When a man is honoured by such a request as that which reached me from the authorities of your institution some time ago, I think the first thing that occurs to him is that which occurred to those who were bidden to the feast in the Gospel — to begin to make an excuse; and probably all the excuses suggested on that famous occasion crop up in his mind one after the other, including his “having married a wife,” as reasons for not doing what he is asked to do. But, in my own case, and on this particular occasion, there were other difficulties of a sort peculiar to the time, and more or less personal to myself; because I felt that, if I came amongst you, I should be expected, and, indeed, morally compelled, to speak upon the subject of Scientific Education. And then there arose in my mind the recollection of a fact, which probably no one here but myself remembers; namely, that some fourteen years ago I was the guest of a citizen of yours, who bears the honoured name of Rathbone, at a very charming and pleasant dinner given by the Philomathic Society; and I there and then, and in this very city, made a speech upon the topic of Scientific Education. Under these circumstances, you see, one runs two dangers — the first, of repeating one’s self, although I may fairly hope that everybody has forgotten the fact I have just now mentioned, except myself; and the second, and even greater difficulty, is the danger of saying something different from what one said before, because then, however forgotten your previous speech may be, somebody finds out its existence, and there goes on that process so hateful to members of Parliament, which may be denoted by the term “Hansardisation.” Under these circumstances, I came to the conclusion that the best thing I could do was to take the bull by the horns, and to “Hansardise” myself — to put before you, in the briefest possible way, the three or four propositions which I endeavoured to support on the occasion of the speech to which I have referred; and then to ask myself, supposing you were asking me, whether I had anything to retract, or to modify, in them, in virtue of the increased experience, and, let us charitably hope, the increased wisdom of an added fourteen years.
Now, the points to which I directed particular attention on that occasion were these: in the first place, that instruction in physical science supplies information of a character of especial value, both in a practical and a speculative point of view — information which cannot be obtained otherwise; and, in the second place, that, as educational discipline, it supplies, in a better form than any other study can supply, exercise in a special form of logic, and a peculiar method of testing the validity of our processes of inquiry. I said further, that, even at that time, a great and increasing attention was being paid to physical science in our schools and colleges, and that, most assuredly, such attention must go on growing and increasing, until education in these matters occupied a very much larger share of the time which is given to teaching and training, than had been the case heretofore. And I threw all the strength of argumentation of which I was possessed into the support of these propositions. But I venture to remind you, also, of some other words I used at that time, and which I ask permission to read to you. They were these:—“There are other forms of culture besides physical science, and I should be profoundly sorry to see the fact forgotten, or even to observe a tendency to starve or cripple literary or aesthetic culture for the sake of science. Such a narrow view of the nature of education has nothing to do with my firm conclusion that a complete and thorough scientific culture ought to be introduced into all schools.”
I say I desire, in commenting upon these various points, and judging them as fairly as I can by the light of increased experience, to particularly emphasise this last, because I am told, although I assuredly do not know it of my own knowledge — though I think if the fact were so I ought to know it, being tolerably well acquainted with that which goes on in the scientific world, and which has gone on there for the last thirty years — that there is a kind of sect, or horde, of scientific Goths and Vandals, who think it would be proper and desirable to sweep away all other forms of culture and instruction, except those in physical science, and to make them the universal and exclusive, or, at any rate, the dominant training of the human mind of the future generation. This is not my view — I do not believe that it is anybody’s view — but it is attributed to those who, like myself, advocate scientific education. I therefore dwell strongly upon the point, and I beg you to believe that the words I have just now read were by no means intended by me as a sop to the Cerberus of culture. I have not been in the habit of offering sops to any kind of Cerberus; but it was an expression of profound conviction on my own part — a conviction forced upon me not only by my mental constitution, but by the lessons of what is now becoming a somewhat long experience of varied conditions of life.
I am not about to trouble you with my autobiography; the omens are hardly favourable, at present, for work of that kind. But I should like if I may do so without appearing, what I earnestly desire not to be, egotistical — I should like to make it clear to you, that such notions as these, which are sometimes attributed to me, are, as I have said, inconsistent with my mental constitution, and still more inconsistent with the upshot of the teaching of my experience. For I can certainly claim for myself that sort of mental temperament which can say that nothing human comes amiss to it. I have never yet met with any branch of human knowledge which I have found unattractive — which it would not have been pleasant to me to follow, so far as I could go; and I have yet to meet with any form of art in which it has not been possible for me to take as acute a pleasure as, I believe, it is possible for men to take.
