|NATURAL SCIENCE IN A LITERARY EDUCATION.|
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO.
THE greatest forms of literature hold the mirror up to Nature—that is, to life. Literary conventions, even, go back at some point to real life. Because actual Sicilian shepherds once piped their happy songs where Theocritus heard them, the world has had its long line of pastoral poetry, an intolerable deal of the sack of empty repetition and formalism to one half pennyworth of the bread of reality. In spite of traditions, however, the more important literature of the world has kept in touch with actual life. Of Shakespeare and Chaucer we can confidently say that, though each had a library at home, he found another and a better one upon the street.
Modern science has invaded modern life; its devices meet us at every turn, its great conceptions fill our minds. What shall be the attitude toward science of those students who wish a literary education? Shall they devote themselves entirely to the study of the classic productions in the languages of ancient and modern nations? or shall they take up also those advancing lines of scientific investigation and speculation which are producing new instruments for everyday life and new themes for thought, and which are fashioning anew the very minds and language of men?
The clearness with which Wordsworth foresaw, in 1800, that poetry itself would in the time to come draw its subject-matter more and more from the domain of science, seems truly marvelous. He said in that year, in the preface which he wrote for the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads:
"If the labors of men of science should ever create any material revolution . . . in our condition and in the impressions which we habitually receive, the poet will sleep then no more than at present; he will be ready to follow the steps of the man of science. . . . The remotest discoveries of the chemist, the botanist, or mineralogist will be as proper objects of the poet's art as any upon which it can be employed, if the time should ever come when these things shall be familiar to us, and the relations under which they are contemplated by the followers of these respective sciences shall be manifestly and palpably material to us as enjoying and suffering beings. If the time should ever come when what is now called science, thus familiarized to men, shall be ready to put on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the poet will lend his divine spirit to aid the transfiguration, and will welcome the being thus produced as a dear and genuine inmate of the household of man."