution in the mental cultivation of mankind? The simple question is, whether the minds of our youths are to be developed in future by means of the lower or by means of the highest and most perfect forms of knowledge. Those who offer the classics as an all-sufficient means of culture discredit the achievements of modern thought, and have no more use for the knowledge of nature than had the ancient classical authors before such knowledge existed. Mr. Sill puts his educational theory in the following nutshell, which, as will be seen, finds no room for nature. He says: "The truth is, there is a permanent aspiration in man for spiritual enlargement, for higher and richer pianos of intellectual being. This aspiration has in every age reached out, no doubt more or less blindly, after whatever was greatest and best in preceding human attainment. Latin and Greek have been studied, not alone, as our author almost seems to suppose, as words and for words' sake, but for the vital contact they give with the living men who thought in Latin and Greek."

Now, granting this permanent hunger for spiritual enlargement, the question still remains how that hunger is to best appeased. Mr. Sill says by "the accumulation of man's thought and feeling concerning human life and affairs." But what "accumulation"? Why, the literary treasures of Greek and Latin, of course. The yearnings of human nature after intellectual illumination are to be met, not from the magnificent treasures of truth which are now the grandest possession of humanity, but by the undeveloped thought of two thousand years ago, and by bringing the minds of our youth "into vital contact with the living men who thought in Latin and Greek." The absurdity is self-evident. Men's aspirations are not to be thus satisfied. The thought concerning human life and affairs which we require for mental cultivation is modern thought—the knowledge which bears upon the emergencies to be encountered. Only by the light of the most advanced science can affairs in these times be intelligently dealt with. Our age is full of living questions which can only be resolved by modern methods. To go back thousands of years after the intellectual help we need is simply to shirk the responsibilities of the present age.

Knowledge of nature for guidance in life is the great requirement. But Mr. Sill does not seem to recognize that knowledge has any function of guidance. There is disparagement throughout his paper of the importance of knowledge for any use that can be made of it in the conduct of life. Mr. Spencer bad classified the knowledges in his little book as they bear upon the activities of life, and had ranked first "those activities which directly minister to self preservation"; and, next, "those activities which secure the necessaries of life, and so indirectly minister to self-preservation"; and then "those which have for their end the rearing and discipline of offspring." The social and political relations come next in importance; and, finally, those matters of literature and art which belong to the leisure part of life. Mr. Sill says that this scheme is fundamentally erroneous, and, in fact, "the exact reverse of the truth." Bodily and material interests are studiously belittled. Mr. Sill says: "The ordinary man, unenlightened by education, manages pretty well this matter of getting a living for his body; which is, no doubt, a necessary condition to any intellectual life, but is intrinsically of considerably less importance than that higher end, which alone, indeed, gives it any value whatever." Again, "As to the body, and as to the getting a living for it, and even as to the care of offspring, something may be left to nature and to natural instinct"; and yet again, when a youth has first become "an intelligent man," according to the traditional ideal, "he will be able to get his handy information for himself afterward, as happens to be most useful to him."

This undisguised contempt of a knowledge of the human constitution and the conditions of its welfare is more than classical. The ancients were ignorant of these things, and therefore indifferent to them; it is only in the degraded scholastic ages that we find the body and bodily interests systematically undervalued and despised. But better reasons could be given in those days for hating and crucifying the corporeal nature than can now be given for neglecting to study and understand it. Mr. Sill reasons that it is only the "higher end" which it subserves which gives man's bodily organism any value whatever; and this higher end is "spiritual enlargement," and, as spiritual enlargement is to come by vital contact "with the living men who thought in Latin and Greek," we arrive at the luminous conclusion that the final purpose of the human constitution is to acquire a knowledge of the dead languages. If this is the upshot of our existence, Mallock's question, "Is life worth living?" is not, after all, so futile. But, if we grant that it is worth living, that knowledge is of first importance which qualifies us to preserve it. To disparage this knowledge, to discourage it, or to crowd it out by any other knowledge whatever, on any pretext, is nothing less than a crime. That life is imperiled on all sides, by agencies working so variously and so fatally, and to the ignorant so mysteriously, that Divine Providence is constantly accused of arbitrary interference to destroy it, is undeniable. Science alone has furnished that knowledge of the human organism and of surrounding nature that confers the power of warding off the causes of death, and thus leads to a more reverent view of the government of the world. Eight and left, and every day, and all around us, men, women, and children are struck down and sent to unripe graves for lack of the knowledge which science has given of the avoidable causes of death. And the same thing may be said of a great number of the diseases by which, if life is not ended, it is turned into a calamity and a curse. Again, science informs us concerning the operation of those numerous causes by which vitality is depressed, the bodily and mental constitution enfeebled and undermined, and existence made worthless for all its better purposes. And, yet again, we owe to science the knowledge of those laws and conditions of the human organism by which it may be improved, increased in its capacities of enjoyment, and augmented in its powers of effective action.

