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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 13/June 1878/On Brain-Forcing

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 13‎ | June 1878


WHEN the editors of Brain sought my aid in the construction of this first number, I felt the honor they did me was not to be lightly refused; but, on the other hand, painfully aware that of late years my life had lain too much in the world to have led me to those results which are won by the patient labor of the student. From direct examination into the finer shapes of brain and nerve of late years, I have become too much estranged; but I trust that observations in the field of practice may compensate, in some measure, the want of closer and more accurate research. On one subject I have long been fain to speak, for it is one in which I am exercised almost daily; moreover, I venture to hope it is not foreign to the purposes of this magazine. Almost daily I am in contention with parents and guardians, schoolmasters and schoolmistresses, clergymen and professors, youths and maidens, boys and girls, concerning the right way of building up the young brain, of ripening the adult brain, and of preserving the brain in age. Grievously ill do we take in hand to deal with this delicate member, and well is it that innate development overruns our schemes and brings the variety of natural good out of the monotony of human folly. It is dimly felt by society that the reign of bone and muscle is over, and that the reign of brain and nerve is taking its place. Even the Gibeonites now have the hydraulic ram and the steam felling-machine; the spectacled general of forces fights in his tent by click of battery and wire, and his lieutenant hoists an iron-clad by the touch of two buttons upon his waistcoat; the patient earth forgets the tread of horse and ox, and is ploughed by steam; and ere long, no doubt, our ministers will wind sermons out of barrel-organs, and our morning egg will be broken for us by a wafer of dynamite. Hence it comes that all classes are for "education!" The village grocer's son goes to a "theological college," and sits up by night over his "Evidences" with green tea in his blood, and a wet cloth about his brows. The gardener's daughter pulls roses no more, and has become a pupil-teacher; she is chlorotic at sixteen, and broken-spirited at twenty. The country parson's son goes to a civil service or a navy "coach," is plucked in his teens, and is left to begin life again with an exhausted brain and an incurable megrim; nay, even the sons of peers are putting on the armor of light, and are deserting the field for the counting-house. To meet this demand, colleges of all kinds and degrees spring up—middle class seminaries, theological colleges, colleges of science, university boards—even the old universities themselves are stirring from their scholarly ease, are sending out missionaries in partibus, and are cramming the youth of twenty counties in the art of making most show with least learning. All this, in a way, no doubt, must be and should be; but so sudden a volte-face cannot be made without a wrench, and it is my desire now to see where the strain will tell, and how to perform our social evolution with the least injury to persons.

Like the alderman of New York, who found it impossible to propose the paving of a street without allusion to the first lines of the Constitution of the United States, so I must venture to preface my essay by some reference to mental function as we find it. We may see the more clearly how to direct and combine our means of culture when we recognize its purposes. Mental philosophy is a subject in which I am little versed, but I must try in some familiar fashion to classify the aspects of nervous activity as they appear to ordinary observers. Without misleading error, and with much convenience, I may regard these activities from the following five points of view, namely, their Quality, their Quantity, their Tension, their Variety, and their Control.

By the higher quality of the brain, or of a part of it, I mean that structure of cell and fibre which corresponds more widely or more intimately with outer conditions, so that by virtue of such relation the individual more readily apprehends things and conceives them. This is genius in the stricter sense. By quantity I mean the volume of nerve force given off by the brain or its parts, without regard to quality of work done. By tension I mean the power in the nerve-action to overcome inner or outer resistance—"nervous energy," as it is colloquially called. By variety I mean the congregation of different centres, and the weaving of mediate strands which give the possessor, not higher or wider, but a greater number of relations with outer things. In common life this is usually called versatility. By control I mean that subordination of one centre to another, whether inherited or acquired, which if of the lower to the higher results in obedience to the more permanent order of the universe. Thus a man may have a lofty, an abundant, an intense, a versatile, and a well-ruled nervous system, or he may have any measure of each of these states in various proportions.

