Texts Related to the Works of Sarah Orne Jewett
THE INFLUENCE OF WOMEN ON THE PROGRESS OF KNOWLEDGE.
Henry Thomas Buckle (1821-1862)
A Discourse delivered at the Royal Institution, on Friday, the 19th of March, 1858. (reprinted from 'Fraser's Magazine,' for April, 1858). This text is from The Miscellaneous and Posthumous Works of Henry Thomas Buckle (1872).
THE subject upon which I have undertaken to address you is the influence of women on the progress of knowledge, undoubtedly one of the most interesting questions that could be submitted to any audience. Indeed, it is not only very interesting, it is also extremely important. When we see how knowledge has civilized mankind; when we see how every great step in the march and advance of nations has been invariably preceded by a corresponding stop in their knowledge; when we moreover see, what is assuredly true, that women are constantly growing more influential, it becomes a matter of great moment that we should endeavour to ascertain the relation between their influence and our knowledge. On every side, in all social phenomena, in the education of children, in the tone and spirit of literature, in the forms and usages of life; nay, even in the proceedings of legislatures, in the history of statute-books; and in the decisions of magistrates, we find manifold proofs that women are gradually making their way, and slowly but surely winning for themselves a position superior to any they have hitherto attained. This is one of many peculiarities which distinguish modern civilization, and which show how essentially the most advanced countries are different from those that formerly flourished. Among the most celebrated nations of antiquity, women held a very subordinate place. The most splendid and durable monument of the Roman empire, and the noblest gift Rome has bequeathed to posterity, is her jurisprudence--a vast and harmonious system, worked out with consummate skill, and from which we derive our purest and largest notions of civil law. Yet this, which, not to mention the immense sway it still exercises in France and Germany, has taught to our most enlightened lawyers their best lessons; and which enabled Bracton among the earlier jurists, Somers, Hardwicke, Mansfield, and Stowell among the later, to soften by its refinement the rude maxims of our Saxon ancestors, and adjust the coarser principles of the old Common Law to the actual exigencies of life; this imperishable specimen of human sagacity is, strange to say, so grossly unjust towards women, that a great writer upon that code has well observed, that in it women are regarded not as persons, but as things; so completely were they stripped of all their rights, and held in subjection by their proud and imperious masters. As to the other great nation of antiquity, we have only to open the literature of the ancient Greeks to see with what airs of superiority, with what serene and lofty contempt, and sometimes with what mocking and biting scorn, women were treated by that lively and ingenious people. Instead of valuing them as companions, they looked on them as toys. How little part women really took in the development of Greek civilization may be illustrated by the singular fact, that their influence, scanty as it was, did not reach its height in the most civilized times, or in the most civilized regions. In modern Europe, the influence of women and the spread of civilization have been nearly commensurate, both advancing with almost equal speed. But if you compare the picture of Greek life in Homer with that to be found in Plato and his contemporaries, you will be struck by a totally opposite circumstance. Between Plato and Homer there intervened, according to the common reckoning, a period of at least four centuries, during which the Greeks made many notable improvements in the arts of life, and in various branches of speculative and practical knowledge. So far, however, from women participating in this movement, we find that, in the state of society exhibited by Plato and his contemporaries, they had evidently lost ground; their influence being less then than it was in the earlier and more barbarous period depicted by Homer. This fact illustrates the question in regard to time; another fact illustrates it in regard to place. In Sparta, women possessed more influence than they did in Athens; although the Spartans were rude and ignorant, the Athenians polite and accomplished. The causes of these inconsistencies would form a curious subject for investigation: but it is enough to call your attention to them as one of many proofs that the boasted civilizations of antiquity were eminently one-sided, and that they fell because society did not advance in all its parts, but sacrificed some of its constituents in order to secure the progress of others.
In modern European society we have happily no instance of this sort; and, if we now inquire what the influence of women has been upon that society, everyone will allow that on the whole it has been extremely beneficial. Their influence has prevented life from being too exclusively practical and selfish, and has saved it from degenerating into a dull and monotonous routine, by infusing into it an ideal and romantic element. It has softened the violence of men; it has improved their manners; it has lessened their cruelty. Thus far, the gain is complete and undeniable. But if we ask what their influence has been, not on the general interests of society, but on one of those interests, namely, the progress of knowledge, the answer is not so obvious. For, to state the matter candidly, it must be confessed that none of the greatest works which instruct and delight mankind have been composed by women. In poetry, in painting, in sculpture, in music, the most exquisite productions are the work of men. No woman, however favourable her circumstances may have been, has made a discovery sufficiently important to mark an epoch in the annals of the human mind. These are facts which cannot be contested, and from them a very stringent and peremptory inference has been drawn. From them it has been inferred, and it is openly stated by eminent writers, that women have no concern with the highest forms of knowledge; that such matters are altogether out of their reach; that they should confine themselves to practical, moral, and domestic life, which it is their province to exalt and to beautify; but that they can exercise no influence, direct or indirect, over the progress of knowledge, and that if they seek to exercise such influence, they will not only fail in their object, but will restrict the field of their really useful and legitimate activity.
