Popular Science Monthly/Volume 72/March 1908/America's Intellectual Product
|AMERICA'S INTELLECTUAL PRODUCT|
IT may not be out of place for one who is unaccustomed to the constraint of reading from a pulpit to fortify himself with a text. From an excellent source I select the following: "Behold, a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, . . . some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: . . . but other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold." And also: "Ye shall know them by their fruits."
This is an epoch of the superlative. The prosperity of our country is at its highest. Our exports and imports have reached the highest figures of a succession of record-breaking years. The crops are so great that our railroads, of greater extent than those of any other country, congested with traffic, are unable to find cars to transport them, and parts of the country are suffering for such necessities as coal, owing to the plethora of others, such as grain. Business undertakings are greater than ever before in the history of the world, and as a consequence we have merchant princes whose wealth beggars the imagination and makes the rich men of antiquity look poor in comparison. Not only have we greater millionaires, but more of them than any other nation, and our total wealth far exceeds that of any other land in this or any other time. Not only have we rich, but our working classes are more fortunate than others; they are all busily employed, and wages are unusually high and still going up. So fortunate do we consider ourselves that a great political party, with a complacency that almost compels admiration, taking credit to itself for the conditions that have produced these unprecedented results, presents as its watchword, borrowing an elegant phrase from the gambler, the injunction to "Stand pat," on the assumption that conditions are so near perfection that they can not be improved.
Conditions being as I have described, let us imagine an intelligent traveler from Altruria, or from Mars, coming among us, and let us fancy his observations. "Surely," he will say, falling into the superlative, "this is the greatest country in the world. The easy circumstances of your people have undoubtedly left them time for the enjoyment of art, of literature and of science, and have enabled them to cultivate the love of beauty and of truth as no other nation has done. Your rich men have had the leisure to educate themselves to the highest pitch, to patronize the arts so that your architecture, your paintings and your music surpass all others, and have been able to constitute themselves a leading class whose influence by their writings, their scientific discoveries and their civic devotion has made them an aristocracy such as the world has not seen." I fancy I see a slight shade of embarrassment spread over the face of his cicerone, say in New York or Pittsburg, from which he presently rallies, as he points out to the stranger, "To be sure, speaking of architecture, that office building is the tallest structure in the world, overtopping the cathedral of Cologne, and doubling the height of the pyramids; either of those two railway stations is larger than any other; as for music, every family has an automatically played piano, in these two opera houses sing artists paid salaries higher than anywhere else, mostly Europeans to be sure; in this gallery are the most expensive pictures to be had in Europe, no princely family in Europe being able to resist our offers; as to literature, our newspapers are larger, printed faster, in larger type, and containing more news, unimportant it is true, than any others, and as for science, these dynamos furnish more current than any others in the world. As for the power of our rich men, one of them controls more miles of railway than would go around the earth, which he manages all for the benefit of the public, while others freely give their energies to the management of great public institutions which insure what poor we have against the terrors of old age and death."
But enough of imaginary conversation, and let us examine in all seriousness what are the fruits by which America shall be known. Within the last few years we have frequently heard the exultant statement that the United States is now a world-power. What is a world-power? Is it a nation whose armaments are able to wring from all rivals their richest possessions, their consent to unlimited aggression? What is the power that moves the world to-day? No sooner is the greatest warship of the world, the Dreadnought, launched by England, than a still greater one, the Satsuma, is launched by Japan. Must we exceed these in order to be a world-power? From the depths of my soul I believe not. What matters it to history how many thousand tons of steel or bales of cotton or bushels of wheat we export to Europe? Is not the question this, how many ideas do we export, and is our product commensurate with our material greatness? What care we that Sparta was victorious in the Peloponnesian wars, if she has left to our civilization no reminder of herself, while the ideas produced in Athens will keep her remembered when both her temples and our sky-scrapers shall have crumbled into dust.
