Popular Science Monthly/Volume 5/May 1874/Universities: Actual and Ideal
|←Synthetic Chemistry||Popular Science Monthly Volume 5 May 1874 (1874)
Universities: Actual and Ideal
By Thomas Henry Huxley
|Action of Sunlight on Glass→|
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.
I need not tell you that your late lord rector took this view of his position, and acted upon it with the comprehensive, far-seeing insight into the actual condition and tendencies, not merely of his own, but of other countries, which is his honorable characteristic among statesmen. I have already done my best, and, as long as I hold my office, I shall continue to endeavor, to follow in the path which he trod; to do what in me lies to bring this university nearer to the ideal—alas! that I should be obliged to say ideal—of all universities; which, as I conceive, should be places in which thought is free from all fetters; and in which all sources of knowledge, and all aids to learning, should be accessible to all comers, without distinction of creed or country, riches or poverty.
Do not suppose, however, that I am sanguine enough to expect much to come of any poor efforts of mine. If your annals take any notice of my incumbency, I shall probably go down to posterity as the rector who was always beaten. But if they add, as I think they will, that my defeats became victories in the hands of my successors, I shall be well content.
The scenes are shifting in the great theatre of the world. The act which commenced with the Protestant Reformation is nearly played out, and a wider and a deeper change than that effected three centuries ago—a reformation, or rather a revolution of thought, the extremes of which are represented by the intellectual heirs of John of Leyden, and of Ignatius Loyola, rather than by those of Luther and of Leo—is waiting to come on, nay, visible behind the scenes to those who have good eyes. Men are beginning, once more, to awake to the fact that matters of belief and of speculation are of absolutely infinite practical importance, and are drawing off from that sunny country "where it is always afternoon"—the sleepy hollow of broad indifferentism—to range themselves under their natural banners. Change is in the air. It is whirling feather-heads into all sorts of eccentric orbits, and filling the steadiest with a sense of insecurity. It insists on reopening all questions and asking all institutions, however venerable, by what right they exist, and whether they are, or are not, in harmony with the real or supposed wants of mankind. And it is remarkable that these searching inquiries are not so much forced on institutions from without, as developed from within. Consummate scholars question the value of learning; priests contemn dogma; and women turn their back upon man's ideal of perfect womanhood, and seek satisfaction in apocalyptic visions of some, as yet unrealized, epicene reality.
If there be a type of stability in this world, one would be inclined to look for it in the old universities of England. But it has been my business, of late, to hear a good deal about what is going on in these famous corporations; and I have been filled with astonishment by the evidences of internal fermentation which they exhibit. If Gibbon could revisit the ancient seat of learning of which he has written so cavalierly, assuredly he would no longer speak of "the monks of Oxford, sunk in prejudice and port." There, as elsewhere, port has gone out of fashion, and so has prejudice—at least that particular fine, old, crusted sort of prejudice to which the great historian alludes.
Indeed, things are moving so fast in Oxford and Cambridge, that, for my part, I rejoiced when the royal commission of which I am a member had finished and presented the report which related to these universities; for, we should have looked like mere plagiarists, if, in consequence of a little longer delay in issuing it, all the measures of reform we proposed had been anticipated by the spontaneous action of the universities themselves.
A month ago, I should have gone on to say that one might speedily expect changes of another kind in Oxford and Cambridge. A commission has been inquiring into the revenues of many wealthy societies, in more or less direct connection with the universities, resident in those towns. It is said that the commission has reported, and that, for the first time in recorded history, the nation, and perhaps the colleges themselves, will know what they are worth. And it was announced that a statesman, who, whatever his other merits or defects, has aims above the level of mere party fighting, and a clear vision into the most complex, practical problems, meant to deal with these revenues.
But, Bos locutus est. That mysterious independent variable of political calculation, public opinion—which some whisper is, in the present case, very much the same thing as publican's opinion—has willed otherwise. The Heads may return to their wonted slumbers—at any rate for a space.
Is the spirit of change, which is working thus vigorously in the south, likely to affect the northern universities, and, if so, to what extent? The violence of fermentation depends, not so much on the quantity of the yeast, as on the composition of the wort, and its richness in fermentible material; and, as a preliminary to the discussion of this question, I venture to call to your minds the essential and fundamental differences between the Scottish and the English type of university.
Do not charge me with any thing worse than official egotism, if I say that these differences appear to be largely symbolized by my own existence. There is no rector in a English university. Now, the organization of the members of a university into nations, with their elective rector, is the last relic of the primitive constitution of universities. The rectorate was the most important of all offices in that University of Paris upon the model of which the University of Aberdeen was fashioned, and which was certainly a great and flourishing institution in the twelfth century.
Enthusiasts for the antiquity of one of the two acknowledged parents of all universities, indeed, do not hesitate to trace the origin of the "Studium Parisiense" up to that wonderful King of the Franks and Lombards, Karl, surnamed the Great, whom we all called Charlemagne, and believed to be a Frenchman, until a learned historian, by beneficent iteration, taught us better. Karl is said not to have been much of a scholar himself, but he had the wisdom of which knowledge is only the servitor. And that wisdom enabled him to see that ignorance is one of the roots of all evil.
In the "Capitulary" which enjoins the foundation of monasterial and cathedral schools, he says: "Right action is better than knowledge: but in order to do what is right we must know what is right." An irrefragable truth, I fancy. Acting upon it, the king took pretty full compulsory powers, and carried into effect a really considerable and effectual scheme of elementary education through the length and breadth of his dominions.
