Popular Science Monthly/Volume 52/December 1897/Editor's Table

Editor's Table.


AS the nineteenth century draws to its close there is no slackening in that onward march of scientific discovery and invention which has been its chief characteristic. Far from it, discovery and invention seem to be proceeding with ever-increasing rapidity; it is as if a fountain had been opened which, far from showing signs of exhaustion with lapse of time, gained in volume and force from year to year. Whether a pause will ever come is a question which many would be disposed to answer in the negative. It seems impossible that Nature, now that we have discovered the true method of interrogating her, should not go on revealing herself to us with greater and greater fullness. Without speculating, however, too deeply on the future, we may affirm that at present the scientific movement is at its maximum of vigor and productiveness.

It is astonishing to look back and see the strides that have been made in eighty or ninety years. In the beginning of the century there were stationary steam engines, and a few crude attempts were being made in the direction of steam navigation; but as yet the locomotive was a thing unthought of. To-day marine navigation has taken the form we see in the giant vessels that ply between this country and Europe and the first-class battle ships of the world's great navies, with their triple expansion engines, their wonderfully perfected boilers, their twin screws, and their infinitely multiplied appliances for safety and efficiency.

At the beginning of the century electricity was a curious study, giving only slight promise of any useful practical applications. It had not advanced beyond the frictional machine, the Leyden jar, and the voltaic pile. The telegraph was as yet undreamed of, and the telephone and the dynamo utterly unimaginable developments. Had any one dared to conceive that signals could be made to pass in a second of time between Europe and America he would have been considered a fit candidate for Bedlam; and certainly not less insane would have been considered the notion that a human voice could by any device make itself distinctly audible at a distance of five hundred or even a thousand miles. To-day these things are commonplaces, and men are beginning to grudge the trouble of putting up wires for the conveyance of the electric current, great authorities in the scientific world having told them that theoretically it ought to be possible to do without such crude appliances. What was a curious toy in the beginning of the century is the jack-of-all-work at its close, or, in other words, the most widely available form of force in the modern world. What steam can not do, owing to the difficulty, on the one hand, of generating it locally, and, on the other, of conveying it to any great distance, electricity, which is capable of infinite subdivision and of distribution from a relatively distant center, stands ready to undertake.

We have only to look around us to see the innumerable wonders that science in its practical applications has wrought, and to be impressed by the beneficence of its operations. The electric light in our streets and the familiar trolley car constitute additions to human well-being and enjoyment the value of which it would be difficult to estimate, while the telephone has almost revolutionized the industrial and commercial life of cities and towns. Electro-chemistry, again, and photography are two arts the influence of which is at once widespread and penetrating. The former dissociates the elements, isolating those we wish to isolate and leading others to form new and desirable combinations. It has produced what is virtually a new article of commerce in the metal aluminium, previously a rare and expensive product, and in a thousand ways has transformed or modified industrial processes. What photography is to the present age it would take a considerable treatise to set forth. The bookmaker, the traveler, the astronomer, the physician, the analyist, the architect, the biologist, the police agent, the engineer, the microscopist, the military man, the artist, and the representatives of a hundred other crafts and professions would all have to contribute to the tale. By photography we can record successive moments in the impact of a cannon ball and analyze the life history of a lightning flash; we pierce the abysmal depths of space and catch the faintly trembling rays of bodies that no telescope has the power to reveal.

With the general advance of science the physician's art has gained a wonderful enlargement of its resources. The mighty hunter of to-day is not he who bags big game in the African forest or the Indian jungle, but he Who, following in the steps of Pasteur and Koch, tracks the pathogenic microbe to its lair and studies to render it innocuous. When anything nowadays goes wrong with the physical organism, the man of scientific mind is disposed to exclaim—parodying a celebrated saying—"Cherchez le microbe!" Already a very considerable knowledge and mastery have been gained of these extraordinary agents, so utterly unknown to the science of the past; and there is no reason to doubt that great conquests are yet to be won in this particular line of research. But other lines of investigation only less important in their bearing on the preservation of life and health have been opened up within the past generation. Of these scarcely any is more interesting than that which has led to the discovery of the "internal secretion" carried on by such organs as the pancreas, the thyroid gland, and the suprarenal capsules. "No one can suppose," said Professor Foster, in his recent address before the British Association, "that this feature of internal secretion is confined to the bodies mentioned; it needs no spirit of prophecy to foretell that the coming years will add to physiological science a large and long chapter, the first verses of which belong to the dozen years that have passed away."

