Popular Science Monthly/Volume 7/October 1875/Editor's Table

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AS we have often said, and as will probably have to be many times repeated and explained before its full meaning is generally appreciated, there are two kinds of education, scientific and non-scientific; or one which brings the mind to bear upon actual things, and another which occupies It with their symbols. One turns the intellect directly upon Nature, and aims to train it in the acquisition of first-hand knowledge; the other turns it upon books, and exercises the mind upon verbal representations which are accepted in the place of actual things.

This statement, however, though broadly true, requires qualification. Scientific education, of course, neither ignores books nor discredits them for their proper uses; it only subordinates them to its main object—employing them as auxiliaries in the study of Nature. The case is sometimes put extravagantly; extreme statement being thought needful to counteract extreme errors. Prof. Agassiz, for example, as is well known, was often hot in his denunciations of books; but it was their abuse at which his wrath was kindled. He had little patience with the servile habit of learning lessons and quoting books; and he waxed indignant when he saw students stopping with the manual and interposing it between the mind and Nature. His excellent rule was, first learn to know something directly about the subject yourself, and then you will be competent to deal with the representations of others. He saw that it was of primary and vital moment that the student should first of all come at the living phenomena, and learn to read them and think about them independently; and he saw, too, that books are the potent agents by which this desirable object is constantly defeated. Scientific education, therefore, only wars with the perversion of books. Scholastic education, on the other hand, does not propose to go beyond the books. Letters, literature, things written, and the modes of representation, are its ends and its ultimate objects. That the manner is of more account than the matter is the law of gravitation in "culture" or literary education; it governs every thing. The scholar is of course a man, and recognizes as an accident of his being that he is placed in the midst of a system of things which we call Nature. He cannot quite ignore it if he would; he cannot help knowing something of the world he lives in. But he is not concerned about it. He is satisfied with the knowledge of Nature that he picks up inevitably. Natural things, the facts, laws, and order of the world, are not to him objects of mental exercise. He does not recognize them as the means of education; he gives his life to books.

There is, of course, no antagonism between literature and science as mere pursuits; but in the field of education, or as representing methods of cultivating the human mind, they are inveterate rivals. This was less apparent when education was limited to the favored classes, and the scientists and the littérateurs could go their respective ways in peace. But in the new dispensation of popular enlightenment, when everybody is to be educated and everybody is to be taxed for the purpose, a conflict arises as to which of the two systems shall have precedence. The people are to be secured a larger measure of mental cultivation. It is their destiny to be occupied with the matter and forces of Nature, and they are creatures of an inexorable system of natural law: shall their education be conformed to these facts, and deal with the direct phenomena of experience, or shall it stop with symbols and be predominantly an affair of books? The issue can neither be forced nor escaped; it belongs to time and the growth of ideas. It is not that Literature is in the saddle and is to be unhorsed by Science; but the undoubted tendencies of the past must work in future with increasing power, and lead, we believe, to the ultimate ascendency of the study of natural science.

But, while recognizing the direction of the great mental movement which marks especially the present age, it will be wise to moderate our expectations and recognize also the formidable character of the difficulties which stand in the way of scientific education. Among these is its great expensiveness. Literary education has here an enormous advantage. Books are cheap. It is not the label that costs, but the thing labeled. Economy admonishes us to stop with symbols. Phenomena are displayed only as realities; and things real are property and must be paid for. Experimental facilities are expensive, and museum collections represent immense labor. This is a potent reason why there is so much sham in so-called scientific education; or, perhaps, we might more properly say why it falls so far short of what is expected from it. The poor student who cannot get the objects and materials for observation and experiment, is tempted if not compelled to make such shift as he can with books and pictures. This is a difference between the two systems of education which is deep and must continue, and it will operate powerfully to hinder the popular spread of true science. There are, of course, differences in the expensiveness of different branches of scientific study; botany, for example, being cheaper than chemistry. Of the two classes that may be taken generally as most ignorant of the science of their business, cooks and congressmen, it will cost at least ten times more properly to educate the former than the latter.

Yet this difficulty of scientific education is by no means incapable of mitigation, although but comparatively little has thus far been done to overcome it. The training of professional scientific students for the work of research has hitherto engrossed the main attention, and here much has been done to simplify and cheapen operations. Experimental physics is more expensive than chemistry, but efficient efforts are making to reduce the old scales of cost. We notice that, in the scientific school at South Kensington in London, they have adopted the plan of putting the student methodically at work, at the outset, to make his own apparatus. This is an important step, as a short apprenticeship of this kind soon renders him to a very considerable degree independent of instrument-makers, and enables him to go on with his inquiries by utilizing resources that may come to hand in almost any circumstances.

