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that we must know more about light and glass before we can pretend to explain why the first should pass through the second; that when he is older he may learn many useful and curious things about the two, but that, go as far as he may, there must always be some part of his question left unanswered would his knowledge be less, or would he be likely to make a worse use of it, than when he is left to suppose, that all the mysteries of nature are within his reach, as soon as he has got out of words of one and two syllables? The frequent misuse of the words why' and because' has produced a little work, containing many things which are true enough, but perverted by being formed into a catechism of questions beginning with why' and answers with because.' For example: Question. Why is ice broken before it is stored in wells? Answer. Because it may reunite in the interior. We say nothing of the method of teaching words as an exercise of spelling only; since, common as it once was, it is now, we hope, nearly exploded; and it is admitted, that he who knows nothing of such words as 'transparent,' except by t-r-a-n-s trans, p-a pa, r-e-n-t rent, transparent, can never be entitled to any other appellation than i-g ig, n-o no, r-a-n-t rant, ignorant.


But the evil is not by any means confined to the explanation of such qualities as are sensible; it runs through the notions of physics which are given to children to an extent which all will find some difficulty in correcting when they attain mature age. Granting that there are few grown people who would not, after a moment's reflection, agree with the censure in our last paragraph, we do not think there are so many who will coincide with us in what follows. We assert that the explanation of more complicated phenomena, as given to young people, is a traffic of unmeaning words, or, if there be any meaning, of errors and misconceptions. To prove this, nothing more is necessary than to recall the usual modes of elucidation, and particularly those contained in the story books of which children are so fond. We recollect distinctly seeing it asserted in one of these, that the immortal Newton was the first who discovered why water runs down hill;' and we have a brilliant instance in the following, extracted from a book of very modern date. The first paragraph is most remarkably clear, and the second must show that the opinion entertained of the sagacity of Newton, has a better foundation than is generally supposed. Talking of the rainbow, 'All those drops which are situated at the same angle all round the eye, will of course be of the same colour, and as different colours will arise at different


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angles, a bow composed of regular circles is a necessary consequence of showers of rain.' The colours of the rainbow thus beautifully described,' alluding to a preceding quotation,


led our great philosopher to conclude, that these colours, as well as colours in general, are produced by some property in rays of light.' We could produce many others, but these are sufficient. The fact is, that a name, as before, is made to take the place of a cause; thus it is held sufficient to say, that a stone falls to the ground, because the earth attracts it, or because there is a natural tendency in all bodies to fall to the earth. The pride of ignorance here prompts an explanation, which has no meaning whatever in the mouths of most of those who use it. They might take a lesson from the very children they teach, who will, when hard pressed for a reason why a thing is so, answer, because it is.' Let instructors and those who write explanations content themselves with reducing their ultimate knowledge of physical phenomena to deductions from the evidence of the senses, not seeking to penetrate nature for laws, which are only names given to collections of phenomena, and then laying down their laws à priori, and reasoning from them instead of to them. Let them reflect, that whatever consequences may be deduced from the combination of principles, it is their business to ensure the right reception of the principles themselves, not as dogmas or truths obtained by an unknown or mystical process, but as inferences from sight, touch, and hearing, the most direct and most conclusive of which our nature is capable. The track which should be followed is that of discovery, the ability to pursue which is nearly universal, though the sagacity to mark it out is the gift of few. Having directed attention, for example, to numerous instances of gravitation, and shown that some things which appear to be exceptions are not really so, it is easy to say, that the name of gravity is given to the cause of all these phenomena, and that of this cause, its nature or mode of action, we know absolutely nothing, and only use the name as a means of forming into one class, phenomena which we have the strongest reason to believe arise from a common cause. This when sufficiently developed to be intelligible to a child, would, independently of its being truth instead of fiction, have the advantage of giving a check to the nascent presumption which is the characteristic of so many semi-philosophers, who imagine that their catalogue of hard names is the key of the universe. Not that these are found in the front ranks of science; they are, in fact, the matured results of that tuition which explains the falling of a stone by one word, and are to

be found in drawing-rooms and conversaziones, where doctrines may be heard from them, something like the explanation of a steam-engine given by one of Horace Smith's characters, viz., There is a thing that goes up and down, which is the hydrostatic principle.'