Now, I may as well state at once, and at the outset, that I have come here to-night with the intention of combating this proposition, which I hold to be unphilosophical and dangerous; false in theory and pernicious in practice. I believe, and I hope before we separate to convince you, that so far from women exercising little or no influence over the progress of knowledge, they are capable of exercising and have actually exercised an enormous influence; that this influence is, in fact, so great that it is hardly possible to assign limits to it; and that great as it is, it may with advantage be still further increased. I hope, moreover, to convince you that this influence has been exhibited not merely from time to time in rare, sudden, and transitory ebullitions, but that it acts by virtue of certain laws inherent to human nature; and that although it works as an under-current below the surface, and is therefore invisible to hasty observers, it has already produced the most important results, and has affected the shape, the character, and the amount of our knowledge.
To clear up this matter, we must first of all understand what knowledge is. Some men who pride themselves on their common sense -- and whenever a man boasts much about that, you may be pretty sure that he has very little sense, either common or uncommon -- such men there are who will tell you that all knowledge consists of facts, that everything else is mere talk and theory, and that nothing has any value except facts. Those who speak so much of the value of facts may understand the meaning of fact, but they evidently do not understand the meaning of value. For, the value of a thing is not a property residing in that thing, nor is it a component; but it is simply its relation to some other thing. We say, for instance, that a five-shilling piece has a certain value; but the value does not reside in the coin. If it does, where is it? Our senses cannot grasp value. We cannot see value, nor hear it, nor feel it, nor taste it, nor smell it. The value consists solely in the relation which the five-shilling piece bears to something else. Just so in regard to facts. Facts, as facts, have no sort of value, but are simply a mass of idle lumber. The value of a fact is not an element or constituent of that fact, but is its relation to the total stock of our knowledge, either present or prospective. Facts, therefore, have merely a potential and, as it were, subsequent value, and the only advantage of possessing them is the possibility of drawing conclusions from them; in other words, of rising to the idea, the principle, the law which governs them. Our knowledge is composed not of facts, but of the relations which facts and ideas bear to themselves and to each other; and real knowledge consists not in an acquaintance with facts, which only makes a pedant, but in the use of facts, which makes a philosopher.
Looking at knowledge in this way, we shall find that it has three divisions -- Method, Science, and Art. Of method I will speak presently; but I will first state the limits of the other two divisions. The immediate object of all art is either pleasure or utility: the immediate object of all science is solely truth. As art and science have different objects, so also have they different faculties. The faculty of art is to change events; the faculty of science is to foresee them. The phenomena with which we deal are controlled by art; they are predicted by science. The more complete a science is, the greater its power of prediction; the more complete an art is, the greater its power of control. Astronomy, for instance, is called the queen of the sciences, because it is the most advanced of all; and the astronomer, while he abandons all hope of controlling or altering the phenomena, frequently knows what the phenomena will be years before they actually appear; the extent of his foreknowledge proving the accuracy of his science. So, too, in the science of mechanics, we predict that, certain circumstances being present, certain results must follow; and having done this, our science ceases. Our art then begins, and from that moment the object of utility and the faculty of control come into play; so that in the art of mechanics, we alter what in the science of mechanics we were content to foresee.
One of the most conspicuous tendencies of advancing civilization is to give a scientific basis to that faculty of control which is represented by art, and thus afford fresh prominence to the faculty of prediction. In the earliest stages of society there are many arts, but no sciences. A little later, science begins to appear, and every subsequent step is marked by an increased desire to bring art under the dominion of science. To those who have studied the history of the human mind, this tendency is so familiar that I need hardly stop to prove it. Perhaps the most remarkable instance is in the case of agriculture, which, for thousands of years, was a mere empirical art, resting on the traditional maxims of experience, but which, during the present century, chemists began to draw under their jurisdiction, so that the practical art of manuring the ground is now explained by laws of physical science. Probably the next step will be to bring another part of the art of agriculture under the dominion of meteorology, which will be done as soon as the conditions which govern the changes of the weather have been so generalized as to enable us to foretell what the weather will be.
General reasoning, therefore, as well as the history of what has been actually done, justify us in saying that the highest, the ripest, and the most important form of knowledge, is the scientific form of predicting consequences; it is therefore to this form that I shall restrict the remainder of what I have to say to you respecting the influence of women. And the point which I shall attempt to prove is, that there is a natural, a leading, and probably an indestructible element, in the minds of women, which enables them, not indeed to make scientific discoveries, but to exercise the most momentous and salutary influence over the method by which discoveries are made. And as all questions concerning the philosophy of method lie at the very root of our knowledge, I will, in the first place, state, as succinctly as I am able, the only two methods by which we can arrive at truth.
