The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Our Relations with Nature
Miss Beatrice Taylor
At 12.15, MISS BEATRICE TAYLOR read her paper on
Our Relations with Nature.
The great principles of unity, evolution, and the intelligence behind all Nature compel us to examine natural phenomena with reverent eyes. It is evident to every thoughtful mind that our relations with Nature must have as an underlying principle--the principle of Unity. For everything in the material universe, as our astronomers have shown, has had a common origin--has been evolved out of condensed cosmic matter. Our physicists cannot see the slightest difference in molecule, be it animal or vegetable, mineral or element. The progress of matter from one kingdom to another is continuous, and there is no force in Nature capable of bridging a gap or of creating a chasm between the various kingdoms. Since all molecules were originally homogeneous and are all energised by the same principle of becoming something higher, we must constantly keep in mind the idea of evolution as well as the idea of unity. And unity there must be, for harmony, which is the law of the universe, would be destroyed if it were perfectly exemplified in man alone and limited in the other kingdoms.
Children--who, as we know, are so near the unseen world, who, as Meredith would say, "neighbour the invisible"--feel the bond of unity very strongly. They have no feeling of separateness--no knowledge of the different grades in society. A little boy of four noticed the parlour-maid, who had been up unusually early that morning, standing at supper behind his father's chair--standing, and for the moment doing nothing, and evidently tired: "Mother, can't Ellen sit down? She must be so tired."
Again, children have not only the fine habit of putting themselves in other people's places and picturing how they feel, but they also think of animals as having the same feelings as themselves. A little boy before going to bed used to put his tadpoles near the nightlight in order that the tadpoles "may not be frightened by waking up and finding themselves in the dark."
Unity finds its expression in the outward world as harmony. Now harmony in the physical and mathematical world of sense is justice in the moral one. Justice invariably produces harmony, and injustice, discord. The child-soul instantly detects an injustice. Anyone who has been at school will readily cap the following story. A pupil at a board school jerked the ink-well of the desk behind, so causing the ink to spill on the copy book of the girl at that desk. The teacher, a great disciplinarian, punished the child whose book was blotted. In that child's face could be read the protest against the injustice of the sentence. It was a look of judgment not to be forgotten.
The following is an instance of childish reasoning combined with this instinctive feeling of justice. "Mother, is God always just?" "Yes." "Then when a man is ill, it must be in this way: a man who is ill must have done something wrong, either a moment ago or a little while back. For when you punish me, it is because I have disobeyed you. That man who is ill must have disobeyed God's rules."
To turn now from the principle of unity to the principle of evolution, i.e., the progressive march of the whole order of nature towards a higher life. And the children find no difficulty in conceiving that the "grown-ups" and they themselves, in time, will become something much higher. The angels and the hierarchies of the Bible are accepted unquestioningly. The angels are "people who are always perfectly good." So real are the angels to them, that they wish to know their exact outline, their exact form. A little boy of four, who loved outdoor life, remarked: "Mother, has an angel legs like Dicky's or like ours?"
Again, that human beings possess higher attributes than the animals--are more highly evolved--is readily grasped by the children. A little girl of four, feeding her ducks at the water's edge, noticed that the mallard kept pecking the duck and edged her away from the corn. She called out, "Mr. Mallard isn't at all kind to Mrs. Duck, is he? Not like father is to you! Father likes you to have all you want."
Evolution indeed forces itself upon the attention of all students of Nature. There is design in the action of the seemingly blindest forces. The whole process of evolution, with its endless adaptations, is a proof of this. The immutable laws that weed out the weak and feeble species to make room for the strong, and which ensure the "survival of the fittest," though apparently cruel in their immediate action, are all working toward the grand end. The very fact that adaptations do occur, that the fittest do survive in the struggle for existence, shows that the so-called "unconscious nature" is in reality an aggregate of intentional intelligent forces. It is, indeed, as we teach our children: God is everywhere. It is well to recognize in every pain and suffering a new birth into something higher, each throe being a step onward towards a higher stage. There cannot be any change for the better without proportionate suffering during the preceding stage. Stagnation means death. It is through our intelligence that we recognize the intelligence of Nature! Nature submits to changeless law, and man has to do the same in order to live morally, mentally or physically. Man is the living witness to the existence of God's law and to the mode of His action. Therefore when we see that every external motion, act, gesture, whether voluntary or mechanical, organic or mental, is produced and preceded by internal feeling or emotion, will, or thought, we are justified in concluding that it is the same in Nature also.
Very early in life, each of us realizes that law pervades the universe--that a Great Intelligence, call it by what name we will, is at the back of all Nature. A friend of mine was much puzzled, as a child, to know who shut up the daisies at night. She used to go to her tea leaving them wide open, and on running out again afterwards found them closed. After trying in vain for some time to catch the person who did it, in the act, she determined, without saying a word to anyone, to watch. And patiently sitting watching, she at last saw the daisies closing under her eyes without any human hand touching them. Then for the first time came the conviction of an Unseen Power.
So far we can recognize our relations with Nature through the principles of Unity, Evolution and Intelligence. Before going further, however, it is necessary to realize the enormous stride that has been made recently in science: to realize that now we can no longer divide Nature into animate and inanimate. A German scientist has explained that there is such a thing as crystal life. That each crystal lives and grows, and that definite laws govern that growth. In fact, were it otherwise, there could be no Unity in Nature. Consciousness must have a beginning in the lower kingdoms in order that it may develop as self-consciousness in the human kingdom. Science is now always pointing out to us the relations between the different kingdoms of Nature--the different connecting links, the universal life uniting them all. Botanists show that the protoplasmic strands in plants are analogous to the nerves in animals. Not that we imagine that plants can feel or think as animals do, but because the theory that the strands in question bear to animal-life, is necessary to explain vegetable growth and nutrition.
