Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 15

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Chapter XV: The Man of Science

After breakfast the next morning, Lillian retired, saying laughingly, that she must go and see after her clothing club and her dear old women at the almshouse, which, of course, made me look on her as more an angel than ever. And while George was left with Lord Lynedale, I was summoned to a private conference with the dean, in his study.

I found him in a room lined with cabinets of curiosities, and hung all over with strange horns, bones, and slabs of fossils. But I was not allowed much time to look about me; for he commenced at once on the subject of my studies, by asking me whether I was willing to prepare myself for the university, by entering on the study of mathematics?

I felt so intense a repugnance to them, that at the risk of offending him—perhaps, for what I knew, fatally—I dared to demur. He smiled—

"I am convinced, young man, that even if you intended to follow poetry as a profession—and a very poor one you will find it—yet you will never attain to any excellence therein, without far stricter mental discipline than any to which you have been accustomed. That is why I abominate our modern poets. They talk about the glory of the poetic vocation, as if they intended to be kings and world-makers, and all the while they indulge themselves in the most loose and desultory habits of thought. Sir, if they really believed their own grandiloquent assumptions, they would feel that the responsibility of their mental training was greater, not less, than any one's else. Like the Quakers, they fancy that they honour inspiration by supposing it to be only extraordinary and paroxysmic: the true poet, like the rational Christian, believing that inspiration is continual and orderly, that it reveals harmonious laws, not merely excites sudden emotions. You understand me?"

I did, tolerably; and subsequent conversations with him fixed the thoughts sufficiently in my mind, to make me pretty sure that I am giving a faithful verbal transcript of them.

"You must study some science. Have you read any logic?"

I mentioned Watts' "Logic," and Locke "On the Use of the
Understanding"—two books well known to reading artizans.

"Ah," he said, "such books are very well, but they are merely popular.
'Aristotle,' 'Bitter on Induction,' and Kant's 'Prolegomena' and
'Logic'—when you had read them some seven or eight times over, you might
consider yourself as knowing somewhat about the matter."

"I have read a little about induction in Whately."

"Ah, very good book, but popular. Did you find that your method of thought received any benefit from it?"

"The truth is—I do not know whether I can quite express myself clearly—but logic, like mathematics, seems to tell me too little about things. It does not enlarge my knowledge of man or nature; and those are what I thirst for. And you must remember—I hope I am not wrong in saying it—that the case of a man of your class, who has the power of travelling, of reading what he will, and seeing what he will, is very different from that of an artisan, whose chances of observation are so sadly limited. You must forgive us, if we are unwilling to spend our time over books which tell us nothing about the great universe outside the shop-windows."