|A SHORT HISTORY OF SCIENTIFIC INSTRUCTION.|
I MUST come back from this excursion to call your attention to the year 1845, in which one of the germs of our college first saw the light.
What was the condition of England in 1845? Her universities had degenerated into hauts lycées. With regard to the university teaching, I may state that even as late as the late fifties a senior wrangler—I had the story from himself—came to London from Cambridge expressly to walk about the streets to study crystals, prisms, and the like in the optician's windows. Of laboratories in the universities there were none; of science teaching in the schools there was none; there was no organization for training science teachers.
If an artisan wished to improve his knowledge he had only the moribund Mechanics' Institutes to fall back upon.
The nation which then was renowned for its utilization of waste material products allowed its mental products to remain undeveloped.
There was no minister of instruction, no councilors with a knowledge of the national scientific needs, no organized secondary or primary instruction. We lacked then everything that Germany had equipped herself with in the matter of scientific industries.
Did this matter? Was it more than a mere abstract question of a want of perfection?
It mattered very much! From all quarters came the cry that the national industries were being undermined in consequence of the more complete application of scientific methods to those of other countries.
The chemical industries were the first to feel this, and because England was then the seat of most of the large chemical works.
Very few chemists were employed in these chemical works. There were in cases some so-called chemists at about bricklayer's wages—not much of an inducement to study chemistry; even if there had been practical laboratories, where it could have been properly learned. Hence, when efficient men were wanted they were got from abroad—i. e., from Germany, or the richer English had to go abroad themselves.
At this time we had, fortunately for us, in England, in very high place, a German fully educated by all that could be learned at one of
- An address delivered at the Royal College of Science on October 6, 1898.
- Perkin. Nature, vol. xxxii, p. 334.