Popular Science Monthly/Volume 6/April 1875/Editor's Table
THERE is little rest for the astronomers. Although their science is the oldest and exactest, and has long since taken its place as one of the most perfected divisions of knowledge, yet there never was a time of greater solicitude in regard to undetermined celestial questions than the present. New problems are presented of transcendent interest, and the progress in the construction of instruments and increasing experience in observation are certain to be rewarded with important extensions of astronomical knowledge.
And there is little rest for the astronomers, not only because of the urgent questions that have recently arisen in their science, but because many of the great phenomena in which they are interested are observable only at critical moments and at rare intervals, and only at a few points upon our planet. The present year will ever be memorable in astronomic annals because of the extensive preparations made to study the transit of Venus; but, while the various parties of observers are returning from the distant stations upon the globe where their observations were made, other expeditions have been fitted out which are traveling again to distant places to observe an eclipse of the sun. This is to take place on the 5th of April; is visible only in the Eastern Hemisphere, and will be mainly observed from stations in the kingdom of Siam. The shadow of total darkness will sweep rapidly along a line of about one hundred miles in breadth, and the time of total obscuration, when all the grand phenomena are displayed, will be but a few seconds more than four minutes. Yet within these fleeting moments many imposing effects are to be accurately noted which will serve as data for resolving the most important questions relating to the constitution of the sun. It was a splendid victory of scientific enterprise when Lockyer and Janssen showed that eclipses could be dispensed with in studying the solar prominences with the spectroscope, and that with their instruments they can at any time sweep round the solar outline, and watch and define those mighty eruptions of gaseous matter which rise to a height of tens and even hundreds of thousands of miles above the photosphere, or light-giving portion of the solar atmosphere; but these observations only heighten the interest of the grand effects which appear when the sun's disk is completely darkened. It is then impressively recognized that this great luminary is very far from being the clear-cut, sharply-defined, luminous globe that it seems to ordinary observation. Its ragged edge is stupendously mountainous, and there moreover stretches away a mighty upper atmosphere, or luminous appendage, called the corona, which can only be examined during the few precious moments of solar darkening.
The corona is therefore now the grand point of attack in a solar eclipse, by telescopic observation, photographic representation, and spectrum analysis; and, with each step of improvement in the construction of instruments, and the facility of their use, we are justified in expecting important accessions to our knowledge of that remarkable phenomenon.
The preparations for observing the April eclipse are suggestive of other considerations which should not be lost sight of. The interests of science are beginning to be recognized throughout the world, and to bring the most diverse nationalities into close relation upon a common platform of sympathetic cooperation. When the different races and nations come into relation in the sphere of politics or religion, antagonisms, discords, jealousies, and hate, are almost inevitably engendered. But, when these are put aside, or kept out of view, and the object to be attained is simply to extend the knowledge of Nature, the better elements of humanity begin to be recognized and asserted. As a striking illustration of this, we have the curious fact that, with reference to the approaching eclipse, it is not the Europeans, but the "King of Siam who has taken the initiative in inviting astronomers to his dominions, and providing for their entertainment while there." On the 9th of last October, his Siamese majesty, through his private secretary, Bhashakarawangse, extended this courtesy to the Royal Astronomical and Royal Societies, and to any astronomers they might accredit to him for the purpose of utilizing the coming opportunity. The English Government sends out an expedition; and an expedition by the French Government goes under the control of M. Janssen. Dr. Hermann Vogel, the eminent Berlin astronomer and photographer, will join the expedition of Janssen at Singapore, and Prof. Tachani will represent the Italian observers.
An intelligent writer in the Herald, in the full account which he gives of the preparations for the coming eclipse, thus describes an instrument which has been recently constructed to facilitate observation, and from the use of which much aid is to be expected:
A correspondent applied to the editor of the Nation asking "for information on books relating to the development or evolution theory, especially for the book 'which is not too partisan or too technical, but gives the facts and reasonings with reference to it on both sides.'" The editor very properly replied that a work giving the facts and arguments on both sides, fairly and fully, is not to be had; and it may be further observed that the reader who is ignorant of the subject, and specifies exactly the work he wants, will be pretty sure not to find it. The choice must be among such books as are obtainable; and the best way to guide the judgment of the inquirer is, to state impartially what resources there are for getting instruction upon the subject, leaving him to decide as to what will best suit his mental requirements.
