Thomas Henry Huxley and Matthew Arnold on Classics
May 26, 2006 12:25 PM Subscribe
In 1875, Josiah Mason gave a gift to establish a college which was called the Mason Science College (now a part of the University of Birmingham). Within the terms of the gift to the institutuion, one of the stipulations was that classics not be taught. Of course at such an institution, the Founder Day's address was logically given by Thomas Henry Huxley on the place of Science in Education. Huxley preached the virtues of science and derisively dismissed all value in studying classics, and he wondered whether any rational person would choose to study classics over science. His conclusion was that the only people who would choose a study of classics are those like "that Levite of culture" Matthew Arnold. Arnold took the opportunity to respond to his friend. In his reply, Arnold acknowledged that nobody would expect him to engage Huxley in a debate about science, and though he wouldn't presume to take on Huxley in such a debate, he did want to mention something that struck him as he thumbed through a book of Huxley's friend. Arnold noted that he was struck by the idea that "our ancestor was a hairy quadruped furnished with a tail and pointed ears, probably arboreal in his habits." Arnold acknowledged that he isn't a scientist and therefore doesn't dispute such a claim, but he did want to point out that even if that were true, with regards to this good fellow, there must have been a necessity in him that inclined him to Greek. And would always incline him to Greek. After all, we got there, didn't we?
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