the contestants have appealed triumphantly to the results of synthetic chemistry, as indicating clearly that the "arcana of life had been entered and the mysterious divinity, vital force, overthrown." Does it not rather appear that chemistry, as yet, had not cut the Gordian knot, but was rather compelled to look to other sets of forces than those known as chemical for the chief agencies concerned in this work?
ELECTED, by the suffrages of your four nations, rector of the ancient university of which you are scholars, I take the earliest opportunity which has presented itself, since my restoration to health, of delivering the address which, by long custom, is expected of the holder of my office.
My first duty, in opening that address, is to offer you my most hearty thanks for the signal honor you have conferred upon me—an honor of which, as a man unconnected with you by personal or by national ties, devoid of political distinction, and a plebeian who stands by his order, I could not have dreamed. And it was the more surprising to me, as the five-and-twenty years which have passed over my head since I reached intellectual manhood have been largely spent in no half-hearted advocacy of doctrines which have not yet found favor in the eyes of academic respectability—so that, when the proposal to nominate me for your rector came, I was almost as much astonished as was Hal o' the Wynd, "who fought for his own hand," by the Black Douglas's proffer of knighthood. And I fear that my acceptance must be taken as evidence that, less wise than the Armorer of Perth, I have not yet done with soldiering.
In fact, if, for a moment, I imagined that your intention was simply, in the kindness of your hearts, to do me honor, and that the rector of your university, like that of some other universities, was one of those happy beings who sit in glory for three years, with nothing to do for it save the making of a speech, a conversation with my distinguished predecessor soon dispelled the dream. I found that, by the constitution of the University of Aberdeen, the incumbent of the rectorate is, if not a power, at any rate a potential energy; and that, whatever may be his chances of success or failure, it is his duty to convert that potential energy into a living force, directed toward such ends as may seem to him conducive to the welfare of the corporation of which he is the theoretical head.
- The Inaugural Address of the Lord Rector of the University of Aberdeen, February 27, 1874.