Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

:

tious line of discussion would be quite needful, and how difficult. What Profesincompetent.

sor Huxley says, implies just the reproach

which is so often brought against the Some of you may have met with a study of belles-lettres, as they are called : phrase of mine which has been the object that the study is an elegant one, but slight of a good deal of comment; an observa- and ineffectual; a smattering of Greek tion to the effect that in our culture, the and Latin and other ornamental things, ainn being to know ourselves and the of little use for any one whose object is world, we have, as the means to this end, to get at truth. So, too, M. Renan talks to know the best which has been thought of the “superficial humanism” of a school and said in the world. Professor Huxley, course which treats us as if we were all in his discourse at the opening of Sir going to be poets, writers, orators, and he Josial Mason's college, laying hold of opposes this humanism to positive scithis phrase, expanded it by quoting some ence, or the critical search after truth. more words of mine, which are these : And there is always a tendency in those

Europe is to be regarded as now being, who are remonstrating against the prefor intellectual and spiritual purposes, one dominance of letters in education, to ungreat confederation, bound to a joint ac. derstand by letters belles-lettres, and by tion and working to a common result; belles lettres a superficial humanism, the and whose members have for their com- opposite of science or true knowledge. mon outfit a knowledge of Greek, Roman, But when we talk of knowing Greek and and Eastern antiquity, and of one an- Roman antiquity, for instance, which is other. Special local and temporary ad. what people have called humanisın, we vantages being put out of account, that mean a knowledge which is something modern nation will in the intellectual and more than a superficial humanism, mainly spiritual sphere make most progress, decorative. “I call all teaching scientific,.' which most thoroughly carries out this says Wolf, the critic of Homer, “which is programme.”

systematically laid out and followed up Now on my phrase, thus enlarged, Pro to its original sources. For example: a fessor Huxley remarks that I assert liter knowledge of classical antiquity is scien. ature to contain the materials which suf- tific when the remains of classical antiqfice for making us know ourselves and the uity are correctly studied in the original world. But it is not by any means clear, languages." There can be no doubt that says he, that after having learnt all which Wolf is perfectly right, that all learning ancient and modern literatures have to is scientific which is systematically laid tell us, we have laid a sufficiently broad out and followed up to its original sources, and deep foundation for that criticism of and that a genuine humanism is scientific. life which constitutes culture. On the When I speak of knowing Greek and contrary, Professor Huxley declares that Roman antiquity, therefore, as a help to he finds himself “wholly unable to adinit knowing ourselves and the world, I mean that either nations or individuals will more than a knowledge of so much vocabreally advance, if their common outfit ulary, so much grammar, so many pordraws nothing from the stores of physical tions of authors, in the Greek and Latin science. An army without weapons of languages. I mean knowing the Greeks precision and with no particular base of and Romans, and their life and genius, operations, might more hopefully enter and what they were and did in the world; upon a campaign on the Rhine, than a what we get from them, and what is its man devoid of a knowledge of what phys- value. That, at least, is the ideal; and ical science has done in the last century, when we talk of endeavoring to know upon a criticism of life.”

Greek and Roman antiquity as a help to This shows how needful it is, for those knowing ourselves and the world, we mean who are to discuss a matter together, to endeavoring so to know them as to satisfy have a common understanding as to the this ideal, however much we may still fall sense of the terms they employ, — how I short of it.

[ocr errors]

The same as to knowing our own and and the end of the world entertained by other modern nations, with the aim of our forefathers are no longer credible. It getting to understand ourselves and the is very certain that the earth is not the world. To know the best that has been chief body in the material universe, and thought and said by the modern nations, is that the world is not subordinated to to know, says Professor Huxley, “only man's use. It is even more certain that what modern literatures have to tell us; nature is the expression of a definite it is the criticism of life contained in mod- order, with which nothing interferes." ern literature.” And yet “the distinctive “ And yet,” he cries," the purely classical character of our times,” he urges, “lies education advocated by the representain the vast and constantly increasing part tives of the humanists in our day gives no which is played by natural knowledge." inkling of all this! And how, therefore, can a man, devoid of In due place and time we will perhaps knowledge of what physical science has touch upon the question of classical edudone in the last century, enter hopefully cation, but at present the question is as upon a criticism of modern life?

