laments and laments

Tuesday, April 6th, 2004

Here’s an idea: I’d like one or more of the students who have had both brit lit courses, or anyone else who feels the impulse to untangle this problem, to write a paper (or weblog post) comparing/contrasting the Wanderer (Anglo Saxon) and Tennyson’s In Memorium. Both works deal with loss and images that engage the world in that context. This is the kind of stuff I think about on the drive home, by the way. That’s how exciting of a person I am.

Then we have this from Arnold:

Let us therefore, all of us, avoid indeed as much as possible any invidious comparison between the merits of humane letters, as means of education, and the merits of the natural sciences. But when some President of a Section for Mechanical Science insists on making the comparison, and tells us that “he who in his training has substituted literature and history for natural science has chosen the less useful alternative,” let us make answer to him that the student of humane letters only, will, at least, know also the great general conceptions brought in by modern physical science; for science, as Professor Huxley says, forces them upon us all. But the student of the natural sciences only, will, by our very hypothesis, know nothing of humane letters; not to mention that in setting himself to be perpetually accumulating natural knowledge, he sets himself to do what only specialists have in general the gift for doing genially. And so he will probably be unsatisfied, or at any rate incomplete, and even more incomplete than the student of humane letters only.

“. . . forces them upon us all . . .” What would Mill say about this? How does he mean “force”?

Then from Huxley:

We cannot know all the best thoughts and sayings of the Greeks unless we know what they thought about natural phenomena. We cannot fully apprehend their criticism of life unless we understand the extent to which that criticism was affected by scientific conceptions. We falsely pretend to be the inheritors of their culture, unless we are penetrated, as the best minds among them were, with an unhesitating faith that the free employment of reason, in accordance with scientific method, is the sole method of reaching truth.

Thus I venture to think that the pretensions of our modern humanists to the possession of the monopoly of culture and to the exclusive inheritance of the spirit of antiquity must be abated, if not abandoned. But I should be very sorry that anything I have said should be taken to imply a desire on my part to depreciate the value of classical education, as it might be and as it sometimes is. The native capacities of mankind vary no less than their opportunities; and while culture is one, the road by which one man may best reach it is widely different from that which is most advantageous to another. Again, while scientific education is yet inchoate and tentative, classical education is thoroughly well organized upon the practical experience of generations of teachers. So that, given ample time for learning and destination for ordinary life, or for a literary career, I do not think that a young Englishman in search of culture can do better than follow the course usually marked out for him, supplementing its deficiencies by his own efforts.

But for those who mean to make science their serious occupation; or who intend to follow the profession of medicine; or who have to enter early upon the business of life; for all these, in my opinion, classical education is a mistake; and it is for this reason that I am glad to see “mere literary education and instruction” shut out from the curriculum of Sir Josiah Mason’s college, seeing that its inclusion would probably lead to the introduction of the ordinary smattering of Latin and Greek.

Nevertheless, I am the last person to question the importance of genuine literary education, or to suppose that intellectual culture can be complete without it. An exclusively scientific training will bring about a mental twist as surely as an exclusive literary training. The value of the cargo does not compensate for a ship’s being out of trim; and I should be very sorry to think that the Scientific College would turn out none but lop – sided men.

This idea of “lop-sided” suggests an approximate view of human potential–can a person be lop-sided. But there’s a critical issue happening between Arnold and Huxley, an idea that is beginning to see it’s completion from Hobbes (the notion of materialism) to the very essays we’re dealing now.

Here’s another paper idea: given Huxley and Arnold and Darwin, why the continual fight over evolution, science, and religion in education?

One response to “laments and laments”

  1. neha says:

    “…I’d like one or more of the students who have had both brit lit courses, or anyone else who feels the impulse to untangle this problem, to write a paper (or weblog post) comparing/contrasting the Wanderer (Anglo Saxon) and Tennyson’s In Memorium.”

    I’m on it. Just as long as you don’t expect it this semester.