C. S. (Caleb Sprague) Henry.

The true idea of the university, and its relation to a complete system of public instruction. An address before the Association of the alumni of the University of the city of New-York, June 28, 1852 online

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Online LibraryC. S. (Caleb Sprague) HenryThe true idea of the university, and its relation to a complete system of public instruction. An address before the Association of the alumni of the University of the city of New-York, June 28, 1852 → online text (page 1 of 3)
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%\i fee m 0f tlje Iniuersittf, auto its Relate la a
Complete j$pta» af JuMit instruction.






June 28, 1852.


— ••• —







IWtemtj of ft* Citg of |kfo-$fork,

June 28, 1852.

BY Cfs5 HENRY, D. D,


No. 111 John Street.


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At the Annual Meeting of the Association of the Alumni of the University
of the City of New-York, held in the University Chapel, on Wednesday, 30th
June, 1852, the following Resolution was unanimously adopted.

" Resolved, That the Rev. Dr. Henry be earnestly requested to furnish a
copy of his valuable Address, delivered before the Association, for publication."
Extract from the Minutes.



The Twenty-first Anniversary of this Association will be celebrated as follows :
On Tuesday evening, 28th June, 1853, at 8 o'clock. The Oration before the
Association by Prof. J. W. Draper, M. D., in the University Chapel.

On Wednesday, 29th June, at 4, P. M. The Annual Meeting of the Associa-
tion, in the University Chapel.

On the same evening at 1 o'clock, the Dinner at the Astor House.


Gentlemen of the Association of the Alumni

of the New- York University :

Your Association, young gentlemen, is that of a Brother-
hood of Scholars : but not a Brotherhood of Scholars united
solely by the common bond of liberal culture and the love of
good letters, but also by the finer and tenderer bond of your
common relationship to the institution in which you received
your intellectual nurture. It recognizes that as your Alma
Matee— the benignant mother of your minds. The idea is
a beautiful one ; and the sentiment it inspires is not less
beautiful. It is at once a filial as well as a fraternal senti-
ment that brings you together at this festival season of our
Academic year. You come here as brothers, because nurs-
lings of the same fair mother. And though she is but a
young mother, — scarce twenty years old, — she can already
count by hundreds the children she has borne. Year by
year, during nearly every year of her own existence, she has
dismissed into the " wide wide world " a goodly band of sons
brought forth and brought up by her. Some of them have
not been long away from her fostering care — the younger
brothers among you, the purple light of youth, the purpu-
reum lumen juventutis, still fresh upon them ; but others
have been a good while gone, doing manly work in the ser-
vice of their country and of mankind, to their own honor and
their mother's fair renown. She is about to send forth ano-

ther band of her children, an accession to the ranks of your
brotherhood. This is the occasion that brings yon together
now : and I hope the filial, no less than the fraternal senti-
ment will be quickened aud deepened by your re-union.
For the strength of the parent's heart is in the children's
duteous love. And your Alma Mater is that sort of mother
that may live forever ; and however old in years she may
become, and venerable for age, may yet flourish in perpetual
youth, the faithful mother of new bands of sons year by year
to the end of time, with a perpetual improvement, too, in
the intellectual life and development and nurture which her
children draw from her. That such may be her destiny, is,
I trust, with you, an object of earnest desire and of loving-
hope. But its accomplishment depends on conditions which
I know not from what other quarter they can so well be
expected to be supplied as from your influence and exertions.
For this reason, gentlemen, I have thought fit to occupy the
hour of your meeting here to-night in presenting some con-
siderations on the state of Higher Public Instruction in our
country — its defects and needs, and the obstacles which stand
in the way of realizing what every lover of good learning,
and every enlightened lover of his country, and his race too,
must desire to see among us — considerations which, I hope,
may serve in some degree to give incitement and direction
to your efforts for the prosperity and fair fame of your own
Alma Mater, and for the advancement of the interests of
Higher Education throughout the land.


A complete and perfect system of Public Instruction im-
plies, gentlemen, institutions for Primary, Secondary, and
Higher Education. The Common School is for Primary ;
the Academy (as it is called among us) is for Secondary ; and
the College and University for Higher Instruction. The
Common Schools should exist in every town and district in
isuflficient numbers to give to all the children of the common-

wealth, of both sexes, the rudiments of necessary learning,
the first elements of a sound education. The Academies are
institutions where all those of either sex, whose condition
allows, whose inclination prompts, or whose destination in
life demands a greater degree of intellectual culture and a
larger amount of ifnowledge than the Common School can
give, may find the means of acquiring it. They should pro-
vide for imparting every thing included in the idea of what
is familiarly called a good thorough English education, and
also the Classical learning necessary to prepare young men
for college. With the Academies I would also connect Nor-
mal instruction, or the training of persons for the special
vocation of Teachers in the Common Schools or elsewhere.

