Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK III.—: REWARD APPLIED TO ART AND SCIENCE. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
BOOK III.—: REWARD APPLIED TO ART AND SCIENCE. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 2.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
REWARD APPLIED TO ART AND SCIENCE.
ART AND SCIENCE—DIVISIONS.
A cloud of perplexity, raised by indistinct and erroneous conceptions, seems at all times to have been hanging over the import of the terms art and science. The common supposition seems to have been, that in the whole field of thought and action, a determinate number of existing compartments are assignable, marked out all round, and distinguished from one another by so many sets of natural and determinate boundary lines: that of these compartments some are filled, each by an art, without any mixture of science; others by a science, without any mixture of art: and others, again, are so constituted, that, as it has never happened to them hitherto, so neither can it ever happen to them in future, to contain in them any thing either of art or science.
This supposition will, it is believed, be found in every part erroneous: as between art and science, in the whole field of thought and action, no one spot will be found belonging to either to the exclusion of the other. In whatsoever spot a portion of either is found, a portion of the other may be also seen; whatsoever spot is occupied by either, is occupied by both—is occupied by them in joint tenancy. Whatsoever spot is thus occupied, is so much taken out of the waste; and there is not any determinate part of the whole waste which is not liable to be thus occupied.
Practice, in proportion as attention and exertion are regarded as necessary to due performance, is termed art. Knowledge, in proportion as attention and exertion are regarded as necessary to attainment, is termed science.
In the very nature of the case, they will be found so combined as to be inseparable. Man cannot do anything well, but in proportion as he knows how to do it: he cannot, in consequence of attention and exertion, know anything but in proportion as he has practised the art of learning it. Correspondent, therefore, to every art, there is at least one branch of science; correspondent to every branch of science, there is at least one branch of art. There is no determinate line of distinction between art on the one hand, and science on the other; no determinate line of distinction between art and science on the one hand, and unartificial practice and unscientific knowledge on the other. In proportion as that which is seen to be done, is more conspicuous than that which is seen or supposed to be known,—that which has place is apt to be considered as the work of art: in proportion as that which is seen or supposed to be known, is more conspicuous than anything else that is seen to be done,—that which has place is apt to be set down to the account of science. Day by day, acting in conjunction, art and science are gaining upon the above-mentioned waste—the field of unartificial practice and unscientific knowledge.† Taken collectively, and considered in their connexion with the happiness of society, the arts and sciences may be arranged in two divisions; viz.—1. Those of amusement and curiosity; 2. Those of utility, immediate and remote. These two branches of human knowledge require different methods of treatment on the part of governments.
By arts and sciences of amusement, I mean those which are ordinarily called the fine arts; such as music, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, ornamental gardening, &c. &c. Their complete enumeration must be excused: it would lead us too far from our present subject, were we to plunge into the metaphysical discussions necessary for its accomplishment. Amusements of all sorts would be comprised under this head.
Custom has in a manner compelled us to make the distinction between the arts and sciences of amusement, and those of curiosity. It is not, however, proper to regard the former as destitute of utility: on the contrary, there is nothing, the utility of which is more incontestable. To what shall the character of utility be ascribed, if not to that which is a source of pleasure? All that can be alleged in diminution of their utility is, that it is limited to the excitement of pleasure: they cannot disperse the clouds of grief or of misfortune. They are useless to those who are not pleased with them: they are useful only to those who take pleasure in them, and only in proportion as they are pleased.
By arts and sciences of curiosity, I mean those which in truth are pleasing, but not in the same degree as the fine arts, and to which at the first glance we might be tempted to refuse this quality. It is not that these arts and sciences of curiosity do not yield as much pleasure to those who cultivate them as the fine arts; but the number of those who study them is more limited. Of this nature are the sciences of heraldry, of medals, of pure chronology—the knowledge of ancient and barbarous languages, which present only collections of strange words,—and the study of antiquities, inasmuch as they furnish no instruction applicable to morality, or any other branch of useful or agreeable knowledge.
