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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/373

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THE INFLUENCE OF EDUCATION ON OBSERVATION.

dling away of those among you who are the inheritors of free institutions and best adapted to them—then there will come a further difficulty in the working out of that great future which lies before the American nation. To my anxiety on this account you must please ascribe the unusual character of my remarks.

And now I must bid you farewell. When I sail by the Germanic on Saturday, I shall bear with me pleasant remembrances of my intercourse with many Americans, joined with regrets that my state of health has prevented me from seeing a larger number.

 

THE INFLUENCE OF EDUCATION ON OBSERVATION.

IT was lately remarked in these columns that one of the dangers attendant on education was that it might lessen men's powers of observation. There is no doubt, we apprehend, that this possibility does exist. Bookishness and absence of mind are no new faults among students. Among the more cultivated classes they have, indeed, been for a considerable time in process of diminution, and the last half-century more particularly has seen a great change in this respect. Physical science has roused students, who in former ages would have been abstract thinkers and nothing more, to careful and steady observation of external things. Facilities of traveling have acted as another stimulus in the same direction; and the love of nature has been a power over sentimental minds, and has led them insensibly from a quiet enjoyment of their surroundings to more active investigation. So that altogether the classes which at the present day have the advantage of the higher education are far more observant than were their forerunners of three or four centuries ago; and, though even now many of the mathematicians and philosophers who walk the streets of our universities live largely in a mood of abstract thought, we must be careful of finding undue fault with this, for the inward eye has some claims not lightly to be despised. But, with respect to the mass of the nation, the question we have raised is one that deserves a good deal of attention. Popular education is still in the bookish stage; and, without complaining of what is inevitable, we may and ought to inquire whether literary study does now in the lower ranks promote that vice of inobservance which it certainly promoted in the higher ranks a century or two ago. Equally we have to inquire whether the virtue which is the converse of this error may be fostered; whether and how the study of books may be made to minister to powers of direct observation, instead of being adverse to them, and to assist in the general business of life.

Literary study may conceivably impede our observant faculties,