to what is meant by knowing the best Let us, I say, be agreed about the which modern nations have thought and meaning of the terms we are using. I said. It is not knowing their belles-lettalk of knowing the best which has been tres merely that is meant. To know thought and uttered in the world; Pro-Italian belleslettres not to know Italy, fessor Huxley says this means knowing and to know English belles-lettres is not literature. Literature is a large word; to know England. Into knowing Italy it may mean everything written with let- and England there comes a great deal ters or printed in a book. Euclid's Ele. more, Galileo and Newton amongst it. ments and Newton's Principia are thus The reproach of being a superficial huliterature. All knowledge that reaches manism, a tincture of belles-lettres, may us through books is literature. But by attach rightly enough to some other disliterature Professor Huxley means belles-ciplines; but to the particular discipline lettres. He means to make me say, that recommended when i proposed knowing knowing the best which has been thought the best that has been thought and said and said by the modern nations is know in the world, it does not apply. In that ing their belles-lettres and no more. And best I certainly include what in modern this is no sufficient equipment, he argues, times has been thought and said by the for a criticism of modern life. But as I great observers and knowers of nature. do not mean, by knowing ancient Rome, There is, therefore, really no question knowing merely more or less of Latin between Professor Huxley and me as to belles-lettres, and taking no account of whether knowing the results of the scienRome's military and political and legal |tific study of nature is not required as a and administrative work in the world; part of our culture, as well as knowing the and as, by knowing ancient Greece, I un products of literature and art. But to derstand knowing her as the giver of follow the processes by which those re. Greek art, and the guide to a free and sults are reached ought, say the friends right use of reason and to scientific meth- of physical science, to be made the staple od, and the founder of our mathematics of education for the bulk of mankind. and physics and astronomy and biology And here there does arise a question be. - I understand knowing her as all this, tween those whom Professor Huxley calls and not merely knowing certain Greek with playful sarcasm “the Levites of culpoems, histories, and speeches, - so as to ture," and those whom the poor humanist the knowledge of modern nations also. is sometimes apt to regard as its NebuBy knowing modern nations, I mean not chadnezzars. merely knowing their belles lettres, but The great results of the scientific inves. knowing also what has been done by such tigation of nature we are agreed upon men as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Dar. knowing, but how much of our study are win. “Our ancestors learned,” says Pro. we bound to give to the processes by fessor Huxley, “that the earth is the which those results are reached ? The centre of the visible universe, and that results have their visible bearing on hu. man is the cynosure of things terrestrial; man life. But all the processes, too, all and more especially was it inculcated that the items of fact, by which those results the course of nature had no fixed order, are established, are interesting. All but that it could be, and constantly was, knowledge is interesting to a wise man, altered.” But for us now, says Professor and the knowledge of nature is interesting Huxley, “the notions of the beginning to all men. It is very interesting to know

)

that from the albuminous white of the faculties and bounded knowledge, is the egg the chick in the egg gets the mate. tone I would wish to take and not to de. rials for its flesh, bones, blood, and feath- part from. At present it seems to me, ers, while from the fatty yolk of the egg it that those who are for giving to natural gets the heat and energy which enable it knowledge, as they call it, the chief place at length to break its shell and begin the in the education of the majority of man. world. It is less interesting, perbaps, but kind, leave one important thing out of still it is interesting, to know that when a their account - the constitution of human taper burns, the wax is converted into car- nature. But I put this forward on the bonic acid and water. Moreover, it is quite strength of some facts not at all recontrue that the habit of dealing with sacts dite, very far from it; facts capable of which is given by the study of nature is, being stated in the simplest possible as the friends of physical science praise fashion, and to which, if I so state them, it for being, an excellent discipline. The the man of science will, I am sure, be will. appeal is to observation and experiment; ing to allow their due weight. not only is it said that the thing is so, but Deny the facts altogether, I think, he we can be made to see that it is so. Not hardly can. He can hardly deny, that only does a man tell us that when a taper when we set ourselves to enumerate the burns the wax is converted into carbonic powers which go to the building up of acid and water, as a man may tell us, if human life, and say that they are the he likes, that Charon is in his boat on the power of conduct, the power of intellect Styx, or that Victor Hugo is a truly great and knowledge, the power of beauty, and poet; but we are made to see that the the power of social life and manners conversion into carbonic acid and water he can hardly deny that this scheme, does really happen. This reality of natu. I though drawn in rough and plain lines and ral knowledge it is, which makes the not pretending to scientific exactness, friends of physical science contrast it, as does yet give a fairly true account of the a knowledge of things, with the humanist's matter. Human nature is built up by knowledge, which is, say they, a knowl. these powers; we have the need for them edge of words. And hence Professor all. This is evident enough, and the Huxley is moved to lay it down tható for friends of physical science will admit it. the purpose of attaining real culture, an But perhaps they may not have sufficiently exclusively scientific education is at least observed another thing: namely, that as effectual as an exclusively literary edu- these powers just mentioned are not iso cation.” And a certain president of the lated, but there is in the generality of Section for Mechanical Science in the mankind a perpetual tendency to relate British Association is, in Scripture phrase, them one to another in divers ways. “very bold," and declares that if a man, With one such way of relating them I am in his education, “ has substituted litera- particularly concerned here. Following ture and history for natural science, he our instinct for intellect and knowledge, has chosen the less useful alternative.” we acquire pieces of knowledge; and Whether we go these lengths or not, we presently, in the generality of men, there must all admit that in natural science the arises the desire to relate these pieces of habit gained of dealing with facts is a knowledge to our sense for conduct, to most valuable discipline, and that every our sense for beauty, and there is wearione should have some experience of it. ness and dissatisfaction if the desire is

