Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/457

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441
LEARN AND SEARCH.


the lower institutions the university is a perpetual association to prepare their pupils so that they shall receive our instruction with full understanding; for the higher schools, it is a model after which they may shape their methods and regulations. On the other hand, the university is called upon to introduce to the state and society successive new generations of young, well-prepared men, who, filled with arranged knowledge, impelled by moral earnestness, preserve and bear the sacred flame of learning through all the perplexities and dark passages of daily life.

There was a time when this sublime position of the university was not only generally recognized, but was also distinguished by great prerogatives. Many of them have since been lost. We have, perhaps, only temporarily, but still happily, passed the days when the strongest attacks were made against the universities and the narrowest limitations were imposed on their freedom. But we will not forget that even this university, which was founded in the most difficult period, in order, according to the word of its founder, King Friedrich Wilhelm III, to be “the nursery of a better future,” was subjected to a suspicious and close watch. Various motives worked together to bring about this unhappy condition. One of them, and one which you, dear fellow-laborers, may contemplate with advantage, lay in the behavior of many of the students, and consisted in a widespread misunderstanding of the purpose of the study and the position of the student.

No less a person than Johann Gottlieb Fichte first occupied the position from which I speak to-day. In the memorable address “On the One Possible Disadvantage of Academic Freedom” (Ueber die einzig mögliche Störung der akademischen Freiheit), which he delivered as the first chosen rector of our university on October 19, 1811, he spoke the significant words, worthy of being taken to heart: “He only is a student who just studies.” With prophetic mind he described whither the course tends, when the student, instead of making it his chief purpose to learn, instead of “sinking, as he ought, his whole thought and mind in learning,” spends his time in nursing antiquated traditions of a special privileged condition of students and in maintaining supposed prerogatives. It is sufficient to refer to this address, which every student may be advised to read. Fichte at that time expressly disclaimed speaking of conditions which existed at this university, but referred to the cases of other universities; and the earnestness of his admonitions reveals that he regarded the danger as menacing, and, in fact, as so menacing, that he saw in it the “one possible disadvantage of academical freedom.”

The severe crisis which came on a few years later and involved all the German universities has at last passed away, and it has, as we recognize with thanks, left unscathed the two