Imágenes de página



great as they were in their day, have now given place to greater. It is only fair to say that some of the most severe critics of the social effects of classical education have been drawn from the ranks of scholars and men of letters. I can recommend to your perusal the Essays on a Liberal Education, edited by the Rev. F. W. Farrar, and published by Macmillan and Co. in 1867. Lord Houghton, the father of a recent Minister of Education, the Marquis of Crewe, in the concluding essay is the author of one of the most notable of these indictments, to which it would be possible to add little even to-day. Discussing the product of this education he says, for example: “To the social phenomenon of all this elaborate study, which cannot be applied to any practical purpose, must be added this other peculiarity of the system, that, when once the ordinary British youth has bidden farewell to school and college, any attempt to prosecute, or even keep up, his classical attainments and interests, would make him an object of curiosity, if not of censure and alarm, to all who might be solicitous for his future welfare." He touches on the snobbery of the assumed universality. of classical culture on the one hand and the artificial barrier which “makes it seem something incongruous and offensive in any man's assuming to know or care about classic objects or classic letters without having been taught to construe Greek and Latin,” though no one needs to have a first-hand acquaintance with Italian to enjoy Dante, or with Oriental languages to appreciate the Arabian Nights or Sanskrit philosophy. And he remarks :

“There are too many flagrant examples in the history of the human mind of the persistent adherence, not only of public opinion and private judgment, but of the religious conscience and the moral sense, to forms and ceremonies after the belief on which they were founded have faded into shadows, to permit the hope that any amount of negative experience will bring about a reformation in the matter we are now considering. It is solely to a growing conviction of the necessity of larger and wiser instruction of our governing classes, if they are to remain our governors, that we must look as the source of any beneficial change.”

The instinct of self-preservation, to which Lord Houghton appealed, is one of those primitive instincts which are weakened by security and protection from the struggle for existence. What neither it, nor any amount of negative experience, was able in fifty years to accomplish has been accomplished by the last five years' bitter positive experience, which nearly made of us just one more of those flagrant examples which the history of the human mind affords. Since Lord Houghton's day the further operation for fifty years of the causes which he deplored, has made the necessity, or even the desirability of preserving our governing classes, if they are to remain our governors, a question of relatively small importance. But the necessity of preserving the nation if it is to remain a nation has become obvious to the remotest inhabitant of our wide-flung Empire. There is therefore every hope that the unholy combination against science in our universities has done its worst, and that once more, as at the Renaissance, the love of truth for its own sake and the enlargement of the boundaries of knowledge, the present ideals of science in other words, will again dominate our universities and schools, and through them all classes and conditions of the people.

It has become a question, no longer of the issue at stake, but merely of the means by which the necessary changes are to be effected. There is a widespread feeling that within a few years we shall



have a Labour Party in power in this country, and, whether or no this does occur, much that is taking place can be traced at all events to the possibility that it may occur.

It is well that the universities, especially, should re-examine their ideals, for the Labour Party, unlike the parties of which we have had experience, profess very high ideals—indeed, judged by the canons of a literary and classical education, altogether utopian ideals. From the standpoint of science the ideals they profess are not utopian, whatever may be the case from the moral and human standpoint. On the score of physical practicability they are no longer visionary, for science within the past century has multiplied the resources of this planet to support a higher standard of living among all workers to an extent that even the criminally wasteful and ignorant methods of the existing competitive and individualistic system has not been able altogether to conceal.

The President of the Board of Education, the Rt. Hon. H. A. L. Fisher, at the recent Anniversary Dinner of the Chemical Society, after a reference to the issue of the recent conflict as one of the greatest victories which chemistry had ever won in the history of mankind, and, incidentally and humorously, to himself as a melancholy product of the dark ages of compulsory Greek, went on to say: “Nevertheless, if we turn over the pages of Huxley's Addresses on the place of science in national education—and there are few finer specimens of virile English prose~I think we shall feel that if the great master were among us here, he would acknowledge that the cause to which he dedicated his life has been practically won. We want more money for science—we want a great deal more money for science-we want more teachers, we want more learners, but in the main the battle is won. If there are any sceptics to-day they

must surely have been converted by the achievements of science in the war."

Unfortunately, science has been so outrageously used as the stalking-horse for less popular crusades, for the support of systems of education which have had their day but not yet ceased to be, that one is bound to add that what we want even more is that science should get the money when it is given. I trust in my successor's time an end will be put to the scandal of the Chemistry Department here being practically self-supporting in a university which derives the greater part of its revenue from grants from the Carnegie Trust and the State already, and that some of this promised support may go to the doubling or trebling of the staff so that everyone in the department may have some uninterrupted time to pursue investigations as well as teach.

I had intended to deal in some detail with the backward condition of our B.Sc. regulations and the absurdity, in these days, of making a man who wished to train himself properly as a chemist take two other subjects on an equal standard for the B.Sc. degree.

But that also has been rendered unnecessary by the recent action of the Privy Council in arranging a conference of the four universities in respect of the new science ordinances which have been framed, or are in preparation in all four universities. This conference, which was held last Saturday, I am glad to say resulted in complete agreement being reached as regards the main principles. By the session 1920-21 the other three universities certainly will have in operation a science degree providing for pass and honours candidates, which will mark a great advance. The battle, as Mr Fisher said, is won, and all that is necessary is to see that Aberdeen does not suffer by virtue of its geographical remoteness from other centres of intel



lectual activity, and that nothing is permitted to prevent the university from being in a position by the session 1920-21 to compete on equal terms with the other three.

It will still be necessary to see that the teaching provided for the new degree is strengthened. As regards chemistry, the greatest need is that students should be able to get within the university training in experimental physics and mathematics more suited to their requirements than the courses in natural philosophy and mathematics provided for the honours M.A., as it is recognised that it is not essential to follow the traditional order of classical mathematics to give the student a practical working knowledge for the purposes of engineering and chemistry. For those who wish to become experimental rather than mathematical scientists, in which mathematics is a tool rather than a branch of philosophy, an entirely different and more practical curriculum is essential and desirable.

The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge have agreed, at Mr Fisher's suggestion, to co-operate with the Government in setting up Commissions of Enquiry into their affairs; and in Scotland, though there is no comparison, the feeling everywhere is gaining ground that a thorough reconstruction of the universities is the essential first step towards progress.

Science has been subjected to so much misrepresentation and depreciation by the champions of ancient studies, no doubt much of it on perfectly honest, if mistaken, grounds by the victims of those studies, that, in criticising them, I must not give you the impression that I am dominated with the same feelings of animosity and distrust to them as they have shown for the last century towards science. At various periods of the world's history great move

« AnteriorContinuar »