If we pass over to the region of psychology, we find that there, too, a notable advance has been made both in methods and in results. Mind is being treated scientifically as something correlated in the most intimate manner with the body, and for all practical purposes a function of a certain kind of organized matter. The observations which have been made from this point of view are undoubtedly of the highest importance in the work of education, and intelligent teachers are daily making use of them to a greater or less extent in the practice of their profession. There is a vast amount of knowledge in the world to-day in regard to the laws governing the development of ideas and the acquisition of knowledge, and as to the specific differences between the child mind and the adult mind, which did not exist when the century was young, and which would never have existed had not a better method—the outcome of physical investigations—been adopted in the study of mind. To this result the science of anthropology has contributed in no mean degree. To-day we study man not as an abstraction, not as a creature dogmatically proclaimed to be only "a little lower than the angels," but as he has actually manifested himself historically, and is now manifesting himself, in the sum of his habits, aptitudes, passions, customs, superstitions, imaginations, and achievements. We are at last taking to heart the advice of the ancient oracle, "Know thyself!" We see our true selves mirrored in the life of the race to which we belong.

In view of the vast accumulations of knowledge by which our age has been enriched, and of all that has been done within the last few generations for the betterment of human life, it might seem idle and paradoxical to doubt that the future is full of the brightest promise for our race. We have no disposition to join the prophets of evil of whom the present day possesses not a few. It is well, however, to remember that there is a double aspect to almost every advance in knowledge and in the perfection of the arts. Every gain tends to the disuse of some portion of human faculty, and unless it calls other portions into a more than compensating activity there is really no resulting benefit, so far as the development of the individual is concerned, and there may even be a loss. It would take us too far to illustrate this in any detail; but it is quite evident that many useful inventions, such as improved means of transit, the telephone, etc., while they quicken the pace of life, do not prompt either to physical or to intellectual exertion, and that the vast provision made to-day for the entertainment and amusement of the multitude has little educative value and may even tend to the injury of the reflective powers. Amid the ever-increasing multiplicity of luxuries and novelties of every kind that are spread before the people to tempt the outer senses, the needs of the inner man are apt to be thrust aside and forgotten. In the illustrated books that are prepared for children so much is exhibited to the eye that nothing is left to the imagination. It sometimes seems almost possible that the modern world might be choked by its own riches, and human faculty dwindle away amid the million inventions that have been introduced to render its exercise unnecessary.

Further than this there is a tendency, which we think is already beginning to be well defined, to effect a radical differentiation between those who are concerned in carrying on the work of the world as thinkers and inventors and those who are only concerned in using the improved appliances placed in their hands. Some of our readers will remember the horribly grim development suggested in Mr. H. G. Wells's fantastical romance, The Time Machine—a degraded humanity inhabiting an externally perfected world. Without taking seriously so horrible a possibility, what we seem to see is that the times call for very special efforts to spread the knowledge and culture which are the product of the age, so that the intellectual life of the whole mass of society may be quickened. The leaven of thought and knowledge should be so applied as to work everywhere; in order that, while there may still be leaders of thought moving in regions inaccessible to the multitude, there may at least be no considerable sections of society sodden in ignorance, and living lives of children or savages amid the light of a scientific age.


We fear that, with all the alleged improvements that are being introduced into the methods of education, the true end of education is being more and more lost sight of. The idea that education is essentially a preparation for money-making is, it seems to us, gradually taking complete possession of the popular consciousness. It is needless to say that this was not the ancient ideal. To-day we look upon arithmetic as indispensable for the earning of a living. Plato, as Oscar Browning remarks in his little book on Educational Theories, considered it "as the best spur to a sleepy and uninstructed spirit." Admitting that the modern view must be recognized, why should not the more elevated ancient view be recognized as well? But what child is made aware to-day that in studying arithmetic he is doing more than acquiring an instrument by which afterward money may be made? There is just as much need to rouse sleepy spirits now as there ever was; and there are more sleepy spirits than ever to be roused. We fear the arithmetic of the public schools is not doing as much to rouse them as might be desired, and the reason may partly be that the higher intellectual and moral uses of the study are not kept sufficiently in view.

