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Delivered before the University of Edinburgh, 16th April, I860, by the lit. Hon. W. K. Gladstone, D.C.L., LL'.D., Rector of the University of Edinburgh, and M.P. for the University of Oxford.
Principal, Professors, and Students of the University of Edinburgh.
I cannot estimate lightly tho occasion on which I meet you, especially as it regards the younger and the larger part of my academical audience. The franchise which you have exercised in my favor is itself of a nature to draw attention; for the legislature of our own day has, by a new deliberative act invested you, tho youngest members of the university, with a definite and not inconsiderable influence in the formation of that court, which is to exercise, upon appeal, the highest control over its proceedings. This is a measure which would hardly have been adopted in any other land than our own. Yet it is also one, in the best sense, agreeable to the spirit of our country and of its institutions; for we think it eminently British to admit the voice of the governed in the choice of governors—to seek, through diversity of elements, for harmony and unity of result, and to train men for the discharge of manly duties by letting them begin their exercise betimes.
You have chosen, gentlemen, as your own representative in the University Court, one widely enough separated from you in the scale of years; one to whom much of that is past, which to you is as yet future. It is fitting, then, that he should speak to you on such an occasion as that which unites us together —namely, the work of the university, as a great organ of preparation for after life j and that, in treating of what constitutes the great bond between us, he should desire and endeavor to assist in arming you, as far as he may, for the efforts and trials of your career.
Subject to certain cycles of partial revolution, it is true that, as in the material so in the moral world, every generation of man is a laborer for that which succeeds it, and makes an addition to that great sum-total of acchievcd results, which may, in commercial phrase, be called the capital of the race. Of all the conditions of existence in which man diners from the brutes, there is not one of greater moment than this, that each one of them commences life as if he were the first of a species, whereas man inherits largely from those who have gone before. How largely, none of us can say; but my belief is that, as years gather more and more upon you, you will estimate more and more highly your debt to preceding ages. If, on the one Land, that debt is capable of being exagger
ated or misapprehended—if arguments are sometimes strangely used which would imply that, because they have done much, we ought to do nothing more; yet on the other hand, it is no less true that the obligation is one so vast and manifold that it can never as a whole be adequately measured. It is not only in possessions, available for use, enjoyment, and security j it is not only in language, laws, institutions, arts, religion; it is not only in what we have, but in what we are. For as character is formed by the action and reaction of the human being and the circumstances in which he lives, it follows that, as those circumstances vary, he alters too, and he transmits a modified—it ought to be also an enlarged and expanding—nature onwards in his turn to his posterity, under that mysterious law which establishes between every generation and its predecessors a moral as well as a physical association.
In what degree this process is marred, on the one hand, by the perversity and by the infirmity of man, or restored and extended, on the other, by the remedial provisions of the Divine mercy, this is not the place to inquire. The progress of mankind is upon the whole a chequered and an intercepted progress; and even where it is full formed, still, just as in the individual, youth has charms, that maturity under an inexorable law must lose, so the earlier ages of the world will ever continue to delight and instruct us by beauties that are exclusively or peculiarly their own. Again it would seem as though this progress (and here is a chastening and a humbling thought) were a progress of menkind, and not of the individual man; for it seems to be quite clear that whatever be the comparative greatness of the race now and in its infant or early stages, what may be called the normal specimens, so far as "they have been made known to us, cither through external form or through the works of tie intellect, have tended rather to dwindle—or at least to diminish, than to grow in the highest elements of greatness.
But the exceptions at which these remarks have glanced, neither destroy nor materially weaken the profound moment of the broad and universal canon, that every generation of men, as they traverse the vale of life, are bound to accumulate, and in divers manners do accumulate, new treasuses for the race, and leave the world richer on their departure, for the advantage of their descendants, than, on their entrance, they themselves had found it. Of the mental portion of this treasure no small part is stored—and of the continuous work I have described no small part is performed—by universities; which have been, I venture to say, entitled to rank among the greater lights and glories of Christendom.
