Laurie, Simon Somerville (DNB12)

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LAURIE, SIMON SOMERVILLE (1829–1909), educational reformer, born in Edinburgh on 13 Nov. 1829, was eldest of five sons of James Laurie, chaplain to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, by his wife Jean, daughter of Simon Somerville united presbyterian minister at Elgin. Thomas, a publisher in London, and James Stuart were younger brothers. Owing to the family's narrow means Simon at eleven was earning money by teaching. Educated at the High School, Edinburgh, between 1839 and 1844, he entered the University of Edinburgh in 1844, and soon acted as class assistant to Professor James Pillans [q. v.] He graduated M.A. in May 1849. After five years spent in travel with private pupils on the Continent, in London, and in Ireland, he was from 1855 till 1905 secretary and visitor of schools to the education committee of the Church of Scotland at Edinburgh. The committee, until the Act of 1872, controlled the parish schools of Scotland and administered till 1907 the Church of Scotland training colleges for teachers in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen. During his fifty years' secretaryship Laurie directed all his great influence towards improving the schools by raising the education and status of the teachers. He insisted that the students preparing in training colleges to become teachers should receive their general education in the classes of the universities, in association with the students preparing for other professions, and should obtain only their strictly professional training in the training college. Not till 1873 was the cause won; then Scottish training college committees were granted permission by the board of education to send their best students to university classes. The movement for establishing university (day) training colleges in England had his hearty support, and in 1890 he delivered the inaugural address to the Liverpool day training department of the University College, one of the first established in England.

In 1856 Laurie was appointed visitor and examiner for the Dick Bequest Trust, and he remained in office till 1907. The trust was formed by James Dick in 1828 to distribute substantial grants of money, formerly averaging 5000l. yearly, among the best equipped and most efficient parochial schoolmasters in the counties of Aberdeen, Banff, and Moray. The funds were apportioned in agreement with Laurie's reports, which, published in 1865 and 1890, form masterly expositions of educational principles and practice.

In 1868, at the request of the Merchant Company of Edinburgh, Laurie inspected and reported on the Edinburgh schools known as Daniel Stewart's Hospital, George Watson's Hospital, the Merchant Maiden Hospital and James Gillespie's Free School, while the governors of the Heriot Trust asked him to include in his inquiry the George Heriot's Hospital. Laurie pointed out that these schools lacked ‘moral and intellectual ventilation,’ self-dependence, and family life, and financially the sum spent on them annually in Edinburgh was larger than the total assessment for the maintenance of the parochial schools of Scotland, and more than half the expenditure of the privy council on schools of all kinds in the northern part of the kingdom. Laurie reported against distinctive dress, and advised that the boys should be sent for education to the Edinburgh High School, and the opening of a high school as a day-school for the girls. Laurie's suggestions, submitted in 1868, were embodied in the Act of Parliament (1869) which enabled the Merchant Company of Edinburgh to remove the monastic and to a great extent the eleemosynary aspects of the ‘hospitals.’ In 1872 Laurie became secretary to the royal commission on endowed schools in Scotland. On the recommendations of the third and final report of this commission (1875), the organisation of secondary education proceeded under the executive commissions of Lord Moncrieff in 1878 and of Lord Balfour in 1882–9.

Laurie also took active part in the voluntary educational movements. He was one of those who co-operated with Mrs. Crudelius in founding in 1867 the Edinburgh Ladies' Educational Association, to provide lectures for women on university subjects with a view to women becoming students within the university. This movement issued in the admission of women to the University of Edinburgh in 1892 on the same terms as men for arts subjects. In 1876 he suggested, and as honorary secretary organised, in conjunction with Sir Edward Colebrook, the Association for promoting Secondary Education in Scotland, which held meetings and issued reports until in 1880 the Endowed Institutions Act was passed.

