Page images

say again that no serious reply has been attempted' to a view
was discussed and repudiated two years before by one of the hi
extant authorities on the subject; he must not say that D
accepted that which it can be proved he did not accept; he
not say that a doctrine has dropped into the abyss when
quite obviously alive and kicking at the surface; he mus
assimilate a man like Professor Dana to the components
'ignorant mob;' he must not say that things are beginning
known which are not known at all; he must not say that slo
sulky acquiescence' has been given to that which cannot yet bo
general acquiescence of any kind; he must not suggest that a
which has been publicly advocated by the Director of the Geol
Survey and no less publicly discussed by many other authori
writers has been intentionally and systematically ignored; he
not ascribe ill motives for a course of action which is the only
one; and finally, if any one but myself were interested, I shou
that he had better not waste his time in raking up the err
those whose lives have been occupied not in talking about so
but in toiling, sometimes with success and sometimes with failu
get some real work done.

The most considerable difference I note among men is their readiness to fall into error, but in their readiness to ac ledge these inevitable lapses. The Duke of Argyll has now a sp opportunity for proving to the world in which of these catego is hereafter to rank him.


Dear Professor Huxley,-A short time before Mr. Darwin's had a conversation with him concerning the observations whi been made by Mr. Murray upon coral-reefs, and the specul which had been founded upon those observations. I found th Darwin had very carefully considered the whole subject, and while, on the one hand, he did not regard the actual facts re by Mr. Murray as absolutely inconsistent with his own the subsidence, on the other hand, he did not believe that they sitated or supported the hypothesis advanced by Mr. Murray. Darwin's attitude, as I understood it, towards Mr. Murray's obje to the theory of subsidence was exactly similar to that maintain him with respect to Professor Semper's criticism, which was of similar character; and his position with regard to the whole qu was almost identical with that subsequently so clearly defin Professor Dana in his well-known articles published in the Am Journal of Science for 1885.

It is difficult to imagine how any one, acquainted with the scientific literature of the last seven years, could possibly suggest that Mr. Murray's memoir published in 1880 had failed to secure a due amount of attention. Mr. Murray, by his position in the 'Challenger' office, occupied an exceptionally favourable position for making his views widely known; and he had moreover the singular good fortune to secure from the first the advocacy of so able and brilliant a writer as Professor Archibald Geikie, who in a special discourse and in several treatises on geology and physical geology very strongly supported the new theory. It would be an endless task to attempt to give references to the various scientific journals which have discussed the subject, but I may add that every treatise on geology which has been published, since Mr. Murray's views were made known, has dealt with his observations at considerable length. This is true of Professor A. H. Green's Physical Geology published in 1882; of Professor Prestwich's Geology, Chemical and Physical; and of Professor James Geikie's Outlines of Geology, published in 1886. Similar prominence is given to the subject in De Lapparent's Traité de Géologie, published in 1885, and in Credner's Elemente der Geologie which has appeared during the present year. If this be a 'conspiracy of silence,' where, alas! can the geological speculator seek for fame? Yours very truly,


Oct. 10, 1887.



The thing is not to let the schools and Universities go on in a drowsy and impotent routine; the thing is to raise the culture of the nation ever higher and higher by their means.-WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT, quoted by Matthew Arnold.

AMONG all the anomalies in which the history of education abounds it would be difficult to find one more extraordinary than our present system of teaching, and legislating for the teaching, of English literature. The importance of that subject, both from a positive point of view as a branch of knowledge and from an educational point of view as an instrument of culture, is so fully recognised that its study is everywhere encouraged. It forms a portion of the curriculum at Cambridge. It is about to form a portion of the curriculum at Oxford. It holds a foremost place in our leading Civil Service examinations, and it is among the subjects prescribed for the Oxford and Cambridge Local Examinations. In the Extension Lectures it fills a wider space than either science or history. There is probably no school in England, whether public or private, in which it is not taught. The number of books and booklets, manuals, primers, sketches, charts, annotated editions, and the like designed to facilitate its study exceeds calculation. To all appearance, indeed, there is no branch of education in a more flourishing condition or more full of promise for the future. But, unhappily, this is very far from being the case. In spite of its great vogue, and in spite of the time and energy lavished in teaching it, no fact is more certain than that from an educational point of view it is, and from the very first has been, an utter failure. Teachers perceive with perplexity that it attains none of the ends which a subject in itself so full of attraction and interest might be expected to attain. It fails, they complain, to fertilise; it fails to inform; it fails even to awaken curiosity. For a dozen youths who derive real benefit from the instruction they get in preparing for an examination in history there are not two who derive the smallest benefit from the instruction they get in preparing for an examination in literature. In the first case the chances are that a lad of ordinary intelligence will not only have learned what he has learned with

