Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

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

UNIVERSITY COMMISSIONS

187

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

ments have arisen which have permanently enlarged the common heritage of the race, and which have been followed by an aftermath of Pharisaism, when the high priests of learning holding the keys of knowledge can neither enter in themselves nor allow others to do so. Youth has so far preserved science from that fate, but there is another powerfully contributive factor in the usefulness of much of scientific knowledge. Great and striking discoveries to-day are to-morrow the starting-points of whole industries and professions, and the pioneer is compelled to keep marching on. If a contemporary of James Watt were to return and attempt to lecture to us on the design and construction of the steam-engine, tens of thousands of quite humble people would in turn instruct him. No doubt he would feel much the same as a classical scholar being corrected by some cad who had got his classics from a crib, but he would have to recognise that his first-hand acquaintance with James Watt made of him no high-priest of the steam-engine. So a pioneer in what but yesterday was an abstruse field of inquiry, purchasing instruments for its pursuit, may receive a lucid exposition of the principle of his subject from the instrument maker, and any wireless operator on board ship would probably be equal to expounding to one Hertz, were he alive to profit by the information, the ether waves by which messages were sent. To be a scientific pioneer to-day, in any of the useful branches of science, at any rate, it is necessary to keep moving on.

It is just because we, to-day, are not such great sculptors or poets as the Greeks, so great lawgivers as the Romans, or so great architects as the cathedral builders of the Middle Ages, and because the desire to study these past ages of pre-eminence has not resulted in any overmastering

UNIVERSITY IDEALS

189

ability to emulate and surpass them, that they are revered and cherished. At their own valuation their present-day exponents are feeble and pale imitations of the original masters, who uphold an example which they genuinely believe it is impossible to improve upon, and to them of all people are entrusted the shaping of the youth of an age, in science the greatest that has ever been, and in which the achievements are not objects of veneration impossible to be imitated, but stepping-stones to greater. Science would accord to the ancient studies the fullest and most generous appreciation were the original ideals which dominated the creative ages of the past, rather than the overgrown ruins of those creations themselves, still in active and effective existence.

But the overwhelming love of truth for its own sake, and the passion for enlarging the boundaries and deepening the foundations of knowledge, which are the ideals of science and therefore of any scientific school worthy of the name, need not lead us into the error of supposing that these ideals alone are sufficient to satisfy the human mind, though we may believe that, apart from the aspiration for truth, and, moreover, apart from the belief that truth is humanly attainable, other aspirations are likely to prove evanescent.

If we may cut ourselves adrift completely from the past and, in imagination, attempt to state, in this twentieth century, the objects for which a university should live, we shall find them expressed fairly comprehensively in a favourite phrase of Professor J. Arthur Thomson, "the true, the beautiful, the good." But we shall not mean precisely by those terms what they would have connoted in any earlier epoch of human thought, for we are living in the twentieth century, and quotations from

other ages must be interpreted with regard to the state of learning at the time. Thus, to take the well-known quotation from Keats:

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know,"

and to make of it the motto of a university to-day would be absurd. Even as an answer to the famous question of Pontius Pilate, "What is truth?" in the spirit of the pagan classics he worshipped, it was out of date. For had not Plato written over the garden gates of the place destined to give the name Academy to a school of learning, "Let no one enter who is destitute of geometry?" Now nothing is truer than geometry, nor so far removed from the æsthetic emotions. It has been contended 1 that this inscription secures for Plato the priority for the discovery that real truth is ascertainable by mortal men, and that his famous Dialogues were satirical commentaries on the systems of education in vogue among the Athenian youth of his day, in which that important discovery had not been grasped. If so, would he were alive still, for what a first-rate champion of science he would be, and what a wealth of illustration for his argument he would find in sciences other than geometry.

Of another of these great masters, Aristotle, it is of interest to note that Huxley put forward the theory that the text of his works, which blindly dominated intellectual Europe to the time of Galileo, is in reality nothing more than a collection of the notes of his lectures taken down by one of his students. It is impossible otherwise to account for such an amazing juxtaposition of marvellously

1 William Whewell, "Science and Education," p. 23. W. Heinemann, 1917. (Lectures delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, edited by Sir E. Ray Lankester.)

« AnteriorContinuar »