It is, I believe, a fact, and if so, it is a fact highly instructive and suggestive, that the university, as such, is a Christian institution. The Greeks, indeed, had the very largest ideas upon the training of man, and produced specimens of our kind with gifts that have never been surpassed. But the nature of man, such as they knew it, was scarcely at all developed; nay, it was maimed, in its supreme capacity—in its relations towards God. Hence, as in the visions of the prophet, »o upon the roll of history, the imposing fabrics of ancient civilization never have endured. Greece has bequeathed to us her ever-living tongue and the immortal productions of her intellect. Borne made ready for Christendom the elements of polity and law j but the brilliant assemblage of endowments, which constitutes civilization, having no root in itself, could not brook the shocks of time and vicissitude; it came and it went; it was seen and it was gone:—
"Hanc tantnm terris ostendent fata; ncquo ultra cssc sincnt."
We now watch, gentlemen, with a trembling hope, the course of that later and Christian civilization which arose out of the ashes of the old heathen world, and ask ourselves whether, like the Gospel itself, so that which the Gospel has wrought beyond itself in the manners, arts, laws, and institutions of men, is in such manner and degree salted with perpetual life, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it? Will the civilization, which was springing upwards from the days of Charlemagne, and which now, over the face of Europe and America, seems to present to us in bewildering conflict the mingled signs of decrepitude and of vigor, perish like its older'types, and, like them, be known thereafter only in its fragments; or does it bear a charmed life, and will it give shade from the heat and shelter from the storm to all generations of men?
In any answer to such a question, it would perhaps bo easier to say what would not, than what would, be involved. But some things we may observe, which may be among the materials of a reply. The arts of war are now so allied with those of peace, that barbarism, once so terrible, is reduced to physical impotence; and what civilized man has had the wit to create, he has also the strength to defend. Thus one grand destructive agency is paralyzed. Time, indeed, is the great destroyer; but his power, too, is greatly neutralized by printing, by commerce which lays the foundations of friendship among nations, by the ease of communication which binds men together, by that dif
fusion of intelligence which multiplies the natural guardians of civilization. These are perhaps not merely isolated phenomena. Perhaps they are but witnesses, and but a few among many witnesses, to the vast change which has been wrought, since the advent of our Lord, in the state of man. Perhaps they re-echo to us the truth that, apart from sound and sure relations to its Maker, the fitful efforts of mankind must needs be worsted in the conflict with chance and change; but that, when by the dispensation of Christianity the order of our moral aature was restored, when the rightful king bad once more taken his place upon his throne, then, indeed, civilization might come to have n meaning and a vitality such as had before been denied it. Then, at length, it had obtained the key to all the mysteries of the nature of man, to all the anomalies of its condition. Then it had obtained the ground plan of that nature in all its fulness, which before had been known only in remnants or in fragments; fragments of which, even as now in the toppling remains of some ancient church or castle, the "true grandeur and the ethereal beauty were even the more conspicuous because of the surrounding ruins. But fragments still, and fragments only, until, by the bringing of life and immortality to light, the parts of our nature were reunited, its harmony was re-established, our life, heretofore a riddle unsolved, was at length read as a discipline, and so obtained its just interpretation. All that had before seemed idle conflict, wasted energy, barren effort, was seen to be but the preparation for a glorious future; and death itself, instead of extinguishing the last hopes of man, became the means and the pledge of his perfection.
It was surely meet that a religion aiming at so much on our behalf should, in its historical development, provide an apparatus of subsidiary means for the attainment of its noble end far beyond what man in earlier days had dreamed of. To some of the particular organs formed in this apparatus for carrying man upwards and onwards to the source of his being, I have already adverted. Read in the light of these ideas the appearance of the university among the great institutions of Christian civilization is a phenomenon of no common interest. Let us see'whether, itself among the historical results of Christianity, it does not vindicate its origin, and repay, so to speak, the debt of its birth, by the service that it renders to the great work of human cultivation.
