The Rationale of Reward

Book III

Reward Applied to Art and Science

Chapter III

Art and Science — Diffusion.

The sciences, like the arts, may expand in two directions—in superficies and in height. The superficial expansion of those sciences which are most immediately useful, is most to be desired. There is no method more calculated to accelerate their advancement, than their general diffusion: the greater the number of those by whom they are cultivated, the greater the probability that they will be enriched by new discoveries. Fewer opportunities will be lost, and greater emulation will be excited in their cultivation.

Suppose a country divided into districts, somewhat similar to the English counties, but more equal in size, say from thirty to forty miles in diameter,—the following is the system of establishments which ought to be kept up in the central town of each district:—

  1. A professor of medicine.
  2. A professor of surgery and midwifery.
  3. An hospital.
  4. A professor of the veterinary art.
  5. A professor of chemistry.
  6. A professor of mechanical and experimental philosophy.
  7. A professor of botany and experimental horticulture.
  8. A professor of the other branches of natural history.
  9. An experimental farm.
The first advantage resulting from this plan would be the establishment, in each district, of a practitioner skilled in the various branches of the art of healing. An hospital, necessary in itself, would also be further useful by serving as a school for the students of this art.

The veterinary art, or the art of healing as applied to animals, has only within these few years been separately studied in England. The farriers who formerly practised upon our cattle, were generally no better qualified for their duty than the old women whom our ancestors allowed to practise upon themselves. The establishment of a professor of the veterinary art in every district might even be recommended as a matter of economy: the value of the cattle preserved would more than counterbalance the necessary expense. This professorship might, for want of sufficient funds, be united to one of the others.

The connexions of chemistry with domestic and manu&cturing economy are well knovn. The professor of this science would of course direct his principal attention to the carrying this practical part to its greatest perfection. His lectures would treat of the business of the dairy; the preservation of corn and other agricultural productions; the preservation of provisions of all sorts; the prevention of putrefaction, that subtle enemy of health as well as of corruptible wealth; the proper precautions for guarding against poisons of all sorts, which may so easily be mingled with our provisions, or which may be collected from the vessels in which they are prepared. They would also treat of the various branches of trade—of the arts of working in metal, of breweries, of the preparation of leather, and the manufactures of soap and candles, &c. &c.

Botany, to a certain degree, is necessary in the science of medicine: it supplies a considerable part of the materials employed. It has a similar connexion with chemistry, and the arts which depend upon it. The combined researches of the botanist and chemist would increase our knowledge of the uses to which vegetable substances might be applied. It is to them that we must look for the discovery of cheaper and better methods, if such methods are to be found, of giving durability and tenacity to hemp and flax for the manufacture of linens, ropes, and paper; for discoveries respecting the astringent matters applicable to the preparation of leather; and for the invention of new dyes, &c.; and so on, to infinity. Indeed, it is the botanist who must enable the agriculturist to distinguish the most useful and excellent herbs and grasses, from those which are less useful, or pernicious.

The professor of natural history could also furnish abundance not only of curious but useful information. He would teach the cultivator to distinguish, throughout all the departments of the animal kingdom, his allies from his enemies. He would point out the habits and the different shapes assumed by different insects, and the most efficacious methods of destroying them, and preventing their ravages. It might, however, perhaps appear, were we fully acquainted with the history of all the animals which dwell with us upon the surface of this planet, that there would be found none whose existence was to us a matter of indifference.

I have placed in the last rank the institution of an experimental farm—not because its utility would be inferior to all the others, but because its functions may be easily supplied by individual industry. In a country so well replenished with knowledge, wealth, and zeal, as England, there is no district which could not furnish an abundance of experiments in this department. Little more would be necessary than to provide a register into which they might be collected, and in which they might receive the degree of publicity necessary for displaying their utility. Such a register England once possessed in the work of the enlightened and patriotic Arthur Young. Such a register, numerous and excellent as the hints dispersed throughout it were, was far, however from supplying the place, and rendering useless a system of regular and connected researches, in which instruction should constitute the sole object.

