Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/November 1895/Editor's Table

Editor's Table.


AMONG the scientific addresses of the present year we are disposed to assign a high place in point of interest and general merit to that on The Aims of Anthropology, delivered at the August meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science by the retiring president, Prof. Brinton, and reprinted in this number of the Monthly. Like others who have advocated the claims of that science, the professor almost overwhelms us with the enumeration of all its tributary streams of knowledge; but more successfully than most, he enables us to keep in view the unity of aim in anthropological study. He makes us feel that it is concerned not with unrelated or but slightly related details in regard to man, but with man himself, as a great organic fact, as the crowning product of creation, whom to know is for each of us in the truest sense self-knowledge. "Hearken unto me," said the prophet of old, "all ye that love righteousness! Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and the hole of the pit whence ye are digged." It is in the same spirit, we imagine, that Dr. Brinton asks us to look into our origins, and into whatever else can throw light upon what we really are. As regards the origin of man, science, he asserts, has now established beyond cavil that, far from having fallen from some original high estate and forfeited a pristine paradise, the earliest man was also "the lowest, the most ignorant, the most brutish, naked, homeless, half speechless." Such as he was, however, he had within him that which made possible for him a progress denied to all other animal races, that secured for him long since the mastery of the planet, and that holds out to him the prospect of a future civilization far in advance of anything he has heretofore enjoyed.

The most vitalizing discovery that has been made within recent years, in its bearings upon anthropology. Dr. Brinton considers to be that of the psychical unity of mankind, "the parallelism of his development everywhere and in all times; nay, more, the nigh absolute uniformity of his thoughts and actions when in the same degree of development, no matter where he is or in what epoch living." Seeing that savage tribes represent a stage of human culture which has left traces in ourselves, but the perfect manifestation of which will soon have passed away forever, he calls earnestly for a prolonged and profound study of such savage races as still exist, though none of them are in his opinion quite low enough to represent fully primitive man. He also strongly recommends the study of folklore, inasmuch as "the stories, the superstitions, the beliefs, and customs which prevail among the unlettered, the isolated, and the young, are nothing else than survivals of the mythologies, the legal usages, and the sacred rites of earlier generations. . . . It is surprising," he adds, "to observe how much of the past we have been able to construct from this humble and long-neglected material."

The zeal of the learned doctor seems almost to assume a slight character of ferocity when he goes on to declare: "The generations of the past escape our personal investigation, but not our pursuit. We rifle their graves, measure their skulls, and analyze their bones; we carry to our museums the utensils and weapons, the gods and jewels, which sad and loving hands laid beside them; we dig up the foundations of their houses, and cart off the monuments which proud kings set up. Nothing is sacred to us; and yet nothing to us is vile or worthless." If the doctor had wished to quote Horace, he might have said very appositely "omne sacrum rapiente dextrâ"; but we should be loath to take him at his word that to the anthropologist nothing is sacred. We believe, on the contrary, that to the true anthropologist the cause of humanity is very sacred; and that it is because an exhaustive knowledge of what man has been and is will, as he considers, greatly advance human well-being, by placing our systems of instruction and all our social arrangements on a more scientific basis, that, in his consuming desire for knowledge, he is prepared even for spoliation.

One of the most important branches or subdivisions of anthropology is ethnology. Its mission, Dr. Brinton says, is "to define the universal in humanity." It aims to define "the influences which the geographical and other environment exercises on the individual, the social group, and the race; and conversely how much in each remains unaltered by these external forces." Like political economy, according to its orthodox professors at least, it has nothing to do with what ought to be; its sole concern is with what is. Ethnology, the doctor asserts with some emphasis, lends no countenance to any absolute doctrine of evolution. He considers that, "taken at its real value, as the provisional and partial result of our observations," that doctrine is a useful guide, but that, "swallowed with unquestioning faith as a final law of the universe," it is no better than the narrowest traditional dogma. At this point we may venture to suggest that the learned doctor is waxing wroth with an imaginary foe, or, if not with an imaginary one, at least with one hardly worthy of his ire. Idle talk about evolution can no more be prevented than idle talk about any other subject, say electricity for example, which some persons believe to be a device, invented probably by Mr. Edison, for getting something out of nothing. No one whose opinion is worth discussing regards evolution otherwise than as a name for the process by which such advancement as the world has hitherto made has been won, and on which we may reasonably depend for further progress in the future. Nature as yet having given no sign that her powers are exhausted or on the point of exhaustion. "The development of humanity as a whole," says Dr. Brinton, "has arisen from the differences of its component parts, its races, nations, tribes. Their specific peculiarities have brought about the struggles which, in the main, have resulted in an advance." Even so, we may hope that in the future, in spite of a growing equalization of general conditions, those differences which, as Dr. Tylor has well pointed out, will more and more assert themselves in the higher regions of thought and feeling, will lead to a steady advance in human capacity and character.

