Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/December 1873/Editor's Table

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
A NEW SCIENTIFIC SCHOOL.

A NEW institution, of great promise, has just been added to our increasing list of scientific and technological schools. Pardee Hall, a spacious and well-appointed edifice, costing $250,000, and the gift of Mr. Ario Pardee, was added to Lafayette College, at Easton, Pa., with imposing ceremonies of dedication, on the 21st of October. The structure has a front of 256 feet in length, with lateral wings, the centre building being five stories in height. It is constructed of Trenton brownstone, with trimmings of light Ohio sandstone. The lecture-rooms, cabinets, models, laboratories, apparatus, and the facilities for studying mining operations, are on the amplest scale. In chemistry, the establishment is especially strong. Many thousand dollars have been expended for chemical apparatus, much of it made to order in Germany and France; there is desk-room for nearly 250 students, and, by the introduction of the latest improvements, the laboratories are claimed to be the completest in America. It is stated that Mr. Pardee, who is largely engaged in mining operations, has contributed not less than half a million dollars to Lafayette College, which, under the presidency of the Rev. Dr. Cattell, has reached a very prosperous condition.

We publish a portion of Prof. Raymond's able dedicatory address, regretting that we have not space for the whole of it. It will be seen that he takes broad ground, and insists upon a liberal culture for the special students of science. We hope that what he says upon this subject foreshadows the policy of the new institution. The narrowness of the curriculum of our technological schools, which aim, like our business colleges, and like medical and legal schools, to prepare immediately for practical professional life, is a very serious objection, as it favors the false idea that scientific education has no wider basis than sheer pecuniary utility. That scientific schools, as those of agriculture, mining, and engineering, have hitherto been liable to this reproach, is undeniable. But that is certainly no reason why a course of education that is marked out with predominant reference to professional pursuits should not be at the same time broad and liberal. Allowances, of course, must be made for the difficulties of initiating a new system, which had to answer the question "Of what use?" at the outset. Healthful beginnings are ever small, and it was inevitable that the traditional system, of culture, which ostentatiously repudiated every thing like practical uses, should make the most of the poverty and narrowness of the scientific curriculum. But the first stage in the history of the scientific schools is now past. They have ceased to be experiments; their need is acknowledged, and they are being established on the most munificent scale of endowment. It is now demanded that the "new education" shall be widened, harmonized, and adjusted, so as to meet the full requirements of a liberal mental cultivation. Let the basis of training be modern and scientific, instead of ancient and classical, and, the new standpoint being taken, let the courses of study be widened, so as to include moral, literary, and aesthetic agencies of training. Of course, with the growth of the new, there must be riddance of the old, but the old educational tree has plenty of decayed branches and dead wood, the cutting away of which will reinvigorate its whole life.

SCIENTIFIC LECTURES.

That lectures will always continue to be, as they always have been, a valuable mode of public instruction, there can be little doubt; but, that what is called the lecture system is going to prove an agency of national regeneration, may be seriously questioned. In so far as it is in any sense a system, it has degenerated to a mere catering to public amusements. The platform is crowded with readers, singers, declaimers, dramatists, and buffoons, and the "course of lectures" is transformed into a "series of entertainments." People cannot have their intellects on the rack forever, you know; they must have a little relaxation. This tendency to pander to a low public taste, and, under the respectable name of lectures, to degrade the platform to purposes of mere speculation, ought in every way to be withstood. Let amusements stand upon their own basis, and not appeal to the public under false pretenses. Lectures upon science, history, or philosophy, to be really valuable, should be given in courses with sufficient fullness to produce some depth of impression. It is in this way that such men as Lardner, Mitchell, and Tyndall, have helped on the work of public education. We spoke last month in commendation of Mr. Proctor, as a popular teacher of astronomy; and, to those who desire lectures of a similar first-class character in another and widely-different field, we now recommend Prof. Edward S. Morse, of Salem, Mass. Prof. Morse's department is zoology, in which he is an original investigator, of excellent standing, and therefore thoroughly acquainted with the actual phenomena of his subject. As a teacher of natural history, he has rare merits, a lively and wide-awake manner, by which he keeps the attention of his audience; simple and untechnical language, suited to make everybody understand him; and remarkable skill in the rapid and accurate drawing of diagrams upon the black-board. To most lecturers this is an interruption and a bore. They have to stop speaking while they are drawing, to outline the object they are dealing with. Prof. Morse makes his figures rapidly and elegantly, using both hands at once, and keeps up an unbroken flow of talk. The advantage of being thus able to hold Ms audience, by engaging two senses at once, is very great; for, not only is he more secure of the listeners' apprehension by creating his forms before the eye at the same time they are described to the ear, but the pleasure of full mental occupation is also in a high degree favorable to the retention of what is learned. It may be added that in this way the lecturer's work is not only of superior quality, but there is a great deal more of it in the same time. Every town where there is a college or high-school, and any serious mental activity, should arrange for a special course of lectures such as Prof. Morse furnishes.