Again, crystals are formed when a liquid evaporates. From a central basis the crystal form is built up, just as the animal or vegetable cell is built up from its nucleus. In fact, science shows that cytoplasm and the mother-liquid from which crystals originate are one and the same in essence, and only differentiated for certain evolutionary purposes. Sir George Mirart, in his Genesis of Species, speaks of the way in which crystals (and perhaps from recent researches, the lowest forms of life) build themselves up according to the internal laws of their component substance. Edison, the American inventor, supports the view that an inherent intelligence manifests in the lowest kingdom, for he cannot conceive that the innumerable ways in which the atoms of hydrogen combine with those of other elements can take place without intelligence being manifested in the atoms themselves.
There remains, however, one more principle to add to the other three I have named: the principle of man's co-operation with Nature in the great purpose. What can this purpose be? Deep down in the heart of each we know it to be a ceaseless striving towards perfection. And perfection, to be fully such, must needs be born out of imperfection, the imperishable out of the perishable. The soul--the incorruptible in each of us, needing the body by which to express itself. We now see that Nature is constantly evolving higher and yet higher forms as she progresses, because she is striving to reach the perfect form. Science has long since dwelt on the importance of this matter. We get this great truth expressed in different ways. Nageli's Principle of Perfectibility, Von de Baer's Striving towards the Purpose, Braun's Divine Breath as the Inward Impulse in the Evolutionary History of Nature, Professor Owen's Tendency to Perfectibility, are but one idea expressed in different language. When once we have convinced ourselves that Nature is ever on the road to perfection, we must necessarily do all in our power to help the Divine evolution, by becoming, to the best of our ability, co-workers with Nature.
Let us go a step further and discover how we can best commune with Nature and learn her language. We must go to her as a child goes--ready to receive all teachings, with an entire fearlessness, with a desire to put into action each prompting as it occurs, and with a heart full of sympathy for all that lives and breathes.
As Miss Mason has pointed out, true education is not the mastery of "subjects," but the realization of our own divinity, of our oneness with the Over-soul, and of our power to give forth living thoughts--thoughts that will transform men and women--transform them into apostles of a nobler life, into saviours of humanity. A true lover of Nature has said,--"When our hearts are touched by the forces of nature, we learn to talk with nature, we learn to work with Nature. I never went into the woods in my life but the birds sang better because I was there. Not that I gave to them the power, but that they, in their simplicity, being part of this great law, felt more than I could feel: they felt the longing of my soul for the touch of Nature, and they sang just a little better because they knew it. I have felt, too, an experience in handling flowers. I have been with people who looked upon flowers as merely things which had such and such an odour, but I have got odours which were far more beautiful, and the odours of these flowers said something to me. They answered back to the yearnings of my soul with the answer which I needed: and so even to the tiniest atoms of the earth, there are voices in everything, and these voices are also a part of ourselves, something with which we could be in unison." [ch 2, Theosophy: The Path of the Mystic, by Katherine Tingley]
Let us, in our turn, interrogate Nature in a sympathetic way, and then, as Meredith says, we shall "unfold the heaven of things." When we listen to the voices of Nature we draw strength from the heart of the Great Mother; for innumerable are the ways in which man acts upon Nature and Nature reacts upon man. Man will always receive from Nature exactly what he gives her, and from the operation of this principle there is no escape. When the real self within us vibrates in harmony with the great world outside--when we realize our oneness with all that lives and breathes, so that there is no longer a feeling of separateness--then, and then only, shall we realize that "Life is joy."
MRS. HUSBAND said: After listening to Miss Taylor's very beautiful paper, one feels almost afraid to venture on any criticism or remark. She has carried us right away from that aspect of nature which is only too common as something different from ourselves, as that which is contrasted with humanity, and she has carried us up to a contemplation of nature as being that which in our deepest moments we call God. One could perhaps have wished that Miss Taylor, who has spoken of nature with such profound sympathy, could have given us something more practically suggestive as to our method of approaching nature and getting hold of its secrets. Perhaps in the discussion, questions may be put to her which may bring forward some more definite suggestions as to how we may put ourselves and our children into that attitude towards nature which she has so beautifully expressed.
MR. HEDGER WALLACE said that the subject of nature and nature study had been very much taken up lately and we were all looking for guidance as to how to place ourselves and our children into direct sympathy with it. He deprecated the encouragement of a sentimental attitude towards nature in young children as tending to less good results in their later study of nature and nature lore. If he might criticise the paper that had just heard, he would say that the methods for bring us into closer contact with nature were so many that he had hoped under Miss Taylor's leadership to find some method which would be of real service in this direction. If other speakers could suggest any new movement for bringing us into close relationship with nature, he felt that the discussion might be of great interest.
MRS. HUSBAND here made several announcements and also said that Mrs. Franklin would be glad to give further particulars of the Nature Study Exhibition to any interested in the subject.
MRS. MORRIS did not agree that the sentimental and the scientific sides of nature study necessarily militated, and thought that a sentimental attitude towards nature should not be discouraged in young children, in whom it often existed together with a real desire to accumulate scientific knowledge.
MRS. GRANVILLE thought the paper had shown us the kind of relation we ought to try and establish between ourselves and nature, and hoped the impression received would be lasting. Children love everything in nature and approach it as something like themselves, and we should be helping them by trying to continue that relation.
MISS TAYLOR said the reason why she had not dealt with methods was that the title of her paper as given to her was "Our relations with nature," not the methods by which we were to establish those relations. The direct method, the simplest method, and she might say the only method, was to live out of doors as far as possible, and she referred to the work of such men as Mr. Kearton, and Prof. Muller as illustrating this.
Typed by happi, Oct. 2020; Proofread by LNL, Oct. 2020
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