In enumerating the branches of knowledge with which, on account of their superior utility, it is most desirable that the great mass of the people should be acquainted, it may well be supposed that I ought not to forget the knowledge of the laws. But that this knowledge may be diffused, a determinate system of cognoscible laws, capable of being known, is necessary. Unhappily, such a system does not yet exist: whenever it shall come to be established, the knowledge of the law will hardly be considered worthy of the name of science. The legislator who allows more intelligible terms to exist within the compass of language, than those in which he expresses his laws, deserves the execration of his fellow-men. I have endeavoured to present to the world the outlines of a system, which, should it ever be filled up, I flatter myself would render the whole system of laws cognoscible and intelligible to all.

As to those arts and sciences which may be learned from books,—such as the art of legislation, history in all its branches, moral philosophy and logic; comprehending metaphysics, grammar, and rhetoric,—these may be left to be gathered from books. Those individuals who are desirous of alleviating the pains of study by the charms of declamation upon these subjects, may be permitted to pay for their amusements. There is, however, one branch of encouragement, which the hand of government might extend even to these studies. It might establish in each district, in which the lectures of which we have already spoken, should be delivered, an increasing library, appropriated to these studies. This would be at once to bestow upon students the instruments of study, and upon authors their most appropriate reward.

I should not consider knowledge in these departments, at once so useful and so curious, ill acquired, where it even acquired at the expense of Latin and Greek—an acquaintance with which is held in such high estimation in our days, and for instruction in which the foundations are so abundant. Common opinion appears to have considered the sciences more difficult of attainment than these dead languages This opinion is only a prejudice, arising from the comparatively small number of individuals who apply themselves to the study of the science, and from its not having been the custom to study them till the labour of these other studies has been completed. But, custom and prejudice apart, it is in the study of the sciences that young people would find most pleasure and fewest difficulties. In this career, ideas find easy success through the senses to the memory and the other intellectual faculties. Curiosity, that passion which even in infancy displays much energy would here be continuously gratified. In the study of language, on the contrary, there are no sensible objects to relieve the memory; all the energy of the mind is consumed in the acquisition of words of which neither the utility nor the application is visible. Hence, the longest and most detailed course of instruction which need be given upon all the sciences before mentioned, would not together occupy so much time as is usually devoted to the study of Latin which is forgotten almost as soon as learned The knowledge of languages is valuable only as a means of acquiring the information which may be obtained from conversation or books. For the purposes of conversation. the dead languages are useless; and translations of all the books contained in them may be found in all the languages of modern Europe. What, then, remains to be obtained from them, not by the common people, but even by the most instructed? I must confess, I can discover nothing but a fund of allusions wherewith to ornament their speeches, their conversations, and their books—too small a compensation for the false and narrow notions which custom continues to compel us to draw from these imperfect and deceptive sources. To prefer the study of these languages to the study of those useful truths which the more mature industry of the moderns has placed in their stead, is to make a dwelling-place of a scaffolding, instead of employing it in the erection of a building: it is as though, in his mature age, u man should continue to prattle like a child. Let those who are pleased with these studies continue to amuse themselves; but let us cease to torment children with them, at least those children who will have to provide for their own subsistence, till such time as we have supplied them with the means of slaking their thirst for knowledge at those springs where pleasure is combined with immediate and incontestable utility.

It is especially by a complete course of instruction, that the clergy, who might be rendered so useful, ought to be prepared for their functions. Within the narrow limits of every parish, there would then be found one man at least well instructed upon all subjects with which acquaintance is most desirable. In exchange for this knowledge, which constitutes the glory of man, I would exchange as much as might be desired of that controversy which is his scourge and his disgrace.

The intervals between divine service on the Sabbath might then be filled up by the communication of knowledge to those whose necessary avocations leave them no other leisure time for improvement. An attendance upon a course of physico-theology, it appears to me, would be a much more suitable mode of employing this time, than wasting it in that idleness and dissipation in which both health and money are so frequently lost.