The first error into which an uninformed reader, who desires to take up the subject of evolution, is liable to fall, is, that he will probably very much under-estimate the task he proposes to undertake. Assuming that he does not want a mere smattering, but an intelligent view of the doctrine, and the nature and extent of its proofs, he must prepare himself for a very considerable amount of intellectual work. For the "evolution theory," whether we consider it established or not, is the most comprehensive doctrine regarding the order of Nature that has ever yet been presented; and, if it be true at all, it is true as a system of principles underlying various and diverse tracts of phenomena. It is a philosophy of the origination of things. To the astronomer it is a theory accounting for the origin of stellar and planetary systems; to the geologist it is a doctrine that explains the history of our globe; to the botanist it has interest as throwing light upon the derivation of vegetable forms; and to the zoologist it offers an explanation of the diversities of animal life. The psychologist finds in it a key to the development of mind in all its grades, and the sociologist seeks its aid in tracing the progressive unfolding of the social state. By its most radical implication the "theory of evolution" excludes the view long and universally believed, that in all these spheres the phenomena were "specially created" as we now see them; and it asserts that in all these spheres the present effects have been brought about by gradual changes. The theory of "special creation" being abandoned, a theory of evolution is the inevitable alternative. And if the unity and harmonious interconnections of Nature, of which all science affords the proof, be not an illusion, then the "theory of evolution" must have a basis in the operation of universal principles, and must give rise to a general philosophical method of accounting for the present order of things. When, therefore, a man asks for information concerning the "theory of evolution," he can only be intelligently answered by referring him to the works where such a theory is presented. This, however, is not what the Nation does. It directs its correspondent first of all to Darwin's "Origin of Species" for the information he seeks. This is, of course, a great, original, and authoritative book; but it is, nevertheless, a special treatise on one branch of the subject of development, and, so far from making any attempt to expound the general "theory of evolution," there are whole phases of the subject that it does not touch. Nor does it attempt any such analysis of the problem, or resolution into its ultimate principles, as is necessary to the formation of a theory of the subject. Indeed, the very power and popularity of the work are, in a certain sense, due to its restriction, for it is mainly confined to the elucidation of a single principle. "Natural selection" was recognized before Mr. Darwin's time; what he has done is to show how this principle has acted in giving rise to new species from preëxisting species. It is a great thing to have done this, and Mr. Darwin is well entitled to his honors; but none the less is it misleading to cite his book on the "Origin of Species" as an exposition of the "theory of evolution."
Prof. Huxley has evidently had substantially the same question put to him as that directed to the editor of the Nation, but he returns to it a very different answer, while there is probably no living man better able to answer it. No one, certainly, knows more thoroughly the nature and extent of Mr. Darwin's contributions to the subject, or has a profounder appreciation of them, than he. And yet, in a lecture before the Royal Institution of Great Britain, Prof. Huxley said, after avowing his belief in the theory of evolution, "the only complete and systematic statement of the doctrine, with which I am acquainted, is that contained in Mr. Herbert Spencer's 'System of Philosophy'—a work which should be carefully studied by all who desire to know whither scientific thought is tending." Nothing can be more explicit or decisive, and, we may add, nothing more candid and just. Knowing perfectly all that Mr. Darwin had done, conversant as he was with the whole literature of the subject, foreign and domestic, he also thoroughly understood the claims of Mr. Spencer's contributions to the question, and his deliberate opinion, given to a critical audience, was, that whoever wanted information relating to the "theory of evolution" could only obtain it in a complete and satisfactory form from Mr. Spencer's works.
