Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 25/May 1884/Editor's Table

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
PROGRESS AND SOCIAL IMPROVEMENT.

THE contrasts in the social condition of rich and poor—the lofty, luminous mountains of wealth, and the deep, dark valleys of poverty—have ever formed a picturesque subject for rhetorical treatment, which has always made popular such books as "The Glory and the Shame of England." Mr. George's "Progress and Poverty" vividly pictures the social contrasts but ventures further, and opens the question of causes. He points to the millionaires, and their works, and their ostentation; to the beggars in their wretchedness, and says society is sick, very sick, and growing sicker every day; and, after sufficiently declaiming over its dangerous condition, he says, Here is the cause of the malady and this is the pill that will cure it. It had been supposed that social progress involved improvement, through many correlated agencies and by slow methods, but on this theory the sovereign use of Mr. George's pill was not so apparent. So, with a stroke at the close of his book, he smashed Darwin with his dawdling evolution, and thus cleared the way for his own prescription to cure the poverty and wretchedness of mankind.

Yet the rhetorician is not the man to deal with these subjects—except for literary or sensational purposes. A quite different order of mind is required to give us sound instruction upon them. First of all we must know the facts, not in a vague and general way, but accurately and in detail, and so classified that their real meanings are unmistakable. England, as we have intimated, is the country where social contrasts are most striking—where superabounding wealth is set off against the extremest destitution, poverty, and squalid wretchedness; and England, therefore, must afford the most terrible example of that alleged downward working of progress, which but continually aggravates the evils of poverty.

It was fitting, therefore, that a widely informed and thoroughly disciplined student of social facts, the President of the Statistical Society, Dr. Robert Giffen, should take up this subject carefully and systematically, and furnish us with trustworthy conclusions in regard to it. Dr. Giffen has prepared an elaborate essay on "The Progress of the Working-Classes in the last Half-Century," fragments of which have appeared in some newspapers, but which we now give to the readers of "The Popular Science Monthly" in full. It does not confirm the theories of Henry George, but, on the contrary, invalidates them. As Mr. Gladstone writes to Dr. Giffen: "I have read with great pleasure your masterly paper. It is probably in form and in substance the best reply to George."

Dr. Giffen goes exhaustively into the particulars of the social condition of the working-classes of England fifty years ago, and at the present time. He shows that wages have very greatly increased in that period, and he shows how much they have increased with different classes of laborers. He shows that accompanying this increase in the money-earnings of the masses there has been a marked diminution in the prices of all the chief articles which the masses consume. Moreover, while the money wages have increased, the hours of labor are diminished. And, while the purchasing power of money has been increased over the whole range of necessaries and conveniences to be had fifty years ago, there are many new things in existence at a low price which could not then have been bought at all. Free trade has cheapened wheat in England to such an extent as to revolutionize the domestic economy of the poorer classes. The fluctuations in the price of bread half a century ago and earlier led to periodic starvation; with free trade those fluctuations are greatly diminished, while the higher wages of laborers afford better protection against them. Meats generally, except bacon, have increased sensibly in price; but meat, fifty years ago, was a luxury to a great degree out of the reach of the laboring-classes. Rents are also higher, but the houses are much better; while the laborer, consuming meat, and with superior household accommodations, has still a large surplus from the rise of wages, as Dr. Giffen proves in detail. It is also shown that the cost of government has been greatly diminished to the working-man. Taxes are less, and local government is cheaper. Education is greatly reduced in cost, postage is cheapened, free libraries are open, sanitary measures are carried out, and such has been the general and substantial social improvement that life has been lengthened with a gain of two years in the average duration among males, and of nearly three and a half years among females. No such change could take place without a great increase in the vitality of the people.

We enumerate some of these points in this opportune and admirable paper that our readers may be attracted to read it with care, and not pass it by because of its length and its tabular statistics, which are, in fact, its most important part.

 

 
YALE PROFESSORS ON COLLEGE STUDIES.

