Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/April 1874/Editor's Table
THE present number closes the second year and the fourth volume of The Popular Science Monthly. That it met a demand is shown by the fact that it has been better sustained than any other scientific magazine of its class that has been started in any country. That it has fulfilled its early promise in the estimation of the public, is shown also by the fact that it has been increasingly commended with each succeeding issue. We wish to make it still better, but our power to do so will depend upon the liberality of its patronage; and we therefore solicit all who would increase its strength and extend its usefulness, to do what they can to make it more widely known in their respective circles of inquiring and intelligent readers. The Monthly is as yet known to but very few of those who would appreciate and prize it, and our friends can do much, as many of them have already done, by lending their copies to thoughtful neighbors, and inducing them to form clubs.
In regard to the character of The Popular Science Monthly, we have preferred to let it speak for itself, and have made no parade of the numerous and flattering commendations of it which we have received from eminent sources. But there come a few words regarding the importance of our work from a distant country, which we may be excused for giving to our readers.
From a letter of Mr. Bancroft, American minister at the court of Berlin, to the publishers in New York, we select the following passage: "I receive from time to time your Popular Science Monthly, which I think excellent in itself and perfectly adapted to its purpose of diffusing knowledge and a right way of thinking more widely among the people. I have done what I could to spread the knowledge of the periodical, and it is here very highly esteemed. Prof. Helmholtz and Prof. Dubois-Reymond have both spoken to me their opinions very much in its favor, and higher authority could not be found. I should not do justice to my own opinions if I did not add how well I think you deserve of, the country for the persistent and judicious manner in which you employ your great influence through your business to spread through the country the important works of science as fast as they appear. In this way you give very material aid toward educating the coming generation to the love of truth and a knowledge of the world in which they live."
In the same letter Mr. Bancroft adds: "I send you to-day a copy of a masterly address of Prof. Dubois-Reymond, who, you know, stands among the highest in his branch of science: I hope you will have it translated and published in The Popular Science Monthly. No essay of the kind since I have been in Germany has attracted so much attention, and, as you see, it has already arrived at its third edition." The address here spoken of is on "The Limits of our Knowledge of Nature." It is certainly a masterly discussion, and will appear in our next issue.
Of the great movement of modern culture, one of the most important phases is that now recognized as the "higher education of woman." That woman requires a better education than she has hitherto had, and that it should also be of a higher grade, are undeniable, although the practical questions that arise in the attempt to define and attain it are serious and formidable. The prevalent short-cut solution of the problem—women crave a higher education, therefore open to them the higher institutions—is as far as possible from being an adequate or satisfactory disposition of the case.
It is a constant complaint among the leaders of the woman's movement, that, in consequence of the long subjection of the sex to the domination of men, women have not been allowed or incited to think for themselves. They complain that women's ideas have been moulded by men, in conformity to the state of subordination in which the weaker sex has been held, and that the first thing women have to do is to assert themselves mentally, to develop their own powers in their own way, to form their own opinions, and not be forever dependent upon those who by the radical bias of an opposite constitution are incapable of comprehending woman or of doing justice to her capacities. On this ground it is of course impossible for woman to accept a masculine education. For the existing colleges and universities have not only been originated and developed through centuries exclusively by men, but they have been pervaded by the thoughts and animated by the feelings and tastes, and moulded by the aims and necessities, of men. If women are to free themselves from male control in the matter of one-sided mental influence, it would seem that their first care should be not to subject themselves to the action of those institutions the very object of which is to assimilate and determine the intellectual character of students into harmony with their own policy.
We yield to no others in the earnestness of our belief in the higher education of women; but we want to see them take the matter in their own hands, and work out a system of mental cultivation adapted to their own natures and needs. The higher education as embodied in existing institutions cannot meet this requirement. It is, in fact, under indictment for non-adaptation to the present wants of men; and one of the most profound and important of the reforms of our age is that thorough modification of collegiate methods of study that shall bring them up to the demands of modern life. That they now answer to these demands, but very few will maintain. There are many, and the number is increasing, who do not go to college because the education there obtained is thought to be of little use to the possessor, if not indeed a hindrance to him in his future experience with the world. Thousands ignore all considerations of the usefulness of what is to be learned, and go or are sent to college because it is the proper thing, a fashion of society, and has its social benefits; and many undoubtedly go because they have been made to believe that the old education is the perfection of human wisdom for mental discipline, and is, after all, the best thing even for practical life. Yet the distrust of the system is deep, and has already made itself so powerfully felt, that the colleges have been compelled to yield to it, and in many cases to modify their methods of instruction and create supplemental schools devoted to modern knowledge. The higher education of men is thus in a state of conflict and transition; the old education is giving way, and a New Education is rising in its place.
It seems to us that this is the first fact for women to consider in their efforts to attain a higher education. The question that is forced upon men, What shall the higher education be? has even a graver concern for women, for it is not only an open one, but it is an experiment which must be submitted to the test of time, and if mismanaged may be full of peril. It behooves women not to be so carried away by the current clamor about the advantages of education, that they are willing to accept any thing under that name that is dispensed from the schools. Education, like every thing else, may be good or bad, worthless or valuable; but it differs from most other things in this, that, if bad and worthless, it cannot be got rid of. We have yet to realize the important fact that much so-called education is worse than none at all; and that it is better to leave the mind to its spontaneous forces and its self-development under the action of the surrounding influences of Nature and life, rather than to meddle with it inconsiderately, to burden it with worthless knowledge, or to violate its proportions by an extravagant over-culture of some faculties and a total neglect of others. Were the doors of all the colleges of the country to be opened to-morrow to woman, in good faith, and in obedience to a public sentiment that would lead her to avail herself of the opportunity as men do, we believe that the result could not be otherwise than in a high degree disastrous to woman and to society; and this because the education which she would get would be not what she requires, would be put in the place of what she requires, and would indefinitely postpone the attainment of what she requires.
