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Title: Critical Miscellanies (Vol. 3 of 3) - Essay 1: On Popular Culture
Author: Morley, John, 1838-1923
Language: English
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  Essay 1: On Popular Culture




  Introduction                                                          1

  Importance of provincial centres                                      2

  Report of the Midland Institute                                       4

  Success of the French classes                                         5

  Less success of English history                                       6

  Value of a short comprehensive course                                 8

  Dr. Arnold's saying about history 'traced backwards'                  9

  Value of a short course of general history                           10

  Value of a sound notion of Evidence                                  16

  Text-books of scientific logic not adequate for popular objects      21

  A new instrument suggested                                           21

  An incidental advantage of it                                        23

  General knowledge not necessarily superficial                        25

  Popular culture and academic organisation                            25

  Some of the great commonplaces of study                              29

  Conclusion                                                           34



The proceedings which have now been brought satisfactorily to an end
are of a kind which nobody who has sensibility as well as sense can
take a part in without some emotion. An illustrious French philosopher
who happened to be an examiner of candidates for admission to the
Polytechnic School, once confessed that, when a youth came before him
eager to do his best, competently taught, and of an apt intelligence,
he needed all his self-control to press back the tears from his eyes.
Well, when we think how much industry, patience, and intelligent
discipline; how many hard hours of self-denying toil; how many
temptations to worthless pleasures resisted; how much steadfast
feeling for things that are honest and true and of good report--are
all represented by the young men and young women to whom I have had
the honour of giving your prizes to-night, we must all feel our hearts
warmed and gladdened in generous sympathy with so much excellence, so
many good hopes, and so honourable a display of those qualities which
make life better worth having for ourselves, and are so likely to make
the world better worth living in for those who are to come after us.

If a prize-giving is always an occasion of lively satisfaction, my own
satisfaction is all the greater at this moment, because your
Institute, which is doing such good work in the world, and is in every
respect so prosperous and so flourishing, is the creation of the
people of your own district, without subsidy and without direction
either from London, or from Oxford, or from Cambridge, or from any
other centre whatever. Nobody in this town at any rate needs any
argument of mine to persuade him that we can only be sure of advancing
all kinds of knowledge, and developing our national life in all its
plenitude and variety, on condition of multiplying these local centres
both of secondary and higher education, and encouraging each of them
to fight its own battle, and do its work in its own way. For my own
part I look with the utmost dismay at the concentration, not only of
population, but of the treasures of instruction, in our vast city on
the banks of the Thames. At Birmingham, as I am informed, one has not
far to look for an example of this. One of the branches of your
multifarious trades in this town is the manufacture of jewellery. Some
of it is said commonly to be wanting in taste, elegance, skill; though
some of it also--if I am not misinformed--is good enough to be passed
off at Rome and at Paris, even to connoisseurs, as of Roman or French
production. Now the nation possesses a most superb collection of all
that is excellent and beautiful in jewellers' work. When I say that
the nation possesses it, I mean that London possesses it. The
University of Oxford, by the way, has also purchased a portion, but
that is not at present accessible. If one of your craftsmen in that
kind wants to profit by these admirable models, he must go to London.
What happens is that he goes to the capital and stays there. Its
superficial attractions are too strong for him. You lose a clever
workman and a citizen, and he adds one more atom to that huge,
overgrown, and unwieldy community. Now, why, in the name of common
sense, should not a portion of the Castellani collection pass six
months of the year in Birmingham, the very place of all others where
it is most likely to be of real service, and to make an effective mark
on the national taste?[1]

To pass on to the more general remarks which you are accustomed to
expect from the President of the Institute on this occasion. When I
consulted one of your townsmen as to the subject which he thought
would be most useful and most interesting to you, he said: 'Pray talk
about anything you please, if it is only not Education.' There is a
saying that there are two kinds of foolish people in the world, those
who give advice, and those who do not take it. My friend and I in this
matter represent these two interesting divisions of the race, for in
spite of what he said, it is upon Education after all that I propose
to offer you some short observations. You will believe it no
affectation on my part, when I say that I shall do so with the
sincerest willingness to be corrected by those of wider practical
experience in teaching. I am well aware, too, that I have very little
that is new to say, but education is one of those matters on which
much that has already been said will long bear saying over and over

I have been looking through the Report of your classes, and two things
have rather struck me, which I will mention. One of them is the very
large attendance in the French classes. This appears a singularly
satisfactory thing, because you could scarcely do a hard-working man
of whatever class a greater service than to give him easy access to
French literature. Montesquieu used to say that he had never known a
pain or a distress which he could not soothe by half an hour of a good
book; and perhaps it is no more of an exaggeration to say that a man
who can read French with comfort need never have a dull hour. Our own
literature has assuredly many a kingly name. In boundless riches and
infinite imaginative variety, there is no rival to Shakespeare in the
world; in energy and height and majesty Milton and Burke have no
masters. But besides its great men of this loftier sort, France has a
long list of authors who have produced a literature whose chief mark
is its agreeableness. As has been so often said, the genius of the
French language is its clearness, firmness, and order; to this
clearness certain circumstances in the history of French society have
added the delightful qualities of liveliness in union with urbanity.
Now as one of the most important parts of popular education is to put
people in the way of amusing and refreshing themselves in a rational
rather than an irrational manner, it is a great gain to have given
them the key to the most amusing and refreshing set of books in the