And with respect to the circumstances of life, it so happens that it has been my fate to know many lands and many climates, and to be familiar, by personal experience, with almost every form of society, from the uncivilised savage of Papua and Australia and the civilised savages of the slums and dens of the poverty-stricken parts of great cities, to those who perhaps, are occasionally the somewhat over-civilised members of our upper ten thousand. And I have never found, in any of these conditions of life, a deficiency of something which was attractive. Savagery has its pleasures, I assure you, as well as civilisation, and I may even venture to confess — if you will not let a whisper of the matter get back to London, where I am known — I am even fain to confess, that sometimes in the din and throng of what is called “a brilliant reception” the vision crosses my mind of waking up from the soft plank which had afforded me satisfactory sleep during the hours of the night, in the bright dawn of a tropical morning, when my comrades were yet asleep, when every sound was hushed, except the little lap-lap of the ripples against the sides of the boat, and the distant twitter of the sea-bird on the reef. And when that vision crosses my mind, I am free to confess I desire to be back in the boat again. So that, if I share with those strange persons to whose asserted, but still hypothetical existence I have referred, the want of appreciation of forms of culture other than the pursuit of physical science, all I can say is, that it is, in spite of my constitution, and in spite of my experience, that such should be my fate.
But now let me turn to another point, or rather to two other points, with which I propose to occupy myself. How far does the experience of the last fourteen years justify the estimate which I ventured to put forward of the value of scientific culture, and of the share — the increasing share — which it must take in ordinary education? Happily, in respect to that matter, you need not rely upon my testimony. In the last half-dozen numbers of the “Journal of Education,” you will find a series of very interesting and remarkable papers, by gentlemen who are practically engaged in the business of education in our great public and other schools, telling us what is doing in these schools, and what is their experience of the results of scientific education there, so far as it has gone. I am not going to trouble you with an abstract of those papers, which are well worth your study in their fulness and completeness, but I have copied out one remarkable passage, because it seems to me so entirely to bear out what I have formerly ventured to say about the value of science, both as to its subject-matter and as to the discipline which the learning of science involves. It is from a paper by Mr. Worthington — one of the masters at Clifton, the reputation of which school you know well, and at the head of which is an old friend of mine, the Rev. Mr. Wilson — to whom much credit is due for being one of the first, as I can say from my own knowledge, to take up this question and work it into practical shape. What Mr. Worthington says is this:—
“It is not easy to exaggerate the importance of the information imparted by certain branches of science; it modifies the whole criticism of life made in maturer years. The study has often, on a mass of boys, a certain influence which, I think, was hardly anticipated, and to which a good deal of value must be attached — an influence as much moral as intellectual, which is shown in the increased and increasing respect for precision of statement, and for that form of veracity which consists in the acknowledgment of difficulties. It produces a real effect to find that Nature cannot be imposed upon, and the attention given to experimental lectures, at first superficial and curious only, soon becomes minute, serious, and practical.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I could not have chosen better words to express — in fact, I have, in other words, expressed the same conviction in former days — what the influence of scientific teaching, if properly carried out, must be.
But now comes the question of properly carrying it out, because, when I hear the value of school teaching in physical science disputed, my first impulse is to ask the disputer, “What have you known about it?” and he generally tells me some lamentable case of failure. Then I ask, “What are the circumstances of the case, and how was the teaching carried out?” I remember, some few years ago, hearing of the head master of a large school, who had expressed great dissatisfaction with the adoption of the teaching of physical science — and that after experiment. But the experiment consisted in this — in asking one of the junior masters in the school to get up science, in order to teach it; and the young gentleman went away for a year and got up science and taught it. Well, I have no doubt that the result was as disappointing as the head-master said it was, and I have no doubt that it ought to have been as disappointing, and far more disappointing too; for, if this kind of instruction is to be of any good at all, if it is not to be less than no good, if it is to take the place of that which is already of some good, then there are several points which must be attended to.