The "Princeton Review" for March opens with an article, by Professor George P. Fisher, of Yale College, on "The Study of Greek," and to this succeeds an article entitled "Our Colleges before the Country," by Professor William G. Sumner, of the same institution. Both papers deserve attention. Dr. Fisher begins his discussion of Greek by making some concessions which are significant at the present time. He says:

The defense of the classics is often based on exaggerated statements, and is really weakened by being placed on narrow grounds. It is idle to pretend that the study of the classics is as indispensable to culture now as it was three or four centuries ago.

There is truth in Macaulay's sharp saying, that if "ancient literature was the ark in which all the civilization of the world was preserved during the deluge of barbarism," still we do not read "that Noah thought himself bound to live in the ark after the deluge had subsided." At present there is an abundance of good reading in the modern languages. If the choice were given us whether to give to the flames the entire English literature of the last three centuries, or all the writings of the Greeks and Romans, the classics would have to perish. If we superadd to the English authors the German, French, and Italian writers of the modern period, there can be no question as to the literary value of the aggregate of these treasures when compared with the literature of antiquity, collectively taken. A man who has studied Lessing, Goethe, and Kant, Pascal, Molière, and Sainte-Beuve, Shakespeare, Milton, Locke, and Wordsworth, with Luther's Bible or the authorized English version, can not be regarded as an uncultured person, even if he has never opened the covers of a Latin and Greek classic. Still less can he be thus stigmatized if he has acquainted himself with Homer and Thucydides, Tacitus and Horace, Plato and Cicero, through the medium of fairly good translations into the vernacular.

The sweeping assertion sometimes hazarded, that classical training is in all cases necessary for distinctively literary excellence—for perfection of style—is contradicted by too many facts. Every one who has read the pages of John Bunyan, or the speeches of John Bright, knows better. Johnson was much more of a classical scholar than Goldsmith, but Goldsmith's English is far better than Johnson's. Native genius and tact have too large an influence in this matter to admit of any such universal rule or test as the classical bigots would lay down.

It is a very narrow view which holds that there is only one method of education—one beaten track on which all must walk.

It is not all persons who aspire after an intellectual life who are to be recommended to spend their time upon Greek, or even upon Latin. There is no good reason why many young persons, who devote a series of years to mental training in schools and colleges, should not, in case their aptitudes and intended vocation so prompt them, dispense with Greek, and pursue, in the room of it, the natural and physical sciences, or the modern languages, or both.

These cautious concessions, though no doubt entirely candid, have evidently been extracted from the professor by the strain which has been recently put upon the classical question, for he recognizes that the movement which broke out at Harvard College under the impulse of Mr. Adams's address, and which is understood to be favored by the president of that institution, will probably result in a modification of the collegiate course, and that "in this case the example of Harvard is likely to be followed by a greater or less number of other colleges." But, while yielding these several points, Dr. Fisher is careful not to surrender the main classical position, which is, to maintain the prestige of Greek and Latin as the essential elements of a broad, liberal education. He here stands upon the old ground and plies the old arguments, the most important of which seems to us strikingly unsatisfactory. Dr. Fisher says:

The objects of study, the object-matter, are the world and man. The "world" is here the synonym of nature. It embraces the physical universe, including the earth, its productions, and its inhabitants other than men. This is the realm of the natural and physical sciences. The grand progress of these studies is the most striking feature of the times, as regards the advance of knowledge. No one can be called an educated man at this day who is ignorant of the departments of inquiry which deal with nature. They provide, when earnestly pursued, a discipline of their own. But they can never supersede as a means of culture the study of man. This is the "proper study of mankind," the supreme object of curiosity, and source of mental and moral development. In this statement, religion is not forgotten; but it is through the contemplation of man primarily, and of nature, that we learn of God. Man—what he is, what he has thought and done, the civilization which he has created—this is that object of study, to which belongs a transcendent worth. In this study, embracing history, philosophy, politics, literature, religion, are the fountains from which cultivation is to be derived. To an individual cultivated thus, the sciences of nature gain a new quality, an ideal element, a suggestiveness, of which, independently of this advantage, they are destitute.