But it is proposed to make the training balked. Now in this desire lies, I think, in natural science the main part of educa- the strength of that hold which letters tion, for the great majority of mankind at have upon us.

And here, I confess, I part All knowledge is, as I said just now,' company with the friends of physical sci- interesting; and even items of knowledge ence, with whom up to this point I have which from the nature of the case cannot been agreeing. In differing from them, well be related, but must stand isolated in however, I wish to proceed with the ut- our thoughts, have their interest. Even most caution and diffidence. The small- lists of exceptions have their interest. ness of my acquaintance with the disci. If we are studying Greek accents, it is plines of natural science is ever before interesting to know that pais and pas, and my mind, and I am fearful of doing them some other monosyllables of the same injustice. The ability of the partisans of form of declension, do not take the cir. natural science makes them formidable cumflex upon the last syllable of the genpersons to contradict. The tone of ten-itive plural, but vary, in this respect, from tative inquiry, which befits a being of dim I the common rule. If we are studying

[ocr errors]

any rate.

[ocr errors]

physiology, it is interesting to know that portance as an instrument to something the pulmonary artery carries dark blood else; but it is the few who have the apti. and the pulmonary vein carries bright tude for thus using them, not the bulk of blood, departing in this respect from the mankind. common rule for the division of labor be. The natural sciences do not stand on tween the veins and the arteries. But the same footing with these instrumentevery one knows how we seek naturally knowledges. Experience shows us that to combine the pieces of our knowledge the generality of men will find more intogether, to bring them under general terest in learning that when a taper burns rules, to relate them to principles; and the wax is converted into carbonic acid how unsatisfactory and tiresome it would and water, or in learning the explanation be to go on forever learning lists of ex- of the phenomenon of dew, or in learning ceptions, or accumulating items of fact how the circulation of the blood is carwhich inust stand isolated.

ried on, than they find in learning that the Well, that same need of relating our genitive plural of pais and pas does not knowledge which operates here within take the circumflex on the termination. the sphere of our knowledge itself, we And one piece of natural knowledge is shall find operating, also, outside that added to another, and others to that, and sphere. We feel, as we go on learning at last we come to propositions so interand knowing, the vast majority of man- esting as the proposition that our ances. kind feel the need of relating what we tor was a hairy quadruped furnished with have learnt and known to the sense which a tail and pointed ears, probably arboreal we have in us for conduct, to the sense in his habits.” Or we come to proposiwhich we have in us for beauty.

tions of such reach and importance as The prophetess Diotima explained to those which Professor Huxley brings us, Socrates that love is, in fact, nothing but when he says that the notions of our fore. the desire in men that good should be for- fathers about the beginning and the end ever present to them. The primordial of the world were all wrong, and that desire it is, I suppose – this desire in nature is the expression of a definite men that good should be forever present order with which nothing interferes. to them – which causes in us the instinct Interesting, indeed, these results of for relating our knowledge to our sense science are, important they are, and we for conduct and to our sense for beauty. should all be acquainted with them. But At any rate, with men in general the in- what I now wish you to mark is, that we stinct exists. Such is human nature. are still, when they are propounded to us Such is human nature; and in seeking to and we receive them, we are still in the gratify the instinct we are following the sphere of intellect and knowledge. And instinct of self-preservation in humanity for the generality of men there will be