The scientific inquirer, properly so called, that is, he whose object is merely truth, has only two ways of attaining his result. He may proceed from the external world to the internal; or he may begin with the internal and proceed to the external. In the former case he studies the facts presented to hie senses, in order to arrive at a true idea of them; in the latter case, he studies the ideas already in his mind, in order to explain the facts of which his senses are cognizant. If he begin with the facts his method is inductive; if he begin with the ideas it is deductive. The inductive philosopher collects phenomena either by observation or by experiment, and from them rises to the general principle or law which explains and covers them. The deductive philosopher draws the principle from ideas already existing in his mind, and explains the phenomena by descending on them, instead of rising from them. Several eminent thinkers have asserted that every idea is the result of induction, and that the axioms of geometry, for instance, are the product of early and unconscious induction. In the same way, Mr. Mill, in his great work on Logic, affirms that all reasoning is in reality from particular to particular, and that the major premiss of every syllogism is merely a record and register of knowledge previously obtained. Whether this be true, or whether, as another school of thinkers asserts, we have ideas antecedent to experience, is a question which has been hotly disputed, but which I do not believe the actual resources of our knowledge can answer, and certainly I have no intention at present of making the attempt. It is enough to say that we call geometry a deductive science, because, even if its axioms are arrived at inductively, the inductive process is extremely small, and we are unconscious of it; while the deductive reasonings form the great mass and difficulty of the science.
To bring this distinction home to you, I will illustrate it by a specimen of deductive and inductive investigation of the same subject. Suppose a writer on what is termed social science wishes to estimate the influence of different habits of thought on the average duration of life, and taking as an instance the opposite pursuits of poets and mathematicians, asks which of them live longest. How is he to solve this? If he proceeds inductively he will first collect the facts, that is, he will ransack the biographies of poets and mathematicians in different ages, different climates, and different states of society, so as to eliminate perturbations arising from circumstances not connected with his subject. He will then throw the results into the statistical form of tables of mortality, and on comparing them will find, that notwithstanding the immense variety of circumstances which he has investigated, there is a general average which constitutes an empirical law, and proves that mathematicians, as a body, are longer lived than poets. This is the inductive method. On the other hand, the deductive inquirer will arrive at precisely the same conclusion by a totally different method. He will argue thus; poetry appeals to the imagination, mathematics to the understanding. To work the imagination is more exciting than to work the understanding, and what is habitually exciting is usually unhealthy. But what is usually unhealthy will tend to shorten life; therefore poetry tends more than mathematics to shorten life; therefore on the whole poets will die sooner than mathematicians.
You now see the difference between induction and deduction; and you see, too, that both methods are valuable, and that any conclusion must be greatly strengthened if we can reach it by two such different paths. To connect this with the question before us, I will endeavour to establish two propositions. First, That women naturally prefer the deductive method to the inductive. Secondly, That women by encouraging in men deductive habits of thought, have rendered an immense, though unconscious, service to the progress of knowledge, by preventing scientific investigators from being as exclusively inductive as they would otherwise be.
In regard to women being by nature more deductive, and men more inductive, you will remember that induction assigns the first place to particular facts; deduction to general propositions or ideas. Now, there are several reasons why women prefer the deductive, and, if I may so say, ideal method. They are more emotional, more enthusiastic, and more imaginative than men; they therefore live more in an ideal world; while men, with their colder, harder, and austerer organisations, are more practical and more under the dominion of facts, to which they consequently ascribe a higher importance. Another circumstance which makes women more deductive, is that they possess more of what is called intuition. They cannot see so far as men can, but what they do see they see quicker. Hence, they are constantly tempted to grasp at once at an idea, and seek to solve a problem suddenly, in contradistinction to the slower and more laborious ascent of the inductive investigator.
That women are more deductive than men, because they think quicker than men, is a proposition which some persons will not relish, and yet it may be proved in a variety of ways. Indeed, nothing could prevent its being universally admitted except the fact, that the remarkable rapidity with which women think is obscured by that miserable, that contemptible, that preposterous system, called their education, in which valuable things are carefully kept from them, and trifling things carefully taught to them, until their fine and nimble minds are too often irretrievably injured. It is on this account, that in the lower classes the superior quickness of women is even more noticeable than in the upper; and an eminent physician, Dr. Currie, mentions in one of his letters, that when a labourer and his wife came together to consult him, it was always from the woman that he gained the clearest and most precise information, the intellect of the man moving too slowly for his purpose. To this I may add another observation which many travellers have made, and which any one can verify: namely, that when you are in a foreign country, and speaking a foreign language, women will understand you quicker than men will; and that for the same reason, if you lose your way in a town abroad, it is always best to apply to a woman, because a man will show less readiness of apprehension.
