Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/September 1887/Editor's Table
CULTURE AND CHARACTER.
THAT intellectual superiority is not an end in itself is apparent from more than one consideration. Comte has said with truth that "we get tired of knowing, but never get tired of loving"; and a writer who carries more authority still has said that, when tongues fail and knowledge ceases, charity will still abide. What seems to decide the question, however, is the fact that, when knowledge or intellectual power is made an end in itself, the result is more or less failure and disappointment. "Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers," the poet has said; and, to a reflective mind, the distinction between the two is not difficult to seize. He who has knowledge only, knows things and their relations; himself and his relations, above all himself in his relation to the true human ideal, he does not know. He seeks to make his knowledge subservient to his own personal ends; he does not regard it as a revelation of duties to be done, of sacrifices to be made, of heights to be attained. He who has wisdom, on the other hand, holds his knowledge in trust for higher than personal ends, and makes us realize, as other men do not, the true value and dignity of knowledge.
Character, then, is the principal thing. It is character that we continually find to be limiting and conditioning culture; that is to say, if culture is not carried farther than we find it to be in certain cases, the reason is that the character, the moral nature, has not been such as to support and sustain a truly generous culture. There is, perhaps, a finely-developed æstheticism in certain directions, but the lack of culture's perfect work is seen in a certain hard materialism of personal aspiration. The disciple, perchance apostle, of beauty is far from beautiful when we get a glimpse of his inner life and essential aims. He has never learned that the prime secret of all beauty in human life lies in disinterestedness, in the ability to put self aside, on some occasions at least, and to live in causes and principles and, above all, in one's fellow-beings. Few things are more trying than the mock enthusiasm of very mediocre men and women for things that they have learned to admire as by rote, to hear the jargon of the literary or artistic coterie and to know how little it all means as regards real elevation of character and sentiment. And what we say of literary and artistic coteries we might apply with equal truth to scientific coteries, where minute points of classification and nomenclature are discussed with infinite zeal and warmth, but with far less regard to any advantage to be reaped for the cause of truth and of humanity than to the satisfaction of rival vanities.
In this country we are laboring with great zeal and vast pecuniary resources to promote the cause of culture. We educate, educate, educate, as somebody once said we ought to do; but whether the result is to produce much that can be called culture in any high sense is an open question. A criterion may, perhaps, be found in a comparison of the rising with the now adult generation. Are our young people showing graces of mind and character in more abundant measure than their parents? Are their aims higher? Is their language better? Are their intellectual occupations more serious? Are their manners gentler and more refined? We do not propose to answer these questions dogmatically; but this we say, that, unless there has been an improvement in these several respects, a vast amount of educational effort has not met its full reward. Speaking broadly, it seems to us that the culture of our educated classes, or of the classes supposed to be educated, leaves much to be desired, and we are disposed to think that one reason of this is that we have conceived of education in too purely an intellectual sense. We have thought more of sharpening the thinking faculties than of liberalizing the sentiments or softening the manners. We have introduced too much of rivalry into education, and represented education too much as a preparation for further rivalry in after-life. We have imparted knowledge, but have only to a very moderate extent succeeded in inculcating wisdom; and knowledge without wisdom seems poor, thin, and sometimes even meaningless. We need, as it seems to us, to devote more consideration than we have hitherto done to the question, What is the true ideal of human life? If we can fix upon the true ideal, so can proceed to educate toward that, and our work will then be directed toward something that is an end in itself. The knowledge we impart will be held by a different tenure, and applied in a different spirit. What each one knows will be his or her equipment toward a worthier fulfillment of social duties, a worthier realization of what is best in himself or herself, and not a mere stock-in-trade for the procuring of personal gratifications. What we would chiefly insist upon at present, however, is that, were knowledge pursued in a right spirit, the intellectual gain would be very great. Minds would become more receptive, owing both to the superiority of the motive set before them, and the higher degree of rationality that the whole system of human life and thought would assume. Civilized speech would not show a constant tendency to degenerate into a jargon of slang, if people recognized in speech a social function, not merely a mode and means of self-assertion. It is impossible to find one's self in any fortuitous assemblage of average human beings without being led to reflect how much human intercourse might be improved and beautified if, by some means, we could implant in the mind of each individual a true respect for the rights and feelings of others, and a general sense of what is due to society, considered as the source of unnumbered advantages to all its members. At present it often seems to be a distinct aim with many persons—and these not in any sense social outlaws, but, on the contrary, what would be called "respectable people"—to show how little they care for anything beyond their own pleasure and convenience. The popular idea of "independence," indeed, is largely made up of swagger and aggressiveness; whereas the most primary notion of independence should embrace the making of an honest return for all good received. Thus viewed, the man who wished to be "independent" would see that society got back from him in service something like a compensation for the benefits with which it surrounds him by day and by night. But "independence" in this sense is absolutely inconsistent with swagger or any form of unsocial action or sentiment. We can conceive of some philosophic mind saying to this great nation, "One thing thou lackest." Knowledge we have, and material power and business energy, and back of all this, no doubt, a great fund of true humanity. But the lack is in consciousness of the true aim of life, which is beauty and harmony in all social relations. The voice of Science itself bids us make a true generalization, a true synthesis, before we begin to work out our plans. We have hitherto stopped short too much at the idea of knowledge as an instrument of work and ambition, and have greatly hindered the growth of knowledge thereby. If we now set before us as our main object the building up of character in all its elements, we shall find our progress sure, if not rapid, and shall discover a deeper meaning and value in our labors from year to year and from age to age.
THE TYNDALL BANQUET.