Goethe, whose life and character are so well known to us, seems to have possessed all these faculties in marvelous combination. His insight or brain quality was vast and penetrating; his stores of nervous energy were inexhaustible, burning with steadfast heat or flaming in passion; his faculties were infinite in variety, and they were under a control rarely in the world's history known to have harmonized endowments so manifold and so potent. To take in like manner a few more names by way of illustration, we may consider Lord Byron as one in whom quality and tension of nervous force were more remarkable than quantity, though this in him was not inconsiderable, and in whom variety was less manifest and control defective. Schiller, again, had high quality, tension, and control, but was defective in endurance and in variety. In Keats we recognize quality, tension, and variety, in high degrees; control in less measure, and quantity in defect. His brain, inconstant in current, was worn out ere it was built up. Macaulay was, if the word be permitted to me, a remarkable "all-round" man, and presented an equable development of quality, quantity, tension, variety, and control, though of course he is not to be compared to the former examples in quality. Brougham had still less quality, but quantity in overflow and at high tension. Sir James Simpson, again, always seemed to me a good instance of a man lacking the higher complexities of brain, but abounding in mental force at high tension. In him also variety was striking, more striking than control. One of the most vivid instances of nervous energy at high tension to be found in modern history is perhaps Admiral Korniloff, as described by Mr. Kinglake, in the fourth volume of the cabinet edition of his "History of the Crimean War" (page 108). He says of Korniloff:

"It can hardly be shown that this chief was gifted with original genius, still less with piercing intellect; nor was Korniloff to be called precisely an enthusiast. Our knowledge of Korniloff must rest upon a perception of what people did when they felt the impulsion he gave. At a time when there seemed to be room but for despair and confusion, he took that ascendant which enabled him to bring the whole people in this place—inhabitants, soldiers, sailors—to his own heroic resolve. In a garrison town of an empire which had carried the mania of military organization to the most preposterous lengths, all those straitened notions of rank and seniority, and, in short, the whole network of the formalisms which might have been expected to hinder his command, flew away like chaff at the winnowing. By the fire of his spirit there was roused so great an energy on the part of thousands of men as has hardly been known in these times; and he so put his people in heart, that not only the depression created by defeat, but the sense of being abandoned and left for sacrifice by the evading army, was succeeded by a quick growth of warlike pride, by a wholesome ardor for the fight, by an orderly, joyous activity."

We may compare with this the description by the same fine hand of General Todleben, in whom quality and quantity of brain, variety of resource and of smiling self-control, were all made efficient by high tension. Mr. Kinglake says:

"Although Todleben seemed to be one to whom the very labors of fighting and of exterminating the weaker breeds of men must be an easy and delightful exertion of natural strength, he had joyous, kind-looking eyes, almost ready to melt with good-humor, and a bearing and speech so frank and genial, strangers were instantly inclined to like, and very soon after to trust in him. From his looks and demeanor, it could not at all be inferred that he was a man who had devoted his mind to a science; nor imagined that his power of doing the right thing at the right time had been warped at all by long study of the engineering art. . . . Few men of great intellect have attained so closely what Englishmen mean by practical."

How great quality and quantity of brain may fall short of achievement, for lack of high tension rather than of control, must be sought in the story of "Hamlet" and like inventions; for, although the unhappy General Trochu is not yet quite forgotten, none such leave an enduring name. How many of us know that quiet friend unnoted of the many, unfelt by the world; whose powers of assimilating knowledge are great, whose intellect is capacious, and whose accomplishments are manifold, but whose nerve-currents are of low or inconstant tension! He finishes no work, he fathoms no research, and he dies leaving but the memory of great powers wasted. Other curious instances of low tension are seen in those unhappy mortals who conceive so truly, and have mental force in such quantity, that they spend their lives in bestowing volumes of good advice upon their fellows, but who never rouse themselves to their own work or duty.

How, lastly, the greatest quality and capacity of mind, varied attainments, and spiritual fire, may be spent as a sky-rocket is spent for lack of control and direction, has been the theme of moralists of all centuries, from the death of Abel to our own time. Of all endowments control is the most precious, and its nurture our most bounden duty. For a happy and useful life, perhaps control is more needful than quality, volume, variety or even tension of brain. But, were not men born to us whose high qualities of brain enable them to see more deeply into the secrets of Nature, our progress would cease; did quantity of brain-force cease from a people, that people would lack endurance; were tension feeble, the lions would roar on in the paths of our enterprise; were self-control wanting, that which were won would hardly be won ere it was lost. Of all gifts, then, to be cherished and nurtured, perhaps we should place first control, as by it effort is husbanded; perhaps of equal or scarcely of the second place comes tension; quality of brain cannot be had for the asking, and lack of quantity in individuals may be compensated by numbers. Variety, however charming, however grateful, is the least precious of these conditions of brain, and is the last which calls for nurture. How, then, are we so to wield our instruments of education as to promote the increase of control, tension, and quantity, without stifling quality and variety, and how are we to use these virtues in the riper man without disabling him?

