Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 54/December 1898/Editor's Table

Editor's Table.

 
EVOLUTION AND EDUCATION.

OUR attention has been drawn to a lively discussion that has lately taken place in the St. Paul papers over the utterances, on the subject of the doctrine of evolution in its relation to education, of a certain Mr. Smith, who was appointed not long since superintendent of the public schools of that city. What seems clear is that Mr. Smith is a very ignorant man, whose views in regard to education are of an altogether retrograde character. How he came to be appointed to his present position is a question which is being gravely pondered by many of the citizens; but probably the explanation is not very far to seek. The dispensers of patronage in State and municipal affairs are not always competent to make the best nominations to offices calling for high qualifications; and sometimes they do not even act up to their own indifferent lights. The man that has the pull is very apt to be the man that gets the office, and it is not often that the strongest pull goes with the highest professional fitness.

However this may be, there Mr. Smith is, and what kind of a man he is may be judged from his utterances. It is thus that he refers to Mr. Spencer: "There is an old man in England who for years has spent all his time and devoted all his energies to the attempt to create a system which shall entirely ignore the name of the Deity. He will shortly die, and it shall not be remembered that he ever performed an act or said a word that blessed or comforted or relieved his suffering fellows." To further darken the picture, he contrasts Spencer with the late Cardinal Newman, who wrote the hymn "Lead, kindly light," and who, we are told, if he had done nothing more, would have been "followed by the blessings and the prayers of those whom he had comforted and saved." Again, dealing with the modern scientific view that, in the development of the human individual all antecedent stages of human development are, in a manner, passed through, he says: "Let us discard the primitive-man theory. You do not believe it. Rather shall we not hold with Emerson that every child born into the world is a new Messiah given into the arms of fallen humanity to lead them back to paradise?"

It is no part of our purpose to defend Mr. Spencer against the attacks of so negligible an assailant as Mr. Smith, of Minnesota. The words that Mr. Spencer has spoken for truth, for justice, for humanity, for peace, are his sufficient commendation and vindication—were vindication needed—in the eyes of all who have any competent knowledge of contemporary thought. If these words do not help to make the world better we should feel little inclined to put our trust in the most skillfully constructed sacred lyric. Men do not always know their benefactors; and it is altogether possible, nay probable, that thousands who perhaps never heard Mr. Spencer's name have benefited through the greater consideration with which they have been treated by others, owing to his teaching. It is quite possible for men, yes, and women too, to sing "Lead, kindly light" with great unction, and yet to be the ardent abettors of warlike sentiments and warlike acts—to revel in a ruthless and immoral jingoism. Dryden was not referring to the adherents of any evolutionist philosophy when he wrote:

"In lusts we wallow, and with pride we swell,
And injuries with injuries repel;
Prompt to revenge, not daring to forgive,
Our lives unteach the doctrine we believe."

"Not daring to forgive" is good, and nearly as true in the nineteenth century as it was in the seventeenth. The one English statesman who dared to forgive a defeat inflicted on English arms and to acknowledge an error, incurred by that single act a deeper hatred and contempt than he earned by anything else, or all else, in his long and storm-tossed career. We refer to the action taken by Gladstone after the battle of Majuba Hill. And we are much mistaken if the majority of those who execrated him most deeply for not crushing the Boers under England's overwhelming force were not immense admirers of the cardinal's hymn. What is certain is that they were not immense admirers of Spencer, and that Spencer did not immensely admire them.

Superintendent Smith has quoted Emerson, but he does not occupy the standpoint that enables him to see Emerson in true perspective, or to feel what his philosophy lacks when confronted with the newer knowledge of the century. Mr. J. J. Chapman, in his recent memorable book of essays, gives us a better view. "A critic in the modern sense," Mr. Chapman says, "he (Emerson) was not. He lived too early and at too great a distance from the forum of European thought to absorb the ideas of evolution, and give place to them in his philosophy. . . . We miss in Emerson the underlying conception of growth, of development, so characteristic of the thought of our own day, and which, for instance, is found everywhere latent in Browning's poetry. . . . He is probably the last great writer to look at life from a stationary standpoint."

