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THE LITERARY VALUE OF SCIENCE.
The old feud, or pretended feud, room for very divergent views. It is between science and
science and religion has certainly true that the great ages of lately spread to a neighbouring pro- the world have not been ages of exact vince, and science and literature are science, nor have the great literatures, now more or less at loggerheads. in which so much of the power and Professor Huxley taunts the poets vitality of the race have been stored, with “sensual caterwauling," and the sprung
from minds which held correct poets taunt the professor and his ilk views of the physical universe. Inwith gross materialism.
deed, if the growth and maturity of “ The world is too much with us," man's moral and intellectual stature said Wordsworth; and he intimated was a question of material appliances that our science and our civilisation or conveniences, or of accumulated half put us “out of tune" with nature. stores of exact knowledge, the world To the scientific mind such language of to-day ought to be able to show is simply nonsense, as are those other more eminent achievements in all lines of Wordsworth in which he fields of human activity than ever makes his poet
before. But this it cannot do. Shake“ Contented if he might enjoy
speare wrote his plays for people who
believed in witches, and probably beThe things which others understand.”
lieved in them himself ; Dante's immorScience is said to be democratic, its tal poem could never have been proaims and methods in keeping with the ced in a scientific
Is it likely great modern movement; while litera- that the Hebrew scriptures would ture is alleged to be aristocratic in its have been any more precious to the spirit and tendencies. Literature is race, or their influence any deeper, for the few; science is for the many. had they been inspired by correct Hence their opposition in this respect. views of physical science ?
Science is founding schools and It is not my purpose to write a colleges from which the study of diatribe against the physical sciences. literature, as such, is to be excluded; I would as soon think of abusing the and it is becoming clamorous for the dictionary. But as the dictionary can positions occupied by the classics in the hardly be said to be an end in itself, curriculum of the older institutions. so I would indicate that the final As a reaction against the extreme value of physical science is its capabipartiality for classical studies, the lity to foster in us noble ideals, and to study of names instead of things, lead us to new and larger views of which has so long been shown in our moral and spiritual truths. The exeducational system, this new cry is tent to which it is able to do this wholesome and good ; but so far as it ineasures its value to the spiritimplies that science is capable of measures its value to the educator. taking the place of the great litera- That the great sciences can do this, tures as an instrument of high cul. that they are capable of becoming ture, it is mischievous and misleading. instruments of pure culture, instru
About the intrinsic value of science, ments to refine and spiritualise the its value as a factor in any civilisa- whole moral and intellectual nature, tion, there can be but one opinion; is no doubt true; but that they can but about its value to the scholar, the ever usurp the place of the humanities thinker, the man of letters, there is or general literature in this respect, is one of those mistaken notions which separated from human and living seem to be gaining ground so fast in currents and forces-in fact, becomes our time.
more and more mechanical, and rests Can there be any doubt that con- in a mechanical conception of the tact with a great character, a great universe. And the universe, considered soul, through literature, immensely as a machine, however scientific it
may surpasses in educational value, in be, has neither value to the spirit nor moral and spiritual stimulus, contact charm to the imagination. with any of the forms or laws of The man of to-day is fortunate if he physical nature, through science? Is can attain as fresh and lively a conthere not something in the study of ception of things as did Plutarch and the great literatures of the world that Virgil. How alive the ancient opens the mind, inspires it with noble observers made the world! They consentiments and ideals, cultivates and ceived of everything as living, beingdevelops the intuitions, and reaches the primordial atoms, space, form, the and stamps the character, to an extent earth, the sky. The stars and planets that is hopelessly beyond the reach of they thought of as requiring nutriscience? They add something to the ment, and as breathing or exhaling. mind that is like leaf mould to the To them fire did not consume things, soil, like the contribution from animal but fed or preyed upon them, like an and vegetable life and from the rains animal. It was not so much false and the dews. Until science is mixed science, as a livelier kind of science, with emotion, and appeals to the heart which made them regard the peculiar and imagination, it is like dead in- quality of anything as a spirit. Thus organic matter; and when it becomes there was a spirit in snow; when the so mixed and so transformed it is snow melted the spirit escaped. This literature.
spirit, says Plutarch, “is nothing but The college of the future will doubt
the sharp point and finest scale of the less banish the study of the ancient congealed substance, endued with a languages; but the time thus gained virtue of cutting and dividing not will not be devoted to the study of only the flesh, but also silver and the minutiæ of physical science, as brazen vessels.” “Therefore this pierccontemplated by Mr. Herbert Spencer, ing spirit, like a flame” (how much, in but to the study of man himself, his fact, frost is like flame !)" seizing upon deeds and his thoughts as illustrated those that travel in the snow, seems in history and embodied in the great to burn their outsides, and like fire to literatures.