And the first of these is the proper selection of topics, the second is practical teaching, the third is practical teachers, and the fourth is sufficiency of time. If these four points are not carefully attended to by anybody who undertakes the teaching of physical science in schools, my advice to him is, to let it alone. I will not dwell at any length upon the first point, because there is a general consensus of opinion as to the nature of the topics which should be chosen. The second point — practical teaching — is one of great importance, because it requires more capital to set it agoing, demands more time, and, last, but by no means least, it requires much more personal exertion and trouble on the part of those professing to teach, than is the case with other kinds of instruction.
When I accepted the invitation to be here this evening, your secretary was good enough to send me the addresses which have been given by distinguished persons who have previously occupied this chair. I don’t know whether he had a malicious desire to alarm me; but, however that may be, I read the addresses, and derived the greatest pleasure and profit from some of them, and from none more than from the one given by the great historian, Mr. Freeman, which delighted me most of all; and, if I had not been ashamed of plagiarising, and if I had not been sure of being found out, I should have been glad to have copied very much of what Mr. Freeman said, simply putting in the word science for history. There was one notable passage — “The difference between good and bad teaching mainly consists in this, whether the words used are really clothed with a meaning or not.” And Mr. Freeman gives a remarkable example of this. He says, when a little girl was asked where Turkey was, she answered that it was in the yard with the other fowls, and that showed she had a definite idea connected with the word Turkey, and was, so far, worthy of praise. I quite agree with that commendation; but what a curious thing it is that one should now find it necessary to urge that this is the be-all and end-all of scientific instruction — the sine quâ non, the absolutely necessary condition — and yet that it was insisted upon more than two hundred years ago by one of the greatest men science ever possessed in this country, William Harvey. Harvey wrote, or at least published, only two small books, one of which is the well-known treatise on the circulation of the blood. The other, the “Exercitationes de Generatione,” is less known, but not less remarkable. And not the least valuable part of it is the preface, in which there occurs this passage: “Those who, reading the words of authors, do not form sensible images of the things referred to, obtain no true ideas, but conceive false imaginations and inane phantasms.” You see, William Harvey’s words are just the same in substance as those of Mr. Freeman, only they happen to be rather more than two centuries older. So that what I am now saying has its application elsewhere than in science; but assuredly in science the condition of knowing, of your own knowledge, things which you talk about, is absolutely imperative.
I remember, in my youth, there were detestable books which ought to have been burned by the hands of the common hangman, for they contained questions and answers to be learned by heart, of this sort, “What is a horse? The horse is termed Equus caballus; belongs to the class Mammalia; order, Pachydermata; family, Solidungula.” Was any human being wiser for learning that magic formula? Was he not more foolish, inasmuch as he was deluded into taking words for knowledge? It is that kind of teaching that one wants to get rid of, and banished out of science. Make it as little as you like, but, unless that which is taught is based on actual observation and familiarity with facts, it is better left alone.
There are a great many people who imagine that elementary teaching might be properly carried out by teachers provided with only elementary knowledge. Let me assure you that that is the profoundest mistake in the world. There is nothing so difficult to do as to write a good elementary book, and there is nobody so hard to teach properly and well as people who know nothing about a subject, and I will tell you why. If I address an audience of persons who are occupied in the same line of work as myself, I can assume that they know a vast deal, and that they can find out the blunders I make. If they don’t, it is their fault and not mine; but when I appear before a body of people who know nothing about the matter, who take for gospel whatever I say, surely it becomes needful that I consider what I say, make sure that it will bear examination, and that I do not impose upon the credulity of those who have faith in me. In the second place, it involves that difficult process of knowing what you know so well that you can talk about it as you can talk about your ordinary business. A man can always talk about his own business. He can always make it plain; but, if his knowledge is hearsay, he is afraid to go beyond what he has recollected, and put it before those that are ignorant in such a shape that they shall comprehend it. That is why, to be a good elementary teacher, to teach the elements of any subject, requires most careful consideration, if you are a master of the subject; and, if you are not a master of it, it is needful you should familiarise yourself with so much as you are called upon to teach — soak yourself in it, so to speak — until you know it as part of your daily life and daily knowledge, and then you will be able to teach anybody. That is what I mean by practical teachers, and, although the deficiency of such teachers is being remedied to a large extent, I think it is one which has long existed, and which has existed from no fault of those who undertook to teach, but because, until the last score of years, it absolutely was not possible for any one in a great many branches of science, whatever his desire might be, to get instruction which would enable him to be a good teacher of elementary things. All that is being rapidly altered, and I hope it will soon become a thing of the past.
