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"What are the numbers, or the machinery, of such a body?"
Newton Hall, opposite the Public Record Office, in London, has now been open nearly twenty years. It was so named because it stands on the ground purchased for the Royal Society by Sir Isaac Newton, its president, in 1710; and, during the eighteenth century, the Hall, built thereon by the Royal Society for its collections, contained the first nucleus of the British Museum. There public, free lectures on Positivist philosophy, science, morality, and religion have been carried on continually during autumn, winter, and spring, together with classes for the study of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history, languages, and music. The greater names in the Positivist Calendar of 558 Worthies of all ages and nations have been commemorated on special centenaries, those of musicians by appropriate musical pieces. In the summer months, these lectures have been extended in the form of pilgrimages to the birthplace, tomb, or residence of the illustrious dead, and lectures at the public museums, galleries, and ancient monuments. In connection with Newton Hall, there have been social parties, libraries, and guilds of young men and young women. So far, the work of the Positivist body in London has been that of a free school and people's institute. It
may be asked, in what way does such a free school differ from many other similar institutions? The answer is in the fact that the entire scheme of education given in Newton Hall is synthetic and organic-concentrated on the propaganda of the Positive Philosophy and the Religion of Humanity. Leaving it to other movements to promote miscellaneous information and promiscuous culture of a general kind, the aim of all Positivist teaching is to inculcate the cardinal doctrines of the Positive belief, the central principles of Positive morality, and the vital sense of the Human Religion. In the first report issued from Newton Hall, for 1881, we said:
“ The very existence of Positivism as a scientific system of belief depends on the institution of a complete course of education and the formation of an adequate body of competent teachers. There is, on Positive principles, no road to stable religious convictions except by the way of knowledge of real things; and there is no royal road to real knowledge other than the teaching of competent instructors and the systematic study of science in the widest sense. One of the purposes for which Newton Hall has been opened is to offer free popular training in the essential elements of scientific knowledge. Our plan is but one of the many attempts around us to found a People's School. It differs from almost all of these in the following things:
"1. It will be, on principle, strictly free; no teacher being paid, and no fee being received.
2. The education aimed at, not being either professional or literary, will follow the scheme of scientific instruction laid down for the future by Auguste Comte.
“3. While having no theological or metaphysical element, the entire course of study will aim at a religious—that is, a social purpose, as enabling us to effect our due service to the cause of humanity, by understanding the laws which reg. ulate the world and our own material and moral being."
In pursuance of this scheme of education, courses of lectures have been given by graduates of the universities, most of them having been professors, examiners, and lecturers in various sciences, arts, or history. The courses have been followed, in many cases, during the whole of that period, and many of the students have obtained a solid general education, especially in the various branches of history, biography, and political philosophy. It is not pretended that this has been done by any large numbers. Other institutions of the kind have enjoyed much greater resources and have attracted far more numerous attendants. The reason is obvious. For one man who has the patience or the thoughtfulness to put himself under the curriculum of a laborious training, for the sole end of obtaining an intellectual and moral guidance in a definite system, there are always ninetynine who are ready to pick up any desultory, entertaining, or marketable knowledge which may be offered to them without too much mental discipline or any distinctive labels. To enter a Positivist hall, much less to join a Positivist class, or to subscribe to a Positivist fund, requires, in these days of prejudice and lampooning, a certain mental detachment and a real moral courage. The direct object of our courses is to inculcate Positive convictions with a view to a Positivist life. And as the public which is prepared to accept these terms is as yet not numerous, our hearers must be rather described as “fit, though few."
If the formation of coherent Positivist convictions by a scientific education be the first task of such a movement, it is far from being the sole task. The control of all action, whether political, economic, or international, by moral judgment is a cardinal duty imposed on Positivists in all places and at all times. Accordingly, for forty years English Positivists have ardently supported the just claims of labor against the oppression of capitalism, the just demand of the people to full incorporation in the state, which exists mainly for the use and improvement of the people; they have maintained the just demand of the Irish nation to be recognized as an indestructible national unit; they have protested against a series of unjust wars and the incessant efforts of British imperialism to crush out one independent race after another. All this is no recent thing. Forty years ago, the founders of the Positivist group in England began to take public action on behalf of the organized trades unions. In 1867 the Positivist Society appealed to Parliament through Mr. John Bright, M. P., on behalf of the Irish Nationalists; and they have never ceased to uphold the same cause. In 1881 they appealed to the government to recognize the full independence of the Transvaal Republic. And to-day they are the first to insist on the same policy as that of justice and honor.
There has never been an unjust annexation or a wanton war in Europe, Asia, or Africa within the last thirty years when the Positivist body has not raised its voice to plead for morality and justice, regardless of the popular cry for empire and malignant sneers at “Little Englandism.” The record of these efforts may be seen in the Essays of Dr. R. Congreve, the first to form a Positivist body in England; in the Positivist Comments on Public Affairs, 1878-92; and, from 1893 to 1900, in the eight volumes of the Positivist Review. In an article in the Positivist Comments I wrote:
· The Positivist Society has no reason to shrink from a review of its policy over this period under five different administrations. It is a policy independent of party: national, patriotic, and devoid of any petty or factious criticism. Its sole aim is to plead for the real honor and good of England, in the interest of peace, the harmony of nations, respect for other races, religions, and honorable ambitions, and mainly for the cause of general civilization.”
These Comments over fourteen years, I said:
“Embody a coherent and systematic policy dealing with England's international relations as a whole, and weighing the ultimate and indirect effect of each proposed action as affecting the peace of the world and the true cause of civilization. It is not a policy of peace-at-any-price, nor of a littleEngland, nor of uninstructed sentiment, nor of any prejudice of creed or race, much less of party, of democratic faction, or mischief-making. It is a policy that considers the past, and still more the future, and not merely the present—a policy that respects the rights and dignity of other nations as much as our own." *
Of course, such a policy as this, publicly pursued in times of intense social and political excitement, could not fail to strain the cohesion of the Positivist propaganda and to limit its progress. * Positivist Review, vol. iv., p. 73.