Convocation Addresses of the Universities of Bombay and Madras/Part 2/Col. R. M. Macdonald

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

TWENTIETH CONVOCATION.

(By Colonel R. M. Macdonald.)

Gentlemen,—The Statutes of this University require that an address shall be made to the newly-admitted graduates by a member of the Senate, and this duty has, on this occasion, been entrusted to me by His G-race the Chancellor. In his name, and in the name of the Senate, I congratulate you on the success which has crowned your long labours. A few of you have reached the goal of your studies, so far as University examinations are concerned. Others, although Bachelors of Arts, have still before you the higher, but rarely sought, degree of Master, as well as the various degrees which this University confers in the Faculties of Law, Medicine and Civil Engineering. But every student knows that all that he has learned of any subject forms but a small portion of the whole, and that Literature and Science are Alpine regions, in which the horizon extends as the pilgrim ascends. Whatever department of knowledge you may have selected, or may hereafter select, you will find a lifetime too short for the work which lies before you.

Some of you have yet to elect the path which you are to pursue in life. A great writer has given us a sketch of an imaginary poem, entitled "The Youth at the Cross Roads," in which his hero depicts two female characters personifying the Tragic Muse and Commerce, as contending for the possession of his person. You stand, as Wilhelm Meister did, at the Cross Roads, but most of you are probably balancing between the service of Government and the profession of law. Both, no doubt, offer an honorable career, but it is to be regretted that more do not endeavour to find other outlets. One of the noblest of all professions is that which alleviates pain, arrests disease and prolongs life. That beneficent profession is wholly unrepresented here to-day. In twenty years the Faculty of Medicine has produced three doctors, half-a-dozen bachelors and one licentiate, and among these there has as yet been only one Native. Medicine has many prejudices to combat in this coun- try. Sir Charles Trevelyan has described the victory which was gained in Bengal, when the first Brahmin student was seen handling the knife in the dissecting room, and the Shasters, with the elasticity peculiar to them, were made to declare that the dissection of human bodies for medical purposes was not prohibited." But in this Presidency, as already remarked, scarcely any progress has been made. It has been calculated that seven or eight thousand medical practitioners are needed to take the place of the Hakeems and Vydians, whose ignorant treatment is so often dangerous and even fatal to their patients. The circumstances of the country render the general employment of highly educated men in such posts out of the question, but it seems probable that in some of the larger towns there is field for practitioners who have taken the higher medical degrees, and that, in many of the smaller towns, medical men of a somewhat lower grade might find remunerative employment. The degree of Licentiate of Medicine and Surgery has, accord- ingly, been recently revived, and as some young men are now studying for this degree, it may be hoped that in a few years some progress will be made in this important direction. The Faculty of Civil Engineering is also One which has generally been poorly represented, but it is satisfactory to find that, during the last three or four years, graduates in Arts have been beginning to graduate in Civil Engineering. The openings for persons who have passed these examinations have as yet been few, and have practically been circumscribed by the requirements of the public service. In this respect India differs at present from England. There, it has been remarked, ^' Government is usually nothing to the Civil Engineer, unless it be looked upon as a foe, from whom recognition and remuneration'^ must " be won by sheer hard fighting." The great works which have changed the face of Europe and America — the roads, the railways, the canals, the bridges, the harbours — have been often made with little or no aid from the State. Even here, however, changes are taking place, and it is probable that, in course of time, there will be more outlets than there are at present for local pro- fessional talent. The great famine which is now desolating the land is one of those calamities to which India has always been liable, but the prevention of which does not seem beyond the reach of engineering skill. The last speech from the Throne leads us to hope that a series ©f well-considered schemes may be devised for the prevention of such visitations in future. In the execution of such schemes you may render useful and valuable services. How much may be done in this direction by the genius of a single man has been already shown in this Presidency. Sir Arthur Cotton has scarcely received all the local honors which he deserved, but he has left enduring monuments behind him in the great works, which have made the Deltas of the Cauvery and and the Godavery the granaries of Southern India. Some have trod, and others may tread, in his footsteps, but Sir Arthur Cotton's task was more difficult than theirs, for he was a pioneer, and had not only to subdue the forces of nature, but to battle with prejudice and ignorance in high places. It is impossible to gaze on the rich fields of cultivation with which he has enriched those districts, or to watch the long lines of boats plying their busy traffic along the navigable canals devised by him, without feeling that much of the future wealth and prosperity of India lies in the hands of the Civil Engineer. The Faculty of Law is the only one of the professional faculties which has as yet produced an unfailing annual supply of graduates. The sentiment which animated Milton when, in a poem addressed to his father, he thanked him for not making him a lawyer, is one which will meet with no response in this country. The study of law is congenial to the Hindoo mind. Every study has, however, some drawbacks, and every profession has some dangers incidental to it. Archbishop Whately points out that an advocate, who is called on '^to plead various causes, to extenuate to-day what he aggravated yesterday, to attach more or less weight, at different times, to the same kind of evidence, to impugn and to enforce the same principles, according as the interests of his clients may require,^^ is in some danger of gradu- ally growing indifferent to the ascertainment of truth and may bo tempted to resort to specious sophistry or even more question- able devices in the interests of his clients. Some of you will, perhaps, not be advocates, but ministerial officers. These I would remind of the admonition of Bacon, that " the place of justice is a hallowed place, and therefore not only the bench, but the footpace, and the precincts and purprise thereof ought to be preserved without scandal or corruption.^' The attendance of Courts, he says, is subject to certain bad instruments. Among these he enumerates the " sowers of suits which make the Court swell and the country pine ;" the men whom he calls the left hands of Courts, persons who are full of nimble and sinister tricks and shifts, whereby they pervert the plain and direct courses of events, and bring justice into oblique lines and labyrinths," and, lastly, '^ the poller and exacter of fees, which justifies the common resemblance of the Courts to the bush, whereunto while the sheep flies for defence in weather, he is sure to lose part of the fleece." Much has been done of late years to improve the administration of justice in this country, but it is probable that some of the evils depicted by Bacon have not disappeared in the Mofussil Courts. I trust that some of you will become the right hands of those Courts, and that if, in course of time, you are called to higher functions, and have to preside over Courts of your own, you will emulate the example of some of your predecessors, and show that the natives of this country are capable of filling with credit posts which demand the exercise of the highest faculties.