No doubt, the idolators out by the Elbe, in what is now part of Prussia, objected to the Frankish king's measures; no doubt, the priests, who had never hesitated about sacrificing all unbelievers in their fantastic deities and futile conjurations, were the loudest in chanting the virtues of toleration; no doubt, they denounced as a cruel persecutor the man who would not allow them, however sincere they might be, to go on spreading delusions which debased the intellect, as much as they deadened the moral sense and undermined the bonds of civil allegiance; no doubt, if they had lived in these times, they would have been able to show, with ease, that the king's proceedings were totally contrary to the best liberal principles. But it may be said, in justification of the Teutonic ruler, first, that he was born before those principles, and did not suspect that the best way of getting disorder into order was to let it alone; and, secondly, that his rough and questionable proceedings did, more or less, bring about the end he had in view. For, in a couple of centuries, the schools he sowed broadcast produced their crop of men thirsting for knowledge and craving for culture. Such men, gravitating toward Paris, as a light amid the darkness of evil days, from Germany, from Spain, from Britain, and from Scandinavia, came together by natural affinity. By degrees they banded themselves into a society, which, as its end was the knowledge of all things knowable, called itself a "Studium Generale;" and, when it had grown into a recognized corporation, acquired the name of "Universitas Studii Generalis;" which, mark you, means not a "Useful Knowledge Society," but a "Knowledge-of-things-in-general Society."
And thus the first "university," at any rate on this side of the Alps, came into being. Originally it had but one faculty, that of arts. Its aim was, to be a centre of knowledge and culture, not to be, in any sense, a technical school.
The scholars seemed to have studied grammar, logic, and rhetoric; arithmetic and geometry; astronomy; theology; and music. Thus, their work, however imperfect and faulty, judged by modern lights, it may have been, brought them face to face with all the leading aspects of the many-sided mind of man. For these studies did really contain, at any rate, in embryo—sometimes, it may be, in caricature—what we now call philosophy, mathematical and physical science, and art. And I doubt if the curriculum of any modern university shows so clear and generous a comprehension of what is meant by culture as this old trivium and quadrivium does.
The students who had passed through the university course, and had proved themselves competent to teach, became masters and teachers of their younger brethren. Whence the distinction of masters and regents, on the one hand, and scholars, on the other.
Rapid growth necessitated organization. The masters and scholars, of various tongues and countries, grouped themselves into four nations; and the nations, by their own votes at first, and subsequently by those of their procurators, or representatives, elected their supreme head and governor, the rector—at that time the sole representative of the university, and a very real power, who could defy provosts interfering from without, or could inflict even corporal punishment on disobedient members within the university.
Such was the primitive constitution of the University of Paris. It is in reference to this original state of things, that I have spoken of the rectorate, and all that appertains to it, as the sole relic of that constitution.
But this original organization did not last long. Society was not then, any more than it is now, patient of culture, as such. It says to every thing, "Be useful to me, or away with you." And, to the learned, the unlearned man said then, as he does now: "What is the use of all your learning, unless you can tell me what I want to know? I am here blindly groping about, and constantly damaging myself by collision with three mighty powers: the power of the invisible God, the power of my fellow-man, and the power of brute Nature. Let your learning be turned to the study of these powers, that I may know how I am to comport myself with regard to them." In answer to this demand, some of the masters of the faculty of arts devoted themselves to the study of theology, some to that of law, and some to that of medicine; and they became doctors—men learned in those technical, or, as we now call them, professional branches of knowledge. Like cleaving to like, the doctors formed schools, or faculties, of theology, law, and medicine, which sometimes assumed airs of superiority over their parent, the faculty of arts, though the latter always asserted and maintained its fundamental supremacy.
The faculties arose, by process of natural differentiation, out of the primitive university. Other constituents, foreign to its nature, were speedily grafted upon it. One of these extraneous elements was forced into it by the Roman Church, which in those days asserted with effect, that which it now asserts, happily without any effect in these realms, its right of censorship and control over all teaching. The local habitation of the university lay partly in the lands attached to the monastery of St. Geneviève, partly in the diocese of the Bishop of Paris; and he who would teach must have the license of the abbot, or of the bishop, as the nearest representative of the pope, so to do; which license was granted by the chancellors of these ecclesiastics.
Thus, if I am what archæologists call a "survival" of the primitive head and ruler of the university, your chancellor stands in the same relation to the papacy—and, with all respect for his grace, I think I may say that we both look terribly shrunken when compared with our great originals.
Not so is it with a second foreign element, which silently dropped into the soil of universities like the grain of mustard-seed in the parable; and, like that grain, grew into a tree in whose branches a whole aviary of fowls took shelter. That element is the element of endowment. It differed from the preceding, in its original design to serve as a prop to the young plant, not to be a parasite upon it. The charitable and the humane, blessed with wealth, were very early penetrated by the misery of the poor student. And the wise saw that intellectual ability is not so common, or so unimportant a gift, that it should be allowed to run to waste upon mere handicrafts and chares. The man who was a blessing to his contemporaries, but who so often has been converted into a curse, by the blind adherence of his posterity to the letter, rather than to the spirit, of his wishes—I mean the "pious founder"—gave money and lands, that the student who was rich in brain and poor in all else might be taken from the plough or from the stithy, and enabled to devote himself to the higher service of mankind; and built colleges and halls in which he might be not only housed and fed, but taught.
The colleges were very generally placed in strict subordination to the university by their founders; but, in many cases, their endowment, consisting of land, has undergone an "unearned increment," which has given these societies a continually-increasing weight and importance as against the unendowed, or fixedly-endowed university. In Pharaoh's dream, the seven lean kine eat up the seven fat ones. In the reality of historical fact, the fat colleges have eaten up the lean universities.