And here, perhaps, I may be permitted to remark that it seems a pity
that Racine is so constantly used as a school-book, instead of some of
the moderns who are nearer to ourselves in ideas and manners. Racine
is a great and admirable writer; but what you want for ordinary
readers who have not much time, and whose faculties of attention are
already largely exhausted by the more important industry of the day,
is a book which brings literature more close to actual life than such
a poet as Racine does. This is exactly one of the gifts and charms of
modern French. To put what I mean very shortly, I would say, by way of
illustration, that a man who could read the essays of Ste. Beuve with
moderate comfort would have in his hands--of course I am now speaking
of the active and busy part of the world, not of bookmen and
students--would, I say, have in his hands one of the very best
instruments that I can think of; such work is exquisite and
instructive in itself, it is a model of gracious writing, it is full
of ideas, it breathes the happiest moods over us, and it is the most
suggestive of guides, for those who have the capacity of extensive
interests, to all the greater spheres of thought and history.

This word brings me back to the second fact that has struck me in your
Report, and it is this. The subject of English history has apparently
so little popularity, that the class is as near being a failure as
anything connected with the Midland Institute can be. On the whole,
whatever may be the ability and the zeal of the teacher, this is in my
humble judgment neither very surprising nor particularly mortifying,
if we think what history in the established conception of it means.
How are we to expect workmen to make their way through constitutional
antiquities, through the labyrinthine shifts of party intrigue at
home, and through the entanglements of intricate diplomacy
abroad--'shallow village tales,' as Emerson calls them? These studies
are fit enough for professed students of the special subject, but such
exploration is for the ordinary run of men and women impossible, and I
do not know that it would lead them into very fruitful lands even if
it were easy. You know what the great Duke of Marlborough said: that
he had learnt all the history he ever knew out of Shakespeare's
historical plays. I have long thought that if we persuaded those
classes who have to fight their own little Battles of Blenheim for
bread every day, to make such a beginning of history as is furnished
by Shakespeare's plays and Scott's novels, we should have done more to
imbue them with a real interest in the past of mankind, than if we had
taken them through a course of Hume and Smollett, or Hallam on the
English Constitution, or even the dazzling Macaulay. What I for one
should like to see in such an institution as this, would be an attempt
to compress the whole history of England into a dozen or fifteen
lectures--lectures of course accompanied by catechetical instruction.
I am not so extravagant as to dream that a short general course of
this kind would be enough to go over so many of the details as it is
desirable for men to know, but details in popular instruction, though
not in study of the writer or the university professor, are only
important after you have imparted the largest general truths. It is
the general truths that stir a life-like curiosity as to the
particulars which they are the means of lighting up. Now this short
course would be quite enough to present in a bold outline--and it need
not be a whit the less true and real for being both bold and
rapid--the great chains of events and the decisive movements that have
made of ourselves and our institutions what we and what they are--the
Teutonic beginnings, the Conquest, the Great Charter, the Hundred
Years' War, the Reformation, the Civil Wars and the Revolution, the
Emancipation of the American Colonies from the Monarchy. If this
course were framed and filled in with a true social intelligence--men
would find that they had at the end of it a fair idea--an idea that
might be of great value, and at any rate an idea much to be preferred
to that blank ignorance which is in so many cases practically the only
alternative--of the large issues of our past, of the antagonistic
principles that strove with one another for mastery, of the chief
material forces and moral currents of successive ages, and above all
of those great men and our fathers that begat us--the Pyms, the
Hampdens, the Cromwells, the Chathams--yes, and shall we not say the
Washingtons--to whose sagacity, bravery, and unquenchable ardour for
justice and order and equal laws all our English-speaking peoples owe
a debt that can never be paid.

Another point is worth thinking of, besides the reduction of history
for your purposes to a comprehensive body of rightly grouped
generalities. Dr. Arnold says somewhere that he wishes the public
might have a history of our present state of society _traced
backwards_. It is the present that really interests us; it is the
present that we seek to understand and to explain. I do not in the
least want to know what happened in the past, except as it enables me
to see my way more clearly through what is happening to-day. I want to
know what men thought and did in the thirteenth century, not out of
any dilettante or idle antiquarian's curiosity, but because the
thirteenth century is at the root of what men think and do in the
nineteenth. Well then, it cannot be a bad educational rule to start
from what is most interesting, and to work from that outwards and
backwards. By beginning with the present we see more clearly what are
the two things best worth attending to in history--not party intrigues
nor battles nor dynastic affairs, nor even many acts of parliament,
but the great movements of the economic forces of a society on the one
hand, and on the other the forms of religious opinion and
ecclesiastical organisation. All the rest are important, but their
importance is subsidiary.

Allow me to make one more remark on this subject. If a dozen or a
score of wise lectures would suffice for a general picture of the
various phases through which our own society has passed, there ought
to be added to the course of popular instruction as many lectures
more, which should trace the history, not of England, but of the
world. And the history of the world ought to go before the history of
England. This is no paradox, but the deliberate opinion of many of
those who have thought most deeply about the far-reaching chain of
human progress. When I was on a visit to the United States some years
ago--things may have improved since then--I could not help noticing
that the history classes in their common schools all began their work
with the year 1776, when the American colonies formed themselves into
an independent confederacy. The teaching assumed that the creation of
the universe occurred about that date. What could be more absurd, more
narrow and narrowing, more mischievously misleading as to the whole
purport and significance of history? As if the laws, the
representative institutions, the religious uses, the scientific
methods, the moral ideas, which give to an American citizen his
character and mental habits and social surroundings, had not all their
roots in the deeds and thoughts of wise and brave men, who lived in
centuries which are of course just as much the inheritance of the vast
continent of the West as they are of the little island from whence its
first colonisers sailed forth.

