« PreviousContinue »
the sea once covered their site. You have seen the remains of long extinct shells, fishes, and reptiles that have been disinterred from the mud and silt left behind by the vanished waters. You have found evidence that not once only, but again and again, after vast lapses of time and many successive revolutions, the land has sunk beneath the ocean and has once more emerged. You have been shown traces of underground commotion, and you can point to places where, over central England, volcanoes were once active. You have learnt that the various elements of the landscape have thus been gradually put together during successive ages, and that the slow processes, whereby the characteristic forms of the ground have been carved out, are still in progress under your eye.
While, therefore, you are keenly alive to the present beauty of the scene, it speaks to you at every turn of the past. Each feature recalls some incident in the strange primeval history that has been transacted here. The succession of contrasts between what is now and what has been fills you with wonder and delight. You feel as if a new sense had been given to you, and that with its aid your appreciation of scenery has been enlarged and deepened to a marvellous degree.
And so too is it with your relation to all the other departments of Nature. The movements of the clouds, the fall of rain, the flow of brook and river, the changes of the seasons, the succession of calm and storm, do not pass before your eyes now as they once did. While they minister to the joy of life, they speak to you of that all-embracing system of process and law that governs the world. The CAREERS OPEN TO STUDENTS 299
wayside flower is no longer to your eyes merely a thing of beauty. You have found it to be that and far more—an exquisite organism in which the several parts are admirably designed to promote the growth of the plant and to perpetuate the life of the species, Every insect and bird is now to you an embodiment of the mystery of life. The forces of Nature, once so dark and so dreaded, are now seen by you to be intelligible, orderly and capable of adaptation to the purposes of man. In the physical and chemical laboratories you have been brought into personal contact with these forces, and have learnt to direct their operations, as you have watched the manifold effects of energy upon the infinite varieties of matter. When you have completed your course of study and leave this College, crowned, I hope, with academic distinction, there will be your future career in life to choose and follow. A small number among you may, perhaps, be so circumstanced as to be able to devote yourselves entirely to original scientific research, selecting such branches of inquiry as may have specially interested you here, and giving up your whole time and energy to investigation. A much larger number will, no doubt, enter professions where a scientific training can be turned to practical account, and you may become engineers, chemists, or medical men. But in the struggle for existence, which every year grows keener amongst us, these professions are more and more crowded, so that a large proportion of your ranks may not succeed in finding places there, and may in the end be pushed into walks in life where there may be little or no opportunity for making much practical use of the knowledge in science which you have gained here. To those who may ultimately be thus situated it will always be of advantage to have had the mental training given in this Institution, and it will probably be your own fault if, even under unfavourable conditions, you do not find, from time to time, chances of turning your scientific acquirements to account. Your indebtedness to your professors demands that you shall make the effort, and, for the credit of the College, you are bound to do your best.
Among the mental habits which your education in science has helped to foster, there are a few which I would specially commend to your attention as worthy of your most sedulous care all through life.
In the first place I would put Accuracy. You have learnt in the laboratory how absolutely essential this condition is for scientific investigation. We are all supposed to make the ascertainment of the truth our chief aim, but we do not all take the same trouble to attain it. Accuracy involves labour, and every man is not gifted with an infinite capacity for taking pains. Inexactness of observation is sure sooner or later to be detected, and to be visited on the head of the man who commits it. If his observations are incorrect, the conclusions he has drawn from them may be vitiated. Thus all the toil he has endured in a research may be rendered of no avail, and the reputation he might have gained is not only lost but replaced by discredit. It is quite true that absolute accuracy is often unattainable; you can only approach it. But the greater the exertion you make THOROUGHNESS AND BREADTH 301
to reach it, the greater will be the success of your investigations. The effort after accuracy will be transferred from your scientific work to your everyday life and become a habit of mind, advantageous both to yourselves and to society at large.
In the next place, I would set Thoroughness, which is closely akin to accuracy. Again, your training here has shown you how needful it is in scientific research to adopt thorough and exhaustive methods of procedure. The conditions to be taken into account are so numerous and complex, the possible combinations so manifold, before a satisfactory conclusion can be reached. A laborious collection of facts must be made. Each supposed fact must be sifted out and weighed. The evidence must be gone over again and yet again, each link in its chain being scrupulously tested. The deduction to which the evidence may seem to point must be closely and impartially scrutinised, every other conceivable explanation of the facts being frankly and fully considered. Obviously the man whose education has inured him to the cultivation of a mental habit of this kind is admirably equipped for success in any walk in life which he may be called upon to enter. The accuracy and thoroughness which you have learnt to appreciate and practise at College must never be dropped in later years. Carry them with you as watchwords, and make them characteristic of all your undertakings.
In the third place, we may take Breadth. At the outset of your scientific education you were doubtless profoundly impressed by the multiplicity of detail which met your eye in every department of natural knowledge. When you entered upon the study of one of these departments, you felt, perhaps, almost overpowered and bewildered by the vast mass of facts with which you had to make acquaintance. And yet as your training advanced, you gradually came to see that the infinite variety of phenomena could all be marshalled, according to definite laws, into groups and series. You were led to look beyond the details to the great principles that underlie them and bind them into a harmonious and organic whole. With the help of a guiding system of classification, you were able to see the connection between the separate facts, to arrange them according to their mutual relations, and thus to ascend to the great general laws under which the material world has been constructed. With all attainable thoroughness in the mastery of detail, you have been taught to combine a breadth of treatment which enables you to find and keep a leading clue even through the midst of what might seem a tangled web of confusion. There are some men who cannot see the wood for the trees, and who consequently can never attain great success in scientific investigation. Let it be your aim to master fully the details of the tree, and yet to maintain such a breadth of vision as will enable you to embrace the whole forest within your ken. I need not enlarge on the practical value of this mental habit in every-day life, nor point out the excellent manner in which a scientific education tends to develop it.