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The Study Of Natural History For Soldiers
by [?]

Note: A Lecture delivered to the Officers of the Royal Artillery, Woolwich, 1872.

Gentlemen: When I accepted the honour of lecturing here, I took for granted that so select an audience would expect from me not mere amusement, but somewhat of instruction; or, if that be too ambitious a word for me to use, at least some fresh hint–if I were able to give one–as to how they should fulfil the ideal of military men in such an age as this.

To touch on military matters, even had I been conversant with them, seemed to me an impertinence. I am bound to take for granted that every man knows his own business best; and I incline more and more to the opinion that military men should be left to work out the problems of their art for themselves, without the advice or criticism of civilians. But I hold–and I am sure that you will agree with me–that if the soldier is to be thus trusted by the nation, and left to himself to do his own work his own way, he must be educated in all practical matters as highly as the average of educated civilians. He must know all that they know, and his own art besides. Just as a clergyman, being a man plus a priest, is bound to be a man, and a good man; over and above his priesthood, so is the soldier bound to be a civilian, and a highly-educated civilian, plus his soldierly qualities and acquirements.

It seemed to me, therefore, that I might, without impertinence, ask you to consider a branch of knowledge which is becoming yearly more and more important in the eyes of well-educated civilians; of which, therefore, the soldier ought at least to know something, in order to put him on a par with the general intelligence of the nation. I do not say that he is to devote much time to it, or to follow it up into specialities: but that he ought to be well grounded in its principles and methods; that he ought to be aware of its importance and its usefulness; that so, if he comes into contact–as he will more and more–with scientific men, he may understand them, respect them, befriend them, and be befriended by them in turn; and how desirable this last result is, I shall tell you hereafter.

There are those, I doubt not, among my audience who do not need the advice which I shall presume to give to-night; who belong to that fast-increasing class among officers of whom I have often said–and I have found scientific men cordially agree with me–that they are the most modest and the most teachable of men. But even in their case there can be no harm in going over deliberately a question of such importance; in putting it, as it were, into shape; and insisting on arguments which may perhaps not have occurred to some of them.

Let me, in the first place, reassure those–if any such there be– who may suppose, from the title of my lecture, that I am only going to recommend them to collect weeds and butterflies, “rats and mice, and such small deer.” Far from it. The honourable title of Natural History has, and unwisely, been restricted too much of late years to the mere study of plants and animals. I desire to restore the words to their original and proper meaning–the History of Nature; that is, of all that is born, and grows in time; in short, of all natural objects.

If any one shall say–By that definition you make not only geology and chemistry branches of natural history, but meteorology and astronomy likewise–I cannot deny it. They deal each of them, with realms of Nature. Geology is, literally, the natural history of soils and lands; chemistry the natural history of compounds, organic and inorganic; meteorology the natural history of climates; astronomy the natural history of planetary and solar bodies. And more, you cannot now study deeply any branch of what is popularly called Natural History–that is, plants and animals–without finding it necessary to learn something, and more and more as you go deeper, of those very sciences. As the marvellous interdependence of all natural objects and forces unfolds itself more and more, so the once separate sciences, which treated of different classes of natural objects, are forced to interpenetrate, as it were; and to supplement themselves by knowledge borrowed from each other. Thus–to give a single instance–no man can now be a first-rate botanist unless he be also no mean meteorologist, no mean geologist, and–as Mr. Darwin has shown in his extraordinary discoveries about the fertilisation of plants by insects–no mean entomologist likewise.