J. M. (James Morgan) Hart.

German universities: a narrative of personal experience, together with recent statistical information, practical suggestions, and a comparison of the German, English and American systems of higher education online

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to eight. In the summer it again dropped to four. In
the winter of 1863-4 it was ten, in the following summer
only four. The reader will observe that the falling off
took place in summer. This was due, I am inclined to
believe, to the superior attractiveness of Heidelberg as a
place of summer resort. In my student days Heidelberg
was the fashionable university, and a wonderfully cosmo-
politan place for its size. When I visited it in the
autumn of 1864, there were nearly forty American stu-
dents, almost as many Englishmen, not a few Frenchmen,
Greeks, Poles and Italians, to say nothing of the numer-


ous English and American families residing there per-
manently. I counted, one evening, eighteen or twenty
of my countrymen at one time in the same caf6. At
present, the fashionable university is Leipsic.

The Americans in Gottingen styled themselves the
" colony." Who invented the name, I am unable to state.
It certainly outdates my recollections. The oldest
American resident was eo ipso "the patriarch." It
was his duty to be on the look-out for newcomers, give
them assistance in the way of finding rooms and the like,
and take charge of the colony record and flag. The
record was a simple note-book, rather handsomely bound,
in which the newcomers entered their names and resi-
dences at home. The flag was a small piece of canvas
painted in the likeness of the stars and stripes, and
framed. When a patriarch left Gottingen, it was his
duty to transfer the flag and book to the next oldest

Not having the record before me, I am unable to speak
with any certainty concerning the earlier members of the
colony. Only three or four names occur to me, namely
those of Mr. Bancroft, our Minister at Berlin, Professor
Goodwin of Harvard, Professors Joy and Chandler of
Columbia College, and Professor Nason of the Rensselaer
Polytechnic. The Gottingen colony, although never very
numerous, had one decided superiority over Heidelberg
and perhaps also over Bonn. It was more homogeneous,
the individual members were well disposed one toward
the other. In my student days, which covered the period


of our great civil war, the party line between Southerner
and Northerner was drawn very sharply in Heidelberg.
The two sets did not quarrel, to any extent, but they kept
aloof from each other. In Gottingen, there were never
more than two Southerners together at a time, and they
did not, I am happy to say, constitute an element of dis-
cord. Although holding their own political views, they
did not put them forward in a way to offend others. The
consequence was that our little colony lived in perfect
harmony. We saw a good deal of one another, and were
in the main what might be called a "jolly set." We cer-
tainly were very jolly during the winter of 1863-4. For
my own part, I shall always look back to that winter with
feelings of peculiar pleasure. We numbered ten, and
did not count a single black sheep, a single idler. We
represented nearly all the leading branches of study J
there was one man in theology, another in philology, my-
self in law, two in medicine, the rest in chemistry. Each
man worked away for himself, in very independent style,
but our social reunions were numerous. To say nothing
of casual meetings on working days, in one or another of
the dozen Kneipen and cafes about town, we invariably
turned out in force at the Kaffee-concerte held every
Saturday afternoon in the music hall of the Museum.
These Kaffee-concerte ', otherwise styled family concerts,
were open only to members of the Museum and their
families, but as nearly all the students were members, the
student attendance was the leading element. Philistia
alone was excluded. The music was instrumental, and


was given by the University orchestra. It was good, bat
for Germany not very good. Still, it was all that
could be had in those days.* The order, I need scarcely
say, was excellent. There were no seats in the English
or American fashion. The body of the hall was filled
with small tables, around which the audience sat on de-
tached chairs. Although in theory any one was free to
sit at any table, as a matter of fact the professors and
their families occupied one part of the room, the Privat-
docenten another, the students still another. Smoking
and drinking went on uninterruptedly, conversation was
suspended during the performance of a piece. One was
at liberty to pass from table to table during the intervals,
and exchange salutations with his friends and acquaint-
ances. The " women-folk " occupied themselves with
their knitting or crochet-work, and sipped coffee. The
men generally preferred something stronger. It may be
interesting to study the table of say Hofrath So and So.
The learned Hofrath himself sits puffing philosophically
from a twenty dollar (per mille) cigar and evolving all
sorts of theories and definitions with the gray-blue smoke.
Opposite sits the Frau Hofrathin, her attention divided
between trying to knit a stocking without looking at the
needles and keeping watch over the youngest child, a
hopeful youth of four, who has a partly filled glass of
beer all to himself, in honor of the occasion, and who
seems bent either upon upsetting said glass or sliding off