In 1876 the Bell Trustees (who controlled the fund commemorating Dr. Andrew Bell [q. v.], the reformer of elementary education), instituted the Bell chairs of the theory, history, and art of education, one in St. Andrews University, and the other in the University of Edinburgh. John Miller Dow Meiklejohn was made professor at St. Andrews. Laurie was appointed to the Edinburgh chair, and occupied it till 1903. The number of his students rose from twelve in his first year to 120 in his last. During his tenure of the professorship no man in Great Britain did more to set pedagogy upon a scientific and philosophical basis, and to secure for teachers a position similar to that of members of other professions. As a member of the professorial body he was one of the leaders of the reforming party by whose efforts the Universities (Scotland) Act, 1889, was passed and the universities remodelled by subsequent ordinances. In 1891, when he was president of the Teachers' Guild of Great Britain and Ireland, he gave evidence before a select parliamentary committee in favour of the registration and organisation of teachers for public schools of all grades. He was in fact a leader in every educational advance of his time. He fought persistently against bureaucratic dictation in education, and stoutly championed the freedom of local educational authorities from the central control of the board of education.

Throughout a strenuous life of administration, teaching, and writing, the study of metaphysics and philosophy was his constant pre-occupation. In 1866 he published the ‘Philosophy of Ethics: an Analytical Essay,’ and in 1868 ‘Notes, Explanatory and Critical, on Certain British Theories of Morals.’ In 1884 there appeared his important philosophical work ‘Metaphysica Nova et Vetusta’ (under the pseudonym of Scotus Novanticus) and in 1885 followed, under the same pseudonym, ‘Ethica, or the Ethics of Reason.’ These were republished, the former in 1889, the latter in 1891, and in these editions Laurie acknowledged the authorship. Both were translated into French, the former in 1901, the latter in 1902, by Georges Remacle, professeur à l'Athénée royal de Hasselt.

After resigning the chair of education at Edinburgh in 1903 Laurie delivered the Gifford lectures in natural theology there for 1905–6. The first course was on ‘Knowledge’ and the second on ‘God and Man.’ These lectures were embodied in 1906 in his last book ‘Synthetica: being Meditations, Epistemological and Ontological,’ a work which gave Laurie high rank among speculative writers. The book was the basis of the exposition in French by Georges Remacle, ‘La Philosophie de S. S. Laurie.’ He died on 2 March 1909 at 22 George Square, Edinburgh, and was buried in the Grange cemetery there. Laurie married twice: (1) in 1860 Catherine Ann (d 1895), daughter of William Hibburd of Berkshire, by whom he had two sons and two daughters; (2) in 1901 Lucy, daughter of Professor Sir John Struthers. A portrait of Laurie in oils, painted by Fiddes Watt, was presented to Laurie from many admirers on 11 Jan. 1907, and is in the possession of Mrs. Laurie. Laurie received the honorary degree of LL.D. from the universities of St. Andrews in 1887, of Edinburgh in 1903, and of Aberdeen in 1906.

Besides the work already cited, Laurie's published works include: On the theory of education: 1. ‘On Primary Instruction in Relation to Education,’ 1867; 6th edit. 1898. 2. ‘Training of Teachers and other Educational Papers,’ 1882. 3. ‘Occasional Addresses on Educational Subjects,’ 1888. 4. ‘Language and Linguistic Method in the School,’ 1892; based on lectures at the College of Preceptors in 1890. 5. ‘Institutes of Education, comprising an Introduction to Rational Psychology,’ 1892. 6. ‘Teachers' Guild Addresses,’ 1892, a masterly compendium of educational doctrine on a philosophical basis. 7. ‘The Training of Teachers and Methods of Instruction,’ 1901 (chiefly reprints from earlier essays). On the history of education: 1. ‘The Life and Writings of John Amos Comenius,’ 1881. 2. ‘The Rise and Early Constitution of Universities, with a Survey of Mediæval Education,’ 1886. 3. ‘A Historical Survey of Pre-Christian Education,’ 1895. 4. ‘Studies in the History of Educational Opinion from the Renaissance,’ 1903.

[Private information; biography prefixed to M. Remacle's Philosophie de S. S. Laurie, which gives an impression of the breadth and attractiveness of Laurie's character (Paris and Brussels, 1909); Sir Ludovic Grant's address on presenting Professor Laurie for the LL.D. degree in University of Edinburgh; excerpts from minutes of the Senatus Academicus of the University of Edinburgh (5 June 1903) and of the Dick Bequest Trustees (11 July 1907); Address from Dick Bequest Schoolmasters (May 1908) and from Students of the Edinburgh University Class in Education (March 1903).]

F. W.