I do not enter, gentlemen, into the question from what source the university etyraoIcgically derives its name. At the very least, it is a name most aptly symbolizing the purpose for which the thing itself exists. For the work of the university as such covers the whole field of knowledge, human and divine; the whole field of our nature in all its powers j the whole field of time, in binding together successive generations as they pass in the prosecution of their common destiny; aiding each to sow its proper seed and to reap its proper harvest from what has been sown before j storing up into its own treasure house the spoils of every new venture in the domain of mental enterprise, and ever binding the present to pay over to the future an acknowledgement at least of the debt which for itself it owes the past. If the work of improvement in human society under Christian influences be a continuous and progressive work, then we can well conceive why the king's daughter, foreshadowed in Holy Writ, has counted the university among her handmaids. If, apart from what may be the counsels of Providence as to ultimate success, it lay essentially in the nature of Christianity that it should aim at nothing less than the cntirej-cgeneration of human nature and society, such a conception as that of the university was surely her appropriate ally. Think as we will upon the movement of man's life and the course of his destiny, there is a fit association, and a noble and lofty harmony, between the greatest gift of the Almighty to our race, on the one hand, and the subordinate but momentous ministries of those chief institutions of learning and education, the business of one among which has gathered us to-day.
The idea of the university, as we find it historically presented to us in the middle age, was to methodize, perpetuate, and apply all knowledge which existed, and to adopt and take up into itself every new branch as it came successively into existence. These various kinds of knowledge were applied for the various uses of life, such as the time apprehended them. But the great truth was always held, and always kept in the centre of the system, that man himself is the crowning wonder of creation j that the study of his nature is the noblest study that the world aflbrds; and that, to his advancement and improvement, all undertakings, all professions, all arts, all knowledge, all institutions are subordinated as means and instruments to their end.
The old and established principle was that the university had its base in the faculty of arts; Univcrsitas fimdata est in artibus. It was not meant by this maxim that the faculty of arts was to have precedence over all other faculties, for this honor was naturally and justly accorded to theology; both, we may suppose, because of the dignity of its subject-matter, which well may place it at
the head of all human knowledge, and because it was, so to speak, in possession of the ground, and in the exercise of very powerful influence, at the period when the less organized institutions for teaching began to develop themselves into their final form of universities. But the university was founded in the principle of universal culture; and the name Arts was intended to embrace every description of knowledge that, rising above mere handicraft, could contribute to train the mind and faculties of man. To say, then, that the university was founded in arts, was to assert the universality of ita work. The assertion was not less true, nor less far-sighted, because those who first made it may not have been conscious of its comprehending more than the studies of the trivium and the quadritium, which included grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy. This catalogue is indeed a brief one, as compared with the countless branches of modern study j yet within its narrow bounds it contains in principle, at the least, the philosophy of speech, the philosophy of the mind, the mathematical sciences, pure and mixed, and the fine arts. It is both more easy and more rational, all circumstances taken into view, to admire the vastness of the conception of the university, than to wonder that it was at first but partially unfolded and applied.
The sincerity, the sagacity, the energy of purpose, with which the old universities were designed and organized may be discerned, as in other ways, so by the progressive expansion of their studies. The Koman law, after remaining long almost forgotten, became known anew to Europe; end, as it grew to be a study, the universities provided for it with their faculty of laws; and with those degrees, principal and professors, which call this day for iny grateful appreciation. Again, when the final triumph of barbarism at Constantinople compelled Greek learning to seek a home in the west, provision began to be made forthwith in universities for its reception. I think my distinguished brother, if I may presume so to call him (Professor Manscll), could tell us that one of the first of those foundations was made in the very college at Oxford which he himself adorns. And the study, of which Greek learning is the main and most fruitful as well as the most arduous part, made its way under the well-deserved name of humanity, to the very head of the faculty of arts. \Vhen in all physical science man, guided in no small degree by our own illustrious Bacon, became content (in Bacon's language) to acknowledge himself only the servant and interpreter of Nature, and to walk in the paths of patient observation, the ground was laid first for that faculty of medicine, which has attained in the university of Edinburgh to a distinction destined, I hope, to be as long-lived as it is without doubt extraordinary. We can hardly expect that human institutions should, without limit of time, retain the flexible end clastic tissues of their youth; and universities in particular, as they have grown old and great, have come to interlace at many points with the interests and concerns of that outer world which has but little sympathy with their proper work: or they might have displayed at this day an j organization as complete, relatively to the • present state of knowledge and inquiry, as was that which they possessed some centuries ago.