The utility of all these arts and sciences,—I speak both of those of amusement and curiosity,—the value which they possess, is exactly in proportion to the pleasure they yield. Every other species of pre-eminence which may be attempted to be established among them is altogether fanciful. Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. If the game of push-pin furnish more pleasure, it is more valuable than either. Everybody can play at push-pin: poetry and music are relished only by a few. The game of push-pin is always innocent: it were well could the same be always asserted of poetry. Indeed, between poetry and truth there is a natural opposition: false morals, fictitious nature. The poet always stands in need of something false. When he pretends to lay his foundations in truth, the ornaments of his superstructure are fictions; his business consists in stimulating our passions, and exciting our prejudices. Truth, exactitude of every kind, is fatal to poetry. The poet must see everything through coloured media, and strive to make every one else to do the same. It is true, there have been noble spirits, to whom poetry and philosophy have been equally indebted; but these exceptions do not counteract the mischiefs which have resulted from this magic art. If poetry and music deserve to be preferred before a game of push-pin, it must be because they are calculated to gratify those individuals who are most difficult to be pleased.
All the arts and sciences, without exception, inasmuch as they constitute innocent employments, at least of time, possess a species of moral utility, neither the less real or important because it is frequently unobserved. They compete with, and occupy the place of those mischievous and dangerous passions and employments, to which want of occupation and ennui give birth. They are excellent substitutes for drunkenness, slander, and the love of gaming.*
The effects of idleness upon the ancient Germans may be seen in Tacitus. His observations are applicable to all uncivilized nations: for want of other occupations they waged war upon each other—it was a more animated amusement than that of the chase. The chieftain who proposed a martial expedition, at the first sound of his trumpet ranged under his banners a crowd of idlers, to whom peace was a condition of restraint, of languor, and of ennui. Glory could be reaped only in one field—opulence knew but one luxury. This field was that of battle—this luxury that of conquering or recounting past conquests. Their women themselves, ignorant of those agreeable arts which multiply the means of pleasing, and prolong the empire of beauty, became the rivals of the men in courage, and, mingling with them in the barbarous tumult of a military life, became unfeeling as they.
It is to the cultivation of the arts and sciences, that we must in great measure ascribe the existence of that party which is now opposed to war: it has received its birth amid the occupations and pleasures furnished by the fine arts. These arts, so to speak, have enrolled under their peaceful banners that army of idlers which would have otherwise possesssd no amusement but in the hazardous and bloody game of war.
Such is the species of utility which belongs indiscriminately to all the arts and sciences. Were it the only reason, it would be a sufficient reason for desiring to see them flourish and receive the most extended diffusion.
If these principles are correct, we shall know how to estimate those critics, more ingenious than useful, who, under pretence of purifying the public taste, endeavour successively to deprive mankind of a larger or smaller part of the sources of their amusement. These modest judges of elegance and taste consider themselves as benefactors to the human race, whilst they are really only the interrupters of their pleasure—a sort of importunate hosts, who place themselves at the table to diminish, by their pretended delicacy, the appetite of their guests. It is only from custom and prejudice that, in matters of taste, we speak of false and true. There is no taste which deserves the epithet good, unless it be the taste for such employments which, to the pleasure actually produced by them, conjoin some contingent or future utility: there is no taste which deserves to be characterized as bad, unless it be a taste for some occupation which has a mischievous tendency.
The celebrated and ingenious Addison has distinguished himself by his skill in the art of ridiculing enjoyments, by attaching to them the fantastic idea of bad taste. In the Spectator he wages relentless war against the whole generation of false wits. Acrostics, conundrums, pantomimes, puppet-shows, bouts-rimés, stanzas in the shape of eggs, of wings, burlesque poetry of every description—in a word, a thousand other light and equally innocent amusements, fall crushed under the strokes of his club. And, proud of having established his empire above the ruins of these literary trifles, he regards himself as the legislator of Parnassus! What, however, was the effect of his new laws? They deprived those who submitted to them, of many sources of pleasure—they exposed those who were more inflexible, to the contempt of their companions.
