Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/114

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

102

POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

This proposition I can not accept. Literature, for example, is an indispensable element in an education, but it does not give all kinds of knowledge and mental training. Those students who look upon literature as in itself an education will find—or others will find it out if they do not—that they have accepted it in some measure instead of an education. One can not omit the other great subjects from his training, and then make up for their loss by reading his Browning, his Chaucer, or even his Shakespeare, more often and more strenuously. The mathematics and the more exact physical sciences help, as no other branches of study can, to give to the mind habits of accuracy and a sense of proportion. In a class in literature many questions do not admit of exact answers; the personal element must come in; the answers of the most careful instructor are only an approximation to the truth; the answers of the most superficial scholar will not be entirely wrong. Indeed, since a literary masterpiece makes its appeal primarily to the emotions and the imagination, the whole conception of definite, exact answers to specific questions has but a limited application to the work of the class in literature. In mathematics and the more exact physical sciences each problem is specific, and has one answer that is exactly right; all other possible answers are exactly and entirely wrong. Every man needs the discipline of such study.

Let the man interested in literature study mechanics. When he learns that many forces differing in quantity and direction can all combine in a single resultant motion, he will not be quite so ready in studying literary movements to fix the attention upon one force or circumstance and neglect all the others. Let him study chemistry; let him determine all the elements in a given compound, and how much of each is present; then he will not be quite so apt, when analyzing a piece of literature, to fix the attention upon one quality and ignore everything else.

Even professional literary critics are often decidedly lacking in proportion, poise, and sharpness of outline. Let me illustrate. Mr. Swinburne speaks thus of Collins: "He could put more spirit of color into a single stroke, more breath of music into a single note, than could all the rest of his generation into all the labors of their lives."[1] The same critic comments as follows upon some of the poems of Keats: "The Ode to a Nightingale, one of the final masterpieces of human work in all time and for all ages, is immediately preceded in all editions now current by some of the most vulgar and fulsome doggerel ever whimpered by a vapid and effeminate rhymester in the sickly stage of whelphood."[2]


  1. Ward's English Poets, iii, p. 282.
  2. Encyclopædia Britannica, article upon Keats.