Quality, as I have said, cannot be had for the asking; it is fitful in its growth, and often born out of due time. It should be favored by the continuous inheritance of culture, but the mode of its epiphany lies in the same darkness with that developmental nisus which lies behind the advance of life upon the globe. Inherited, as it doubtless must be, yet its arising cannot be foreseen in the span of human generation. In the past it has more often burst forth from obscurity as the Greek and Arab from the Orient, the Roman from the Latin, the Pisan, the Genoese, the Venetian from Byzantium, the Tudor English from the England of Lancaster and Plantagenet. Men of high quality do not seem, even generally, to have sprung, like Pallas, from the brain of their fathers, but conceived in the dark womb of time to have lighted upon the world in companies. How then education, by taking thought unto itself, is to breed or make men of great initiative is a hard question. It seems clear, however, that it is not to be done simply by the wedding of brain to brain, but that for its generation may be needed some barbarous and even gross admixture, some strange coition between the sons of God and the daughters of men. But that which they who govern education can do is, to give to genius and to character a free way for expansion and action. We cannot make such a man as Edwards the naturalist of Banff, and the more sad is it that such men when born to us are too often maimed or driven by circumstance, and their gifts despoiled. That many mute, inglorious Miltons are buried in our churchyards, I venture to doubt; the fire of a Burns is not easily hidden under a bushel, but some smaller lights may thus be quenched, and the best of such men, like Burns himself, may be thwarted or broken in heart. Some may aver, and not without seeming of truth, that trial is to genius as the furnace to noble metal. But, surely, this world will always offer to its children a front stern enough for their chastisement, and a law hard enough for their contrition—there needs not the imposition of fetters of ours, nor the devices of our caprice or austerity. One born before his time, in the inertia of his own generation, will find resistance enough to try his steel. Moreover, as I have said, great quality of brain may not be associated to high tension, and a moderate resistance may be fatal to achievement. A man may not be a Luther, a Cromwell, or a Knox, but he may be a Melanchthon, a Cranmer, or a Wishart, and in favoring days may do the work which was done by the former in virtue of high tension as well as of genius.

It is too certain, on the other hand, that by stress of circumstance, zeal may be turned into fierceness, reason into tyranny, and strength into brutality; it is well, therefore, we should see that in our scheme of education we are mindful of two things: 1. That we secure perfect freedom for the individual and toleration for all opinions, and this must be done partly by the repeal of all legal privilege and partly by the gradual enlightenment of societies: 2. That in our scheme of education we give the means of it to all, and full play to individual gifts—not promoting a dull uniformity, nor pinching back the buds of mental growth; nor, on the other hand, forgetting that as great men often appear in unpromising times, so great gifts in the individual are often long in showing themselves. The early dunce often ripens into the later genius. I find this late unfolding of greater gifts, though by no means universal or perhaps even general, yet is so common that as a teacher I have schooled myself into much sympathy with dunces. An observant master may detect the pushing germs beneath the immobile surface of his pupil's mind, but such masters are rare, and perhaps nothing is lost by leaving their quickening to kindly time. Our duty is, meanwhile, not to harass or exhaust the brain prematurely by anxious culture, by stimulant or by systematic forcing. Few men can look back upon their early companionship without seeing, with a feeling akin to surprise, how the race has not always been to the swift, nor the battle to those who were strong:

"Another race hath been, and other palms are won."

