This is not to depreciate the value of other subjects or of other modes of culture. It is only to refer them to their proper place. Grammar, philology, logic, human history, belles-lettres, philosophy—all these things will be seized with avidity and pursued with pleasure by a mind judiciously prepared to receive them. On this point we shall do well to learn, and I believe we are beginning to learn something, from contemporary peoples upon the Continent of Europe. Object-teaching is beginning to be introduced, if only sparingly, into our primary schools. It should be so introduced universally. And in all our schools, but especially in those in which the foundation is laid of what is called a liberal education, the knowledge of visible things should be made to precede the study of the artificial structure of language, and the intricacies of grammatical rules and forms.
The knowledge of visible things—I repeat these words that I may emphasize them, and, when I repeat them, observe that I mean knowledge of visible things, and not information about them—knowledge acquired by the learner's own conscious efforts, not crammed into his mind in set forms of words out of books. Our methods of education manifest a strong tendency in these modern times to degenerate in such a sort of cramming. Forty years ago, the printed helps to learning, now supplied to the young men of our colleges in so lavish profusion, were almost unknown; and teachers lent about as little aid, at least during the earlier years, as books. What the student learned then he learned for himself by positive hard labor. Now we have made the task so easy, we have built so many royal roads to learning in all its departments, that it may be well doubted if the young men of our day, with all their helps, acquire as much as those of that earlier period acquired without them.
The moral of this experience is that mental culture is not secured by pouring information into passive recipients; it comes from stimulating the mind to gather knowledge for itself. When our systems of education shall have been remodelled from top to bottom, with due attention to this principle, then, if we have minds among us which are capable of pursuing Nature into her yet uncaptured strongholds, we shall find them out and set them at their work. Then neither "mute inglorious Miltons" on the one hand, nor on the other silent, unsuspected Keplers, nor Newtons "guiltless" of universal gravitation, shall live unconscious of their powers, or die and make no sign. Then the progress of science will no longer be dependent, as in the past it has been to so great a degree, on the chance struggles of genius rebelling against circumstances, such as have given us a Herschel, a Franklin, a Hugh Miller, or a Henry; nor will the world be any more astonished to see the most brilliant of the triumphs of the intellect achieved by men who have cloven their own way to the forefront, in defiance of all its educational traditions; as it has seen in the case of a Rumford, a Davy, a Faraday, and a Tyndall.