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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 85

Science for the Middle and Upper Classes. — Part I. — Chief Purposes

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Science for the Middle and Upper Classes.

Part I.

Chief Purposes.

Among the many modes of considering the scientific instruction to be incorporated in the proposed course of college studies, I will first select that of viewing it in reference to the chief purposes which it is intended to serve. They may be described under the following heads:—Bionomic Purposes; Purposes of Intellectual Culture; Technical Purposes; Professorial Purposes and higher aspirations of Theory and Research.

1. Bionomic Purposes. I have long used the term Bionomy to designate with convenient brevity, the Science of Daily Life, or in other words, that scientific and practical knowledge which alone can afford a safe and ready guidance in all matters affecting our physical well-being, our comfort, health and longevity. It consists of two parts or divisions: lstly, a selection of the most appropriate facts and principles of Mechanical and Chemical Physics, Chemistry, Natural History, and Physiology; and 2ndly, the applications thereof to the various actualities of ordinary life, including, for example, the Dwelling and its contents, Clothing and page 4 Food, and all that may promote comfort in Health and alleviation in Sickness.

It has sometimes been considered one of the privileges of wealth to dispense with learning; and certainly the Rich, who do not depend on knowledge for their daily bread, and who can pay servants for taking trouble off their hands, workmen for remedying what goes wrong in their dwellings, and doctors for curing what goes wrong in their bodies, and who moreover flatter themselves that the region of high prices is above the region of fraud, will not at first thought be so much inclined to take up Science through simply utilitarian motives, as are the Industrial Classes who absolutely require good health to secure their earnings, and good management to make them suffice. More mature reflection will however show that the points on which Science may beneficially guide the rich man's expenditure, increase in proportion as his social position multiplies his wants. Then again the pecuniary ability to assist the Poor, entails a proportionate duty to acquire that mental ability which purifies benevolence, and makes it yield unquestionable blessings. Lastly, supposing that paid knowledge could satisfactorily replace personal knowledge for material purposes, Science would still assert extensive claims on the favoured classes under the head which I have to consider next in succession.

2. Purposes of Intellectual Culture. Without interfering with the invidious question as to the relative advantages of scientific and classical culture, and as to the extent to which the latter can be satisfactorily replaced by the former, I shall feel perfectly safe, or at all events much safer than I should have felt a few years ago, in affirming that the ways in which scientific studies may be made to benefit the mind, will be found as varied as they are important; whether we look to them for a healthful exercise of the memory, for a page 5 disciplinarian drilling of the faculties of thought, for a progressive development of what is commonly called the bump of order manifested by an increased love of method, accuracy, and truthfulness, for an unaffected appreciation of the advantages of intellectual over merely sensual enjoyments, or for an enlightened perception of the wonders which surround us, of the blessings strewed along our path, and of the delight that lies in pious thoughts of praise, thanksgiving and supplication.

