Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/February 1883/The University Ideal
|THE UNIVERSITY IDEAL.|
GENTLEMEN: By your flattering estimate of my services, I have been unexpectedly summoned from retirement to assume the honors and the duties of the purple, and to occupy the most historically important office in the universities of Europe.
The present demands upon the rectorship somewhat resemble what we are told of the Homeric chief, who, in company with his council or senate, the Boulè, and the popular assembly, or Agora, made up the political constitution of the tribe. The functions of the chief, it is said, were to supply wise reason to the Boulè (as we might call our court), and unctuous eloquence to the Agora. The second of these requirements is what weighs upon me at the present moment.
Whatever may have been the practice of my predecessors, generally strangers to you, it would be altogether unbecoming in me to travel out of our university life for the materials of an address. My remarks, then, will principally bear on the University Ideal.
To the Greeks we are indebted for the earliest germ of the university. It was with them chiefly that education took that great leap, the greatest ever made, from the traditional teaching of the home, the shop, the social surroundings, to schoolmaster teaching properly so called. Nowadays, we schoolmasters think so much of ourselves, that we do not make full allowance for that other teaching which was, for unknown ages, the only teaching of mankind. The Greeks were the first to introduce, not perhaps the primary schoolmaster for the R's, but certainly the secondary or higher schoolmaster, known as rhetorician or sophist, who taught the higher professions; while their philosophers or wise men introduced a kind of knowledge that gave scope to the intellectual faculties, with or without professional applications; the very idea of our Faculty of Arts.
So self-asserting were these new-born teachers of the sophist class, that Plato thought it necessary to recall attention to the good old perennial source of instruction—the home, the trade, and the society. He pointed out that the pretenders to teach virtue by moral lecturing were as yet completely outrivaled by the influence of the family and the social pressure of the community. In like manner the arts of life were all originally handed down by apprenticeship and imitation. The greatest statesmen and generals of early times had simply the education of the actual work. Philip of Macedon could have had no other teaching; his greater son was the first of the line to receive what we may call a liberal or a general education, under the educator of all Europe.
I must skip eight centuries to introduce the man that linked the ancient and the modern world, and was almost the sole luminary in the West during the dark ages, namely, Böetius, minister of the Gothic Emperor Theodoric. As much of Aristotle as was known between the sixth and the eleventh centuries was handed down by him. During that time only the logical treatises existed among the Latins; and of these the best parts were neglected. Historical importance attaches to a small circle of them known as the Old Logic (vetus logica), which were the pabulum of abstract thought for five dreary centuries. These consisted of the two treatises or chapters of Aristotle called the "Categories," and the "De Interpretatione," or the theory of propositions; and of a book of Porphyry, the neo-Platonist, entitled "Introduction" (Isagoge), and treating of the so-called Five Predicables. A hundred average pages would include them all; and three weeks would suffice to master them.
Böethius, however, did much more than hand on these works to the mediæval students; he translated the whole of Aristotle's logical writings (the "Organon"), but the others were seldom taken up. It was he too that handled the question of universals in his first Dialogue on Porphyry, and sowed the seed that was not to germinate till four centuries afterward, but which, when the time came, was to bear fruit in no measured amount. And Böethius is the name associated with the scheme of higher education that preceded the university teaching, called the quadrivium, or quadruple group of subjects, namely, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. This, together with the trivium, or preparatory group of three subjects—grammar, rhetoric, and logic—constituted what was known as the seven liberal arts but, in the darkest ages, the quadrivium was almost lost sight of, and few went beyond the trivium.
In the seventh century, the era of deepest intellectual gloom, philosophy was at an entire stand-still. Light arises with the eighth, when we are introduced to the cathedral and cloister schools of Charlemagne; and the ninth saw these schools fully established, and an educational reform completed that was to be productive of lasting good results. But the range of instruction was still narrow, scarcely proceeding beyond the Old Logic, and the teachers were, as formerly, the monks. The eleventh century is really the period of dawn. The East was now opened up through the Crusades, and there was frequent intercourse with the learned Saracens of Spain; and thus there were brought into the West the whole of Aristotle's works, with Arabic commentaries, chiefly in Latin translations. The effervescence was prodigious and alarming. The schools were re-enforced by a higher class of teachers, lay as well as clerical; a marked advance was made in Logic and Dialectic; and the great controversy of realism versus nominalism, which had found its birth in the previous century, raged with extraordinary vigor. We are now on the eve of the founding of the universities; Bologna, indeed, being already in existence.
