Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/765

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Professor Huxley holds up to scorn mediæval education, with its neglect of the knowledge of nature, its poverty of literary studies, its formal logic devoted to "showing how and why that which the Church said was true must be true." But the great mediaeval universities were not brought into being, we may be sure, by the zeal for giving a jejune and contemptible education. Kings have been our nursing fathers, and queens have been our nursing mothers, but not for this. Our universities came into being because the supposed knowledge delivered by Scripture and the Church so deeply engaged men's hearts, and so simply, easily, and powerfully related itself to the desire for conduct, the desire for beauty—the general desire in men, as Diotima said, that good should be for ever present to them. All other knowledge was dominated by this supposed knowledge and was subordinated to it, because of the surpassing strength of the hold which it gained upon men's affections by allying itself profoundly with their sense for conduct and their sense for beauty.

But now, says Professor Huxley, conceptions of the universe fatal to the notions held by our forefathers have been forced upon us by physical science. Grant to him that they are thus fatal, that they must and will become current everywhere, and that every one will finally perceive them to be fatal to the beliefs of our forefathers. The need of humane letters, as they are truly called, because they serve the paramount desire in men that good should be for ever present to them—the need of humane letters to establish a relation between the new conceptions and our instinct for beauty, our instinct for conduct, is only the more visible. The middle age could do without humane letters, as it could do without the study of nature, because its supposed knowledge was made to engage its emotions so powerfully. Grant that the supposed knowledge disappears, its power of being made to engage the emotions will of course disappear along with it—but the emotions will remain. Now, if we find by experience that humane letters have an undeniable power of engaging the emotions, the importance of humane letters in man's training becomes not less, but greater, in proportion to the success of science in extirpating what it calls "mediæval thinking."

Have humane letters, have poetry and eloquence, the power here attributed to them of engaging the emotions, and how do they exercise it? and, if they have it and exercise it, how do they exercise it in relating the results of natural science to man's sense for conduct, his sense for beauty? All these questions may be asked. First, have poetry and eloquence the power of calling out the emotions? The appeal is to experience. Experience shows us that for the vast majority of men, for mankind in general, they have the power. Next, how do they exercise it? And this is perhaps a case for applying the Preacher's words: "Though a man labor to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea, further, though a wise man think to know it, yet