* I have learned that since GCttingen has become a Prussian town, it rejoices
in one or two excellent military bands. Sic venit gloria mundi.

*I 4


his chair. Pfui Fritz, wie du unartig bist, heute, for shame,
how naughty you are to-day, says the mother reproach-
fully, whereupon Master Fritz makes a desperate effort to
sit upright and drink his beer " like a man," only holding
the glass in both hands. The Hofrath's sons are off at
some other table, kneiping with their student brethren.
The three unmarried daughters, securely sandwiched be-
tween papa and mamma, scarcely lift their eyes from
their work, but ply needle and thread as though running

a race. Herr Dr. , who is verlobt with the eldest, sits

at a respectful distance from his fiancee, not saying much,
but stealing a sly squeeze of the hand now and then
under the table, at the risk of getting his fingers pricked.
You cannot hear what is said at the table, but, judging
from the looks and smiles interchanged, you are led to
suspect that there is a deal of gossip going on. In fact,
the students have nicknamed these musical entertain-
ments Klatsch-concerte*

Our " American " table was in one corner of the hall,
by a side-door, and conveniently near the source of
supplies. As the waiters all knew us by face and name,
and had an abiding faith in our Trinkgelder, we did not
suffer from thirst. Many a learned professor and doctor
at the other end, irate from long waiting, must have
anathematized the wretched "service." If they had but
known how the Yankees were intercepting their supplies !

* It may not be amiss to state that German married women are fond ot
meeting in knots of three and four in the afternoon at each other's houses, for
the purpose of enjoying a social cup of coffee. To these innocent gatherings
their unfeeling liege lords have given the name of Kaffeeklatsch.


The reader need not infer, however, that our concert-
sessions amounted to orgies. German students, or
students in Germany, as the reader may prefer, lead in
the main a free life, but in certain particulars they are
scrupulous observers of rule. Among themselves, they
throw aside restraint and drink to their heart's content,
or discontent. On the other hand, in the presence of
their superiors, they invariably keep within bounds. I
doubt whether the wildest Corpsbursch would suffer him-
self to become befuddled with the eyes of the whole
university as it were upon him. The thing has hap-
pened, I am aware. The most flagrant instance was in
1837, during the ceremonies attending the centennial
anniversary of the founding of the university. The
students broke into the banquet-hall before the ap-
pointed time, and literally ate and drank up everything,
even the dishes prepared for his Majesty, the King of
Hanover. But then those were troublous times. Only
six years before, in the winter of 1830-1, the town had
been the scene of a political insurrection. The students
took the lead of the democratic movement, disarmed the
town-watch, set up their own patrols and sentinels, and
had possession of the town for several weeks. The in-
surrection was quelled only by the interference of an
entire Hanoverian army-corps, under the command of
General v. d. Busch. I cannot undertake, of course, to
speak of the political history of Germany. I can only
allude to it in a general way, where it happens to be con-
nected with the universities. Whoever is familiar with