Well, there is something nearly as absurd, if not quite, in our common
plan of taking for granted that people should begin their reading of
history, not in 1776, but in 1066. As if this could bring into our
minds what is after all the greatest lesson of history, namely, the
fact of its oneness; of the interdependence of all the elements that
have in the course of long ages made the European of to-day what we
see him to be. It is no doubt necessary for clear and definite
comprehension to isolate your phenomenon, and to follow the stream of
our own history separately. But that cannot be enough. We must also
see that this stream is the effluent of a far broader and mightier
flood--whose springs and sources and great tributaries lay higher up
in the history of mankind.

'We are learning,' says Mr. Freeman, whose little book on the _Unity
of History_ I cannot be wrong in warmly recommending even to the
busiest among you, 'that European history, from its first glimmerings
to our own day, is one unbroken drama, no part of which can be rightly
understood without reference to the other parts which come before and
after it. We are learning that of this great drama Rome is the centre,
the point to which all roads lead and from which all roads lead no
less. The world of independent Greece stands on one side of it; the
world of modern Europe stands on another. But the history alike of the
great centre itself, and of its satellites on either side, can never
be fully grasped except from a point of view wide enough to take in
the whole group, and to mark the relations of each of its members to
the centre and to one another.'

Now the counsel which our learned historian thus urges upon the
scholar and the leisured student equally represents the point of view
which is proper for the more numerous classes of whom we are thinking
to-night. The scale will have to be reduced; all save the very
broadest aspects of things will have to be left out; none save the
highest ranges and the streams of most copious volume will find a
place in that map. Small as is the scale and many as are its
omissions, yet if a man has intelligently followed the very shortest
course of universal history, it will be the fault of his teacher if he
has not acquired an impressive conception, which will never be
effaced, of the destinies of man upon the earth; of the mighty
confluence of forces working on from age to age, which have their
meeting in every one of us here to-night; of the order in which each
state of society has followed its foregoer, according to great and
changeless laws 'embracing all things and all times;' of the thousand
faithful hands that have one after another, each in their several
degrees, orders, and capacities, trimmed the silver lamp of knowledge
and kept its sacred flame bright from generation to generation and age
to age, now in one land and now in another, from its early spark among
far-off dim Chaldeans down to Goethe and Faraday and Darwin and all
the other good workers of our own day.

The shortest course of universal history will let him see how he owes
to the Greek civilisation, on the shores of the Mediterranean two
thousand years back, a debt extending from the architectural forms, of
this very Town Hall to some of the most systematic operations of his
own mind; will let him see the forum of Rome, its roads and its

  What conflux issuing forth or entering in,
  Prætors, Proconsuls to their provinces
  Hasting or on return, in robes of state--

all busily welding an empire together in a marvellous framework of
citizenship, manners, and laws, that laid assured foundations for a
still higher civilisation that was to come after. He will learn how
when the Roman Empire declined, then at Damascus and Bagdad and
Seville the Mahometan conquerors took up the torch of science and
learning, and handed it on to western Europe when the new generations
were ready. He will learn how in the meantime, during ages which we
both wrongly and ungratefully call dark, from Rome again, that other
great organisation, the mediæval Church, had arisen, which amid many
imperfections and some crimes did a work that no glory of physical
science can equal, and no instrument of physical science can compass,
in purifying men's appetites, in setting discipline and direction on
their lives, and in offering to humanity new types of moral obligation
and fairer ideals of saintly perfection, whose light still shines like
a star to guide our own poor voyages. It is only by this contemplation
of the life of our race as a whole that men see the beginnings and
the ends of things; learn not to be near-sighted in history, but to
look before and after; see their own part and lot in the rising up and
going down of empires and faiths since first recorded time began; and
what I am contending for is that even if you can take your young men
and women no farther than the mere vestibule of this ancient and ever
venerable Temple of many marvels, you will have opened to them the way
to a kind of knowledge that not only enlightens the understanding, but
enriches the character--which is a higher thing than mere
intellect--and makes it constantly alive with the spirit of

I know it is said that such a view of collective history is true, but
that you will never get plain people to respond to it; it is a thing
for intellectual dilettanti and moralising virtuosi. Well, we do not
know, because we have never yet honestly tried, what the commonest
people will or will not respond to. When Sir Richard Wallace's
pictures were being exhibited at Bethnal Green, after people had said
that the workers had no souls for art and would not appreciate its
treasures, a story is told of a female in very poor clothes gazing
intently at a picture of the Infant Jesus in the arms of his Mother,
and then exclaiming, '_Who would not try to be a good woman, who had
such a child as that?_' We have never yet, I say, tried the height and
pitch to which our people are capable of rising.