To return to our subject: if it be objected, that this is giving nothing but words, we answer, that it is giving words. to notions already formed by the method of instruction, and that words thus obtained are a valuable acquisition. may be urged, however, that after all the pains which have been taken to give a right perception of the use of terms implying causation, the pupil will in many cases attach something mystical to their meaning. It may also be said, that even the best informed, from habit and the tendency of the mind to rest its ultimate notions upon a cause, however obscure, commonly use the words as implying an unknown cause, though in reasoning they confine themselves to phenomena. There is much truth in all this: with regard, however, to the latter case, there is no great disadvantage, since the vulgar error does not enter into the speculations of the philosopher, who, in giving a common name to a collection of phenomena, does not bind himself to any hypothesis with regard to any new fact which he may observe. There is an instance soniewhat similar in pure mathematics. The terms infinitely great and infinitely small, are in common use, not as the attributes of any quantity whatever, so much as the means of avoiding circumlocution in talking of increasing and decreasing magnitudes. If, indeed, the words of all the sciences were collected, it would be found that there are many, which, taken quite literally, are absurd, but which are so fixed by custom, that it only remains to explain them into common sense, and to use them in the sense so obtained. With regard to the first-mentioned difficulty, viz. that beginners will be apt to use the terms of physics, as implying more of the causes of phenomena than we are entitled to assume, there are two remedies; the first to direct particular attention and examination to this point, making the pupil frequently explain the sense in which he uses the words, and repeating over and over again the same instructions. The second method will require a fuller detail of explanation. Since the first step to be made is the collection of a large number of phenomena, and their distribution into classes, keeping together in the same class such as obviously resemble each other; one division may be perfectly well distinguished from the rest by simply mentioning the fact which the phenomenon presents. Thus the falling of a stone to the

Oct.-Jan., 1832.


ground will be the representative of one class, the rising of smoke and vapours, of another; which must not yet be confounded, since it is the object of the method to take nothing for granted, but to proceed directly from the evidence of the senses. Such a course is followed in natural history, where a collection of animals, having the same characters, is called by the general name of the most common amongst them. Hence, when the pupil refers a phenomenon to the same class as that of a stone falling to the ground, he makes the same advance in real knowledge as another who says that it is an effect of gravitation, and in a more rational manner. When each phenomenon is reduced to that class to which it most evidently belongs, it may be shown that there is a closer connexion between two or more of these classes than would at first be suspected; and also that some of the phenomena which have been observed cannot exist without others. The process of strict deduction here commences; and care must be taken, when any point, however trivial, is assumed, to state clearly in what the assumption lies. Thus, before deducing the fact, that the moon would, if its motion were suddenly stopped, immediately begin to move towards the earth, it is assumed that the moon is composed of matter which is subject to the law of inertia, as it is commonly expressed. In this manner, and by strict attention to reasoning, which a child is perfectly capable of understanding, though not of originating, a system may be formed, which shall exhibit the primary connexions of natural phenomena, as far as we certainly know them, leaving the mind of the pupil perfectly unbiassed by any notions respecting the occult qualities with which we, in our hurry to say we know the cause of every phenomenon, have loaded the study of natural philosophy. A work, which shall lay down these principles in an easy style, is much to be desired; and it is equally to be regretted, that those who are capable of executing this most difficult task, are either indifferent to its importance, or think it too great a condescension to write for children. The books which do exist are either full of unintelligible jargon, or confine themselves too much to accounts of mechanical contrivances. Even the matters which they pretend to explain are usually couched in language which a child cannot understand. The following are examples, selected from a popular catechism :


Q. What is meant by the constitution of matter?

'A. The relative number of atoms that are in a definite portion,

or mass.

'Q. What do you mean by an atom?

A. The name signifies that which cannot be farther broken or divided, and therefore an atom is the smallest portion of matter that we can imagine to exist; smaller, of course, than the least object that can be seen by the naked eye, or even by the finest microscope.

'Q. Is it necessary that an atom should be invisible?


A. Yes; for if we could see the whole, we could also see the half, and it would be a mass, and not an atom.

'Q. Have atoms any other properties than indestructibility? 'A. Being the ultimate limit, beyond which we cannot go in the division of matter, they are necessarily all equal to one another.'

Take the following as a specimen of clearness, admirably calculated for a child of ten years old to learn by heart:

'Besides the general attraction of gravitation, which belongs to matter as such, without any reference to the particular form in which matter exists, there are modifications that arise from the constitution of different masses; and to these are owing the different kinds and qualities of matter that we meet with among the productions of nature, and some of the products of art.'

We should not take notice of such nonsense as is here exhibited, were it not that we have reason to believe it is extensively circulated. Many who understand the subject, but who have not had occasion to examine into what is written for children, have no idea of the state of instruction in this respect. It is true that there are better works; for example, Mrs. Marcet's Conversations on Natural Philosophy,' which, though not free from some of the defects to which we have alluded, is infinitely superior to the productions from which our instances are taken. But the works from which children derive their first ideas, are the little books of amusement, from one of which we quoted at the beginning of the present article. Great talent has been of late years applied to this department of literature; but, as might be expected, few of the authors have possessed that commanding knowledge which is absolutely necessary for teaching the first principles of physics. No mistake is more common than the supposition that a very slight acquaintance with any subject is sufficient to teach the rudiments to beginners.

There is one error which prevails most extensively in education, and which we here mention with regard to our present subject. It is the practice of measuring the advantage which a child has gained from any particular method of instruction, by the number of words which he has learnt in the process. Thus, a great quantity of names in different languages, and a power of pointing out on what part of the globe lie the places which they designate, is called a knowledge of geography. Not a single inference with regard to

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