Anthropology, according to its able advocate and professor, possesses no little skill in dodging the most difficult questions. Having investigated penal laws until it finds their common origin in a desire for vengeance, and having analyzed religions until it discovers that they all spring from a dread of the unknown, it will not follow up either inquiry by attempting to ascertain why men dread the unknown or whether there is any more ultimate form or underlying explanation of the desire for vengeance. In the same way, while noting empirically what has made for the improvement of mankind, it will be careful about grappling with the question as to what "improvement" really means. Perhaps we should not complain of these discreetly imposed limitations, but it seems to us that, as regards the question of human improvement at least, anthropology, with its very wide outlook, ought, above all other sciences, to be in a position to give us its rationale.

We are glad to find Dr. Brinton, in the conclusion of his valuable address, declaring that "the teachings of anthropology, whether theoretical or practical, lead us back to the individual as the point of departure and also the goal. The state was made for him, not he for the state; any improvement in the group must start by the improvement of its individual members." We hold that this is the teaching of every true form of social science. The doctrine of individualism is not a doctrine of selfishness; it simply aims at arousing each individual to a sense of his own value as a social unit, and at making him feel that, if he wishes to live in an improved society, he should strive to improve himself and his own immediate environment. The intelligent study of sociology, we have no doubt, will work in this direction, inasmuch as it more and more tends to make all classifications and class distinctions appear unreal, and to bring the individual man into. prominence as the one subject and center of its labors. On this ground, if on no other, we would wish it every success; and as there are so many different fields that can be explored in its interest, we would counsel those who have no other scientific occupation to see if they can not bring some offering, however slight, to the great construction which we may hope the leaders of the science will one day give to the world.


Canon Samuel A. Barnett, of England, is a man who has devoted much time and labour to the study of social problems in their widest aspect, and whose writings on such subjects are always marked by active human sympathy allied with strong common sense. We therefore turned at once with interest to his article in the September number of the Contemporary Review to see what he had to say on the subject of The Church's Opportunity, and were not at all surprised to find that he had some very pertinent things to say. In Canon Barnett's opinion "the Church" might, if it could only rise to the level of its duty and privilege, lend most useful assistance to the practical solution of our present-day social problems. How this might, in his opinion at least, be done he clearly indicates. The Church performs three main functions: it provides means of worship, it imparts religious teaching, and it interests itself in charitable work; and what it has to do, according to Canon Barnett, is simply, in each department of its activity, to plant itself at the modern standpoint so as to meet the needs of the men and women of today.

In the matter of worship this writer observes that "the words and forms remain the same as those which helped the people of three hundred years ago, although the fashions, the thought, and the whole organization of society have been changed." Cathedrals are little more than "the hunting ground of antiquarians and the practising places of choirs." The Church should "use the art and knowledge of the time as aids to worship." "It might," continues the writer, "by showing the wonders of science, open the eyes of the blind to see something of the height and breadth of the universe"; and the result would be that readier access would be found to men's minds for those sentiments of justice, charity, and mutual forbearance on which the peace and welfare of society must rest. Canon Barnett is quite right when, speaking of the social strugglers of to-day, he says that "conceit, pride in their own methods and aims, restless vanity, selfish anxiety are elements in the present confusion"; nor are we disposed to disagree with him when he says further that "the majority of people think much of themselves, because they are not conscious of One before whom they are as nothing, because, in a word, they do not worship." Here is where the true work of religion comes in, not in opposing the conclusions of science.

"Let science grow from more to more,"

as Tennyson has said,

"But more of reverence in us dwell."

The two are not incompatible, and Canon Barnett seems to feel strongly that it is through neglect of duty on the part of the Church, especially the duty of keeping in touch with the times, that reverence is not more active and influential among men than it is.

