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Scientific Education at Cambridge


I NOTICE a paragraph at page 26 of NATURE, in which, while the facts are correct, a wrong inference is drawn from them. Two gentlemen at Cambridge have been appointed to lecture on subjects in natural science, and one of these has been appointed to lecture on electricity, magnetism, and botany. These facts are correct, and your informant congratulates the University on the increased desire for instruction in these subjects manifested among the members of the University, but says, “is the number of men in the University competent to teach them so small, that it has been found necessary to entrust electricity and botany to the same lecturer?” But the real state of the case is, that in the University there is not a want of those able to teach Natural Science, but a want of those desiring to learn it. In fact, there are so few who want to learn these matters of science, that we cannot afford to pay, and have no need to appoint, more than one man to do the work. The lectures which we have in these subjects are insufficiently attended. The University is not behind the age in the power of teaching these matters, but before the age. If there had been many people coming here desiring to be taught certain subjects, and we had been unable to supply that teaching, we should in that have been behind the age. But we are offering teaching which those to whom we offer it have not yet learned, or do not yet care, to appreciate. I am not saying that we have the power of showing all the wonders that the astronomers of the present day can watch with their spectroscopes. We are not well supplied with apparatus; but our want of it does not arise so much from the inefficiency of our teachers as from the apathy of those who are taught. We have quantities of excellent apparatus exhibited and lectured about daily by several of our professors well able to deal with these matters, and yet these lectures are taken advantage of by only a very few. If these lecture-rooms were once crowded, the University would only be too happy, and would immediately have at its command abundant means to increase the staff of competent teachers. We have in fine more than a sufficient number of people who can teach, and, what is more, are willing to teach, natural science, if only there are those who care to be taught.

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STUART, J. Scientific Education at Cambridge. Nature 1, 57–58 (1869).

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