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STUDY OF NATURE.
“All men are observers of nature. From the first vague perceptions of the infantile mind to the more successful and satisfying grasp of the adult intellect, our spirits are hourly and momentarily becoming imbued with truths' emanating from the constitution of things. The savage, in the dark recesses of his forests, and the pathless expanse of his savannas and steppes, soon to distinguish the various animals on which he is destined to subsist, or which he has to avoid or destroy as noxious to himself—to trace them to their haunts by the light prints of their hoofs and claws, and to obtain possession of them by force or stratagem. He reads in the skies' the indications of the coming tempest, marks the flight of birds, the migration of quadrupeds, the sprouting and fall of the leaves as the forerunners of summer and winter-knows when the bear retires to his den, and the beaver comes forth from his habitation and is ever alive to all impressions that may seem to give 'warning' of danger, or lead to the gratification of his appetites, and the desire of prolonging his existence. The civilized man is
much less observant of nature in certain of her aspects. The tradesman of the crowded city possesses nothing of the knowledge which the forester and shepherd have gathered for themselves. His observation has been differently directed; and his study has, unconsciously, been the study of human nature, together with that of his particular profession. A savage knows infinitely more of 'nature' than a civilized man of any of the less informed grades ; but in cultivated society there is a mass of knowledge derived from the observation of nature that greatly preponderates over the aggregative knowledge to be found in the savage state. In civilized countries individuals are to be found whose attainments are superior to those of the whole uncivilized world together.
“With reference to the savage, it is obvious that his knowledge must emanate directly from nature ; but' civilized man' derives his ideas chiefly from the relations of individuals who have obtained the facts and general princi. ples which they inculcate from the same source, themselves previously aided by the instructions of others; and many who never observed nature for themselves, yet possess an extensive knowledge of its phenomena and laws. The education of the savage is hardly controllable by the sage ; nor could the laws which the latter would frame for it be applicable, unless they resulted in part from the personal experience of the wants, privations, appetites, and propensities of the former. That of the civilized man, however, must always be an object of solicitude to men of enlightened minds,' and must undergo modifications corresponding to the attention bestowed upon
it. ~ All art and science are derived from the successful ob. servation of nature. We overlook the source,' to fix our attention upon
the results. The builder cares little about the natural history of the trees which furnish the materials on which his labour is expended, and has no knowledge of those principles according to which his instruments operate;
and, in truth, such knowledge is unnecessary for him in the attainment of his object, which is the procuring the means of subsistence. And so it may be said of every other trade and profession. But were this narrow system universally applied, knowledge would necessarily be stationary; manufactures would undergo no improvement, and a kind of torpor would seize upon social life, injurious to the wellbeing of society, as well as of individuals, activity and adventure being necessary for the health of the intellectual constitution.' In every civilized country there is a mass of knowledge which, as it were, fills up the interstices left between the various arts and sciences, and is ever modifying their nature and organization. This knowledge is that of nature, derived from observation, experiment, comparison, and deduction ; in other words, of the constitution of the universe.
“ Now, if the knowledge of nature be the foundation of all art and science, what place ought it to occupy in our systems of education ? It were easy to show that a race of men, traced in its history from the rudest to the most enlightened state, improves by the gradual observation of the properties and relations of natural objects, the consequent enlargement of the mental fuculties, and the increased capability of penetrating into the ‘nature of things.' Ought the rudiments of civilization, then, to be overlooked in a state of high improvement: or should the knowledge which leads to this improvement be still cherished? A single circumstance appears to be decisive as to the solution of this question. The whole nature of bodies or objects is never elicited in any state of the progression of intellect; and, therefore, these bodies and objects ought in every state to be presented to the observation. Our first knowledge is derived directly from nature. All our subsequent knowledge, although obtained partly through the observation of others, comes from the same source. Is it not clear, then, that the nature of things ought to form the basis of all education, and at no period of the progress of society to be lost sight of?
“ In our systems of education, public and private, how lamentably has that truth been obscured! mind' is made to 'shoot away' from its natural direction. Instead of learning the nature of things, children are made to learn their names. Words and phrases, which are the vehicles of comm
amunication, are made to constitute to them the principal mass of knowledge; and, to complete the ab. surdity, these words and phrases must be repeated in different languages. Young people learn languages, we are told, that they may be enabled to obtain the information contained in books written in those languages. For this reason English boys learn Latin and Greek. But on what art or science, on what material object or 'mental phenomenon,' shall we find information in a Greek or Latin book, after in vain searching our own literature for it? These languages are useful in various ways, but they ought not in our systems of education to form the basis of knowledge ; because, were they annihilated, knowledge would not greatly suffer. What are the arts, sciences, occupations, and pursuits that have 'most influence upon the prosperity of our own country at the present day? What would shipbuilding, cloth manufacture, calico-printing, chemistry, agriculture, or commerce be benefited by all that the ancients ever wrote, in comparison with the instructions' respecting them to be found in our language? In architecture, it may be said, we owe our most perfect conceptions to the ancients. But by slavishly adopting the style of buildings suited to the climates of Greece and Italy, we produce monstrosities and incongruities, which every street in our cities exhibit. Would a street of Greek or Roman houses built in Edinburgh ever find occupants ? And if it did, what would be the condition of its inhabitants as to comfort? Instead of learning words, then, young people ought to learn' things.' The words contained in our own language are sufficient for the communication of instruction respecting the things and events that occur in our own or in any other country.
“The constitution of nature is the great store-house' from which are supplied the materials adapted for the growth of the human intellect. Whatever branches of knowledge may be selected by the individual, there ought to be placed before him, previously to his entering upon them, the rudiments of physical science; and, according as his capacity for instruction becomes developed, should these be unfolded and traced to their sources. A well-educated man of our time and COUNTRY hardly knows an object around him, and is unacquainted with the mechanism of his own body! A heart, he is assured, beats within his breast : but whether it contains animal spirits or mere blood-whether it be the centre of feeling and the source of emotion-or is only the centre of the circulation—he knows not. In the fields he stumbles upon a stone, which he views merely as an impediment to progression; is attracted by the beauty of a plant, of which he does not so much as know the name ; observes an animal, of which in its nature and habits he is as ignorant as a native of Otaheite. Amid the inexhaustible stores of nature' he is insensible to the harmony, the beauty, the relations, the properties of the infinitely diversified works of creative power. What a different being is the man who has acquired even a smattering of natural knowledge! In every thing that presents itself to him he finds an object of interest. And he who, by the extent of his information, truly deserves the name of naturalist, instead of wandering in listless absorption among the varied scenes of nature, finds his faculties perpetually employed by the observation and contemplation of the objects and phenomena around him.
“ It may be asked, What is a naturalist? A man, says one, whose head is stored with barbarous and uncouth names, disorderly ideas of order, confused notions of quadrupeds, birds, serpents, fishes, shells, slugs, beetles, caterpillars, and worms. Nay, says another, the naturalist is he who observes' nature, whether he names her produc