Friday 26 April 2024

Homer Instead of Hygiene

 Scene, a club in a Canadian city; persons, a professor, a doctor, a business man, and a traveller (myself). Wine, cigars, anecdotes; and suddenly, popping up, like a Jack-in the-box absurdly crowned with ivy, the intolerable subject of education. I do not remember how it began; but I know there came a point at which, before I knew where I was, I found myself being assailed on the subject of Oxford and Cambridge. Not, however, in the way you may anticipate. Those ancient seats of learning were not denounced as fossilised, effete, and corrupt. On the contrary, I was pressed, urged, implored, almost with tears in the eye—to reform them? No! to let them alone!
   “For heaven’ sake, keep them as they are! You don’t know what you've got, and what you might lose! We know! We’ve had to do without it! And we know that without it everything else is of no avail. We bluster and brag about education on this side of the Atlantic. But in our heart of hearts we know that we have missed the one thing needful, and that you, over in England, have got it.”
   “And that one thing?”
   “Is Culture! Yes, in spite of Matthew Arnold, Culture, and Culture, and always Culture!”
   “Meaning by Culture?”
   “Meaning Aristotle instead of Agriculture, Homer instead of Hygiene, Shakspere instead of the Stock Exchange, Bacon instead of Banking, Plato instead of Pædagogics! Meaning intellect before intelligence, thought before dexterity, discovery before invention! Meaning the only thing that is really practical, ideas; and the only thing that is really human, the Humanities!”
   Rather apologetically, I began to explain. At Oxford, I said, no doubt the Humanities still hold the first place. But at Cambridge they have long been relegated to the second or the third. There we have schools of Natural Science, of Economics, of Engineering, of Agriculture. We have even a Training College in Pædagogics. Their faces fell, and they renewed their passionate appeal.
G. Lowes Dickinson, Appearances: Notes of Travel, East and West (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & company, 1915), pp. 192-93.