Popular Science Monthly/Volume 25/September 1884/Editor's Table

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
MEETING OF THE AMERICAN SCIENTIFIC ASSOCIATION.

THE thirty-third meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science will take place this year at Philadelphia, beginning on Thursday, the 4th of September, under the presidency of Professor J. P. Lesley, Chief of the Geological Survey of Pennsylvania. In order to allow an interchange of courtesies between the American and the British Associations, the latter of which meets the previous week in Montreal, the American meeting is put at a later date than usual. The Council of the British Association has invited the fellows of the American Association to Join in the meeting at Montreal on the footing of honorary members; and the American Association and the local committee of Philadelphia have invited the members of the British Association and their relatives who may be with them to take part in the Philadelphia meeting. Invitations have been sent to the leading scientific societies abroad, asking them to send delegations to the Philadelphia meeting, so that it is expected to be largely international in its character and it is likely that steps will be taken to form an International Scientific Association. An International Electrical Exhibition, under the auspices of the Franklin Institute, will be open at the same time, and the American Institute of Mining Engineers and the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society will hold sessions at Philadelphia during the same week. On various accounts, therefore, the occasion will be one of unusual interest, and the meeting will probably be fully attended, while the large local committee of Philadelphia may be trusted to make every arrangement possible to conduce to the pleasure and profit of the visitors.

 

 
THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION—INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE.

The British Association for the Advancement of Science holds its fifty-fourth annual meeting this year at Montreal, commencing on the 27th of August under the presidency of Professor Lord Rayleigh, of the University of Cambridge. This is, perhaps, the largest and most powerful scientific society in the world, and its coming from Europe to America is a new departure in its history, of such considerable significance that we may profitably give some attention to it.

The British Association was established in 1831, over half a century ago, and held its first meeting in the city of York. It came into existence in obedience to a growing demand for what may be termed scientific expansion, or a desire to increase the cultivation and augment the influence of science by bringing larger portions of the community within reach of scientific facilities, and making more familiar the intercourse of men devoted to scientific labors. Numerous societies already existed for the promotion of research, both special and general, but they were local in their operations, while their members met their fellow-workers in different cities but rarely, and multitudes of educated people were not brought within the circle of scientific influence. Yet the number of these societies attested that the work of scientific investigation had taken deep root. Scientific knowledge had become greatly extended, and this led, by the inevitable course of things, to the necessity of more efficient and comprehensive organization for its further increase and diffusion. With the growing sense of the general importance, and the augmenting influence of science in society, there was a strengthening desire to share its work and its advantages, and this naturally led to association upon a new basis, better adapted to the new conditions. The British Association, instead of taking root in one locality, was constituted as a migratory body that should hold its annual sessions, of a week's duration, successively in the different cities of the United Kingdom. It was announced at the first meeting that, while contemplating no interference with the ground occupied by other institutions, its objects shall be "to give a stronger impulse and a more systematic direction to scientific inquiry—to promote the intercourse of those who cultivate science in different parts of the British Empire, with one another and with foreign philosophers—to obtain a more general attention to the objects of science, and a removal of any disadvantages of a public kind which impede its progress."

These objects of the Association have been well fulfilled in its history. It has been a power in England for the accomplishment of the purposes designated. It has attracted multitudes of capable men to devote themselves to scientific pursuits. It has systematized and promoted observation and research in various fields, and has lent efficient pecuniary assistance to many workers who were without the means for investigation. Its career has been coincident with the highest scientific activity in all civilized countries, and it has lent its powerful co-operation in bringing out many of the grand scientific results that will make the last half-century memorable in scientific history. The British Association has, moreover, been administered from the beginning in a liberal spirit and with enlarged views. While mainly devoted to the extension and the improvement of scientific knowledge, it has never been afraid to express its sympathy with the popular aspects of scientific questions, and it has wisely lent its influence for the encouragement and general promotion of scientific education. Perhaps no higher testimony could be afforded of the excellence of its plan, the value of its labors, and its adaptation to the requirements of the period, than the fact that it has been successfully imitated both in the United States and in different Continental countries.

