Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/July 1876/Sketch of Alexander Bain

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 9‎ | July 1876

PSM V09 D278 Alexander Bain.jpg


PROFESSOR BAIN, of the University of Aberdeen, is a representative man of the modern school of English thought, who has done his best work in the field of psychology. His elaborate treatises upon the human mind now take a leading place in our literature, and are used as text-books in many colleges and universities. Besides this more special line of inquiry, to which Prof. Bain has given prominent attention, he has also been very active in the general field of higher education as lecturer, examiner, and author. He was born at Aberdeen, in 1818, and entered Marischal College, in the university of that town, in 1836, where he took the degree of M. A. in 1840. From 1841 to 1844 he taught as deputy the class of Moral Philosophy in Marischal College, and 1844-'45 he had charge of the class of Natural Philosophy in that institution. In 1845 he was elected Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Andersonian University at Glasgow. In 1847 he was appointed by the "Metropolitan Sanitary Commission" their assistant secretary, and in 1848 he was transferred to the same office in the General Board of Health, a post which he resigned in 1850. From 1857 to 1862 he held the position of Examiner in Logic and Moral Philosophy in the University of London. During several years from 1858 to 1870 he held the office of Examiner in Moral Science in the India Civil Service Department, and in 1860 he was appointed by the crown Professor of Logic in the University of Aberdeen. In 1864 he was reelected examiner in the University of London, and continued to hold that position till 1869. Prof. Bain's first literary production is said to have been an article in the Westminster Review, published in 1840, and he subsequently contributed much to the pages of that periodical. In 1847-'48 he wrote text-books on astronomy, electricity, and meteorology, in Messrs. Chambers's school series, also several of Chambers's "Papers for the People," and the articles on "Language," "Logic," "The Human Mind," and "Rhetoric," in the "Information for the People." In 1852 he published an edition of the "Moral Philosophy of Paley," with dissertations and notes. "The Senses and the Intellect," his first independent and systematic work, appeared in 1855, and in 1859 was followed by "The Emotions and the Will," thus completing a new methodical exposition of the human mind. In 1861 appeared from his pen "The Study of Character," including an examination of phrenology. In 1863 he published an English Grammar, and in 1866 a "Manual of English Composition and Rhetoric." His more recent works are: "Mental and Moral Science," 1868; "Logic, Deductive and Inductive," 1870; and "Mind and Body," contributed to the "International Scientific Series," in 1873. In 1874 appeared "A Companion to the Higher English Grammar," "Examples and Discussions of Important Principles and Usages," intended as a help to the thorough mastery of English. Prof. Bain contributed the articles on "Logic" and "Mental Philosophy" to "Chambers's Encyclopædia," and contributed editorial notes to the recent edition of the works of James Mill. Prof. Bain was for many years the intimate friend and confidant of George Grote the historian, and-was made by him heir in reversion (after Mrs. Grote's death) of all his copyrights. In connection with Prof. Croome Robertson, he edited Mr. Grote's posthumous work on "Aristotle," and he also edited Grote's "Minor Works," and prefixed to the edition an elaborate estimate of the character and writings of the historian. In connection with Dr. Taylor he is now engaged in a thorough revision of Arnott's "Physics," bringing it up to date, so that a new edition of this valuable and favorite work may be soon expected. He received the degree of LL. D. in the University of Edinburgh in 1869.

As a philosophic thinker, the influence of Prof. Bain is now very widely felt. He has made a powerful impression upon the mental science of the age by accepting the results of modern physiology and treating methodically of thought and emotion in connection with their physical concomitants. Though not disregarding the value of introspection, or the study of psychical phenomena in the changes of consciousness, he couples with this method the vigorous study of mental effects on their physical side, considering that there can be no mental science worth the name that does not carry its analysis down to the material conditions under which mind is manifested. The recognition of the corporeal nature as so fundamental a factor in mental science naturally drew his attention to the theory of organic development by which the higher organisms are explained on the principle of their derivation from the lower. This theory carries with it the necessary implication that the psychical nature of man, his intellectual faculties, emotions, and sentiments, are also derivative from lower conditions, and are only to be explained through the principle of descent. In the last edition of "The Emotions and the Will" this view is consequently adopted.

We give the readers of the Monthly an excellent likeness of Prof. Bain, probably the first that has appeared in this country. He is a man of slight stature, but of an active nervous temperament, a free and admirable talker, full of wit and anecdote, and a lively storyteller. He is broad and liberal in his opinions, and holds advanced views on the subject of education and university reform.