Man as an object of study is here separated from nature, and the separation is held to be so complete as to give rise to two great divisions of study. These are independent of each other, may be separately pursued, and result in two distinct systems of education. Science may take nature, and the classics will appropriate man, as the respective objects of study. Dr. Fisher says:

Now, at the foundation of a thorough and comprehensive survey of nature there lies one branch of knowledge. At the foundation of the thorough and comprehensive study of man there lies another. Each of these two fundamental studies is essential to the full understanding of things that now are—of nature as it is spread out before us, and of humanity in its present advanced condition. In other words, the present scene, in order to be radically comprehended, must be looked at in the light of these two fundamental studies.

Dr. Fisher then proceeds to work out this view, by referring to mathematics, which is a leading element in all liberal education, and showing its fundamental relation in the sphere of the sciences of nature; and he then makes the surprising affirmation that what mathematics is in the study of nature that also is classics in the study of man. He says, "Analogous to the relations of mathematics to the sciences of nature is the relation of the Græco-Roman history and civilization to our modern society." And, after referring to the historic position of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Hebrews, and their providential relation to modern affairs, he says, "As God has made nature mathematically, so he has governed the life and development of mankind as here indicated." The succeeding steps of the argument are obvious. To understand man and modern things we must study the ancients, and "how shall this knowledge of antiquity be obtained? It can be obtained after a fashion at second hand. But for a 'liberal' education, for that direct and penetrating view of ancient society which alone satisfies the ideal of such a culture, the languages of Greece and Rome must be learned. In the study of them the youth is put into immediate intercourse with the mind of the ancients. The veil is lifted."

Now, the first objection to this view is that, as a matter of fact, the veil is not lifted, and the minds of college youth are not "put into immediate intercourse with the mind of the ancients." It is notorious that, after five or ten years of study, "the average pupil can not read the Greek and Latin authors with any facility. Unable to read them, he lays them aside forever. Not unfrequently he sells the books which he has laboriously conned." Dr. Fisher, in referring to this objection, admits that it "can not be confuted by a sneer." It has so much truth that he recognizes it as "a deserved rebuke to methods of teaching which have come into vogue, and which loudly call for reform." This is a tacit confession that the study of Greek and Latin, which Dr. Fisher holds to be the key to a great department of knowledge concerning man and human society, is a total failure with the great mass of college students.

But the whole argument is futile. Man is not to be separated from nature as an object of study. He is a part of nature, and can only be understood as nature is understood, and by exactly the same mental procedures. Mathematics is a fundamental condition of the sciences of nature, and they can not be cultivated or understood without it. To say that the classical languages hold any such relation to the study of man is preposterous. We have man and all his activities and institutions before us, to be directly explored by observation, analysis, comparison, and all the perfected intellectual processes by which truth is established and knowledge extended. To be sure, we have not the ancients before us, but to understand them we had better study living men and existing society rather than to waste time on dead languages which, in nine cases out of ten, are never sufficiently learned to be of the slightest use for the purpose here contemplated. When living men are first studied and understood, translations will quite suffice to apply that knowledge to the interpretation of the ancients. That there is a science of man, though yet imperfect, and a science of mind rapidly growing, and a science of society roughly established, it is impossible to deny, and they determine for us the method of future investigation. And it is not by the study of ancient languages that these sciences have been created, nor is it by their ardent devotees that they are being now pursued and developed. As it is mainly by the men who have given the classics the go-by that all science has been cultivated, so it is to-day by men who are ignorant or not at all proficient in those old studies that the higher sciences pertaining to humanity are most vigorously and successfully pursued. And as it is not to the classicists but to the scientists that the world must look for further light on the nature, activities, and relations of man, so it is not to the dead languages but to the modern sciences that young men are to be commended to gain the best understanding of humanity, both in the present and the past.