These, and other circumstances which might be adduced--such, for instance, as the insight into character possessed by women, and the fine tact for which they are remarkable -- prove that they sere more deductive than men, for two principal reasons. First, Because they are quicker than men. Secondly, Because, being more emotional and enthusiastic, they live in a more ideal world, and therefore prefer a method of inquiry which proceeds from ideas to facts; leaving to men the opposite method of proceeding from facts to ideas.
My second proposition is, that women have rendered great though unconscious service to science, by encouraging and keeping alive this habit of deductive thought; and that if it were not for them, scientific men would be much too inductive, and the progress of our knowledge would be hindered. There are many here who will not willingly admit this proposition, because, in England, since the first half of the seventeenth century, the inductive method, as the means of arriving at physical truths, has been the object, not of rational admiration, but of a blind and servile worship; and it is constantly said, that since the time of Bacon all great physical discoveries have been made by that process. If this be true, then of course the deductive habits of women must, in reference to the progress of knowledge, have done more harm than good. But it is not true. It is not true that the greatest modern discoveries have all been made by induction; and the circumstance of its being believed to be true is one of many proofs how much more successful Englishmen have been in making discoveries than in investigating the principles according to which discoveries are made.
The first instance I will give you of the triumph of the deductive method, is in the most important discovery yet made respecting the inorganic world; I mean the discovery of the law of gravitation by Sir Isaac Newton. Several of Newton's other discoveries were, no doubt, inductive, in so far as they merely assumed such provisional and tentative hypotheses as are always necessary to make experiments fruitful. But it is certain that his greatest discovery of all was deductive, in the proper sense of the word; that is to say, the process of reasoning from ideas was out of all proportion large, compared to the process of reasoning from facts. Five or six years after the accession of Charles II., Newton was sitting in a garden, when (you all know this part of the story) an apple fell from a tree. Whether he had been already musing respecting gravitation, of whether the fall of the apple directed his thoughts into that channel is uncertain, and is immaterial to my present purpose, which is merely to indicate the course his mind actually took. His object was to discover some law, that is, rise to some higher truth respecting gravity than was previously known. Observe how he went to work. He sat still where he was, and he thought. He did not get up to make experiments concerning gravitation, nor did he go home to consult observations which others had made, or to collate tables of observations: he did not even continue to watch the external world, but he sat, like a man entranced and enraptured, feeding on his own mind, and evolving idea after idea. He thought that if the apple had been on a higher tree, if it had been on the highest known tree, it would have equally fallen. Thus far, there was no reason to think that the power which made the apple fall was susceptible of diminution; and if it were not susceptible of diminution, why should it be susceptible of limit? If it were unlimited and undiminished, it would extend above the earth; it would reach the moon and keep her in her orbit. If the power which made the apple fall was actually able to control the moon, why should it stop there? Why should not the planets also be controlled, and why should not they be forced to run their course by the necessity of gravitating towards the sun, just as the moon gravitated towards the earth? His mind thus advancing from idea to idea, he was carried by imagination into the realms of space, and still sitting, neither experimenting nor observing, but heedless of the operations of nature, he completed the most sublime and majestic speculation that it ever entered into the heart of man to conceive. Owing to an inaccurate measurement of the diameter of the earth, the details which verified this stupendous conception were not completed till twenty years later, when Newton, still pursuing the same process, made a deductive application of the laws of Kepler: so that both in the beginning and in the end, the greatest discovery of the greatest natural philosopher the world has yet seen, was the fruit of the deductive method. See how small a part the senses played in that discovery! It was the triumph of the idea! It was the audacity of genius! It was the outbreak of a mind so daring, and yet so subtle, that we have only Shakespeare's with which to compare it. To pretend, therefore, as many have done, that the fall of the apple was the cause of the discovery, and then to adduce that as a confirmation of the idle and superficial saying "that great events spring from little causes," only shows how unable such writers are to appreciate what our masters have done for us. No great event ever sprung, or ever will spring, from a little cause; and this, the greatest of all discoveries, had a cause fully equal to the effect produced. The cause of the discovery of the law of gravitation was not the fall of the apple, nor was it anything that occurred in the external world. The cause of the discovery of Newton was the mind of Newton himself.