Certainly we have some fruits to offer to history. Poetry and philosophy are to-day everywhere somewhat below par, but we have in the one produced Lowell and Whitman, and in the other Emerson, all redolent of the American soil. I do not suppose that I shall be disputed if I express the opinion that we to-day possess no names to be compared with those of Rostand in France, d'Annunzio in Italy, Hauptmann and Sudermann in Germany, Maeterlinck in Belgium, not to speak of Ibsen, but lately gone, from Norway. To be sure, we have novelists, and though Stevenson and Kipling were only sojourners here, we have Howells and James, to say nothing of more ephemeral writers. Still we have in no branch of literature such commanding names as in painting those of Whistler and Sargent, whom we claim as Americans though they spent most of their lives in Europe. The sense of the country for architecture has but recently been aroused, but the enormous progress that has been made in this direction will be admitted by those who remember the exposition buildings of the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia and compare them with those of the Columbian Exposition at Chicago or the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis. We may now find scattered through all parts of the country noble buildings, exemplifying models from Greece, France and Italy, even if we have not been able to originate a national style, unless our tall buildings are to be so considered. In the art of painting we are now able to hold up our heads as a nation, having distinguished exponents of its various branches, most of whom obtained their inspiration in France, if indeed they do not, like the two I have previously named, prafer to live there. Nevertheless the possession of the undisputed preeminence of Sargent among portrait painters and Whistler among etchers may reconcile us to their exile from the land which claims them. In sculpture the same may be said, in a less degree, as in painting, and the possession of St.-Gaudens may reconcile us to his Irish birth and his French name.
But whatever the status of our country in art and literature, it will be said, there is one matter in which we are particularly strong, namely in education. Our common schools are the boast of every patriotic American, many of whom believe that such schools are unknown in other lands; our colleges and universities are in number more than those of any other country, and for our education we pay a greater sum than any other country does or could afford. Education is the one thing of whose value all Americans are convinced, and for which most of them are willing to make sacrifices. Not only do we have the greatest millionaires, as I have remarked, but they give away more money than any others, and education obtains a large share of their benefactions. No other country possesses privately endowed institutions comparable with our great universities, and in none is the generosity of rich men developed to so high a degree, when measured in numbers. It has recently been announced that Mr. Rockefeller has just brought the total of his gifts to the University of Chicago up to the sum of twenty million dollars, while Mr. Carnegie has given the same sum to two institutions of very recent foundation, both bearing his name, and it is to be remembered that in both these cases the sums named constitute but a fraction of the amounts contributed by these great givers to educational purposes. These are but two of the great number of generous contributors to education in our day, and they have been preceded by a long line of others whom we remember with gratitude.
The question now lies near, what are the results of this grand investment in education, in which not only the fathers, but we of to-day, take such an interest? No sensible man to-day asks the question, "Does education pay?" The great question that interests the engineer or the physicist in connection with any apparatus, machine or transformation of energy, is its efficiency, that is, the ratio of what comes out to what is put in. If I may be pardoned for introducing a well-worn anecdote, I will remind you of the reply given by the Hebrew capitalist to his wife, interested in family matters, "Isaac, have you noticed how much interest young Mr. Loewenstein is taking in our Rebecca?" "Interest," says Isaac, looking up from his stock report, "Interest—what per cent.?" It is precisely this query to which I wish to call your attention to-day—how great is the efficiency of our educational plant, or, in commercial language, what per cent. of dividend does the investment pay? An answer to this may be of interest to future givers, unless indeed they are so permeated by the prodigality of the times that they will give their money in any case, and take their chances of its doing any good. Let us then take a brief survey of the state of learning in the United States. What is the attitude of the public toward learning, and toward the universities and colleges in particular? What influence do these exert on the ideals of the people? What is the intellectual or spiritual product of these numerous and well-endowed institutions, and what aspects of them are most prominent in the eye of the public? At the very outset of this inquiry it is somewhat depressing to note the divergence of opinion among experts as to what education is, and what it is for. Those who have attended meetings of college presidents or educational conventions can but have been impressed with the diametrically opposite views expressed. To be sure, there are a certain number of pet phrases and theories which we often hear repeated, and one sometimes thinks, in reading the proceedings of "Educators" in session, "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." Education must be for life, we hear. Undoubtedly, but what is life? Does it consist in eating three meals a day, sleeping at night, and the next day the same? We hear of education for citizenship. But is it so hard to be a good citizen that these elaborate and costly institutions are necessary to bring it about? I recently heard a gentleman remark with an air of finality, "Of course ninety per cent. of what a young man gets in college comes from the association with other young men." If this is true, it seems to me that there is something wrong with our institutions, and that the same result could be obtained in a far cheaper manner. This view takes little account of the influence on the young