Quality of brain, then, cannot be made nor forced; consisting, moreover, as it probably does, in added ganglionic and commissural structure, it, like all more complex growth, will be late in the bud and later in the bloom. And in pointing this out it must be remembered that we are speaking not only of the rarer forms of genius, but also of character—of that which gives to each person his individual color and value. Quality of brain may, however, be lost if it is not invigorated and impelled by a strong breeze of nervous energy; nay, as in the case of the late Sir James Simpson, dauntless and inexhaustible nerve-quantity may so elevate the spirit and so strengthen the hand as to clothe the individual with a power beside that of genius itself, and urge him to work which will win the undying gratitude of men. Now, happily quantity, unlike quality, of brain-force is much under the power of education. Quantity may be conceived as lying partly in the bulk of the nerve cells themselves, and partly in the volume of their vessels; partly also in the virtue of the blood itself. It cannot be forgotten that the health of the brain and nervous system, upon which the abundance of its fruit depends, is closely related to the tone and activity of the rest of the corporeal frame. The volume of force issuing from the brain is largely dependent, for example, upon the power of the stomach and allied viscera, upon the power of rapidly digesting and assimilating an abundance of food, and of breaking up and excreting spent material. A dyspeptic may well have nerve-force of high quality and of high tension; but I never met with a dyspeptic whose nerve-force welled continuously forth. Like Brougham and Cavour, men of great power of continuous work have usually been large as well as sound eaters. A "hardheaded" man is also a hard-bodied man, and the national history of Europe is a long display of the successive triumphs of the men of colder over the men of warmer regions; of the hardy, lusty, and hungry races over the softer, more indolent, and more abstemious. Northern drunkenness is a survival of northern feasting and northern prowess; and the hearty Bishop of Peterborough touched a deep truth when he said he had liefer Englishmen to be drunkards than slaves. It is quantity, then, rather than other conditions of nerve-power, which is favored by "physical education," quantity without which quality may flag; but quality is also indirectly increased, for quality is born, doubtless, out of the fountains of quantity.

If it be true that the sons of genius are often fools, the explanation may be that the parent has spent his great fortune of intellect and passion, and transmitted to his offspring a sapless and atonic brain. It may be true, also, that as from the lesser robustness of women the streams of vitality in them are more slender and less perennial, so the buddings of higher genius in them are fewer and less fertile. The weaving of the higher thought and emotion is found in our experience, even of individuals, to be especially exhausting, and apt, therefore, to alternate in its function with hours of indolence, and even of depression. The greatest master cannot be unconscious of these tides in his creative work; and the lesser, seeking relief and distraction between whiles, drifts into the "Bohemian." To secure, then, quantity of nerve-force directly, and quality indirectly, the encouragement of bodily vigor and sturdy gain is fundamentally necessary. Without wealth of bone and blood, volume of nerve-force will dwindle, and the rarest quality may fail of proof, or lose its splendor. Before women can hope to do hard and high work, sense must expel sensibility, and school-girls must cease to walk out in a row, to veil their faces, to wear stays, and to eat delicately.[1] Nay, if a certain ruggedness be not foreign to mental strength and growth, it may be that women, as a class, if they will excel in originality and endurance, must cease, as a class, to seek after the charms of daintiness and sentiment.

I am not, therefore, of those who think that the love of athletics is as yet in excess. Here and there men may expend in the hunting-field or on the river that which should have been given to their tripos, to their profession, or to their country; yet this at worst is but an individual loss, far outweighed by the impulse given to the hardy, hungry vitality by which the nation thrives, and its general volume of nervous force is augmented. Again, it is an old truth that in youth production and growth or development are in a measure opponent. The gardener, the stock-breeder, the trainer, all know this and act upon the rule. The spontaneous and equable play of all sides of life favors growth and tone; but to enter the colt for the race, to bloom and seed the young plant, or to put the young male to the stud, is to stint their growth and to exhaust their vigor. Precocity is gained at the cost of feeble maturity and early decay. And yet, can the young brain grow, cell add itself to cell, and fibre knit itself to fibre, without work and play? Can the slack sinew be braced, or the muscle which is idle be increased? To this I would reply that the activity which feeds the waxing strand and ganglion is rather receptive than productive.[2] It is easy to forget how the child and the youth drink in knowledge and virtue imperceptibly as the green leaves spread themselves and feed upon the air. By an equable tide flowing in from every side—by the channels of the senses, by the universal surface of the skin—the inner chambers of the nervous system are expanded, and stored with riches for future profusion. The mischief done daily by calling upon the unripe brain for productive work, for original composition,[3] for competitive examinations, for teaching, and even for preaching, is calamitous, and the evil is increasing. The impatient examinations of young children are as injurious and as foolish as the searching of the roots of the pushing plant. Cram, again, is that which secures the immediate production of brain-results rather than the growth of the brain itself; and it must be thrusting itself upon the vision of all but the moon-struck, that young men who are prize-winners at the ages even of eighteen or twenty years have too often spent their brains before the natural yielding-time. Too often the star of their year is quenched ere their course be well begun, and if their life be not henceforth a failure it may fall far short of its early promise; and the brain which might have been year by year more flexible, more potent, and more enterprising, is warped, stiffened, and staled. Such young men are now sent into the world in numbers, with minds orderly, trim, and garnished, but without élan, and without initiative—admirable clerks and formalists—but as men of action spoiled forever.