Even here in Aberdeen, though the causes at work may have been somewhat different, the effects have been similar; and you see how much more substantial an entity is the very reverend the principal, analogue, if not homologue, of the principals of King's College, than the rector, lineal representative of the ancient monarchs of the university, though, now, little more than a "king of shreds and patches."
Do not suppose that, in thus briefly tracing the process of university metamorphosis, I have had any intention of quarreling with its results. Practically, it seems to me that the broad changes effected in 1858 have given the Scottish universities a very liberal constitution, with as much real approximation to the primitive state of things as is at all desirable. If your fat kine have eaten the lean, they have not lain down to chew the cud ever since. The Scottish universities, like the English, have diverged widely enough from their primitive model; but I cannot help thinking that the northern form has remained more faithful to its original, not only in constitution, but, what is more to the purpose, in view of the cry for change, in the practical application of the endowments connected with it.
In Aberdeen, these endowments are numerous, but so small that, taken altogether, they are not equal to the revenue of a single third-rate English college. They are scholarships, not fellowships; aids to do work—not rewards for such work, as it lies within the reach of an ordinary, or even an extraordinary, young man to do. You do not think that passing a respectable examination is a fair equivalent for an income, such as many a gray-headed veteran or clergyman would envy; and which is larger than the endowment of many regius chairs. You do not care to make your university a school of manners for the rich; of sports for the athletic; or a hot-bed of high-fed, hypercritical refinement, more destructive to vigor and originality than are starvation and oppression. No; your little bursaries of ten and twenty (I believe even fifty) pounds a year, enable any boy who has shown ability—in the course of his education in those remarkable primary schools which have made Scotland the power she is—to obtain the highest culture the country can give him; and, when he is armed and equipped, his Spartan alma mater tells him that, so far, he has had his wages for his work, and that he may go and earn the rest.
When I think of the host of pleasant, moneyed, well-bred young gentlemen, who do a little learning and much boating by Cam and Isis, the vision is a pleasant one; and, as a patriot, I rejoice that the youth of the upper and richer classes of the nation receive a wholesome and a manly training, however small may be the modicum of knowledge they gather, in the intervals of this, their serious business. I admit, to the full, the social and political value of that training. But, when I proceed to consider that these young men may be said to represent the great bulk of what the colleges have to show for their enormous wealth, plus, at least, a hundred and fifty pounds a year apiece, which each undergraduate costs his parents or guardians, I feel inclined to ask, whether the rate-in-aid of the education of the wealthy and professional classes, thus levied on the resources of the community, is not, after all, a little heavy? And, still further, I am tempted to inquire what has become of the indigent scholars, the sons of the masses of the people, whose daily labor just suffices to meet their daily wants, for whose benefit these rich foundations were largely if not mainly instituted? It seems as if Pharaoh's dream had been rigorously carried out, and that even the fat scholar has eaten the lean one. And, when I turn from this picture to the no less real vision of many a brave and frugal Scotch boy, spending his summer in hard manual labor, that he may have the privilege of wending his way in autumn to this university, with a bag of oatmeal, ten pounds in his pocket, and his own stout heart to depend upon through the northern winter; not bent on seeking
but determined to wring knowledge from the hard hands of penury; when I see him win through all such outward obstacles to positions of wide usefulness and well-earned fame—I cannot but think that, in essence, Aberdeen has departed but little from the primitive intention of the founders of universities, and that the spirit of reform has so much to do on the other side of the border, that it may be long before he has leisure to look this way.
As compared with other actual universities, then, Aberdeen may, perhaps, be well satisfied with itself. But, do not think me an impracticable dreamer, if I ask you not to rest and be thankful in this state of satisfaction; if I ask you to consider, awhile, how this actual good stands related to that ideal better toward which both men and institutions must progress, if they would not retrograde.
In an ideal university, as I conceive it, a man should be able to obtain instruction in all forms of knowledge, and discipline in the use of all the methods by which knowledge is obtained. In such a university, the force of living example should fire the student with a noble ambition to emulate the learning of learned men, and to follow in the footsteps of the explorers of new fields of knowledge. And the very air he breathes should be charged with that enthusiasm for truth, that fanaticism of veracity, which is a greater possession than much learning; a nobler gift than the power of increasing knowledge; by so much greater and nobler than these, as the moral nature of man is greater than the intellectual—for veracity is the heart of morality.
But the man who is all morality and intellect, although he may be good and even great, is, after all, only half a man. There is beauty in the moral world and in the intellectual world; but there is also a beauty which is neither moral nor intellectual—the beauty of the world of art. There are men who are devoid of the power of seeing it, as there are men who are born deaf and blind, and the loss of those, as of these, is simply infinite. There are others in whom it is an overpowering passion; happy men, born with the productive, or, at lowest, the appreciative, genius of the artist. But, in the mass of mankind, the æsthetic faculty, like the reasoning power and the moral sense, needs to be roused, directed, and cultivated; and I know not why the development of that side of his nature, through which man has access to a perennial spring of ennobling pleasure, should be omitted from any comprehensive scheme of university education.
All universities recognize literature in the sense of the old rhetoric, which is art incarnate in words. Some, to their credit, recognize art in its narrower sense, to a certain extent, and confer degrees for proficiency in some of its branches. If there are doctors of music, why should there be no masters of painting, of sculpture, of architecture? I should like to see professors of the fine arts in every university; and instruction in some branch of their work made a part of the arts curriculum.
I just now expressed the opinion that, in our ideal university, a man should be able to obtain instruction in all forms of knowledge. Now, by "forms of knowledge" I mean the great classes of things knowable; of which the first, in logical, though not in natural, order is knowledge relating to the scope and limits of the mental faculties of man; a form of knowledge which, in its positive aspect, answers pretty much to logic and part of psychology, while, on its negative and critical side, it corresponds with metaphysics.
