Page images

Art. VI.- Reports on Education.

The Natural Sciences at the present time occupy a prominent position amongst the subjects of which a knowledge is considered indispensable to those interested in the advancement of industry, agriculture and the arts. There is hardly a trade or profession which is not benefited by each new step in scientific discovery, and the most important branch of modern statesmanship, political economy, is based upon the results of scientific labour. The time has passed away, when the mercantile, producing, and official classes looked down upon those who studied Science for its own sake, as useless members of society. The general public is so convinced of the necessity of instruction in the principles of natural science, that when governments have been slow in recognising the wants of the time, or where it is considered out of their sphere to provide for them, then private institutions have sprung up for the independent teaching of natural science. One of the most striking instances of this kind is the rapid progress of abstract research and applied science during the last twenty years in the United States of America. They are now almost independent of European assistance, or at least return as much as they receive. It is indeed obvious that economical and industrial improvements by means of Science cannot be obtained unless the growth of Science itself be protected, by not allowing considerations of secondary importance to impede its development. The momentary saving to be gained by neglecting for a while the reasonable claims of Science to support leads to increased expense in some other directions after a certain time, as many instances show: Such economy reminds us of the mistake of the farmer, who was well satisfied to have the labour of his horse, but grudged him the means of subsistence, and when he had brought him down to one straw a day, lost both horse and labour.

How deeply the importance of promoting efforts in abstract scientific, inquiry is felt by the governing bodies at home, is sufficiently shown, amongst other instances by the unprecedented liberality with which expeditions for enlarging the circle of our physical and geographical knowledge have of late been fitted out and supported.

One of these missions, sent out by the Court of Directors, is at this moment contributing to disperse the darkness in which the geographical and physical conditions of the country immediately adjoining our frontier in the Himalaya and Tibet, are still in a great measure enveloped. Expeditions have been made, it is true, before our time, by enterprising men into these and the adjoining countries, but owing to the hostile politics of native governments, inimical to the admission of foreigners, and the less scientific character of earlier travellers, the results of their exertions were necessarily incomplete and less satisfactory than they might have been under other circumstances. The publication of Humboldt's Memoirs on the mountain ranges of India gave a great impulse to physical research, and led to a series of private and public expeditions, which have enriched us with much valuable infor. mation, securing the names of those who undertook them a place in the annals of Science. Still, however, the observers were limited to the British possessions and those of our allies. Notwithstanding this and the natural obstacles the scientific observer has to contend with in the mountainous regions of the Himalaya, the attraction of that unexplored range has always been great to the enquiring naturalist, and the field has never been entirely neglected. To this circumstance we are indebted for possessing perhaps more available information with regard to those difficult countries, than of the whole of the rest of British India, to which access was easy and which has been for a long time in our possession or belonging to friendly powers. At all events, it cannot be said that during the gradual extension of the British power over the whole of India, the victories of our armies were accompanied like those of France in Egypt, by equally glorious acquisitions on the field of Science.

We have only an insufficient and fragmentary acquaintance with the soil, structure, climate and natural productions of most parts of India. In some spots, long in our possession, the most recent maps in the hands of the public, present vacant spaces indicating voids in our geographical knowledge. From some recent scientific publications, giving a summary view of the extent of our information in some branches of the natural history of India, it is painfully evident that, with a few solitary exceptions most branches of natural science have been greatly neglected, and that, in fact for most purposes the scientific exploration of India has yet to be commenced. It may be confidently asserted that anybody at home, desirous of becoming acquainted with the natural resources of Siberia, will more readily be satisfied than if he wish to instruct himself in the same subjects with regard to India. This deficiency cannot with fairness be attributed to an unscientific disposition of the members of the H. E. I. Company's service. Scientific men have at all times been in the service, and we owe to many of them valuable papers on Indian subjects, scattered about in the periodicals of the three Presidencies, and among the researches of the scientific societies in India. Such of these papers as possess lasting merit are, however, generally disconnected, and cannot assume the place which would correspond to their value, before a long series of still neglected intermediate

poke, long maturial production guaintance

subjects and localities shall have been investigated, which would serve to complete a picture of the natural history of India. A great number of others are useless on account of the insufficient knowledge their authors possessed of the extent and acquisitions of the departments of Science they wished to enrich.

Discouraging as such reflections may be, the signs of awakening consciousness of our wants, promise the commencement of a new era in Indian Science.