But of these institutions I shall not further speak. It is
to the state of Higher Public Instruction that I wish spe-
cially to direct your thoughts.

And to put the subject immediately before you, that you
may see at once the scope and drift of my remarks, I will
say at the outset, that we have in this country no Universi-
ties, and we need them : we have Colleges ; and they need
to be reformed — subordinated to the Universities, and con-
nected with the lower institutions in such a way as to form
a complete and perfect system of Public Instruction. This,
gentlemen, is what I wish to unfold and put in a clear light.
I shall give you the results of reflections that have, naturally
enough, occupied my mind from time to time, for many years :
but I have greatly to regret that broken health and the pres-
sure of many cares have not allowed me time to put the expres-
sion of them in such form and method as I could desire for
this occasion.

I have said, gentlemen, that in tins country we have no
Universities. We have not. We have the name, but not
the thing. A University, in its proper notion, is an institu.


tion which affords every possible advantage for the perfect
acquisition of every branch of science and learning included
within the circle of liberal studies. It implies an assemblage
together in one place of all the conditions and means requi-
site for pursuing these studies to the utmost possible extent.
It implies that anyone competent to enjoy its advantages,
may find himself surrounded at the University with all the
aids and appliances needful or desirable for carrying out his
studies, to the highest point of perfection, in any direction
throughout the whole sphere of science and letters.

The University, gentlemen, is an organic whole : and so,
like every other organic whole, it- must have its organizing
principle, its determining idea — in virtue of which all the
constituent parts find their title to admission, their place and
their form ; from which they grow ; around which they group
themselves, and by which they are held together as one per-
fect whole. "What is this constituent principle, this central
idea ? It is a well organized body of learned and able men
dispensing the highest instruction in every branch of science
and letters ; not the meagre and superficial instruction which
alone can possibly be given by one person undertaking all
branches or many branches, and who having of necessity
only a smattering himself, can of course impart no more than
a smattering to others ; but the profound and thorough in-
instruction which can be given only by the members of a
learned society numerous enough to carry the division of
labor to the greatest desirable extent ; thus allowing each
one, and making it each one's duty, to devote his best ener^
gies to the cultivation and perfectionment of his own depart-
ment, and to the communication of the fruits of his studies
in the clearest and best methods of exposition. Out of this
well organized division and connection of labor, comes that
perfection in every part, and that completeness and unity of
the whole, which makes the University what its name should
import — a place where the universe of liberal studies is unfold-

ed to the ingenuous mind in all the fullness and richness of
its infinitely diversified forms, and yet as one great harmo-
nious whole of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

But there are also certain material conditions included in
the notion of a University, because they are necessary to
enable the members of the learned society to discharge their
functions. These are buildings, lecture rooms, and especially
libraries, apparatus,' laboratories, and collections in nature
and art — so ample and complete as to leave nothing wanting
for the investigation and illustration of every department of
science and letters, whether for the use of those who dis-
pense or those who receive instruction.

Such, gentlemen, is the University in its true idea : and I
say again, that while we have the name among us, we have
not the thing. We have many Colleges, and several institu-
tions with the name of Universities, but which are in reality
only Colleges. But a College neither is a University, nor can
fulfil the function of a University. This is true, whether
you look at the matter in a theoretical or a practical way ;
whether you consider what a college ought to be and to
accomplish ; or whether you consider what our colleges, as
they at present stand, actually do or are able to accomplish.
In a theoretical view, a College is an institution designed to
form the generally well educated man without reference to
any particular destination in life — to carry on the culture
and discipline of the faculties generally, already begun in the
lower institutions., to carry it on to such an extent, and also
to impart such an amount of liberal knowledge and to accom-
plishment, as will prepare the young man either for a digni-
fied and useful position in cultivated social life, or for pro-
fessional studies, or for that further, more extensive and
profound study of the liberal arts and sciences in any special
direction, for which it is the business of the University to
provide. And so in theory a College is not and ought not
to lie a University, In the next place, in a practical view,


btu* Colleges cannot, if they would, accomplish the proper
functions of a University. They are none of them adequate-
ly provided, and most of them very slenderly provided with
the material conditions requisite for the profound and tho-
rough study of all branches of science and letters — I mean
libraries, apparatus, collections in nature and art. Nor less
deficient in the personal conditions. In most of our Colleges
there is only the Faculty of Science and Letters ; and the
body of Professors is so small, that it would not be possible
for each Professor to give those extensive, complete and
thorough courses of instruction, Avhich the idea of a Univer-
sity implies, in any one, much less in all, of the subjects
which it is made his duty to teach. This, I say, would not be
possible, even if he had nothing else to do. But he has
something else to do. His time is fully employed in impart-
ing comparatively elementary instruction to immature young
minds, but partially prepared perhaps for the course of col-
lege studies. What advantages then, do such institutions
afford for carrying out the study of the whole circle of liberal
arts and sciences to the utmost possible limit? None at all.
In some of our Colleges there are Faculties of Medicine, Law,
and Theoloa-v. But this does not make them Universities.
For the courses of instruction are organized in respect of
extent, time, division, and other particulars, to meet the spe-
cial and practical demands of professional preparation, rather
than as parts of a University system : and even if this were
not the case, what has been shown in regard to the Faculties
of Science and Letters would still hold. And so it is obvious
that our Colleges do not and cannot accomplish the functions
of a University.