The university proper, however, can hardly be dated earlier than the twelfth century; and the important particulars in its first constitution are these:
First, the separation of philosophy from theology. To expound this, would be to give a chapter of mediæval history. Suffice it to say that Aristotle and the awakening intellect of the eleventh century were the main causes of it. Two classes of minds at this time divided the Church—the pious, devout believers (such as St. Bernard), who needed no reasons for their faith, and the polemic speculative divines (such as Abélard), who wished to make theology rational. It was. an age, too, of stirring political events; the crusading spirit was abroad, and found a certain gratification even in the war of words. The nature of universals was eagerly debated; but, when this controversy came into collision with such leading theological doctrines as the Trinity and predestination, it was no longer possible for philosophy and theology to remain conjoined.
A separation was effected, and determined the leading feature of the university system. The foundation was philosophy, and the fundamental faculty the Faculty of Arts. Bologna, indeed, was eminent for law or jurisprudence, and this celebrity it retained for ages; but the University of Paris, which is the prototype of our Scottish universities, as of so many others, taught nothing but philosophy—in other words, had no faculty but arts—for many years. Neither theology, medicine, nor law had existence there till the thirteenth century.
Second, the system of conferring degrees, after appropriate trials. These were at first simply a license to teach. They acquired their commanding importance through the action of Pope Nicholas I, who gave to the graduates of the University of Paris the power of teaching everywhere, a power that our own countrymen were the foremost to turn to account.
Third, the organization of the primitive university. Europe was unsettled; even in the capitals, the civil power was often unhinged. Wherever multitudes came together, there was manifested a spirit of turbulence. The universities often exemplified this fact; and it was found necessary to establish a government within themselves. The basis was popular; but, while in Paris only the teaching body was incorporated, in Bologna the students had a voice. They elected the rector, and his jurisdiction was very great indeed, and much more important than speechifying to his constituents. His court had the power of internal regulation, with both a civil and criminal jurisdiction. The Scotch universities, on this point, followed Bologna; and that fact is the remote cause of this day's meeting.
So started the university. The idea took; and, in three centuries, many of the leading towns in Italy, France, the German Empire, had their universities; in England arose Oxford and Cambridge; the model was Paris or Bologna.
Scotland did not at first enter the race of university founding, but worked on the plan of the cuckoo, by laying its eggs in the nests of others. For two centuries, Scotchmen were almost shut out of England; and so could not make for themselves a career in Oxford and Cambridge, as in later times. They had, however, at home, good grammar-schools, where they were grounded in Latin. They perambulated Europe, and were familiar figures in the great university towns, and especially Paris. From their disputatious and metaphysical attitude they worked their upward way:
At length, the nation did take up the work in good earnest. In 1411 was founded the first of the St. Andrews' Colleges; 1451 is the date of Glasgow; 1494, King's College, Aberdeen. These are the pre-Reformation colleges; but for the Reformation, we might not have had any other. Their founders were ecclesiastics; their constitution and ceremonial were ecclesiastical. They were intended, no doubt, to keep the Scotch students at home. They were also expected to serve as bulwarks to the Church against the rising heretics of the times. In this they were disappointed; the first-begotten of them became the cradle of the Reformation.
In these our three eldest foundations we are to seek the primitive constitution and the teaching system of our universities. In essentials, they were the same; only between the dates of Glasgow and Old Aberdeen occurred two great events. One was the taking of Constantinople, which spread the Greek scholars with their treasures over Europe. The other was the progress of printing. In 1451, when Glasgow commenced, there was no printed text-book. In 1494, when King's College began, the ancient classics had been largely printed; the early editions of Aristotle in our library show the date of 1486.
