Popular Science Monthly/Volume 18/December 1880/Editor's Table



SIR JOSIAH MASON, the founder of a new Science College, in Birmingham, England, is an old gentleman of eighty-six who has considerable reputation as a rich philanthropist. He amassed an immense fortune by the manufacture of a steel pen of famous reputation and by the business of electro-plating. He spent large sums in establishing hospitals, asylums, and alms-houses, and endowing them for the benefit of deserving persons in want; and, among other public charities, he built and endowed an orphanage capable of receiving, educating, feeding, and clothing five hundred orphan children who were to be helped without regard: to their nationality or religion. His last great benefaction is the establishment and the equipment of a Science College, "to provide for a thorough systematic education in science with a distinctly practical application to the industries of the Midland district and particularly to those of Birmingham (in which the founder has spent the greatest portion of his life), and of Kidderminster, where he was born."

Two courses of study are provided for in the deed of foundation. The course of regular systematic instruction is to be of such a kind as shall qualify students either for passing the examinations necessary to obtain the degrees of Bachelor of Science, or of Doctor of Science, of the University of London; or for any profession or pursuit in which scientific knowledge can be usefully applied. Besides this there is a course of popular instruction in the practical applications of science which it is intended shall be given by means of evening lectures to artisans and others who can not attend the classes of regular systematic instruction. All departments in the college are open to both sexes on the same terms. The faculty consists of able men carefully chosen, and the institution was opened October 1st, with an introductory address by Professor Huxley on "Science and Culture," which is herewith reprinted.

Professor Huxley's interesting discourse was well suited to signalize the occasion which called it forth; but on the other hand there was that in the occasion which gave a telling emphasis to the discussion. The Mason College was put upon a new basis. It was to be broadly devoted to science, and, to prevent interference with this distinctive and comprehensive purpose, its founder excluded "theology," "party politics," and "mere literature" from its scheme of studies.

In thus constituting his college, Sir Josiah Mason must be regarded as representing a pronounced tendency of the age. But the theory of education embodied in his institution was the result of extensive practical intercourse with the common people, and an intimate knowledge of their real wants. He was not an enthusiastic scientific student, run away with by a hobby, but a cool-headed observer of affairs, and the bold ground that he took testifies to both his sagacity and his independence. The founders of colleges and universities are usually ambitious to enlarge their schemes of study, so that "all knowledge" may be obtainable within their precincts. Sir Josiah Mason had the good sense to recognize that, in all such attempts, traditional and fashionable studies will usurp the places of those that are really far more valuable; so he determined to keep out those subjects which would hinder instead of promoting scientific proficiency. It was a plucky thing to do in England, where the reverence for old classical literature amounts to a superstition, while acquaintance with it is held as the sole test of a liberal education.

It would probably not have made much difference what educational absurdity an old man might have perpetrated, as he was himself unlettered, and his college was to be a mere vulgar, useful knowledge dispensatory for working people. But when Professor Huxley came forward and endorsed the wisdom of the founder, and when, moreover, he began to talk about a new and higher type of culture, the offspring of modern thought, and grounded upon science, there were at once symptoms of perturbation and perplexity in the literary circles. There was not, as there could not be, any intelligent controversy with the Professor over the positions he took; but the proprieties had been shocked, and the real question was, where did Huxley stand, and what could the man mean? His concessions, as the reader will see, were large, but that availed little, if he denied the exclusiveness of the old university ideals of culture. The whole pinch is here, for, whenever science is recognized as the foundation of a valuable and desirable mental culture, the progress of thought will soon give it the supreme place as a means of the higher education.


The rapid development in this country of a vast system of state education, under the control of politicians, gives interest to the views of those men on the subject of educational philosophy. President Hayes in his speech, which we referred to last month, is reported to have made the following remarkable statement: "The unvarying testimony of history is that the nations which win the most renowned victories in peace and war are those which provide ample means of popular education." That is, according to the President of the United States, popular education is equally a preparation for victories in peace and victories in war—the destructive practice of savages and the constructive vocations of civilized life. It has been the inspiring hope of multitudes through many ages that the world would yet outgrow the brutal pursuit of war, and they have had faith that this great result would be ultimately achieved by the progress of general enlightenment and the development of the arts of peace which communities would find it for their highest interest to promote. It has been believed that the victories of peace would put an end to the curses of war, because the state of mind they would engender in society must be incompatible with military barbarism. Certainly, if there is deadly antagonism anywhere it is between the interests of war and the interests of peace; but President Hayes seems to think popular education has the marvelous capacity of leading both ways, to triumphant war and victorious peace.