I must, however, remind you that the main function of Universities is not to train men to become physicians, or engineers, or lawyers, but to discipline the whole moral and intellectual being. You all graduated in Arts before you were permitted to graduate in Law, and although a somewhat lower test in Arts is accepted at present as a preliminary condition for graduating in Medicine and Civil Engineering, the same principle is recognized in all the profes- sional degrees. Every profession has a tendency to narrow the mind, and if a physician, a lawyer, or an engineer allows himself to be wholly immersed in the details of his calling, and does not, from time to time, visit those higher regions in which it is per- mitted to the living to

" ...hold high converse with the mighty dead,"

he may rise to eminence and be a valuable member of society, but the absence of that elevating and ennobling culture which it is the peculiar province of literature to bestow will leave its stamp on him. In one respect the training of this University is less favourable to general culture than that of any other University in India, or perhaps in the world. All other Universities require an acquaintance with at least One classical language. This is not essential to a Madras degree. You have, however, all acquired the key to One of the noblest literatures in the world. The master-minds of England, her poets, her philosophers, her orators, her historians, will, if you summon them, take up their abode with you. Their most precious thoughts, their loftiest speculations, their wit, their wisdom, all belong to you, if you choose to lay claim to them.

The culture of which I am speaking is especially incumbent on those among you who intend to adopt the profession of teaching. I fear that the number of such will be small. We hear a great deal of graduates being turned out annually in such multitudes that they are unable to find any kind of suitable employment. As a matter of fact, however, there are, at this moment, several hundreds of educational posts which ought to be filled by graduates, but which are occupied by persons of humbler attainments, because, in the present state of the market, the services of graduates for such posts cannot be secured, and, as education advances, situations of this kind will be numbered by thousands instead of by hundreds. Such employment need not necessarily be in connection with Government. Already in several large towns schools have sprung up under the management of young graduates, who, without any aid from the State, are beginning to find remunerative employment. Unfortunately, however, it is the case in this country, as it is the case in many other coun- tries, that the dignity of the teacher's vocation is not properly appreciated. It is in reality one of the most important of all ofiices one to which it is the interest of the community that the most gifted minds should be attracted, bat the profession is a laborious one, and the prizes are at present few.