Turning to the subject of teaching, this writer is very outspoken. He says in effect that we must find the teaching required by the times in a study of the times. The following quotation will illustrate his meaning: "In the first century slavery was common, and was accepted without question both by Christ and by St. Paul. . . . These teachers, however (the antislavery leaders of the early part of the century), found the spirit behind the words—the Christ of the nineteenth century behind the Christ of the first century. In the name of a contemporary Christ they condemned slavery and convinced their hearers." The reverend gentleman does not observe, as he might have done, that those who appealed merely to the text of Scripture were among the strongest upholders of slavery. The reformers were more or less rationalizers, not pinning their faith to texts, but seeking a spirit and principle of life. The following remarks on religious teaching are much to the point: "Teachers have been too often stewards who bring out only the old things from the treasury, words spoken thousands of years ago, and acts fitted to another age. They go on using a phraseology which is not understood, preaching sermons about dead controversies, and condemning heresies long forgotten. They teach, but the people, tried and troubled by thoughts of duty to the rich or duty to the poor, find no help in their teaching. . . . Bishops might with advantage set candidates for orders to read modern books, and in examination test their powers to observe the signs of the times. The knowledge of Paley and Pearson might be supplemented, if not supplanted, by some knowledge of the movement of scientific and economic thought during the last fifty years, and proof be given that those offering themselves as teachers 'perceive with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts.'"

The canon proceeds to discuss the relation of the Church to charitable work, but what we have already quoted will suffice to show how advanced are his views as to the kind of religious ministrations of which society stands at present in need. He believes, and we agree with him, that the Church occupies a position of exceptional advantage for holding up to men the ideals toward which they ought to strive. Ministers of religion are allowed to preach, an exercise in which other men must indulge very sparingly, if at all, on pain of being laughed at. They are supposed to be occupied at all times with the highest and most enduring interests of mankind, and they can adopt a tone of elevation and an accent of earnestness which in all others might seem out of place. Moreover, there is something in human nature which is prepared to respond to their appeals. However conventional or even sordid men may be in their daily lives, however immersed they may be in the all but universal game of grab, they feel that somewhere in their natures is a chord which might vibrate to higher impulses. To put it otherwise, every man knows that there is something iu him better than that which he habitually shows to the world or to himself; and it is for the religious teacher above all to awaken that hidden, as Matthew Arnold says, "deep-buried self" into life and activity, to make it assert its authority and power. The rest of us deal with the average man and make our appeal in general to average sentiments: the clergyman, the minister of the gospel, testifies by virtue of bis office to the existence of a divine element in human nature, and to him therefore, in dealing with men, all things are or should be possible. What he needs, however, as Canon Barnett so clearly points out, is to be armed with the kind of knowledge which will place him at the modern point of view and make him a true interpreter of the times and of contemporary human nature. Let him use the words of his creeds as far as they will go, and show the soul of truth in antiquated forms and usages; but let him not imagine that human thought can ever be confined within or fully expressed by, any formula or set of formulas: the spirit of life is a spirit of growth and of liberty.

In conclusion, we have only to say that we welcome most cordially such utterances as those of the Anglican canon, not because we suppose that he occupies precisely the point of view that we do, but because we feel that no essential claim of science is antagonized by aught that he advances in the name of religion. He may, for anything we know, hold many special opinions which we do not share; but so, these to us are of no consequence beside what we take to be his main and most characteristic belief—namely, that religion is not a fetter for the human intellect, but a garment of beauty for the whole man, and that, without a due recognition of science, no perfect or abiding form of religion can be.


The editor of the Popular Science Monthly is gratified that he is now able to announce to its readers and the general public, the beginning in the present number, which opens the forty-eighth volume of the magazine, of the long-promised and anticipated series of articles by Hon. David A. Wells, on the most important subject of taxation.

For the execution of the task which Mr. Wells has assigned to himself, it is acknowledged that he has enjoyed extraordinary advantages; as Chairman of the United States Revenue Commission, 1865-'66 (an instrumentality devised by President Lincoln in anticipation of the close of the war); United States Special Commissioner of Revenue, 1866-'70 (an office specially created by Congress); chairman of a commission for the revision of the tax laws of the State of New York (specially created by its Legislature, 1870-'72, with a view of obtaining Mr. Wells's services'); and subsequent membership of important railroad receiverships; of the Arbitration Board of the associated railways of the United States, 1879-'81, and of the Board of Direction of some of the largest manufacturing and insurance companies in the country. The assertion is therefore warranted that to probably no one person, in either the United States or Europe, has greater opportunities been afforded for study of taxation from the basis of practical experience and administration; and while the prediction may not be warranted, that Mr. Wells's conclusions will be accepted finally as solving the vexed and intricate problems involved in the subject, it is certain that the results of his investigations will prove most valuable and intensely interesting contributions to general economic science, and greatly assist in formulating better systems and rules for taxation, especially in the United States, than are now generally accepted.

The editor also feels warranted in saying that the course pursued by Mr. Wells which made his book on Economic Changes one of the most popular and instructive of recent economical publications, will also characterize the new field of inquiry on which he now enters—namely, to marshal in a clear manner and proper order all the facts that seem capable of explaining the situation of vexed and disputed questions, and of thus indicating where and how the truth should be sought for, with the greatest chances of finding it.