I have thought it well to take this opportunity of saying a word for
history, because I cannot help thinking that one of the most narrow,
and what will eventually be one of the most impoverishing,
characteristics of our day is the excessive supremacy claimed for
physical science. This is partly due, no doubt, to a most wholesome
reaction against the excessive supremacy that has hitherto been
claimed for literature, and held by literature, in our schools and
universities. At the same time, it is well to remember that the
historic sciences are making strides not unworthy of being compared
with those of the physical sciences, and not only is there room for
both, but any system is radically wrong which excludes or depresses
either to the advantage of the other.[2]

And now there is another idea which I should like to throw out, if you
will not think it too tedious and too special. It is an old saying
that, after all, the great end and aim of the British Constitution is
to get twelve honest men into a box. That is really a very sensible
way of putting the theory, that the first end of government is to
give security to life and property, and to make people keep their
contracts. But with this view it is not only important that you should
get twelve honest men into a box: the twelve honest men must have in
their heads some notions as to what constitutes Evidence. Now it is
surely a striking thing that while we are so careful to teach physical
science and literature; while men want to be endowed in order to have
leisure to explore our spinal cords, and to observe the locomotor
system of Medusæ--and I have no objection against those who urge on
all these studies--yet there is no systematic teaching, very often no
teaching at all, in the principles of Evidence and Reasoning, even for
the bulk of those who would be very much offended if we were to say
that they are not educated. Of course I use the term evidence in a
wider sense than the testimony in crimes and contracts, and the other
business of courts of law. Questions of evidence are rising at every
hour of the day. As Bentham says, it is a question of evidence with
the cook whether the joint of meat is roasted enough. It has been
excellently said that the principal and most characteristic difference
between one human intellect and another consists in their ability to
judge correctly of evidence. Most of us, Mr. Mill says, are very
unsafe hands at estimating evidence, if appeal cannot be made to
actual eyesight. Indeed, if we think of some of the tales that have
been lately diverting the British Association, we might perhaps go
farther, and describe many of us as very bad hands at estimating
evidence, even where appeal can be made to actual eyesight. Eyesight,
in fact, is the least part of the matter. The senses are as often the
tools as the guides of reason. One of the longest chapters in the
history of vulgar error would contain the cases in which the eyes have
only seen what old prepossessions inspired them to see, and were blind
to all that would have been fatal to the prepossessions. 'It is beyond
all question or dispute,' says Voltaire, 'that magic words and
ceremonies are quite capable of most effectually destroying a whole
flock of sheep, if the words be accompanied by a sufficient quantity
of arsenic.' Sorcery has no doubt been exploded--at least we assume
that it has--but the temper that made men attribute all the efficacy
to the magic words, and entirely overlook the arsenic, still prevails
in a great host of moral and political affairs, into which it is not
convenient to enter here. The stability of a government, for instance,
is constantly set down to some ornamental part of it, when in fact the
ornamental part has no more to do with stability than the incantations
of the soothsayer.

You have heard, again, that for many generations the people of the
Isle of St. Kilda believed that the arrival of a ship in the harbour
inflicted on the islanders epidemic colds in the head, and many
ingenious reasons were from time to time devised by clever men why the
ship should cause colds among the population. At last it occurred to
somebody that the ship might not be the cause of the colds, but that
both might be the common effects of some other cause, and it was then
remembered that a ship could only enter the harbour when there was a
strong north-east wind blowing.

However faithful the observation, as soon as ever a man uses words he
may begin at that moment to go wrong. 'A village apothecary,' it has
been said, 'and if possible in a still greater degree, an experienced
nurse, is seldom able to describe the plainest case without employing
a phraseology of which every word is a theory; the simplest narrative
of the most illiterate observer involves more or less of
hypothesis;'--yet both by the observer himself and by most of those
who listen to him, each of these conjectural assumptions is treated as
respectfully as if it were an established axiom. We are supposed to
deny the possibility of a circumstance, when in truth we only deny the
evidence alleged for it. We allow the excellence of reasoning from
certain data to captivate our belief in the truth of the data
themselves, even when they are unproved and unprovable. There is no
end, in short, of the ways in which men habitually go wrong in their
reasoning, tacit or expressed. The greatest boon that any benefactor
could confer on the human race would be to teach men--and especially
women--to quantify their propositions. It sometimes seems as if Swift
were right when he said that Mankind were just as fit for flying as
for thinking.

Now it is quite true that mother-wit and the common experiences of
life do often furnish people with a sort of shrewd and sound judgment
that carries them very creditably through the world. They come to good
conclusions, though perhaps they would give bad reasons for them, if
they were forced to find their reasons. But you cannot count upon
mother-wit in everybody; perhaps not even in a majority. And then as
for the experience of life,--there are a great many questions, and
those of the deepest ultimate importance to mankind, in which the
ordinary experience of life sheds no light, until it has been
interrogated and interpreted by men with trained minds. 'It is far
easier,' as has been said, 'to acquire facts than to judge what they
prove.' What is done in our systems of training to teach people how to
judge what facts prove? There is Mathematics, no doubt; anybody who
has done even no more than the first book of Euclid's geometry, ought
to have got into his head the notion of a demonstration, of the
rigorously close connection between a conclusion and its premisses, of
the necessity of being able to show how each link in the chain comes
to be where it is, and that it has a right to be there. This, however,
is a long way from the facts of real life, and a man might well be a
great geometer, and still be a thoroughly bad reasoner in practical