The coming of this body across the Atlantic to hold one of its annual sessions in Montreal, while quite in accordance with its established policy of enlarging the field of scientific influence, is such a signal stroke of expansion as fitly to make an epoch in its beneficent career. It does not, indeed, overpass the limits of the British Empire, but it migrates to a new continent, and if not to a foreign, at least to a distant and a different people. It seems to us, therefore, that, to reach the highest utility of the occasion, it should be be made subservient to the more systematic organization of international agencies for the promotion of science. While in itself but a transient event, it is nevertheless a fitting opportunity to initiate something permanent, that shall mark the stage at which we have arrived in the growth of what may be called the international scientific consciousness of the world. Something, indeed, has already been accomplished in this important direction. That large division of the students of Nature, the medical profession, has entered into extensive co-operation on an international scale for the advancement of its interests. The International Medical Congress meets once in three years, each time in a new country, and all who have participated in its proceedings testify to the reality, the extent, and the value of the results attained. There is no reason why similar advantages may not be derived from an international association of scientists devoted to the promotion of the general objects which they have in view. We are glad to observe, as remarked above in referring to the American Association, that steps are being taken to organize such a body on an international basis. It will be but a further and natural development of the policy of the British and American Associations within their respective countries. There is a large field of labor that would especially belong to such a body, for hitherto science has been to no small degree hampered and impeded by the disagreements and conflicts that have arisen out of its limited and national pursuit. An international congress of scientists would be the proper body to promote the adoption of common standards of time, of measurements of all kinds, of biological and geological nomenclatures, of common systems of recording observations and statistics, and the policy of scientific undertakings which require international co-operation, and it would have many things to do which there is no association at present entitled to undertake. The same important advantages of increased personal intercourse among the cultivators of science, to which the existing associations have been tributary in their respective countries, would then be secured on a still wider scale. Nothing is more important than the bringing of scientific men, who are separated by distance and rarely see each other, into personal contact and acquaintance, to gain that intimate understanding of each other which can only come from personal discussion; and this is the more necessary where men are habitually separated by the differences of nationality. There are many reasons why such an organization should be established; the time has come for it, and the present is an especially favorable time for carrying it out. The large attendance of foreign scientists at Montreal is to be followed by the meeting of the American Association in Philadelphia, and many of the foreign savants will be present at that meeting. The circumstances are auspicious for taking this new step which, if taken, will undoubtedly be productive of lasting and world-wide advantage in this great field of labor.

But we must not lose sight of the loftier lesson that is so happily illustrated in the coming of this most powerful of scientific organizations to the New World, and which is well calculated to incite to further action in this important direction. What concerns us most is the exemplification it affords of the gathering strength of the great scientific movement in this age. The visit is made in obedience to that development of scientific influence by which it has now become the great leading force of civilization itself. We hear much of the advancement of science, as if it were but a movement in one direction; but we must not forget that with progress there has also been a vast widening of the scope of scientific influence and activity. The movement is one of enlargement of ideas, and it is only when we regard the different sciences as fusing into the most vital inter-connections, and reorganizing human knowledge, that we can begin to understand the import of the epoch upon which we have entered, and appreciate the full meaning of these demonstrations of enlarged operation in the scientific agencies of the period. It was inevitable, from the very nature of things, that science should overleap its past limitations and pass to the stage of international comprehensiveness; but, fully to comprehend this, we must remember that it represents a new epoch of thought, and promises a new education for mankind. The dominant ideas of the past have been confining and restrictive. National feelings are diverse and antagonizing; religions are hostile, and politics local and exclusive; but science is as universal as Nature, its devotees are one in spirit and in purpose, and it is undoubtedly the supreme unifying element of the modern social state. It studies phenomena of every kind, and is equally at home in every place. Its perpetual aim is the dispassionate consideration of facts, and the generalization of wider and more comprehensive truths. Eschewing all narrowness and prejudice, by the very nature of its discipline it tends to break down factitious limitations, it cultivates the spirit of large-mindedness, and is the great teacher of toleration, liberality, and catholicity. By leading to profounder agreements, by awakening broader sympathies, and making possible more harmonious co-operations in the further progress of civilization, the extension of science is full of hopeful encouragement for the best interests of mankind. Under its influence men emerge into the light of new intellectual relations, new opportunities, and new responsibilities. The elevated sentiments by which men of science are more and more animated were thus eloquently expressed by one of the distinguished presidents of the British Association, Sir John Herschel. He said: "Let selfish interests divide the worldly, let jealousies torment the envious; we breathe a purer empyrean. The common pursuit of truth is of itself a brotherhood. In these meetings we have a source of delight which draws us together, and inspires us with a sense of unity. That astronomers should congregate to talk of stars and planets; chemists, of atoms; geologists, of strata, is natural enough; but what is there, equally pervading all, which causes their hearts to burn within them for mutual unbosoming? Surely the answer of each and all—the chemist, the astronomer, the physiologist, the electrician, the biologist, the geologist—all with one accord, and each in the language of his own science, would answer, not only the wonderful works of God, and the delight their disclosure affords, but the privilege he feels to have aided in the disclosure. We are further led to look onward through the vista of time with chastened assurance that Science has still other and nobler work to do than any she has yet attempted."

