Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/513

This page has been validated.

scatterer of his own stores of knowledge. He had a profound interest in popular education, but the soul of that interest was for improvement in its methods. In the matter of public instruction he was a revolutionist and a propagandist. He warred with current ideas and consecrated practices. He condemned in the most emphatic way the wretched lesson-learning routine that prevails in the schools. He denounced our wordy and bookish education as baseless and unreal, and demanded such a change in our systems of instruction as shall bring the pupils face to face with Nature herself, and call out the mind by direct exercise upon phenomena—the facts, laws, relations, and realities of the world of experience. He was at times inclined to take discouraging views of the educational future, from this enslavement of the schools to vicious methods of study, but he never wearied in the endeavor to propagate more rational opinions, and we cannot doubt that the seed thus sown will yet ripen into most valuable fruit. It is questionable, indeed, if his earnest exertions in this direction will not tell in the final promotion of science even more powerfully than all his attempts to attain immediate results.

Another feature of Prof. Agassiz's scientific character remains to be noticed. Science was to him not merely the knowledge of animals, rocks, and glaciers, but it was a method of thought, rising into the proportions of a philosophy, and embracing the interests of humanity. By the vulgar-minded he was looked upon as a very wonderful man, whose genius spent itself upon crabs and their kindred, and who would give the world for a new fish. This was regarded as an amiable and an admirable eccentricity, and everybody was pleased when he had got a new donation to buy more curious things for his museum. And it was freely said, "If men of science would only imitate Agassiz, and be content with their dissections and collections, and keep in their sphere, and not encroach upon departments of thought which belong to politicians, theologians, historians, and philanthropists, the world might get on in peace." But this is a very mistaken conception of Agassiz's views of science. He saw in it not only a disclosure of the laws of physical nature, and an interpretation of the principles of life, but a revelation of correlated truths of all orders indispensable to the progress of man. This he ever maintained, and this he affirmed in the last essay perhaps that he ever wrote, and which was published in the Atlantic Monthly but a few days after his death. In that article there occurs the following passage, which our readers will attest might have been a fit motto for The Popular Science Monthly:

"It cannot be too soon understood that science is one, and that whether we investigate philosophy, theology, history, or physics, we are dealing with the same problem, culminating in the knowledge of ourselves. Speech is known only in connection with the organs of man, thought in connection with his brain, religion as the expression of his aspirations, history as the record of his deeds, and physical sciences as the laws under which he lives. Philosophers and theologians have yet to learn that a physical fact is as sacred as a moral principle. Our own nature demands from us this double allegiance."


We had intended to say nothing at the present time about Agassiz and Evolution, thinking it most suitable to forget all differences in the heart-felt acknowledgment of what we owe to his noble and disinterested life. But the occasion of his death has been so widely used in the interest of prejudice and error that a few words upon this subject become unavoidable.

Prof. Agassiz was an opponent of Darwinism, but his opposition gave no excuse for the amount of stupid rant upon the question which has been late-