The next instance I will mention of the successful employment of the à priori, or deductive method, concerns the mineral kingdom. If you take a crystallised substance as it is usually found in nature, nothing can at first sight appear more irregular and capricious. Even in its simplest form, the shape is so various as to be perplexing; but natural crystals are generally met with, not in primary forms, but in secondary ones, in which they have a singularly confused and uncouth aspect. These strange-looking bodies had long excited the attention of philosophers, who, after the approved inductive fashion, subjected them to all sorts of experiments; divided them, broke them up, measured them, weighed them, analysed them, thrust them into crucibles, brought chemical agents to bear upon them, and did everything they could think of to worm out the secret of these crystals and get at their mystery. Still, the mystery was not revealed to them. At length, late in the eighteenth century, a Frenchman named Haüy, one of the most remarkable men of a remarkable age, made the discovery, and ascertained that these native crystals, irregular as they appear, are in truth perfectly regular, and that their secondary forms deviate from their primary forms by a regular process of diminution; that is, by what he termed laws of decrement--the principles of decrease being as unerring as those of increase. Now, I beg that you will particularly notice how this striking discovery was made. Haüy was essentially a poet; and his great delight was to wander in the Jardin du Roi, observing nature, not as a physical philosopher, but as a poet. Though his understanding was strong, his imagination was stronger; and it was for the purpose of filling his mind with ideas of beauty that he directed his attention at first to the vegetable kingdom, with its graceful forms and various hues. His poetic temperament luxuriating in such images of beauty, his mind became saturated with ideas of symmetry, and Cuvier assures us that it was in consequence of those ideas that he began to believe that the apparently irregular forms of native crystals were in reality regular; in other words, that in them, too, there was a beauty -- a hidden beauty -- though the senses were unable to discern it. As soon as this idea was firmly implanted in his mind, at least half the discovery was made; for he had got the key to it, and was on the right road, which others had missed because, while they approached minerals experimentally on the side of the senses, he approached them speculatively on the side of the idea. This is not a mere fanciful assertion of mine, since Haüy himself tells us, in his great work on Mineralogy, that he took, as his starting point, ideas of the symmetry of form; and that from those ideas he worked down deductively to his subject. It was in this way, and of course after a long series of subsequent labours, that he read the riddle which had baffled his able but unimaginative predecessors. And there are two circumstances worthy of note, as confirming what I have said respecting the real history of this discovery. The first is, that although Haüy is universally admitted to be the founder of the science, his means of observation were so rude that subsequent crystallographers declare that hardly any of his measurements of angles are correct; as indeed is not surprising, inasmuch as the goniometer which he employed was a very imperfect instrument; and that of Wollaston, which acts by reflection, was not then invented. The other circumstance is, that the little mathematics he once knew be had forgotten amid his poetic and imaginative pursuits; so that, in working out the details of his own science, he was obliged, like a schoolboy, to learn the elements of geometry before he could prove to the world what he had already proved to himself, and could bring the laws of the science of form to bear upon the structure of the mineral kingdom.
To these cases of the application of what may be termed the ideal method to the inorganic world, I will add another from the organic department of nature. Those among you who are interested in botany, are aware that the highest morphological generalisation we possess respecting plants, is the great law of metamorphosis, according to which the stamens, pistils, corollas, bracts, petals, and so forth, of every plant, are simply modified leaves. It is now known that these various parts, different in shape, different in colour, and different in function, are successive stages of the leaf -- epochs, as it were, of its history. The question naturally arises, who made this discovery? Was it some inductive investigator, who had spent years in experiments and minute observations of plants, and who, with indefatigable industry, had collected them, classified them, given them hard names, dried them, laid them up in his herbarium that he might at leisure study their structure and rise to their laws? Not so. The discovery was made by Göthe, the greatest poet Germany has produced, and one of the greatest the world has ever seen. And he made it, not in spite of being a poet, but because he was a poet. It was his brilliant imagination, his passion for beauty, and his exquisite conception of form, which supplied him with ideas, from which, reasoning deductively, he arrived at conclusions by descent, not by ascent. He stood on an eminence, and looking down from the heights generalised the law. Then he descended into the plains, and verified the idea. When the discovery was announced by Göthe, the botanists not only rejected it, but were filled with wrath at the notion of a poet invading their territory. What ! a man who made verses and wrote plays, a mere man of imagination, a poor creature who knew nothing of facts, who had not even used the microscope, who had made no great experiments on the growth of plants; was he to enter the sacred precincts of physical science, and give himself out as a philosopher? It was too absurd. But Göthe, who had thrown his idea upon the world, could afford to wait and bide his time. You know the result. The men of facts at length succumbed before the man of ideas; the philosophers, even on their own ground, were beaten by the poet; and this great discovery is now received and eagerly welcomed by those very persons who, if they had lived fifty years ago, would have treated it with scorn, and who even now still go on in their old routine, telling us, in defiance of the history of our knowledge, that all physical discoveries are made by the Baconian method, and that any other method is unworthy the attention of sound and sensible thinkers.