Again, in other of your classes, in Chemistry, in Astronomy, in
Natural History, besides acquiring groups of facts, the student has a
glimpse of the method by which they were discovered, of the type of
inference to which the discovery conforms, so that the discovery of a
new comet, the detection of a new species, the invention of a new
chemical compound, each becomes a lesson of the most beautiful and
impressive kind in the art of reasoning. And it would be superfluous
and impertinent for me here to point out how valuable such lessons are
in the way of mental discipline, apart from the fruit they bear in
other ways. But here again the relation to the judgments we have to
form in the moral, political, practical sphere, is too remote and too
indirect. The judgments, in this region, of the most brilliant and
successful explorers in physical science, seem to be exactly as liable
to every kind of fallacy as those of other people. The application of
scientific method and conception to society is yet in its infancy, and
the _Novum Organum_ or the _Principia_ of moral and social phenomena
will perhaps not be wholly disclosed to any of us now alive. In any
case it is clear that for the purposes of such an institution as this,
if the rules of evidence and proof and all the other safeguards for
making your propositions true and relevant, are to be taught at all,
they must be taught not only in an elementary form, but with
illustrations that shall convey their own direct reference and
application to practical life. If everybody could find time to master
Mill's _Logic_ or so instructive and interesting a book as Professor
Jevons's _Principles of Science_, a certain number at any rate of the
bad mental habits of people would be cured; and for those of you here
who have leisure enough, and want to find a worthy keystone of your
culture, it would be hard to find a better thing to do for the next
six months than to work through one or both of the books I have just
named--pen in hand. The ordinary text-books of formal logic do not
seem to meet the special aim which I am now trying to impress as
desirable--namely, the habit of valuing, not merely speculative nor
scientific truth, but the truth of practical life; a practising of the
intellect in forming and expressing the opinions and judgments that
form the staple of our daily discourse.

It is now accepted that the most effective way of learning a foreign
language is to begin by reading books written in it, or by conversing
in it--and then after a certain empirical familiarity with vocabulary
and construction has been acquired, one may proceed to master the
grammar. Just in the same way it would seem to be the best plan to
approach the art of practical reasoning in concrete examples, in cases
of actual occurrence and living interest; and then after the processes
of disentangling a complex group of propositions, of dividing and
shifting, of scenting a fallacy, have all become familiar, it may be
worth while to find names for them all, and to set out rules for
reasoning rightly, just as in the former illustration the rules of
writing correctly follow a certain practice rather than precede it.

Now it has long seemed to me that the best way of teaching carefulness
and precision in dealing with propositions might be found through the
medium of the argumentation in the courts of justice. This is
reasoning in real matter. There is a famous book well known to legal
students--_Smith's Leading Cases_--which contains a selection of
important decisions, and sets forth the grounds on which the courts
arrived at them. I have often thought that a dozen or a score of cases
might be collected from this book into a small volume, that would make
such a manual as no other matter could, for opening plain men's eyes
to the logical pitfalls among which they go stumbling and crashing,
when they think they are disputing like Socrates or reasoning like
Newton. They would see how a proposition or an expression that looks
straightforward and unmistakable, is yet on examination found to be
capable of bearing several distinct interpretations and meaning
several distinct things; how the same evidence may warrant different
conclusions, and what kinds of evidence carry with them what degrees
of validity: how certain sorts of facts can only be proved in one way,
and certain other sorts of facts in some other way: how necessary it
is, before you set out, to know exactly what it is you intend to show,
or what it is you intend to dispute; how there may be many
argumentative objections to a proposition, yet the balance be in
favour of its adoption. It is from the generality of people having
neglected to practise the attention on these and the like matters,
that interest and prejudice find so ready an instrument of sophistry
in that very art of speech which ought to be the organ of reason and
truth. To bring the matter to a point, then, I submit that it might
be worth while in this and all such institutions to have a class for
the study of Logic, Reasoning, Evidence, and that such a class might
well find its best material in selections from Leading Cases, and from
Bentham's _Rationale of Judicial Evidence_, elucidated by those
special sections in Mill's _Logic_, or smaller manuals such as those
of Mr. Fowler, the Oxford Professor of Logic, which treat of the
department of Fallacies. Perhaps Bentham's _Book of Fallacies_ is too
political for me to commend it to you here. But if there happens to be
any one in Birmingham who is fond of meeting proposed changes by
saying that they are Utopian; that they are good in theory, but bad in
practice; that they are too good to be realised, and so forth, then I
can promise him that he will in that book hear of something very much
to his advantage.[3]

An incidental advantage--which is worth mentioning--of making legal
instances the medium of instruction in practical logic, would be that
people would--not learn law, of course, in the present state of our
system, but they would have their attention called in a direct and
business-like way to the lawyer's point of view, and those features of
procedure in which every man and woman in the land has so immediate an
interest. Perhaps if people interested themselves more seriously than
is implied by reading famous cases in the newspapers, we should get
rid, for one thing, of the rule which makes the accused person in a
criminal case incompetent to testify; and, for another, of that
infamous license of cross-examination to credit, which is not only
barbarous to those who have to submit to it, but leads to constant
miscarriage of justice in the case of those who, rather than submit to
it, will suffer wrong.

It will be said, I daresay, that overmuch scruple about our
propositions and the evidence for them will reduce men, especially the
young, to the intellectual condition of the great philosopher,
Marphurius, in Molière's comedy. Marphurius rebukes Sganarelle for
saying he had come into the room;--'What you should say is, that it
_seems_ I am come into the room.' Instead of the downright
affirmations and burly negations so becoming to Britons, he would
bring down all our propositions to the attenuation of a possibility or
a perhaps. We need not fear such an end. The exigencies of practical
affairs will not allow this endless balancing. They are always driving
men to the other extreme, making us like the new judge, who first
heard the counsel on one side and made up his mind on the merits of
the case, until the turn of the opposing counsel came, and then the
new counsel filled the judge with so many doubts and perplexities,
that he suddenly vowed that nothing would induce him to pay any heed
to evidence again as long as he lived.