Pupil-teachers, again, present a curious subject for observation, and a sad one. Called upon as children to teach children, their brains turn backward, or stop at the stage they have attained, and the living stream of thought is congealed into a dead dogmatism. Their minds, no longer open to the dew of knowledge from above, are bent to the work of churning vapid juices for yet callower nurslings. Nor is this all: the striving and jaded brain sucks the kindly sap from the rest of the body, and the weaker sex more especially tend in their years of puberty to become pallid and enfeebled, or to break down altogether between the rival claims of mind and body. Other cases, of which my note-books are full, are those in which brain-power is run low in youth by the untimely pressure of business and of heavy responsibilities. A father dies, leaving his son, aged twenty or less, to carry on a large business, to pay his mother and sisters out of the concern, and to educate his younger brothers. Stanch to the backbone, the lad throws himself ardently into life, carries at twenty years the burdens of forty, pushes onward upon excitement and in ignorance of the mischief doing, labors for a few years or more according to his stores, and falls to pieces ere middle life is reached, and when his powers should be at their best. We label their cases "dyspepsia," "nervous debility," "mental disease," and the like. I refrain from giving scores of them.

But most disastrous, perhaps, of all means of dissipating the stores of the unformed brain are the preaching-tasks of the theological colleges, and especially of the nonconformist colleges. These colleges are filled with young men—ambitious, of generous impulses, and fervent temper—and their teachers, as seems curiously true of schoolmasters as a class, are utterly unconscious of the existence of the science of physiology. These hapless lads are not only spurred on to intense and prolonged study during the week, but are called upon to preach. I do not mean that they are merely taught to use the voice and gesture, which are the instruments of oratory, but they are actually set up to address congregations of people. I will say nothing of those hearers who find edification in the raw dogmatism of an undergraduate, or spiritual increase in the forced and jejune exhortations of striplings to whom spiritual experience is yet unknown; but I will say of the 'prentice preachers themselves that the system is immeasurably cruel. A luckless youth is forced to heat the yet empty chambers of his brain, and to forge false thunder therein at an age when he needs rather to sit at the feet of wisdom. Space forbids me to give instances from my books, but the facts are open to others as to myself. Men whose steps are faltering upon the very threshold of the ministry come to me lamenting that the hope and the fervor, the peace and the joy of their initiation have fled, and in their place are listlessness, weariness, confusion of mind—nay, even satiety and disgust. Their teachers urge them to drown their reaction in more work, and in unhealthy self-examinations. Pallid, dyspeptic, peevish, sleepless, disheartened, many of them creep into orders to come in later years to the physicians, almost cursing themselves because their labors are unfruitful, because they cannot sit down to think nor stand up to pray. The explanation is too clear. The brain has been forced, and has borne insipid fruit out of due season. It may never recover its tone, or recover it only after a long season of rest. It is sad to think how many young ministers have come to me alone with such a history—men otherwise of promise, but whose best efforts have been but as the crackling of thorns under the pot.