relish and pleasure, will not only therefore retain and assimilate much of what he has been taught, but will have had implanted in him a genuine and perhaps permanent interest in history generally. In the second case he will be a singular exception to the rule if, six months after he has poured out in Shakespeare papers,' in Bacon papers,' in 'general literature papers' the substance of his lectures, he either retains or cares to retain a tithe of what he has been at so much pains to acquire. No one who has had experience in examining can have failed to be struck by the difference between the answers sent in to questions on English literature and the answers sent in to questions on other subjects. In a paper on literature the questions designed to test intelligence and judgment will as a rule be carefully avoided, or if attempted prove only too conclusively the absence of both; but questions involving no more than can be attained by the unreflective exercise of memory will be answered with a fluency and fulness which is often perfectly miraculous.


The consequence of all this is that those whose estimate of the educational value of a subject is not determined by the facility it affords for making marks in competitive examinations are beginning to regard English literature' with increasing disfavour. In the examination for the Civil Service of India it has been degraded to a secondary place. From the Army examination it has, by a recent order, been entirely eliminated. The Council of the Holloway

College have decided to recognise it only in connection with Philology. More than one eminent authority has pronounced that it cannot be taught, that its introduction into our scholastic curricula was an experiment, and an experiment that has failed. It is no doubt natural to judge of the educational value of any given subject of teaching by the results of that teaching. And yet we may often be very grievously mistaken. A striking illustration of this is to be found in the case of the classics. A wretched system of wordmongering and pedantry bears its natural fruits. Two noble literatures eminently calculated to attain all the ends of a liberal education, and such as would in the hands of competent teachers be certain to attract and interest the young, are rendered repulsive and unintelligible. A cry arises that the classics are a failure. 'Demosthenes,' says a plain man, 'may be the prince of orators, and Homer the prince of poets; but when I find that my boy, after hammering at them for twelve years, knows nothing and cares nothing about either the prince of orators or the prince of poets, I have not much faith in the classics.' Again. A lad leaves school, becomes a writer or public speaker, finds himself reading the literatures of modern Europe with ease and pleasure, re-opens Homer or Catullus, discovers that he is unable to make out five lines, closes the volume with a sigh, and goes forth to swell the cry against 'the classics.' A ludicrous coalition-composed partly of malcontents like

these, partly of noisy Philistines who never read a line of a Greek or Roman author in their lives, but who argue the question on a priori grounds;' partly of perplexed schoolmasters, and partly of recalcitrant drudges conscious of the futility of their labours and ready to support anyone who confirms them in their impression-is formed. Each in his own way passes judgment on the classics.' Each in his own way is furnished with unanswerable arguments against their employment as a means of education. It never seems to occur to these persons to inquire whether the fault lies in the classics or in those who teach them; whether it is the tools which are in fault or the workmen. The absurdity of concluding that because a particular watch cannot be made to keep time accurately it is neither possible nor desirable for time to be kept accurately, is not greater than the absurdity of concluding that because the present method of teaching the classics has failed we should do well to cease to teach them at all. The truth is that there is all the difference in the world between what is implied by 'classics' and what is implied by the classics, and the mistake of the anti-classicists lies in their failing to perceive the distinction. By the first is connoted partly a system and partly the machinery of that system. Virgil as one of the classics and Virgil in his relation to 'classics'-in other words, Virgil as he affords material for teaching and Virgil as he is actually taught-bears indeed the same name and is therefore very naturally confounded. But no greater mistake could be made. If by urging the uselessness of the Georgics and Eneid as text-books for teaching we mean the Georgics and Eneid of Forbiger and Henry, we readily admit that popular education would gain by the ostracism of Virgil; but Forbiger and Henry are not Virgil. If a radical reform in our methods of classical teaching were instituted, and experiment recorded failure, it would be time to show cause why Sophocles should not be superseded by Goethe and Horace by Béranger; but the experiment has not been tried.

Now all this is exactly repeating itself in the condition and prospects of our own literature. Since its recognition as a subject of teaching it has been taught wherever it has been seriously taught on the same principle as the classics. It has been regarded not as the expression of art and genius, but as mere material for the study of words, as mere pabulum for philology. All that constitutes its intrinsic value has been ignored. All that constitutes its value as a liberal study has been ignored. Its masterpieces have been resolved into exercises in grammar, syntax, and etymology. Its history has been resolved into a barren catalogue of names, works, and dates. No faculty but the faculty of memory has been called into play in studying it. That it should therefore have failed as an instrument of education is no more than might have been expected. But it has

« PreviousContinue »