Our universities have three well-marked periods; the first anterior to the Reformation; the second, from the Reformation to the beginning of last century; the third, the last and present centuries. Confining ourselves still to the Faculty of Arts, the features of the pre-Reformation university were these:
First, as regards the teaching body. The quadrennial arts' course was conducted by so-called regents, who each carried the same students through all the four years, thus taking upon himself the burden of all the sciences—a walking encyclopædia. The system was in full force, in spite of attempts to change it, during both the first and the second periods. You, the students of arts, at the present day, encountering, in your four years, seven faces, seven voices, seven repositories of knowledge, need an effort to understand how your predecessors could be cheerful and happy, confined all through to one personality; sometimes juvenile, sometimes senile, often feeble at his best.
Next, as regards the subjects taught. To know these you have simply to know what are the writings of Aristotle. The little work on him by Sir Alexander Grant supplies the needful information. The records of the Glasgow University furnish the curriculum of Arts soon after its foundation. The subjects are laid out in two heads—Logic and Philosophy. The Logic comprised first the three Treatises of the Old Logic; to these were now added the whole of the works making up Aristotle's "Organon." This brought in the Syllogism and allied matters. There was, also, a selection from the work known as the "Topics," not now included in logical teaching, yet one of the most remarkable and distinctive of Aristotle's writings. It is a highly labored account of the whole art of disputation, laid out under his scheme of the Predicables. The selection fell chiefly on two books—the second, comprising what Aristotle had to say on Induction, and the sixth, on Definition; together with the "Logical Captions," or Fallacies. Disputation was one of the products of the Greek mind; and Aristotle was its prophet.
Now for Philosophy. This comprised nearly the whole of Aristotle's Physical treatises—his very worst side—together with his Metaphysics, some parts of which are hardly distinguishable from the Physics. Next was the very difficult treatise—"De Anima," on the Mind, or Soul—and some allied psychological treatises, as that on Memory. Such was the ordinary and sufficing curriculum. It was allowed to be varied with a part of the Ethics; but in this age we do not find the Politics; and the Rhetoric is never mentioned. So, also, the really valuable biological works of Aristotle, including his book on Animals, appear to have been neglected.
Certain portions of Mathematics always found a place in the curriculum. Likewise, some work on Astronomy, which was one of the quadrivium subjects.
All this was given in Latin. Greek was not then known (it was introduced into Scotland in 1534). No classical Latin author is given; the education in Latin was finished at the Grammar School.
Such was the Arts' Faculty of the fifteenth century: a dreary, single-manned, Aristotelian quadriennium. The position is not completely before us till we understand further the manner of working.
The pupils could not, as a rule, possess the text of Aristotle. The teacher read and expounded the text for them; but a very large portion of the time was always occupied in dictating, or "diting," notes, which the pupils were examined upon, viva voce; their best plan usually being to get them by heart, as any one might ask them to repeat passages literally, while perhaps few could examine well upon the meaning. The notes would be selections and abridgments from Aristotle, with the comments of modern writers. The "diting" system was often complained of as a waste of time, but was not discontinued till the third, or present, university dynasty, and not entirely then, as many of us know.
The teaching was thus exclusively text teaching. The teacher had little or nothing to say for himself (at least in the earliest period). He was even restricted in the remarks he might make by way of commentary. He was as nearly as possible a machine.
But, lastly, to complete the view of the first period, we must add the practice of disputation, of which we shall have a better idea from the records of the next period. This practice was coeval with the universities; it was the single mode of stimulating the thought of the individual student; the chief antidote to the mechanical teaching by text-books and dictation.
The pre-Refomation period of Aberdeen University was little more than sixty years. For a portion of those years it attained celebrity. In 1541 the town was honored by a visit from James V, and the university contributed to his entertainment. The somewhat penny a-lining account is, that there were exercises and disputations in Greek, Latin, and other languages! The official records, however, show that the college at that very time had sunk into a convent and conventual school.