I do not doubt that I shall be blamed in what I have said about
French, and about history, for encouraging a spirit of superficiality,
and of contentment with worthless smatterings of things. To this I
should answer that, as Archbishop Whately pointed out long ago, it is
a fallacy to mistake general truths for superficial truths, or a
knowledge of the leading propositions of a subject for a superficial
knowledge. 'To have a general knowledge of a subject is to know only
its leading truths, but to know these thoroughly, so as to have a true
conception of the subject in its great features' (_Mill_). And I need
not point out that instruction may be of the most general kind, and
still possess that most important quality of all instruction--namely,
being _methodical_.

       *       *       *       *       *

I think popular instruction has been made much more repulsive than it
need have been, and more repulsive than it ought to have been, because
those who have had the control of the movement for the last fifty
years, have been too anxious to make the type of popular instruction
conform to the type of academic instruction proper to learned men. The
principles of instruction have been too rigorously ascetic and
puritanical, and instead of making the access to knowledge as easy as
possible, we have delighted in forcing every pilgrim to make his
journey to the shrine of the Muses with a hair-shirt on his back and
peas in his shoes. Nobody would say that Macaulay had a superficial
knowledge of the things best worth knowing in ancient literature, yet
we have his own confession that when he became a busy man--as you are
all busy--then he read his classics, not like a collegian, but like a
man of the world; if he did not know a word, he passed it over, and if
a passage refused to give up its meaning at the second reading, then
he let it alone. Now the aims of academic education and those of
popular education are--it is obvious if you come to think of it--quite
different. The end of the one is rather to increase knowledge: of the
other to diffuse it, and to increase men's interest in what is already
known. If, therefore, I am for making certain kinds of instruction as
general as they can possibly be made in these local centres, I should
give to the old seats of learning a very special function indeed.

It would be absurd to attempt to discuss academic organisation here,
at this hour. I only want to ask you as politicians whose
representatives in parliament will ultimately settle the matter--to
reflect whether the money now consumed in idle fellowships might not
be more profitably employed in endowing inquirers. The favourite
argument of those who support prize fellowships is that they are the
only means by which a child of the working-class can raise himself to
the highest positions in the land. My answer to this would be that, in
the first place, it is of questionable expediency to invite the
cleverest members of any class to leave it--instead of making their
abilities available in it, and so raising the whole class along with,
and by means of, their own rise. Second, these prize fellowships will
continue, and must continue, to be carried off by those who can afford
time and money to educate their sons for the competition. Third, I
doubt the expediency--and the history of Oxford within the last
twenty-five years strikingly confirms this doubt--of giving to a young
man of any class what is practically a premium on indolence, and the
removal of a motive to self-reliant and energetic spirit of
enterprise. The best thing that I can think of as happening to a young
man is this: that he should have been educated at a day-school in his
own town; that he should have opportunities of following also the
higher education in his own town; and that at the earliest convenient
time he should be taught to earn his own living.

The Universities might then be left to their proper business of study.
Knowledge for its own sake is clearly an object which only a very
small portion of society can be spared to pursue; only a very few men
in a generation have that devouring passion for knowing, which is the
true inspirer of fruitful study and exploration. Even if the passion
were more common than it is, the world could not afford on any very
large scale that men should indulge in it: the great business of the
world has to be carried on. One of the greatest of all hindrances to
making things better is the habit of taking for granted that plans or
ideas, simply because they are different and approach the matter from
different sides, are therefore the rivals and enemies, instead of
being the friends and complements of one another. But a great and
wealthy society like ours ought very well to be able to nourish one or
two great seats for the augmentation of true learning, and at the same
time make sure that young men--and again I say, especially young
women--should have good education of the higher kind within reach of
their own hearths.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is not necessary for me here, I believe, to dwell upon any of the
great commonplaces which the follower of knowledge does well to keep
always before his eyes, and which represent the wisdom of many
generations of studious experience. You may have often heard from
others, or may have found out, how good it is to have on your shelves,
however scantily furnished they may be, three or four of those books
to which it is well to give ten minutes every morning, before going
down into the battle and choking dust of the day. Men will name these
books for themselves. One will choose the Bible, another Goethe, one
the _Imitation of Christ_, another Wordsworth. Perhaps it matters
little what it be, so long as your writer has cheerful seriousness,
elevation, calm, and, above all, a sense of size and strength, which
shall open out the day before you and bestow gifts of fortitude and

Then, to turn to the intellectual side. You know as well as I or any
one can tell you, that knowledge is worth little until you have made
it so perfectly your own, as to be capable of reproducing it in
precise and definite form. Goethe said that in the end we only retain
of our studies, after all, what we practically employ of them. And it
is at least well that in our serious studies we should have the
possibility of practically turning them to a definite destination
clearly before our eyes. Nobody can be sure that he has got clear
ideas on a subject, unless he has tried to put them down on a piece of
paper in independent words of his own. It is an excellent plan, too,
when you have read a good book, to sit down and write a short abstract
of what you can remember of it. It is a still better plan, if you can
make up your minds to a slight extra labour, to do what Lord
Strafford, and Gibbon, and Daniel Webster did. After glancing over the
title, subject, or design of a book, these eminent men would take a
pen and write roughly what questions they expected to find answered in
it, what difficulties solved, what kind of information imparted. Such
practices keep us from reading with the eye only, gliding vaguely over
the page; and they help us to _place_ our new acquisitions in relation
with what we knew before. It is almost always worth while to read a
thing twice over, to make sure that nothing has been missed or
dropped on the way, or wrongly conceived or interpreted. And if the
subject be serious, it is often well to let an interval elapse. Ideas,
relations, statements of fact, are not to be taken by storm. We have
to steep them in the mind, in the hope of thus extracting their inmost
essence and significance. If one lets an interval pass, and then
returns, it is surprising how clear and ripe that has become, which,
when we left it, seemed crude, obscure, full of perplexity.