The last point I have referred to is the question of the sufficiency of time. And here comes the rub. The teaching of science needs time, as any other subject; but it needs more time proportionally than other subjects, for the amount of work obviously done, if the teaching is to be, as I have said, practical. Work done in a laboratory involves a good deal of expenditure of time without always an obvious result, because we do not see anything of that quiet process of soaking the facts into the mind, which takes place through the organs of the senses. On this ground there must be ample time given to science teaching. What that amount of time should be is a point which I need not discuss now; in fact, it is a point which cannot be settled until one has made up one’s mind about various other questions.
All, then, that I have to ask for, on behalf of the scientific people, if I may venture to speak for more than myself, is that you should put scientific teaching into what statesmen call the condition of “the most favoured nation”; that is to say, that it shall have as large a share of the time given to education as any other principal subject. You may say that that is a very vague statement, because the value of the allotment of time, under those circumstances, depends upon the number of principal subjects. It is x the time, and an unknown quantity of principal subjects dividing that, and science taking shares with the rest. That shows that we cannot deal with this question fully until we have made up our minds as to what the principal subjects of education ought to be.
I know quite well that launching myself into this discussion is a very dangerous operation; that it is a very large subject, and one which is difficult to deal with, however much I may trespass upon your patience in the time allotted to me. But the discussion is so fundamental, it is so completely impossible to make up one’s mind on these matters until one has settled the question, that I will even venture to make the experiment. A great lawyer-statesman and philosopher of a former age — I mean Francis Bacon — said that truth came out of error much more rapidly than it came out of confusion. There is a wonderful truth in that saying. Next to being right in this world, the best of all things is to be clearly and definitely wrong, because you will come out somewhere. If you go buzzing about between right and wrong, vibrating and fluctuating, you come out nowhere; but if you are absolutely and thoroughly and persistently wrong, you must, some of these days, have the extreme good fortune of knocking your head against a fact, and that sets you all straight again. So I will not trouble myself as to whether I may be right or wrong in what I am about to say, but at any rate I hope to be clear and definite; and then you will be able to judge for yourselves whether, in following out the train of thought I have to introduce, you knock your heads against facts or not.
I take it that the whole object of education is, in the first place, to train the faculties of the young in such a manner as to give their possessors the best chance of being happy and useful in their generation; and, in the second place, to furnish them with the most important portions of that immense capitalised experience of the human race which we call knowledge of various kinds. I am using the term knowledge in its widest possible sense; and the question is, what subjects to select by training and discipline, in which the object I have just defined may be best attained.
I must call your attention further to this fact, that all the subjects of our thoughts — all feelings and propositions (leaving aside our sensations as the mere materials and occasions of thinking and feeling), all our mental furniture — may be classified under one of two heads — as either within the province of the intellect, something that can be put into propositions and affirmed or denied; or as within the province of feeling, or that which, before the name was defiled, was called the aesthetic side of our nature, and which can neither be proved nor disproved, but only felt and known.
According to the classification which I have put before you, then, the subjects of all knowledge are divisible into the two groups, matters of science and matters of art; for all things with which the reasoning faculty alone is occupied, come under the province of science; and in the broadest sense, and not in the narrow and technical sense in which we are now accustomed to use the word art, all things feelable, all things which stir our emotions, come under the term of art, in the sense of the subject-matter of the aesthetic faculty. So that we are shut up to this — that the business of education is, in the first place, to provide the young with the means and the habit of observation; and, secondly, to supply the subject-matter of knowledge either in the shape of science or of art, or of both combined.