A second class comprehends all that knowledge which relates to man's welfare, so far as it is determined by his own acts, or what we call his conduct. It answers to moral and religious philosophy. Practically, it is the most directly valuable of all forms of knowledge, but, speculatively, it is limited and criticised by that which precedes and by that which follows it in my order of enumeration.
A third class embraces knowledge of the phenomena of the universe, as that which lies about the individual man; and of the rules which those phenomena are observed to follow in the order of their occurrence, which we term the laws of Nature.
This is what ought to be called natural science, or physiology, though those terms are hopelessly diverted from such a meaning; and it includes all exact knowledge of natural fact, whether mathematical, physical, biological, or social.
Kant has said that the ultimate object of all knowledge is to give replies to these three questions: What can I do? What ought I to do? What may I hope for? The forms of knowledge which I have enumerated should furnish such replies as are within human reach, to the first and second of these questions. While to the third, perhaps, the wisest answer is, "Do what you can to do what you ought, and leave hoping and fearing alone."
If this be a just and an exhaustive classification of the forms of knowledge, no question as to their relative importance, or as to the of one to the other, can be seriously raised.
On the face of the matter, it is absurd to ask whether it is more important to know the limits of one's powers; or the ends for which they ought to be exerted; or the conditions under which they must be exerted. One may as well inquire which of the terms of a rule-of-three sum one ought to know, in order to get a trustworthy result. Practical life is such a sum, in which your duty multiplied into your capacity, and divided by your circumstances, gives you the fourth term in the proportion, which is your deserts, with great accuracy. All agree, I take it, that men ought to have these three kinds of knowledge. The so-called "conflict of studies" turns upon the question of how they may best be obtained.
The founders of universities held the theory that the Scriptures and Aristotle taken together, the latter being limited by the former, contained all knowledge worth having, and that the business of philosophy was to interpret and coördinate these two. I imagine that in the twelfth century this was a very fair conclusion from known facts. Nowhere in the world, in those days, was there such an encyclopædia of knowledge of all three classes as is to be found in those writings. The scholastic philosophy is a wonderful monument of the patience and ingenuity with which the human mind toiled to build up a logically consistent theory of the universe, out of such materials. And that philosophy is by no means dead and buried, as many vainly suppose. On the contrary, numbers of men of no mean learning and accomplishment, and sometimes of rare power and subtilty of thought, hold by it as the best theory of things which has yet been stated. And, what is still more remarkable, men who speak the language of modern philosophy nevertheless think the thoughts of the schoolmen. "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau." Every day I hear "Cause," "Law," "Force," "Vitality," spoken of as entities, by people who can enjoy Swift's joke about the meat-roasting quality of the smoke-jack, and comfort themselves with the reflection that they are not even as those benighted schoolmen.
Well, this great system had its day, and then it was sapped and mined by two influences. The first was, the study of classical literature, which familiarized men with methods of philosophizing; with conceptions of the highest good; with ideas of the order of Nature; with notions of literary and historical criticism; and, above all, with visions of art, of a kind which not only would not fit into the scholastic scheme, but showed them a pre-Christian, and indeed altogether un-Christian world, of such grandeur and beauty that they ceased to think of any other. They were as men who had kissed the fairy queen, and, wandering with her in the dim loveliness of the underworld, cared not to return to the fatherland, though they lay, at arm's-length, overhead. Cardinals were more familiar with Virgil than with Isaiah; and popes labored, with great success, to repaganize Rome.ways of home and
The second influence was the slow, but sure, growth of the physical sciences. It was discovered that some results of speculative thought, of immense practical and theoretical importance, can be verified by observation; and are always true, however severely they may be tested. Here, at any rate, was knowledge, to the certainty of which no authority could add, or take away, one jot or tittle, and to which the tradition of a thousand years was as insignificant as the hearsay of yesterday. To the scholastic system, the study of classical literature might be inconvenient and distracting, but it was possible to hope that it could be kept within bounds. Physical science, on the other hand, was an irreconcilable enemy, to be excluded at all hazards. The College of Cardinals has not distinguished itself in physics or physiology; and no pope has, as yet, set up public laboratories in the Vatican.
People do not always formulate the beliefs on which they act. The instinct of fear and dislike is quicker than the reasoning process; and I suspect that, taken in conjunction with some other causes, such instinctive aversion is at the bottom of the long exclusion of any serious discipline in the physical sciences from the general curriculum of universities; while, on the other hand, classical literature has been gradually made the backbone of the arts course.
I am ashamed to repeat here what I have said elsewhere, in season and out of season, respecting the value of science as knowledge and discipline. But the other day I met with some passages in the address to another Scottish university, of a great thinker, recently lost to us, which express so fully, and yet so tersely, the truth in this matter, that I am fain to quote them:
"To question all things—never to turn away from any difficulty; to accept no doctrine either from ourselves or from other people without a rigid scrutiny by negative criticism; letting no fallacy, or incoherence, or confusion of thought step by unperceived; above all, to insist upon having the meaning of a word clearly understood before using it, and the meaning of a proposition before assenting to it these are the lessons we learn" from workers in science. "With all this vigorous management of the negative element, they inspire no skepticism about the reality of truth or indifference to its pursuit. The noblest enthusiasm, both for the search after truth and for applying it to its highest uses, pervades those writers.... In cultivating, therefore," science as an essential ingredient in education, "we are all the while laying an admirable foundation for ethical and philosophical culture."