All this takes trouble, no doubt, but then it will not do to deal with
ideas that we find in books or elsewhere as a certain bird does with
its eggs--leave them in the sand for the sun to hatch and chance to
rear. People who follow this plan possess nothing better than ideas
half-hatched, and convictions reared by accident. They are like a man
who should pace up and down the world in the delusion that he is clad
in sumptuous robes of purple and velvet, when in truth he is only
half-covered by the rags and tatters of other people's cast-off

Apart from such mechanical devices as these I have mentioned, there
are habits and customary attitudes of mind which a conscientious
reader will practise, if he desires to get out of a book still greater
benefits than the writer of it may have designed or thought of. For
example, he should never be content with mere aggressive and negatory
criticism of the page before him. The page may be open to such
criticism, and in that case it is natural to indulge in it; but the
reader will often find an unexpected profit by asking himself--What
does this error teach me? How comes that fallacy to be here? How came
the writer to fall into this defect of taste? To ask such questions
gives a reader a far healthier tone of mind in the long run, more
seriousness, more depth, more moderation of judgment, more insight
into other men's ways of thinking as well as into his own, than any
amount of impatient condemnation and hasty denial, even when both
condemnation and denial may be in their place.

Again, let us not be too ready to detect an inconsistency in our
author, but rather let us teach ourselves to distinguish between
inconsistency and having two sides to an opinion. 'Before I admit that
two and two are four,' some one said, 'I must first know to what use
you are going to put the proposition.' That is to say, even the
plainest proposition needs to be stated with a view to the drift of
the discussion in hand, or with a view to some special part of the
discussion. When the turn of some other part of the matter comes, it
will be convenient and often necessary to bring out into full light
another side of your opinion, not contradictory, but complementary,
and the great distinction of a candid disputant or of a reader of good
faith, is his willingness to take pains to see the points of
reconciliation among different aspects and different expressions of
what is substantially the same judgment.

Then, again, nobody here needs to be reminded that the great
successes of the world have been affairs of a second, a third, nay, a
fiftieth trial. The history of literature, of science, of art, of
industrial achievements, all testify to the truth that success is only
the last term of what looked like a series of failures. What is true
of the great achievements of history, is true also of the little
achievements of the observant cultivator of his own understanding. If
a man is despondent about his work, the best remedy that I can
prescribe to him is to turn to a good biography; there he will find
that other men before him have known the dreary reaction that follows
long-sustained effort, and he will find that one of the differences
between the first-rate man and the fifth-rate lies in the rigour with
which the first-rate man recovers from this reaction, and crushes it
down, and again flings himself once more upon the breach. I remember
the wisest and most virtuous man I have ever known, or am ever likely
to know--Mr. Mill--once saying to me that whenever he had written
anything, he always felt profoundly dissatisfied with it, and it was
only by reflecting that he had felt the same about other pieces of
which the world had thought well, that he could bring himself to send
the new production to the printer. The heroism of the scholar and the
truth-seeker is not less admirable than the heroism of the

Finally, you none of you need to be reminded of the most central and
important of all the commonplaces of the student--that the stuff of
which life is made is Time; that it is better, as Goethe said, to do
the most trifling thing in the world than to think half an hour a
trifling thing. Nobody means by this that we are to have no pleasures.
Where time is lost and wasted is where many people lose and waste
their money--in things that are neither pleasure nor business--in
those random and officious sociabilities, which neither refresh nor
instruct nor invigorate, but only fret and benumb and wear all edge
off the mind. All these things, however, you have all of you often
thought about; yet, alas, we are so ready to forget, both in these
matters and in other and weightier, how irrevocable are our mistakes.

  The moving Finger writes, and having writ,
  Moves on; nor all your piety nor wit
  Can lure it back to cancel half a line,
  Nor all your tears wipe out a word of it.

And now I think I cannot ask you to listen any longer. I will only add
that these ceremonial anniversaries, when they are over, sometimes
slightly tend to depress us, unless we are on our guard. When the
prizes of the year are all distributed, and the address is at an end,
we perhaps ask ourselves, Well, and what then? It is not to be denied
that the expectations of the first fervent promoters of popular
instruction by such Institutes as this--of men like Lord Brougham and
others, a generation ago--were not fulfilled. The principal reason was
that the elementary instruction of the country was not then
sufficiently advanced to supply a population ready to take advantage
of education in the higher subjects. Well, we are in a fair way for
removing that obstacle. It is true that the old world moves tardily on
its arduous way, but even if the results of all our efforts in the
cause of education were smaller than they are, there are still two
considerations that ought to weigh with us and encourage us.

