Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/385

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

he says that his strongest predilection was ancient history. "A book which, in spite of what is called the dryness of its style, I took great pleasure in, was the 'Ancient Universal History,' through the incessant reading of which, I had my head full of historical details concerning the obscurest ancient people; while, about modern history, except detached passages, such as the 'Dutch War of Independence,' I knew and cared comparatively little."

And so young Mill became a prodigy of Greek, Latin, and antiquated learning. The dead languages and their contents were fairly burned into his organization. On his classical acquisitions were superinduced history, mathematics, metaphysics, and political ideas—studies which he might have pursued if he had been the son of Plato instead of James Mill. But of the sciences of Nature there was nothing gained worth the name. At the mental stage in which all the foregoing acquirements had been made he had received not the slightest scientific instruction, and had only read a little in experimental books by way of amusement. He says: "During this part of my childhood, one of my greatest amusements was experimental science, in the theoretical, however, not the practical sense of the word; not trying experiments—a kind of discipline which I have often regretted—nor even seeing but merely reading about them." Mr. Mill subsequently paid more attention to science by reading; he heard lectures on zoology and chemistry, and did something with botany as an observer and collector. But of science in the educational sense of the classics, as an agency to mould the mind by its special discipline, he was utterly destitute. He neither pursued it in its objects, nor mastered it in its principles, nor cultivated the habit of original and independent research. The whole spirit of his education, indeed, was different; it was for polemics rather than for discovery. The intellectual exercise in which he says he was most perseveringly exercised by his father was the old scholastic logic, which he thinks is "peculiarly adapted to an early stage in the education of philosophical students, since it does not presuppose the slow process of acquiring by experience and reflection valuable thoughts of their own." His training was fitted to make him shine in debating societies, of which he was a frequenter, and he organized one at the age of sixteen. And such was his proficiency that, it was said, "a university man, loaded with honors and preceded by a blazing reputation, having been induced, in an evil hour, to cake the chair at a discussion, crumbled to dust in the presence of our Titan, and passed out of count utterly."

The effect of neglect of science in Mr. Mill's education is seen in his remarkable judgment of himself. In his Autobiography he makes the astounding statement that in "natural gifts I am rather below than above par; what I could do could assuredly be done by any boy or girl of average capacity," and he assumes to have had the start of his contemporaries for a quarter of a century, simply from the mode in which he was instructed. Mind is thus dealt with as if it were a disembodied agency capable of being manipulated into any state; while organic conditions and limitations, and the influence of heredity, are discredited at a stroke. No allowance is made for the fact that he derived his fine organization from a father of great intellectual capacity; yet, nothing is better established by science than that traits of character are transmissible, and that this circumstance bears powerfully upon the problem of human educability. Physiologists well know that the children of cultivated parents not only inherit superior mental aptitudes and capacities, but that they have greater power of psychical endurance, and can