In the Greek scheme of education "reading" (we quote from Mr. Browning) "was taught with the greatest pains; the utmost care was taken with the intonation of the voice and the articulation of the throat." If anything of the kind were proposed to-day, objection would at once be raised that such training of the ear and vocal organs might be very useful, and pecuniarily profitable, to a youth who was going to be a professional elocutionist, but that for others it would be a waste of time. So with the study of modern languages: their utility is recognized in so far as they may be required for business purposes, and perhaps for actual use in foreign travel. That they may become a source of refined intellectual pleasure by extending one's survey of the development and differentiation of thought is, to say the least, not an everyday conception. Geography is, of course, regarded as an essentially commercial study, not as one that ought to liberalize the mind by removing ignorance in regard to foreign countries, and creating a sense of the kinship of the whole human race.

Even in our higher seats of learning the ultra-practical or technical view of the use of education more or less prevails. In an excellent article by Mr. Irving Babbit, in a recent number of the Atlantic Monthly, we read that "one of the first things that struck M. Brunetière on coming into contact with our university life was the predominance of purely analytical scholarship—a predominance which he attributes to an excessive imitation of German models. He even agreed with the opinion expressed by one of the Harvard professors, that several of our great universities are in danger of degenerating into mere technical schools as a result of losing hold on the old humanistic ideal."

The humanistic ideal is founded on the old truth which, in a manner, we still profess to believe, that "the life is more than meat, and the body than raiment." According to that ideal, the business of education is to enable a human being to enter on full possession of all his faculties, in order that, so far as possible, he may be perfect as a human being. A man or woman who has been truly educated according to this ideal is not dependent for bis or her enjoyment of life on coarse pleasures or childish excitements. There are sources of happiness in the awakened intellectual and moral powers and the well-trained physical organism that are not exhausted even with advancing years. The question which educationists have to consider is whether it is not possible, without sacrificing in any degree whatever the just claims of practical life, still to uphold and make manifest that higher conception of education which existed in past times, and which is still cherished wherever liberal views of life prevail. If arithmetic, geography, grammar, the sciences, and languages are consciously used with a view to intellectual and moral results, that surely will not interfere with a subsequent "practical" use of the knowledge gained by the pursuit of those studies. If we are not mistaken, we see indications of a growing feeling that education in the higher sense to which we refer is not democratic. That is a point on which we are not prepared to pronounce an opinion; but certainly the education we should desire for any one in whom we felt an interest would not be one which left his whole higher nature out of the account.


It may be doubted if ever in the history of this country complaints of lawlessness, particularly of that kind known as hoodlumism, were so bitter and so universal. The evil is not confined to the South, where the ravages of the civil war left a deep mark of demoralization, nor to the far West, where the rudeness of frontier life is no stimulant to virtue. Even in the East, in New England, the home of Puritan order and virtue suffers from it. So serious and widespread has it become in towns still inhabited by the descendants of the stern men and women that fled from the vice and intolerance of the civil and ecclesiastical rulers of England that Prof. Charles Eliot Norton, at the dinner given to fellow-professors at Ash field, Mass., a few weeks ago, was moved to sound the alarm, taking as his text the shocking murder of a woman at Shelburne Falls by a village ruffian of New England birth.

The address, startling but not sensational, has evoked very general discussion. It has stimulated the production of theories to account for this flood of lawlessness. One is the absence of proper police surveillance to restrain the disorderly instincts of the ruffian. Another is the absence of the civic virtue that compels people to take part in public affairs, and to see to it that life and property are protected. While both are doubtless worthy of consideration, neither of them goes to the root of the matter. We are still in the dark as to the reason of the absence of civic virtue and the presence of criminal instincts. Why, after all our elaborate legislative efforts to make people walk in the straight and narrow path, and to provide them with all the educational advantages that money can buy, is it true, in the bitter words of Alphonse Karr, that "plus ça change, plus c‘est la même chose"? In other words, why have all our efforts to promote civilization resulted only in the revival of barbarism?