The older history of the universities of Europe not only presents many features of the utmost interest, but upon the whole inspires satisfaction and challenges praise from the impartial observer.
I might detain you long, gentlemen, upon the various kinds of good they did, and I might search long without discovering any characteristic evils to set down against it. What the castle was to the feudal baron, •what the guild was to the infant middleclass, they were to knowledge and to mental freedom; nor was it only that from them local culture received local shelter, and enjoyed through them am immunity from the assaults cf barbarism in its vicinity: they established, so to speak, a telegraph for the mind; and all the elements of intellectual culture scattered throughout Europe were brought by them into near communion. Without a visible head, or a coercive law, or a perilous tendency to aggression, they did for the mind of man what the unity of the Roman Church aimed at doing for his aouL They did it by the strong sympathy of an inward life, and by a common interest and impulse, almost from their nature incapable of being directed to perverse or dangerous ends. Indeed, it was not in their nature to supply the materials of any combination formidable to other social powers acting each in its proper sphere, for they were on every side watched by jealous interests, and kept at once in check and in activity by competition. The monasteries for the Church, and the legal and medical professions with their special establishments cf education, as they were matured in after times, prevented an undue ascendancy; while in these seats alone there was supplied that good preservative against excess and disorder, that human knowledge was in them regarded as a whole, and its various branches nad, from their very neighborhood, better definitions of their proper provinces, end of their mutual relations. In whatever light
we view them, there was a completeness in the idea and work of universities, in proportion as their proper development was attained, which may well excite our wonder. They aimed alike, as we have seen, at the preservation of all old learning, and at tho appropriation of all new. They bound themselves to prosecute alike those studies which fit men for the professions and tho daily needs of life, and those which terminate upon man himself, whether by the investigation of truth or by the pursuit of refinement. They bore, and indeed they still bear, a character at once conservative and progressive. If not uniformly, yet in general, their influence tended to mitigate extreme opinions: the papal power, for example, knew no more formidable curb than the great university of Paris, and in England it was the special privilege of Oxford to rear up many centuries ago very eminent men of the class who have been well described by a German writer as reformers before the Reformation. I speak now of men of action; but in both of the universities I have named—and they are, I think, the two placed by Iluber at the head of all the northern universities—there were also reared many men of the first order in power of thought, who discussed even the highest subjects with a freedom as well as a force much beyond what has been tolerated in the Latin church since the alarm and shock of the Reformation. Of all these, the best-known name to modern cars is Abclard; for it is associated with a romantic tale cf passion, which some, and even some famous, writers have not thought it beneath them to degrade. But quite apart from the profound and sad interest, and the warning lessons of his history, he was a man that gave to the human mind one of those enduring impulses whose effects remain long after their source has been forgotten, and influence the course of thought, and through thought, of action, after many generations.
Universities were, in truth, a great mediating power between the high and the low, between the old and the new, between speculation and action, between authority and freedom. Of these last words, in their application to the political sphere, modern history, and the experience of our own time, afford abundant exemplification. In countries which enjoy political liberty, the universities are usually firm supports of the established order of things; but in countries under absolute government they acquire a bias towards innovation. Some excess may be noted in these tendencies, but in the main they bear witness against greater and more pernicious excesses. To take instances— j the university cf Edinburgh did not very 'easily accommodate itself to the Revolution of 1688; it was long in the eighteenth cen- ( tury before Cambridge returned Whig representatives to parliament j and I believe the very latest of me Jacobite risings and riots occurred in Oxford. On the other hand, in some continental countries it has been the practice during the present century, when the political horizon threatened, at once to close the universities as the probable centres of agitation,—a proceeding so strange, ac- j cording to our ideas and experience, that; the fact may sound hardly credible; and within the last few weeks we may all have seen notices in the public journals of movements in the university of Home itself, adverse to the pontifical government.
