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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/721

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

Editor's Table.

 

WORDS OF A MASTER.

THE address, which we print elsewhere, delivered by Sir Archibald Geikie to the students of Mason College. Birmingham, is one to which we feel it a duty to draw special attention. It would be difficult, we think, to state more lucidly than the eminent author has done the advantages to be derived from a course of scientific study, and the principles which must be kept in view, not only during the period of study, but through life, if a training in science is to have its best results.

The address begins with a few words of caution as to the drawbacks which are apt to attend on the exclusive, or nearly exclusive, pursuit of science. In the reaction which the present age has witnessed against the old literary and linguistic curriculum of studies, a tendency is manifesting itself to undervalue the older learning. This Sir Archibald considers to be a matter for serious regret. He recognizes the impossibility of combining any large amount of literary or philological study with the requirements of an extensive scientific course; but he advises those who make choice of the latter to "cherish the literary tastes they have acquired, and to devote themselves sedulously to the further cultivation of them during such intervals of leisure as they may be able to secure." A training in science, he observes, "admirable as it is in many ways, fails to supply those humanizing influences which the older learning can so well impart." Times will therefore come, even to the most enthusiastic student, when "scientific work, in spite of its absorbing interest, grows to be a weariness"; and it is then that the value of any literary culture which may have been received at school or college will be appreciated.

It is a quite true remark that "men who have been too exclusively trained in science, or are too much absorbed in its pursuit, are not always the most agreeable members of society." It is also true that "one result of the comparative neglect of the literary side of education by many men of science is conspicuously seen in their literary style," which is not infrequently so "slipshod, ungrammatical, and clumsy that even the meaning of the authors is left in doubt." This is a great evil under the sun: a man goes through a vast amount of labor to ascertain facts and discover their meaning; and when he is ready to transfer the knowledge that he has gained to other minds he lacks the skill to do it in any satisfactory manner. Yet so far is it from being the case that there is any necessary incompatibility between scientific and literary cultivation, that several of the most distinguished scientific investigators have ranked among the best writers of the clay. We need only cite such names as Sir John Herschel, Lyell, Darwin, Huxley, Tyndall, Clifford, and Sir Archibald Geikie himself: to read any of these is a pleasure from a literary no less than from a scientific point of view No very satisfactory excuse can therefore be made for those scientific writers who can not compass a style of reasonable perspicuity and elegance. We can only think of them as having fallen victims to the hurtful error that literary style is of no advantage to a scientific man.