There are three causes which tend to strengthen an attachment to the dead languages:—The first is, the utility which they formerly possessed. At the revival of letters, there was nothing to learn but Latin and Greek, and nothing could be learnt but by Latin and Greek. The period when this utility ceased having never been fixed, custom has led us to regard it as still subsisting.

A second reason is, the time and trouble expended by so many persons in learning them.

The price of anything is regulated not only by its utility, but also by the labour expended in procuring it. Few would be willing to acknowledge that they had spent a large por tion of their life in learning that which, when learnt, as not worth knowing. There are many individuals who have learnt Latin and Greek, but have learned nothing else. Can it be expected that they should acknowledge these languages are useless? As well might a knight-errant have been expected to acknowledge that his mistress was ugly!

The third cause is, their reputed necessity. This necessity, though purely conventional, is not the less real. Public opinion has attached a degree of importance to an acquaintance with them, and be who should be known to be entirely ignorant of them, would be branded with disgrace. So long as this law subsists it must be obeyed. A single individual is seldom able to withstand or change that law established by public opinion.

As the public mind becomes enlightened, these laws will change of themselves. A sovereign may, however, hasten these changes if he believe them useful, and if he consider the attempt worth the trouble. He may reward individuals for teaching the arts and science and thus establish a new public opinion, which shall at first compete with, and at length ultimately subdue, the previous prejudice.

He may also attain the same end by another less costly, but more startling method. He may prescribe an attendance upon different scientific lectures, as a necessary condition to the holding of certain offices, and particularly of all honorary employments. To those who have completed their course of attendance, an honorary diploma may be given, which upon all occasions of public ceremony shall entitle those who possess it to a certain precedence.

In the times of feudal barbarism, when war was the only occupation of those who did not belong to the commonality or the clergy, the upper ranks in society were necessarily military. The knight was the warrior who could afford to fight on horseback; the squire was one who, not being so rich as the knight, could afford to be his principal attendant, and this constituted their nobility.

In future times, when other occupations shall be pursued and other manners established, it is possible that knowledge may confer rank in Europe, as the appearance of it has for a long time past in China. Wealth, independently of any convention, possesses real power, and will always mingle with everything which tends to confer respect. The philosopher, to his title of honour, will unite the idea of an individual sufficiently wealthy to have supported the expense of a learned education. Knowledge, whether true or presumptive, might thus become a mark of distinction, as the length of the nails is in China.

But it may be said, that something more than attendance upon a course of scientific lectures is necessary, if anything is to be learned; and that the law which should bestow honour upon attendance would not insure study. If it were necessary to have a nobility composed of real philosophers, other methods must be pursued; but when the object in view is merely to change the species of knowledge in which they are to be instructed, from what is useless to what is useful, what more need be required? When interesting objects of study are substituted for those which are uninteresting, they would not study less.

I know that public examinations are powerful means for exciting emulation, but I have no desire to place additional obstacles in the way of a plan whose novelty alone would render it but too alarming: a project, which to many will appear romantic, need not be accompanied by an accessory whose aspect is alarming, and whose utility is problematic.

The most stupid and inattentive could scarcely attend upon a long course of instruction without gaining some advantage: they would at least be familiarized with the terms of art, which constitute not only the first, but the greatest difficulty; they would form some idea of the principal divisions of the country they traversed; and should they ever be desirous of directing a more particular examination to any particular division, they will at least know in what direction to seek for it. As all the world would then be occupied with the study of the sciences, they would pretend thus to employ themselves, and would be ashamed to be entirely ignorant of those things which were the subjects of general conversation.

Russia is an instance of the ease with which a new direction may be given to the opinions of a whole people. Nobility of birth is but little respected:—official rank is the only ground of distinction. This change has been effected by a few simple regulations. Unless he be an officer, no individual, how rich or nobly born soever be may be, can vote. or even sit, in the assembly of the nobility. The consequence has been, that all classes have pressed into the service of the state. If they do not intend to make it their profession, they quit it when they have attained the rank which confers this privilege. {Concluding note by Dumont}

[RR, Book III, Chapter II] [RR, Appendix A]