It is well for woman that, in awakening to the necessity of a higher cultivation of her faculties, she is free in the choice of means; but it remains to be seen what she will do with her chance. There is superabounding knowledge, the ripening of all the past––wheat and chaff; there is the world's long experience with education for help or for warning; what, then, will woman do toward constructing a higher education for herself? Will she follow blindly the old traditions, content with any thing, and accept the culture that man has outgrown and is rejecting; or will she be equal to the occasion, and form for herself a curriculum of studies suited to the requirements of her own nature?
That woman has a sphere marked out by her organization, however the notion may be scouted by the reformers, is as true as that the bird and the fish have spheres which are determined by their organic natures. Birds often plunge into the watery deep, and fishes sometimes rise into the air, but one is nevertheless formed for swimming and the other for flight. So women may make transient diversions from the sphere of activity for which they are constituted, but they are nevertheless formed and designed for maternity, the care of children, and the affairs of domestic life. They are the mothers of humankind, the natural educators of childhood, the guardians of the household, and by the deepest ordinance of things they are this, in a sense, and to a degree, that man is not. For woman in these relations, education has hitherto done but little, and humanity has suffered as a consequence. To the mothers of the race, especially, belongs the question of its preservation and improvement. The problem is transcendent, and woman's interest in it more immediate and vital than man's can be. Science has furnished the knowledge that is required, a vast mass of truth that is waiting to be applied for the conduct and ennobling of the domestic sphere. Man has originated it; is it not for woman to use it? And now, when there is so much agitation to give woman larger mental opportunities, and she is pressing for the advantages of a higher education, we have a right to expect that she will consider the subject from her own point of view, and supply the great educational need that has been so long recognized and deplored. The new departure of higher female education should unquestionably be from the results of the medical profession. We believe that physicians have by no means yet taken the share in general education that the interests of society require; but, when the mental cultivation of women is to become systematic and they have their own higher institutions, the agency of physicians will be indispensable. It is not that all women are to be doctors, but that they are to be instructed and become intelligent first of all in the sciences of life, with which also the physician has to deal. If, to get the A. M. of Yale or Harvard, would be worth the struggle for women, as qualifying them for the intelligent fulfillment of their destiny, let the doors be battered down if necessary for their entrance; but, if it would not conduce to this end, and would rather be fatal to it, let the doors remain double-locked. If the present aspiration is to be utilized, the movement must not take a false direction. New institutions are called for, that shall supply a new education on the feminine side. The system of studies may be broad and liberal in the best sense, but what we insist on is that it should be shaped with fundamental reference to the life-needs of female students. From this point of view our existing female colleges are liable to criticism; in so far as they are imitations of the old masculine establishments, they do not meet the wants of the sex, and rather obstruct than aid the true course of feminine cultivation.
There is no element of human nature more noble than that sympathy with inferior creatures which leads to a kindly regard for their welfare, and protects them from wanton or careless suffering; and it is gratifying to observe that this feeling is becoming so definite, so strong, and so extended, as to have embodied itself in organizations for the systematic prevention of cruelty to animals. With all our boasted civilization and enlightenment, men are yet very much barbarians, and the cruel instincts of the savage still animate many a nominal Christian. The humaner feelings are beginning to assert their influence; but they encounter fearful odds in the struggle with hereditary impulses to violence, and that artistic refinement of brutality which seeks enjoyment in the suffering of inferior creatures.
Yet, like every thing else, the kindly sentiments toward animals may be carried to extremes and run into absurdity. We live in a world, or at least in a stage of it, in which suffering is not to be escaped. By the constitution of things, it must be inflicted. Older than the Decalogue, older than man, as old as the earliest life, is the divine ordinance of Nature to kill or be killed. The necessity of mutual destruction was instituted in the nature and with the first appearance of living things. Not only was death the doom of all, but death by violence and mutual ruthless slaughter was the necessary and normal result of the arrangement. The world has advanced through agony, and, in its unfolding, the price of higher enjoyment has ever been intenser pain. As the nervous system of the animal series has become more voluminous, delicate, and complex, the capacity of suffering as well as pleasure is increased; and, in the most perfected being, the very flowering of genius opens new susceptibilities for painful emotion of which natures with lower gifts know nothing. Pain, therefore, is not to be escaped. Each sentient creature by the law of its being strives to avoid it, and it is incumbent upon all to lessen it as far as possible, but it is wrought into the inexorable economy of things, and not to recognize and deal with it as any other fact is irrational.
It hurts insects to be killed, but we must kill them in self-defense. We destroy the lower animals for our food, but there is a deeper reason for being rid of them, because, if suffered to multiply unchecked, they would put an end to us. It will therefore not do to yield in this matter to the pure dictates of sentiment. There is an infliction of pain that is reasonable and necessary, and one of the cases of it is afforded by the physiologist who makes painful experiments upon the lower animals to extend the knowledge of his science. As the exigencies of diet may require us to slay an ox, so the demands of scientific truth may require us to sacrifice a rabbit or a dog. In both cases the pain produced should be the least possible, but in both the ends are reasonably held to justify the infliction. Yet there have been many and earnest protests against vivisection, or experiments upon living animals, as an inexcusable cruelty; and physiologists have recently been the subjects of a fresh assault by sentimental writers in the London literary press. The arguments in favor of the practice are so convincingly stated, and the objections to it so well refuted, in a paper by Dr. Foster, of Cambridge, that we reproduce it in the present number of the Monthly. It will well repay perusal.