of strong and mature men, veterans in the conflict of life, and of the passing on of the garnered experience of the race. The maintenance of faculties, at least on their present scale, would seem to be quite unnecessary from this point of view. Under the old college régime, the students had far more time and opportunity for association with each other than at present. Have we, therefore, advanced in the wrong direction? Considering the prevalence of such views, it seems to me to be worth while to emphasize the fact that a college or university is, in the first place, a nursery of learning; I mean a place where knowledge is not only inculcated, but is produced. It would seem absurd to put forward this view, were it not so often lost sight of. The late Sir Walter Besant, in an article in the Harvard Graduates' Magazine, remarked upon the fact that at the commencement exercises that he had attended in this country, he heard much of the public services rendered by the graduates, and of their distinguished contributions to citizenship, but he had heard little of the distinguished scholars that the institution had produced, and that it would appear that that was a matter that was not considered of great importance. At similar occasions at Oxford or Cambridge, he stated, much was made of contributions to the world's thought made during the year by the university's sons, in which achievements the alma mater took great pride. I believe the same fact has also been noticed by others who attend academic occasions. In this respect the colleges do not differ essentially from the public, which is, to speak plainly, little interested in learning, and knows little of those devoted to it. If the future historian, or the traveler from Altruria, wishing to inform himself of the relation of the public to the colleges, should consult the documents, that is the newspapers, could he help concluding that the main business of the institutions of learning, and the one supported by the public, was the cultivation of athletic sports and contests? Are not our largest colleges chiefly known to the newspaper-reading public through the records of their athletic teams? When we hear the "spirit" of certain institutions spoken of, does it mean anything else than a concentration of all the forces of youth on the task of overcoming athletic rivals? It is, to be sure, an inspiring sight to see these forces concentrated on anything of importance with the determination to overcome difficulties, but does not the importance of the athletic success seem magnified out of all proportion, and is it compatible with that sane view of life which should, above all, be the possession of the educated man? Let us consider the amount of interest in athletics on the basis of the sums expended for it in comparison with other departments of activity. In a recent daily paper I find the budget for athletics at the University of Pennsylvania for the past year to amount to $88,863.85. During the same time fifteen colleges and universities in the State of New York, including Columbia and Cornell, spent on books for their libraries $67,587. This is less by $20,000 than the sum spent for the same purpose by the Brooklyn Public Library. We also find that at a single football game there is taken in in gate-receipts the sum of eighty thousand dollars, a sum, I may say, more than sufficient to run this university and college together for a whole year. What a commentary are these figures on American civilization! I do not grudge the expenditure of money on gymnasiums or whatever is necessary to the development of muscle and the maintenance of health, which is the prime necessity for success in any walk of life, but when I find in the above budget the sum of $29,688 for football, I feel a certain sense of scandal. I am aware that certain cities in the days of the decadence of Rome maintained bands of gladiators for the diversion of the public, but I can not feel that we shall do well by imitating them. I have never been able to reconcile myself to the spending by my own alma mater of over one hundred thousand dollars for a stadium, while she alone of all the great universities lacks a worthy library building, and can not find the funds to build it.
It will be said in explanation of the public interest in athletics that this is the field of activity most visible, even if the activity is not the greatest. Let us consider what are the fields of activity of a college or university. Founded at first with the avowed object of educating young men for the Christian ministry, our colleges naturally developed after the model of the English colleges, which, being intended for the education of certain classes in the community, were long dominated by medieval ideas and traditions, and made their main business the teaching of the ancient languages, for, if we include what was then known as "the mathematics" we find it to have been restricted to so much mathematics as was known to the Greeks, as if man's brain had lain dormant since their day. Such was the condition at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and even much later in this country. During this time, however, the modern sciences had arisen, and many of them had obtained a great development, especially mathematics, which, by the invention by Descartes of coordinate geometry, and by Newton and Leibnitz of the Infinitesimal Calculus, had forever emerged from the chrysalis in which the Greeks left it, and had become a thing of marvelous power, fit to display the highest flights of the human intellect. Were these triumphs of mathematics now exhibited to the academic youth? Far from it, they were not even informed that such existed. In fact, we have good reason to doubt whether their existence was known to any one in the country. As far as colleges were concerned, if we consult the diaries of students written a little over one hundred years ago, we find that they were instructed in matters now considered fit for the grammar school. A student at Harvard speaks of running away from recitations and going out to work with a surveyor's compass by way of diversion, but there is no suggestion that he knew anything even of trigonometry, now considered a proper subject for the high school. At the period in question the sciences of physics and chemistry were beginning that marvelous development which has continued to our day. Were the students of seventy years ago made acquainted with the discoveries of Thomas Young and