For one thing, you never know what child in rags and pitiful squalor
that meets you in the street, may have in him the germ of gifts that
might add new treasures to the storehouse of beautiful things or noble
acts. In that great storm of terror which swept over France in 1793, a
certain man who was every hour expecting to be led off to the
guillotine, uttered this memorable sentiment. 'Even at this
incomprehensible moment'--he said--'when morality, enlightenment, love
of country, all of them only make death at the prison-door or on the
scaffold more certain--yes, on the fatal tumbril itself, with nothing
free but my voice, I could still cry _Take care_, to a child that
should come too near the wheel; perhaps I may save his life, perhaps
he may one day save his country.' This is a generous and inspiring
thought--one to which the roughest-handed man or woman in Birmingham
may respond as honestly and heartily as the philosopher who wrote it.
It ought to shame the listlessness with which so many of us see the
great phantasmagoria of life pass before us.

There is another thought to encourage us, still more direct, and still
more positive. The boisterous old notion of hero-worship, which has
been preached by so eloquent a voice in our age, is after all now seen
to be a half-truth, and to contain the less edifying and the less
profitable half of the truth. The world will never be able to spare
its hero, and the man with the rare and inexplicable gift of genius
will always be as commanding a figure as he has ever been. What we see
every day with increasing clearness is that not only the wellbeing of
the many, but the chances of exceptional genius, moral or
intellectual, in the gifted few, are highest in a society where the
_average_ interest, curiosity, capacity, are all highest. The moral of
this for you and for me is plain. We cannot, like Beethoven or Handel,
lift the soul by the magic of divine melody into the seventh heaven of
ineffable vision and hope incommensurable; we cannot, like Newton,
weigh the far-off stars in a balance, and measure the heavings of the
eternal flood; we cannot, like Voltaire, scorch up what is cruel and
false by a word as a flame, nor, like Milton or Burke, awaken men's
hearts with the note of an organ-trumpet; we cannot, like the great
saints of the churches and the great sages of the schools, add to
those acquisitions of spiritual beauty and intellectual mastery which
have, one by one, and little by little, raised man from being no
higher than the brute to be only a little lower than the angels. But
what we can do--the humblest of us in this great hall--is by
diligently using our own minds and diligently seeking to extend our
own opportunities to others, to help to swell that common tide, on
the force and the set of whose currents depends the prosperous
voyaging of humanity. When our names are blotted out, and our place
knows us no more, the energy of each social service will remain, and
so too, let us not forget, will each social disservice remain, like
the unending stream of one of nature's forces. The thought that this
is so may well lighten the poor perplexities of our daily life, and
even soothe the pang of its calamities; it lifts us from our feet as
on wings, opening a larger meaning to our private toil and a higher
purpose to our public endeavour; it makes the morning as we awake to
it welcome, and the evening like a soft garment as it wraps us about;
it nerves our arm with boldness against oppression and injustice, and
strengthens our voice with deeper accents against falsehood, while we
are yet in the full noon of our days--yes, and perhaps it will shed
some ray of consolation, when our eyes are growing dim to it all, and
we go down into the Valley of the Dark Shadow.


[1] Sir Henry Cole, C.B., writes to the _Times_ (Oct. 13) on this
suggestion as follows:--'In justice to the Lords President of the
Council on Education, I hope you will allow me the opportunity of
stating that from 1855 the Science and Art Department has done its
very utmost to induce schools of art to receive deposits of works of
art for study and popular examination, and to circulate its choicest
objects useful to manufacturing industry. In corroboration of this
assertion, please to turn to p. 435 of the twenty-second Report of the
Department, just issued. You will there find that upwards of 26,907
objects of art, besides 23,911 paintings and drawings, have been
circulated since 1855, and in some cases have been left for several
months for exhibition in the localities. They have been seen by more
than 6,000,000 of visitors, besides having been copied by students,
etc., and the localities have taken the great sum of £116,182 for
showing them.

'The Department besides has tried every efficient means to induce
other public institutions, which are absolutely choked with
superfluous specimens, to concur in a general principle of circulating
the nation's works of art, but without success.

'The chief of our national storehouses of works of art actually
repudiates the idea that its objects are collected for purposes of
education, and declares that they are only 'things rare and curious,'
the very reverse of what common sense says they are.

'Further, the Department, to tempt Schools of Art to acquire objects
permanently for art museums attached to them, offered a grant in aid
of 50 per cent of the cost price of the objects.'

[2] A very eminent physicist writes to me on this passage: 'I
cannot help smiling when I think of the place of physical science in
the endowed schools,' etc. My reference was to the great prevalence of
such assertions as that human progress depends upon increase of our
knowledge of the conditions of material phenomena (Dr. Draper, for
instance, lays this down as a fundamental axiom of history): as if
moral advance, the progressive elevation of types of character and
ethical ideals were not at least an equally important cause of
improvement in civilisation. The type of Saint Vincent de Paul is
plainly as indispensable to progress as the type of Newton.

[3] This suggestion has fortunately found favour in a quarter
where shrewd and critical common sense is never wanting. The
_Economist_ (Oct. 14) writes:--'Such a text-book commented on to a
class by a man trained to estimate the value of evidence, would form a
most valuable study, and not, we should imagine, at all less
fascinating than valuable. Of course the class suggested would not be
a class in English law, but in the principles on which evidence should
be estimated, and the special errors to which, in common life, average
minds are most liable. We regard this suggestion as a most useful one,
and as one which would not only greatly contribute to the educational
worth of an institute for adults, but also to its popularity.'

 Transcriber's Notes:

 Passages in italics indicated by underscore _italics_.

  Additional spacing after poetic quote on page 33 is intentional to
  indicate both the end of the quote and the beginning of a new
  paragraph as is in the original text.

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