The dinner given to Professor Tyndall in London on the 29th of June, on the occasion of his retirement from his professorship in the Royal Institution, was also intended as a testimonial to the value of his work in the advancement of knowledge. The two hundred guests who participated constituted, according to the English papers, "as large and distinguished a company as ever assembled to do honor to a man of science"; or were "men who have rendered themselves notable in the pursuit and application of the most diverse forms of knowledge." It is questioned if English science has ever been more completely represented than at this banquet, where "the tables were crowded with men whose names are known wherever Nature is studied." Other men, equally eminent and equally representative in various fields, sent letters attesting their hearty concurrence in the honor intended for the investigator and teacher. British public life was represented by Lord Salisbury and other prominent men; literature, by Lord Lytton; and the United States, by Professor Asa Gray. Professor Stokes, President of the Royal Society, presided; and the presidents of several scientific societies were vice-chairmen.
Various reasons were given in the addresses why Professor Tyndall should be particularly honored. The chairman described his researches; Lord Lytton dwelt upon the value of his scientific writings as contributions to literature; Sir Lyon Playfair and the Earl of Derby spoke of the obligations the public service was under to science.
But Professor Tyndall's researches and discoveries were not considered his only claim to recognition. The feeling seemed general that the world was under peculiar obligations to him, of a higher character, because he had made science accessible to the public and attractive to the general reader. Professor Stokes insisted upon the importance, to the general diffusion of science, of expounding its leading principles and results, whether by lectures or by treatises, in which, while they are scientifically sound, popularity of style and general readableness are not sacrificed. Most of those present had had opportunities of being impressed with Professor Tyndall's lucid style and graphic expression in expounding to audiences the salient points of the scientific subject which he brought before them; and the same qualities were apparent in his books.
"Nature" also gives prominence to this feature of Professor Tyndall's work, saying that "if the wide-spread knowledge of science was to be, as it is, an essential condition of national well-being, it was absolutely necessary that the people should know something of, and be in some sort of sympathy with, the methods and conditions of scientific thought. In supplying this need, Professor Tyndall's greatest work has been done. . . . He has, by his lectures and his books, brought the democracy into touch with scientific research. . . . He has done, perhaps, more than any other living man to compel those who regard knowledge as valuable only in so far as it is immediately useful, to admit that the seed which is sown in the laboratory often produces the most abundant harvest in the workshop." The "Times" thinks it not too much to say that the thirty-four years of Tyndall's occupancy of his professorship "have effected more than almost any other contemporary influence to diffuse a love of scientific knowledge among large classes of the community, and to prepare them for the acceptance of many ideas which, at least in their earliest forms, appeared to run counter to others which had been universally received."
We do not suppose that these thoughts are new in England; only that they have just now been given formal, authoritative expression. With reference to Professor Tyndall, they are familiar in the United States, where they were spoken fourteen years ago at a similar banquet given to him at the close of his lectures here; a banquet which was parallel in its significance and the diversified representative character of its company with the one in London. On this occasion. Professor Henry wrote that Professor Tyndall "is not only a distinguished laborer in the line of original research, but also one of the best living expounders of scientific principles. His books. . . have done more to give precise and definite knowledge of the principles of the sciences of which they treat than any other series of works ever published." Professor Safford, of the Dearborn Observatory, said he had shown us "how to employ extensive and deep researches in conveying a maximum of instruction to the world at large"; and Professor Jeffries Wyman desired to honor him "for his many contributions to physical science, and for his strict devotion to the exact methods of bringing scientific truths to light."
Among other features of the addresses at the London dinner deserving special notice are the Earl of Derby's admission that the gains we have derived from the applications of science—great as they are—are as nothing compared with those accruing from the acceptance of scientific habits of thought; and his significant assertion that British politicians have done the best they could for science—"they have let it alone; they have not corrupted it by their intrigues, nor vulgarized it by their squabbles; and they being what they are, and science being what it is, that is probably the best service they could have rendered it."
Under the title of "Lawsuit or Legacy," we published, in the July "Monthly," an article reflecting some-what sharply on the one-sidedness which still survives in many life-insurance contracts; and also alleging that it is not an uncommon practice for the companies, taking advantage of some qualifying technicality in their policies, to resist the payment of death-claims by menacing or openly attacking the character of the deceased. "Millions of dollars," says the writer of the article, "have been withheld from rightful heirs by threats of an exposure—the more vague, the more frightful—of unsuspected crimes and misdeeds of the beloved dead"; and, again, that "thousands of cases, never known to the public, have been compromised, and hundreds of heart-aches and unjust suspicions and fears about the dead which can never be corrected, are aroused in sorrowing but loving breasts by this method of doing business."
In commenting on the article, "The United States Review" takes exception to these statements, claiming that they are not only totally inconsistent with ordinary business self-interest, but contrary to the facts, and otherwise unjust to the companies. Having no concern in the matter beyond a desire that the public shall be accurately informed on the subject, we quote a part of what the "Review" says on this point, premising that, while it writes in the interest of the insurance companies, the tone of its article is both fair and reasonable: "It is only just to say that the companies now doing business in this country have paid over ninety-nine and one half per cent of the death-claims which have been presented without question, and they have paid a large proportion of the remainder without litigation. "When it is remembered that certain cases of fraud arise which it is the duty of an honest management to unearth and expose, the proportion of claims resisted is small. All cases of compromise are brought within the limits of the foregoing statement. It is to-day a most unusual thing for a company to contest a claim. Indeed, we can point to an office founded twenty-two years ago which has never yet appeared as defendant in a suit to recover under one of its policies."