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No. II. will be published on the 1st of May.



APRIL, 1868.


By PROF. SEELEY, University College, London.

It must often strike people as strange that there should be only three-or say four-universities for the whole of England and Wales. The number seems small compared with the number of universities in countries not very remarkable for learning or culture. Italy, for example, according to Mr. Arnold, has fifteen. It seems small too when we remember that the Scotch, with a seventh of the population, have four.

But probably most people to whom this thought occurs, refrain from drawing any conclusion from it. They see that there may be other considerations which might render it unimportant. The greatness and wealth of Oxford and Cambridge may make them equivalent to twice the number of foreign or Scotch universities. Perhaps, too, our magnificent public schools may do much of the work which would otherwise be done by universities. And as the London University admits to its examinations men from all parts of the country, and as Oxford and Cambridge have established special machinery for examining, in all the great towns, all who choose to present themselves, it is obvious that the mere number of our universities, taken by itself, may chance to be a very unimportant question. Whether or not we ought to have a larger number will depend upon the precise nature of the work for which universities are required, and few people have a distinct notion what this is.

Let me propose the question, What is a university? If every one were required to give an answer, I believe the answer of the greatest number would be found to be this, When there are a number of colleges in the same town, all of them taken together, particularly when they act in common, make the university. For example, all the colleges in Oxford taken together are the University of Oxford, and this is shown from the obvious etymology of the word. But the obvious etymology, as not unfrequently happens, is a totally false etymology; and there is this further objection to the view just stated, that though it happens to suit Oxford and Cambridge, it suits no other universities. The foreign and Scotch universities are not aggregates of colleges, and, in fact, Oxford and Cambridge themselves were not so originally.

Others think of a university as a place where great prizes are given for learning. To them Oxford and Cambridge are nothing but huge almshouses—great charitable foundationsthe condition of eligibility to which is a certain amount of learning. I have heard university reform discussed as if the only question involved in it was the just distribution of these pensions, and as if when all unjust restrictions were removed, and the race for fellowships and scholarships made perfectly equal to all comers, the university would then of necessity be in a satisfactory condition. But this notion, too, will be corrected by looking abroad. In most of the universities of the world such pensions do not exist, or do not exist in any great quantity. Such artificial prizes for learning do not enter into the original plan of a university, and it is a question how far it was wise to introduce them. Most universities consist not of fellows rewarded for being learned, but of teachers paid for teaching. .

Another popular view of universities is that they are places where great competitions go on and clever young men win great distinctions, Senior Wranglerships, Smith's Prizes, &c. This view supposes the school, with all its prizes and emulations, to be repeated in the university, with only the difference that the competitors are older and the standard of merit higher. But this again is an English notion. The foreign universities attach little importance to examinations; and they have invented for the English universities the nickname of “high grammar-schools”-hauts lycées ; verlängerte gymnasien. .

Thus the popular notion of a university is formed by abstracting some of the most conspicuous features from the English universities; but it so happens that these features are not those which they have as universities, but special English peculiarities. It happens, further, that it is at least an open question whether these peculiarities of the English universities are not unfortunate ones, or at least whether their great promi. nence in those universities is not unfortunate. Suppose the colleges, the fellowships and scholarships, and the examinations at Oxford and Cambridge abolished to-morrow; to the popular apprehension this would be the abolition of the universities. I myself should regard it as an extreme measure; I am far from recommending it, because I think better measures may be suggested; but I believe that so far from being equivalent to the abolition of them it would materially increase their efficiency.

If any of these popular views of a university were correct, I should not think there was any urgent need of new universities in England. I do not, for example, wish to see such an extension of the machinery of examinations over the country as would be the result of establishing three or four new universities if they occupied themselves principally with examinations. Examinations are no doubt valuable and indispensable things, but their use is limited. The London University, which is an examining-board for the whole country, has done and is doing a most important work, so that future historians of England will regard the foundation of it as one of the greatest social events of recent times. It has set up for the country a standard of what a good education should be ; given a vast number of schoolmasters an object to work for and a means of gauging their own success. The result has been a vast reform in all those schools that had no connexion with Oxford and Cambridge, the dissemination of new and enlightened views about the subjects of education, and the creation of a cultivated class, full of ideas and intelligence, among those who could not have afforded a university education in the old sense of the word. All this has been done simply by examinations. But since the London University led the way, the whole country has been covered with a network of examinations. No rational man, I think, now desires to see any further extension in this direction. After learning what can be done by examinations, we have had the opportunity of learning a further lesson—what cannot be done by them, and also what can be undone by them. The use of examinations is not to estimate merit, but to detect demerit; the object of examinations-I hope the statement does not sound truculent-is to pluck. So long as they do this rigorously they exercise a beneficial influence upon schools. For the test of a school is not its maximum of success, but its minimum-not the proficiency of its best pupils, but of its worst. When we speak of a brilliant student as a credit to his school, we use a questionable phrase. His brilliancy is often due partly to his own abilities, partly to the exceptional attention which he has received at the expense of the other boys. The true merit of a school, as Arnold said, is to send up men who will not be plucked. When the dullest boy in a school has

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