Fresnel in light, of Oersted and Ampère in electricity? We must again return the same negative answer. But come down to the period of forty years ago, when the country was advanced enough to be in daily communication with Europe and to take an interest in intellectual matters, and had by its successful termination of a great civil war put itself in a place of respect among the great nations of the earth. It was then possible, to be sure, to learn a little science in college, but as for the advances that were being daily made in Europe, little enough was known of them. In fact, we must confess that during this whole period we remained in this country in the Rip van Winkle stage with regard to knowledge merely of what was going on in scientific Europe. Did it occur to any of our people that this country had anything to do in connection with this great creative movement of knowledge? That our standing among the nations of the earth was in any way dependent on the production of new knowledge on American soil, and that if we did not expect forever to occupy a position of intellectual mediocrity, it would be necessary to do more than retail what others had produced. Apparently not to any extent. Scholars we had, to be sure, mainly in the direction of history, and some literary men. We had indeed already produced inventors in the mechanical arts, men of wonderful alertness of mind, who gave a character to the national genius, and did much to help us to the industrial supremacy that we to-day possess. But the pursuit of searching into the laws of nature, with the object of advancing the stock of knowledge of the human race, was then hardly thought of. Who had made the great discoveries which were the chief distinction of the nineteenth century? In some cases persons of private means, sometimes physicians, but more and more professors in the universities of Germany, France, England and Italy, and the smaller countries of Europe. In these countries it has always been assumed that the greatest intellectual activity would be found among professors in the universities, who would be expected, as a matter of course, to produce those fruits in the way of new knowledge that would make the glory of the nation. Thus we find Napoleon, reforming everything in France, surrounding himself with a scientific galaxy of the greatest brilliancy, feeling that this, no less than military success, was for the glory of France. Germany, hardly recovered from the effects of the Napoleonic wars, set about founding new universities or strengthening old ones, and their professors were constantly adding to knowledge in every direction. The spirit of work and of research was the characteristic spirit of the German university. Germany was in this way attaining that intellectual primacy that no other nation may to-day dispute her. In the meantime the universities of England were lagging behind the scientific movement, and ours were still well in the rear of them. It was not until after the successful prosecution of the Franco-Prussian war that the appearance of Germany on the stage as a political world-power began to call our attention to the real source of her power, and finally the wave struck us. Young men then began to go to Germany and to drink in inspiration at the fountain whence it flowed so freely. When my colleague, Professor Story, reached Berlin in 1871 he found few Americans, but on my own arrival fifteen years later the stream had swollen to a goodly number, although it had by no means reached its flood. The advent of the hundreds or thousands of young Americans returning from Germany full of the enthusiasm for production, which it is impossible to avoid catching there, began to have a very decided influence on our academic ideals, and our universities opened their eyes to the fact that there was no reason why we, too, should not contribute to the increase of knowledge.
Let me not be misunderstood, nor accused of claiming too much for the influence of Germany. I know that there are to-day personalities potent in the educational world who alternately pooh-pooh and dread the influence of Germany. Although I can not sympathize with them, I am far from maintaining that our liberation from bondage to medievalism began when students began to go to Germany. I do not forget Franklin, whose scientific researches made him a great figure in the great world when it was hardly known what an American was, but I must point out distinctly that Franklin was not only the product of no university, but that he was never a professor in one, so that he constitutes no exception to the condition that I have described. I remember also with pride the discoveries of Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, whose great discoveries in electricity entitle him to be named with Faraday, and had there been here any appreciation of scientific research or had the means of communication with Europe been greater, and especially had not Faraday made most of the same discoveries in England, Henry would have made his name one for all Americans to cherish as a national glory. It is with feelings of peculiar pleasure that I notice, each spring on my visit to Washington, the statue of Henry in front of the Smithsonian, a welcome change from the bronze man on horseback with cocked hat and sword with which the capital swarms, and a quiet proof that even republics are not totally ungrateful, and that they recognize that there are other kinds of glory than military glory.
It would be impossible to pass over in silence the great influence of Louis Agassiz, coming to Cambridge over fifty years ago, who by his wonderful personality not only encouraged many to take up research as a profession, but also kindled the imagination of the public, and led it to see that science was deserving of respect, and not of the suspicion that it had often encountered on religious grounds. Such was the success of Agassiz that we still hear stories of him that would seem to mark him as the first to succeed in opening the purses of the rich for scientific research. Agassiz did more for science than is possible to many; he left a son who not only rose to the highest level among American scientists in the same line as his father, but, more practical in his applications of science, and equally actuated by the desire to advance science itself, was able to exercise a generosity that, until the time of the present millionaire gifts, made him the largest single contributor to Harvard.
