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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/758

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

said, is quite incompetent to discuss the comparative merits of letters and natural science as means of education. His incompetence, however, if he attempts the discussion but is really incompetent for it will be abundantly visible; nobody will be taken in; he will have plenty of sharp observers and critics to save mankind from that danger. But the line I am going to follow is, as you will soon discover, so extremely simple that perhaps it may be followed without failure even by one who for a more ambitious line of discussion would be quite incompetent.

 

Some of you may have met with a phrase of mine which has been the object of a good deal of comment; an observation to the effect that in our culture, the aim being to know ourselves and the world, we have, as the means to this end, to know the best which has been thought and said in the world. Professor Huxley, in his discourse at the opening of Sir Josiah Mason's college, laying hold of this phrase, expanded it by quoting some more words of mine, which are these: "Europe is to be regarded as now being, for intellectual and spiritual purposes, one great confederation, bound to a joint action and working to a common result; and whose members have for their common outfit a knowledge of Greek, Roman, and Eastern antiquity, and of one another. Special local and temporary advantages being put out of account, that modern nation will, in the intellectual and spiritual sphere, make most progress which most thoroughly carries out this programme."

Now on my phrase, thus enlarged, Professor Huxley remarks that I assert literature to contain the materials which suffice for making us know ourselves and the world. But it is not by any means clear, says he, that, after having learned all which ancient and modern literatures have to tell us, we have laid a sufficiently broad and deep foundation for that criticism of life which constitutes culture. On the contrary, Professor Huxley declares that he finds himself "wholly unable to admit that either nations or individuals will really advance, if their common outfit draws nothing from the stores of physical science. An army without weapons of precision and with no particular base of operations might more hopefully enter upon a campaign on the Rhine than a man devoid of a knowledge of what physical science has done in the last century upon a criticism of life."

This shows how needful it is, for those who are to discuss a matter together, to have a common understanding as to the sense of the terms they employ—how needful, and how difficult. What Professor Huxley says implies just the reproach which is so often brought against the study of belles-lettres, as they are called: that the study is an elegant one, but slight and ineffectual; a smattering of Greek and Latin and other ornamental things, of little use for any one whose object is to get at truth. So, too, M. Renan talks of the "superficial humanism"