Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/767

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
749
LITERATURE AND SCIENCE.

power with theirs, be felt and acknowledged, and their place in education be secured.

Let us, all of us, avoid as much as possible any invidious comparison between the merits of humane letters, as means of education, and the merits of the natural sciences. But when some President of a Section for Mechanical Science insists on making. the comparison, and tells us that "he who in his training has substituted literature and history for natural science has chosen the less useful alternative," let us say to him that the student of humane letters only will at least know also the great general conceptions brought in by modern physical science; for science, as Professor Huxley says, forces them upon us all. But the student of the natural sciences only will, by our very hypothesis, know nothing of humane letters; not to mention that in setting himself to be perpetually accumulating natural knowledge, he sets himself to do what only specialists have the gift for doing genially. And so he will be unsatisfied, or at any rate incomplete, and even more incomplete, than the student of humane letters.

I once mentioned in a school-report how a young man in a training college, having to paraphrase the passage in "Macbeth" beginning,

"Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?"

turned this line into, "Can you not wait upon the lunatic?" And I remarked what a curious state of things it would be if every pupil of our primary schools knew that, when a taper burns, the wax is converted into carbonic acid and water, and thought at the same time that a good paraphrase for

"Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?"

was, "Can you not wait upon the lunatic?" If one is driven to choose, I think I would rather have a young person ignorant about the converted wax, but aware that "Can you not wait upon the lunatic?" is bad, than a young person whose education had left things the other way.

Or to go higher than the pupils of our primary schools. I have in my mind's eye a member of Parliament who goes to travel in America, who relates his travels, and who shows a really masterly knowledge of the geology of the country and of its mining capabilities, but who ends by gravely suggesting that the United States should borrow a prince from our royal family and should make him their king, and should create a House of Lords of great landed proprietors after the pattern of ours; and then America, he thinks, would have her future happily secured. Surely, in this case, the President of the Section for Mechanical Science would himself hardly say that our member of Parliament, by concentrating himself upon geology and mining and so on, and not attending to literature and history, had "chosen the more useful alternative."

If, then, there are to be separation and option between humane let-