We do not realize how long a time the exhausted brain takes to recover itself! A young physician may boldly tell the overtaxed merchant or student to take three months' rest; but probably three months must be added to that, and even six months again to the sum, before any degree of stability is regained. It is nearly always true that a case of brain-exhaustion needs what may seem a disproportionate time to get well. Repair in so delicate an organ is slow, and we know that gardeners and breeders would rather start afresh with young stock than nurse round specimens which have been checked. Yet Englishmen are courageous and enduring, and many fight into the ministry without consciousness of harm. Nevertheless, I would ask concerning even these—if there be found in them any lack of quick and exquisite thought, of keen and catholic vision, of deep and tender passion; or if there be in them any delight in phrases, and any shrinking from realities; any bondage to convention and prejudice, any blenching from the service of perfect freedom—whether the forcing and hustling of their brains in earlier life have not straitened their conceptions, and checked their mental sweetness, freshness, and enterprise.

Another kind of premature brain-forcing is seen in young artists. Young musicians, especially, abandon themselves with perfervid ingenuity, not merely to discipline and culture, but also to original composition and to excessive display. Hence, as the passion of music is of early manifestation, and the vanity of parents insatiable, we find the history of musicians is one long wail over brilliant promise and early exhaustion or death. It is as true of music as of every other art, that its greatest works are works not of youth but of manhood, not of tender age but of maturity. Schubert died at the age of thirty-one, Mendelssohn at the age of thirty-six, Mozart at the age of thirty-six—these, like many other masters prodigiously, even wastefully, productive in the days of their spring, were worn out when their transcendent genius should have borne its harvest. Even in music we find the most lustrous and immortal works were the works not of youth, nor of early manhood, but of riper years; of masters who were endowed with inexhaustible well-springs of force in body and brain, or who had husbanded their stores in earlier days. Händel composed his great oratorios after he had passed his fiftieth year. Sebastian Bach wrote the "B Minor Mass" at the age of forty-eight, and the two "Passions" somewhat later still. Beethoven wrote the "A Major Symphony" and the "Eroica" between the ages of thirty-four and forty-four: he had thus reached formal excellence, and had he then died would, like Mendelssohn, have bequeathed a great name to posterity. Happily he lived on to write his grandest works, such as the "Ninth Symphony" and the "Missa Solennis", after the age of forty-five. If we turn to our own day and regard the life of a genius who, in quality and quantity of brain-activity with tremendous tension and infinite variety, occupies a position perhaps unique—I speak of Richard Wagner—we find he was born at Leipsic in the year 1813, and is now therefore sixty-five years of age, so that "Lohengrin" and the "Ring des Nibelungen" are the works of years more than mature. I will not pursue this argument with the other creative arts, nor stay to prove that works like the "Paradise Lost," the "Divina Commedia," and "The Tempest," are works not of youth but of age.[4]

I must pass on to consider brain-work under the head of tension. Tension, I believe, depends in some way upon the tides of the blood vessels—upon their rapidity, perhaps—and more especially upon the rapid distribution of blood in particular directions. It may well be a matter of the nervi vasorum. Probably also some relation of capillary to cell, which favors rapid absorption, enters into the matter; for we see that tension diminishes with age—with the susceptibility of nerve and arteriole. It is a factor of infinite value to the man. "Learning," says Falstaff, "is a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil till sack commences it and sets it in act and use" ("King Henry IV.," book iv., scene 3). We may regard tension under several aspects, as in the keen tenacity of intellectual work in such a master as Newton, when it is associated with lofty and powerful control; or again in vivacious temperaments, where control is often less complete. In those "whom Englishmen delight to call practical" we see it associated with dexterity, with readiness of resource, and with keenness of the special senses. This invaluable attribute is happily much under the influence of education. Compare, for instance, the slow wit of the rustic with the mental alertness of the "joly prentis of Chepe." Education can not only instruct the mind, but can make it apprehensive, nimble, and even fiery. "It is of no use to know a thing," we often say to our bedside students, "unless you can deliver yourself of your knowledge." The brain must not be a silent receptacle, but, to use the old phrase, must be a "copious promptuary" of learning and device. In this paragraph, then, we take not the contrary, but the converse of the former, and, while remembering that quantity and quality of nerve-force are diminished by calling upon the tender brain for production, tension, on the other hand, is promoted by busying the student with his work, and by stimulating him with a sense of his duties and of his just ambitions. Hence class tests and even class-competitions, and the due use of the spur, are to be encouraged so far as they favor readiness, quick and accurate observation, and modest rivalries, but not so far as to call for "original compositions," for heated and straining effort, or for the rapid disgorgement of bolted and undigested book-work. Tension, then, is an endowment of Nature, or is increased by education and example, and especially by the personal influence of an earnest and practical teacher, and by the informing of eye and hand rather than by the straining of thought and memory. Unlike quantity, tension is not immediately dependent upon physical health. Neuralgic and dyspeptic persons often possess this virtue in high degree, and indeed fasting is said by spiritual teachers to intensify mental action. If quantity, however, be not added to tension, great passion or great action is followed by utter exhaustion and depression; and, where high mettle and enduring force are combined, we obtain the greatest results. Certain drugs, such as strychnine, have the property of heightening the tension of nerve; and others, such as iron and cod-liver oil, of enriching it in quantity. In the combination of the two kinds we have the most precious medicines. The so-called "nervous children"—products of a later civilization—need especially the benefits of quantity and control, and intelligent parents secure this by restraining scholastic pressure, by enforcing a regular discipline, and by encouraging physical development.