Knowledges which cannot be direcily found, I say, to arise, when they have related to the sense for beauty, to the duly taken in the proposition that their sense for conduct, are instrument-knowl. ancestor was “a hairy quadruped furedges; they lead on to other knowledge, nished with a tail and pointed ears, probwhich can. A man who passes his life ably arboreal in his habits,” there will be in instrument-knowledges is a specialist. found to arise an invincible desire to reThey may be invaluable as instruments to late this proposition to the sense within something beyond, for those who have them for conduct and to the sense for the gift thus to employ them; and they beauty. But this the men of science will may be disciplines in themselves wherein not do for us, and will hardly, even, proit is useful to every one to have some fess to do. They will give us other pieces schooling. But it is inconceivable that of knowledge, other facts, about other the generality of men should pass all their animals and their ancestors, or about mental life with Greek accents or with plants, or about stones, or about stars; formal logic. My friend Professor Syl- and they may finally bring us to those vester, who holds transcendental dóc. "general conceptions of the universe trines as to the virtue of mathematics, is which have been forced upon us,” says far away in America; and therefore if in Professor Huxley, " by physical science.” the Cambridge Senate House one may say But still it will be knowledye only which such a thing without profaneness, I will they give us; knowledge not put for us hazard the opinion that for the majority of into relation with our sense for conduct, mankind a little of mathematics, also, goes our sense for beauty, and touched with a long way. Of course this is quite con emotion by being so put; not thus put sistent with their being of immense im- for us, and therefore, to the majority of

66

mankind, after a certain while unsatisfy- | that good should be forever present to ing, wearying.

them. All other knowledge was domiNot to the boro naturalist, I admit. nated by this supposed knowledge and But what do we mean by a born natura!- was subordinated to it, because of the ist? We mean a man in whom the zeal surpassing strength of the hold which it for observing nature is so strong and gained upon men's affections by allying eminent that it marks him off from the itself profoundly with their sense for conbulk of mankind. Such a man will pass duct and their sense for beauty. his life happily in collecting natural knowl. But now, says Professor Huxley, conedge and reasoning upon it, and will ask ceptions of the universe fatal to the nofor nothing, or hardly anything, more. I tions held by our forefathers have been have heard it said that the sagacious and forced upon us by physical science. Grant admirable naturalist whom we have lately to him that they are thus fatal, that they lost, Mr. Darwin, once owned to a friend must and will become current everywhere, that for his part he did not experience and that every one will finally perceive the necessity for two things which most them to be fatal to the beliefs of our foremen find so necessary to them - poetry fathers. The need of humane letters, as and religion; science and the domestic they are truly called, because they serve affections, he thought, were enough. To the paramount desire in men that good a born naturalist, I can well understand should be forever present to them, – the that this should seeni so. So absorbing need of humane letters to establish a reis his occupation with nature, so strong lation between the new conceptions and his love for his occupation, that he goes our instinct for beauty, our instinct for on acquiring natural knowledge and rea. conduct, is only the more visible. The soning upon it, and has little time or in middle age could do without humane let. clination for thinking about getting it ters, as it could do without the study of related to the desire in man for conduct, vature, because its supposed knowledge the desire in man for beauty. He relates was made to engage its emotions so powit to them for himself as he goes along, erfully. Grant that the supposed knowlso far as he feels the need; and he draws edge disappears, its power of being made from the domestic affections all the addi- to engage the emotions will of course tional solace necessary. But then Dar- disappear along with it, but the emowins are very rare. Another great and tions will remain. Now if we find by admirable master of natural knowledge, experience that humane letters have an Faraday, was a Sandemanian. That is undeniable power of engaging the einoto say, he related his knowledge to his tions, the importance of humane letters instinct for conduct and to his instinct in man's training becomes not less, but for beauty by the aid of that respectable greater, in proportion to the success of Scottish sectary, Robert Sandeman. And science in extirpating what it calls “medfor one man amongst us with the disposi-iæval thinking.” tion to do as Darwin did in this respect,

Have humane letters, have poetry and there are fifty, probably, with the disposi- eloquence, the power here attributed to tion to do as Faraday.

them of engaging the emotions, and how Professor Huxley holds up to scorn do they exercise it? and if they have it mediæval education, with its neglect of and exercise it, how do they exercise it in the knowledge of nature, its poverty of relating the results of natural science to literary studies, its formal logic devoted man's sense for conduct, his sense for to " showing how and why that which the beauty? All these questions may be Church said was true must be true.” But asked. First, have poetry and eloquence the great mediæval universities were not the power of calling out the emotions? brought into being, we may be sure, by The appeal is to experience. Experience the zeal for giving a jejune and contempt. shows us that for the vast majority of ible education. Kings have been our men, for mankind in general, they have nursing fathers, and queens have been the power. Next, how do they exercise our nursing mothers, but not for this. it? And this is perhaps a case for apply. Our universities came into being because ing the Preacher's words:

“ Though a the supposed knowledge delivered by man labor to seek it out, yet he shall not Scripture and the Church so deeply en. find it; yea, further, though a wise man gaged men's hearts, and so simply, easily, think to know it, yet shall

be not be able and powerfully related itself to the desire to find it.” Why should it be one thing, for conduct, the desire for beauty — the in its effect upon the emotions, to say, general desire in men, as Diotima said, I “ Patience is a virtue,” and quite another

« VorigeDoorgaan »