It is in itself deeply interesting, and it should augment our thankfulness for the ample liberties we now enjoy, to trace them back to their cradle. At one time we find nobles; at another, country gentlemen; at another, burgesses, engaged in the struggle against arbitrary power; but nowhere, in the ancient history of this country, is more deeply engraven her unconquerable love of freedom than in the constitution and history of her universities. Each of them, as a brotherhood, bound together by the noble j bond of learning, was a standing and living protest against the domination of mere •wealth and force in all their forms; and they strengthened themselves for their conflict by the freedom of their arrangements, both of teaching and of discipline. As respects teaching, I neither define nor dispute the changes that the altered conditions of modern society may have required; but I think there is no doubt, that in proportion as we can give a just freedom to teaching by introducing into it the element of a wholesome competition, do we approach more closely to the primitive spirit and system of universities. As to discipline, wo may read the aversion of our forefathers to all slavish formalism in the personal freedom which has been allowed to students — in that curious distribution of them into nations, which appears to have aimed at a system of self-government combined with pupilage — in the occasional dangers, sometimes for the moment serious enough, to the public peace, which occurred from time to time; and lastly, let me say, iu those suffrages which have so long been enjoyed in Scotland, and which have been extended to you under the authority of Parliament. It is indeed a fashion with some to ridicule that method of disputation which was used for testing talents and acquirements. I demur to the propriety of the proceeding. It might be as just to ridicule the clumsiness of their weapons or their tools. These disputations were clumsy weapons; but the question after all is, how did
the men use them P Let us confess, the defect was more than made good by the zeal with which, in those times, learning was pursued; their true test is in the capacity and vigor which they gave to the mind, and this trial they can well abide.
The sketch which I have endeavored to give, though longer than I could wish, yet, touching as it docs a subject of vast and varied interest, is, I admit, both slight and general, and would require much adaptation in detail to make it exactly suit each case. But it is essentially a picture of the past.
"Jam nova progenies coelo dcmittitur alto."
The simple forms into which society was cast at the time when universities were equal to their work, have given place to a more extended and elaborate organization, with greatly multiplied wants; and the very same state of society which now makes immensely enlarged demands on its establishments of learning and education, has likewise reduced the means of supplying them; for those prizes of talent and energy, and those opportunities of attaining even to colossal fortune, with which the outer walks of life now abound, have bid down the modest emoluments which science and learning offer within the precincts of universities, have altered the prevailing tone of mind with respect to knowledge, and have disposed the overwhelming mass of those who seek for education, to seek it not for its own sake, but for the sake simply of its bearing on the professions and pursuits of life.
Amidst a warm glow of reverence, gratitude, and attachment, there is discontent with the existing Universities, and a sense that they do not perform all their work. Part of this discontent is exacting and unreasonable; another part of it is justified by a comparison of the means which all or some of them possess with their performances, and ought to be met and to bo removed. But besides the two forms of discontent I have named, there is a third, which is neither irrational, like the first, nor yet remediable, like the second. There must always be, especially in the most luminous and the most energetic minds, a sense of deficiency which we may properly call discontent in regard to the shortcomings of universities when they are put to the test of measurement beside the abstract and lofty standard supplied by their conception, their aim, and their older history. The truth is, that that standard is one which it surpasses human wit to reach, especially in a period marked, as is this of ours, by a restless activity of the human spirit. For let us remember that it is the proper work of universities, could they but pertorm it, while they guard and cultivate