That endowment which I have called Variety or versatility is also partly innate and partly acquired, but chiefly innate.[5] It must consist in the accretion of a greater number of ganglia and of interweaving fibres. This is not unfavorable to quantity of nerve-force, but perhaps it is unfavorable to the quality or high development of special ganglionic groups, and also to tenacity or steadfast intensity. The schoolmaster therefore abhors versatility, and that greater schoolmaster, the world, grinds it to dust. Without variety the pedant loses the sense of the infinite interests and conditions of life; with variety and without penetration the dilettante is ignorant of the depths of his own ignorance. The pedant denies that any knowledge should be taken in small quantities, the dilettante is repelled by the isolation of limited research. It would seem to be the aim of good education to insist upon a mastery of one or more subjects, that the grown man should be able to fight with the foremost, to concentrate his powers, and to realize what knowledge is, but that at the same time he should gain some not inadequate notion of the whole field of the battle of life. He will thus gain in sympathy and flexibility of mind, while he is saved from the "failing of omniscience." A happy citizen of the republic of learning must have culture at once liberal and profound, at once general and special; to such a one a little knowledge is no longer a dangerous thing.

Finally, Control is partly innate, but greatly the creature of education. It is, I believe, the earliest work of education, the safest work and the most abiding. As an innate virtue it consists, no doubt, in the superposition of more complex or higher centres upon the lower and upon the weaving of these together by commissures of various orders. These ganglia and fibres, sketched out as it were by inheritance, are nourished and developed by use, i. e., by education. By use lines of least resistance are established, and thus habits are formed. A man cannot bite his nails without fingers and teeth, nor can habits be formed in the mind without the preëxistence of conflicting ganglia, but it is infinitely important to test the child for their presence, and to set up in them certain lines of movement, and certain coincident memories or "associations." Thus also appears the Will, that is the revelation to consciousness of the balancing of the faculties, though where consciousness enters we know not, and shall never know on this side of the grave. No mistake, then, is more fatal than that of parents who let children run wild, on the pretense of physical development. This, indeed, they may obtain, and how guarded we are to be in forcing the brain I need not say again; but there can be no misfortune to a child greater than to escape the life of justice, order, and rule, or to escape the training of those perceptions of social needs and social laws which, when graven in our ganglia and long current in our nerves, become habits of sympathy, charity, and self-sacrifice. Herein I fear that the partisans of "secular" education are greatly at fault. Children may be trained in board-schools to habits of cleanliness and order, but they are not trained in the principles of liberty, nor are their eyes turned to the sanctions of religion. From this system I fear there may be a sad awakening for a coming generation. I may sum up thus: The powers of the nervous system with which education is chiefly concerned are Quality, Quantity, Tension, Variety, and Control. Quality is beyond the direct efforts of education; its rarer development, both in nations and individuals, is as yet incalculable: in the early life of the individual it is often latent, and its greatest results belong to years of maturity. On the other hand, education may often overlay it, thwart it, or expend it, and, as quality is largely dependent upon quantity or volume of nerve force, the ripening of those degrees of it which exist in ordinary men, and the favoring of those revelations of it which occur more rarely, are constantly prevented by brain-forcing in early life. In men of great quality or genius such brain-forcing has too often dimmed or blighted the splendor of their work, or has shortened their days, and has only failed to do so in others by virtue of their perennial springs of inward energy. Quantity, therefore, is a very fruitful possession, and, unlike quality, may be directly reënforced by wholesome conditions—by physical education, and by the promotion of healthy and rapid digestion, assimilation, and excretion.