It is frequently supposed that the American public is extremely interested in the results of scientific progress, and so it is, in a certain sense. Certainly we can not accuse it of lack of alertness, when it reads more than any other—in the newspapers. It reads with eager interest, and with implicit credulity accounts of the supposed discoveries of science, taking at equal value the productions of notorious charlatans and those of real investigators. It reads with wonder of the discovery of radium, laying particular weight on its costing millions of dollars an ounce, much as it speaks of Mrs. X's hundred-thousand-dollar tiara, or Raphael's million-dollar Sistine Madonna. With equal interest it reads of the production of energy out of nothing, of communication with the dead, or the discovery of the origin of life. America is, as we know, the favorite resort of new religions, intellectual fads, and isms, ologies and pathies of every sort. As a symptom of the attitude of the public toward science I may mention the fact that the press does not yet consider scientific news to be good business. While every paper of metropolitan standing maintains an expert for literature, for the drama, for music, and many for sport, I know of but three, the New York Sun, the Evening Post, and the Boston Transcript, that retain the services of a regular contributor to acquaint the public with the current achievements of science. I have for years taken one of the great Boston dailies, but I find it almost impossible to find from it who has obtained the Nobel prizes, and I take it as extremely likely that the rest of the public is in the same position, for many had never heard of these prizes until one of them was conferred on the president of the United States. Do not the facts that I have mentioned lead us to the necessary conclusion that on the American field there is no great depth of earth, and point emphatically to the need of both deepening the soil and fertilizing it? When we come to sum up the achievement of this country in science we find ourselves somewhat embarrassed. There are in the dictionary of scientists recently published by Professor Cattell the names of about four thousand men who have been engaged more or less in research, that is, one man in every twenty thousand of the population of the country. Does this look as if the prosecution of science was looked upon as of great national import? Of those who have received the honor here most coveted by scientific men, of election into the National Academy of Sciences, we find ninety, or a little more than one man in each million of the population. Either this body is absurdly limited, or science can hardly be said to be flourishing here. What is the product of these four thousand scientists? I will grant that much of it is of an excellent order, that we have many flourishing scientific societies, and that in many sciences we maintain our own journals which are to be found in every scientific library in the world. But nevertheless it is plain that so far few fundamental discoveries are made here, that we neither discover radium, split up the atom, nor find new gases in the air. The Nobel prizes have not yet crossed the water, nor do they seem particularly likely to in the next few years. In fact we find ourselves in much the same state with regard to science as with art and literature. We have our Sargent and St. Gaudens, our Howells and James, we have also our Michelson and Morley, our Newcomb, Hill and Agassiz, and a good many others of varying degrees of prominence, but not of commanding rank. It seems accordingly pretty evident that our product is as yet hardly what we might justly expect considering the stress we lay on education and the amount of money we spend.
What is to be done in order to change this state of things, and to relieve the United States from the aspersion of mediocrity in intellectual achievement? Is it not our plain duty to urge in season and out of season the importance of research, and to insist upon it as the main concern of every occupant of a university or college position? I put this not only on the ground of duty to our country in order to maintain her position with self-respect among the other nations, but on account of its preeminent importance as a vitalizing and energizing influence on teaching. If the public does not take a great interest in the doings of the colleges and the professors, is it not because of the fact that the professors do not produce that crop of fruit that may fairly be expected of them? How can the public become enthusiastic over professors whom they consider in the light of pedagogues paid to hear the young men say their lessons, and to repeat over to them what they themselves have read in the books of others? Will not that teacher make a far greater impression on the student if he knows that he is continually occupied in work that is his own individual creation and that is increasing the sum of human knowledge? There is no doubt that the absolutely essential quality in a teacher is enthusiasm, without which it is impossible to exert any inspiration. Who is so likely to possess this quality sine qua non as the man who is continually occupied in the engrossing task of wringing her secrets from nature, or drawing new conclusions that his powers of reasoning have enabled him to perceive for the first time? I well remember my first impressions on arriving in Germany. After an experience of five years as student and instructor in Cambridge, where it was considered (among the students, for I will not do the professors the injustice of making them responsible) good manners not to be warmly interested in anything in particular, the entrance into a community where every one was tremendously interested in the piece of work on which he was engaged, and was not ashamed to talk of it, where there were persons enough studying the same subject to make discussion attractive, and where, after a morning in the laboratory, one would adjourn to a restaurant and talk shop all through dinner, this was to me a tonic like the effect of a cold bath. I shall never forget the first time I saw the great Helmholtz. In my anxiety to secure a place in his laboratory, I committed the breach of etiquette of calling on him at his house instead of at the laboratory. Ushered into his study, I found him standing at work at his desk, from which he turned and transfixed me with those piercing eyes. Never in my life have I felt so small and insignificant, knowing myself to be in the presence of the greatest scientist alive. During the years that I spent in Berlin, I must acknowledge that the help I received directly from Helmholtz was not great, but we all felt such an unbounded admiration and respect for the great man, such a pride in reading his investigations as they appeared, and trying to understand them, that I would not exchange those memories for any amount of assistance in the preparation of a doctor's dissertation. After spending the four happiest years of my life in this atmosphere, when it came time to return home it was with some misgivings that I began to consider the prospects of the life about to begin. On the steamer returning I fell in with a classmate from whom I learned something of a new institution in which great stress was laid on research, a fact that produced an agreeable stimulus in many others than myself, as I have since learned.