It is much to be regretted that the educated natives of this Presidency have, as a sreneral rule, kept entirely aloof from agricultural, manufacturing and commercial pursuits. India is, at present, a poor country, but with intelligence, enterprise and capital, she might become rich. In Europe, America, and the Australian Colonies much of the success which has attended such pursuits has been due to the influence of educated men. Many persons consider that the state of feeling which prevails on this subject here is partly due to the great preponderance which has, until recently, been assigned to literary and mathematical studies in the curriculum of the University, and to the entire absence of the intellectual discipline afforded by the natural and experi- mental sciences. In this respect, however, great changes have been recently made, the ultimate effect of which remains to be seen. Physical Science is no longer the dead letter which it once was. It is now as compulsory as English and Mathematics for the Matriculation and First Arts examinations, and those students who wish to pursue the study of Physical Science up to the B.A. degriee are permitted to drop their Mathematics altogether during the last two years of their course. Government has aided the efforts of the University by the appointment of a professor of Physical Science, whose lectures and laboratory are open to the students of all Colleges, and we already see the first fruits of the new system, as seven of those who have graduated to-day, have taken up Physical Science as their optional subject. The recent establishment at Sydapet of an institution in which systematic instruction is given in the science and practice of agriculture is also an event which may lead to important results hereafter.

But besides the various openings to which I have referred in connection with Medicine, Law, Civil Engineering, Teaching, Agriculture, Commerce, Manufactures and the public offices, it is certain that in course of time many other outlets will suggest themselves to you or to your successors. We have had among us not very long ago a Parsee gentleman, who has proved that even the stage is not an impossible career for a highly educated native gentleman. The drama has, in all civilized nations, been a source of much intellectual entertainment, and the Hindoos at a very early period produced dramatic works, some of which have been the admiration of Europe. But the drama may exercise an evil, as well as a good influence, and its tendency in this Presidency has been at times of so pernicious a character that I should rejoice to see some well-directed effort on the part of native gentlemen of position and education, to purify and elevate the taste of their countrymen. The revival of the ancient Sanskrit drama and the creation of a modern vernacular school are objects in no way unworthy of your ambition. One of the gentlemen who appears here to-day has, in the intervals of his law studies, achieved the somewhat difficult task of presenting the Merchant of Venice in a Tamil dress, and another, who has not succeeded in establishing his claim to a degree on this occasion, but who will, I hope, be more fortunate next time, has still more recently brought out a Telugu adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Cassar, written entirely in Iambics — a bold but successful innovation in Telugu literature. It is not at all likely that Shakespeare will ever be naturalized in this country, but such attempts as these may, I hope, be regarded as indications of the dawn of that day of literary activity, for which we have been so long looking. If a new school of vernacular literature is to arise at all, it must be created by you or by such as you. It is sometimes said that we are premature in our expectations, that the higher education is a plant of recent growth in this Presidency, and that there has not been sufficient time for the production of any great work. Thirty or forty years may be a short period in the history of a nation, but it is a long period in the life of a man, and the fact remains that one generation has grown up under the influence of European culture, and is passing away without having left any permanent mark on the literature of the country. About twenty years ago. Dr. Caldwell remarked that for the last one hundred and fifty years the Dravidian mind appeared to have sunk into a state of lethargy, scarcely any Tamil poem or treatise of any real value having appeared, except such as had been composed by European Missionaries, and he ascribed this stagnation to the " natural tendency to decay and death, which is inherent in a system of slavery to great names.^'