Yet the problem from our point of view is still unresolved. Scientific education, in its popular aspect, does not aim to make investigators or discoverers; it only proposes to acquaint general students with some of the branches of science which may be selected, but to do it by actual familiarity with their subject-matter. What may be now fairly demanded is, that a certain portion of physics, chemistry, botany, or zoölogy, be actually mastered; that is, their phenomena and facts shall be seen, and their principles known by all who take a liberal course of study. This is indispensable to counteract the evils of a purely book education, and to avoid the uncertainty and illusiveness that prevail in the realm of mere words. The importance of this end being admitted, the question remains, how to provide the most economical facilities for this kind of study. It is beyond doubt possible, by the employment of suitable objects that are everywhere available, to give reality and thoroughness to scientific study without great expense; but the method of doing this has yet to be elaborated. Perhaps the only exception to this statement is botany, which can be studied so cheaply that there is no excuse, on the score of cost, for not introducing it forthwith into all common schools. A method has been developed, which is rigidly based upon the principle that the pupil shall study the actual objects at first hand, so that he may "know what he knows" of this interesting subject, and not stop with book representations of it, while the objects of examination are to be had everywhere by merely plucking them. Something like this, as far as it shall prove possible, is yet to be accomplished for the popular study of physics, chemistry, and zoölogy.


A comprehensive German work on natural history, entitled a "Hand-Book of Zoölogy," by Prof. Carus, assisted by Prof. Gerstäcker, has just been completed. Its publication by Engelmann, of Leipsic, was begun in 1863, and the last volume has been recently issued. The work is reviewed in Nature by Prof. E. Ray Lancaster (editor of Haeckel's great work, soon to be issued), and of the general merits of the Hand-book he speaks as follows:

"As the latest complete systematic treatise on the animal kingdom, and one executed with the exercise of most conscientious care, and a very exceptional knowledge of the vast variety of zoölogical publications which now almost daily issue from the press, this work Is one which is sure to render eminent service to all zoölogists. We can speak to the usefulness of the earlier volume, from an experience of some years, and there is every reason to believe that the one just completed will be found as efficient."

Having pointed out, with some detail, the scope and characteristics of Prof. Carus's treatise. Dr. Lancaster proceeds to estimate it with more special reference to the later advances of biological theory, and his remarks upon this subject are so opportune and instructive, that we quote them at length. They afford an excellent illustration of the broad applicability and practical bearing of these modern doctrines in relation to life, doctrines which are still characterized by many as "unfruitful speculations."

Prof. Carus suffers in this book as in his 'History of Zoology,' from the unphllosophic conception of the scope and tendencies of that division of biology which its early history has forced upon modern science. In England our newest and most conservative university continues to draw a broad distinction between what is called comparative anatomy and what is called zoölogy. By some accident zoölogy Is the term which has become connected with the special work of arranging specimens and naming species which is carried on in great museums, and which has gone on in museums since the days when 'objects of natural history,' and other curiosities, first attracted serious attention in the sixteenth century. Accordingly, zoology, in this limited sense, has taken the direction indicated by the requirements of the curators of museums, and is supposed to consist in the study of animals not as they are in toto. But as they are for the purposes of the species-maker and collector. In this limited zoology, external characters, or the characters of easily-preserved parts which on account of their conspicuousness or durability are valuable for the ready discrimination of the various specific forms, have acquired a first place in consideration to which their real significance as evidence of affinity or separation does not entitle them.

"From time to time the limited zoölogists have adopted or accepted from the comparative anatomists hints or conclusions, and have worked them into their schemes of classification. But it does seem to be time in these days, when pretty nearly all persons are agreed that the most natural classification of the animal kingdom is that which is the nearest expression of the animal pedigree, that systematic works on zoölogy should be emancipated from the hereditary tendencies of the old treatises, and should present to us the classes and orders of the animal kingdom defined not by the enumeration of easily-recognized 'marks,' but by reference to the deeper and more thorough-going characteristics which Indicate blood relationships. We have to note in the 'Handbuch' the not unfrequent citation of superficial and insignificant characteristics In the brief diagnoses of taxonomic groups, which seems in so excellent a work to be due to a purposeless survival of the features of a moribund zoölogy that would know nothing of 'insldes,' and still less of the doctrine of filiation. For instance, the very first thing which we are told of the vertebrata, in the short diagnosis of the group, is, that they are 'animals with laterally symmetrical, elongated, externally unsegmented bodies;' of the fishes, that they have the 'skin covered with scales or plates, seldom naked; 'of the mollusca, that they have a 'laterally symmetrical, compressed body devoid of segmentation, often inclosed in a single (generally spirally-twisted) or double calcareous shell.'

"It would be unjust to suggest that Prof. Carus, who long ago did so much to establish zoölogical classification on an anatomical basis, is not fully alive to the necessity, at the present day, of taking the wide biological view of animal morphology; but certainly the form in which parts of the book are cast savors of the past epoch. It may be said that the object of the book is to present the 'facts' of zoölogy in a logical order; and that this sufficiently explains the arrangements to which objection might be taken as above, viz., the commencing with the higher instead of the lower groups, the prominent position assigned to external and little-significant characters, the absence of any recognition of the leading doctrine of modern zoölogy, the doctrine of filiation. To this there is nothing to say excepting that of the very many logical methods of treatment possible in a hand-book of zoölogy, many are easy to follow out, and that one, which aims at presenting a logical classification of the kind spoken of by Mill, in which objects 'are arranged in such groups, and those groups in such an order as shall best conduce to the ascertainment and remembrance of their laws,' is a very difficult one to follow out. This kind of classification involves nothing less than an attempt (however inadequate) to trace the animal pedigree; for the laws to be ascertained and remembered are the laws of heredity and adaptation. We may regret, then, that so able a zoologist as Prof. Carus has remained in the old grooves and not ventured on to the inevitable track where Gegenbaur and Haeckel have preceded him."