That Universities are a need for this country, is a point,
gentlemen, Avhich I should feel ashamed to think it neces-
sary to argue before you. "We do not need a great many of
them ; but a certain number— amply supplied with all the


material and personal conditions for realizing the true and
noble idea of such institutions — we do need. Who can doubt
they would have an influence that can be brought into action
in no other way, in advancing the great interests of science
and good letters— interests, with which, I need not tell yoa i
gentlemen, not only the intellectual and moral well being,
but even the material prosperity of the nation, are indisso-
lubly bound up. They would. Such institutions would be a
glory and a blessing to the land.

Supposing, then, Universities to be established, what shall
be done with the Colleges ? Let them exist : let them, if
need be, be multiplied. For the College holds an indispen-
sable and most important place in a perfect system of Public
Instruction. It is the place for the liberal education of those
who do not go to the University, and by means of the liberal
education it imparts, it also prepares for the University those
who wish to advance to the highest degree of learning and
science. No student should come to the University who is
not prepared to profit by its advantages : and no one is pre-
pared, who has not already acquired the amount of mental
discipline and of liberal knowledge which form the well
educated man. This it is the proper function of the College
to impart. The College does not, and cannot form men of
profound science and learning in every department of liberal
studies. It does not make masters and doctors, competent to
fill the Academic chairs of Universities or of Colleges, or to
be in any sphere the great teachers of the world. This is
not its function. It is the function of the University to do
this. And on the other hand, it is not the special function
of the University l-oform the liberally educated young man :
it takes him already formed. The University is not the place
to train and prepare the young man to think, and to study
for himself; but to take the young man already prepared to
think and to study ; and then to help him in thinking and


» studying for himself, and to carry him forward, by instruc-
I tions more extended, profound, and diversified than the
[ College can give, to the greatest possible perfectness of know-
ledge, whether in science or in learning. And the proper
place, in a perfect system of Public Instruction, for the young
man to gain the knowledge and the j>ower to think and study
which fit him for the University, is the College. In this
view, and for those who go to the University, the College
is subordinate to the University. But the College in its
proper function, is not limited to preparing young men for
the University. It is also to form well educated men who
do not go to the University. "We need a certain number
of profoundly learned men in every department of science
and letters : eminent Masters and Doctors, great lumina-
ries in the intellectual sphere. These the University is to
make — that is to say, to supply the best means, and all the
means for enabling them to make themselves. But we also
need an immensely greater number of well educated young
men : men whose minds have been trained by a course
of liberal studies sufficiently diversified, and carried to a
sufficient extent to ensure a vigorous and well propor-
tioned development of their faculties. These the college
makes, or, as before, gives them the best help to making
themselves ; and so does a work which the University can-
not do, — I will not say a more or a less important work than
that which the University does ; for it is idle and foolish to
draw a comparison between the importance of two things,
both of which are indispensable to the Commonwealth.

Let there be Colleges, then ; and let them be sufficiently
numerous to afford a place for all who seek a liberal educa.
tion. But let them be reformed. Let them be made what
they ought to be. Let them be conformed to their proper
idea. Let them not attempt the functions of a University ;
for, as we have seen, they cannot and ought not to fulfil
them. Let thorl be places to give a really " liberal educa-


tion " in the fine old scholarly meaning of the term. Let
the course of studies be " liberal " studies. Let not the object
be the acquisition of special knowledge for this or that par-
ticular destination in life. Let such special acquisitions come
afterwards as any one may choose. Let the college course
of under-graduate studies be mainly a discipline for the mind.
Let it afford scope and means for the freest, fullest and
most harmonious development and culture of all the mental
faculties, without reference to any particular destination in
life : and for these acquisitions of knowledge and accom-
plishments of taste, which, form the true liberally educated
man. And for this end, there is no conceivable organization
of studies so well adapted as the good old fashioned curricu-
lum of classical, mathematical, logical and rhetorical studies.
These studies properly proportioned, and thoroughly pur-
sued, involve and secure the very best possible training of
the mind.

