Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/March 1879/Editor's Table



IT can not be kept too clearly in mind that the broad issue of modern educational reform is whether sciences or languages shall predominate as objects and instruments of culture. Shall physical nature, life, man, society, and the actual phenomena of experience, become the leading objects of study; or shall the acquisition of forms of speech, the accumulation of verbal symbols, and the discipline of grammar-grinding continue to hold their traditional ascendancy? No question now arises as to taking both of these modes of mental culture along together, for it is conceded on all hands that neither can be dispensed with, but the contest is as to which shall lead in a rivalry of widely different systems. The issue is, by which method shall the education of the future be characterized?

The languages are in possession, and of course have great advantages in the conflict from this fact. For the notion has grown up that a liberal knowledge of language is education, while nothing else is properly entitled to the name. Lingual studies, moreover, have the vast advantage that they are taken as the standards and measures of acquisition. Memorizing words, learning rules, construing and translating, make proficiency easily determinable; and when scientific studies are introduced, as their results are not measurable by these old standards, it is inferred that they are not measurable at all, and are therefore unfitted to form the staple of systematic education.

But, although much is made of this difficulty, it is not serious. Science will create its own standards when it has had time and experience, and meantime its demands are for opportunity—room—facilities. An edifice can not be constructed until space is first granted for it to occupy; scientific education can not be organized until time and materials are yielded for the purpose. Old studies must be put out of the way, that new studies may take their place and the new education have a free course.

From this point of view we note and record with interest all indications that the old subjects which are now holding their place by the right of prescription and any pretexts that are available are yet compelled, by the tendencies of the times, to abandon their claims and surrender their ground. The advocates of the dead languages fight desperately to maintain their ancient precedence, but they are losing the battle. Even in England, where the whole framework of society is braced and bound by endowments which conserve the old and resist the new, and where the universities and public schools, rich and independent, combine against all modern encroachments, there are increasing indications that the old classical claims are regarded by their partisans as now untenable and must be given up. It is virtually if not avowedly conceded in high quarters that one or other of the dead languages must go, and in fact the classicists are already themselves at loggerheads as to which it shall be.

A step in the liberal direction was taken a few year ago, when the grammar-schools were remodeled by the Public Schools Commission by ceasing to make Greek an ordinary subject of instruction, and allowing the substitution for it of French or German. But now a still more significant step has been taken by several bead-masters and other gentlemen interested in education, who have united to petition the authorities of Cambridge so to revise the scheme of university studies that Greek may be omitted if the student does not choose to learn it. At present it is a compulsory study, so that, though men entering the university "maybe the equals of Airy and Adams in pure mathematics, of Tyndall and Huxley in natural science, of a Whewell and a Hamilton in moral science, they must be able to read a play of Euripidis and the Greek Testament, or Cambridge will not have them among its graduates."

The appearance of this memorial, signed by various weighty names, as might have been expected, has raised a controversial storm which has been chiefly vented through the columns of the London "Times." Mr. Oscar Browning led off with a letter full of sad forebodings, remarking, "To those who believe that national intelligence is the final cause of national greatness and prosperity, the proposal to surrender Greek will sound like the knell of disaster." The quiet way in which such a smattering of Greek as the students get at the universities is here taken as the equivalent of that national intelligence which leads to national greatness, shows us at all events that Mr. Browning believes in his Greek. He is, however, aware that there is another kind of knowledge with strong claims to attention, and thus refers to it: "There are many who look forward with satisfaction to the decay of classical education. In their eyes modern science, modern literature, modern interests, are fitted to give a wider and better education than was ever given by the contemplation of antiquity. The new learning which clamors on all sides for recognition, calls out their enthusiasm and zeal; the old learning is discredited, as the subtilties of the schoolmen were discredited at the time of the Renaissance."

Mr. Browning has not much faith in this kind of knowledge for purposes of education, but, if it is bound to come and something must be given up, he will stick by his Greek, let who will suffer. He says: "If one of the two languages must go, let it be Latin. Greek is in every respect more valuable. As a language it is more beautiful, more rich, more flexible. Its literature is incomparably superior. The loss of Latin can be compensated by the languages derived from it. Nothing can supply the place of Greek. It is idle to suppose that if Greek were omitted from our regular school curriculum it would continue to be studied by the older boys."

Nothing certainly could be more idle, for the study is not adapted to modern general wants, and therefore has to be maintained by compulsion and its position maintained by an artificial coercive policy. Science, on the other hand, has grown up outside the schools, without endowments, and has been mainly developed by private enterprise because it is adapted to the present stage of progress of the human mind.

One of the "Times" correspondents thus replies to Browning's suggestion that Latin be sacrificed:

"The answer to Mr. Oscar Browning's question, Why should not Latin be thrown over, if one of the two classical languages must cease to be compulsory at the universities? is not far to seek. It is true that Greek is easier to learn, can be mastered thoroughly in less time, has an incomparably finer literature, and brings back times of greater interest than Latin; but these advantages are surely trifling when compared with the fact that Latin is the foundation of the languages which half Europe speaks and all Europe understands, and that it was a Latin-speaking people which formed the institutions, legal, social, ecclesiastical, and political, which we now maintain. I suspect that the genius of the English character is too Roman, or at least too anti-Hellenic, to gain as much from a moderate acquaintance with Greek culture as it has gained from a moderate acquaintance with the prominent Latin authors."