The Reformation introduced the second period, and made important changes. First of all, in the great convulsion of European thought, the ascendency of Aristotle was shaken. It is enough to mention two incidents in the downfall of the mighty Stagyrite. One was the attack on him by the renowned Peter Ramus, in the University of Paris. Our countryman, Andrew Melville, attended Ramus's Lectures, and became the means of introducing his system into Scotland. The other incident is still more notable. The Reformers had to consider their attitude toward Aristotle. At first their opinion was condemnatory. Luther regarded him as a very devil; he was "a godless bulwark of the papists." Melanchthon was also hostile; but he soon perceived that Theology would crumble into fanatical dissolution without the co-operation of some philosophy. As yet there was nothing to fall back upon except the pagan systems. Of these, Melanchthon was obliged to confess that Aristotle was the least objectionable, and was, moreover, in possession. The plan, therefore, was to accept him as a basis, and fence him round with orthodox emendations. This done, Aristotle, no longer despotic, but as a limited constitutional monarch, had his reign prolonged a century and a half.
The first thing, after the Reformation in Scotland, was to purge the universities of the inflexible adherents of the old faith. Then came the question of amending the curriculum, not simply with a view to Protestantism, but for the sake of an enlightened teaching. The right man appeared at the right moment. In 1574 Andrew Melville, then in Geneva, received pressing invitations to come home and take part in the needed reforms. He was immediately made Principal of Glasgow University, at that time in a state of utter collapse and ruin. He had matured his plans, after consultation with George Buchanan, and they were worthy of a great reformer. He sketched a curriculum, substantially the curriculum of the second university period. The modifications upon the almost exclusive Aristotelianism of the first period were significant. The Greek language was introduced, and Greek classical authors read. The reading in the Roman classics was extended. A text-book on rhetoric accompanied the classical readings. The dialectics of Ramus made the prelude to Logic, instead of the three treatises of the Old Logic. The mathematics included Euclid. Geography and Cosmography were taken up. Then came a course of Moral Philosophy on an enlarged basis. With the Ethics and Politics of Aristotle were combined Cicero's ethical works and certain Dialogues of Plato. Finally, in the physics, Melville still used Aristotle, but along with a more modern treatise. He also gave a view of universal history and chronology.
This curriculum, which Melville took upon himself to teach, in order to train future teachers, was the point of departure of the courses in all the universities during the second period. With variations of time and place, the Arts' course may be described as made up of the Greek and Latin classics, with rhetoric, logic, and dialectics, moral philosophy or ethics, mathematics, physics, and astronomy. The little text-book of rhetoric, by Talon or Talæus, was made up of notes from the Lectures of Peter Ramus, and used in all our colleges till superseded by the better compilation of the Dutch scholar, Gerard John Voss.
Melville had to contend with many opponents, among them the sticklers for the infallibility of the Stagyrite. Like the German Reformers, he had accepted Aristotelianism as a basis, with a similar process of reconciliation. So it was that Aristotle and Calvin were brought to kiss each other.
Melville's next proposal was all too revolutionary. It consisted in restricting the regents each to a special group of subjects; in fact, anticipating our modern professoriate. He actually set up this plan in Glasgow: one regent took Greek and Latin; another, his nephew, James Melville, took mathematics, logic, and moral philosophy; a third, physics and astronomy. The system went on, in appearance, at least, for fifty years; it is only in 1642 that we find the regents given without a specific designation. Why it should have gone on so long, and been then dropped, we are not informed. Melville's influence started it in the other universities, but it was defeated in every one from the very outset. After six years at Glasgow, he went to St. Andrews as Principal and Professor of Divinity, and tried there the same reforms, but the resistance was too great. In spite of a public enactment, the division of labor among the regents was never carried out. Yet, such was Melville's authority, that the same enactment was extended to King's College, in a scheme having a remarkable history—the so-called New Foundation of Aberdeen University, promulgated in a royal charter of about the year 1581. The Earl Marischal was a chief promoter of the plan of reform comprised in this charter. The division of labor among the regents was most expressly enjoined. The plan fell through; and there was a legal dispute fifty years afterward as to whether it had ever any legal validity. Charles I was made to express indignation at the idea of reducing the university to a school!