Even Hume himself, in spite of his proud and independent philosophy, has yielded to this literary prejudice. “By a single piece,” says he, “the Duke of Buckingham rendered a great service to his age, and was the reformer of its taste!” In what consisted this important service? He had written a comedy, The Rehearsal, the object of which was to render those theatrical pieces which had been most popular, the objects of general distaste. His satire was completely successful; but what was its fruit? The lovers of that species of amusement were deprived of so much pleasure; a multitude of authors, covered with ridicule and contempt, deplored, at the same time, the loss of their reputation and their bread.
As the amusement of a minister of state it must be confessed that a more suitable one might be found than a game at solitaire. Still, among the number of its amateurs was once found Potemkio, one of the most active and respected Russian ministers of state. I see a smile of contempt upon the lips of many of my readers, who would not think it strange that any one should play at cards from “eve till morn,” provided it were in company. But how incomparably superior is this solitary game to many social games—so often antisocial in their consequences! The first, a pure and simple amusement, stripped of everything injurious, free from passion, avarice, loss, and regret. It is gaming enjoyed by some happy individuals, in that state in which legislators may desire, but cannot hope that it will ever be enjoyed by all throughout the whole world. How much better was this minister occupied, than if, with the Iliad in his hand, he had stirred up within his heart the seeds of those ferocious passions which can only be gratified with tears and blood.
As men grow old, they lose their relish for the simple amusements of childhood. Is this a reason for pride? It may be so—when to be hard to please, and to have our happiness dependent on what is costly and complicated, shall be found to be advantageous. The child who is building houses of cards is happier than was Louis XIV. when building Versailles. Architect and mason at once, master of his situation and his materials, he alters and overturns at will.
“Diruit, edificat, mutat quadrata rotundis;”
and all this at the expense neither of groans nor money. The proverbial expression of the games of princes, may furnish us with strong reasons for regretting that princes should ever cease to love the games of children.
A reward was offered by one of the Roman emperors to whoever would invent a new pleasure; and because this emperor was called Nero, or Caligula, it has been imputed to him as a crime: as if every sovereign, and even every private individual, who encourages the cultivation of the arts and sciences, were not an accomplice in this crime. The employment of those critics, to whom we have before referred, tends to diminish the existing stock of our pleasures: the natural effect of increasing years, is to render us insensible to those which remain: by those who blame the offer of the Roman emperor, these critics should be esteemed the benefactors of mankind, and old age the perfection of human life.
In league with these critics are the tribe of satirists—those generous men, who without other reward than the pleasure of humbling and disfiguring everything which does not please them, have constituted themselves reformers of mankind! The only satire I could read without disgust and aversion, would be a satire on these libellers themselves. Their occupation consists in fomenting scandal, and in disseminating its poisons throughout the world, that they may be furnished with pretexts for pouring contempt upon everything that employs or interests other men. By blackening everything and exaggerating everything (for it is by exaggeration they exist) they deceive the judgments of their readers:—innocent amusements, ludicrous eccentricities, venial transgressions and crimes, are alike confounded and covered with their venom. Their design is to efface all the lines of demarcation, all the essential distinctions which philosophy and legislation have with so much labour traced. For one truth, we find a thousand odious hyperboles in their works. They never cease to excite malevolence and antipathy: under their auspices, or at least under the influence of the passions which animate them, language itself becomes satirical. Neutral expressions can scarcely be found to designate the motives which determine human actions: to the words expressive of the motive, such as avarice, ambition, pride, idleness, and many others, the idea of disapprobation is so closely, though unnecessarily, connected, that the simple mention of the motive implies a censure, even when the actions which have resulted from it have been most innocent. The nomenclature of morals is so tinctured with these prejudices, that it is not possible, without great difficulty and long circumlocutions, simply and purely, without reprobation or approbation, to express the motives by which mankind are governed. Hence our languages, rich in terms of hatred and reproach, are poor and rugged for the purposes of science and of reason. Such is the evil created and augmented by satiric writers.*
Among rich and prosperous nations, it is not necessary that the public should be at the expense of cultivating the arts and sciences of amusement and curiosity. Individuals will always bestow upon these that portion of reward which is proportioned to the pleasure they bestow.