Now, it is a very remarkable fact — but it is true of most things in this world — that there is hardly anything one-sided, or of one nature; and it is not immediately obvious what of the things that interest us may be regarded as pure science, and what may be regarded as pure art. It may be that there are some peculiarly constituted persons who, before they have advanced far into the depths of geometry, find artistic beauty about it; but, taking the generality of mankind, I think it may be said that, when they begin to learn mathematics, their whole souls are absorbed in tracing the connection between the premisses and the conclusion, and that to them geometry is pure science. So I think it may be said that mechanics and osteology are pure science. On the other hand, melody in music is pure art. You cannot reason about it; there is no proposition involved in it. So, again, in the pictorial art, an arabesque, or a “harmony in grey,” touches none but the aesthetic faculty. But a great mathematician, and even many persons who are not great mathematicians, will tell you that they derive immense pleasure from geometrical reasonings. Everybody knows mathematicians speak of solutions and problems as “elegant,” and they tell you that a certain mass of mystic symbols is “beautiful, quite lovely.” Well, you do not see it. They do see it, because the intellectual process, the process of comprehending the reasons symbolised by these figures and these signs, confers upon them a sort of pleasure, such as an artist has in visual symmetry. Take a science of which I may speak with more confidence, and which is the most attractive of those I am concerned with. It is what we call morphology, which consists in tracing out the unity in variety of the infinitely diversified structures of animals and plants. I cannot give you any example of a thorough aesthetic pleasure more intensely real than a pleasure of this kind — the pleasure which arises in one’s mind when a whole mass of different structures run into one harmony as the expression of a central law. That is where the province of art overlays and embraces the province of intellect. And, if I may venture to express an opinion on such a subject, the great majority of forms of art are not in the sense what I just now defined them to be — pure art; but they derive much of their quality from simultaneous and even unconscious excitement of the intellect.
When I was a boy, I was very fond of music, and I am so now; and it so happened that I had the opportunity of hearing much good music. Among other things, I had abundant opportunities of hearing that great old master, Sebastian Bach. I remember perfectly well — though I knew nothing about music then, and, I may add, know nothing whatever about it now — the intense satisfaction and delight which I had in listening, by the hour together, to Bach’s fugues. It is a pleasure which remains with me, I am glad to think; but, of late years, I have tried to find out the why and wherefore, and it has often occurred to me that the pleasure derived from musical compositions of this kind is essentially of the same nature as that which is derived from pursuits which are commonly regarded as purely intellectual. I mean, that the source of pleasure is exactly the same as in most of my problems in morphology — that you have the theme in one of the old master’s works followed out in all its endless variations, always appearing and always reminding you of unity in variety. So in painting; what is called “truth to nature” is the intellectual element coming in, and truth to nature depends entirely upon the intellectual culture of the person to whom art is addressed. If you are in Australia, you may get credit for being a good artist — I mean among the natives — if you can draw a kangaroo after a fashion. But, among men of higher civilisation, the intellectual knowledge we possess brings its criticism into our appreciation of works of art, and we are obliged to satisfy it, as well as the mere sense of beauty in colour and in outline. And so, the higher the culture and information of those whom art addresses, the more exact and precise must be what we call its “truth to nature.”
If we turn to literature, the same thing is true, and you find works of literature which may be said to be pure art. A little song of Shakespeare or of Goethe is pure art; it is exquisitely beautiful, although its intellectual content may be nothing. A series of pictures is made to pass before your mind by the meaning of words, and the effect is a melody of ideas. Nevertheless, the great mass of the literature we esteem is valued, not merely because of having artistic form, but because of its intellectual content; and the value is the higher the more precise, distinct, and true is that intellectual content. And, if you will let me for a moment speak of the very highest forms of literature, do we not regard them as highest simply because the more we know the truer they seem, and the more competent we are to appreciate beauty the more beautiful they are? No man ever understands Shakespeare until he is old, though the youngest may admire him, the reason being that he satisfies the artistic instinct of the youngest and harmonises with the ripest and richest experience of the oldest.
I have said this much to draw your attention to what, to my mind, lies at the root of all this matter, and at the understanding of one another by the men of science on the one hand, and the men of literature, and history, and art, on the other. It is not a question whether one order of study or another should predominate. It is a question of what topics of education you shall select which will combine all the needful elements in such due proportion as to give the greatest amount of food, support, and encouragement to those faculties which enable us to appreciate truth, and to profit by those sources of innocent happiness which are open to us, and, at the same time, to avoid that which is bad, and coarse, and ugly, and keep clear of the multitude of pitfalls and dangers which beset those who break through the natural or moral laws.