the history of Germany in the years between the Resto-
ration of 1815 and the Revolution of 1848-9, will know
that the country was in a state of constant fermentation.
The people, finding itself disappointed by the Metterni-
chian policy in its hopes of political reform, betook
itself to underhand agitation and conspiracy. The uni-
versities, or rather the university students, as representa-
tives of liberal, progressive ideas, were naturally foremost
in this agitation. They were not the actual planners of
the revolutions of 1831, 1833, 1846, and 1848, for the
head-centre of the movement was in Paris. But German
students were among the most conspicuous agitators and
agents. I need only allude to such incidents as the
murder of Kotzebue and the Wartburg Festival, and to a
circumstance which is not generally known, at least not
stated in published works, namely, that the Polish-
Galician revolt of 1846-7 was managed by Polish stu-
dents of the university of Breslau. I make this statement
on the verbal authority of one of those students himself.
The great year *48-'49 came and went like a whirlwind.
Foremost in the cause of democratic ideas were the stu-
dent legions of Berlin and Vienna. There is many a
German, from Senator Schurz down, now residing among
us as a quiet American citizen, who could tell a thrilling
story of his hairbreadth 'scapes from bayonet and
dungeon. The history of those days has not yet been
written, but when it is written, the world will know more
exactly what share in it belonged to the German students.
Meanwhile I must content myself with saying that the


universities were not places for study alone, and that the
students paid anything but exclusive devotion to books
and lectures. Each university was a larger or smaller
center of political agitation, and attracted to itself the
disturbing, aggressive elements of society. The manners
of the students in those days were boisterous, turbulent,
defiant. The young men regarded themselves as the
coryphaei of New Germany, and asserted their mission
with all the recklessness of youth. The year *48-'49, I
have said, came and went like a whirlwind. Apparently
it wrought no change, it only confirmed the existing
dynasties in the possession of their prerogatives. In
reality, the country was revolutionized. Kings and
princes, although theoretically absolute, found that the
unquestioned divinity which once hedged about their
kingship was gone, that there was such a thing as public
opinion which could not be defied. The end had not
yet come, but it had been prepared. Political agitation
was still kept alive, but the scene for it was shifted.
Instead of University Burschenschaften, conspirators,
clubs, anonymous pamphlets, there was a press freed
from censorship, and there were the several state diets.
In the press and in the diet, then, the battle was to be
fought. The universities ceased to be political centres
and became once more, what they always should have
been, mere seats of learning. When I came to Germany
for the first time, in i86i,the change had been substanti-
ally effected, although traces might still be detected now
and then of the old feeling. I have mentioned else- ?


where the circumstance that Bismarck, then representing
the Prussian squirarchy, was groaned by the students of
Gottingen on his way to Berlin in 1864. Still these
were mere trifles, they did not constitute a distinguishing
element in student life.

In making this digression, I have had in view a prac-
tical object, namely to put the reader on his guard.
Everything written about German university life before
the year 1860 must be taken cum grano satis, and a very
liberal dose, at that. The manners and character of the
students have, beyond all question, undergone a marked
change. The student of the present day is not the stu-
dent of 1830 or 1840 or even 1850. Retaining all his
disdain for Philistia, and still regarding himself as a child
of light, he no longer looks upon himself as an armed
apostle of the new gospel and subject only to the
martial law of his own invention. He feels more and
more that he is but one and not the most important link
in the great political nexus. He is soberer, toned down,
disposed to look upon his university membership as a
means of social and intellectual enjoyment rather than
a stronghold for offense and defense. He drinks less,
duels less, studies more, and intrigues not at all. I was
impressed with the metamorphosis on revisiting Germany
in 1872-3. Although then occupying a position which
obliged me to study the press and political movements
very closely for months, I never had occasion to note
any political demonstrations on the part of students. I
met many of them who had served in the campaign


against France and had returned home to finish their
studies. They had their opinions, and expressed them
freely enough when invited to do so. But they certainly
did not obtrude them, and seemed to hold rather aloof
from domestic politics. The only topic of general
interest was the relations of Germany to the rest of
Europe, and here national pride and the flush of success
made them as one man.