And this brings me to notice one of the great defects of
our college system. Both too much and too little is done :
and the consequence is that almost nothing is clone as it
should be. The four years of under-graduate study, is short
time enough, in all reason, for accomplishing to any really
good purpose the course I have mentioned, — even if the stu-
dent comes from the Academy or Grammar School with a
thorough preparation in elementary classical and mathema-
tical learning, and with a considerable degree of culture and
discipline of mind. And yet, into this four years, we have
now crowded a multitude of additional studies — making a
list almost as large and wonderful as that which lively young
ladies accomplish in the fashionable schools, where all lan-
guages and learning, all sciences and arts are learned in
three years, and all the accomplishments besides. And while
thus crowding the course, we have at the same time, on the
other hand, instead of raising the terms of admission, in
practice often lowered them to almost nothing. What is the


consequence ? Multitudes of young persons enter our col-
leges without sufficient preparation, and some of them too
young to be able to get it. They are unfit to go with profit
through the course of classical and mathematical learning,
even if it were not compressed and hurried through with, in
order to make some time for the modern additional courses,
which, in their turn, of necessity often are compressed into
mere meagre and fruitless compends. Some, the older, or
more earnest and diligent students, make the best of it— work
nobly, gain something, which enables them to educate them-
selves after they leave college : but the younger or more
indolent, drag heavily through the four years, — and leave
College with "small Latin, less Greek," and no living insight
into the principles of Science ; with diplomas in their hands
which they could not, some of them, for their lives, bear a
creditable examination upon. Such is a strong picture (but I
am sad to say, and sure as sad, it is not an untrue one) of the
wretched consequences that have come from attempting too
much, and doing nothing thoroughly. And the remedy lies
in a return to the proper idea and proper work of the col-
lege, — in discarding from the college curriculum those
courses which properly belong to the University, or to the
professional and practical schools ; and in establishing and
adhering 'inexorably to a far far higher standard of pre]3ara-
tion for admission ; in making a thorough mastery of the old
liberal course a possibility and a reality — and so inspiring
that true love for good learning which thorough learning
always does inspire, and imparting that high discipline and
line culture which will be through life a source of pleasure
and a source of power.

Understand me, gentlemen, on one point. I have no objec-
tion to all sorts of courses of practical instructions (as they
are called) in the modern languages, in physics, in the appli-
cations of science to the useful arts — in short, everything;
which the spirit of the age and the wants of the times are


said to demand ; I have no sort of objection to their being
connected with our colleges — provided two tilings : first, that
such practical courses be, in their nature either literary or
scientific ; and second, that they be not crowded into the
four years undergraduate course, but come after it, or on one
side of it. As to the first condition, there must be some
limit : and if this be not the principle of limitation, you
cannot have limit unless an arbitrary one. There are various
vocations in practical life, which not only proceed upon
scientific principles, but which also imply and demand a
scientific knowledge of those principles on the part of those
who follow them : such as Civil Engineering, Navigation,
and the like. And to such you must limit these practical
courses in our colleges : else you must also have college lec-
tures on the science of soap-making and calico printing, and
every other useful art. Within this limit, such practical
courses may well be admitted into our colleges, for the bene-
fit of those who cannot go to the University to study the
sciences and their applications from a purely scientific inte-
rest, and in the connection and extent in which they enter
into the University system. But I insist on the other condi-
tion — that they be not crowded into the proper undergraduate
course; for that would be a detriment to both. The proper
College course, the simply Academic course, is needful for
the pure interests of science and good letters, needful to
make scholars with the spirit of scholars, prepared for the
University, and for social and public life ; and nothing should
be crowded into it to impair its proper function.

There is another point in which I would alter the practice
of our Colleges. It is in the matter of degrees. I have said
that the College does not and cannot form men of profound
science and learning in every department of liberal studies.
It is not the province of the College to make Masters and
I )octors, competent to fill the Academic chairs of Universities
and of Colleges, or to be in any sphere of science and learn-
ing the great teachers of the world. That is the province of


the University — so far, that is, as it depends on any institu-
tion to do it. Our Colleges now confer the title of Master
and Doctor. But they cannot form the thing. The thing
itself, the true Master, the true Doctor, the competent man to
fill Academic chairs, or in any way to set up to instruct
his fellow-men with any title to their deference as having
something of just authority to teach — this, I say, the thing
itself, of Master and Doctor, if it gets made at all in our
country, is not made by the Colleges : it is self-made after
the College has been gone through with and left behind. The
very practice of our Colleges in conferring these degrees is
an admission of this fact. They are mostly not given in
course, but as honorary recognitions that men have made
themselves what the college did not make them. This would

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Online LibraryC. S. (Caleb Sprague) HenryThe true idea of the university, and its relation to a complete system of public instruction. An address before the Association of the alumni of the University of the city of New-York, June 28, 1852 → online text (page 1 of 3)