The foundation of the Johns Hopkins University in 1876 marked an epoch in education and in science in this country, for into it President Gilman succeeded in gathering such a body of strong and enthusiastic scholars all permeated by the spirit of research and production as had never been got together in this country. What American physicist does not owe something to the life and work of Rowland, what biologist to that of Brooks? From that remarkable circle of inspiring teachers came one who was to furnish the creative ideas for this Clark University, where the idea of research, of the production of fruit as the criterion of vitality, was to be emphasized as had never before been the case in this country. The idea of founding a university without a collegiate department was derided in some quarters. "No students to teach! What do your professors do then?" was the question frequently asked. And yet the prospect was unspeakably alluring to many young men. One of my colleagues tells me of a letter that he received from a friend who declared that on reading the first announcement of Clark University he felt like selling all he had and going there. This I believe was the feeling of many others. I was not so fortunate as to be here the first year, but I have had described to me by colleagues the exhilaration of the start in the race, in the company of a band of leaders, mostly young, but already eminent, and every one imbued with the determination to do all that in him lay toward the increase of knowledge and the glory of his country.
Of the history of the university it is not for me to speak. My remarks are not intended to be of local, but of general, application. My main contention is of the indispensability of research, by all teachers, not only in universities, as a means of vivification and fructification. It is hardly necessary to speak of the necessity to the community of research, on account of its practical applications. Of this the public is becoming decidedly sensible. To say nothing of those great practical utilities, the telegraph and the telephone, the application of steam and electricity in the production and transmission of power, the conquests of biological science in its applications to medicine and the preservation of the public health, are matters of common knowledge. The disappearance of the plagues with which the cities of Europe were so frequently scourged, of the ravages of smallpox so prevalent one hundred and fifty years ago that one person in every three or four was marked with it, and finally the control of yellow fever and malaria, speak volumes in favor of medical research. Who is doing the medical research of the world? In this country the statement is made that out of about one hundred thousand physicians not over five hundred are engaged in research. Fortunately the Germans are at this too, so that every physician has the ambition to study at some period in Germany, and find out all he can of the newest methods of practise and discovery.
The effect of research on the industries of a country is well known. One of the most celebrated applications of chemistry was the creation of the aniline dyes. This discovery, made in England, bore its greatest fruits in Germany, and at the recent celebration in London of the jubilee of the discovery of the aniline colors in honor of Sir William Perkin, one of the speakers said that it was a painful fact that although the English had the discoverer the Germans had the factories. In fact, the Germans not only make the dyes, but the greater part of all the fine chemicals for the world. Every one of these great German factories employs scores of chemists, each with a doctor's degree from a university, not only for the purpose of superintending the manufacture, but for the prosecution of research and the development of new processes and products.
In the commercial race of to-day, England has lost that preeminence that she once had, and is extremely nervous with regard to the competition of the United States and Germany. If we compare the methods of the latter two countries, I believe we shall find a decided difference. In this country success has been achieved by the application of business acumen, in finding out how to save cost by the concentration of huge amounts of business under one management, and by production on a large scale. When it comes to improving the quality of the product, we are not so successful. As a familiar example take the steel manufacture, where we have passed England in the quantity of the steel we manufacture, but if steel is wanted of the finest sort for razors the greatest part of it still comes from England or Germany. The principles of the manufacture of steel are still largely a mystery, and the development of the method that seems to give us the most information on this subject, that of metallography, or the study of metallic alloys under the microscope, has been developed to a great extent in Germany and France. We see the same tendency to concentration of talent on the business end in the management of our railroads. Can any one doubt that these are now managed with far less energy than twenty years ago? Our railroads are now in the hands of financial magnates, and the attempt to do more business takes precedence of everything else. The great increase in the number of fearful accidents bids fair to open the eyes of our good-natured public to this tendency.