 

 
THE C LLEGE FETICH ONCE MORE.

The annual season of college commencements and commemorations is past, and it brought with it the customary laudations of classical study in unusual profusion. The stir of the subject by last year's discussions aroused the friends of Latin and Greek, and they seized the favorable opportunities to expatiate with renewed unction upon the unrivaled educational value and importance of these immortal languages. Professor Jebb, the accomplished Greek scholar, formerly of Cambridge, but now of Glasgow University, was brought over to address the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard, in the hope, no doubt, that he would contribute something to undo the mischievous last year's work of Mr. Charles Francis Adams, Jr., in his address before the same body. Professor Jebb, however, gave rise to some disappointment by not taking the rôle of a champion of the study of Greek, but contented himself with drawing an interesting parallel between some of the intellectual activities of the Greeks and those of our own age.

But if Professor Jebb declined to take up the defense of Greek, now so vigorously assailed as well in his own country as in ours, there are other able men who will not blink the glare of the controversy. Among these is Professor Bonamy Price, of Oxford, who, although a teacher of political economy, takes up the cudgels with great vigor for the classical languages. He contributes the leading article to the "Princeton Review" for July, under the title of "What is Education?" The first part of his paper returns an excellent and an unexceptionable answer to his question-title. He denounces the prevailing propensity to "cram" in unsparing terms; he eulogizes viva voce in teaching, and thus sums up: "The aim and task of education—independently of the value of the knowledge obtained for moral or or any other purposes—is to cultivate the powers of the understanding, to strengthen and enlarge them, to show how they are to be used in mastering any subject. It seeks to train the young pupil how to use his brain, how to determine and examine for himself the questions put before him, how to handle his mind as a tool, and thus to realize the very purposes for which that mind was given him—in a word, to teach him how to think."

As to the general means of securing this object the suggestions of Professor Price are sound. He says: "Now, what is the educational process to be adopted for accomplishing this great object of teaching a boy how to think? Not, certainly, to set him to read well-written and learned books, to store up their contents in his memory, and then to pour them out at examination. Nor will this great end be reached by learned addresses from tutors, carefully gathered up in notes by the pupils and then followed up by examinations which simply test the attention and the accuracy of the students. This is cram—nothing better....The answer is not difficult; indeed, it may be called obvious; yet how little is it perceived or valued at the present hour even in our most distinguished institutions of education! Its secret lies in skillful questioning by the teacher, in power to make the pupil discover for himself the facts and truths to be gathered up at each place....The work of the teacher is to direct the attention of the student to the facts lying before him, to stimulate his inquiry into the relations which they bear toward each other, what difficulties they present, how they are to be cleared away by thought, what new truths they reveal. To make the pupil find out for himself the answer to be given to each question, as it arises, is the very essence of real education....The pupil's mind is ever kept thinking, putting together, and discovering. The knowledge won is in no small degree his own acquisition, the product of his own intelligence, his own brain. He is incessantly learning how to use the faculties with which his mind is endowed, and with their help, guided but not told by the teacher, to gather up the understanding of the subject to be explored."

But now comes the question. What are the studies best adapted to attain this ideal of education? To this Professor Price devotes the second part of his paper; and he here conspicuously illustrates what has been shown a thousand times before, how an elaborate classical culture can so pervert the mind and bias the judgment that the most weighty considerations are absolutely unrecognized. To the broad question what subjects of study are best suited to cultivate, strengthen, and enlarge the powers of the understanding, Professor Price answers: "For value and power it may safely be asserted the study of the Greek and Latin languages stands pre-eminently the first. Greek, above all, has no equal in educating force; it is the greatest, the most productive tool for developing the minds of the young known to man."

But if, now, we ask how these sovereign advantages are to be secured, or in what does this incomparable virtue of Greek for educational purposes consist, the reply is, that through the mastery of this language the student's mind is brought into close relation with the minds of the greatest men, Plato and Aristotle, Virgil and Æschylus, Thucydides and Demosthenes, Homer and, "above all Saint Paul"—especially in the Epistle to the Romans.