I address myself, in this spirit, to the consideration of the question of the value of purely literary education. Is it good and sufficient, or is it insufficient and bad? Well, here I venture to say that there are literary educations and literary educations. If I am to understand by that term the education that was current in the great majority of middle-class schools, and upper schools too, in this country when I was a boy, and which consisted absolutely and almost entirely in keeping boys for eight or ten years at learning the rules of Latin and Greek grammar, construing certain Latin and Greek authors, and possibly making verses which, had they been English verses, would have been condemned as abominable doggerel — if that is what you mean by liberal education, then I say it is scandalously insufficient and almost worthless. My reason for saying so is not from the point of view of science at all, but from the point of view of literature. I say the thing professes to be literary education that is not a literary education at all. It was not literature at all that was taught, but science in a very bad form. It is quite obvious that grammar is science and not literature. The analysis of a text by the help of the rules of grammar is just as much a scientific operation as the analysis of a chemical compound by the help of the rules of chemical analysis. There is nothing that appeals to the aesthetic faculty in that operation; and I ask multitudes of men of my own age, who went through this process, whether they ever had a conception of art or literature until they obtained it for themselves after leaving school? Then you may say, “If that is so, if the education was scientific, why cannot you be satisfied with it?” I say, because although it is a scientific training, it is of the most inadequate and inappropriate kind. If there is any good at all in scientific education it is that men should be trained, as I said before, to know things for themselves at first hand, and that they should understand every step of the reason of that which they do.
I desire to speak with the utmost respect of that science — philology — of which grammar is a part and parcel; yet everybody knows that grammar, as it is usually learned at school, affords no scientific training. It is taught just as you would teach the rules of chess or draughts. On the other hand, if I am to understand by a literary education the study of the literatures of either ancient or modern nations — but especially those of antiquity, and especially that of ancient Greece; if this literature is studied, not merely from the point of view of philological science, and its practical application to the interpretation of texts, but as an exemplification of and commentary upon the principles of art; if you look upon the literature of a people as a chapter in the development of the human mind, if you work out this in a broad spirit, and with such collateral references to morals and politics, and physical geography, and the like as are needful to make you comprehend what the meaning of ancient literature and civilisation is — then, assuredly, it affords a splendid and noble education. But I still think it is susceptible of improvement, and that no man will ever comprehend the real secret of the difference between the ancient world and our present time, unless he has learned to see the difference which the late development of physical science has made between the thought of this day and the thought of that, and he will never see that difference, unless he has some practical insight into some branches of physical science; and you must remember that a literary education such as that which I have just referred to, is out of the reach of those whose school life is cut short at sixteen or seventeen.
But, you will say, all this is fault-finding; let us hear what you have in the way of positive suggestion. Then I am bound to tell you that, if I could make a clean sweep of everything — I am very glad I cannot because I might, and probably should, make mistakes — but if I could make a clean sweep of everything and start afresh, I should, in the first place, secure that training of the young in reading and writing, and in the habit of attention and observation, both to that which is told them, and that which they see, which everybody agrees to. But in addition to that, I should make it absolutely necessary for everybody, for a longer or shorter period, to learn to draw. Now, you may say, there are some people who cannot draw, however much they may be taught. I deny that in toto, because I never yet met with anybody who could not learn to write. Writing is a form of drawing; therefore if you give the same attention and trouble to drawing as you do to writing, depend upon it, there is nobody who cannot be made to draw, more or less well. Do not misapprehend me. I do not say for one moment you would make an artistic draughtsman. Artists are not made; they grow. You may improve the natural faculty in that direction, but you cannot make it; but you can teach simple drawing, and you will find it an implement of learning of extreme value. I do not think its value can be exaggerated, because it gives you the means of training the young in attention and accuracy, which are the two things in which all mankind are more deficient than in any other mental quality whatever. The whole of my life has been spent in trying to give my proper attention to things and to be accurate, and I have not succeeded as well as I could wish; and other people, I am afraid, are not much more fortunate. You cannot begin this habit too early, and I consider there is nothing of so great a value as the habit of drawing, to secure those two desirable ends.
