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The current number of the Popular Science Monthly contains the rectorial address of Dr. Alexander Bain to the students of Aberdeen University, Scotland, taking for his subject "The University Ideal." Prof. Bain gives a description of the origin of the university system, of its gradual growth and progress up to the present day, and an exhaustive discussion of what in his opinion constitutes an ideal university. The university proper can hardly be dated back earlier than the twelfth century; and the important particulars in its first constitution were these: First, the separation of philosophy from theology. Aristotle and the awakening intellect of the eleventh century were the main causes of this. Two classes of minds at this time divided the church - the pious, devout belivers (such as St. Bernard), who needed no reasons for their faith, and the polemic speculative divine, (such as Abelard), who wished to make theology rational. Second, the system of conferring degrees, after appropriate trials. These were at first simply a license to teach. Third, the formal 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 leading feature of which was the office called the rectorship, the incumbent of which had the power of internal regulation with both a civil and criminal jurisdiction; so started the university. The idea took; and, in three centuries, many of the leading towns in Italy, France, and the German Empire, had their universities, while in England arose Oxford and Cambridge. It was not until 1708 that the plan of having special instructors for each study went into effect. The curriculum was also largely modified. In addition to the classics, mathematics, physics and astronomy were taken up, and the lecture system came into vogue. Such were the universities of the past. What is needed for the future?
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 sermous, 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 art 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 art curriculum. Something, indeed, may still be said for the higher grades of professional excellence, and for introducing improved methods in 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 who 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 the graduate that will do all this. It is not a scrape pass; it is not decent mediocrity with a lanquid 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.
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