I believe I am justified in the generalization that the American talent has made its success rather in business organization and in invention that did not require great learning than in those lines that require deep thinking and solid study. This is the line characteristic of Germany. For instance, we build great steam engines, but it remains a solemn fact that the finest engines are to-day built in the Swiss town of Winterthur, by the firm of Sulzer Brothers. At the Paris Exposition, in 1900, one did not need to be a great expert to perceive that American engines played but a small part there, and that in originality of design and perfection of construction, those of Switzerland, Germany and Belgium were more worthy of consideration. The notion that we are always ahead in mechanical matters receives several rude shocks on careful examination. Some years ago when the power of Niagara was to be developed on a grand scale, it was determined to install turbines of five thousand horse-power each, larger than had ever been built. For the development of this plant the best talent in the world was obtained, and the dynamos were finally built after the combined suggestions of several American and English engineers. The turbines, on the contrary, were built after designs by a firm in Geneva. And yet this is the country of great rivers and water-powers, and at Holyoke turbines of all sorts have been built and tested for years. The reason that the Swiss were appealed to was that they had made such a study of the theory as well as the practise of turbines that they were prepared to design a turbine of any magnitude. As another example we may take the case of the most important subject now before the engineer in the steam turbine. It is true that there is now on the American market one successful American turbine, but it was brought out years after the Parsons turbine in England, and the de Laval in Sweden, and any treatise on the subject now bristles with the names of German, French and Swiss turbines. As an example of the German versus the English method, if we open one of the two or three English books on the steam turbine we shall find a very little theory, some specifications and a large number of examples of turbines built by various makers. Opening the chief German treatise, a huge volume by a professor in the Polytechnic in Zurich, we find at first a treatise on the thermodynamics of steam, then applications to the flow of steam through nozzles, then the mathematical theory of stresses in rapidly rotating bodies, finally, the application of these principles to the design of turbines, and then a thorough and methodical description of the principal existing types. Hardly, if at all, less important than the steam turbine is the gas engine, which seems for a long time to have been treated almost as a joke by American engineers, while in Germany it has reached an efficiency far exceeding that of the steam engine and has been built in sizes up to four thousand horse-power. The effect of this indifference in this country was to put us far in the rear of even France in the development of the automobile, although this was a country where the wealth necessary for the pursuit of the automobile craze was present in great abundance. In spite of the number of manufactories of automobiles in this country, I am informed that the Fiat Company of Turin is occupied for the next two years with American orders, the result of the success of its machines in international races everywhere.
I will conclude my practical examples with one more contrast. A year ago I visited a great optical plant in this country. There I saw in one room thousands of lenses for spectacles being ground almost without attention. During the day I saw one man who seemed to me to know anything about optics. The business was in the hands of the original founder and his sons. I supposed that the latter, having grown up in the enjoyment of wealth, would have been given the best education possible to train them for their business, and possibly sent to Europe to learn methods there. Great was my astonishment to learn that the gentlemen had not even been at college. In the city of Jena is one of the most remarkable and successful industrial plants in the world. The Carl Zeiss works are known to every worker with the microscope, to every physicist, to every photographer in the world, for here are produced those wonderful lenses that make photomicrography and the more wonderful achievements of instantaneous photography possible. The history of the Zeiss works is as interesting as its products. Fifty years ago Zeiss, a small optician, wishing to get help in improving his microscopes, consulted Professor Abbe, the physicist at the University of Jena. The latter, applying his mathematical knowledge, so improved the efficiency of the microscopes that Zeiss invited him to join forces. Becoming interested in the subject, Abbe resigned his professorship and became the scientific partner. Taking up the theory of optical instruments in general, he completely remodeled it, bringing out points never appreciated before, and inventing new lenses that were beyond competition. At the death of Zeiss, his son not having a taste for the business, Abbe was able to become sole proprietor, and at his death two years ago, full of success and lamented by scientists everywhere, he created of the business a Stift, or foundation, for the benefit of every one employed in the works. This is managed by a board composed of the scientific directors of the different branches of the business, the whole constituting a magnificent monument to German science and cooperation.
If the view that I have taken is correct, the practical question presents itself, what has been done by the colleges and universities in this country to provide for research? I should like to ask all the trustees and governing boards of the institutions of the country the question: Gentlemen, what is your policy—have you any—do you believe in research—if so, what provision have you made for it? Do you believe that you have any duty to the nation in this matter? Who, in your expectation, is to do the amount of research necessary to constitute us a world-power in the intellectual sense? Do you realize that the prosecution of research is a very engrossing pursuit, consuming great amounts of time, and not to be carried on in those leavings of moments when the tried teacher has finished his day's task of instruction? That it is also a very expensive process, requiring elaborate laboratories fitted with the ever-changing apparatus quite distinct from the stereotyped stock in trade necessary for the imparting of first principles to the tyro in science? Of the forty million dollars now spent annually in the United States on colleges and universities, what proportion now goes for the provision for research? This it is impossible to tell, but we find that in comparison with the hundred thousand students in our colleges there are only seven thousand graduate students. Of these by far the greater proportion are not to be counted in the research class, but are preparing to be routine teachers of a somewhat superior grade to those who go immediately from undergraduate colleges. These graduate students are largely being taught by professors whose main duties are in undergraduate teaching, and even in our largest and richest institutions the complaint is made that it is impossible for the graduate student to secure any considerable attention from the professor. In many cases expensive laboratories are erected with little or no provision for buying books. I know of but two physical laboratories in this country that have an endowment to be devoted to the fostering of research, the Jefferson Laboratory at Harvard and the Phœnix Laboratories at Columbia.