The great German experiment in empire-making conducted in these modern days by the "man of blood and iron" brings with it a train of developments which would be startling if they were not so legitimate and natural. Bismarck has the reputation of being a man of action and a great practical administrator, but behind and deeper than all this he is a thinker and a theorist, and the final estimate of him will depend, not on the greatness of the transactions which he has directed, but upon the character of his opinions. He holds certain hypothetical views of human nature, society, and government, and upon these he acts: the question is. Will time vindicate their truth? He is now at the height of power, and is lauded as a bold, sagacious, far-seeing statesman: will the future disclose him as a purblind political quack, as ignorant of his age and of all conditions of national permanence in modern times as the brilliant French adventurer who ravaged Europe in the beginning of the present century? This we shall not undertake to decide, but it looks, at any rate, as if Bismarck were cutting out work for his successors which they will probably not be able to perform.

When recently Professor Virchow solemnly admonished the scientific men of Germany to beware how they exercised the liberty of scientific discussion, lest they provoke governmental interference and suppression, it was thought, outside of Germany, that he was hardly in earnest, and was merely girding at the Darwinians for the sake of effect. Yet he appears to have spoken as if by instruction, for it seems the determined plan of the Imperial Government not to allow that measure of freedom in speech which has become the established policy in other leading countries.

Constitutional government in Prussia, however, is but a recent thing, having sprung up within a generation; while the new German Empire was constituted by the treaties made at Versailles in January, 1871, during the Franco-German war. Taking into account, therefore, the previous discipline of the people, and the coercive military character of German state policy, too much in the way of liberality is certainly not to be expected in a short time. But it is nevertheless interesting and instructive to see how things hang together, and how one thing involves and leads to another in a thoroughly arbitrary form of government.

The German Empire, made up by the recent amalgamation of twenty-six states, and containing about 43,000,000 people, sustains an army on a peace footing of 1,283,791 soldiers, with 31,843 officers and upward of 300,000 horses. Military service is compulsory, and the army is sustained by conscription. The strengthening of the measures by which the military system is maintained is illustrated by the following paragraph which recently appeared in the newspapers: "Sixty young men having quitted the district of Thaun, Alsace, to avoid conscription, they have been sentenced, by default, to 1,200 marks fine, or 200 days imprisonment, and to the seizure of their property to that amount."

That the maintenance of such a vast army in time of peace by grinding taxation, and for purposes of despotic violence, should have engendered a profound spirit of revolt against the institutions and social order of the country, is not surprising. Socialism is but the correlative of a rampant imperialism—the shadow of Bismarck. Did the Chancellor expect that people with their eyes open would not observe, and in this age that they would not think and comment upon what they saw? At any rate, he resolved to stifle all expressions of Socialistic doctrine in the German Empire, and this he is no doubt at present quite able to do. The effects of the Socialist law are thus represented by a writer in Berlin: "The Prussian and German police in general is an admirable piece of machinery. It is almost as thorough and effective as the German army. It has never done its work better than in hunting down the Socialists. Up to December 22d, 144 clubs, 44 newspapers, and 157 books and pamphlets had been suppressed." The slaughter, or "pigsticking," as the Chancellor is said to have grimly styled the game, has gone on briskly since that time; and the columns of the "Reichsanzeiger" give no sign that the authorities are becoming weary or merciful. The chief Socialist leaders have been turned out of Berlin, and it is difficult for them to find in Germany rest for the soles of their feet. Some are in prison. A few have emigrated in despair to America. In a few weeks perhaps no trace of the Socialist agitation will be discernible on the face of German society. But will the danger be gone when it is put out of sight? The Chancellor can not draw a cordon round the Fatherland and exclude the poisonous literature printed in London, Brussels, Verviers, or Geneva, The malady will not be cured because it is driven into the system. The seductiveness of Socialist opinions will not be a whit less than it is because the Government appears to dread them, and to have no confidence in the weapons of reason against the wild ideas that have taken hold of multitudes.

Believing in no half-way policy, Bismarck has cow pushed his tactics a step further; the gagging of the people is followed by a proposal to gag the German Parliament, the "Reichstag." Previous enactments having muzzled the press and silenced the voice of public meetings, a law was still required to fetter legislative debate whenever it threatened to take a range displeasing to the authority by which the country is really ruled. It is difficult for us to put the case in any other way than that Bismarck is ruling Germany by a policy which he knows will not bear free discussion.

That a Government founded upon arbitrary power, which plunders the country to sustain its armies, drags young men into its armies, drives children to school, and crushes the liberty of speech, should apply its restrictive methods also to trade, is not surprising. The enslavement of commerce belongs with the other tyrannical practices and enactments of the past; and the liberty of commerce can come only with the other liberties when the militant compulsory forms of society are outgrown or subordinated. That Bismarck should favor the hampering of German trade by increasing restrictive duties, as shown by a recent letter upon the subject, is no more surprising than his violations of the other natural rights of German citizens. Tariffs are the best means by which rapacious governments can get possession of the money of the people, and Bismarck must have money.