One more instance, and I have done with this part of the subject. The same great poet made another important physical discovery in precisely the same way. Göthe, strolling in a cemetery near Venice, stumbled on a skull which was lying before him. Suddenly the idea flashed across his mind that the skull was composed of vertebræ; in other words, that the bony covering of the head was simply au expansion of the bony covering of the spine. This luminous idea was afterwards adopted by Oken and a few other great naturalists in Germany and France, but it was not received in England till ten years ago, when Mr. Owen took it up, and in his very remarkable work on the "Homologies of the Vertebrate Skeleton," showed its meaning and purpose as contributing towards a general scheme of philosophic anatomy. That the discovery was made by Göthe late in the eighteenth century is certain, and it is equally certain that for fifty years afterwards the English anatomists, with all their tools and all their dissections, ignored or despised that very discovery which they are now compelled to accept.
You will particularly observe the circumstances under which this discovery was made. It was not made by some great surgeon, dissector, or physician, but it was made by a great poet, and amidst scenes most likely to excite a poetic temperament. It was made in Venice, that land so calculated to fire the imagination of a poet; the land of marvels, the land of poetry and romance, the land of painting and of song. It was made, too, when Göthe, surrounded by the ashes of the dead, would be naturally impressed with those feelings of solemn awe, in whose presence the human understanding, rebuked and abashed, becomes weak and helpless, and leaves the imagination unfettered to wander in that ideal world which is its own peculiar abode, and from which it derives its highest aspirations.
It has often seemed to me that there is a striking similarity between this event and one of the most beautiful episodes in the greatest production of the greatest man the world has ever possessed; I mean Shakespeare's "Hamlet." You remember that wonderful scene in the churchyard, when Hamlet walks in among the graves, where the brutal and ignorant clowns are singing and jeering and jesting over the remains of the dead. You remember how the fine imagination of the great Danish thinker is stirred by the spectacle, albeit he knows not yet that the grave which is being dug at his feet is destined to contain all that he holds dear upon earth. But though he wists not of this, he is moved like the great German poet, and he, like Göthe, takes up a skull, and his speculative faculties begin to work. Images of decay crowd on his mind as he thinks how the mighty are fallen and have passed away. In a moment, his imagination carries him back two thousand years, and he almost believes that the skull he holds in his hand is indeed the skull of Alexander, and in his mind's eye he contrasts the putrid bone with what it once contained, the brain of the scourge and conqueror of mankind. Then it is that suddenly he, like Göthe, passes into an ideal physical world, and seizing the great doctrine of the indestructibility of matter, that doctrine which in his age it was difficult to grasp, he begins to show how, by a long series of successive changes, the head of Alexander might have been made to subserve the most ignoble purposes; the substance being always metamorphosed, never destroyed. "Why," asks Hamlet, "why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander?" when, just as he is about to pursue this train of ideas, he is stopped by one of those men of facts, one of those practical and prosaic natures, who are always ready to impede the flight of genius. By his side, stands the faithful, the affectionate, but the narrow-minded Horatio, who, looking upon all this as the dream of a distempered fancy, objects that -- "'Twere to consider too curiously to consider so." O! what a picture! what a contrast between Hamlet and Horatio; between the idea and the sense; between the imagination and the understanding. "'Twere to consider too curiously to consider so." Even thus was Göthe troubled by his contemporaries, and thus too often speculation is stopped, genius is chilled, and the play and swell of the human mind repressed, because ideas are made subordinate to facts, because the external is preferred to the internal, and because the Horatios of action discourage the Hamlets of thought.
Much more could I have said to you on this subject, and gladly would I have enlarged on so fruitful a theme as the philosophy of scientific method; a philosophy too much neglected in this country, but of the deepest interest to those who care to rise above the little instincts of the hour, and who love to inquire into the origin of our knowledge, and into the nature of the conditions under which that knowledge exists. But I fear that I have almost exhausted your patience in leading you into paths of thought which, not being familiar, must be somewhat difficult, and I can hardly hope that I have succeeded in making every point perfectly clear. Still, I do trust that there is no obscurity as to the general results. I trust that I have not altogether raised my voice in vain before this great assembly, and that I have done at least something towards vindicating the use in physical science of that deductive method which, during the last two centuries, Englishmen have unwisely despised. Not that I deny for a moment the immense value of the opposite or inductive method. Indeed, it is impossible for any one standing in this theatre to do so. It is impossible to forget that within the precincts of this building great secrets have been extorted from nature by induction alone. Under the shadow and protection of this noble Institution, men of real eminence, men of power and thought have, by a skilful employment of that method, made considerable additions to our knowledge, have earned for themselves the respect of their contemporaries, and well deserve the homage of posterity. To them all honour is due; and I, for one, would say, let that honour be paid freely, ungrudgingly, and with an open and bounteous heart. But I venture to submit that all discoveries have not been made by this, their favourite process. I submit that there is a spiritual, a poetic, and for aught we know a spontaneous and uncaused element in the human mind, which ever and anon, suddenly and without