We now approach the foundation of Marischal College. The Earl Marischal may have been actuated by the failure of his attempt to reform King's College. At all events, his mind was made up to follow Melville in assigning separate subjects to his regents. The charter is explicit on this head. Yet, in spite of the charter and in spite of his own presence, the intention was thwarted; the old regenting lasted one hundred and sixty years.
Still the curriculum reform was gained. There was, indeed, one great miss. The year before Marischal College was founded, Galileo had published his work on mechanics, which, taken with what had been accomplished by Archimedes and others, laid the foundations of our modern physics. Copernicus had already published his work on the heavens. It was now time that the Aristotelian Physics should be clean swept away. In this whole department, Aristotle had made a reign of confusion; he had thrown the subject back, being himself off the rails from first to last. Had there been in Scotland an adviser in this department, like Melville in general literature, or like Napier of Merchiston in pure mathematics, one fourth of the college teaching might have been reclaimed from utter waste, and a healthy tone of thinking diffused through the remainder.
A curious fascination always attached to the study of astronomy, even when there was not much to be said, apart from the unsatisfactory disquisition of Aristotle. A little book, entitled "Sacrobosco on the Sphere," containing little more than what we should now teach to boys and girls, along with the globes, was a university text-book throughout Europe for centuries. I was informed by a late King's College professor that the use of the globes was, within his memory, taught in the Magistrand Class. This would be simply what is termed a "survival."
Now, as to the mode of instruction. There were viva-voce examinations upon the notes, such as we can imagine. But the stress was laid on disputations and declamations in various forms. Besides disputing and declaiming on the regular class-work before the regent, we find that, in Edinburgh, and I suppose elsewhere, the classes were divided into companies, who met apart, and conferred and debated among themselves daily. The students were occupied, altogether, six hours a day. Then the higher classes were frequently pitched against each other. This was a favorite occupation on Saturdays. The doctrines espoused by the leading students became their nicknames. The pass for graduation consisted in the propugning or impugning of questions by each candidate in turn. An elaborate thesis was drawn up by the regent, giving the heads of his philosophy course; this was accepted by the candidates, signed by them, and printed at their expense. Then on the day of trial, at a long sitting, each candidate stood up and propugned or impugned a portion of the thesis; all were heard in turn; and on the result the degree was conferred. A good many of these theses are preserved in our library; some of them are very long—a hundred pages of close type; they are our best clew to the teaching of the period. We can see how far Aristotle was qualified by modern views.
I said there might have been times when the students never had the relief of a second face all the four years. The exceptions are of importance. First, as regards Marischal College. Within a few years of the foundation, Dr. Duncan Liddell founded the Mathematical chair, and thus withdrew from the regents the subject that most of all needed a specialist; a succession of very able mathematicians sat in this chair. King's College had not the same good fortune. From its foundation it possessed a separate functionary, the Humanist or Grammarian; but he had also, till 1753, to act as Rector of the Grammar School. Edinburgh obtained from an early date a Mathematical chair, occupied by men of celebrity. There was no other innovation till near the end of the seventeenth century, when Greek was isolated both in Edinburgh and in Marischal College; but the end of regenting was then near.
The old system, however, had some curious writhings. During the troubled seventeenth century, university reform could not command persistent attention. But, after the 1688 Revolution, opinions were strongly expressed in favor of the Melville system. The obvious argument was urged that, by division of labor, each man would be able to master a special subject, and do it justice in teaching. Yet, it was replied that, by the continued intercourse, the masters knew better the humors, inclinations, and talents of their scholars. To which the answer was—the humors and inclinations of scholars are not so deeply hid but that in a few weeks they appear. Moreover, it was said, the students are more respectful to a master while he is new to them.
The final division of subjects took place in Edinburgh in 1708; in Glasgow, in 1727; in St. Andrews, in 1747. In Marischal College, the change was made by a minute of January 11, 1753; but, whether from ignorance, or from want of grace, the Senatus did not record its satisfaction at having, after a lapse of five generations, fulfilled the wishes of the pious founder. In King's College the old system lasted till 1798.