Tension is a virtue without which quality and quantity of nerve force may be wasted. By it men overcome resistance, and are fired with impulse. Promptness, alertness, and acute sense, come also of this attribute. Tension may be increased greatly by education, and it springs up in the busier contentions of men. It is largely independent of physical health and of food, but is favored by action and the training of observation. Variety, by which men are enabled to touch the world at many points, can be favored by education. If in excess, it results in aimless dissipation of energy; if duly consorted with full knowledge of one or more subjects, it gives breadth and flexibility to the intellect, and promotes the happiness of personal and social life; it favors general progress by permitting the more rapid diffusion of the knowledge won by the few. Lastly, control is eminently a creature of education, and is perhaps the most precious gift of the individual man. Without justice, temperance, and definite industry, the most brilliant attributes of mind may be impotent for good, and without the habit of social subordination and the bond of social sympathy the most brilliant society would be but a rope of diamonds. Brain-forcing is terribly mischievous. It urges genius into precocious fruitage, it drains the springs of nervous force, it excites high tension without giving volume to fortify it, it stints the variety of mental expansion, and by enforcing control it breaks the spirit. The true purpose of education is, first of all, to teach discipline—the discipline of the body, and the higher discipline of the mind and heart; to encourage the budding faculties to break freely in natural variety; to quicken the eye and the hand, and to touch the lips with fire; to promote the gathering of the fountains of vigorous life by fresh air, simple nutritious diet, and physical exercise; and, finally, to watch for the growth, silent it may be for years, of the higher qualities of character, or even of genius, not forcing them into heated and fro ward activity, but rather restraining the temptation to early production, and waiting for the mellowness of time: remembering that the human mind is not an artificial structure, but a natural growth; irregular, nay, even inconsistent, as such growths are, wanting most often the symmetry and preciseness of artifice, but having the secret of permanence and adaptability. These words seem almost too simple—these truths too obvious for repetition; yet for lack of that which lies in them our modern schemes of education are day after day ruining the young by overstimulation and unhealthy competition. Happily, the public is awaking to its error, and is beginning to regret the days when its young dunces grew into its old heroes. What we did blindly in the past by trusting to the hidden wealth of Nature, we may now do face to face by the revelation of her secrets.


P. S.—Since this essay was prepared for the printer, I have received the February number of the Fortnightly Review, which contains an article by Prof. Huxley on "Technical Education." In that article Mr. Huxley expresses opinions which must command general attention and adhesion. Although his argument is sped with thought and word far stronger and swifter than mine, and clothed with an authority to which I can lay no claim, yet I may perhaps without presumption call myself a fellow-laborer in the same field.—Brain.

  1. In the Girls' High-School at Leeds, a well-managed school in many respects, the girls are at work from breakfast to dinner and after dinner, with no interval for digestion, till four—for much of the year, that is, during all the daytime. Their cheeks know not wind nor sunshine.
  2. That receptiveness of brain, its play and its productiveness, are but various degrees of function I do not forget, but few differences of degree are more clearly distinguishable.
  3. I believe in many schools mere children are ordered to write "original" essays on set subjects.
  4. The visitor who has lately returned from the magic show of Turner Drawings now in Bond Street, will doubtless remember Mr. Ruskin's words on the opening page of his "Guide," wherein he says of Turner, "He produced no work of importance till he was past twenty—working constantly, from the day he could hold a pencil, in steady studentship, with gradually-increasing intelligence." Of the master's work done between the ages of fifty-five and sixty-five, Mr. Ruskin says (page 9), "In this period he produces his most wonderful work in his own special manner—in the perfect pieces of it, insuperable." In the Slade School at Kensington, subjects are given out for original work, a system which, in my judgment, is more likely to do harm than good.
  5. Diderot is the most brilliant instance of the Various man I can at present call to mind.