We need not go far for illustrations of inveterate hostility between the interests of peace and war, and for the influence of this conflict in shaping the permanent policy of government. The antagonism casts its malign shadow over all the periods of peace. The commerce and industry of the country are "regulated," not by the intrinsic laws of commercial and industrial prosperity, but with reference to the alleged contingencies of future war. Why should the intercourse of nations be impeded by shackles upon trade? Why should private enterprise be thwarted, and the intelligence of citizens discredited in regard to the course of industrial occupation? Because at some future time we may want to fight the world, and so must keep ourselves independent of it. We are cursed with a war-tariff because we had a domestic war, and must continue it because we may have foreign wars; and thus citizens are coerced this way and that in all their most vital private interests by the predominance of the military spirit.

A more specific illustration is fresh in the minds of all. The opening of a canal at the Isthmus of Darien would be one of the greatest victories of peace in the interest of the world that has ever been accomplished. It would bind the nations in pacific restraints more powerfully than any other international measure ever proposed. But it was resisted in this country in the interests of future war; and President Hayes and the politicians of Congress did all they could to prevent the execution of the work by a disgraceful demagogical perversion of the Monroe doctrine. The popular education of the politicians did not here lead them both ways, according to Hayes's formula; they sacrificed the victories of peace on the pretext of the adverse interests of future war.

President Hayes invokes "the unvarying testimony of history" to establish his proposition, but the problem of the influence and effects of "popular education" is hardly yet historical. Not many "nations" have gone far into the experiment; those which have done so are recent, and the results by no means confirm President Hayes's conclusion. Prussia leads in popular education, and that education is tributary, not to the victories of peace, but to the victories of war, the first fruit of which is a grinding military despotism. The popular education of Germany, moreover, exemplifies in a marked degree the antagonism we have referred to, and is wholly subordinated to military ends. The following remarks of Professor Dabney, in a late number of the "Princeton Review," bear decisively upon this point: "Recent history is more instructive, because it offers us illustrious experiments of popular education carried for two generations as far as it is ever likely to be carried. Our overweening hopes of good from mere mental culture are much curtailed by observing that the condition of Christendom was never more ominous and feverish than it now is, after these efforts at education. Military preparations were never so immense, or so onerous to the national industry. The spirit of war was once ascribed to the ambition of kings, regardless of the blood of their peace-loving subjects. But we now see that, since the instructed peoples have acquired influence in the governments of Europe, this fell passion is more rife than ever. It seems, moreover, that the German nation, the most educated one of all, is in as unstable a condition as the rest. The wildest political heresies prevail; and these rulers, the special and boasted exemplars of popular education, rely least on popular intelligence, and most on the sword, to save society from destruction. Intelligent men there dismiss the idea with ridicule that any actual diffusion of intelligence among the peasantry, by the schools, is the real safeguard of their universal suffrage. They tell us that not one in three exercises his accomplishment of reading when an adult—a statement which the scanty circulation of newspapers among them confirms. They say that the primary schools are useful chiefly as a drill in obedience. They teach the child early to submit to superiors, to move at the sound of a bell, to endure tasks, to fear penalties, to study punctuality, at the command of others. Then comes the conscription, and seven years' drill in arms, to confirm the habit of submission. Thus the German system produces a peasant who is in the habit of voting as the upper classes bid him, not of thinking for himself! It is presumed that this picture of the virtues of the system is not very flattering to our American hopes."


In the death of Dr. Seguin, which occurred October 28th, the community has lost a man of genius and also of peculiar and eminent usefulness. Though a physician, and devoting himself to a specialty in his profession, the results of his studies are of very broad application, and are sure to be increasingly appreciated in the future.