Professor Sumner's article, "Our Colleges before the Country," is written from the thoroughly modern point of view. It is a breezy discussion of college tactics, and quite unprofessorial in the freedom of its criticisms of college functionaries' habits, ideas, and studies. Appreciating the merits of classical study, and acknowledging his own indebtedness to it. Professor Sumner is alive to its short-comings, the exaggerated claims that are made for it, and the bad results that flow from its prescriptive position in modern collegiate education. We quote some passages from this admirable article, some of which it will be seen are not without bearing upon the preceding discussion:

Now, however, the advocates of the old classical culture, ignoring or ignorant of all the change which has come over human knowledge and philosophy within fifty years, come forward to affirm that that culture still is the best possible training for our young men and the proper basis for the work of our colleges. How do they know it? How can anybody say that one thing or another is just what is needed for education? Can we not break down this false and stupid notion that it is the duty of a university, not to teach whatever any one wants to know, but to prescribe to everybody what he ought to want to know? Some years ago, at a school-meeting in one of our cities, a gentleman made an argument against the classics. A distinguished clergyman asked him across the room whether he had ever studied the classics. He replied that he had not. "I thought not," replied the clergyman, as he sat down. He was thought to have won a great victory, but he had not. His opponent should have asked him whether he had ever studied anything else. Where is the man who has studied beyond the range of the classical culture who retains his reverence for that culture as superior to all other for the basis of education? No doubt a man of classical training often looks back with pleasure and gratitude to his own education and feels that it has been of value to him; but when he draws an inference, either that no other course of discipline would have been worth more to himself, or that no other discipline can be generally more useful as a basis of education, he forms a judgment on a comparison one branch of which is to him unknown.

When, however, all this is admitted in regard to the uses of a classical training, what does it prove in regard to the claims of the classics to be made the basis of all higher education, or the toll which every one must pay before he can be admitted to the guild of the learned? Nothing at all. I have known splendid Greek scholars who could not construct a clear and intelligible argument of six sentences. They always became entangled in subtilties of phrase and super-refinement of words. I have known other great Greek scholars who wrote an English which was so dull that scarcely any one could read it. On the other hand, there are men whose names are household words wherever the English language is spoken, because they can say what they mean in clear, direct, and limpid English, although they have never had any classical culture at all. I have known whole classes to graduate at our colleges who had never read a line of Aristotle, and who had not a single correct notion about the life and polity of the Greeks. Men graduate now all the time who know nothing of Greek history and polity but the fragments which they pick out of the notes on the authors which they read. It is grotesque to talk about the recondite charms and graces of classical culture when one knows what it amounts to for all but here and there one. It is a rare thing for a man to graduate who has read Grote or Curtius, although he has studied Greek for five or six years. Any one who reads no Greek and never goes to college, but reads Grote or Curtius, knows far more of Greek life, polity, and culture than any but the most exceptional college graduate. I do not believe that this was formerly true. It appears that faithful students in former times used such means as then existed for becoming familiar with classical life and history far more diligently than is now customary. Classical studies, having sunk to a perfunctory character, now stand in the way of faithful study of anything.

I go further, and, if the classics are still proposed as the stem of a liberal education, to be imposed upon every student who seeks a university training, I argue that classical culture has distinct and mischievous limitations. The same may no doubt be said of any other special culture, and whenever any other culture is put forward as possessing some exclusive or paramount value, it will be in order to show that fact. I do not doubt that I gained great profit from a classical training. Part of the profit I was conscious of. I think it very likely that I won other profit of which I was unconscious. I know that it cost me years of discipline to overcome the limitations of the classical training, and to emancipate my mind from the limited range of processes in which it had been trained. For the last ten years I have taught political economy to young men of twenty-one years or thereabout who had been prepared for me by training in a curriclum based on classics. They have acquired certain facilities. They have a facility in "recitation" which is not always produced by familiarity with the subject. The art of recitation is an art all by itself. Very often it is all a man has won from his college training. Sometimes it consists in beating out a little very thin, so as to make it go a great way; sometimes it consist in "going on one's general information," and profiting to the utmost by any hint in the question; sometimes it consists in talking rapidly about something else than the question. Some men never can come to a point, but soar in lofty circles around and over the point, showing that they have seen it from a distance; others present rags and tags of ideas and phrases, showing that they have read the text, and that here and there a word has stuck in the memory without sequence or relation. The habit of reading classics with a "pony" for years has produced these results. Many of these men must he regarded with pity because their mental powers have been miseducated for years, and when they try to acquire something, to make it their own, to turn it into a concise and correct statement and utter it again, they can not do it. They have only acquired some tricks of speech and memory.