 

 
"THE STUDY OF SOCIOLOGY"

The first article this month closes the series of papers upon "The Study of Sociology" that have been running through our pages for a year and a half. We have previously stated the relation of this discussion to Mr. Spencer's other works, but there still remains much misapprehension upon this point, and the present is, therefore, a suitable occasion for a brief restatement of the case. That we are here concerned with the advance of a new division of scientific knowledge of great importance to the public is a further excuse for repetition.

In 1860, Mr. Spencer threw out the prospectus of a system of philosophy which he expected it would take him twenty years to complete. The undertaking was new, comprehensive, and original, as it proposed to construct a system of general philosophy on the basis of the widest and most recent results of science. From this point of view it was a higher unification of knowledge than had been hitherto attempted; but it was more than this. As the truths and science of Nature have proved in various ways helpful to man in the practical concerns of life, it was the higher object of their systematic statement to arrive at a clearer and more assured guidance in the conduct of human affairs. As the older philosophies disavowed the end of utility, a philosophy which is the outcome of science, and rests upon the established truths of Nature, may claim the service of humanity as its highest end. The scheme was, therefore, so bold an innovation that it found favor with but few. By many it was regarded as an intrinsically impossible undertaking, and by others as a futile endeavor of any one intellect. But Mr. Spencer had well surveyed his ground; and, as the work quietly proceeded, there was soon evidence that the execution was equal to the promise, and that the enterprise had fallen into the hands of one who had a genius for it. As an example, Mr. John Stuart Mill gave his testimony to the encyclopædic scientific preparation of Mr. Spencer for such a work, and at a crisis of the undertaking he came forward and offered to assume the whole pecuniary responsibility of its continuance, on the ground that its failure would be a public calamity. At the same time, the leading organs of British opinion began to concede Mr. Spencer's eminent position and power, as when the Saturday Review declared him to be "the greatest organizer of thought that had appeared in England since Newton." It was noteworthy, also, that men of the highest mark who had studied him most thoroughly were the readiest to concede his power, as when Dr. McCosh years ago spoke of his "giant mind," and in his late address before the Evangelical Alliance referred to him as the Titanic thinker of England.

But from various causes Mr. Spencer's work did not take hold of the general public. All the masterly papers that are now collected in his several volumes of essays had been published anonymously in the reviews, and he was comparatively but little known in the literary world. His form of publication of "The Philosophical System" by subscription was not calculated to attract general readers, while its formidable character repelled many at the outset. As it was supposed to be a destructive system, and its author a dangerous man, the misrepresentations of the press were so gross and malignant that Mr. Spencer refused to furnish his series to them, and was thus cut off from that source of publicity. Yet his subscribers embraced the most thoughtful men of England, and upon many of these he made a strong impression. While the mass of English readers knew nothing about him, students were devouring his works and accepting his views. Calling at the London book-shops for the "works of Spencer," you would be handed the "Faerie Queene," and, when you said "Herbert Spencer," the rejoinder would be, "We never heard of him." Yet, at the same time, the serious attention of the House of Lords was called by one of its members to the growing influence of Spencer's ideas in the universities, and even the Premier of England has recently felt it incumbent on him to make a speech to arrest the increasing influence of his opinions.

