The Connection Between Science and Art and Literature

Nature (May 1887)

[14] In his speech at the Royal banquet, Prof. Huxley offered some suggestive and interesting remarks on the relations between science on the one hand and art and literature on the other. "I imagine," he said, "that it is the business of the artist and of the man of letters to reproduce and fix forms of imagination to which the mind will afterwards recur with pleasure; so, based upon the same great principle by the same instinct, if I may so call it, it is the business of the man of science to symbolize, and fix, and represent to our mind in some easily recallable shape, the order, and the symmetry, and the beauty that prevail throughout Nature. I am not sure that any of us can go much further from the one to the other. We speak in symbols. The artist places his colours upon the wall; the colours have no relation to the actual objects, but they serve their purpose in recalling the emotions which were present when the scenes which they depict were acted. I am not at all sure that the conceptions of science have much more correspondence with reality than the colours of the artist have; but they are the symbols by which we are constantly recalling the order and beauty of Nature, and by which we by degrees force our way further and further into her penetralia, acquiring a greater insight into the mystery and wonder which are around us, and at the same time, by a happy chance, contributing to the happiness and prosperity of mankind. Referring to the fact that in these days scientific men are in danger of becoming specialists, occupied with a comparatively small field, Prof. Huxley maintained that the remedy lies in the recognition of "the great truth that art and literature and science are one, and that the foundation of every sound education and preparation for active life in which a special education is necessary should be some efficient training in all three." He concluded as follows:–ˆI sincerely trust, Sir, that, pondering upon these matters, understanding that which you so freely recognise here, that the three branches of art and science and literature are essential to the making of a man, to the development of something better than the mere specialist in any one of these departments–I sincerely trust that that spirit may in course of time permeate the mass of the people, that we may at length have for our young people an education which will train them in all three branches, which will enable them to understand the beauties of art, to comprehend the literature at any rate of their own country, and to take such interest not in the mere acquisition of science, but in the methods of inductive logic and scientific inquiry as will make them equally fit, whatever specialised pursuit they may afterwards take up. I see great changes; I see science acquiring a position which it was almost hopeless to think she could acquire. I am perfectly easy as to the future fate of scientific knowledge and scientific training; what I do fear is, that it may be possible that we should neglect those other sides of the human mind, and that the tendency to inroads which is already marked may become increased by the lack of the general training of early youth to which I have referred."


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University