The Kaffeconcerte to return from this digression into
politics and history are as good an illustration as I can
give of the great freedom of intercourse existing in Ger-
many between professor and student. I say freedom
of intercourse, rather than intimacy. There is no such
thing in general as intimacy between students and pro-
fessors, and there never will be. The reason is obvious ;
personal intimacy implies equality of age and standing
and congeniality of taste and character, things which do
not exist as between old and young, the mature and the
immature. So far as my observation extends, the rela-
tion between student and professor is formal, ceremo-
nious. In the majority of cases, the student does not
come in personal contact with the teachers in his own
department ; he merely salutes them in the street and in
other public places. As to the professors in other
departments, he does not even know them by sight. It
is difficult to make this relation intelligible to the ordi-
nary American collegian, who, I venture to say, regards
his professor as one either to fight or to run away from.
Perhaps the best way of making the case clear is to show


what the relation is not. In the first place, the student
has not to look upon his lecturers as men whose daily
business is to gauge his weakness and keep an exact
mathematical record of the same. In the next place, he
knows that his lecturers have nothing to do with his
general deportment, and are not even his judges.
Finally, he knows that they are men who exact nothing
from him but a decent observance of etiquette, and men
from whom he can expect nothing in the way of protec-
tion or favor. In consequence, the student experiences
no temptation either to annoy his professor or to flunkey
to him. He preserves a manly independence, while pay-
ing to age and talent the proper tribute of respect. At
Gottingen, where there was in my day but one tolerable
billiard table, the one in the Museum, I have taken
part in many a game of " pool " with the Privat-docenten,
professors of the university, and teachers in the gymna-
sium. No one seemed to think that there was anything
out of the way in a full professor of mathematics and a
Fuchs in the legal department trying to " kill " each
other and laughing at each other's " scratches." In
Leipsic, I have seen Zarncke, the leading professor
of Germanistic philology and then (1872) rector of the
university, drop in at the Universif'its-Keller of an even-
ing and sit down to a glass of Pilsener with a naivety
that would have horrified our college trustees and facul-
ties. As to such a university as Marburg, there was one
Kneipe in particular where one might see, every evening
in the week, a perfect medley of students, Privat-docenten,


professors, and officers. I do not wish to be misunder-
stood. Professors and Privat-docenten are anything but
hard drinkers, or even regular frequenters of beer-
saloons. They have too much to do, and lead a rather
abstemious life. But this much at least I can say with
safety, that they feel none of that false restraint which
hangs over the American professor like a cloud and
makes his life so isolated. No man in Germany hesitates
as to the propriety of taking his supper and meeting his
friends in a beer-saloon, for he knows that his coming
and going will be looked upon as a matter of course.

There are many conditions of things where it is diffi-
cult to ascertain what is cause and what is effect. Do
respectable people frequent public saloons in Germany
because they are orderly, or are the saloons orderly
because of the respectable people who frequent them?
I cannot take it upon myself to decide this delicate ques-
tion. I can only state the broad fact, that what in
America would be considered undignified, a sort of loss
of caste, is in Germany an every-day affair. Men of the
most eminent scholarly attainments, leading the most
irreproachable lives, as jealous of their reputation as men
well can be, not only attend beer concerts and other
places of public amusement, but take their wives and
daughters with them; they enjoy an hour or two of
music, in the open air if possible, meet their friends and
neighbors, and return to their homes refreshed by inno-
cent recreation. Are the Germans so much better than
we, or do we fear the devil so much that we cannot con-


front him boldly and banish him to the realms of outer
darkness ?

In addition to the Kaffeeconcerte, the work of the win-
ter of 1863-4 was enlivened by a number of private
social gatherings among the Americans. Our colony
numbered, I have said, ten. It was a curious phenome-
non that no less than six of the ten had their birthdays
to celebrate during the three months of December, Jan-
uary, and February. It would be ungracious in me to
insinuate that the calendar had been tampered with.
When a countryman surprised me at my books, staying
long enough to help himself to a fresh cigar, and state, in
an off-hand way, that he would be glad to have the pleas-
ure of my company the next Saturday night, at such a
place, in honor of his birthday " merely a few friends "
of course the only thing to do was to put on a smiling
mien and make the best of it. But it was remarkable
that a birthday should come around regularly every fort-
night, to say nothing of the convenience of its always
happening on a Saturday.