3. Technical Purposes. The purposes hitherto considered are more or less of a general character. Bionomy or Science applied to the guidance of Daily Life, concerns the different classes of society in somewhat different ways, but it certainly concerns them all; its precepts are throughout based on the same elementary facts and principles, and as regards the youths gathered together in one College, its teaching may from beginning to end be the same for them all. Again, Scientific Culture should form a part of every liberal education, and though the direction of its development will naturally be swayed in after life by individual predilections, that diversity should be foreseen, but need not be carried out in a college curriculum. Now in the study of Science for Technical purposes there is a period of natural unison, but also a period of necessary divergence, for which special allowance should more or less be made according to circumstances. Artisan Students can not only acquire in common the whole of their General Scientific Foundation, but may go somewhat further in Groups, though these must afterwards divide and subdivide in search of special Technical Knowledge. Something similar as far as group instruction is concerned, may prevail among Students of higher degree, who look forward to positions connected with our various National Industries. If destined for instance to enjoy the possession, and consequently bound to direct conscientiously the page 6 management of large estates pregnant with agricultural or mineral wealth, or to superintend manufacturing or commercial enterprises, or perhaps to devote themselves to the medical profession, they must first acquire in common a substantial scientific foundation; but this done, it would be desirable that they should emphasise those lines of study which would more directly tend to the purposed end, especially if they are not likely to have an opportunity of extending their knowledge at one of the universities.—I reckon that if due care and discretion be used in the selection of the scientific elements most required, and a judicious method of tuition be pursued, youths of good natural abilities who have enjoyed all the advantages of a first-rate education on the most advanced principles, ought by the conclusion of their 15th or 16th year, to have already in their minds a very substantial scientific foundation, and whilst they consolidate and extend it during the remainder of their stay at the College, they may begin erecting any superstructure demanded by the career towards which they are called by their family associations, or by their own free choice. Thus for example, the future Land Owner may begin uniting in his mind the various intellectual ingredients which compose the very complex Science of Agriculture, and his Geology, Botany, and Zoology, his chemical analyses and his meteorological observations will all be more or less aimed in that one direction. The intended Mine Owner will not carry his Botany and Zoology beyond the general foundation, but Geology will thrive at their expense, Chemistry, say that of the Metals, will claim as much of his time as can possibly be spared for it, and the laboratory furnace will be his delight. A more varied class of chemical researches would be apportioned to the intended Medical Man; Geology would yield the precedence to Botany, and the study of the Animal Kingdom would be concentrated on Human page 7 Anatomy and Physiology.—And so on with a variety of professional and commercial callings, which it would be tedious to follow out in detail at present, though it is very essential that this should be thoughtfully done by those appointed to manage the scientific element in a system of college instruction, and that it should be done with every due consideration for the aspirations of the students, and for the conditions of their proposed career.

It is often a matter of great perplexity among parents to determine what profession or calling is to be selected for their boys; what these are inwardly best suited for, and in what direction they are likely to find the most favourable juncture of outward circumstances. This difficulty has perhaps contributed to the maintenance of the old system of education, which used to carry a youth to manhood, or nearly so, without pledging him to any career, and which in fact seemed almost designed to leave his mind free from any knowledge which might have been useful in one direction more than another. The great purpose of education at many of the public schools was considered to be the "drilling of the mind," and I have heard a friend really gifted with a considerable amount of natural intelligence, but imbued from childhood with ultra-classical doctrines, exclaim, "Knock as much Latin and Greek as you can into a boy's head till he is seventeen, and he will be fit to learn anything."—Fortunate under the circumstances were those who even at the age of seventeen, were allowed to turn the faculty of learning thus acquired towards the knowledge which was to be their future support. Young men of the best abilities were too often obliged to sacrifice their time, and strain their health, for several years more, in the pursuit of academic honours, before earnestly directing their minds to the real business of their lives.

Now among the peculiar advantages offered by a Scientific Education as a drilling of the mind, is the rapidity with which it develops in young men that page 8 compound faculty of cleverness, discretion and sound principle, which may enable them at a comparatively early age to make their way honorably in the world. It should in fact be so conducted as to make the brain a well-ordered repertory of practical information, which, if kept in proper trim, will be ever ready to exercise with lively à propos a beneficial control over the varied incidents of Daily Life.

I have little doubt, considering the rapid improvement of our educational systems, that ere long well educated boys of ten years of age will have acquired, in the lower stage of schooling, those scientific elements which hitherto advanced Schools have been called upon to supply. This will facilitate the selection of a calling long before the seventeenth year, and give the students the advantage of directing the latter portion of their studies accordingly.

4. Professorial Purposes and higher aspirations of Theory and Research.—In proportion as the various benefits, practical, intellectual, and technical, which Science can confer, become better appreciated, public opinion, strengthened by the example of foreign nations, will assign to Savants a higher social position, and a larger share in parliamentary and administrative honours. Consequently the number of young men of the upper social levels who may aspire to Scientific Professorships is likely to be greatly on the increase. It will be part of the duty of our Science Teachers to afford this description of Students, as far as practicable, special facilities tor the development of special genius, by favoring laboratory, field and observatory practice, and also by extending their discourses to many recondite facts, deep theories and untried hypotheses, which though unnecessary for general purposes, should be thoroughly known to those who would qualify themselves to speak of Science ex cathedra, or to extend their researches page 9 beyond its present boundaries. I need scarcely say that Science of this kind differs in tone, as much as in extent, from that which may be made to suffice for ordinary purposes. It habitually makes far more use of hard words, abstruse definitions and complex formulae. Its character, though not more enter prizing, is more proudly ambitious than that of the Science for technical or commercial purposes described under the preceding heading.