The passages I have quoted were uttered by John Stuart Mill; but you cannot hear inverted commas, and it is therefore right that I should add, without delay, that I have taken the liberty of substituting "workers in science" for "ancient dialecticians," and "science as an essential ingredient in education" for "the ancient languages as our best literary education." Mill did, in fact, deliver a noble panegyric upon classical studies. I do not doubt its justice, nor presume to question its wisdom. But I venture to maintain that no wise or just judge, who has a knowledge of the facts, will hesitate to say that it applies with equal force to scientific training.
But it is only fair to the Scottish universities to point out that they have long understood the value of science as a branch of general education. I observe, with the greatest satisfaction, that candidates for the degree of Master of Arts in this university are required to have a knowledge, not only of mental and moral philosophy, and of mathematics and natural philosophy, but of natural history, in addition to the ordinary Latin and Greek course; and that a candidate may take honors in these subjects and in chemistry.
I do not know what the requirements of your examiners may be, but I sincerely trust they are not satisfied with a mere book-knowledge of these matters. For my own part, I would not raise a finger, if I could thereby introduce mere book-work in science into every arts curriculum in the country. Let those who want to study books devote themselves to literature, in which we have the perfection of books, both as to substance and as to form. If I may paraphrase Hobbes's well-known aphorism, I would say that "books are the money of literature, but only the counters of science," science (in the sense in which I now use the term) being the knowledge of fact, of which every verbal description is but an incomplete and symbolic expression. And be assured that no teaching of science is worth any thing, as a mental discipline, which is not based upon direct perception of the facts, and practical exercise of the observing and logical faculties upon them. Even in such a simple matter as the mere comprehension of form, ask the most practised and widely-informed anatomist what is the difference between his knowledge of a structure which he has read about and his knowledge of the same structure when he has seen it for himself, and he will tell you that the two things are not comparable—the difference is infinite. Thus I am very strongly inclined to agree with some learned school-masters who say that, in their experience, the teaching of science is all waste time. As they teach it, I have no doubt it is. But, to teach it otherwise, requires an amount of personal labor and a development of means and appliances, which must strike horror and dismay into a man accustomed to mere book-work, and who has been in the habit of teaching a class of fifty without much strain upon his energies. And this is one of the real difficulties in the way of the introduction of physical science into the ordinary university course, to which I have alluded. It is a difficulty which will not be overcome, until years of patient study have organized scientific teaching as well as, or I hope better than, classical teaching has been organized hitherto.
A little while ago, I ventured to hint a doubt as to the perfection of some of the arrangements in the ancient universities of England; but, in their provision for giving instruction in science as such, and without direct reference to any of its practical applications, they have set a brilliant example. Within the last twenty years, Oxford alone has sunk more than a hundred and twenty thousand pounds in building and furnishing physical, chemical, and physiological laboratories, and a magnificent museum, arranged with an almost luxurious regard for the needs of the student. Cambridge, less rich, but aided by the munificence of her chancellor, is taking the same course; and, in a few years, it will be for no lack of the means and appliances of sound teaching, if the mass of English university men remain in their present state of barbarous ignorance of even the rudiments of scientific culture.
Yet another step needs to be made before science can be said to have taken its proper place in the universities. That is its recognition as a faculty, or branch of study demanding recognition and special organization, on account of its bearing on the wants of mankind. The faculties of theology, law, and medicine, are technical schools, intended to equip men, who have received general culture, with the special knowledge which is needed for the proper performance of the duties of clergymen, lawyers, and medical practitioners.
When the material well-being of the country depended upon rude pasture and agriculture, and still ruder mining; in the days when all the innumerable applications of the principles of physical science to practical purposes were non-existent even as dreams—days which men living may have heard their fathers speak of—what little physical science could be seen to bear directly upon human life lay within the province of medicine. Medicine was the foster-mother of chemistry, because it has to do with the preparation of drugs and the detection of poisons; of botany, because it enabled the physician to recognize medicinal herbs; of comparative anatomy and physiology, because the man who studied human anatomy and physiology for purely medical purposes was led to extend his studies to the rest of the animal world.
Within my recollection, the only way in which a student could obtain any thing like a training in physical science was, by attending the lectures of the professors of physical and natural science attached to the medical schools. But, in the course of the last thirty years, both foster-mother and child have grown so big, that they threaten not only to crush one another, but to press the very life out of the unhappy student who enters the nursery; to the great detriment of all three.
I speak in the presence of those who know practically what medical education is; for I may assume that a large proportion of my hearers are more or less advanced students of medicine. I appeal to the most industrious and conscientious among you, to those who are most deeply penetrated with a sense of the extremely serious responsibilities which attach to the calling of a medical practitioner, when I ask whether, out of the four years which you devote to your studies, you ought to spare even so much as an hour for any work which does not tend directly to fit you for your duties?
Consider what that work is. Its foundation is a sound and practical acquaintance with the structure of the human organism, and with the modes and conditions of its action in health. I say a sound and practical acquaintance, to guard against the supposition that my intention is to suggest that you ought all to be minute anatomists and accomplished physiologists. The devotion of your whole four years to anatomy and physiology alone would be totally insufficient to attain that end. What I mean is, the sort of practical, familiar, finger-end knowledge which a watchmaker has of a watch, and which you expect that craftsman, as an honest man, to have, when you intrust a watch, that goes badly, to him. It is a kind of knowledge which is to be acquired, not in the lecture-room, nor in the study, but in the dissecting-room and the laboratory. It is to be had, not by sharing your attention between these and sundry other subjects, but by concentrating your minds, week after week, and month after month, six or seven hours a day, upon all the complexities of organ and function, until each of the greater truths of anatomy and physiology has become an organic part of your minds—until you would know them if you were roused and questioned in the middle of the night, as a man knows the geography of his native place and the daily life of his home. That is the sort of knowledge which, once obtained, is a lifelong possession. Other occupations may fill your minds—it may grow dim, and seem to be forgotten—but there it is, like the inscription on a battered and defaced coin, which comes out when you warm it.
