THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
|PROGRESS OF HIGHER SCIENCE-TEACHING.|
By W. H. STONE,
LECTURER ON PHYSICS AT ST. THOMAS'S HOSPITAL.
IT is doubtful whether the generality of well-educated men fully appreciate the great, the radical, and the almost revolutionary change which has in the past thirty or forty years come over the scope and spirit of English liberal education. Indeed, it can hardly be termed a change; but might be more correctly designated as a substitution of one branch of human knowledge for another. For, whereas, in the first forty years of the present century, the dead languages, especially Latin and Greek, history, logic, and metaphysics, fairly held their own against the computative sciences of mathematics, mechanics, physics, and chemistry, and the systematic or classificatory subjects of botany, geology, and zoology as topics of teaching and examination, they seem at the end of the second forty to have been all but superseded. No doubt in the main the revolution, great as it undoubtedly is, has proved salutary. Englishmen, with their characteristic tenacity of existing forms, had retained all but unchanged in their large public schools and in the older universities a form of intellectual culture which really originated in the middle ages, or at the latest with the restoration of learning. This is no mere figure of speech. The writer of the present remarks took his first childish lessons, after mastering the rudimentary arts of reading and writing, from "The Boke of Roger Ascham," and received his first rewards for saying, parrot-like by rote, the ancient farragos now only known by their initial words—"Propria quæ, maribus," "Quæ genus," and "As in preæsenti." Of the present generation, not one in a thousand has ever even heard of these mediæval aide-mémoires, or of the somewhat more useful scholastic scheme of syllogisms, beginning with the cabalistic formula, "Barbara Celarent." Later on, he and his companions were expected weekly to manufacture, nolentes volentes, a certain quantity of poetry!—God save the mark!—in the Latin and Greek tongues. He can well remember his father's remonstrance on finding him working at "that nasty chemistry, when you have not done your Latin verses." Perhaps the most singular travesty of teaching was the inculcation of that laboriously useless heap of conflicting rules termed the "Greek accents." It was well known to every scholar that they were non-existent in classical times; that they were probably prosodiacal; that they sprang up about the time when Greek was going out of use as a spoken language; and that, except in very few instances, they now served no purpose whatever. In spite of this, they were steadily and perseveringly thrust down the throats of schoolboys, insomuch that