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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/June 1876/Editor's Table

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 9‎ | June 1876



THE reader's attention will be arrested by the novelty of our first article, by a distinguished literary Frenchman, giving the result of his observations on the progress of an in-ant in learning to talk. We confess some mortification at seeing the lame of a man at the head of such a discussion. Not that the dignity of M. Taine is at all compromised, for he never undertook a more important or a more distinguished task than critically noting the steps of mental evolution in a baby. Nevertheless, this would seem to be preëminently the proper work of woman—a work to which we might infer she would be drawn by her feelings, in which she would be interested by her curiosity, and would take up from the temptation of her special opportunities. Yet M. Taine found that it had not been done. He wished to test Max Müller's views in regard to the genesis of language, and wanted a series of observations of infantine mental growth for the purpose. But they had not been made, the facts were wanting, and nothing remained but to make the study himself. We say this kind of work belongs to woman, and she is perfectly competent to peform it. Why, then, has it not been undertaken, and why has there not grown up a body of carefully-observed and widely-verified facts regarding psychological development in infancy such as would be valuable for arriving at inductive truths for guidance in the rational education of childhood? Undoubtedly, psychology is a backward science, imperfect from the obscurity and complexity of its questions, and its long cultivation by unscientific methods. But the value of observations upon the mental unfolding of infancy is not, by any means, dependent upon the possibility of immediately explaining them. Such observations, if accurately made and intelligently recorded, will have a value of their own independent of the state of psychological science, while they would become a permanent and potent means of its advancement. In most other fields of natural phenomena the facts are far in advance of the theories by which they are organized into science; in the field of mental growth, however, observations are scanty and speculation superabundant.

We are, of course, not to expect that things will come before they are wanted, and, if such observations are not called for, why should they be supplied? But the facts have been long and loudly called for, if not by psychologists, then by practical educators, while woman has had exclusive charge of the education that begins in infancy. She is an educator as a mother, and the culture of childhood has almost universally fallen into her hands as a teacher. We might surely have expected that, with their great excess of opportunity, some few women of ability would have gone carefully and critically and often over the ground which M. Taine has passed over once with such interesting results. But the work that might have been expected, so far as we are aware, has not been done, nor is there any promise of it. The difficulty is, that there has been nothing in woman's education either to interest her in the subject or to qualify her for dealing with it. Observations, to be valuable for scientific purposes, involve an accuracy of perception and an intellectual discrimination which are not to be had except by patient and methodical training of the observing powers. This is the one thing that has not been included in female education. Neither languages, nor mathematics, nor history, nor mental philosophy, nor music, nor general literature, affords any exercise whatever of the observing faculties. A student may become proficient in all these branches, while the intellectual interest in the phenomena of daily experience, and the objects of common life, remains as dormant as it is in the savages. Nay, more, absorption in these modes of mental activity, which involve chiefly the memory and reflective powers, is fatally unfavorable to observation, as it brings the mind under the control of mental habits that exclude it. No woman can make valuable observations on mental progress in infancy that has not had a culture fitted for it, first, by a long practice, such as she gives to music, in independent, observation in some branch of objective science, as botany, for example; and, secondly, by a thorough knowledge of the constitution of the child, especially the functions of its nervous mechanism. With their heads filled with history, æsthetics, algebra, French, and German, they will never attain to these qualifications for studying the character of children. The seminaries do not prepare them for it; the high-schools and the normal schools do not confer it. Nor is this all, nor the worst. There is no appreciation of it or aspiration for it. The so-called woman's movement, which professes to aim at her higher improvement and the enlargement of her activities, is not in this direction. It looks to public, professional, and political life, as woman's future and better sphere of action. In the new colleges for women that are springing up in all directions with munificent endowments, the supreme consideration seems to be to ignore sex, and frame the feminine curriculum of study on the old masculine models, and keep it up to the masculine standards. The spirit of these schools is that of a slavish imitation. They are organized with no reference to the urgent and living needs of society, but they go in for the traditional trumperies of the old colleges; and, instead of studying science in its personal, domestic, and social bearings, the women demand Latin and Greek, and as much of it as the masculine intellect has proved capable of surviving. Children are imitators. Savages are imitators. What else are the women in their demands for new and ampler opportunities of culture? They will study classics, and let the men study the babies; but, if they are incompetent, of course the men must do it. For this business of studying the science of infancy must be pursued by somebody, thoroughly and exhaustively. It is nothing less than a transcendent problem of human character lying at the foundation of the social state; fur only as the human being is understood in its deeper organic laws, prenatal and infantine, as well as in its subsequent unfolding, can we arrive at settled and scientific views regarding the rights, claims, duties, and true interests of the individual in society. If not a new research, it is at least a new impulse and stage of research, and we say again that we should think intelligent and ambitious women would be glad to have a share in it, and would have wisdom enough to include it in their extended schemes of female education.