Turning our attention to the probable causes of our backwardness in scientific matters, one circumstance, before others, seems to be calculated, as long as it lasts, to make the exertions of many Indian students almost fruitless. This is the impossibility of getting books in this country. In Europe, Science is constantly progressing, and its laws, as far as they are known, are continually being modified, enlarged or condensed, confirmed or refuted. Thus, after the lapse of a few years, many branches assume such a shape, that they can with difficulty be recognised by those who have not the opportunity of following the general progress. As these alterations materially influence the mode and methods of observation and the manner in which the phenomena of nature are to be explained and connected, all such observations as have been made and published without reference to the improvements, can in many cases hardly be corrected or brought in accordance with the advanced stage of Science, by any other than the author himself, and frequently not even by him. They must therefore lose considerably in their general scientific value. This deficiency can only be remedied by our getting access, either in the original or in good translations, to those scientific journals of all nations, in which the original investigations and experiments in all departments of Science are deposited. Guiding the student in the employment of his labour with the best prospect of success, they also preserve him from falling into error. At the same time, as they contain in the series of their volumes, dating many years back, the historical development of Science, they permit the reader always to have recourse to the original fountain, not obscured by some intermediate interpretation, and consequently enable him to judge the true bearing of any question of importance. It may perhaps be said that the manuals, which are written from time to time, always endeavouring to complete the circle of knowledge up to the date of their publication, should be quite sufficient to keep our information on a level with the pro, gress of Science. But as such books are from obvious mercantile and physical reasons, necessarily limited in size, they can in most cases give only successive general pictures of the existing states of science, omitting methods and transitory states, and avoiding discussion. Moreover being naturally written from more or less individual points of view, they must often fail to convey conviction to the scientific enquirer, and withhold from him the means of forming an unbiassed opinion. Consequently their scientific value does not lie in a direction to fit them for the purposes of the observer and instructor, although they may be extremely useful in other respects.

Complete series of scientific journals, extending over numbers of years, are even in Europe too expensive for the generality of scientific men. They are therefore usually kept in public libraries and by associations, for general use, or those who possess them liberally let others share in the advantage. The Asiatic Societies in India, the only bodies which collect scientific works, have hitherto directed their attention principally to the advancement of philological and antiquarian studies or matters of general interest, and natural Science has only been a subject of secondary consideration. This explains the poverty of these libraries not only in single works of reference, frequently too dear for private means on account of their rarity or costly illustrations, but also in some of the most common scientific journals. The neglect in this respect went so far in one instance within our knowledge, that one of the most indispensable of all physical journals, published in France, which had been kept from the beginning for many years, was discontinued a few years ago in ignorance of its value, and it will now hardly be possible to replace it without buying the whole series a second time.

If care had been taken before now, to provide for the literary requirements of the students of natural Science, at least in the capitals, a beneficial effect would doubtless have been felt. Although the immediate advantages would have been gained exclusively by the residents of these places, still the contributors of original observations in other parts of the country would have found there some persons at least, who would have had the means of appreciating their efforts and criticizing their productions on true scientific principles. Many would be glad of an opportunity of having erroneous views corrected, and to be saved the trouble of discovering long known things a second time. Some also would want advice what to observe and how to do it, as many zealous students in India are self-taught, and therefore naturally liable to conceive limited views and to give partial interpretations to the phenomena of nature. Periodicals might in this case have sprung up, of equal usefulness with those that exist in other departments of knowledge, which would have offered a centre of communication and instruction to scientific men scattered over the whole extent of India.

As it is at present, a man coming to India, however well informed in most branches of Natural Science, is cut off from the

means of improvement by the impossibility of getting intellectual şupplies from Europe, and the want of a common centre of scientitic intercourse in India, which could replace the deficiency. After a time, in many cases, he will not be able to tell, whether the way he goes to work is such as to insure his labour that merit, which if well directed it ought to have, or whether his results will be altogether valueless. In fact, we may almost calculate the time, from the day of his arrival, when he will belong to a passed age in Science and be unable to satisfy the demands of the day.

This is evidently one of the reasons, why most of the important observations and discoveries in the natural history of India have been made by men who came with that intention from Europe, scientific travellers, or by residents whose means and calling enabled them to have intercourse with Europe. We are obliged to import intelligence and knowledge with great expense fresh from home, just as we do the contents of our godowns, both after a certain period being worn out or used up, and no opportunities existing to have them replaced in the country.

Another matter, which, if attended to, would have been of the greatest service to the scientific exploration of India, is the establishment of museums of different kinds. Such collections answer two very important purposes. In the first place they afford the means of practical instruction, elementary as well as scientific, placing all the known materials at the student's disposal, without entailing upon him the necessity of visiting the different places whence they were derived. Various modes of arrangement, systematically or geographically, allow the student at a single glance to acquire information, which it has cost those who worked before him, years of labour and study to obtain. The comparative contemplation of a large number of specimens is the only way in which the knowledge of certain branches of natural history can be promoted. Offering opportunities for comparing productions of different climates and specimens of different orders, collections are instrumental in correcting those errors and partial views, to which the study of the natural history of confined districts is likely to lead. Collections are, in the second place, the storehouses for future scientific research. Such materials, gathered by scientific travellers or obtained by accident, as cannot be investigated at the time, are deposited in collections and carefully preserved there, until, perhaps after years, leisure will allow some scientific explorer to examine them and discover new and important facts.

İf general collections offer the advantages enumerated as respects the general progress of Science, local ones will be comparitively of still higher value to the country, the resources of which

« PreviousContinue »