Classical education is worthless for all these objects. It leaves its victims in a state of ignorance as baleful as that of the helpless illiterates who have never crossed the threshold of a schoolhouse. We pick up an admirable pamphlet by an experienced teacher of this city, Mr. John McMullen, on '"The Education of the Rich." Now, the education of the rich is generally fashionable, traditional, and classical, but for the vital purposes of well-being it gives them but little advantage over the wholly untaught. Mr. McMullen pleads that the rich need to study vulgar and common things as well as the industrial classes. His words are well calculated to enforce the view taken in this article. He says:

"Is it not time that some humane person should make a movement in favor of the industrial education of the rich? Since they must live in houses, why should they not be taught something about them? Defective masonry means cracked walls and obstructed doors; defective carpentry means general discomfort and an occasional crash; defective flues mean midnight fires; while defective plumbing and ventilation mean diphtheria and death.

"Let us at least teach them enough to prevent them from being poisoned by the plumber, dying 'as the fool dieth,' like rats in a corner, in the luxurious homes which they themselves, perhaps, have reared. Tims we have read recently in the papers, of one man who built an expensive and luxurious house, and lost four children in one month from diphtheria. Some three years ago, I had in my school two bright boys, the sons of intelligent and educated parents. A little brother at home sickened and died; then a little sister; and then one of my scholars became sick. A thorough examination of the house was made, and a faint, musty smell was traced to the bath-room. The mother found, to her horror, that these deaths were due to defective plumbing, and that they might have been prevented. She fled in terror from the city, and has never since returned."

 

 
DR. DIX ON THE WOMAN QUESTION.

From the amount of screaming and denunciation in the newspapers, both by editors and by correspondents, regarding Dr. Dix's lectures on woman, we infer that somebody has been badly hit, and that the doctor is to be paid off in abuse. A lady, for example, writes to the "World": "I have observed that Dr. Dix has made haste to publish his Lenten lectures without waiting for the close of Lent. This alertness is creditable to the practical and mercantile instincts of Dr. Dix. His lectures will sell now if they are ever to sell." Probably in anticipation of such insinuations, the author has prefixed a note to his volume from which we quote a few words: "I ask the reader of the following lectures to bear in mind—1. That they were written for my own people, and in the line of my usual pastoral work. 2. That they were not intended for publication. 3. That I now give them to the public in my own defense, because of the misrepresentation of my views by critics who had not the means of knowing exactly what I said, or all that I said. They are printed just as they were delivered, with scarcely the change of a word; and, in order to comply with the request of the publishers that they should appear at the earliest possible day, I am obliged to omit adding a large number of notes and quotations by which, if more time were allowed me, I should have endeavored to fortify by strong authorities the position which I have taken." Whether it was wise in Dr. Dix to yield to the hurry of his publishers, and send out his volume unfortified by the evidence at his command, may be a question; but that it was done in compliance with their wishes shows that his own preference was otherwise, and sufficiently relieves him from the mercenary imputation of the "World's" correspondent.