Dr. Seguin was born at Clamecy, in France, in 1812, studied medicine and surgery in Paris, and early devoted himself to the investigation of nervous diseases, and particularly to the nature and treatment of idiocy. When he took up the subject of the education and training of the weak-minded, it had been but very little explored; there was profound and widespread ignorance of all its principles, and it was hedged about by inveterate prejudices and superstitions. In the seventeenth century St. Vincent de Paul gathered a few idiots and labored assiduously for years to instruct them, though with very little success. In 1799 Jean Gaspard Itard, an eminent French surgeon and a disciple of Condillac, grappled with the problem in the case of the "wild boy of Aveyron." This was an idiot found in the forests of Aveyron, and who was taken up by Itard for the purpose of solving "the metaphysical problem of determining what might be the degree of intelligence and the nature of the ideas in a lad who, deprived from birth of all education, should have lived entirely separated from the individuals of his kind." The philosophy of the time was consonant with its theology; for, while theology taught that man is fallen from a primitive state of paradisaical innocence, philosophy held that he has fallen away from the perfection of a "state of nature." Hence there was great curiosity to find out what would be the state of mind of one who had not been perverted by association with civilized people. Nothing, of course, came of Itard's experiment, except that he had got hold of an idiot of low grade, and satisfied himself that it might be possible to improve such natures in some small degree.

Dr. Seguin was a pupil of Itard (who lived till 1838), and, receiving from his teacher the facts and results that he had gathered, young Seguin entered systematically upon this line of study. The subject was beset with great difficulties, and the young Frenchman entered upon it with enthusiasm as a labor of love, and devoted several years to a thorough research into the causes and philosophy of idiocy and the best methods of dealing with it. As the investigation was a practical one, Dr. Seguin organized schools in connection with public institutions and also under private control; and it was the successful results in these establishments which became the basis of his numerous publications on his chosen subject. In 1839 he published, in connection with the celebrated alienist Esquirol, his first pamphlet; and in 1846 he put forth an elaborate treatise expounding his system of the treatment of the idiotic and weak-minded. This work became at once the authorized text-book of the subject, and placed its author in the front rank of living physiological psychologists.

Dr. Seguin came to this country in 1848, and resided for ten years in Ohio. He then returned to Paris, but came back in 1862, and has lately resided in New York. He continued his observations and inquiries on the subject of idiocy in this country, and organized several institutions devoted to their care and training. He, moreover, had the satisfaction of seeing the rise of a great number of schools for the feeble-minded and lowly organized, which adopted his methods of cultivation with remarkable success. To him, in fact, more than to any other man, belongs the immortal honor of showing to what a degree the badly-born—the congenital failures of nature—can still be redeemed and elevated to comparative usefulness. How much has been thus gained by the combination of scientific knowledge and skillful, persevering art is thus stated by Professor Seguin himself: "Not one in a thousand has been entirely refractory to treatment; not one in a hundred who has not been made more happy and healthy; more than thirty per cent, have been taught to conform to social and moral law, and rendered capable of order, of good feeling, and of working like the third of a man; more than forty per cent, have become capable of the ordinary transactions of life under friendly control, of understanding moral and social abstractions, of working like two-thirds of a man; and twenty-five to thirty per cent, come nearer and nearer to the standard of manhood, till some of them will defy the scrutiny of good judges when compared with ordinary young women and men."

Dr. Seguin was the author of many publications, the last of which was the second edition of his "Report on Education" as United States Commissioner at the Vienna Universal Exposition. We noticed this report upon its first appearance, but a revised edition appears this year from the press of Doerflinger, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This little volume is of much interest to educators. It treats the subject by the physiological method, which is the point of view to be taken in the education of childhood. Part I is devoted to Infant Education, the Kindergarten, and what are called Physiological Infant Schools. Part II considers the Education of Deaf Mutes; Part III the Education of Idiots; and Part IV applies the results arrived at to Popular Education as it is and as it should be. The book is full of valuable information and pregnant suggestions, taking their complexion from the author's professional experience, scientific observations, and peculiar line of studies.

We began by remarking that Dr. Seguin's special studies have a breadth of application that reaches far beyond the technical schools for the feeble-minded. He has taught the world the difficult task of elevating idiots into rational beings. An intelligent appreciation of his philosophy might at least prevent us from doing the opposite—turning rational beings into idiots in our popular schools. If any are curious about the rationale of this process, we refer them to the article on "The Artificial Production of Stupidity in Schools," in the second number of "The Popular Science Monthly."