enter and penetrate the flesh.” There “Microscopes and telescopes, pro- is a spirit of salt too, and of heat, and perly considered,” says Goethe, "put of trees. The sharp, acrimonious our human eyes out of their natural, quality of the fig-tree bespeaks of a healthy, and profitable point of view." fierce and strong spirit which it darts By which remark he probably meant out into objects. "A bull, after he is that artificial knowledge of nature, tied to a fig-tree, though never so mad knowledge obtained by the aid of before, grows presently tame, and will instruments, and therefore by a kind suffer you to touch him, and on a of violence and inquisition, a kind of sudden all his rage and fury cool or dissecting and dislocating process, is die.” “Game hung upon a fig-tree less innocent, is less sweet and whole- soon becomes tender. Therefore the some than natural knowledge, the fig-tree sends forth a hot and sharp fruits of our natural faculties and spirit which cuts and boils the flesh of perceptions. And the reason is that the bird.” physical science pursued in and for To the ancient philosophers the eye itself results more and more in barren was not a mere passive instrument, analysis, becomes more
but sent forth a spirit, or fiery visual rays, that went to co-operate with the physical science is a mere rattling of rays from outward objects. Hence dead bones, a mere threshing of empty the power of the eye, and its potency straw. Probably we shall come round in love matters. - The mutual looks to as lively a conception of things by of nature's beauties, or that which and by. Darwin has brought us a comes from the eye, whether light or long way toward it. At any rate, the a stream of spirits, melt and dissolve ignorance of the old writers is often the lovers with a pleasing pain, which more captivating than our exact, but they call the bitter-sweet of love." more barren, knowledge. “ There is such a communication, such The old books are full of this dewa flame raised by one glance, that scented knowledge - knowledge gathose must be altogether unacquainted thered at first hand in the morning of with love that wonder at the Median the world. In our more exact scientific naphtha that takes fire at a distance knowledge this pristine quality is from the flame." “Water from the generally missing; and hence it is heavens," says Plutarch,“ is light and that the results of science are far less aërial, and, being mixed with spirit, is available for literature than the results the quicker passed and elevated into of experience. the plants by reason of its tenuity." Science is probably unfavourable to Rain-water, he further says, “is bred the growth of literature because it in the air and wind, and falls pure and does not throw man back upon himself sincere." Science could hardly give and concentrate him as the old belief an explanation as pleasing to the fancy did ; it takes him away from himself, as that. And it is true enough, too. away from human relations and emoMixed with spirit, or the gases of the tions, and leads him on and on. We air, and falling pure and sincere, is wonder and marvel more, but we fear, undoubtedly the main secret of the dread, love, sympathise less. Unless, matter. He said the ancients hesi- indeed, we finally come to see, as we tated to put out a fire because of the probably shall, that after science has relation it had to the sacred and done its best the mystery is as great eternal flame. Nothing," he says, as ever, and the imaginations and the “ bears such a resemblance to an emotions have just as free a field as animal as fire. It is moved and before. nourished by itself, and, by its bright- Science and literature in their aims ness, like the soul, discovers and and methods have but little in commakes everything apparent ; but in mon. Demonstrable fact is the its quenching it principally shows province of the one ; sentiment is the some power that seems to proceed province of the other. “The more a from our vital principle, for it makes book brings sentiment into light," a noise and resists like an animal says M. Taine, “ the more it is a work dying, or violently slaughtered." of literature ;” and, we may add, the
The ancients had that kind of know- more it brings the facts and laws of ledge which the heart gathers; we natural things to light, the more it is have in superabundance that kind of a work of science. Or, as Emerson knowledge which the head gathers. If says in one of his early essays, “ literamuch of theirs was made up of mere ture affords a platform whence we childish delusions, how much of ours may command a view of our present is hard, barren, and unprofitable-a life, a purchase by which we may mere desert of sand where no green
In like manner science thing grows, or can grow. How much affords a platform whence we may there is in books that one does not view
physical existence, a want to know, that it would be a purchase by which we may move mere weariness and burden to the the material world. The value of spirit to know; how much of modern the one is in its ideality, that of the
other in its exact demonstrations. measured by our exact knowledge of The knowledge which literature most these things; though it must unloves and treasures is knowledge of doubtedly be an interest consistent life ; while science is intent upon a with the scientific view. Think of knowledge of things, not as they are having one's interest in a flower, a in their relation to the mind and heart bird, the landscape, the starry skies, of man, but as they are in and of dependent upon the stimulus afforded themselves, in their relations to each by the text books, or dependent upon other and to the human body. Science our knowledge of the structure, habits, is a capital or fund perpetually re- functions, relations of these objects ! invested; it accumulates, rolls up, is This other and larger interest in carried forward by every new man. natural objects, to which I refer, is an Every man of science has all the interest as old as the race itself, and science before him to go upon, to set which all men, learned and unlearned himself up in business with. What an alike, feel in some degree; an interest enormous sum Darwin availed himself born of our relations to these things, of of and re-invested ! Not so in litera- our associations with them It is the ture; to every poet, to every artist, it human sentiments they awaken and is still the first day of creation, so far foster in us, the emotion of love, or as the essentials of his task are con- admiration, or awe, or fear, they call cerned. Literature is not so much a up; and is, in fact, the interest of fund to be re-invested, as it is a crop literature as distinguished from that to be ever new grown.