But the Nation thinks differently. It not only does not commend Mr. Spencer's works to readers seeking information on the "theory of evolution," but such readers are tacitly warned against them. Prof. Huxley, who ought to know what science is, recommends all who wish to understand the tendencies of scientific thought, to the study of Spencer's works; the Nation objects to Mr. Spencer as an expositor of science. A distinction is drawn between Darwin and Spencer, in which the former is characterized as "scientific and inductive," and the latter as "speculative." But this distinction is altogether groundless. Mr. Spencer's treatment of the problem of evolution is as rigorously inductive as Mr. Darwin's; but, if, to the inductive procedure, Mr. Spencer superadds the deductive, using established truths in an a priori way to strengthen and verify his conclusions, we hope that is not to be regarded as a contravention of true scientific method. The implication of the writer that Darwin gives the theory of evolution a firm inductive basis, while Mr. Spencer grounds it upon speculative a priori axioms, is as far as possible from being true.
Again, Mr. Spencer's works are contrasted with Darwin's by the writer in the Nation as treating of "general speculative philosophy in connection with theology and religion," while Mr. Darwin "nowhere considers scientific theses as either favorable or unfavorable to general philosophical or religious conclusions." Now, let us see what ground there is for this distinction. To a series of exhaustive works on evolution which were expected to run through a dozen volumes, there was prefixed an introductory part of 123 pages, the object of which was to define the sphere of science; and, in doing this, theology and religion were excluded from the discussion. And so this rejection of theology and religion becomes the basis of a charge that Mr. Spencer runs into theology and religion, in contrast to Mr. Darwin, who sticks to inductive science. It seems to be inferred that, because Mr. Spencer has designated his system of thought as a "philosophy," therefore he is chargeable with all the empty and baseless speculation which that term, in its old applications, connotes. But he clearly explains the sense in which he uses the terra philosophy. By "philosophy" Mr. Spencer means actual, verifiable, scientific knowledge of the highest degree of generality. His philosophy, in its leading characteristic, is a synthesis or unification of the sciences, and it is no more "speculative" than are the widest truths established in each of the sciences.
Again: the writer in the Nation points his contrast by characterizing Mr. Darwin's mental processes as properly Newtonian, while Mr. Spencer's are un-Newtonian. He says that Mr. Spencer has lately put forward the claim that "his method is justified by Newton's precepts and practice;" and he adds that, according to "the leading physicists of the day," this claim is not substantiated. Of this it may be said that Mr. Spencer put forth no such claims until he had been first attacked on this score by the Cambridge mathematicians; and "leading physicists of the day" are not wanting who regard the attack as a conspicuous failure. But, if the case is to go by the force of authority, does the writer in the Nation suppose that there are not plenty of "leading physicists of the day" who regard Mr. Darwin's method of reasoning as eminently un-Newtonian?
But to come back to the practical questions put by the correspondent of the Nation, we should say with Huxley that, if he wants information on the "theory of evolution" in any complete or adequate shape, he can find it in the works of Spencer more fully and systematically presented than anywhere else. He will find the theory expounded in the first volume of the "Philosophy;" and its biological, psychological, and sociological applications are elaborately presented in the subsequent divisions of the work. In Mr. Fiske's "Cosmic Philosophy" he will also find a masterly exposition of the whole subject, in its broad, philosophical aspects, complete in two volumes.
Darwin's various works are, of course, of great value, but they are voluminous, while Oscar Schmidt's newly published "Doctrine of Descent and Darwinism" is undoubtedly the best summing up of the discussion in the biological field that has yet been published. The works of Haeckel, translations of which will soon be printed, have the reputation of being learned and powerful, but they are limited to the field of zoology, and no more treat of the general "theory of evolution" than do the works of Darwin. The last edition of Lyell's "Principles of Geology" adopts the development theory and applies it to the course of geological life. The strongest books on the other side of the question are probably those of Agassiz, Mivart, and Dawson; and they are, moreover, moderate in size and popular in treatment. There are numerous other books of minor merit, like Lowne's and Henslow's "Prize Essays," but, unless a person has a passion for this kind of literature, and desires to pursue it in all its expressions, it will not be worth while to waste time and money on them when better works are procurable.