If I had the power to remodel medical education, the first two years of the medical curriculum should be devoted to nothing but such thorough study of anatomy and physiology, with physiological chemistry and physics; the student should then pass a real, practical examination in these subjects; and, having gone through that ordeal satisfactorily, he should be troubled no more with them. His whole mind should then be given, with equal intentness, to therapeutics, in its broadest sense, to practical medicine and to surgery, with instruction in hygiene and in medical jurisprudence; and of these subjects only—surely there are enough of them—should he be required to show a knowledge in his final examination.
I cannot claim any special property in this theory of what the medical curriculum should be, for I find that views, more or less closely approximating these, are held by all who have seriously considered the very grave and pressing question of medical reform; and have, indeed, been carried into practice, to some extent, by the most enlightened examining boards. I have heard but two kinds of objections to them. There is, first, the objection of vested interests, which I will not deal with here, because I want to make myself as pleasant as I can, and no discussions are so unpleasant as those which turn on such points. And there is, secondly, the much more respectable objection, which takes the general form of the reproach that, in thus limiting the curriculum, we are seeking to narrow it. We are told that the medical man ought to be a person of good education and general information, if his profession is to hold its own among other professions; that he ought to know botany, or else, if he goes abroad, he won't be able to tell poisonous fruits from edible ones; that he ought to know drugs, as a druggist knows them, or he won't be able to tell sham bark and senna from the real articles; that he ought to know zoology, because—well, I really have never been able to learn exactly why he is to be expected to know zoology. There is, indeed, a popular superstition, that doctors know all about things that are queer or nasty to the general mind, and may, therefore, be reasonably expected to know the "barbarous binomials" applicable to snakes, snails, and slugs; an amount of information with which the general mind is usually completely satisfied. And there is a scientific superstition that physiology is largely aided by comparative anatomy—a superstition which, like most, once had a grain of truth at bottom; but the grain has become homœopathic, since physiology took its modern experimental development, and became what it is now—the application of the principles of physics and chemistry to the elucidation of the phenomena of life.
I hold as strongly as any one can do, that the medical practitioner ought to be a person of education and good general culture; but I also hold by the old theory of a faculty, that a man should have his general culture before he devotes himself to the special studies of that faculty; and I venture to maintain that, if the general culture obtained in the faculty of arts were what it ought to be, the student would have quite as much knowledge of the fundamental principles of physics, of chemistry, and of biology, as he needs, before he commenced his special medical studies.
Moreover, I would urge that a thorough study of human physiology is, in itself, an education broader and more comprehensive than much that passes under that name. There is no side of the intellect which it does not call into play, no region of human knowledge into which either its roots, or its branches, do not extend; like the Atlantic between the Old and the New Worlds, its waves wash the shores of the two worlds of matter and of mind; its tributary streams flow from both; through its waters, as yet unfurrowed by the keel of any Columbus, lies the road, if such there be, from the one to the other; far away from that Northwest passage of mere speculation, in which so many brave souls have been hopelessly frozen up.
But, whether I am right or wrong about all this, the patent fact of the limitation of time remains. As the song runs:
"If a man could be sure
That his life would endure
he might do a number of things not practicable under present conditions. Methuselah might, with much propriety, have taken half a century to get his doctor's degree; and might, very fairly, have been required to pass a practical examination upon the contents of the British Museum, before commencing practice as a promising young fellow of two hundred, or thereabouts. But you have four years to do your work in, and are turned loose, to save or slay, at two or three and twenty.
Now, I put it to you, whether you think that, when you come down to the realities of life—when you stand by the sick-bed, racking your brains for the principles which shall furnish you with the means of interpreting symptoms, and forming a rational theory of the condition of your patient—it will be satisfactory for you to find that those principles are not there, but that, to use the examination slang which is unfortunately too familiar to me, you can quite easily "give an account of the leading peculiarities of the Marsupialia" or "enumerate the chief characters of the Compositæ," or "state the class and order of the animal from which castoreum is obtained."
I really do not think that state of things will be satisfactory to you; I am very sure it will not be so to your patient. Indeed, I am so narrow-minded myself, that if I had to choose between two physicians—one who did not know whether a whale was a fish or not, and could not tell gentian from ginger, but did understand the applications of the institutes of medicine to his art; while the other, like Talleyrand's doctor, "knew every thing, even a little physic"—with all my love for breadth of culture, I should assuredly consult the former.
It is not pleasant to incur the suspicion of an inclination to injure or depreciate particular branches of knowledge. But the fact, that one of those which I should have no hesitation in excluding from the medical curriculum is that to which my own life has been specially devoted, should, at any rate, defend me from the suspicion of being urged to this course by any but the very gravest considerations of the public welfare.
And I should like, further, to call your attention to the important circumstance that, in thus proposing the exclusion of the study of such branches of knowledge as zoology and botany, from those compulsory upon the medical student, I am not, for a moment, suggesting their exclusion from the university. I think that sound and practical instruction in the elementary facts and broad principles of biology should form part of the arts curriculum: and here, happily, my theory is in entire accordance with your practice. Moreover, as I have already said, I have no sort of doubt that, in view of the relation of physical science to the practical life of the present day, it has the same right as theology, law, and medicine, to a faculty of its own in which men shall be trained to be professional men of science. It may be doubted whether universities are the places for technical schools of engineering, or applied chemistry, or agriculture. But there can surely be little question, that instruction in the branches of science which lie at the foundation of these arts, of a far more advanced and special character than could, with any propriety, be included in the ordinary arts curriculum, ought to be obtainable by means of a duly-organized faculty of science in every university.
