A Meeting of Two Minds, Geddes - Tagore Letters
Reviewed by Angus Calder
Patrick Geddes was the 'Professor', a natural and social scientist who had become world famous as a town planner and whose ideas about ecology now seem prophetic. Tagore, to Geddes and others was the 'Poet'- in fact, not only the national bard of Bengal, but also a major novelist and a man gifted musically andin visual arts. Geddes was recognised in India, where he spent nine years of his 78. Tagore was famous in the West as the first Indian to win a Nobel Prize, for literature. Both men were passionate internationalists. The correspondence presented here by Bashabi Fraser centres on shared educational ideals. No sooner had educational systems in Europe and North America emerged in the forms familiar today - with subjects compartmentalised in standard curricula taught with coercive discipline driving towards examinations - than challenges to them arose.
The industrialised carnage of the 1914-1918 War gave added point and urgency to the 'progressive' movement in education. While in Britain ( for instance) the English philosopher Russell and the Scottish teacher A.S.Neill created 'progressive', child-centred schools, both Geddes and Tagore were absorbed by the ideal of international institutions of higher education. The Poet was feeling his way towards one in Bengal, at Santiniketan, the Professor applied his admittedly more schematic and theoretical approach to setting up Scots and Indian Colleges at the University of Montpellier in southern France. From here, Geddes wrote to Tagore in 1927, '...I think we are fundamentally at one in principle, despite all differences in expression? Notably in the idea of converging our studies...upon the service of the community life - at present so depressed - in east and west alike....' Inter-war internationalist idealism foundered in further terrible world war, but the ideas of Tagore and Geddes fed into later educational thought.
documenting a noble attempt at cross-cultural cooperation, Dr Fraser's
collection of correspondence restores to life the attractive personality
of Geddes's son Arthur who, as disciple of Tagore for two years in Bengal,
and later a student at Montpellier, linked the worlds of two visionaries.