EDUCATION, in the common acceptance of the word, is taken to be synonymous with school teaching, though every educationist will admit that a great part, even the most vital part of education, is connected with an environment of influences in early life over which the schoolmaster or mistress often has no control. In all sound systems of education, national culture the traditions of national life and thought must harmonise entirely with the school and University teaching which should only be complementary or supplementary of the other. The fault of the Anglo-Indian educational system the heinous and completely damning fault which has not been removed by recent attempts at reform is that instead of harmonising with, and supplementing, national culture, it is completely antagonistic to and destructive of it.
The system, which, as Sir George Birdwood lately said, “has destroyed in Indians the love of their own literature, the quickening soul of a people, and their delight in their own arts, and worst of all, their repose in their own traditional and national religion, has disgusted them with their own homes, their parents, their sisters, their very wives, and brought discontent into every family so far as its baneful influences have reached”. This system, whether you call it National, or whether you call it Anglo-Indian, is hopelessly and irrevocably condemned both in Europe and in India. It is at the same time perilous to the British Raj by its antagonism to national traditions, and absolutely fatal to the national aspirations of Indians; for even were an Indian Governor-General installed at Simla and Indian Parliaments opened at Madras, Calcutta, Bombay and Lahore, Indians, by the loss of all their national culture, would still be as much subject to Europe as they are now, for the intellectual pivot of the world would be, even more than it is now, fixed in the western hemisphere.
Intellect is, and always will be, the ruling force in the world. You will never achieve political independence by Europeanising your intellects; you will only fasten still more firmly the bonds of your political subjection. A correspondent of the Hindu, referring to this argument, says that I confuse cause and consequence. He writes:
Indian ideals are nearly destroyed because we are nowhere politically, and we can’t control the shaping of the ideals of our young men and women in the schools and colleges social, or artistic, or religious. These are essentially national ideals, and the only method by which they can be made great or living must be political. The national consciousness comes to itself through politics. Political reform must be the vision of nationalist; politics first and then our artistic life shall gain its place in the world’s life and become aware of itself.
This is a purely European line of reasoning which shows how much the educated Indian of the present day has become Europeanised in intellect. For what is India’s great message to the world the profound truth of which modern European science is only slowly beginning to recognise, though the Founder of the Christian religion proclaimed the same doctrine nineteen hundred years ago but the irresistible power of abstract thought, the force of an idea? Thought created the universe, thought rules the world, and thought only is indestructible and eternal. The power of Indian thought has not been extinguished by the Europeanisation of the East: it has been for centuries imperceptibly leavening the materialistic science and philosophy of the West, so that western teachers are now beginning to teach Indians what India has taught them. Matter does not create thought, nor destroy thought: schools and colleges do not create ideals, they are created by the ideals. When Indians begin to think Indianly, the schools and colleges will be Indian. Political institutions do not make a country free; freedom is won by thought alone.
India must wait for a better system of Anglo- Indian education, until Great Britain herself also has one; for the root of this evil is not in Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and Allahabad, but in Oxford, Cambridge, London and Aberdeen. The reform has already begun in Europe, the axe is at the root of this tree, but it will be many years before the old superstitions, which cling like parasites on national education, are entirely destroyed. In the meantime India must attend to the revival of her own national artistic culture, the foundation of all true education. In the preservation of this, Europe is as much concerned as India herself, for what India preserves of it is a gain to humanity. The knowledge you can get from Europe must be a supplement to, not a substitute for, your own artistic inheritance.
Art, in which is included poetry and music, has always been the foundation of national culture. It was so in ancient Greece, in all mediaeval Europe and in India; it is so now in China and Japan. In modern Europe, we teach the letter of Greek culture, but suppress the whole spirit and intention of it. Before we proceed further, therefore, in the discussion of educational method, I think it will be useful to consider what were the actual educational methods of the ancient Greeks, of a European nation pre-eminent for physical fitness and intellectual achievements, whose ideal is commonly held up by modern educationists as the highest in the world. We shall then see how little the Pharisees and Sadducees of modern education observe the spirit of the law which they inscribe on their phylacteries. I will quote from an admirable monograph by Miss C. A. Hutton on Greek Terracotta Statuettes (The Portfolio, November 1899).
There were three branches of learning grammar, mnsic and gymnastics. [Other authorities add drawing.] Until he was fourteen, a boy was principally concerned with the two first-named, but at fourteen he was supposed to have finished his studies in grammar, and it was replaced by gymnastics; to this and music, he chiefly devoted his attention during the last four years of his school life. Grammar comprised reading, writing and a little elementary arithmetic. After three years’ instruction, the pupil could usually begin to read the poets; his acquaintance with their works was not, however, postponed until he could read them for himself. The great poets supplied the religious influence in Greek life, and a Greek child learnt by heart passages from Homer and Hesiod, as an English child learns passages from the Bible. These were committed to memory from the oral instruction of the teacher, and we now see why education proceeded at so leisurely a pace. Besides selections from the works of Homer and Hesiod, a Greek boy had to learn the many popular songs, hymns, catches, dirges and choral odes, the knowledge of which constituted a liberal education. Few of these have come down to us, except in quotation, because the greater part of a Greek gentleman’s library was housed in his head, and everybody knew them by heart.
