Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/April 1892/Editor's Table

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
THE ATTACK ON INTELLECTUAL LIBERTY IN GERMANY.

A THING which most certainly no one not supernaturally illuminated would have predicted has come to pass in Germany. A young man of thirty, who considers himself at once the father and the master of the German people, has intimated his good pleasure that every child in the German Empire shall have a theological education. It matters not what the parents of the children think; it matters not what the great body of the teachers think: his Majesty has made up his very mature mind, and all other minds must bow willingly or unwillingly to his decision. It is quite possible that, before the words we are now writing can appear in print, the imperial dictator may have seen the error of his ways, and may have concluded not to try the patience and self-respect of his subjects too far: none the less will it remain a notable fact that the possibility of fettering the German intellect in the most arbitrary manner should have occurred to a ruler of the German people in the very last years of the nineteenth century. We can not but argue ill for the future of a man possessed of such overweening self-confidence. The ancient Greeks looked upon a character of this kind as probably predestined by the gods to a tragic end; and the experience of mankind has, on the whole, tended to show that their presentiment in such cases was not without foundation. Courage we admire, fidelity to principle we admire, resolute statesmanship we admire; but the determination of one man to impose his will upon a nation resembles madness rather than the exercise of any noble quality. It is hard for us in America to conceive how such a dream could have entered the head of any presumably sane man.

It is worth while, perhaps, to take this opportunity of asking the question why it is thought so very necessary to make special provision by law for the teaching of theological doctrines. The question is just as pertinent in this country as in any other; for there are many here who think such provision should be made, and who, if they could command a majority of votes for the purpose, would quickly make it. Only one answer can be given, and that is that the feeling of the promoters of such legislation is, that unless the doctrines in which they are interested are arbitrarily and compulsorily taught, they will have no chance of obtaining a lodgment in the minds of the rising generation. Faith in the home as a center of religious teaching seems to have almost wholly died out, and faith in the Church to be nearly as low; consequently the state is asked to step in and take up the task of inculcating the cardinal doctrines of Christian theology. As we pointed out last month, however, the inability of the state to do anything of the kind is an accepted conclusion with nearly all intelligent observers of the events of the time, What we may now further point out is that, were the state to attempt it, its success would mean before long the intellectual and even religious atrophy of the nation. Imagine for one moment the success of Emperor William's attempt. In twenty or thirty years the great bulk of the adult population would have gone through the official theological mill. All intellects would have been bowed to the official explanation—unanswerable because official—of the being and attributes of God. All would have bowed to the official proofs of the immortality of the sonl. All would have accepted the official indorsement of ecclesiastical miracles, and the official interpretation of church history. All would have adjusted themselves to the principal historic creeds. No doubt some would have been brought up as Protestants, and some as Catholics; but as in each case the teaching was official, the effect would probably be to create a kind of imbecile readiness to admit as equally true the most contradictory positions. It is impossible, we maintain, for any person capable of reflection not to see that such a system of education would mean the death of all personal interest in, or apprehension of, the truths or doctrines inculcated. The being of God can not be proved in the same manner as the laws of chemistry; the latter admit of demonstrative proof, nobody asks for more than demonstration, and so long as demonstration is reached no one objects to the road by which it is reached; the former does not admit of demonstrative proof in the same sense, and everything depends upon the way in which such proofs as it does admit of are presented. Official teachers would, however, have to put forward their official proofs as demonstrative, and the effect would either be to deaden intellects or to turn out hypocrites by the thousand. The one and only guarantee for the vitality of theological beliefs is perfect freedom on the part of those who teach them and equal freedom on the part of those who learn them. Give to the individual intellect an infinite outlook upon the great problems of existence, and a reverential acceptance of the cardinal principles of religion may well be evoked; but insist that definite answers must be found to these transscendent questions, and that there is just one authorized way of arriving at such answers, and you provoke revolt. The only result, therefore, of Emperor William's scheme, could it be realized, would be to fill the German fatherland with intellectual stagnation, formalism, and hypocrisy. Such, too, would be the effect here if the faint-hearts of the religious world could have their way. They would intrust the inculcation of religious truths to the public-school teachers, and would place religion on a par with geography, with this difference in favor of geography that it could prove all its statements by irrefragable evidence, while religion, though taught with an equal air of authority, could not in any similar manner prove its statements. Truly, the friends of a cause are often its greatest enemies, while those who get the credit of being its enemies are often its truest friends.

That the American people will not hand over their religion to the state to be sterilized in the public schools is now a matter of certainty, and it will be a very bad sign if anything of this kind happens in Germany. We can imagine a cynical enemy of all religion aiding and abetting the emperor's scheme, in the confident expectation that it would do more in ten years to extinguish vital religion in the German Empire than all the attacks of all the freethinkers could do in a century. We could imagine, too, that people with whom religion was a mere fashion or social badge might favor it as tending to attach a stigma to independent thought; but we can not imagine sincerely and intelligently religious people lending it any countenance. If the religious clauses of the present German education bill become law, it will be a clear sign that, to all intents and purposes, religion is dead in Germany.

 

 
SAFEGUARDS OF HEALTH.

While disease at one front of battle is ever yielding to the advances of medical skill, at another it is as surely surrendering to the progress of hygiene. To-day the physician is asked not only how the sick may be healed, but how the well may stay well. From year to year investigation lengthens the list of diseases strictly preventable, and diphtheria and typhoid only linger to mark the neglect of well-understood precautions. Vaccination has been so striking an example of what prophylaxis can do, that hundreds of eager experimenters are endeavoring to bring consumption and scarlet fever into the same category as small-pox. From maladies less serious, but much more common, the public is fast learning that immunity is largely a question of taking care of one's general health and vigor. Seeds of disease which find a foothold in an enfeebled frame are either repelled by a sound and hearty constitution or harmlessly digested by it. To maintain this happy condition wholesome food, abundant exercise, personal cleanliness, temperance in all things, and the avoidance of worry are indispensable.

