Monday, January 04, 2010

History of the Royal Society of London

The following is from from Thomas Sprat's 1667 History of the Royal Society of London and suggests the value of the Royal Society in overcoming the deficiencies of education.
...though the Society entertains very many of particular professions, yet the far greater number are gentlemen, free and unconfin'd. By the help of this there was hopeful provision made against two corruptions of learning, which have been long complain'd of, but never remov’d: The one that knowledge degenerates to consult present profit too soon; the other, that philosophers have been always Masters and Scholars; some imposing, and all the other submitting; and not as equal observers without dependence.

The first of these may be call'd, the marrying of arts the too soon; and putting them to generation before they come to be of age; and has been the cause of much inconvenience. It weakens their strength; it makes an unhappy disproportion in their increase; while not the best, but the most gainful of them flourish: But above all, it diminishes that very profit for which men strive. It busies them about possessing some petty prize; while nature itself, with all its mighty Treasures, slips from them; and so they are served like some foolish guards; who, while they were earnest in picking up some small money, that the prisoner drop'd out of his pocket, let the prisoner himself escape, from whom they might have got a great ransom. This is easily declaim’d against, but most difficult to be hindred. If any caution will serve, it must be this; to commit the work to the care of such men, who, by the freedom of their education, the plenty of their estates, and the usual generosity, of noble blood, may be well suppos'd to be most averse from such sordid considerations.

The second error, which is hereby endeavour'd to be remedied, is, that the seats of knowledge have been for the most part heretofore, not laboratories, as they ought to be; but only schools, where some have taught, and all the rest subscrib'd. The consequences of this are very mischievous. For first, as many learners as there are, so many hands and brains may still be reckon'd upon as useless. It being only the master's part to examine, and observe and the disciples, to submit with silence to what they conclude. But besides this, the very inequality of the titles of teachers and scholars does very much suppress and tame men's spirits which though it should be proper for discipline and education; yet is by no means confident with a free philosophical consultation. It is undoubtedly true that scarce any man's mind is so capable of thinking strongly in the presence of one whom he fears and reverences, as he is when that restraint is taken off. And this is to be found, not only in these weightier matters; but also to give a lighter instance in the arts of discourse and raillery themselves. For we have often seen men of bold tempers, that have over-aw'd and govern'd the wit of most companies; to have been disturb'd and dumb, and bashful as children, when some other man has been near, who us'd to out-talk them. Such a kind of natural sovereignty there is in some men's minds over others; which must needs be far greater, when it is advanc'd by long use, and the venerable name of a master. I shall only mention one prejudice more, and that is this: that from this only teaching, and learning, there does not only follow a continuance, but an increase of the yoak upon our reasons: For those who take their opinions from others rules, are commonly stricter imposers upon their scholars, than their own authors were on them, or than the first inventors of things themselves are upon others. Whatever the cause of this be: whether the first men are made meek and gentle by their long search, and by better understanding all the difficulties of knowledge; while those that learn afterwards, only hastily catching things in small systems, are soon satisfy'd, before they have broken their pride, and so become more imperious; or whether it arises from hence, that the same meanness of soul, which made them bound their thoughts by other precepts, makes them also insolent to their inferiors; as we always find cowards the most cruel; or whatever other cause may be alledg'd, the observation is certain, that the succesors are usually more positive and tyrannical, than the beginners of sects.
Colorfully written, an interesting insight into human nature and tells us that too little has changed since the 17th century.

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