of science. The admiration one feels It cannot be said that literature has for a flower, for a person, for a fine kept pace with civilisation, though view, for a noble deed, the pleasure science has; in fact, it may be said one takes in a spring morning, in a without exaggeration that science is stroll upon the beach, is the admiracivilisation—the application of the tion and the pleasure literature feels, powers of nature to the arts of life. and art feels; only in them the feeling The reason why literature has not kept is freely opened and expanded, which pace is because so much more than in most minds is usually vague and mere knowledge, well-demonstrated germinal. Science has its own pleafacts, goes to the making of it; while sure in these things; but it is not, as a little else goes to the making of pure rule, a pleasure in which the mass of science. Indeed, the kingdom of mankind can share, because it is not heaven in literature, as in religion, directly related to the human affections “cometh not with observation.” This and emotions. In fact, the scientific felicity is within you as much in the treatment of nature can no more do one case as in the other. It is the away with or supersede the literary fruit of the spirit, and not of the treatment of it-the view of it as seen diligence of the hands.
through our sympathies and emotions, Because this is so, because modern and touched by the ideal, such as the achievements in letters are not on a poet gives us-than the compound of par with our material and scientific the laboratory can take the place of triumphs, there are those who predict the organic compounds found in our for literature a permanent decay, and food, drink, and air. think the field it now occupies is to be If Audubon had not felt other entirely usurped by science. But this than a scientific interest in the birds, can never be. Literature will have its namely, a human interest, an interest period of decadence and of partial born of sentiment, would he have ever eclipse; but the chief interest of man- written their biographies as he did ? kind in nature or in the universe can It is too true that the ornithologists never be for any length of time a of our day for the most part look merely scientific interest—an interest upon the birds only as so much legiti
mate game for expert dissection and creative energy; not why, but how; classification, and hence have added and we follow him as we would follow no new lineaments to Audubon's and a great explorer, or general, or voyager Wilson's portraits. Such a
like Columbus, charmed by his candour, Darwin was full of what we may call dilated by his mastery. He is said to the sentiment of science. Darwin was have felt no need of poetry, or of what always pursuing an idea, always is called religion ; his sympathies were tracking a living, active principle. so large and comprehensive, the mere He is full of the ideal interpretation science in him is so perpetually overof fact, science fired with faith and arched by that which is not science, but enthusiasm, the fascination of the faith, insight, imagination, prophecy, inpower
mystery of nature. spiration—" substance of things hoped All his works have a human and for, the evidence of things not seen;" almost poetic side. They are his love of truth so deep and abiding, doubtedly the best feeders of litera- and his determination to see things, ture we have yet had from the field facts, in their relations, and as they of science. His book on the earth- issue in principle, so unsleeping, that worm, or on the formation of vegetable both his poetic and religious emotions, mould, reads like a fable in which as well as his scientific proclivities, some high and beautiful philosophy found full scope, and his demonstrais clothed. How alive he makes the tion becomes almost a song. It is plants and the trees, shows all their easy to see how such a mind as movements, their sleeping and waking, Goethe's would have followed him and and almost their very dreams-does, supplemented him, not from its wealth indeed, disclose and establish a kind of scientific lore, but from its poetic of rudimentary soul or intelligence in insight into the methods of nature. the tip of the radicle of plants. No Again, it is the fine humanism of poet has ever made the trees so such a man as Humboldt that gives human. Mark, for instance, his dis- his name and his teachings currency. covery of the value of cross-fertilisa- Men who have not this humanism, tion in the vegetable kingdom, and who do not in any way relate their the means nature takes to bring it science to life or to the needs of the about. Cross-fertilisation is just as spirit, but pile up mere technical, important in the intellectual kingdom dessicated knowledge, are for the as in the vegetable. The thoughts of most part a waste or a weariness. the recluse finally become pale and Humboldt's humanism makes him a feeble. Without pollen from other stimulus or a support to all students minds how can one have a race of of nature. The noble character, the vigorous seedlings of his own! Thus poetic soul, shines out in all his works all Darwinian books have to me a and gives them a value above and literary or poetic substratum. The beyond their scientific worth, great as old fable of metamorphosis and trans- that undoubtedly is. To his desire formation he illustrates afresh in his for universal knowledge he added Origin of Species,' in the Descent the love of beautiful forms, and his of Man.' Darwin's interest in nature • Cosmos' is an attempt at an artistic is strongly scientific, but our interest creation, an harmonious representain him is largely literary; he is tion of the universe that should satisfy tracking a principle, the principle of the æsthetic sense as well as the underorganic life, following it through all standing. It is a graphic description its windings and turnings and doub- of nature, not a mechanical one. Men lings and redoublings upon itself, in of pure science look askant at it, or at the air, in the earth, in the water, in Humboldt, on this account. A sage the vegetable, and in all the branches of Berlin says he failed to reach the of the animal world; the footsteps of utmost height of science because of