There is no greater foe to human progress than the tyranny of custom. You stand in a peculiar position. You have on the one hand inherited the traditions of one of the most conservative nations on the face of the globe, and on the other you have been brought under the influence of new ideas, which must make you long to see India take her place in the march of civilization. History teaches us some lessons on this subject. Montesquieu remarks that one of the causes which contributed to make the Romans masters of the world was that, in the course of their successive conflicts with various nations, they always gave up their own customs, as soon as they discovered any that were better. One of the most remarkable instances which he enumerates occurred in the first Punic war. Montesquieu is, I believe. Wrong in saying that the Romans had at this time no knowledge of navigation, but their skill was small, and such ships as they had were no match for those of the Carthaginians, who were at that period the best seamen in the world. A Carthaginian galley was about this time accidentally cast ashore on the coast of Italy. The Romans took this vessel as their model . In a few weeks they built a fleet, supplied the want of sailors by men drilled to row on scaffoldings, and defeated the Mistress of the Seas on her own element. Rome afterwards showed the same aptitude for imitation, when cap- tive Greece took captive her rude conqueror,'^ and Roman literature became almost an echo of the literature of Greece. But unhappily she copied much that was bad as well as what was good. She lost the simplicity of her ancient manners. The Epicurean philosophy corrupted the hearts of her citizens, and Eastern conquests brought in their train the luxury and 16 dissolute manners of Syrian cities. One of the causes of the rise of Rome was also one of the causes of her decline and fall. Changes should be always well considered before they are carried out. "It were good/' says Bacon, that men in their innovations should follow the example of time itself; which indeed innovateth greatly, but quietly, and by degrees scarce to be perceived." But in this country especially, great caution is necessary in adopting the manners and institutions of foreign nations. There is much in the present state of European society which is admirable and deserving of imitation, but there is also a good deal which, although unobjectionable in itself, is not suited to India in its present stage, and there is not a little which is wholly unworthy of being copied at all, and which Europeans themselves deplore. I shall quote in connection with this subject a passage from a lecture in which Ruskin discusses before an Oxford audience the causes oi the degraded state of Art in Great Britain. '^ Gentlemen," he says there has hitherto been seen no instance, and England is little likely to give the unexampled spectacle, of a country successful in the noble arts, yet in which the youths were frivolous, the maidens falsely religious, the men slaves of money, and the matrons of vanity. Not from all the marble of the hills of Luni will such a people ever shape one statue that may stand nobly against the sky ; not from all the treasures bequeathed to them by the great dead, will they gather for their own descendants, any inheritance but shame." I shall offer no comment on this passage, beyond observing that if there is any truth at all in the portrait, it is obvious that some dis- crimination is needed in copying European models. The best mode of forming an opinion as to the extent to which European institutions and customs should be introduced into this country, is to go to Europe and study them on the spot. Travelling is an important part of education, but it is one for which no provision is made in this University, although travelling fellowships are not unknown elsewhere. To many, however, if not most of you, the expense will prove an insuperable obstacle, and others will meet with the difficulty which I believe still remains unsolved, as to whether such journeys are permitted by the Shasters. Those who are untrammelled by either of these obstacles may be reminded that a great deal has been done of late years to make the position of the Hindoo stranger in England as little irksome as possible,

I trust that you will, in your several avocations and spheres of life, endeavour to fulfil the engagements into which you have now publicly entered, that you will maintain the high character for which the graduates of this University have, as a body, been distinguished, and that you will remember that one of the duties which yon owe to your countrymen is that of influencing thought. If I were called on to name the Hindoo whose career has made the deepest impression on my mind as exemplifying the beneficial effects of European culture, I should have no hesitation in fixing on one who lived at a period in which there were no Indian Universities, who never sat on the bench of a High Court or at a Council Board, whose only title was one which the East India Company refused to acknowledge, whose life is unnoticed in the histories which are read in our Colleges and Schools, and whose memory has received but scanty honor at the hands of his countrymen. In speaking of Rajah Rammohun Roy, I do not forget that half of those now present think that he went too far, and that the other half regret that he did not go farther. We are not called on here to consider how far he may have been right in his opinions, but men of all creeds may agree that in his earnest and fearless pursuit of truth, in the modesty and simplicity of his character, in the purity and benevolence of his life, and in the high intellectual powers which he brought to bear on his self-imposed task, the great Hindoo Reformer is entitled to no mean place in the history of his age and country.