Finsbury Prizes

Nature (December 1883)

[157] The ceremony of distributing the prizes to the successful students of the Finsbury Technical College and the South London Technical Art School took place on Monday evening in the Hall of the Clothworkers' Company, Mincing Lane. The Lord Mayor presided, supported by the President of the Royal Society, the Sheriffs, Sir [158] F. Bramwell, Sir F. Abel, the newly-elected chairman of the Society of Arts, and a large number of gentlemen interested in promoting technical education, the hall being filled with students. The prizes were delivered by Prof. Huxley, who afterwards gave an address. After speaking of the progress in technical education which had been made since 1877, and speaking in high terms of the system pursued at the Finsbury Technical College, Prof. Huxley said that all his life he had been trying to persuade people that if they wanted to teach physical science it was no use to attempt to proceed by filling the minds of the students with general propositions which they did not understand, from which they were to deduce details which they comprehended still less. If they went to the Exhibition Road, South Kensington they would see a very splendid pile of buildings which had already cost 70,000, and which he sincerely trusted would cost a very great deal more. That building was the mere bricks and stones of the Central Institute, and the business upon which Sir Frederick Bramwell, the Chairman of the Committee, he (Prof. Huxley), and his colleagues had lately been so largely occupied was making a soul for this body. It was an immensely difficult operation, as they were always in danger, like Frankenstein in the story, of making something which would eventually devour them instead of being useful to them. Their great anxiety had been to make it good and useful, so that the great scheme of technical education might be thoroughly carried into effect. He was perfectly sure that they had in the system of technological examination, and in such institutions as Finsbury College, the Kensington School, and the Central Institution, something which would most indubitably be the nucleus of a vast growth of similar organisations. He had not the smallest doubt that, before this generation had passed away, instead of 150 centres at which such examinations were conducted, they would be counted by hundreds, and instead of the two or three high-class places of technical instruction which had been enumerated they would be counted in different parts of this island by the score, and that they would have in the Central Institute the great uniting point for the whole of this network through which the information and the discipline which were needful for carrying the industries of the country into operation would be distributed into every locality in which such industries were carried on. He regarded it as even a more important function of such organisations that they would be places to which every young artisan of industry and ability could look to gratify his legitimate ambition. His study of history had led him to the conclusion that there never had been, and there never was likely to be, any great cause of widespread social discontent except hunger of some kind or other. There was physical hunger of the body, and there was intellectual hunger arising in the minds of capable and energetic men who were prevented by the accidents of life, or the organization of society, from taking the places for which they were fitted. Everything which spreads a knowledge of technical processes among our industrial classes tended to fit them to fight better that great battle of competition by which they had hitherto maintained themselves victoriously in virtue of the inward natural powers and capacity of the race, but in which the struggle became more difficult, not only because on the continent of Europe training and discipline were supplementing whatever might be lacking of energy and capacity, but because on the other side of the Atlantic there was a people as numerous as ourselves, of the same stock, blood, race, and power, who would run us harder than any competitors had hitherto done. If we were to hold our own in this great world competition, it must be because the native force and intelligence were supplemented by careful training and discipline, such as were proposed to be given by the system of technical education.


THE HUXLEY FILE

C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University