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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/693

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SCIENCE VERSUS THE CLASSICS.

these are objects of instruction which are incomparably more adapted to the young student for exercises in thinking, while having the additional advantage of appealing directly to the senses. The most delicate test of correct thinking is furnished by the experiment. The most natural way to make the intellect independent is through the occupation with the exact sciences, physics and chemistry, with elementary experiments forming a transition from play to the seriousness of reality; but not through translations of the speeches, long since deprived of all vital interest, of Greek or Roman lawyers, or of the phraseology of dead languages with their intricate syntax and superfluous particles.

"I seize every opportunity to censure this unnatural condition, and I blame it in this connection because it injures health.... I regret vividly that precisely in Germany, the home of physiology, the country in which it is honored the most, where the greatest means are placed at its disposal and laboratories resembling palaces are built for it, that here where the number of its learned adherents is the largest, the science is least known among the people at large.... Every educated person has been compelled in his youth to learn a lot of details—for instance, of Greek mythology, the history of the Church, of the Old and New Testaments, grammar, etc.—which in later years never again entered into the circle of his ideas, and only burdened his memory without the least advantage for his intellectual development, and his mental and moral education. As to the inner condition of his own body, the connection of the heart's beating with the breathing process, of the process of alimentation with the production of animal heat, and as to what is meant by muscles, nerves, ganglia, and how the gradual transformation of the tissues goes on in youth and old age—that is not taught, though there would be time enough for it, if less attention was paid to unnecessary matters."

If we contrast with these remarks of a scholar and scientist, who evidently knows whereof he speaks, the utterances of a lawyer like Lord Coleridge, or of a dealer in aesthetics like Mr. Matthew Arnold, we are struck with the absolute pertinence of the former, and the thin generality of the latter. "Sweetness and light" come with health, physical and mental; logical acumen comes from an accurate knowledge of things brought to the test of rigid experiment. Felicity of expression, or perfect harmony between the thought and its outward dress, is not limited to Greek and Latin writers, but is as general as literature itself. And if the progress from general knowledge of disconnected events to special knowledge of phenomena connected by invisible and yet omnipresent law everywhere marks the advance of human thought, why, then, should the intelligent study of the latter be a less efficient guide to "sweetness and light," or to the "highest education," than the study of literatures that dealt for the most part with problems which possess only slight interest, or none at all, for the best thinkers of to-day?