We not long ago called attention to a newspaper article under the title of "German Darwinism," which made a point against Herbert Spencer as not being recognized in Germany. We pointed out various reasons in the national habits of thought, why Spencer's doctrines, which are put forth under the form of a philosophical system, would be likely not to attract the attention of German thinkers so early as those of other Continental countries. Our view has since been strikingly confirmed by an eminent German authority, Prof. Wundt, of the University of Leipsic, a physiologist and psychologist of worldwide reputation. In a review of the German translation of "First Principles," published in the Jena Literary Gazette, Prof. Wundt gives an excellent account of the book, from which the following statements are condensed:

"Of living English philosophers Herbert, Spencer undoubtedly stands in the foremost rank, yet his works have hitherto been little known in Germany. It would, however, appear that this neglect is soon to be retrieved, for, simultaneously with the appearance of the work under review, two other volumes by the same author are issued. By giving an excellent translation of 'First Principles' (under the title of 'The bases of Philosophy'), Dr. Vetter has rendered good service to his countrymen, and it is to be hoped that he will further aid in making this distinguished author known in Germany by translating the subsequent volumes of his system."
"In the whole tenor of his views Mr. Spencer differs widely from the speculative philosophers of Germany. The indomitable persistency with which for twenty-five years he has worked on the various branches of science, bringing them into one system, has no parallel in Germany, save, perhaps, in Hegel's 'Encyclopædia.'"
"Among the dominant ideas in this system the doctrine of evolution is preëminent. In Spencer's mind evolution is not merely a principle in biology, but extends on the one hand to inorganic Nature, and on the other hand to the domain of psychology and sociology. And here we take occasion to remind the reader that, independently of the stimulus given to scientific thought by Darwin, Mr. Spencer early recognized the importance of the law of evolution, to which from the first he gave very wide scope, and which he has illustrated with a multitude of original ideas."
"A detailed criticism of the 'First Principles' would necessarily require a book for itself, more especially because the German reader, from the very nature of his philosophical training, will enter on the study of the most general laws of being, the demonstration of which is the aim of the present work, with prepossessions different from those of the English author. Perhaps in the philosophical literature of recent times there is no English work which bears the national stamp so visibly as does Spencer's. From this point of view alone, to say nothing of the many pregnant thoughts it contains, it well deserves the attention of German readers. John Stuart Mill, in the philosophical direction of his mind, came too much under the influence of the French, particularly of Comte. Spencer's mind is, no doubt, more original than Mill's, and more free from foreign influences, though inferior in the splendor of external form. In all the philosophical speculations of Spencer we plainly see that practical sense which makes its way through the most difficult problems by the shortest route."
"Finally, though the German reader will find in these 'Bases of Philosophy' much that he will object to, and though on the capital points of the system he will dissent from the author oftener than he agrees with him, nevertheless he will not lay the book aside without having received many a valuable suggestion. Indeed, it may be truly said of works on philosophy, that we learn more from those which arouse our opposition than from those which merely echo our own opinions."


The Rumford gold medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded to commemorate important contributions toward our knowledge of heat and light, has just been granted to Dr. John William Draper, of New York. This is a distinguished tribute to the scientific labors of our eminent physicist and chemist, and the Academy has honored itself in the award. Yet, those who know how early and eminent were Dr. Draper's original contributions to the chemistry of light, will be tempted to ask why this distinction was not accorded by the Academy to Dr. Draper a generation ago. As reminiscences of Count Rumford are being revived just now, it will be interesting to glance at the history of his medals, which have attained such celebrity in the scientific world.

Deeply impressed with the importance of extending the knowledge of heat and light, to which he had devoted himself with great assiduity and success, Count Rumford, in 1796, presented to the Royal Society £1,000, the interest of which was to be spent in striking two medals both in the same die, one of gold and one of silver, worth the interest of the donation for two years, and to be given biennially for the most important discovery or improvement relating to heat and light that should have been made during the preceding two years in any part of Europe. The trust was accepted and the medals designed. The first award was to Rumford himself in 1802. In 1804 John Leslie received the Rumford medals. The honor then passed, in 1806, to Murdock; in 1810 to Malus; in 1814 to Dr. Wells; in 1816 to Humphry Davy; in 1818 to David Brewster; in 1824 to Fresnel; in 1834 to Melloni; in 1838 to J. D. Forbes; in 1840 to Biot; in 1842 to Fox-Talbot; in 1846 to Faraday; in 1848 to Regnault; in 1850 to Arago; in 1852 to Stokes; in 1854 to Arnott; in 1856 to Pasteur; in 1858 to Jamin; in 1860 to Clerk Maxwell; in 1862 to Kirchhoff; in 1864 to Tyndall; in 1866 to Fizeau; in 1868 to Balfour Stewart.

At the same time Count Rumford made a corresponding donation to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, instituted in 1780. Five thousand dollars were presented, the accruing interest of which was to be invested in medals, and granted biennially by the academy for the most important discoveries in relation to heat or light made within the preceding two years. It was also provided that, if this term passed without any discovery or improvement being made that should be deemed worthy of the award, the accruing interest was to be added to the principal, and the augmented income thus arising was to be added to the medals when the next award was made. But the arrangement seemed to be a futile one, as there were none in America who troubled themselves to extend the knowledge of heat and light; or, at all events, there were no such extensions as in the opinion of the Academy were entitled to win the prizes. Years passed, and the money accumulated until the Academy became embarrassed by the question what to do with it. And so they got a law passed by the Legislature empowering them to depart from the strict letter of the endowment, and use the funds with more freedom in the interest of advancing knowledge. In 1839 the Academy gave from the interest of the Rumford fund the sum of $600 to Dr. Hare, of Philadelphia, in consideration of his invention of the compound blowpipe, and his improvement in galvanic apparatus. The Rumford medal was granted by the Academy, in 1862, to John B. Ericssen for his caloric-engine; in 1865 to Daniel Treadwell, for improvements in the management of heat; in 1867 to Alvan Clark, for improvement in the lens of the refracting telescope; and in 1870 to George H. Corliss, for improvements in the steam-engine. When the gift was made to Dr. Hare, the fund amounted to $27,000; and it has now grown to $42,000.

The biographer of Rumford makes the following significant observation: "It is remarkable that the count, after having liberally provided funds for medals in the award of two learned bodies, should a few years afterward, when drawing his plan and publishing his proposals for his own Royal Institution, have introduced into them an express prohibition of all premiums and rewards."