We last month passed some strictures on the prevailing practice of stimulating educational competition by the offer of money-prizes. The defenders of the policy are, of course, not without their excuses, and the most plausible of them takes this form: "If life is an arena of competition—a struggle for existence—and the school is to be a preparation for life, how can the competitive element be excluded? Life has its prizes to be striven for; a few win and many lose. The school should teach the youth in its charge how to comport themselves under the strains of rivalry that will be put upon them in their subsequent social experience."
To this it may be replied that there are plenty of necessary strife and struggle in the school without superadding to them artificial provocatives. Classing always leads to comparison, and gradation to estimates of capacity which inevitably arouse self-regard, vanity, and the love of approbation. The very organization of the school, its regular operations, and necessary daily results, are a constant and powerful appeal to the selfishness of the pupils. To be promoted, to beat some one, to outstrip a whole class in the open race, where the results are closely watched, is surely sufficient incentive, without throwing in medals and prizes to intensify the competition. Indeed, the strife, without these additional stimuli, is often far too strong, and requires to be checked by teachers and school-managers, instead of being encouraged and inflamed. Granted that the selfish motives are those by which people are habitually influenced in social life, it is the duty of teachers, and one of the great ends of education, to cultivate another class of motives, and to arouse and strengthen the more generous and disinterested feelings as incitements to action. In its highest purpose, the object of education is the formation of character, and character is the stamp of habitual feeling by which conduct is controlled. The common qualifications of a teacher are, to be able to "hear lessons," and to show children how to read, write, and cipher, but no teacher is fit for his business, in any adequate sense, who cannot discriminate among the gradation of motives by which pupils are influenced, and who cannot call out, exercise, discipline, and invigorate the higher motives that should operate in determining conduct. Undoubtedly we are drifting into a great system of wholesale machine-education, which deals with masses under general inflexible regulations, and in which the individual, as such, virtually disappears. The ambition is rather to drive all the children into the suffocating establishments called schools, and swell the numbers, and thus furnish materials for the National Bureau of Education, that it may flout its astonishing statistics in the face of an admiring world. American education thus takes its place in the category of "big things"—immense prairies, long railroads, universal suffrage, a mighty war, and the other elements of national vanity and boasting which the newspapers never allow us to forget. From this exalted place in the public regard, which our educational system has achieved, it is regarded as an eminent patriotic duty to patronize and encourage it, and so wealthy people can in no way better indicate their love of country, and minister to their own vanity, than by giving here a hundred dollars, and there five hundred, as prizes to be fought for in the schools. All this only aggravates an evil already too strong, and with which, from the very constitution of the schools, it is difficult to cope.
The education that does not recognize the individual and the elements of individuality as of the first importance, and cannot conform itself to their special and peculiar needs, and bring to bear effectually upon the widely-varying personalities with which it has to deal the incitements most suitable to each case, is, just to that degree, imperfect, and fails in the fundamental object of education. Education is a leading out of the faculties, and the very word determines the method. It is not a forcing out, a driving out, or a grinding out by machinery, but a process that expressly excludes the compulsive or coercive element—a leading out, which implies that the individual material to be acted upon has a nature that must be respected and acted upon in a given way. The preëxisting spontaneous forces of character, varying in their composition in each personality, are to be regarded by the educator, and are to shape his course, or he will fail of his highest object.
We say, then, that, first of all, the teacher should not be meddled with by thrusting in extraneous stimuli to give artificial excitement to the work of the school-room, and we are glad to see some symptoms of reaction against the old and vicious practice. Our education has come to be so much a matter of demagogism and popular flattery that it will not be easy to carry out reform in this particular; but we welcome the indications that here and there appear, of a recognition of the existing evil and the need of its remedy. The following passage, which we have seen quoted from the late annual report of the able State Superintendent of Schools of Illinois, Mr. Newton Blakeman, although perhaps somewhat sanguine, at any rate rings out the truth:
Equally encouraging is the action of the New York Board of Education in passing a resolution that hereafter no medals or prizes shall be accepted as awards to the students of the Normal College, except such as may have been previously founded, or from such persons as granted prizes prior to 1873. If this resolution be proper—that is, if the policy abandoned be bad—pray, why not abolish the existing prizes?