The establishment of such a faculty would have the additional advantage of providing, in some measure, for one of the greatest wants of our time and country. I mean the proper support and encouragement of original research.
The other day, an emphatic friend of mine committed himself to the opinion that, in England, it is better for a man's worldly prospects to be a drunkard, than to be smitten with the divine dipsomania of the original investigator. I am inclined to think he was not far wrong. And, be it observed, that the question is not, whether such a man shall be able to make as much out of his abilities as his brother, of like ability, who goes into law, or engineering, or commerce; it is not a question of "maintaining a due number of saddle-horses," as George Eliot somewhere puts it—it is a question of living or starving.
If a student of my own subject shows power and originality, I dare not advise him to adopt a scientific career; for, supposing he is able to maintain himself until he has attained distinction, I cannot give him the assurance that any amount of proficiency in the biological sciences will be convertible into, even the most modest, bread-and-cheese. And I believe that the case is as bad, or perhaps worse, with other branches of science. In this respect Britain, whose immense wealth and prosperity hang upon the thread of applied science, is far behind France, and infinitely behind Germany.
And the worst of it is, that it is very difficult to see one's way to any immediate remedy for this state of affairs which shall be free from a tendency to become worse than the disease.
Great schemes for the endowment of research have been proposed. It has been suggested that laboratories for all branches of physical science, provided with every apparatus needed by the investigator, shall be established by the state; and shall be accessible, under due conditions and regulations, to all properly-qualified persons. I see no objection to the principle of such a proposal. If it be legitimate to spend great sums of money on public libraries and public collections of painting and sculpture, in aid of the man of letters, or the artist, or for the mere sake of affording pleasure to the general public, I apprehend that it cannot be illegitimate to do as much for the promotion of scientific investigation. To take the lowest ground, as a mere investment of money, the latter is likely to be much more immediately profitable. To my mind, the difficulty in the way of such schemes is not theoretical, but practical. Given the laboratories, how are the investigators to be maintained? What career is open to those who have been thus encouraged to leave bread-winning pursuits? If they are to be provided for by endowment, we come back to the college fellowship system, the results of which, for literature, have not been so brilliant that one would wish to see it extended to science; unless some much better securities, than at present exist, can be taken that it will foster real work. You know that, among the bees, it depends on the kind of cell in which the eggs is deposited, and the quantity and quality of food which is supplied to the grub, whether it shall turn out a busy little worker or a big idle queen. And, in the human hive, the cells of the endowed larvæ are always tending to enlarge, and their food to improve, until we get queens, beautiful to behold, but which gather no honey and build no comb.
I do not say that these difficulties may not be overcome, but their gravity is not to be lightly estimated.
In the mean while, there is one step in the direction of the endowment of research which is free from such objections. It is possible to place the scientific inquirer in a position in which he shall have ample leisure and opportunity for original work, and yet shall-give a fair and tangible equivalent for those privileges. The establishment of a faculty of science in every university, implies that of a corresponding number of professional chairs, the incumbents of which need not be so burdened with teaching as to deprive them of ample leisure for original work. I do not think that it is any impediment to an original investigator to have to devote a moderate portion of his time to lecturing, or superintending practical instruction. On the contrary, I think it may be, and often is, a benefit to be obliged to take a comprehensive survey of your subject; or to bring your results to a point, and give them, as it were, a tangible objective existence. The besetting sins of the investigator are two: the one is the desire to put aside a subject, the general bearings of which he has mastered himself, and pass on to something which has the attraction of novelty; and the other, the desire for too much perfection, which leads him to
"Add and alter many times,
Till all be ripe and rotten;"
to spend the energies which should be reserved for action, in whitening the decks and polishing the guns.
The necessity for producing results for the instruction of others, seems to me to be a more effectual check on these tendencies, than even the love of usefulness or the ambition for fame.
But supposing the professorial forces of our university to be duly organized, there remains an important question, relating to the teaching power, to be considered. Is the professorial system—the system, I mean, of teaching in the lecture-room alone, and leaving the student to find his own way when he is outside of the lecture-room—adequate to the wants of learners? In answering this question, I confine myself to my own province, and I venture to reply for physical science, assuredly and undoubtedly, No. As I have already intimated, practical work in the laboratory is absolutely indispensable, and that practical work must be guided and superintended by a sufficient staff of demonstrators, who are for science what tutors are for other branches of study. And there must be a good supply of such demonstrators. I doubt if the practical work of more than twenty students can be properly superintended by one demonstrator—if we take the working-day at six hours, that is, twenty minutes apiece—not a very large allowance of time for helping a dull man, for correcting an inaccurate one, or even for making an intelligent student clearly apprehend what he is about. And, no doubt, the supplying of a proper amount of this tutorial, practical teaching is a difficulty in the way of giving proper instruction in physical science in such universities as that of Aberdeen, which are devoid of endowments; and, unlike the English universities, have no moral claim on the funds of richly-endowed bodies to supply their wants.
