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concerning men and works, whom, (considered as a class, modern times have as yet in vain endeavoured to equal.
' This is a subject of which it would require a bolder man than I am, to say so much, to almost any Scotchman, whose education has been entirely conducted in his own country. If you venture only to tread upon the hem of that garment of self-sufficiency, in which the true Scotchman wraps himself, he is sure to turn round upon you as if you had aimed a dagger at his vitals; and as to this particular point of attack, he thinks he has most completely punished you for your presumption, (in the first place) and checked your courage for the future, (in the second) when he has lanched out against you one or two of those sarcasms about “longs and shorts," and, the “superiority of things to words,” with which we have, till of late, been familiar in the pages of the Edinburgh Review. A single arrow from that redoubtable quiver, is hurled against you, and the archer turns away with a smile, nothing doubting, that your business is done-nor, indeed, is it necessary to prolong the contest; for, although you may not feel yourself to be entirely conquered, you must, at least, have seen enough to convince you, that you have no chance of making your adversary yield. If he have not justice on his side, he is, at least, tenacious of his purpose, and it would be a waste of trouble to attempt shaking his opinions either of you or of himself.
* The rest of the world, however, may be excused, if, absentereo, they venture to speak and think a little more pertinaciously concerning the absurdity of this neglect of classical learning, which the Scotch do not deny or palliate, but acknowledge and defend. We may be excused, if we hesitate a little, to admit the weight of reasons from which the universal intellect of Christendom has always dissented, and at this moment dissents as firmly as ever, and to doubt whether the results of the system adopted in Scotland, have been so very splendid, as to authorize the tone of satisfied assurance, in which Scotchmen conceive themselves entitled to deride those who adhere to the older and more general style of discipline.
It would be very useless to address to one, who has not given to the writers of antiquity some portion of such study as they deserve, any description of the chaste and delightful feelings with which the labours of such are rewarded-far more to demand his assent to conclusions derived from descriptions which he would not fail to treat as purely fantastical. The incredulus odi sort of disdain, with which several intelligent and well-educated men in this place have treated me, when I ventured in their presence to say a few words concerning that absurd kind of self-denial, abstinence, and mortificatio spiritus, which seems to be practised by the gentlemen of Scotland, in regard to this most rational and most enduring species of pleasures—the air of mingled scorn and pity with which they listened to me, and the condescending kind of
mock assent which they expressed in reply, have sufficiently convinced me that the countrymen of Dan. Hume are not over fond of taking any thing upon trust. The language of their looks being interpreted, is, “ Yes-yes—it is all very well to speak about feelings and so forth; but is it not sad folly to waste so many years upon mere words?”-Of all the illogical, irrational sorts of delusion, with which ignorance ever came to the consolation of selflove, surely this is the most palpably absurd. The darkness of it may be felt-during the few short and hasty months in which the young gentlemen of Scotland go through the ceremonious quackery which they are pleased to call learning Greek, it is very true that they are occupied with mere words, and that, too, in the meanest sense of the phrase. They are seldom very sure whether any one word be a noun or a verb, and therefore, they are occupied about words. The few books, or fragments of books, which they read, are comprehended with a vast expense of labour, if they be comprehended at all with continual recurrence to some wretched translation, English or Latin, or still more laborious recurrence to the unmanageable bulk and unreadable types of a Lexicon. It is no wonder, that they tell you all their time was spent upon mere words, and it would be a mighty wonder if the time so spent were recollected by them with any considerable feelings of kindliness. I must own, I am somewhat of
lord Byron's opinion concerning the absurdity of allowing boys to learn the ancient languages from books, the charm of which consists in any very delicate and evanescent beauties—any curiosa felicitas either of ideas or expressions. I also remember the time, when I complained to myself (to others I durst not) that I was occupied with mere words and to this hour, I feel, as the noble Childe does, the miserable effects of that most painful kind of exercise, which with us is soon happily changed for something of a very different nature—but which here in Scotland gives birth to almost the only idea connected with the phrase studying Greek.
* But that a people so fond of the exercise of reason as the Scotch, should really think and speak as if it were possible for those who spend many years in the study of the classics, to be all the while occupied about mere words, this, I confess, is a thing that strikes me as being what Mr. Coleridge would call, “ One of the voonders above voonders.”—How can the thing be done? It is not in the power of the greatest index-making or bibliographical genius in the world to do so, were he to make the endeavour with all the zeal of his vocation. It is not possible, in the first place, to acquire any knowledge of the mere words—the vocables-of any ancient language, without reading very largely in the books which remain to us out of the ruins of its literature. Rich above all example as the literature of Greece once was, and rich as the pure literature of Greece is even at this moment, when compared with that of the Romans, it so happens that all the classical Greek works in the
world occupy but a trifling space in any man's library; and were it possible to read philosophers and historians as quickly as novellists or tourists, they might all be read through in no very alarming space of time by any circulating-library glutton who might please to attack them. Without reading, and being familiar with the whole of these books, or at least without doing something little short of this, it is absolutely impossible for any man to acquire even a good verbal knowledge of Greek. Now, that any man should make himself familiar with these books, without at the same time forming some pretty tolerable acquaintance with the subjects of which they treat—not even a Scotsman, I think, will venture to assert. And that any man can make himself acquainted with these books (in this sense of the phrase,) without having learned something that is worthy of being known-over and above the words submitted to his eyes in their pages~I am quite sure, no person of tolerable education in Christendom will assert, unless he be a Scotchman.