Dr. Dix is entitled to have his readers remember that the lectures were prepared exclusively for pastoral use, and not intended for publication, and that they have had to be printed in self-defense against misrepresentation; and this consideration should be borne in mind in their public criticism. It by no means follows that he keeps a private set of opinions for special pastoral application, and for which he is unwilling to be held publicly responsible. He was addressing a class of Christian believers who profess allegiance to Christian doctrine, as expounded by his Church; and he very naturally gave prominence to considerations which would have but comparatively little force with outside multitudes who are not in sympathy with his ecclesiastical views. As to the theological arguments which Dr. Dix brings to bear upon the woman question, we have no interest in them except so far as they strike downward and find their basis in the truth of nature. But with the main fundamental doctrines he lays down as of all-determining influence, we are in cordial agreement.

The last phase of attack upon him is an accusation that his views are not new. The "Pall Mall Gazette" declares that many of the faults of women which he notices are not American but universal, and have been recognized and satirized in all ages; and an American commentator observes that "his views of the character and duties of woman do not differ greatly from those set out in the laws of Manu, which, according to the Hindoo theologians, were drafted thirty millions of years ago."

But when the New York "Evening Post" proceeds to affirm of the cardinal doctrines of Dr. Dix that "they are in fact the views by which every step in the elevation of woman, from the beast of burden of the savage to the mistress of the modern drawing-room, has been contested by conservative or timid males, lay and clerical," it becomes worth while to revert to the author's own statement of them. The following passages from the first Lenten lecture may be fairly taken as the key to the whole exposition:

The place and work of woman in this world arc, then, a place and a work in social life. And her place and work are not those of the man. His work lies outside, hers within. Without her, society could not have existed; without her, it can not last. The fact that in forming society man and woman have distinct parts implies this, that in maintaining and developing their work they shall continue to act in distinct relations to it. Something there shall be which man only can do; something which woman only can do. If she leave her own work and try to take up his, her work will remain undone; for man is not fool enough to try to do hers. And her work is inner rather than outer; it runs in the line of ordering, comforting, and beautifying. Her place is in the home first, and then in general society; and these depend on her for a grace, a help, a harmony, a good ordering, which no one else can give. These considerations give the turn to every thought of ours about woman's work. It is impossible for me to think of it at all, without first thinking of her place in the home. That is her normal, primal seat; thence are derived all true conceptions of her rights, duty, and mission. I know the objections which will arise in your minds: that there are many women without homes or the means to make them; and, again, that, as if by a bitter sarcasm of fate, the world of today is so changed that it often seems as if woman must work the harder of the two in order to support the shiftless man. There are answers to these and similar objections: I shall try to give them by-and-by. But for the present I must leave the subject at this point, adding but one suggestion. I do this earnestly, seriously, and as one would speak of a matter of life or death. Let me then say that, whatever it be in thought, deed, or will that works among us now to break up the home, to make the home-idea mean and contemptible in the eyes of woman, or to unfit her for domestic duties and disgust her with her proper work, whatever now-acts on her high-wrought nature, her ambition, her self love, to turn her steps away from the home life, and inflate her with visions of a career in the public places outside—this, whatever it be, is working against the best interests, the hope, the happiness of the human race. If, through ease, self-indulgence, and luxury, through curiosity of learning, through self-esteem and ambitious rivalry of man, a woman becomes disloyal to the home-idea, and despises it in her heart, she is, though perhaps unaware of the fact, helping others to upset the social order.

These weighty words express the central, illuminating, and all-controlling conception of the Lenten lectures. It may be that Dr. Dix could not get a patent on these ideas for their novelty, but are they the views which, as the "Post" alleges, have been employed to resist the elevation of woman in all times? And what is there in them, expressed or implied, that can be construed as unfavorable to female elevation? Dr. Dix is no opponent of the improvement of woman by education; he only lays down the conditions on which all education which can really elevate her must depend. His views may not be new, but they have an urgent application to the tendencies of the present time. The prime postulates of all his reasoning are that woman is a different being from man, and has a different sphere from man, and, if she is to be educated in accordance with the requirements of her nature and position, she must have a different culture from that of man. His telling strictures are accordingly leveled against the wide-spread demand of the present time, that woman shall gain access to the men's colleges that they may obtain the "higher education" of men, and thus adapt themselves to the sphere and pursuits of men. Dr. Dix maintains that this would inevitably be subversive of the home-feeling; and he charges that the aspirants for wider careers have become restive tinder the restraints and obligations of their sex, and are cherishing ambitions which lead to a general neglect of home-life, and that will only confirm and strengthen the sentiment of disloyalty to the home. The "Evening Post" characterizes these views as a "bold defiance of the soundest, most enlightened, most religious, most conscientious judgment of the day in all lands, on the condition and needs of female education."