Though short may be the time available towards the conclusion of a seven years' educational Course like that proposed for the International College, for initiating in studies of this description, those Students who with the concurrence of their parents may select a scientific career, yet great may be the benefit conferred on them by indelibly impressing them at that important period, with a few leading principles, tending not only to promote their individual success, but also to make them instrumental in raising the general scientific status of the Country. With this view are suggested the following considerations:—

Professorial attainments should be specialized, yet at the same time always based on a broad and substantial foundation of general knowledge. There was a time when the whole known range of the Natural Sciences was not more than could be compassed by a single brain. As the realms of knowledge expanded, division of labour among many Savants, and the concentration of the mind of each of them on some special field of enquiry, became in most cases a necessary condition of success. At the present time the man who wishes to reach undisputed eminence as a professor, cannot, unless his mind be stored with an extraordinary amount of materials, build both broad and high. But in aiming at special distinction, general knowledge must not be disregarded. The different departments of Science are connected by cross-links in all directions, and it would page 10 be difficult thoroughly to master any one of them, without a certain acquaintance with nearly all. High social positions, like those which, as I have said above, give to the men of science in other countries a worthy share of influence over the fate of nations, must be reserved for the broadly enlightened and commanding intellects of those who with a thorough mastery of their specialty, unite a comprehensive knowledge, not only of the general laws of Nature, but also of all that is essential to the accomplished man of the world. It is obvious that commanding positions are not to be maintained by those who concentrate their attention exclusively on one subject, and hold it, as it were, so close to their mind's eye, that it intercepts the view of all the world besides; or by those who indulge in the delight of soaring high above the cares and duties of this earthly pilgrimage, seeking in the exercise of transcendent thought, a sensual and egotistic gratification of the fibres of their brain, rather than a means of serving their country, or of benefiting mankind. It is neither creditable in a moral sense, nor politic in a selfish sense, to affect to look down upon the utilitarian applications of practical Science. If we are free to disregard what may be useful to ourselves, we are not at liberty to neglect what may be useful to others. Again, those whose minds are continually in the upper regions, neglecting the common applications of Science to the homely concerns of Daily Life, are sometimes liable to exhibit a ludicrous ignorance which any intelligent housewife can correct, or to be baulked by trivial obstacles which any clever working man knows how to overcome, or to place themselves in a still more awkward position by giving orders which cannot practically be carried out.

In order that the pupils may be qualified as future Professors, for making equal head-way with scientific research and scientific propaganda, they must on the one hand be imbued with a clear and impartial appreciation page 11 of the various benefits which Science may confer on the world, or secure to itself, and on the other hand they must be taught to pay greater attention than is generally paid, to the different kinds and characters of oral or printed instruction, respectively calculated to meet the wants and capabilities of distinct categories of recipients, diversified by age, occupation, social level, and previous training.*

Even Science has its fashions. Sometimes facts are the order of the day, at other times practical applications; or again, as in the Chemistry of the present time, the wind blows almost irresistibly from the darkest regions of the unknown, raising clouds of abstruseness and mystification that give a dismal and repulsive complexion to the face of Nature. The amateur Student who, unassisted by a professional friend, takes up a chemical work, shakes his head on seeing in page after page a mixture of algebraic formulae and ponderous polysyllables.

To show that there is good cause for dissatisfaction on the part of beginners, I may refer to the complaint even of one long accustomed to tread difficulties under foot. The celebrated French Chemist, Dumas, expressed himself to the effect that the complexity and uncouthness of modern chemical nomenclature, were something gigantic, and that he himself found it impossible to keep

* I may here refer to my little Pamphlet entitled "Science in Popular Education," for indications respecting Science for the Working Classes, some of the principles of which might be adapted to other social grades.

