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Education Through The Senses
by [?]

But you will ask, how is all this to be avoided if everybody must know how far the sun is from Georgium Sidus, and how much of phosphorus is in our bones, and of ptyalin and flint in human spittle–besides some 10,000 times 10,000 other things which we must be told and try to remember, and which we cannot prove not to be true, but which I decline to say we know.

But is it necessary that everybody should know everything? Is it not much more to the purpose for every man, when his turn comes, to be able to do something; and I say, that other things being equal, a boy who goes bird-nesting, and makes a collection of eggs, and knows all their colors and spots, going through the excitements and glories of getting them, and observing everything with a keenness, an intensity, an exactness, and a permanency, which only youth and a quick pulse, and fresh blood and spirits combined, can achieve,–a boy who teaches himself natural history in this way, is not only a healthier and happier boy, but is abler in mind and body for entering upon the great game of life, than the pale, nervous, bright-eyed, feverish, “interesting” boy, with a big head and a small bottom and thin legs, who is the “captain,” the miracle of the school; dux for his brief year or two of glory, and, if he live, booby for life. I am, of course, not going in for a complete curriculum of general ignorance; but I am for calling the attention of teachers to drawing out the minds, the energies, the hearts of their pupils through their senses, as well as pouring in through these same apertures the general knowledge of mankind, the capital of the race, into this one small being, who it is to be hoped will contrive to forget much of the mere words he has unhappily learned.

For we may say of our time in all seriousness, what Sydney Smith said in the fulness of his wisdom and his fun, of the pantologic master of Trinity–Science is our forte; omniscience is our foible. There is the seed of a whole treatise, a whole organon in this joke; think over it, and let it simmer in your mind, and you will feel its significance and its power. Now, what is science so called to every 999 men in 1000, but something that the one man tells them he has been told by some one else–who may be one among say 50,000–is true, but of the truth of which these 999 men (and probably even the teaching thousandth man) can have no direct test, and, accordingly, for the truth or falsehood of which they, by a law of their nature, which rejects what has no savor and is superfluous, don’t care one fig. How much better, how much dearer, and more precious in a double sense, because it has been bought by themselves,–how much nobler is the knowledge which our little friend, young Edward Forbes, “that marvellous boy,” for instance–and what an instance!–is picking up, as he looks into everything he sees, and takes photographs upon his retina–the camera lucida of his mind–which never fade, of every midge that washes its face as a cat does, and preens its wings, every lady-bird that alights on his knee, and folds and unfolds her gauzy pinions under their spotted and glorious lids. How more real is not only this knowledge, but this little knowledger in his entire nature, than the poor being who can maunder amazingly the entire circle of human science at second, or it may be, twentieth hand!

There are some admirable, though cursory remarks on “Ornithology as a Branch of Liberal Education,” by the late Dr. Adams of Banchory, the great Greek scholar, in a pamphlet bearing this title, which he read as a paper before the last meeting of the British Association in Aberdeen. It is not only interesting as a piece of natural history, and a touching cooeperation of father and son in the same field–the one on the banks of his own beautiful Dee and among the wilds of the Grampians, the other among the Himalayas and the forests of Cashmere; the son having been enabled, by the knowledge of his native birds got under his father’s eye, when placed in an unknown country to recognize his old feathered friends, and to make new ones and tell their story; it is also valuable as coming from a man of enormous scholarship and knowledge–the most learned physician of his time–who knew Aristotle and Plato, and all those old fellows, as we know Maunder or Lardner–a hard-working country surgeon, who was ready to run at any one’s call–but who did not despise the modern enlightenments of his profession, because they were not in Paulus Agineta; though, at the same time, he did not despise the admirable and industrious Paul because he was not up to the last doctrine of the nucleated cell, or did not read his Hippocrates by the blaze of Paraffine; a man greedy of all knowledge, and welcoming it from all comers, but who, at the end of a long life of toil and thought, gave it as his conviction that one of the best helps to true education, one of the best counteractives to the necessary mischiefs of mere scientific teaching and information, was to be found in getting the young to teach themselves some one of the natural sciences, and singling out ornithology as one of the readiest and most delightful for such a life as his.