« PreviousContinue »
logical proposition. The well-known story se vero e ben trovato, of that keenest of lawyers, listening to a lecture of which every sentence was a gem and every paragraph rich with the spoils of literature, and replying to the question, “Do you understand all that?” –“No; but my daughters do." It was as beautiful and iridescent as the Staubbach, and as impalpable.
The more is the pity when a vigorous mind, in the outset of some great discussion, heads for a fog bank or a windmill. When a man proposes to chronicle a “Conflict between Religion and Science," and makes religion stand indiscriminately for Romanism, Mohammedanism, superstition, malignant passion, obstinate prejudice, and what not, also confounding Christianity with so-called Christians, and those often most unrepresentative, — at the same time appropriating to “Science” all intellectual activity whatever, though found in good Christian men, and though fostered and made irrepressible by the fire of that very religion, — it is easy to see what must be the outcome of such a sweep-stakes race.
There will be a deification of science, and not even a whited sepulcher erected over the measureless Golgothas of its slaughtered theories. There will be, on the other hand, the steady suppressio veri concerning books, systems, men, and events, the occasional though unintended assertio falsi, the eager conversion of theories into facts, constructions unfair and uncandid, and, throughout, with much that is bright and just, that "admixture of a lie that doth ever add pleasure "to its author and grief to the judicious. Such confusions are no doubt often the outgrowth of the will. But a main end of a true culture is to prevent or expose all such bewilderments, whether helpless or crafty.
The great predominance of the disciplinary process was what once characterized the English university system even more than now. It consisted in the exact and exhaustive mastery of certain limited sections of knowledge and thought, as the gymnastic for all other spheres and toils. At Oxford, not long ago, four years were spent in mastering some fourteen books. Whatever may be our criticism of the process, we may not deny its singular effect. In its best estate it forged many a trenchant blade.
To the man who asks for its monument, it can point to British thought, law, statesmanship. Bacon and Burke, Coke and Eldon, Hooker and Butler, Piit and Canning shall make answer. The whole massive literature of England shall respond.
But to this precision of working must be furnished material with which to work. Mental fullness is, therefore, another prime quality of a manly culture. To what degree it should be sought in the curriculum has been in dispute. It is the American theory, and a growing belief of the English nation, that the British universities have been defective here. Their men of mark have traveled later over the broader field.
Provincialism of intellect is a calamity. All men of great achievements have had to know what others achieved. The highest monuments are always built with the spoils of the past. Any single genius, if not an infinitesimal, counts at most but a digit in the vast notation of humanity. The great masters have been the greatest scholars. · Many a bright mind has struggled alone, to beat the air. Behold in some national patent office a grand mummy pit of ignorant inventors.
Those men upon whom so much opprobrium has been heaped, the schoolmen, were unfortunate chiefly in the lack of material on which to expend their singular acuteness. Leibnitz was not ashamed to confess his obligations to them, nor South to avail himself of their subtle distinctions. Doubtless theology owes them a debt. Some of them have been well called, by Hallam, men “ of extraordinary powers of discrimination and argument, strengthened in the long meditation of their cloister by the extinction of every other talent and the exclusion of every other pursuit. Their age and condition denied them the means of studying polite letters, of observing nature, or of knowing mankind. They were thus driven back upon themselves, cut off from all the material on which the mind could operate, and doomed to employ all their powers in defense of what they must never presume to examine." “If these schoolmen," says Bacon, " to their great thirst of truth and unwearied travel of wit had joined variety of reading and contemplation, they had proved great lights to the advancement of all learning and knowledge.” And so, for lack of other timber, they split hairs. Hence the mass of ponderous trifling that has made their name a byword. A force, sometimes Herculean, was spent in building and demolishing castles of moonshine.
A robust mental strength requires various and solid food. The best growth is symmetrical. There is a common bond - quoddam commune vinculum in the circle of knowledge that cannot be overlooked. Men do not know best what they know only in its isolation. Even Kant offset his metaphysics by lecturing on geography; and Niebuhr, the historian, struggled hard and well to keep his equilibrium by throwing himself into the whole circle of natural science and of affairs. Such, also, are the interdependencies of scholarship, that ample knowledge without our specialty is needful to save us from blunders within. Olshausen was a brilliant commentator, and the slightest tinge of chemistry should have kept him from suggesting that the conversion of water into wine at Cana was but the acceleration of a natural process. A smattering of optics would have prevented Dr. Williams from repeating the old cavil of Voltaire, that light could not have been made before the sun. A moderate reflection upon the laws of speech and the method of Genesis would have restrained Huxley from sneering at the “ marvelous flexibility” of the Hebrew tongue in the word “day,” and a New York audience from laughing at the joke rather than the joker. Some tinge of ethical knowledge should have withheld Max Müller from finding the grand distinctive mark of humanity in the power of speech. The merest theorist needs some range of reality for the framework of his theories, and the man of broad principles must have facts to generalize. Indeed a good memory is the indispensable servant of large thought, and, however deficient in certain directions, the great thinkers have had large stores. “ The best heads that have ever existed,” says an idealist, — “Pericles, Plato, Julius Cæsar, Shakespeare, Goethe, Milton, — were well read, universally educated men, and quite too wise to undervalue letters. Their opinion has weight because they had the means of knowing the opposite opinion.”
While every year increases the impossibility of what used to be called universal knowledge, it also emphasizes the necessity of a scholarship that has its outlook toward all the vast provinces of reading and thought. It cannot conquer them, but it can be on treaty relations with them. The tendency of modern science is of necessity steadily toward sectional lines and division of labor. It is a tendency whose cramping influence is as steadily to be resisted even in later life, much more in early training. We are to form ourselves on the model of the integer rather than the fraction of humanity. The metaphysician cannot afford to be ignorant of the “chemistry of a candle” or the “history of a piece of chalk," nor the chemist of the laws of language, the theologian of astronomy and geology, nor the lawyer of the most ancient code and its history. Mill himself 'made complaint of Comte's great aberration " in ignoring psychology and logic.
Intellectual fetichism is born of isolation, and dies hard. While in the great modern uprising we may