The following are specimens:—

  • Hexabromodiazoamidobenzene

    (C6 H2 Br3 N2 N H C6 H2 Br3).

  • Methylhydroxypropylhydroxyacetic acid

    (CH2Me. CH (OH) CMe (OH) COOH).

  • Phenolazoacetometamidobenzene

    (NH Ac C6 H4 N2: C6 H4. OH).

page 12 pace with all the new theories and verbal alterations which were flooding his favorite Science.

There would be comparatively little harm done if unpronounceable words and knee-deep problems were reserved for the advanced stages of chemical study, but the whole length and breadth of the Science is ever and anon ploughed up, and planted with new terms, in rows running entirely different ways from before, according to some principle of classification which presents a beautiful picture to a mind duly trained, by a thorough acquaintance with each part, to an appreciation of the connected symmetry of the whole, but which is a wilderness of incongruities to the unpractised eye.

It is a well known fact that the scientific classification which might suit an advanced Student, is not always that best suited for a beginner. Many Botanists, including my late distinguished friend Sir William Hooker, used formerly to agree to the expediency in many cases, of allowing a Student to make a practical acquaintance with a considerable number of Plants by the artificial medium of the Linnean method, before proceeding to group them by their natural analogies.* Now something like this holds good for Chemistry. It is far the best for the beginner to make himself first acquainted with the contents of a laboratory according to rules of convenience. Thus Oxygen, Hydrogen, Nitrogen and Carbon, which so largely constitute the solid, liquid, and gaseous surroundings of the Globe, and of which he probably has heard before, will welcome him close to the threshold, and it will be time enough when advancing from one convenient stepping-stone to another, he has reached a more elevated resting-place, to enter into the principles of valency and to group the Elements, now become familiar to him, as Monads, Dyads, and so

* Since this was written, the Linnean Method has fallen more and more into disuse, so that at present one does not often find an opportunity of using a Flora conformable to it.

page 13 on. Such a course is the more advisable, as the instability manifested of late years by chemical systems of classification and nomenclature, inspires diffidence as to future prospects, and one must be cautious in pinning one's faith to any system based on a comparatively untried foundation; especially if it materially interferes with the desirable progression of lessons from the familiar to the unknown, and from the easy to the difficult.

Prof. F. S. Barff in his "Introduction to Scientific Chemistry," acknowledges "that the explanation of properties by such terms as 'valency,' is only a convenient method of stating what we know about them, and the use of such terms may be only of short duration. It may be discovered that some of those substances which we now regard as elements, are not elements at all, but compounds. And even advanced knowledge may substitute some theory which may have a more sure foundation than the atomic theory. It is well to remark this, as young minds are often apt to espouse warmly views of a certain school, and to regard as facts what are nothing more than assumptions."

Professor Miller in the preface to his "Organic Chemistry" said, "The general method of classification adopted by that eminent chemist (M. Gerhardt) in his 'Traité de Chimie Organique,' excellent as it is in many respects for the advanced cultivator of the Science, is not however well adapted to the plan of a didactic work like the present; and it was judged preferable, after a preliminary sketch of the methods of investigation and classification employed, to commence the detailed description of the products of organic chemistry with that of a few of the best known and most familiar compounds derived from the vegetable kingdom, although their composition is less simple than that of many other organic substances."