We believe that the chief of the Massachusetts police has hit upon one of the most potent causes of this deplorable state of affairs. "The root of the trouble," he said, when asked his opinion of Professor Norton's address, "lies in the fact that so many parents are lax in bringing up their children. . . . In proof of this, look at the streets of our cities after nightfall, swarming with rude, unmannerly boys taking their first lessons in hoodlumism. Parents fail to realize their responsibility toward their children." When this is the case, what more can we expect than the prevalence of lawlessness in town as well as city, in the East as well as the West, in the North as well as the South? Children that have not been subjected to the firm but gentle discipline of the home, that have not been taught by their parents the habits of order, decency, and virtue, are not likely to grow up with a sense of their duty to themselves or to their fellows. They are almost certain to grow up as loafers, or corruptionists, or as citizens indifferent to the demoralization around them. It is still as true as it ever was in the old copy book that as the twig is bent so is the tree inclined.

But why are parents lax in bringing up their children? Why do they fail to realize their responsibility toward their offspring? Nothing is more important in the world than parenthood; it is the basis of society and civilization. Nothing is better fitted to give pleasure. We believe that some German pessimist has condemned it on the ground that as long as it prevails the desire to live will never be extinguished. When men and women lose their interest in the world itself, they cling to it because of their interest in their children; and when their children have grown up, it is still maintained by their interest in their grandchildren, ever hoping to see realized in the lives of the new generation the dreams of happiness and fame that were never realized in their own. However cynical and depressing this may be, it has unquestionably much of truth. The survival of those children whose parents took the best care of them has given birth to a set of powerful feelings that can be gratified only through parenthood. These feelings, sacred above all others, respond to efforts to protect the child from harm, to develop its intellect, to cultivate its manners, to intensify its affections—in a word, to make it a good man or woman, capable and high-minded.

Yet how recklessly and amazingly have parents strayed from the path that will lead them to the greatest happiness vouchsafed to any human being! How ceaseless have been the efforts to convince them that there is another way for them to attain this bliss and at the same time hasten the advent of the millennium! So successful have these efforts been that it is now expected that the public schools shall do all the work that Nature herself designed for more fit and tender hands. Only last summer the Superintendent of Public Education of the State of New York set forth very elaborately the new theory of parenthood, or, rather, revived the old Greek theory with slight modifications. "The State," he said, "has a right to demand from the schools that children be trained, first of all, to a thorough mastery of the studies in the elementary course. . . . But with these studies," he continued, demanding the impossible, "should be taught courtesy of manner, politeness of speech, refinement of thought, and genuine culture of life. The State has the right to expect also that pupils from the beginning of their course be imbued with the spirit of honesty, with the love of truth and purity, with integrity of thought and action. . . . While it is never the province of the State to teach religious truth after the distinctive tenets of any form of belief, it is emphatically the duty of the State to see that children are taught the highest and purest morality."

Is this not an assumption by the State of most, if not all, the duties that belong to parents? Who better than they can teach "courtesy of manner, politeness of speech, refinement of thought, and genuine culture of life"? Who better than they can inspire them "with the spirit of honesty, with the love of truth and purity, with integrity of thought and action"? Who better than they can see to it that "children are taught the highest and purest morality"? The association of parents with a child is constant and extends over many years; that of any public-school teacher, intermittent and very brief. There are the ties of an affection that bind them to it and impel it to obey them that do not exist, except feebly, between it and the teacher. These ties are of the utmost importance. Nothing should ever be said or done to weaken them. On the contrary, everything should be said and done to strengthen them for use in the guidance of the footsteps during impressionable years. It was by the pursuit of this course that Alphonse Daudet was enabled to enjoy the complete and loving confidence of his children as long as they remained under the parental roof, and to shape their lives in a way that, when they passed from his wise and gentle direction, there was no tendency to revert to barbarism, such as we see today everywhere in the United States.

If an end is to be put to this evil, the preaching and practice of the vicious doctrines that pervade the address of Superintendent Skinner must cease. When any work for the betterment of the moral and physical welfare of children is to be undertaken, it must not be thrown upon the State, which has come to consist of nothing more than the politicians, whose violation of all the virtues he enumerates with such eloquence is the theme of countless philippics in pulpit, press, and conversation; it must be assumed by parents, who alone have the power to inculcate those virtues with any degree of success. While we do not believe with Professor Norton that there should be a restoration of Puritan discipline with the theology left out, we do believe that there must be a restoration of Puritan responsibility toward children, tempered with love and unfailing patience. It will lead parents to assume a vastly larger share in the work of education than they now do, thus strengthening the ties of affection so potent for moral control, and making it impossible for children to desire or parents to allow them to go on the streets to take "their first lessons in hoodlumism."