That the doctrine of evolution constitutes to-day a most important guiding principle in education no competent educationist could be found to deny. It teaches us to deal with the young as in a very true sense the heirs of all the ages, to make due allowance in childhood for instincts and habits which partake of the earlier stages of human development, and to look forward with confidence to later and higher manifestations. We have less faith than our ancestors had in the rod, and more in the gradual unfolding of the powers and capacities of the mind, and therewith the enlargement and improvement of the moral nature. We do not believe as our forefathers did in breaking children's wills; nor do we view their peccadilloes in the lurid light of a gloomy theological creed. We recognize that veracity, in the sense of strict accuracy of speech, purged of all imaginative elements, is a virtue which not all adults are able to practice, and which is not a natural product of the child mind. We can not accept Emerson's doctrine of infant Messiahs, and yet we can recognize very fully the mission of the child in the home, the demand it makes for tenderness, for patience, for thoughtfulness on the part of parents, the hopes and fears and heart-searchings that it calls into play, the aspirations that it promotes toward the realization, if for its sake only, of a higher life. Froebel grasped a large measure of truth in regard to children, but too much of sentiment, in our opinion, entered into his treatment of them. In the full light of the doctrine of evolution we take them as they are, and help them to work out under favorable conditions that development of which they are capable. We are not imposed upon by childish imitations of mature virtues, arid are rather disposed to repress recognized tendencies to precocity; but we believe that the germs of good are sown in every normal human being, and that, unless killed by most unwise treatment, they will fructify in due time.

What we may well consider seriously is whether our modern modes of life enable us to do that justice to children which evolutionary teaching requires. Can true health of body and mind be conciliated with social ambition or with commercial ambition? Are we not hampered at every turn by false schemes of education, the object of which is to turn out certain conventional products? How many of us can rise up in effective rebellion against the very fashions that in our hearts we most condemn? Before there can be anything like a perfect education for the young there must be a much more fully developed sense of duty than we see as yet in the older generation. The doctrine of evolution is putting the key to a true system into our hands; but to use that key aright requires courage and high purpose—qualities that are not of everyday occurrence. Still, it is matter of congratulation that the truth is not far from us. It is well established in our theories, and one of these days we may hope it will gain a wide and secure footing in our practice.

 

 
DAVID AMES WELLS.

In the death of David A. Wells, which occurred at his home in Norwich, Connecticut, on the 5th of November, 1898, America has lost one of her ablest and most productive men of letters and science a distinguished representative. Out of a life of seventy years it may fairly be said that Mr. Wells gave fifty of them to intellectual pursuits, which were mainly devoted to the advance of science and its application to practical affairs. After passing the period of early study, and particularly since he became interested in economic questions, much of his work was in the line of original investigation, the results of which have from time to time been given to the public either through his books or in the magazines. Another and more conspicuous feature of his career, the one perhaps that made him best known at home and first gave him reputation abroad, was the valuable service that he rendered the country at large in straightening out the financial tangle the Government had got itself into during and after the civil war. In this undertaking his great store of learning, rare practical sagacity, and unwavering confidence in the final result, carried him through to a brilliant success, earning for him in high quarters the most flattering testimonials of admiration and respect.

Looked at in the light of what he actually achieved, Mr. Wells's preparation for his life work seems to have been almost an ideal one. Gifted with a strong love of Nature and having a decidedly practical turn of mind, he early showed a fondness for the study of science. This led him, soon after graduating from Williams College in 1847, to enter the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University. Here he completed the course with the first class that was graduated by that institution in 1852. While studying in the scientific school young Wells became the special pupil of Agassiz, and, as the sequel shows, caught the enthusiasm with which that great master was wont to inspire the young men who were fortunate enough to come within the range of his influence. During this period Mr. Wells, in association with Mr. George Bliss, began the compilation and publication of the Annual of Scientific Discovery, which he continued for some sixteen years. That he was a clever student with quite exceptional endowments is seen in the circumstance that immediately after graduation he was appointed assistant professor in the scientific school and lecturer on physics and chemistry in Groton Academy, Massachusetts. He also, between 1857 and 1863, prepared a series of scientific school books embracing the subjects of physics, chemistry, and geology, and a volume on the Science of Common Things, all of which attained a wide circulation.