warning, gives us a glimpse and a forecast of the future, and urges us to seize truth as it were by anticipation. In attacking the fortress, we may sometimes storm the citadel without stopping to sap the outworks. That great discoveries have been made in this way, the history of our knowledge decisively proves. And if, passing from what has been already accomplished, we look at what remains to be done, we shall find that the necessity of some such plan is likely to become more and more pressing. The field of thought is rapidly widening, and as the horizon recedes on every side, it will soon be impossible for the mere logical operations of the understanding to cover the whole of that enormous and outlying domain. Already the division of labour has been pushed so far that we are in imminent danger of losing in comprehensiveness more than we gain in accuracy. In our pursuit after special truths, we run no small risk of dwarfing our own minds. By concentrating our attention, we are apt to narrow our conceptions, and to miss those commanding views which would be attained by a wider though perhaps less minute survey. It is but too clear that something of this sort has already happened, and that serious mischief has been wrought. For, look at the language and sentiments of those who profess to guide, and who in some measure do guide, public opinion in the scientific world. According to their verdict, if a man does something specific and immediate, if, for instance, he discovers a new acid or a new salt, great admiration is excited, and his praise is loudly celebrated. But when a man like Göthe puts forth some vast and pregnant idea which is destined to revolutionise a whole department of inquiry, and by inaugurating a new train of thought to form an epoch in the history of the human mind; if it happens, as is always the case, that certain facts contradict that view, then the so-called scientific men rise up in arms against the author of so daring an innovation; a storm is raised about his head, he is denounced as a dreamer, an idle visionary, an interloper in matters which he has not studied with proper sobriety.
Thus it is that great minds are depressed in order that little minds may be raised. This false standard of excellence has corrupted even our language, and vitiated the ordinary forms of speech. Among us a theorist is actually a term of reproach, instead of being, as it ought to be, a term of honour; for to theorise is the highest function of genius, and the greatest philosophers must always be the greatest theorists. What makes all this the more serious is, that the farther our knowledge advances, the greater will be the need of rising to transcendental views of the physical world. To the magnificent doctrine of the indestructibility of matter, we are now adding the no less magnificent one of the indestructibility of force; and we are beginning to perceive that, according to the ordinary scientific treatment, our investigations must be confined to questions of metamorphosis and of distribution; that the study of causes and of entities is forbidden to us; and that we are limited to phenomena through which and above which we can never hope to pass. But, unless I greatly err, there is something in us which craves for more than this. Surely we shall not always be satisfied, even in physical science, with the cheerless prospect of never reaching beyond the laws of co-existence and of sequence? Surely this is not the be-all and end-all of our knowledge. And yet, according to the strict canons of inductive logic, we can do no more. According to that method, this is the verge and confine of all. Happily, however, induction is only one of our resources. Induction is, indeed, a mighty weapon laid up in the armoury of the human mind, and by its aid great deeds have been accomplished, and noble conquests have been won. But in that armoury there is another weapon, I will not say of a stronger make, but certainly of a keener edge; and, if that weapon had been oftener used during the present and preceding century, our knowledge would be far more advanced than it actually is. If the imagination had been more cultivated, if there had been a closer union between the spirit of poetry and the spirit of science, natural philosophy would have made greater progress, because natural philosophers would have taken a higher and more successful aim, and would have enlisted on their side a wider range of human sympathies.
From this point of view you will see the incalculable service women have rendered to the progress of knowledge. Great and exclusive as is our passion for induction, it would, but for them, have been greater and more exclusive still. Empirical as we are, slaves as we are to the tyranny of facts, our slavery would, but for them, have been more complete and more ignominious. Their turn of thought, their habits of mind, their conversation, their influence, insensibly extending over the whole surface of society, and frequently penetrating its intimate structure, have, more than all other things put together, tended to raise us into an ideal world, lift us from the dust in which we are too prone to grovel, and develop in us those germs of imagination which even the most sluggish and apathetic understandings in some degree possess. The striking fact that most men of genius have had remarkable mothers, and that they have gained from their mothers far more than from their fathers; this singular and unquestionable fact can, I think, be best explained by the principles which I have laid down. Some, indeed, will tell you that this depends upon laws of the hereditary transmission of character from parent to child. But if this be the case, how comes it that while every one admits that remarkable men have usually remarkable mothers, it is not generally admitted that remarkable men have usually remarkable fathers? If the intellect is bequeathed on one side, why is it not bequeathed on the other? For my part, I greatly doubt whether the human mind is handed down in this way, like an heir-loom, from one generation to another. I rather believe that, in regard to the relation between men of genius and their mothers, the really important events occur after birth, when the habits of thought peculiar to one sex act upon and improve the habits of thought peculiar to the other sex. Unconsciously, and from a very early period, there is established an intimate and endearing connection between the deductive mind of