Poetry, music, memory-training and physical gymnastics the cultivation of a sense of perfect rhythm in mind and body, in a religious and perfectly artistic environment these were the vital forces in the intellectual development of ancient Greece. This is what the greatest of Greek philosophers, whose words I have quoted in a previous chapter, says of the educational effect of the sense of rhythm:
Education in music is of the greatest importance, because by that, the measure and harmony enter in the strongest manner, into the inward part of the soul, and most powerfully affect it, making every one decent if he is properly educated, and the reverse if he is not. And, moreover, because the man who hath here been educated as he ought to be, perceives in the quickest manner whatever workmanship is defective, and whatever execution is unhandsome, or whatever productions are of that kind; and being disgusted in a proper manner, he will praise what is beautiful, rejoicing in it, and receiving it into his soul, be nourished by it, and become a worthy and good man; but whatever is ugly, he will in a proper manner despise and hate, whilst yet he is young, and before he is able to understand reason, and when reason comes, such an one as hath been thus educated will embrace it, recognising it perfectly well from its intimate familiarity with him.
There is a real and close kinship between the true Greek educational ideal and the national culture of India which the present Anglo-Indian educational system, and even that which is now called national, almost completely ignore. Every part of the Greek system has its place in the true national culture of India. The cultivation of the sense of perfect rhythm in mind and body, in a religious and perfectly artistic atmosphere, is just as much the true Indian educational ideal as it was that of ancient Greece. In Japan too, in the present day, poetry, art, music and gymnastics take just the same high place in national culture as they did in ancient Greece; and no one who has studied the psychology of national development can doubt for a moment that her present high position among the nations of the world is as much due to her system of national culture as to the scientific appliances and methods she has adapted from the West.
Art in Japan is not a luxury for the rich, but the basis of national education. The coloured prints for which fancy prices are now paid by European Connoisseurs, made by Hokusai, Hiroshige, and other well-known artists, are the work of men belonging to what are called the artisan classes and were produced at the cheapest rate for the poorer classes only. The popular paintings by Indian artists of the same class, despised and uncomprehended by educated Indians to-day are also highly appreciated by Europeans who know what art is. If you read the works of Lafcadio Hearn you will learn that poetry has done as much for national culture in Japan as it did formerly in Greece, and, until the nineteenth century, in India also. Poetical tournaments are still a favourite form of popular entertainment in Japan, and even among the poorest classes any occasion of domestic importance, either joyful or sad, is marked by poems composed by the people themselves. In the spring mornings in Japan the working classes, the poorest of the poor, and not only the well-to-do, will rise by hundreds to watch the opening of the lotus flowers; the flowering of the plum and cherry trees in the early summer are days of national rejoicing. India need not cease to take delight in beauty, and to have faith in the inspiration of nature which her ancient Rshis taught, because she has become poor. It is far worse to be poor in spirit than to be poor in worldly goods. Modern science and English education are not sufficient substitutes for art. It will not profit India to gain the whole world and lose her own soul.
Even in England it is barely two centuries since art and music had almost as high a place in national culture as they had in ancient Greece, and there can be little doubt but that before two more centuries have passed they will have again recovered their position in European education, from which they have been ousted by the pedantic bookman and the equally pedantic scientific professor. In the early eighteenth century in England musical instruments were hung up in every public inn for public use, because no one could claim to be considered educated who could not play an improvised accompaniment to a song. Poetical composition was a popular amusement, as it is in Japan to-day. The half-penny newspapers and cheap novels have now taken the place of music and poetry. Cheap literature and cheap science have upset the intellectual balance of Europe for a time, but the laws of nature are not changed by scientific discoveries and mechanical inventions; principles of intellectual development have not been altered since Plato wrote, and the nations which, adapting methods to modern needs, follow these principles best will come out best in the end.
Art in Europe has declined in the last two centuries because it has ceased to belong to national life and culture. It is beginning to revive, and will continue to do so, in proportion to the success of educational reformers in convincing the national consciousness that art is a real necessity of life. Art in India has been declining for similar reasons, but if India realises in time the intellectual value and educational use of national tradition in art, the renaissance of the East will be greater than the renaissance of the West, for the East has not squandered so recklessly those art traditions, the wisdom of ages, which as much as manuscripts, books and scientific inventions, constitute for all time the true basis of civilisation.