Whilst as to the arts and sciences of immediate and those of more remote utility, it would not be necessary, nor perhaps possible, to preserve between these two classes an exact line of demarcation, the distinctions of theory and practice are equally applicable to all. Considered as matter of theory, every art or science, even when its practical utility is most immediate and incontestable, appears to retire into the division of arts and sciences of remote utility. It is thus that medicine and legislation, arts so truly practical, considered under a particular aspect, appear equally remote in respect to their utility with the speculative sciences of logic and mathematics. On the other hand, there is a branch of science for which, at first, a place would scarcely have been found among the arts and sciences of curiosity, but which, cultivated by industrious hands, has at length presented the characters of immediate and incontestable utility.—Electricity, which, when first discovered, seemed destined only to amuse certain philosophers by the singularity of its phenomena, has at length been employed with most striking success in the service of medicine, and in the protection of our dwellings against those calamities, for which ignorant and affrighted antiquity could find no sufficient cause but the special anger of the gods.
That which governments ought to do for the arts and sciences of immediate and remote utility, may be comprised in three things—1. To remove the discouragements under which they labour; 2. To favour their advancement; 3. To contribute to their diffusion.
ART AND SCIENCE—ADVANCEMENT.
Though discoveries in science may be the result of genius or accident, and though the most important discoveries may have been made by individuals without public assistance, the progress of such discoveries may at all times be materially accelerated by a proper application of public encouragement. The most simple and efficacious method of encouraging investigations of pure theory—the first step in the career of invention, consists in the appropriation of specific funds to the researches requisite in each particular science.
It may, at first sight, appear superfluous to recommend such a measure as this, since there are few states which have not sometimes made such appropriations, and since all governments, in proportion as they have become enlightened, have been more and more disposed to reckon such expenses necessary. The most efficacious methods of employing the large funds which ought thus to be appropriated, remain, however, to be examined.
It would be necessary that the funds applicable to a given science—chemistry, for example—should be confided to the students of chemistry themselves. They ought, however, to be bestowed in the shape of reward. Thus the chemist, who upon a given subject should have produced the best theoretic dissertation, might be put into possession of these funds, upon condition that he should employ them in making the experiments which he had pointed out. What more natural or useful reward could be conferred upon a philosopher, than thus to be enabled, with honour to himself, to satisfy a taste or a passion which the insufficiency of his own fortune would have rendered rather a torment than a pleasure? His talents are rewarded by giving him new means of increasing them. Other rewards often have a contrary effect: they tend to distract his attention, and to give birth to opposite tastes.
If this method of encouraging theoretic researches has been neglected, it has been because the intimate connexion between the sciences and arts—between theory and practice—has only been well understood by philosophers themselves; the greater number of men recognise the utility of the sciences only at a moment when they are applied to immediate use. The ignorant are always desirous of humbling the wise; gratifying their self-love, by accusing the sciences of being more curious than useful. “All your books of natural history are very pretty,” said a lady to a philosopher, “but you have never saved a single leaf of our trees from the teeth of the insects.” Such is the frivolous judgment of the ignorant. There are many discoveries which, though at first they might seem useless in themselves, have given birth to thousands of others of the greatest utility. It is in conducting the sciences to this point, that encouragements might thus be advantageously employed, instead of being bestowed in what are generally called rewards. When the discoveries of science can be practically employed in the increase of the mass of general wealth, they receive a reward naturally proportioned to their utility: it is therefore for such discoveries as are not thus immediately applicable, that reward is most necessary. Of this nature are most of the discoveries of chemistry. Is a new earth discovered?—a new air—a new salt—a new metal? The utility of the discovery is at first confined to the pleasure experienced by those interested in such researches. This ordinarily is all the benefit reaped by the discoverer: occupied in making further discoveries, he leaves it to others to reap their fruits. It is those who follow him, who apply them to the purposes of art, and levy contributions upon the individuals, who are desirous of enjoying the fruits of his labour. Ought the master workman, who sees no particular individual upon whom he may levy a contribution, therefore to go without reward?