Thus for a period of nearly fifteen years Mr. Wells had devoted himself assiduously to the cultivation of the physical sciences. Beginning with the practical operations of the laboratory, where the value of experiment and observation is made apparent, his work was continued in the strengthening and developing experiences of the teacher, and thence led up to that wider knowledge and that clearness of exposition which a bright mind would acquire in the preparation of a number of successful scientific class books. It may be presumed that by this time he was thoroughly acquainted with scientific method in its applications to the investigation and explanation of physical phenomena. With the results this had yielded in building up the great body of verified knowledge composing the several sciences he must also have been familiar. Mentally alert and with sharpened powers of observation, he was able to seize and classify the facts bearing upon the problem in hand, and subject them to systematic processes of scientific reasoning.

Such, in brief, was the training and such the equipment brought by Mr. Wells to the study of economic questions when he first began to write upon them in 1864. A better preparation for the work to which he was to give the next thirty years of his life can scarcely be imagined. While it is quite true that in entering this new field he was to encounter a class of facts and variety of phenomena that were of a very different order from those with which he had previously been dealing, their apparently haphazard character did not deceive him. Well versed in the practice of tracing effects to causes, gifted with remarkable powers of insight, and thoroughly believing that the methods of science would prove as available in the study of economics as in other fields, he began his investigations without misgiving, patiently accumulated and studied the facts, and when conclusions were arrived at, no matter how contrary they might be to current teaching, fearlessly announced and defended them. Though half his life a firm believer in the doctrine of protection, when Mr. Wells went to Europe for the Government in 1867 to investigate the subject of tariff taxation, high and low tariff countries alike were visited, with the determination to leave nothing undone that would aid to a better understanding of the question. All the varied aspects of the problem were carefully studied in connection with the principal industries of the respective countries, and, finding reason in the facts thus obtained to revise his opinions, he came home a convert to free trade. For an account of what he had observed during the course of his investigations, and of the conclusions based thereon, the reader is referred to the fourth volume of his reports as commissioner of internal revenue, published in 1869. His book on Recent Economic Changes, and the papers on The Principles of Taxation, that have appeared in this magazine during the last two years, are records of equally painstaking research. Moreover, they are both excellent examples of what a strict adherence to scientific method has done and may yet be expected to do toward clearing up the knotty problems in economics that are now engaging public attention.

United with his great learning, and a rare power of generalization, Mr. Wells possessed in full measure that intellectual honesty which is the indispensable characteristic of the true man of science. This enabled him to follow without doubt or hesitation wherever the facts might lead; and with his clear perception of their real import, joined to his habit of independent thought, traits that are displayed throughout all his more formal writings, they are what in our opinion constitute his title to distinction. They give to his teachings, which have already done more than any other agency that we know toward placing the subject of political economy on a sound scientific basis, a high and enduring character.

 

 
A BORROWED FOUNDATION.

"The central idea of Professor Griddings's Principles of Sociology, a work that has the honor of being the first independent attempt in English to treat of sociology as such, is that we must postulate on the part of human beings what he calls a consciousness of kind. Critics of his volume have naturally told him that this is essentially a philosophical idea, found in Hegel and in British ethical writers of the eighteenth century."

We quote the above from an article by Professor Caldwell, entitled Philosophy and the Newer Sociology, in the October Contemporary. We are not prepared to dispute Professor Caldwell's statement that the idea of the "consciousness of kind" may be found in the writers to whom he refers; but it would have been very much to the point if he had mentioned that it is to be found most clearly enunciated in Mr. Herbert Spencer's Principles of Sociology. In an article contributed to this magazine in December, 1896, Mr. Spencer took occasion to point out that what Professor Giddings seemed to regard as an aperçu peculiar to himself had been distinctly formulated years before in his own writings. In proof of this he quoted the following passages:

"Sociality having thus commenced, and survival of the fittest tending ever to maintain and increase it, it will be further strengthened by the inherited effects of habit. The perception of kindred beings, perpetually seen, heard, and smelt, will come to form a predominant part of consciousness—so predominant that absence of it will inevitably cause discomfort." "Among creatures led step by step into gregariousness, there will little by little be established a pleasure in being together—a pleasure in the consciousness of one another's presence—a pleasure simpler than, and quite distinct from, those higher ones which it makes possible."

The fact is that there is much more in Spencer than most recent writers have ever explored; and the newer sociologists would do well, before putting forward claims to originality, to make sure that they have not been anticipated by the veteran philosopher.