Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/128

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grew up a new order of knowledge, which, at the same time that it gave insight into the constitution of natural things, conferred also vast power for the purposes of human improvement. We are justified in saying that in a high sense a new universe was thus created for the human mind. Through scientific knowledge man entered upon a higher intellectual career and first gained a real conception of his own possibilities and true position in the world. A new civilization followed, which is signalized in a thousand ways; and the answer to Mr. Sill's question, "What is this Nature (which figures so largely as a final arbiter in the enthusiastic eulogies of Science)?" is given in the powerful mental movements of all enlightened nations for the cultivation and extension of that natural knowledge which has become the controlling agency in the improvement of human society.

And is it to be supposed that this new power in the intellectual world is to remain impotent in the domain of modern education? Can the great revolution of ideas in regard to nature fail to bring about a corresponding revolution in the mental cultivation of mankind? The simple question is, whether the minds of our youths are to be developed in future by means of the lower or by means of the highest and most perfect forms of knowledge. Those who offer the classics as an all-sufficient means of culture discredit the achievements of modern thought, and have no more use for the knowledge of nature than had the ancient classical authors before such knowledge existed. Mr. Sill puts his educational theory in the following nutshell, which, as will be seen, finds no room for nature. He says: "The truth is, there is a permanent aspiration in man for spiritual enlargement, for higher and richer pianos of intellectual being. This aspiration has in every age reached out, no doubt more or less blindly, after whatever was greatest and best in preceding human attainment. Latin and Greek have been studied, not alone, as our author almost seems to suppose, as words and for words' sake, but for the vital contact they give with the living men who thought in Latin and Greek."

Now, granting this permanent hunger for spiritual enlargement, the question still remains how that hunger is to best appeased. Mr. Sill says by "the accumulation of man's thought and feeling concerning human life and affairs." But what "accumulation"? Why, the literary treasures of Greek and Latin, of course. The yearnings of human nature after intellectual illumination are to be met, not from the magnificent treasures of truth which are now the grandest possession of humanity, but by the undeveloped thought of two thousand years ago, and by bringing the minds of our youth "into vital contact with the living men who thought in Latin and Greek." The absurdity is self-evident. Men's aspirations are not to be thus satisfied. The thought concerning human life and affairs which we require for mental cultivation is modern thought—the knowledge which bears upon the emergencies to be encountered. Only by the light of the most advanced science can affairs in these times be intelligently dealt with. Our age is full of living questions which can only be resolved by modern methods. To go back thousands of years after the intellectual help we need is simply to shirk the responsibilities of the present age.

Knowledge of nature for guidance in life is the great requirement. But Mr. Sill does not seem to recognize that knowledge has any function of guidance. There is disparagement throughout his paper of the importance of knowledge for any use that can be made of it in the conduct of life. Mr. Spencer bad classified the knowledges in his little book as they bear upon the activities of life, and had ranked first "those