This closes the second age of the universities, and introduces the third age, the age of the professoriate, of lecturing instead of textbooks, the end of disputation, and the use of the English language. It was now, and not till now, that the Scottish universities stood forth, in several leading departments of knowledge, as the teachers of the world.
The second age of the universities was Scotland's most trying time. In a hundred and thirty years, the country had passed through four revolutions and counter-revolutions; every one of which told upon the universities. The victorious party imposed its test upon the university teachers, and drove out recusants. You must all know something of the purging of the university and the ministry of Aberdeen by the Covenanting General Assembly of 1640. These deposed Aberdeen doctors may have had too strong leanings to episcopacy in the church and to absolutism in the state, but they were not Vicars of Bray. The first half of the century was adorned by a band of scholars, who have gained renown by their cultivation of Latin poetry; a little oasis in the desert of Aristotelian dialectics. It would be needless and ungracious to inquire whether this was the best thing that could have been done for the generation of Bishop Patrick Forbes.
Your reading in the history of Scotland will thus bring you face to face with the great powers that contended for the mastery from 1560: the monarchy, always striving to be absolute; the Church, whose position made it the advocate of popular freedom; the universities, fluctuating as regards political liberty, but standing up for intellectual liberty. In the seventeenth century the Church ruled the universities; in the eighteenth, it may be said that the universities returned the compliment.
Enough for the past. A word or two on the present. What is now the need for a university system, and what must the system be to answer that need? Many things are altered since the twelfth century.
First, then, universities, as I understand them, are not absolutely essential to the teaching of professions. Let me make an extreme supposition. A great naval commander, like Nelson, is sent on board ship, at eleven or twelve; his previous knowledge, or general training, is what you may suppose for that age. It is in the course of actual service, and in no other way, that he acquires his professional fitness for commanding fleets. Is this right or is it wrong? Perhaps it is wrong, but it has gone on so for a long time. Well, why may not a preacher be formed on the same plan? John Wesley was not a greater man in preaching than Nelson in seamanship. Take, then, a youth of thirteen from the school. Apprentice him to the minister of the parish. Let him make at once preparations for clerical work. Let him store his memory with sermons, let him make abstracts of divinity systems; master the best exegetical commentators. Then, in a year or two, he would begin to catechise the young, to give addresses in the way of exposition, exhortation, encouragement, and rebuke. Practice would bring facility. Might not, I say, seven years of the actual work, in the susceptible period of life, make a preacher of no mean power, without the grammar-school, without the Arts classes, without the Divinity Hall?
What, then, do we gain by taking such a roundabout approach to our professional work? The answer is twofold:
First, as regards the profession itself. Nearly every skilled occupation, in our time, involves principles and facts that have been investigated, and are taught, outside the profession; to the medical man are given courses of chemistry, physiology, and so on. Hence, to be completely equipped for your professional work, you must repair to the teachers of those tributary departments of knowledge. The requirement, however, is not absolute; it admits of being evaded. Your professional teachers ought to master these outside subjects, and give you just so much of them as you need, and no more; which would be an obvious economy of your valuable time.
Thus, I apprehend, the strictly professional uses of general knowledge fail to justify the grammar-school and the Arts' curriculum. Something, indeed, may still be said for the higher grades of professional excellence, and for introducing improved methods into the practice of the several crafts, for which wider outside studies lend their aid. This, however, is not enough; inventors are the exception. In fact, the ground must be widened, and include, secondly, the life beyond the profession. We are citizens of a self-governed country; members of various smaller societies; heads or members of families. We have, moreover, to carve out recreation and enjoyment as the alternative and the reward of our professional toil. Now, the entire tone and character of this life outside the profession are profoundly dependent on the compass of our early studies. He that leaves the school for the shop at thirteen is on one platform. He that spends the years from thirteen to twenty in acquiring general knowledge is on a totally different platform; he is, in the best sense, an aristocrat. Those that begin work at thirteen, and those that are born not to work at all, are alike his inferiors. He should be able to spread light all around. He it is that may stand forth before the world as the model man.
