Page images
PDF
EPUB

learned a good deal, we may feel well convinced that the whole system of teaching is good. Pass-examinations, therefore, are very useful things, provided only that the subjects of examination are well chosen, and that a high standard is rigorously maintained. Honour-examinations, on the other hand, are less essential, and are liable to special abuses. When much importance is attached to them they stimulate competition to a frightful pitch, and by so doing warp and pervert or overstrain the minds of the students. Yet just because they appeal to the competitive instinct and to the gambling propensity, they excite much more interest than pass-examinations, and are treated as more important, though they are really less. The mere competitive ardour they excite is made a substitute for the genuine love of learning, and the feverish drudgery of the ambitious aspirant is mistaken for intellectual activity; meanwhile the pass-examinations, being wholly eclipsed, are less carefully conducted, and whereas it is specially important they should be rigorously severe, they become lax.

The interests of the higher cultivation in England do not now call for more examinations; rather they demand that the examinations already existing be made less intense stimulants of competition. The additional universities wanted, therefore, are not examining-boards. Nor, again, do we want more colleges, such as those of Oxford and Cambridge, or such as Trinity College, Dublin. This will require explanation to the general reader. What harm can there be, he will think, in a college? Is not a college a place where a number of learned men live together, instructing and governing a number of studious youths ? To such a college certainly no objection can be taken. It would be just such an institution as Rugby or Marlborough, only intended for more advanced pupils. But the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge are not quite this. Instead of teachers they have fellows-that is, instead of men selected from the whole country for their fitness to teach, and paid a salary for teaching, they have men selected from a small area, at Cambridge generally the college itself, at Oxford generally the whole university, and receiving their salary, not for teaching, but unconditionally. This limitation of the area from which fellows are drawn can have no effect but to lower the average of efficiency among them, while to assign them an unconditional pension, in the hope that without any constraint, either of rule or of public opinion, they will deserve it by devoting themselves to a life of study, is assuredly to trust human nature too far.

But if universities mean neither competitive examinations, nor yet fellowships, and if neither competitive examinations nor fellowships are particularly admirable things, what are universities, and what is the institution which is to be admired ? With our present habits of thought, it is not very easy for us to conceive a real university. We understand competition : that means fighting. We understand trying for fellowships : that means money-making. But the university properly socalled has no concern with either of these very intelligible things. It is neither an almshouse of pensioners, nor a cockpit for competition, but a seat of learning. The nation that establishes seats of learning, acts on the principle that it is desirable that there should be a class of men in the community engaged in the pursuit of truth and the accumulation of knowledge. The true university has the education of youth only as one of its functions; its first object is the advancement of science and learning. We see here the principle on which fellowships may theoretically be justified. Theoretically, it is quite right that a university should contain men who do not teach at all, but only study. At the German universities, I understand that if a professor be engaged upon some laborious work, he can often procure an exemption from the duty of lecturing until the work is completed—that is to say, study or research is accepted as being his function not less truly than teaching. If fellowships were looked upon as the salary which the State gives to certain persons who undertake the duty of investigating truth for her, and if a fellow who did not study were condemned by public opinion as breaking an honourable contract, they would afford a parallel to the German practice. The mischief of them is, that they are not regarded as having any duties attached to them, but are looked upon purely as rewards for undergraduate industry, in which case they are utterly extravagant rewards, and calculated to degrade the quality of industry as much as they increase the quantity.

Now supposing my English reader ready to admit that the community may wisely pay men for anything so unpractical as the pursuit of truth, I foresee that he will pronounce it impossible to induce men to pursue truth by paying them for it. He will argue that you must, if the scheme is to be worth anything, have men of eminent ability, and to get these you must offer them very high pay; and that when you have got them, you will have no means of knowing whether they do anything in return for their high salaries. You cannot require them to produce so many books a year; this would be a premium on bad literature. The end will be that a number of splendid sinecures will be created, and that a number of clever men, who if they had been let alone would probably have done something, will be made slothful by wealth, and will do nothing. And it must be granted that the history of universities shows that they are institutions peculiarly liable to abuse, and that the disease they are most subject to is this of luxurious laziness. But the fallacy in the argument just stated lies in the assumption that, to get men of eminent ability, you must offer very high pay. I must here venture upon the paradox that there are other things which men value besides money. And even if the common opinion on this head be the true one, it is possible without offering high pay to put your learned man in a condition to earn high pay for himself. You secure to him leisure, and the opportunity of exploring some subject to the bottom. But this cultivation and profound special knowledge constitute the capital of a literary man. You may pay your savant little, because you give with the pay the intellectual apparatus and furniture of an author. In fact, regarding a university purely in this aspect of a collection of savants, I maintain that the salaries, in the first place, may safely be small; in the second place, ought to be small. Without saying one word about the dignity of learning, it may really be made clear to the plainest understanding that the life of a student moderately paid is more enviable than that of a rich man of business. He is free both from anxiety and from drudgery. His thoughts are occupied peacefully and delightfully. What he does is the thing he likes to do. If he studies mathematics, it is because from boyhood mathematics attracted him. Your cotton-spinner is not a man born with a special taste for cotton. Besides this, he is conscious of progress; his memory and imagination grow richer; he is company for the cleverest and the wittiest; he may say with Horace, pauperemque dives me petit. And if small salaries are sufficient to attract superior men, they are for other reasons better than large ones. They leave the savant something to wish and to work for; what is not given him in money, he is impelled to make up in reputation. At the same time, they afford a test of his being in his true vocation : an occupation must have real charms for one who will forego riches in order to devote himself to it.