Besides the perplexity of terms arising from the rapid page 14 succession of changes in our own Country, the advanced Student has to encounter in many departments of research, further perplexing discordances, when he seeks, as every thorough Student should do, to borrow information from foreign sources. Twenty years spent in various parts of the Continent having afforded me ample opportunities for judging of the importance and variety of these obstacles to intellectual advancement, I prepared towards the beginning of 1855, with the approval of Dr. Lyon Playfair (now Sir Lyon Playfair) suggestive indications of the points on which might be usefully brought to bear the authoritative labours of an International Congress of Savants, of which I hoped to induce the convocation on the occasion of the Great Paris Exhibition of that year. I should be happy at any time to supply the details of this project, of which peculiar circumstances prevented the realization. Since then, some progress has been made towards international uniformity in scientific matters. Thus, for instance, the use of the metrical system of weights and measures, and of the centigrade thermometer, has become a standard improvement in chemical and physical works. Other desirable changes are looming in the distance, and generally speaking more readiness now prevails among our eminent men than formerly, to adopt improvement irrespective of its birth-place.* Nevertheless, in the vast field of scientific knowledge, what has been done towards collating facts and theories, systems of classification, nomenclatures and synonyms, books and charts, appliances and practices of various nations, towards improving one thing by the other, and towards fusing the whole purified mass into one common fund of information, is little as compared with what has yet to be done. Every furtherance that can be given to the enlightened cosmopolitan spirit through which alone the scientific union of

* An auspicious example lies in the late adoption of an universal meridian.

page 15 nations can be effected, should be hailed with satisfaction, and I look forward with particular interest to the future influence which may most appropriately be exercised in this direction by distinguished pupils of International Colleges.

It is not easy to say to what extent there may have been a foundation for the reproach of venality which has too often been addressed to men of science in this Country. The very fact that no provision has hitherto been made on a scale worthy of a great nation, for enabling men of recognized genius to carry on researches fraught with general advantage, but pecuniarily unprofitable, has had for its natural consequence that in many instances they have been obliged for the sake of their families, to consult their finances rather than their patriotic inclination, in the employment of a large portion of their time. This was legitimate; but sometimes eminent men have been accused of lending the support of their name to commercial speculations not altogether deserving of such a lift, whilst analysts have been suspected of apportioning their approbation to the amount of their fees.

Against foibles like these, our aspirants to genuine fame should receive a friendly warning, and not less so against another class of indiscretions which have done incalculable injury to the cause of scientific progress, by inducing an unfortunate notion that Science in general is inimical to Religion.

I must say that in my humble opinion, the two educational parties between whom a barrier has thus been raised, are both to blame for its existence.—First as regards the true interests of Religion, I believe that there is short-sighted wisdom in the councils of those Churchmen who deprecate all onward progress, till they are absolutely tugged along in the wake of that public opinion of which they ought to be the pilots. Galileo's assertion that the earth turned round, was pronounced to be in direct contradiction to the Bible, and necessarily page 16 heretical anil false. That assertion is now undisputed in nearly all enlightened countries, being pronounced by the highest authorities of the Church to be perfectly consonant with Scripture, provided you give to the Mosaic expressions their proper interpretation.* Now many a stumbling-block to the faithful, many a cause of worse than fruitless controversy, might be removed by the same expedient of a proper interpretation, and the new facts revealed by Science, made as harmless as the fact that the earth turns round.—The best friends of the Church are those who deprecate a waste of means in the fortifying of untenable outposts, which become, sooner or later, so many strongholds of the enemy, and who recommend a timely concentration of forces in the citadel.

On the other hand, I must confess that our savants have not always acted wisely or considerately. In some instances they have delayed the legitimate progress of ideas, by prematurely proclaiming to the world at large, theories not yet emerged from the purgatory of controversy. They have thus indiscreetly disclosed internal broils, created distrust among their friends, and opened weak points to the sarcasm of their enemies. At other times, they have prematurely reprobated what many would be disposed inwardly to condemn, but would prefer for awhile outwardly to retain.

I believe that through discretion and conciliatory demeanour on both sides, a compromise might be effected, equally advantageous to Science and to Religion, and that even Geology might be made to speak the truth innocuously. In the meantime, we may consider as a fortunate circumstance, that those depart-

* The only example of tenacious adhesion to the old idea that has come to my knowledge, was related by a friend, who had seen at Naples a School Book, in which the Copernican system was denounced as a heresy that prevailed in some northern parts of Europe.

page 17 ments of Science which have the most direct and important bearings on the requirements of Daily Life, are out of the way of all unpleasant collision with Theology, and that on the contrary, an acquaintance with the manifold resources which Nature offers for our benefit, tends most decidedly to raise the mind with pious gratitude towards the Supreme Being, of whose beneficence Nature is the hand-maid.