Fellowships are, to be sure, provided, but not nearly enough. For it is a strange fact that the sons of the rich seldom or never in this country take up learning as a profession, and that most of our serious students have exhausted their means in the four years of college. In a family where there are several children, it is a serious matter to provide a college education for all, to say nothing of the extra three years of graduate work, and the ideas that I have been advocating are so little familiar to the public that many fathers do not understand what more their sons need when provided with a college training. It is useless to make a comparison with the professional studies of law and medicine—these are frankly bread-studies, while it should be expressly understood that the pursuit of pure science has no rewards of a monetary nature. It must be carried on by those who love it and feel called to it, and are willing to make sacrifices for it, but they need not be expected to go without food and warmth, as we often find such students doing. The national government provides richly for the education of those who are to devote their lives to her defense; is there any less reason for providing for those who are to make her intellectually great? Be assured, intending benefactors, that your money will not be wasted by the devotees of science. Of wasting money there are many ways, but not this. Some time ago I stood on a hill above the campus of a large and rapidly growing university, as it is called. At my feet I counted thirteen buildings completed and in process of erection, those of the latter category representing at a crude guess over half a million of dollars, to say nothing of the vast hole into which a third of a million had been poured to make a Roman holiday, a stadium rivaling Harvard's. Meeting a professor, I fell into conversation with him, and he began to describe to me the needs and resources of the institution, and with pride informed me that the endowment was—about two thirds of the endowment of Clark University and College together. When I thought of our three plain and modest buildings I could not but feel that something was wrong, here or there, and I could not avoid the conclusion that what was spread over such a large surface must be rather thin. Knowing as I did the pitifully small salaries paid the professors in that institution and the feeling cherished by most of them toward their president, a highly successful autocrat of the genus hustler, I did not feel that I had cause to envy the university of X. There are no fellowships there, though there are laboratories, and those valiant souls among the professors who do research do so at the risk of their lives. To secure a position there one is not asked, What have you accomplished? but, What is your denomination? Is this a picture of the typical American university? I sincerely hope not. And yet I fear that the picture is not unfamiliar. Certainly it does not remind us in the least of a picture of a university in Germany or France. A friend of mine, a distinguished professor of mathematics in the University of Paris, has as his regular duties the delivery of two lectures a week for one semester, that is, during four of five months of the year. The rest of his time he has for research. The result is that he is one of the two or three of the world's greatest mathematicians. For the amount of work that I have mentioned he receives what until last year was a full professor's salary at Harvard, the largest, with two exceptions, of any in the United States. And yet France is a small country, not rich in comparison with us, and with a national debt six times as great as ours. But France has long been a civilized country, and Paris is proud to call herself "la ville Lumière." At the University of Berlin, Professor van't Hoff, the great physical chemist, was called from his native Holland to occupy a chair of research, in which he is totally freed from the obligation to lecture. Can we not consider the possibility of something of this sort in this country?
During the last few years several institutions have been founded for the sole purpose of the promotion of research, most notably the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research in New York. These noble foundations may be expected to produce great results, but they do not relieve the universities from the duty of providing for research themselves, for research can be much more efficiently carried on in connection with teaching, and it is far more easy to obtain the persons who are to do the work in the universities than elsewhere. The scientist who does not have the inspiration of frequent contact with young and active minds of students is likely to become self-absorbed, one-sided and dried up. It is to be noticed that I have made this plea for research largely on the basis of its effect on teaching, and of inspiration of the students and of the community.
What then, my colleagues of university and college, is our duty? First of all, by our lives and precepts to teach our students that the prime object of the educated man is not to make a living. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? It is ours to hold up the sacred torch, and to radiate upon the community those ideals which it is strangely in danger of forgetting. It is for us to enrich the American soil, and cause it to bring forth imperishable fruit. And by word and deed to remind the young men with whom we come in contact that life is neither pleasure nor pain, but serious business.
- The following article was given as an address at Clark University on Founder's Day, February 1, 1907, and although some of the statements therein made might now be somewhat modified, it has been deemed best to print it verbatim, and without removing the local allusions, since its application is general, rather than particular.