A university is no seat of learning—that is, in the proper sense, it is no university at all-unless it contain a body of men avowedly engaged in the investigation of truth. But a univer: sity need not confine itself to this, and in practice most universities have other tasks as well. The additional task which it is most natural for them to undertake, is education. But they do not always teach. One of the greatest seats of learning in England is the British Museum; one of the most brilliant of learned bodies is the staff which is employed by the State to take charge of that vast national collection. At Oxford and Cambridge also there are great libraries and museums, the superintendence of which is considered quite as much a university function as the teaching of the undergraduates. Oxford has also recently begun to show that she considers the work of furnishing text-books for the education of the country to fall within her province. But the higher education is no doubt the department which universities may most properly make their own. Where great scientific and literary collections exist, where learned men are assembled together, there is an intellectual centre to which the youth of the country may well resort for instruction and enlightenment. A seat of learning without students is an extravagant waste of power. One cannot help feeling this painfully in the British Museum. What an unrivalled university would this be if only it had students ! Here are the most precious monuments of history and art, and here are the men that understand them. Outside is an uninstructed public, beginning to be humbled by a sense of its own ignorance; parents wishing they could find a higher education for their sons, but unable to send them to Oxford ; young men in business or professions struggling to make their life a little intellectual, yearning to extend and enrich the narrow and meagre cultivation they brought with them from school. All this round the very walls of a museum compared with which, I suppose, we may safely say that its namesake at Alexandria was poor.

But the error into which universities generally fall is of an opposite kind. It is the error of teaching too much, not too little. The undergraduate class, being once admitted, become the most important class. The savants leave their studies and their books to dance attendance upon their pupils. The education of youth being unquestionably a very important function, it begins to eclipse the other function of pursuing truth. Universities begin to be confounded with schools : they become seats of teaching, instead of seats of learning. Fellowships then come to be regarded simply as prizes, and for these gigantic rewards a grand competitive contest is instituted. The annual race is matter of unbounded interest and excitement to the youthful mind, and the savants are carried away by the torrent of enthusiasm. It makes them feel young again to assist as trainers, backers, and umpires to the young people. Indeed, if they are not this they are nothing; for who cares about them and their studies, and their scientific discoveries? The young and lively world to which they have thrown open their severe retreats knows nothing about the pursuit of truth

" A livelier age Comes tittering on and shoves them from the stage."

The centuria seniorum are outvoted by the Ramnes; and the hero of the university is not a Sir Isaac discovering gravitation, but a Jones winning the Smith's prize.

The universities, then, which are wanted, are such as shall avoid the two extremes of teaching too little and teaching too much. They must be bodies of savants communicating their knowledge, but primarily engaged in investigation. As these savants must be very different from schoolmasters, so their pupils must be very different from schoolboys. The university as such does not undertake to educate them, but to afford them the means of educating themselves. It throws open to them its libraries and museums, and it appoints savants from its body to expound the different sciences in public lectures; but it does not, like a school, undertake the reclaiming of refractory students, or the rousing of indolent minds to exertion, or the laborious infusion of a little knowledge into slow understandings. The students are most welcome guests. If they bring with them the will and the capacity to learn, every facility will be given them ; it will be a point of honour to supply them with the most learned and the most lucid teaching. But the institution does not exist solely for them, and if will or capacity be wanting in the students, it is no part of the function of a university to supply the one with motives or the other with extraordinary helps.

Nevertheless a university may, if it pleases, undertake these functions, as well as those which more properly belong to it. It may establish colleges and halls, in order to prevent the students from falling into bad habits, by subjecting them to a certain superintendence; and members of its bodies may make themselves private tutors in order to assist the backward. There is no objection to this so long as it does not withdraw the attention of the university from its proper functions, and so long as it does not lead to the encouraging of rich idlers and dullards to come to the university and corrupt the tone of student life. Perhaps, however, it is difficult to avoid these bad consequences.

Now if I have brought out clearly the idée mère of a university, it will be evident that there are many institutions in the country which are practically universities without bearing the name. For instance, a hospital is substantially a medical university : it is a body of men learned in medical science, a collection of subjects of experiment, and a teaching insti. tution; over and above this it is a philanthropic institution. Again, there are many colleges in the country which deserve more properly the name of universities; such are Owens College, Manchester, King's College and University College,

« PreviousContinue »