The case of men who have studied honestly, but who have been educated almost exclusively on grammar, is different. No doubt they have gained a great deal, but I find that they hardly ever know what a "law" is in the scientific sense of the word. They think that it is like a rule in grammar, and they are quite prepared to find it followed by a list of exceptions. They very often lack vigor and force in thinking. They either accept authority too submissively, if the notion which is presented does not clash with any notions they had received before, or, if they argue, they do so on points of dialectical ingenuity. They do not join issue closely and directly, and things do not fall into order and range in their minds. They seem to be quite contented to take things and hold them in a jumble. It is rare to find one who has scholarship enough to look up an historical or biographical reference. It is generally assumed by them that if "no lesson has been given out" they have nothing to do. One of the most peculiar notions is that a "lecture" has no such importance as a "recitation"; that to cut the former is of no consequence, but that to cut the latter is serious. In short, the habits and traditions in which men have been trained when they reach senior year in college are such that they are yet boys in responsibility, and, although they are very manly and independent in many respects, they are dependent and unmanly in their methods of study, in their conception of duty, in their scholarship, and in their code of conduct in all that affects the institution. It has been claimed for the classics that they give guidance for conduct. This is, to me, the most amazing claim of all, for, in my experience and observation, the most marked fact about classical culture is that it gives no guidance in conduct at all.

The tendency of classical studies is to exalt authority, and to inculcate reverence for what is written, rather than for what is true. Men educated on classics are apt to be caught by the literary form, if it is attractive. They are fond of paradoxes, and will entertain two contradictory ideas, if only each come in a striking literary dress. They think that they prove something when they quote somebody who has once said it. If any one wants to keep out "new ideas," he does well to cling to classical studies. They are the greatest barrier to new ideas and the chief bulwark of modern obscurantism. The new sciences have produced in their votaries an unquenchable thirst and affection for what is true in fact, word, character, and motive. They have taught us to appreciate and weigh evidence and to deal honestly with it. Here a strong contrast with classical training has been developed, not because classical training led men to be false, but because the scientific love of truth is something new and intense. Men of classical training rarely develop the power to go through from beginning to end of a course of reasoning on a straight line. They go on until they see that they are coming out at a result which they do not like. Then they make a bend and aim for a result which they do like, not regarding the broken continuity, or smoothing it over as carefully as possible. Classical training, in the world of to-day, gives a man a limited horizon. There is far more beyond it than within it. He is taught to believe that he has sounded the depths of human knowledge when he knows nothing about its range or amount. If any one wants to find prime specimens of the Philistinism which Matthew Arnold hates, he should seek them among the votaries of the culture which Matthew Arnold loves. The popular acuteness long ago perceived this, and the vile doctrines of anti-culture have sprung up and grown just in proportion as culture has come to have an artificial and technical definition, as something foreign to living interests.

 

 
SPENCER ON PARLIAMENTARY INFLUENCE.

Mr. Herbert Spencer, having been invited to allow his name to be submitted to the Liberal Association of Leicester as a candidate for Mr. Peter Taylor's parliamentary seat, has written a letter to the Rev. J. Page Hops, one of the committee, declining the invitation on several grounds. We reprint the communication:

38 Queen's-Gardens, Bayswater, W.,
February 21.

 

My dear Sir: While I am gratified by the compliment, and by the manifestation of sympathy implied in your proposal, I fear I can not respond to it in the way you wish. Several reasons, each of them sufficient, deter me.

In the first place, my health is such that discharge of parliamentary duties would be impossible. When I tell you that until last night I have not dined out for nearly a year, because I have been unable to bear the amount of excitement involved, you will see that it would be absolutely out of the question for me to undertake the nightly wear and tear which the life of a member entails. Even in the best state of that variable health which I have had these twenty-eight years, I am able to write, or rather to dictate, only three hours a day; and such being the case, you will see that the labors implied by active political life, could I bear them, would make it impossible for me to do other work. As I regard such other work as by far the more important—as I think I can do more good by endeavoring to complete what I have undertaken than by occupying myself in listening to debates and giving votes—I should not feel that I was doing right in exchanging the one career for the other.