Examination—thorough, searching examination—is an indispensable accompaniment of teaching; but I am almost inclined to commit myself to the very heterodox proposition that it is a necessary evil. I am a very old examiner, having, for some twenty years past, been occupied with examinations on a considerable scale, of all sorts and conditions of men, and women too—from the boys and girls of elementary schools, to the candidates for honors and fellowships in the universities. I will not say that, in this case, as in so many others, the adage that familiarity breeds contempt holds good; but my admiration for the existing system of examination, and its products, does not wax warmer as I see more of it. Examination, like fire, is a good servant, but a bad master; and there seems to me to be some danger of its becoming our master. I by no means stand alone in this opinion. Experienced friends of mine do not hesitate to say that students whose career they watch, appear to them to become deteriorated by the constant effort to pass this or that examination, just as we hear of men's brains becoming affected by the daily necessity of catching a train. They work to pass, not to know; and outraged Science takes her revenge. They do pass, and they don't know. I have passed sundry examinations in my time, not without credit, and I confess I am ashamed to think how very little real knowledge underlay the torrent of stuff which I was able to pour out on paper. In fact, that which examination, as ordinarily conducted, tests, is simply a man's power of work under stimulus, and his capacity for rapidly and clearly producing that which, for the time, he has got into his mind. Now, these faculties are by no means to be despised. They are of great value in practical life, and are the making of many an advocate, and of many a so-called statesman. But, in the pursuit of truth, scientific or other, they count for very little, unless they are supplemented by that long-continued, patient "intending of the mind" as Newton phrased it, which makes very little show in examinations. I imagine that an examiner, who knows his students personally, must not unfrequently have found himself in the position of finding A's paper better than B's, though his own judgment tells him, quite clearly, that B is the man who has the larger share of genuine capacity.
Again, there is a fallacy about examiners. It is commonly supposed that any one who knows a subject is competent to teach it; and no one seems to doubt that any one who knows a subject is competent to examine in it. I believe both these opinions to be serious mistakes; the latter, perhaps, the more serious of the two. In the first place, I do not believe that any one who is not, or has not been a teacher, is really qualified to examine advanced students. And, in the second place, examination is an art, and a difficult one, which has to be learned like all other arts.
Beginners always set too difficult questions—partly because they are afraid of being suspected of ignorance if they set easy ones, and partly from not understanding their business. Suppose that you want to test the relative physical strength of a score of young men. You do not put a hundred-weight down before them, and tell each to swing it round. If you do, half of them won't be able to lift it at all, and only one or two will be able to perform the task. You must give them half a hundred-weight, and see how they manœuvre that, if you want to form any estimate of the muscular strengtheach. So, a practised examiner will seek for information respecting the mental vigor and training of candidates from the way in which they deal with questions easy enough to let reason, memory, and method, have free play.
No doubt, a great deal is to done by the careful selection of examiners, and by the copious introduction of practical work, to remove the evils inseparable from examination; but, under the best of circumstances, I believe that examination will remain but an imperfect test of knowledge, and a still more imperfect test of capacity, while it tells next to nothing about a man's power as an investigator.
There is much to be said in favor of restricting the highest degrees, in each faculty, to those who have shown evidence of such original power, by prosecuting a research under the eye of the professor in whose province it lies; or, at any rate, under conditions which shall afford satisfactory proof that the work is theirs. The notion may sound revolutionary, but it is really very old—for, I take it, that it lies at the bottom of that presentation of a thesis by the candidate for a doctorate, which has now too often become little better than a matter of form.
Thus far, I have endeavored to lay before you, in a too brief and imperfect manner, my views respecting the teaching half—the magistri and regentes—of the university of the future. Now let me turn to the learning half—the scholares.
If the universities are to be the sanctuaries of the highest culture of the country—those who would enter that sanctuary must not come with unwashed hands. If the good seed is to yield its hundred-fold harvest, it must not be scattered amid the stones of ignorance, or the tares of undisciplined indolence and wantonness. On the contrary, the soil must have been carefully prepared, and the professor should find that the operations of clod-crushing, draining, and weeding, and even a good deal of planting, have been done by the school-master.
That is exactly what the professor does not find in any university in the three kingdoms that I can hear of—the reason of which state of things lies in the extremely faulty organization of the majority of secondary schools. Students come to the universities ill-prepared in classics and mathematics, not at all prepared in any thing else; and half their time is spent in learning that which they ought to have known when they came.
I sometimes hear it said that the Scottish universities differ from the English in being to a much greater extent places of comparatively elementary education for a younger class of students. But it would seem doubtful if any great difference of this kind really exists; for a high authority, himself head of an English college, has solemnly affirmed that "elementary teaching of youths under twenty is now the only function performed by the university;" and that colleges are "boarding-schools in which the elements of the learned languages are taught to youths."
This is not the first time that I have quoted those remarkable assertions. I should like to engrave them in public view, for they have not been refuted; and I am convinced that, if their import is once clearly apprehended, they will play no mean part when the question of university reorganization, with a view to practical measures, comes on for discussion. You are not responsible for this anomalous state of affairs now; but, as you pass into active life, and acquire the political influence to which your education and your position should entitle you, you will become responsible for it, unless each in his sphere does his best to alter it, by insisting on the improvement of secondary schools.
Your present responsibility is of another, though not less serious, kind. Institutions do not make men, any more than organization makes life; and even the ideal university we have been dreaming about will be but a superior piece of mechanism, unless each student strive after the ideal of the scholar. And that ideal, it seems to me, has never been better embodied than by the great poet, who, though lapped in luxury, the favorite of a court, and the idol of his country-men, remained, through all the length of his honored years, a scholar in art, in science, and in life:
Wouldst shape a noble life? Then cast
No backward glances toward the past:
- The Inaugural Address of the Lord Rector of the University of Aberdeen, February 27, 1874.
- "Quamvis enim melius sit bene facere quam nosse, prius tamen est nosse quam facere."––"Karoli Magni Regis Constitutio de Scholis per singula Episcopia et Monasteria instituendis," addressed to the Abbot of Fulda. Baluzius, "Capitularia Regum. Francorum," tomus i., p. 202.
- Inaugural address delivered to the University of St. Andrews, February 1, 1867, by J. S. Mill, Rector of the University (pp. 32, 33).
- "Suggestions for Academical Organization, with Especial Reference to Oxford." By the Rector of Lincoln.