ART AND SCIENCE—DIFFUSION.
The sciences, like plants, 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 chemisty.
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 manufacturing economy are well known. 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 various 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 would 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 laws 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, were 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 sciences, 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 access through the senses to the memory and the other intellectual faculties. Curiosity, that passion which even in infancy displays so much energy, would here be continually gratified. In the study of language, on the contrary, all is abstraction: 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, a 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 portion of their life in learning that which, when learnt, was 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 he 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 the laws 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 sciences, 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 he 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.
Note.—If Mr. Bentham had consented to revise his MSS., which were written more than forty years ago, he might have seen reason to alter many of his observations.
In England, much has been done in the interval. Public opinion has sensibly changed respecting the value of classical learning. It is highly esteemed at college, but elsewhere it is now only considered as an accessary: the most enlightened parents regret that it is still the only object of instruction in our public schools.
Since the establishment of the Royal Institution, many similar institutions have been formed, and a general desire for useful knowledge has been disseminated. The ladies have displayed a persevering ardour in their attendance on these means of instruction, so much the more praiseworthy, as it has been uniformly excited by inclination alone. Elementary works have been multiplied; but all this has been done by the exertions of individuals, without any encouragement from the State.
As to public education, it is more easily created than reformed. A good institution would be the best criticism upon the bad. If two or three colleges were founded in London, suited to the wants of the more numerous classes of those who are destined to the pursuits of art, trade, or commerce, in which not Latin or Greek (almost always useless in these avocations) should be taught, but the national language, which has generally been neglected, together with all those branches of knowledge, which if not absolutely necessary, are always useful and agreeable, we should soon see these seminaries draw together a crowd of scholars, and the old colleges would be obliged to correct their system, in order to maintain their ground.
It may be said, that private schools may supply the deficiency; but there is a great difference between public and private establishments. Private education can only succeed by a train of happy events, whilst in public education, a multitude of circumstances are overcome. Besides, domestic education is limited to the rich, whilst public instruction is adapted to the most moderate fortunes.
[† ]The foregoing paragraphs are extracted from Bentham’s “Chrestomathia,” Part I.
[* ]Principles of Penal Law, Part III. Of Indirect Methods of preventing Crimes, Vol. I. p. 533.
[* ]See further on this subject, in the “Table of Springs of Action,” Vol. I. p. 195.
[* ]The Board of Agriculture, which at the solicitation of Sir John Sinclair was formed during the administration of Mr. Pitt, was designed to carry purposes similar to those recommended above into effect.
[* ]See An Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, Vol. I.
[* ]“En effet, la plupart de ces savans ne sentent plus les choses en elles-mêmes. Ils sont comme ces imaginations faibles, qui, subjuguées par l’éclàt des dignités et des richesses, admirent dans la bouche d’un grand ce qu’ils trouveraient pitoyable dans celle d’un homme du commun. Ainsi, l’ancienne réputation et les langues savantes leur imposent, et changent tout à leurs yeux. Telle pensée qu’ils entendent tout les jours en François sans y prendre garde, les enlève s’ils viennent à la rencontrer dans un auteur Grec. Tout pleins qu’ils en sont, ils vous la citent avec emphase; et si vous ne partagez pas leur enthousiasme, Ah! s’écrient-ils, si vous saviez le Grec! Il me semble entendre le héros de Cervantes, qui, parcequ’il est armé chevalier, voit des enchanteurs où son écuyer ne voit que des moulins.