But is Dr. Dix really so far wrong as this extravagant language implies? We have not so read the signs of the times. If there is one thing that pervades and characterizes what is called the "woman's movement," it is the spirit of revolt against the home, and the determination to escape from it into the outer spheres of activity that will bring her into direct and open competition with men. In all the talk about female "higher education," and in all the new plans for its extension, it is notorious that distinctive home interests find no place. The literature of the woman's movement is saturated with denunciations of the vulgarity, drudgery, and slavery of life in the domestic sphere; and the "higher education" proposed is not an attempt to ameliorate, redeem, and exalt it, but a rebellion against it. The education that prepares for the home, that would awaken interest in it, give dignity to it, and transform it, is simply scouted. That the feminine nature is different from the masculine nature—different throughout, physically, intellectually, emotionally; that woman's claims, her duties, and her destiny, are profoundly different from those of men, and that her culture should have relation to the requirements of her nature—is derided by all the leaders of the present crusade to get women into the men's colleges.

The fundamental law of educational progress is differentiation of the mental activities, division of labor. In accordance with this law, we have classical colleges, medical colleges, law colleges, engineering colleges, agricultural colleges, dental colleges, and veterinary colleges, all different in the knowledge they impart and the preparation they give for the work of active life. And we have also female colleges— Vassar, Cornell, Smith, Wellesley—all distinguished by a violation of this fundamental law of progressive education. They are all imitations of the old classical establishments, and their pride is in the perfection of the imitation. It is their boast, if not, indeed, the first condition of their endowment, that the feminine nature has no recognition either in their objects or grades of study.

If there is one female college in the land which is devoted to the cultivation of woman as an intelligent being for the discharge of her responsibilities in domestic life—which qualifies her for it, as the medical college qualifies the physician for his practice—we have not heard of its existence. It is a consequence of the rapid diffusion of education that the traditional methods of instruction are enormously extended, while existing institutions and current educational literature combine to give omnipresent influence and irresistible strength to distinctively masculine thought—that is, thought mainly pertaining to masculine spheres of action. The whole force of these ideas is brought to bear to kindle in woman ambitions of study in all these directions. Thus influenced, she wants to go into politics, law, medicine, art, literature, philanthropy, religion; and, thus influenced, she is drawn away from the home sphere, despises it for its vulgarity, and hates it as a clog and drag upon all her noblest aspirations.

Let it be emphasized, then, that those who oppose the entrance of women into the colleges that have grown up to meet the distinctive requirements of men are not, therefore, opposed to the better or higher education of woman. But that only is "higher education" for woman which perfects her nature, capacities, and requirements. Dr. Dix's view of the import of the home in civilization, its vital and ruling place in the social order, we believe to be profoundly true, and that it must be taken as the starting-point of all substantial improvement and higher cultivation of the female sex. Let women have their own colleges, that shall be neither copies nor appendages of men's colleges, and that shall confer a culture comprehensive, refined, and practical, but with supreme reference to a higher preparation for administering home affairs intelligently, and thus in the most efficient way elevating the standard of social life. When they ask for this education, there will be no opposition, and there will be plenty of means to secure it.

 

 

It was inadvertently stated, in noticing "The Gospel of the Stars" last month, that its author, Rev. Joseph A. Seiss, was a clergyman of the Episcopal Church. This turns out to be a mistake, and is resented as an imputation upon that highly respectable body, if we may judge by the number of letters we have received, denying the statement, with varying comments, and declaring that Dr. Seiss belongs to the Lutheran communion, which must be held responsible for him.

 

 

In the article "Speculations on the Nature of Matter" ("Popular Science Monthly" for April), the following corrections should be made: On page 798, eighth line from the top, it should read, "namely, the inverse squares of the distance without the sphere, and directly as the distance within it." And, on line 27th of the same page, it should read "directly as the distance."