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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/761

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whom the poor humanist is sometimes apt to regard as its Nebuchadnezzars.

The great results of the scientific investigation of nature we are agreed upon knowing, but how much of our study are we bound to give to the processes by which those results are reached? The results have their visible bearing on human life. But all the processes, too, all the items of fact, by which those results are established, are interesting. All knowledge is interesting to a wise man, and the knowledge of nature is interesting to all men. It is very interesting to know that from the albuminous white of the egg the chick in the egg gets the materials for its flesh, bones, blood, and feathers, while from the fatty yolk of the egg it gets the heat and energy which enable it at length to break its shell and begin the world. It is less interesting, perhaps, but still it is interesting, to know that, when a taper burns, the wax is converted into carbonic acid and water. Moreover, it is quite true that the habit of dealing with facts which is given by the study of nature is, as the friends of physical science praise it for being, an excellent discipline. The appeal is to observation and experiment; not only is it said that the thing is so, but we can be made to see that it is so. Not only does a man tell us that, when a taper burns, the wax is converted into carbonic acid and water, as a man may tell us, if he likes, that Charon is in his boat on the Styx, or that Victor Hugo is a truly great poet, but we are made to see that the conversion into carbonic acid and water does really happen. This reality of natural knowledge it is which makes the friends of physical science contrast it, as a knowledge of things, with the humanist's knowledge, which is, say they, a knowledge of words. And hence Professor Huxley is moved to lay it down that, "for the purpose of attaining real culture, an exclusively scientific education is at least as effectual as an exclusively literary education." And a certain president of the Section for Mechanical Science in the British Association is, in Scripture phrase, "very bold," and declares that, if a man, in his education, "has substituted literature and history for natural science, he has chosen the less useful alternative." Whether we go these lengths or not, we must all admit that in natural science the habit gained of dealing with facts is a most valuable discipline, and that every one should have some experience of it.

But it is proposed to make the training in natural science the main part of education, for the great majority of mankind at any rate. And here, I confess, I part company with the friends of physical science, with whom up to this point I have been agreeing. In differing from them, however, I wish to proceed with the utmost caution and diffidence. The smallness of my acquaintance with the disciplines of natural science is ever before my mind, and I am fearful of doing them injustice. The ability of the partisans of natural science makes them formidable persons to contradict. The tone of tentative