But this restriction of Mr. Spencer's readers mainly to scholarly circles has resulted in two evils: the first was that other men appropriated his ideas, and, by translating them into popular forms, made reputations for themselves at his expense; and the second was, that the most erroneous and distorted conceptions were formed by the public of the character of the system itself. Mr. Spencer is perhaps too little concerned for the passing influence of his doctrines, and, except that the heavy expenditure of publication requires to be sustained as it proceeds, he would be content to leave their character to the verdict of the future. But many, believing that his system of thought is of great, immediate, and practical value, were anxious that something should be done to give it a stronger hold upon public attention. Mr. Spencer was therefore urged to suspend for a time his methodical work, and to address a wider circle of readers by the preparation of a small popular volume, and by using the channels of periodical publication.

Moreover, he had reached a stage in the unfolding of his system which was not only favorable to such an episode, but which urgently required it. That which the world will probably regard as the great work of his life, should he be able to complete it, and which is also of the greatest moment to society, is still before him; while all that he has hitherto done is but a preparation for it. This is nothing less than to organize and place upon its proper foundations the science of man's social relations. A dozen years have been occupied in laying the foundation upon which alone the social science can be built. "The Principles of Sociology" is to be his next and great work, and it was felt to be on every account desirable that Mr. Spencer should say something at this time to the reading public on the nature, claims, scope, limits, and difficulties, of this important subject. This he consented to do, and, in the preface to "The Study of Sociology," he admits that he does not now regret it.

And the object proposed has been already in a good degree attained; the articles have been widely reprinted and extensively read. That they will have a large and salutary influence upon public sentiment admits of no question. The views have been reproduced and commented upon extensively by the press, who have generally recognized their importance, and the need that they should be well understood in a country where all men are government-makers. A marked illustration of the effect of these papers and of Mr. Spencer's tables of "Descriptive Sociology," the first of which is now published, is furnished by the recent inaugural address of Lord Houghton before the British Social Science Congress. The Times of October 2d reports him as saying: "Their consideration has impressed me strongly with the uncertain data on which all Social Science is founded, and the importance of the connection between Sociology and Biology which Mr. Spencer, both in his philosophical works and in the elaborate tabular statement of social facts which he has supervised, and which I earnestly commend to your notice, is now expounding and illustrating." It was to exert an influence of just this kind that "The Study of Sociology" was prepared. It is hence not to be regarded as a treatise upon sociological science, but rather an introduction to it. It treats of questions which bear upon it, but which Mr. Spencer could not properly deal with in his forthcoming "Principles of Sociology."

 

 

Men of science have their discouragements, general and special. The English just now have a spasm of unhappiness because the government will not allow them to accept honors from foreign sovereigns. It seems that the Emperor of Brazil and the King of Sweden are inclined to bestow their marks of favor upon English savants, who would be glad to accept them, but a regulation of the Foreign Office, dated 1855, forbids any subject of her majesty to accept a foreign order, or to wear its insignia, without the queen's permission; and it is declared that "such permission shall not be granted unless the foreign order shall have been conferred in consequence of active and distinguished service before the enemy, either at sea or in the field," or unless the party "shall have been in the service of the foreign sovereign by whom the foreign order is conferred." It may be thought that this is a very light cross to bear, but we republicans cannot understand how grave these considerations are in England. Virtue may be its own reward, and wealth, fame, and the honor of making discoveries, may fill the measure of ambition nearly full, but nothing fills out, and sweetens, and happifies the life of the typical Britisher, like a decoration. When, therefore, an appreciative foreign sovereign sends over a bundle of ribbons for distribution among the distinguished F.R.S.'s, it certainly appears hard that they cannot be allowed to wear them. The editor of Nature has all our sympathy when he says: "It seems to us unjust and cruel that men of science, to whose labors it is mainly owing that our country and the world generally are mounting rapidly higher and higher in the scale of civilization, should be practically debarred from accepting the few honors that come in their way."