the mother and the inductive mind of her son. The understanding of the boy, softened and yet elevated by the imagination of his mother, is saved from that degeneracy towards which the mere understanding always inclines; it is saved from being too cold, too matter-of-fact, too prosaic, and the different properties and functions of the mind are more harmoniously developed than would otherwise be practicable. Thus it is that by the mere play of the affections the finished man is ripened and completed. Thus it is that the most touching and the most sacred form of human love, the purest, the highest, and the holiest compact of which our nature is capable, becomes an engine for the advancement of knowledge and the discovery of truth. In after life other relations often arise by which the same process is continued. And, notwithstanding a few exceptions, we do undoubtedly find that the most truly eminent men have had not only their affections, but also their intellect, greatly influenced by women. I will go even farther; and I will venture to say that those who have not undergone that influence betray a something incomplete and mutilated. We detect, even in their genius, a certain frigidity of tone; and we look in vain for that burning fire, that gushing and spontaneous nature with which our ideas of genius are indissolubly associated. Therefore, it is, that those who are most anxious that the boundaries of knowledge should be enlarged, ought to be most eager that the influence of women should be increased, in order that every resource of the human mind may be at once and quickly brought into play. For you may rely upon it that the time is approaching when all those resources will be needed, and will be taxed even to the utmost. We shall soon have on our hands work far more arduous than any we have yet accomplished; and we shall be encountered by difficulties the removal of which will require every sort of help, and every variety of power. As yet we are in the infancy of our knowledge. What we have done is but a speck compared to what remains to be done. For what is there that we really know? We are too apt to speak as if we had penetrated into the sanctuary of truth and raised the veil of the goddess, when in fact we are still standing, coward-like, trembling before the vestibule, and not daring, from very fear, to cross the threshold of the temple. The highest of our so-called laws of nature are as yet purely empirical. You are startled by that assertion, but it is literally true. Not one single physical discovery that has ever been made has been connected with the laws of the mind that made it; and until that connection is ascertained our knowledge has no sure basis. On the one side we have mind; on the other side we have matter. These two principles are so interwoven, they so act upon and perturb each other, that we shall never really know the laws of one unless we also know the laws of both. Everything is essential; everything hangs together, and forms part of one single scheme, one grand and complex plan, one gorgeous drama, of which the universe is the theatre. They who discourse to you of the laws of nature as if those laws were binding on nature, or as if they formed a part of nature, deceive both you and themselves. The laws of nature have their sole seat, origin, and function in the human mind. They are simply the conditions under which the regularity of nature is recognised. They explain the external world, but they reside in the internal. As yet we know scarcely anything of the laws of mind, and therefore we know scarcely anything of the laws of nature. Let us not be led away by vain and high-sounding words. We talk of the law of gravitation, and yet we know not what gravitation is; we talk of the conservation of force and distribution of forces, and we know not what forces are; we talk with complacent ignorance of the atomic arrangements of matter, and we neither know what atoms are nor what matter is; we do not even know if matter, in the ordinary sense of the word, can be said to exist; we have as yet only broken the first ground, we have but touched the crust and surface of things. Before us and around us there is an immense and untrodden field, whose limits the eye vainly strives to define; so completely are they lost in the dim and shadowy outline of the future. In that field, which we and our posterity have yet to traverse, I firmly believe that the imagination will effect quite as much as the understanding. Our poetry will have to reinforce our logic, and we must feel as much as we must argue. Let us, then, hope that the imaginative and emotional minds of one sex will continue to accelerate the great progress, by acting upon and improving the colder and harder minds of the other sex. By this coalition, by this union of different faculties, different tastes, and different methods, we shall go on our way with the greater ease. A vast and splendid career lies before us, which it will take many ages to complete. We see looming in the distance a rich and goodly harvest, into which perchance some of us may yet live to thrust our sickle, but of which, reap what we may, the greatest crop of all must be reserved for our posterity. So far, however, from desponding, we ought to be sanguine. We have every reason to believe that when the human mind once steadily combines the whole of its powers, it will be more than a match for the difficulties presented by the external world. As we surpass our fathers, so will our children surpass us. We, waging against the forces of nature what has too often been a precarious, unsteady, and unskilled warfare, have never yet put forth the whole of our strength, and have never united all our faculties against our common foe. We, therefore, have been often worsted, and have sustained many and grievous reverses. But even so, such is the elasticity of the human mind, such is the energy of that immortal and god-like principle which lives within us, that we are baffled without being discouraged, our very defeats quicken our resources, and we may hope that our descendants, benefiting by our failure, will profit by our example, and that for them is reserved that last and decisive stage of the great conflict between Man and Nature, in which, advancing from success to success, fresh trophies will be constantly won, every struggle will issue in a conquest, and every battle end in a victory.
Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College