Then we come to the subject-matter, whether scientific or aesthetic, of education, and I should naturally have no question at all about teaching the elements of physical science of the kind I have sketched, in a practical manner; but among scientific topics, using the word scientific in the broadest sense, I would also include the elements of the theory of morals and of that of political and social life, which, strangely enough, it never seems to occur to anybody to teach a child. I would have the history of our own country, and of all the influences which have been brought to bear upon it, with incidental geography, not as a mere chronicle of reigns and battles, but as a chapter in the development of the race, and the history of civilisation.
Then with respect to aesthetic knowledge and discipline, we have happily in the English language one of the most magnificent storehouses of artistic beauty and of models of literary excellence which exists in the world at the present time. I have said before, and I repeat it here, that if a man cannot get literary culture of the highest kind out of his Bible, and Chaucer, and Shakespeare, and Milton, and Hobbes, and Bishop Berkeley, to mention only a few of our illustrious writers — I say, if he cannot get it out of those writers, he cannot get it out of anything; and I would assuredly devote a very large portion of the time of every English child to the careful study of the models of English writing of such varied and wonderful kind as we possess, and, what is still more important and still more neglected, the habit of using that language with precision, with force, and with art. I fancy we are almost the only nation in the world who seem to think that composition comes by nature. The French attend to their own language, the Germans study theirs; but Englishmen do not seem to think it is worth their while. Nor would I fail to include, in the course of study I am sketching, translations of all the best works of antiquity, or of the modern world. It is a very desirable thing to read Homer in Greek; but if you don’t happen to know Greek, the next best thing we can do is to read as good a translation of it as we have recently been furnished with in prose. You won’t get all you would get from the original, but you may get a great deal; and to refuse to know this great deal because you cannot get all, seems to be as sensible as for a hungry man to refuse bread because he cannot get partridge. Finally, I would add instruction in either music or painting, or, if the child should be so unhappy, as sometimes happens, as to have no faculty for either of those, and no possibility of doing anything in any artistic sense with them, then I would see what could be done with literature alone; but I would provide, in the fullest sense, for the development of the aesthetic side of the mind. In my judgment, those are all the essentials of education for an English child. With that outfit, such as it might be made in the time given to education which is within the reach of nine-tenths of the population — with that outfit, an Englishman, within the limits of English life, is fitted to go anywhere, to occupy the highest positions, to fill the highest offices of the State, and to become distinguished in practical pursuits, in science, or in art. For, if he have the opportunity to learn all those things, and have his mind disciplined in the various directions the teaching of those topics would have necessitated, then, assuredly, he will be able to pick up, on his road through life, all the rest of the intellectual baggage he wants.
If the educational time at our disposition were sufficient, there are one or two things I would add to those I have just now called the essentials; and perhaps you will be surprised to hear, though I hope you will not, that I should add, not more science, but one, or, if possible, two languages. The knowledge of some other language than one’s own is, in fact, of singular intellectual value. Many of the faults and mistakes of the ancient philosophers are traceable to the fact that they knew no language but their own, and were often led into confusing the symbol with the thought which it embodied. I think it is Locke who says that one-half of the mistakes of philosophers have arisen from questions about words; and one of the safest ways of delivering yourself from the bondage of words is, to know how ideas look in words to which you are not accustomed. That is one reason for the study of language; another reason is, that it opens new fields in art and in science. Another is the practical value of such knowledge; and yet another is this, that if your languages are properly chosen, from the time of learning the additional languages you will know your own language better than ever you did. So, I say, if the time given to education permits, add Latin and German. Latin, because it is the key to nearly one-half of English and to all the Romance languages; and German, because it is the key to almost all the remainder of English, and helps you to understand a race from whom most of us have sprung, and who have a character and a literature of a fateful force in the history of the world, such as probably has been allotted to those of no other people, except the Jews, the Greeks, and ourselves. Beyond these, the essential and the eminently desirable elements of all education, let each man take up his special line — the historian devote himself to his history, the man of science to his science, the man of letters to his culture of that kind, and the artist to his special pursuit.
Bacon has prefaced some of his works with no more than this: Franciscus Bacon sic cogitavit; let “sic cogitavi” be the epilogue to what I have ventured to address to you to-night.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10