Far too high an estimate is, I think, made of the influence possessed in our day by a member of Parliament, now that he has come to be, much more than in past times, subject to his constituents—now that the House of Commons as a whole is more and more obliged to subordinate itself to public opinion; the implication is, that those who form public opinion are those who really exercise power. It is becoming a common remark that we are approaching a state in which laws are practically made out-of-doors, and simply registered by Parliament; and if so then the actual work of legislation is more the work of those who modify the ideas of the electors than of those who give effect to their ideas. So regarding the matter, I conceive that I should not gain influence, but rather should lose influence, by ceasing to be a writer and becoming a representative.

But, apart from these general reasons, there is the more special reason that, if chosen by the electors of Leicester, I should prove a very impracticable member. My views on political matters are widely divergent from those of all political parties at present existing. That which I hold to be the chief business of legislation—an administration of justice such as shall secure to each person, with certainty and without cost, the maintenance of his equitable claims—is a business to which little attention is paid; while attention is absorbed in doing things which I hold should not be done at all. As I could not agree to be merely a delegate, voting as was desired by those who sent me, but should have in all cases to act on my own judgment, I should be in continual antagonism to my constituents, most of whom, Liberal as well as Conservative, hold opinions from which I dissent, and who would wish me to support measures which I entirely disapproved. Hence, even if elected, I should be quickly called upon to resign.

You will thus see that the choice of me as a candidate would be extremely impolitic, even had I no reason of a personal kind for declining to stand. Thanking you for your kind expressions, and regretting that I am unable to accede to your request, believe me, sincerely yours,

(Signed)Herbert Spencer.

 

To this letter the reverend gentleman to whom it was addressed replied, regretting that the state of Mr. Spencer's health and work would not permit him to engage in parliamentary duties, but declaring that the other reasons which Mr. Spencer assigned for not taking the nomination were most excellent reasons why he should consent to it. "Leicester," said Mr. Page Hops, "in the person of Mr. Taylor has had an admirable training in the art of letting its members alone, and I trust it will be still further developed in this direction. You certainly will never be called upon ‘to resign’ by such a constituency as ours; and I am truly sorry that your health and your work will not allow you to make proof of this."

In itself, this transaction is perhaps of small moment, but it has significance as showing that in England at least there is a decline in the consideration formerly attached to political office-holding, which is accompanied by an equally significant increase on the part of constituencies of resistance to partisan domination. When Mr. Spencer says that "far too high an estimate is made of the influence possessed in our day by a member of Parliament," this is not so much a mere personal opinion as the expression of a palpable and widely admitted truth. The letter has elicited extensive discussion, and the most influential organs of public sentiment in that country unhesitatingly acknowledge it. The "Pall Mall Gazette" remarks: "No one who has had any experience of the inner working of our constitution can gainsay this dictum. The real governing force in the country at present is not Parliament but public opinion, and the shaping of public opinion is a work which, in all but a few exceptional cases, can be much more effectively carried on outside Parliament than from within its walls."

But the offer of the Leicester constituency to be represented in Parliament by the most radical thinker in England, a man of no party, and holding views widely divergent from those entertained by both parties, is especially instructive as showing the value assigned to independence of thought, and the recognized supremacy of principles in English politics. Without assuming that this action of the Leicester politicians is at all representative of the intelligence and independence of other English constituencies, the general and quite emphatic approval of their course shows that it is in wide agreement with English thought. While it is generally admitted that Mr. Spencer did wisely in declining to enter Parliament, even if his bad health were not a barrier, and on the ground that he can do his work better outside of the parliamentary walls than within them, not a word of objection that we can discover has been raised on personal grounds, or because of the extreme and obnoxious opinions which it has become customary to impute to Mr. Spencer. The implication is that his non-partisan independence and his radical views would be excellent things in Parliament, but that his influence would be greater outside of it.