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THE Council of the Society of Arts being of
I opinion that a wider publication of the views advocated in the following pages, as also in the two former Lectures of the Author, “How to Learn” and “ What to Learn,” might be useful in making more generally known the arguments that may be advanced in favour of the system of National Examinations which the Society proposes to organize and establish, resolved, that the following Lectures should also be published by the Society of Arts.
J. B. The Vicarage, Wandsworth,
February 17, 1857.
AN INAUGURAL ADDRESS
To the United Association of Schoolmasters, at their Annual
Meeting, held on the 29th of December, 1856, in the Great
N the invitation of your President and Committee, now
two successive years conveyed to me, I appear here before you this evening to handle questions of the highest interest to all classes, but in an especial manner such to you. I will not enter into details of school management, or argue questions of school discipline, matters in which I should hardly venture to advise you, much less presume to dictate to you. I will rather use the short time placed at my disposal to enlarge upon topics of more general interest and of more pressing importance.
I may, however, be permitted to make this one observationthat it should be your object to implant principles, and not to follow the example of those who waste their pupils' time over mere matters of detail. How often do we see boys' minds loaded with dry statistical facts and tabular results, which are but of little value, unless strictly accurate, which can never long be retained so, and which always can be had in some handy book of reference when required. A lad might as well be set to get by heart a table of logarithms, as some of the statistical information he is required to commit to memory. When one has mastered the few broad principles which constitute the foundations of a science, he will be in a position, if he has but energy and perseverance, to build up, so to speak, with his own hands the edifice itself, instead of looking on with the vague notions of a spectator, and seeing the work done by others. Rules are but the last results of a profound knowledge of the principles, whether of a language or a science. To start with committing rules to memory, instead of develop
ing principles' by the understanding, is to invert the order of nature, who first teaches the language by the ear, or informs us through the senses of those common facts, in the sagacious appreciation of whose value every experimental science has more or less originated. Thus the greatest linguists, such as Murray, Magliabecchi, and others, first learned a language by nature's process, and then educed its rules. Galvani, or rather Volta, developed the laws of that mysterious science, galvanism, setting out from a fact, which, or some one cognate to it, must have been observed before. The electric telegraph owes its invention to an observation made by Ersted, the Swedebut I stop short-I might occupy the whole of my time in illustrations of this kind.
It has often been objected to the friends of education and progress in our own time that they do not retain that traditional reverence for antiquity, that veneration for great names, which distinguished the promoters of intellectual advancement at the birth of modern civilization: that we no longer feel that exclusive admiration for the literature and science of Greece and Rome, which, three centuries ago, was a marked characteristic of every one who professed to cultivate either literature or science. Now, this veneration for ancient wisdom is founded on an erroneous comparison. The young naturally confide in the experience and knowledge of the old: and as the old have preceded them in point of time, we are led by the seeming analogy to look
upon the early period of the world as its old age instead of its youth. Lord Bacon, in his “ Advancement of Learning,' says, “ Certainly, our times are the ancient times when the world is now ancient, and not those which we count ancient, ordine retrogrado, by a computation backward from our own times.” Again, an exaggerated admiration of antiquity, and a sort of longing regret for times passed away, are by no means hopeful signs of a present healthy progress. It has sometimes been remarked of those who have descended from a long line of ancestors, and degenerated in the descent, that they were satisfied to place their claims to consideration, not on the grounds of personal merit, but on the greatness of those who had gone
before them. The same is as true of nations as of individuals. Mitford, in his “ History of Greece,” if I rightly recollect, somewhere observes, that Diodorus and Plutarch, by their extravagant eulogies on the extinct republics and legend
ary heroes of antiquity, tried to console themselves for the degeneracy of the times in which they wrote: that by their enthusiastic admiration of forms of government that had been abolished, they indirectly censured the enormities of the grinding despotisms under which they could call scarcely even their lives their own, and that the tone in which they lauded the liberties they had lost was the surest index of the slavery under which they groaned. The same tone of saddened retrospection pervades the fine preface of Livy's immortal history.
But, independently of these considerations, there is a legitimate cause for this admiration of antiquity, and you will bear with me while I develop it at some length. Let us in imagination go back to the year 1500 of our era, or thereabouts ; let us imagine a man somewhere in the south of Europe, or on the coast of Western Asia, within sight of that purple sea, beyond whose sunny shores civilization had never yet been able to advance. Let us further suppose him to be profoundly versed in all human learning, and acquainted with every cardinal event in man's history. What, let me ask, are the reflections that would naturally arise in the mind of so accomplished and philosophical a spectator taking a comprehensive view of the annals of mankind, and of the progress of civilization, from its earliest recorded dawn down to his own time? He would have seen all human knowledge either absolutely stationary or actually retrograding. He would have seen that the mathematical science of his own day had not made a single step in advance during the long period of 1,700 years, from the state it was left in by Archimedes and Euclid and Apollonius; that the science of medicine had dwindled down into a mere empirical art since the days of Hippocrates and Galen : that there was no body of laws worthy of the name but the Roman code: that alchemy flourished, for chemistry was not yet: that astrology had displaced the little astronomy that was known: that there was absolutely no such thing as physical science : that the multitudinous facts of natural history had yet to be observed and noted: that in poetry, oratory, architecture, and the kindred arts of painting and sculpture, the ancients transcended rivalry or even successful imitation: in short, that the whole sum of human knowledge, scant as it was, had continued absolutely without sensible augmentation during eighteen long centuries of man's eventful history: that the acutest wits