All this supposes that you realize the position; that you fill up the measure of the opportunities; that you keep in view at once the professional life, the citizen life, and the life of intellectual tastes. The mere professional man, however prosperous, can not be a power in society, as the Arts' graduate may become. His leisure occupations are all of a lower stamp. He does not participate in the march of knowledge. He must be aware of his incompetence to judge for himself in the greater questions of our destiny; his part is to be a follower, and not a leader.
It is not, then, the name of graduate that will do all this. It is not a scrape pass; it is not decent mediocrity with a languid interest. It is a fair and even attention throughout, supplemented by auxiliaries to the class-work. It is such a hold of the leading subjects, such a mastery of the various alphabets, as will make future references intelligible, and a continuation of the study possible.
Our curriculum is one of the completest in the country, or perhaps anywhere. By the happy thought of the Senatus of Marischal College, in 1753, you have a fundamental class not existing in the other colleges. You have a fair representation of the three great lines of science—the abstract, the experimental, and the classifying. When it is a general education that you are thinking of, every scheme of option is imperfect that does not provide for such three-sided cultivation of our reasoning powers. A larger quantity of one will no more serve for the absence of the rest than a double covering of one part of the body will enable another part to be left bare.
Your time in the Arts' curriculum is not entirely used up by the classes. You can make up for deficiencies in the course when once you have formed your ideal of completeness. For a year or two after graduating, while still rejoicing in youthful freshness, you can be widening your foundations. The thing, then, is to possess a good scheme and to abide by it. Now, making every allowance for the variation of tastes and of circumstances, and looking solely to what is desirable for a citizen and a man, it is impossible to refuse the claims of the department of Historical and Social study. One or two good representative historical periods might be thoroughly mastered, in conjunction with the best theoretical compends of Social Philosophy.
Further, the ideal graduate, who is to guide and not follow opinion, should be well versed in all the bearings of the Spiritual Philosophy of the time. The subject branches out into wide regions, but not wider than you should be capable of following it. This is not a professional study merely; it is the study of a well-instructed man.
Once more. A share of attention should be bestowed early on the higher literature of the imagination. As, in after-life, poetry and elegant composition are to be counted on as a pleasure and solace, they should be taken up at first as a study. The critical examination of styles, and of authors, which forms an admirable basis of a student's society, should be a work of study and research. The advantages will be many and lasting. To conceive the exact scope and functions of the imagination in art, in science, in religion, and everywhere, will repay the trouble.
Ever since I remember, I have been accustomed to hear of the superiority of the Arts' graduate, in various crafts, more especially as a teacher. Many of you in these days pass into another vocation letters, or the press. Here, too, almost everything you learn will pay you professionally. Still, I am careful not to rest the case for general education on professional grounds alone. I might show you that the highest work of all—original inquiry—needs a broad basis of liberal study; or, at all events, is vastly aided by that. Genius will work on even a narrow basis, but imperfect preparatory study leaves marks of imperfection in the product.
The same considerations that determine your voluntary studies determine also the university ideal. A university, in my view, stands or falls with its Arts' faculty. Without debating the details, we may say that this faculty should always be representative of the needs of our intelligence, both for the professional and for the extra-professional life; it should not be of the shop, shoppy. The university exists because the professions would stagnate without it; and, still more, because it may be a means of enlarging knowledge at all points. Its watchword is progress. We have, at last, the division of labor in teaching; outside the university, teachers too much resemble the regent of old—having too many subjects, and too much time spent in grinding. Our teachers are exactly the reverse.
Yet, there can not be progress without a sincere and single eye to the truth. The fatal sterility of the middle ages, and of our first and second university periods, had to do with the mistake of gagging men's mouths, and dictating all their conclusions. Things came to be so arranged that contradictory views ran side by side, like opposing electric currents; the thick wrappage of ingenious phraseology arresting the destructive discharge. There was, indeed, an elaborate and pretentious logic, supplied by Aristotle, and amended by Bacon; what was still wanted was a taste of the logic of freedom.
- Rectorial Address to the Students of Aberdeen University, Wednesday, November 15, 1882.