Professor Price's argument here consists merely of fresh and vivid eulogies of the old Greek masters, and declarations that they are wonderfully fitted to quicken and elevate the minds of students. He maintains that they are excellent instruments of discipline, and this probably but few dispute. His proposition is that Greek and Latin are "pre-eminently the first" among the instrumentalities of mental development; but he neither proves nor attempts to prove it. The idea of "pre-eminence" is relative; it implies superiority to something else; and the argument, to be good for anything, must state the claims and prove the inferiority of that something which is assumed to be inferior. The acquisition of Greek gives a discipline in the study of languages, and that may be the best of all languages for the purpose. The mastery of Greek literature gives a literary training, and it may be the best of all literatures for the purpose. But that is not at all the question. The question is as to the "pre-eminence" of language and literary discipline over any other kind of discipline. The real issue, the issue that has arisen in modern times, is between language and literature on the one hand and science-studies on the other, as instruments of mental development. This essential issue Professor Price does not take up. He does not even recognize the existence of such a thing as a mental discipline gained by the study of science. He refers indeed to science, in the usual classical spirit, as giving useful knowledge to "the lower classes," who have to work for a living. "In the lower classes of life, useful knowledge, knowledge that fits the learner to carry on some special business from which a livelihood is to be obtained, is the object most desired.... A little boy may easily be made to understand how a plant grows, how it picks up some substances from the sun and air, or under or from the ground, how it decomposes these substances and extracts from them the parts which they can apply to their own growth." Are we to infer from this slovenly sentence, equally false to the facts of science and the rules of grammar, that an accomplished Oxford classicist holds himself under no obligation to write decent English when coupling the study of science with vulgar laboring people?

Not withstanding Professor Price ignores it, yet Greek and Latin are on trial before the world under indictment for the fatal deficiency of their educational discipline! They are arraigned as in this respect fundamentally defective because they leave in total neglect some of the most essential powers of the mind. What valid claim has a system of mental cultivation, in this age, which gives no more heed to the important faculty of observation in the youthful mind than if it had no existence; which neglects the study of Nature, and makes no provision for cultivated mental intercourse with the most immediate objects of human experience; which fails to use the great living problems of human interest with which intelligent beings are vitally concerned, as means for the systematic discipline of the reason and the judgment in preparation for the responsible work of life? Here are the opportunities and the urgent needs, and here the possibility of that varied, methodic, and persistent exercise of the mental faculties which gives them their soundest and most symmetrical discipline. Modern studies have become the rivals of ancient studies, and the discipline of science the rival of classical discipline. The discipline of science is superior to lingual and literary discipline because it involves all the mental processes, because it takes effect upon the realities of experience, because it is a discipline in the pursuit of truth, because it is a preparation for practical life-work, because it uses the most perfected knowledge as its means of culture, and because it brings the mind into intimate and intelligent relation with the system of natural things, which it is the first interest as it is also the highest pleasure of man to understand.

 

 
A CORRECTION.

An article contributed to the "North American Review" for August, by Mr. George J. Romanes, an English author, opens with the following passage: "A few months ago I published a work entitled 'Mental Evolution in Animals,' in which I attempted to trace as carefully and thoroughly as I was able the principles which have probably been concerned in the development of mind among the lower animals. This work, I believe, has already been reprinted in America; and seeing that, under the existing state of matters with reference to copyright, an author on this side of the Atlantic is precluded from securing any pecuniary interest in the sale of his work upon the other side, I am free to allude to this book as constituting the basis of the present paper."

We read this statement with some surprise. Had Mr. Romanes said, "The American people deny my ownership of the book that I have made and which they reprint, and I therefore hold myself absolved from recognizing anybody's ownership of the reprint," his position would be intelligible. But, when he says he proposes to make use of its contents as he pleases because he "is precluded from securing any pecuniary interest in the sale of his work" in this country, his statement creates a false impression, and one which we are personally concerned to correct. Mr. Romanes contributed "Animal Intelligence" to the "International Scientific Series," a project which was undertaken expressly in the pecuniary interest of scientific authors; and on all sales of this book the stipulated royalty is placed to his credit, to be drawn by his English publishers. It was intended, as we understand, at first to include the "Mental Evolution in Animals" in the "Series" also; but, although this was not done, it is to be paid for under arrangement by the American publishers at the same rate. When the profits are earned by the sale of the volume, Mr. Romanes will be entitled to them by contract, and he thus stands upon the same practical footing as an American author.