Our birthday celebrations were an odd mixture of the
German and the American. The eatables and drinkables
were German, and we observed, in the main, the rules
about Vortrinken and Nachtrinken, but the toasts and
speech-making, and the general atmosphere of the enter-
tainment, were intensely trans-Atlantic. The few Ger-
mans who were invited had a good opportunity of
becoming acquainted with the merits of such stirring
ditties as " John Brown," " Rolling Home," and " Smith


is a Jolly Good Fellow, Which Nobody can Deny."

H , who was understood to be " cramming " for his

degree in classic philology, was invariably called upon
for the boat-song of the Argonautic Expedition.

Further description is unnecessary. The reader can
easily imagine what a party of the kind must be.
Our birthday celebrations were no better and no worse
than such affairs usually are. There was some sense
talked, and a good deal of nonsense ; but there was no
quarreling. We were friends, glad to meet one another
and have a good time together. Our reunions broke up
the dull monotony of work. As to the morality of wine-
parties, especially among students, that is a question
which the reader can settle for himself, bearing in mind
the truism that Germany is not America. Out of the
ten who composed our set, not one was intemperate at
the time, or has since become so. Most of the ten are
now married and occupying responsible positions in
society. We all worked fairly at that time, and some
worked very hard. Not one of us ever dreamed for an
instant that he was committing an impropriety in knock-
ing off work at the end of the week and kneiping with
his associates. We learned to distinguish very clearly
between a man who knows how to live, and a sot. It
was not a difficult lesson. Every schoolboy in Germany
learns it in Prima.



HAVING every reason to expect that the coming sum-
mer semester would probably decide my chances
as a candidate for the degree of Doctor Juris, I thought it
advisable to prepare for it by taking a rest in the spring
vacation. There was no necessity for revisiting Wies-
baden, as my health throughout the winter had been
unexceptionable. But feeling attached to the place, and
confident that the bathing would at least do no harm, I
took a second Cur of a fortnight. The spring of 1864
was quite backward, and the weather, even on the Rhine,
uncomfortably chilly. The season had not yet com-
menced, and the number of guests was extremely small.
As a matter of course, the place was langweilig, yet the
change and the entire absence of excitement were prob-
ably the best thing for me under the circumstances.
After suffering myself to be bored unmercifully for a
fortnight, I ran over to Heidelberg and from there down
the Rhine as far as Coblenz, returning to Guttingen by
the valley of the Lahn and Cassel.

The last week of the vacation was passed in making
preparations for the semestrial work. I decided to hear
only two lectures, one on Ecclesiastical Law, by Herr-


mann, and one on Erbrecht, by Francke. This latter
subject I had heard in the winter, but as Schlesinger had
not succeeded in making the subject clear. to me, and as
Francke, if I went into the examination, would be one
of the chief examiners, I deemed it expedient to take
the course over again.

Subsequent events proved that I was right. Besides
these lectures, I took a Pandecten-practicum with Thb'l.
This bears a strong resemblance to the Moot Courts in
our Law Schools. Thol met his hearers once every week
for two hours. At each meeting, a practical case was
given out for discussion. Our opinions upon it were
submitted, in writing, the next week, and returned to us,
with the professor's criticisms, the third week. This
returning did not consist in merely handing the papers
back, like compositions with marginal corrections. After
each member of the class had placed his paper before
him, the professor took up the question and discussed it
in all its bearings, stating what his own views were, show-
ing what views had been presented by the members of
the class, which of those views were correct, which in-
correct, but not mentioning names. Each student could
see for himself, however, where he had made a mistake.
These verbal discussions they were not arguments in
our legal acceptation of the term were very informal.
The students were at liberty to interrupt the professor
whenever they felt the need of fuller explanations. If
any time remained after this exhaustive discussion of the
question set for the day, the professor utilized it by sub-


mitting one .or more short cases to be analyzed on the

I give one of the set cases. It is a very easy one. A
has a claim against B of $100; B against C of $120 ; C
against D of $130; D against A of $140. Meeting by
chance, they discover, in the course of conversation, that

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Online LibraryJ. M. (James Morgan) HartGerman universities: a narrative of personal experience, together with recent statistical information, practical suggestions, and a comparison of the German, English and American systems of higher education → online text (page 11 of 26)