* ' A person whose eyes had been accustomed only to such places as the schools of Oxford, or Sir Christopher Pegge's lecture-room, would certainly be very much struck with the prima facie mean condition of the majority of the students assembled at the prælections of these Edinburgh professors. Here and there one sees some small scattered remnant of the great flock of Dandies, trying to keep each other's high collars and stays in countenance, in a corner of the class-room; but these only heighten, by the contrast of their presence, the general effect of the slovenly and dirty mass which on every side surrounds them with its contaminating atmosphere; and upon the whole, nothing can be more distinct and visible, than that the greater part of the company are persons whose situation in life, had they been born in England, must have left them no chance of being able to share the advantages of our academical education.
'I could not help taking notice of this circumstance the other day to my friend W-; who not only admitted the justice of my observation, but went on to utter his comments on the fact I had observed, in a tone of opinion and sentiment, for which, I must confess, my own private reflections had by no means prepared me. So far from proceeding, as I had supposed every Scotchman in like circumstances would do, to point out the advantages which might be expected to arise, and which, in Scotland itself, had already, in fact, arisen, out of a so liberal and extensive diffusion of the higher species of education, my friend seemed to have no hesitation in condemning the whole system as being not friendly, but eminently hostile, to the true interests both of science in general, and of his country.
* Without at all understanding him in the literal sense of his words, I think it is possible that the result of his reflections may
have really led him to doubt, whether the system which takes in so much may not be somewhat weakened and debased through the very extension of its surface. I can easily believe that he may be a little doubtful whether the obvious and distinct advantages which must spring out of such a system, may not be counterbalanced, upon the whole, by the disadvantages which I should suppose must be equally inseparable from the mode of carrying it into practical effect; in other words, whether the result of good may not be less considerable in the great issue than that of evil, both to the individuals themselves, and to the community, of whose general character so much must directly and indirectly be dependent upon theirs. For myself, I say even so much with great hesitation, concerning a subject of which I cannot imagine myself to have had time or opportunity for any adequate examination; and of which, even had I possessed more of time and opportunity than I have done, I am still suspicious that my own early prejudices might render it impossible I should form a fair and impartial judgment.
'The expenses of university education, in the first place, amount in Scotland to no more than a very inconsiderable fraction of what they are in England. With us, we all know, a father of a family seldom thinks of sending his son to college, unless he can afford to give him an allowance of some 300l. per annum, or thereabouts. It is, no doubt, quite possible, to have apartments in a college, to attend prayers in chapel, and eat commons in hall, and to arrive, after four years residence, at the style and dignity of a Bachelor of Arts, without having disposal of so large an income. But, taking young men as they are, and as they always have been, it is needless to expect, that any one of them will easily submit to lie under any broad and distinct mark of inferiority to his fellows; and therefore it is, that we in common parlance speak of it as being impossible to live at Oxford or Cambridge, on less expensive terms than those I have mentioned. So long as our church retains her privileges and possessions, (which, thank God, I see no likelihood of her losing,) the benefices she has in her gift will always be enough to create a regular demand for a very large number of graduates born in the higher classes of society—so large a number, indeed, that even they alone would be able to give the tone in any university, and any college in England. And while this is so, young men of generous dispositions, who cannot afford to keep up with the tone thus given, would much rather be excused from entering upon a course of life, which must bring their incapacity of doing so continually before the eyes of other people, and of themselves. It would take a long time, moreover, to satisfy the great majority of English fathers of families, even in the more elevated walks of society, that a university education is a matter of so very great importance as to warrant them in running the risk of injuring the feelings and comfort of their children, by compelling them to submit to residing in college on inadequate
means. I believe it is well, that, in England, character is generally regarded as a far more important thing than mere intellect: and I consider the aversion I have just described, as one very honour. able manifestation of this way of thinking.
' In Scotland, feelings of an equally honourable kind have led to a very opposite way of thinking and acting. The poverty of the colleges themselves, or at least of most of them, has prevented the adoption of any such regular and formal style of academical existence, as that which prevails in other countries, and most of all in our own. Instead of being possessed of large and ancient landed estates, and extensive rights of patronage in the church, and elsewhere, and so of forming in itself a very great
and formidable corporate body in the state, as the university of Oxford or Cam. bridge does with us; the university of Edinburgh, for example, is a very recent and contracted institution, which possesses scarcely any property or patronage of any kind beyond the money paid annually in fees by pupils to their professors, and the necessary influence which the high character of some of these individual professors must at times give to their favour and recommendation. The want of public or corporate splendor has taken away all occasion or pretence for large expenditure in private among the members of the university; and both the corporation, and the individuals, have long since learned to consider their honour as not in the least degree affected by the absence of all those external “ shows and forms,” which, with us, long habit has rendered such essential parts of every academical exercise and prospect. The barriers which prevent English parents and English sons from thinking of academical education, are thus entirely removed. Any young man who can afford to wear a decent coat, and live in a garret upon porridge or herrings, may, if he pleases, come to Edinburgh, and pass through his academical career, just as creditably as is required or expected. I am assured, that the great majority of the students here, have seldom more than 301. or 401. per annum, and that very many most respectable students contrive to do with little more than half so much money.
Whatever may be thought of the results of this plan, there is no possibility that any man of good feeling should refuse his warmest admiration to the zeal both of the children and the parents by whose exertions it is carried into effect. The author of the Scotch novels has several times alluded, in a very moving way, to the hardships to which a poor man's family in Scotland will submit, for the sake of affording to one of its members even those scanty means which a Scotish university education demands. You must remember the touches of pathos which he has thrown over the otherwise ludicrous enough exertions made in this way by the parents of the redoubtable Dominie Sampson; and those of Reuben Butler, in the last Tales of my Landlord, are represented in much the same kind. I have seen a little book of Memoirs, lately writ