There are a good many people who know their lung-tissues to be delicate, or their heart-action to be irregular, or who suffer from some other constitutional weakness. Among this class the custom is gradually spreading of consulting a physician, not when acute difficulty has arisen, but as soon as the infirmity is detected, and periodically thereafter. Not seldom health is maintained in this way and life lengthened, for it is in their early stages of development that many diseases, especially the obscure derangements of the nervous system, can be most successfully treated. Perhaps it is the daily glass of spirits, or the weekly supper party, which the physician interdicts. Quite as often it is the allurement of the stock exchange or the card-table which he has to prohibit. Whatever his advice, it has incalculably more value in preventing a crisis than in dealing with it after it has come to pass. Just as the best services of the lawyer are not in advocacy so much as in steering his client clear of the courts, so the doctor finds his worthiest skill to be in keeping his patient free from the need of cure or healing.

In the task of maintaining healthful conditions, general and special, a science has grown up in which not only the physician but the architect, the sanitary engineer, the purveyor of food and drink, the manufacturer of clothing, have deep interests. This great science of hygiene is now worthily represented in the University of Pennsylvania by a special laboratory devoted to it, which was formally opened on February 22d. It has been planned by Dr. John S. Billings, who is its director. The means for carrying it on are to be credited to the liberality of citizens of Philadelphia. The laboratory contains research rooms for investigations upon air, water, food, soil, and clothing; work-shops and photomicrographic rooms, and special arrangements for demonstrating the principles and practice of heating and ventilation, and of house drainage. In addition there are ample laboratories for chemical and bacteriological research. The course of instruction embraces the whole range of sanitary science—the disposal of refuse, the management of contagious diseases, the offensive and dangerous trades, methods of vital statistics, and sanitary jurisprudence. In directing this important work Dr. Billings is assisted by Dr. A. O. Abbott, recently Assistant in Bacteriology and Hygiene at Johns Hopkins University.

All honor to the men and women who have made this noble gift to their kind I It will mean joy and life to many thousands who else were doomed to hopeless suffering and premature death.

 

 
BOGY-HUNTING.

The British mind seems prone to conjure up terrors. The proposed tunnel under the Strait of Dover, whose importance to English commerce would probably equal that of all the docks of London, is made impossible by the affrighted query, What if the French should send an invading army against us under the sea? A display of this ludicrous apprehensiveness, of more special interest to cultivators of science, was given by The Spectator in an article on the celebration of Prof. Virchow's seventieth birthday. Is such public homage as Prof. Virchow received on this occasion, The Spectator asks, "good for science or good for the world in general?" Its fear is that unworthy persons will be drawn into the pursuit of science for the sake of the applause to be won therein, and it therefore looks askance at the dawning tendency to bestow merited praise upon the achievements of scientiflc men. The Spectator's ideal man of science—devoted to knowledge for its own sake, or rather for his own gratification, and wholly indifferent to the good opinion of others—is a rare and regretablephenomenon. The real man of science is a human being having the same warm sympathy with his fellow-men and the same need of their sympathy and appreciation that is found in the normally constituted man of any other calling. Shall a due measure of public esteem be denied to these men lest a few undeserving persons may try to share it? The services of scientific investigators have too long been repaid with proscription or neglect. Men whose occupation is the pursuit of truth know full well what justice is; and, if they are made to feel the smart of persistent injustice and the chill of unvarying loneliness, their capacity for work will be sure to suffer from these repressing influences.

But The Spectator has another apprehension, that rises to the dignity of a well-developed bogy. The aforesaid unworthy persons having been drawn into the pursuit of science, it apparently assumes that they would display sufficient ability in this field to make them very dangerous. Our bogy-hunter says:

As a rule, science turns itself away from producing what is not useful but injurious, and concentrates its attention on what is likely to benefit mankind. It helps, of course, to make war inventions more effective, but no scientific man has yet persistently searched for means of destroying non-combatants wholesale, or for sterilizing vast tracts of country as a lava-flood sterilizes them. If once, however, the tone of scientific feeling is lowered, there is no knowing how far the maleficent side of science may be developed. . . . The results of scientific discoveries intended to be beneficial are often, as it is, turned to very ill uses. What would be the result if we had hundreds of active brains consciously attempting to shape Nature's actions to evil ends?

There is probably no career that is less likely to hold any unworthy persons who might be attracted to it than the pursuit of science. A sufficient command of chemistry, for instance, to enable a man "actuated by worldly motives" to produce "an air-poison so potent as to act instantaneously over a very wide area" can not be acquired except through an amount of patient research that no such person would endure. The Spectator had better sound its warnings where they are more needed. Take the field of literature, for example. Poets receive and have long received a vast deal more of adulation than has yet fallen to the lot of men of science. We like to think of poets as persons who can utter none but fine and noble thoughts. Is there not great danger that the ambitious youth may say of poetry what The Spectator imagines him saying of science, "Here is a field in which I can exchange my brains and my assiduity against popularity and worldly position with great advantage?" Would it not be better to withhold all marks of public esteem from poets than to risk having the craft adulterated with "persons primarily actuated by worldly motives"? Nor is this all. It is well known that poetry exerts a vast influence over the passions of men. The oft-quoted saying, "I care not who makes the laws of a people if I may make their songs," tersely attests this. What dreadful deeds a populace might be incited to "if half the [poets] were primarily anxious to sell their powers [of song] to the highest bidder!" Here, indeed, is a bogy by which The Spectator might well be terrified.