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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The lowest was entitled simply examine superato. The
one above it was entitled examine cum laude superato.
The next in order was the vera cum laude. There was
still another, nominally the first, called imigniter, or post
insignia exhibita specim na. It was given, however, very
seldom, and only to such candidates as displayed extra-


ordinary knowledge, both in their examinations and in
their dissertations. The last instance of its conferment
had occurred eight or ten years before. Even had my
work been twice as good as it was, it would not have
entitled me to an insigniter, for the reason that it did not
cover the entire field of jurisprudence. Practically, the
examiners had conferred upon me the highest degree in
their power.

Ribbentropp, who certainly showed his delight more
than I did mine, patted me most paternally on the
shoulder and whispered : " You did yourself credit.
Come and see me to-morrow morning, at eleven. We
will talk it up then." There was nothing more to do. I
shook each examiner's hand in turn, muttered a few
words of thanks, and fled. It seemed as though my head
would burst with the pressure, unless I got a breath of
fresh air. In a second I was out in the street, inhaling
the cool November breeze and paying no heed to the
scattering rain-drops. I hurried home, to shuffle off my
ball-room costume and have some supper. Not even the
successful candidate can live on air after such a trial of
his powers of endurance. I felt famished.

But the greatest surprise was still to come. I should
mention, by the way, that I was boarding once more with
Frau H , the landlady in whose house I had passed the
first two semesters. All my friends and acquaintances
knew, of course, that I was a candidate for degrees. But
no one had been informed of the day fixed for the exami-
nation. That, I supposed, was a profound secret. Frau


H's parlor faced the head of the stairs. Let the reader
imagine my bewilderment. As I stepped briskly and
softly up the stairway, in the hope of turning down the
side-passage and slipping into my room unobserved, the
door opened and I was confronted with a blaze of light.
The parlor was illuminated ! All the candles and lamps
in the house had been pressed into the service. The
good Frau herself, her face beaming with delight, stood
in the doorway. No sooner had I come fairly within
reach, than she darted forward and seized both hands
" O, I congratulate you, I congratulate you, Herr
DOCTOR. Come in ! " Overcome by this unexpected
welcome, I suffered myself to be dragged rather than
led into the room. On the center-table was a huge
cake. The icing bore the inscription of my name, the
day, and the year. Around the rim of the cake was a
wreath of laurel-leaves. The family were all there in
honor of the occasion. Still tongue-tied with emotion, I
thanked her as warmly as I could. " But," said I, " how
did you know that this was the day ? " " Never mind, that
is my secret."* " Well then, if you decline to tell me that,
perhaps you will inform me how you knew beforehand
that I would pass. Suppose I had failed, what would you
have done then with your cake and your laurel-wreath ? "
" Ach Himmel ! As if any one could sit behind his books
so long, only to fall through at last. No, no. We knew
better. Besides, Dr. Maxen was sure that you would
pass." " So the Doctor has been telling tales, has he ?

* I suspected the Frau of bribing the beadle.


Well, I can forgive him this time. But just consider,

Frau H , that I haven't had anything to eat for

more than six hours, and examination makes one fright-
fully hungry." So the cake was carefully put away, to be
cut in due form the next day, at dinner, and a bountiful
supper brought on, that made me feel once more quite
at peace with the world.

The reader must suffer me to say a few additional
words with reference to the examination as a whole. It
impressed me as being throughout eminently fair. The
questions were worded carefully, and although searching,
and intended to be searching, they did not aim at " trip-
ping " the candidate. The difficulty of the examination
did not lie in any one question, but in the immense
extent of the ground covered. An occasional slip was
not taken into account. What the examiners evidently
sought to ascertain was this : Has the candidate before
us mastered the subject so as to be able to follow our
interrogatories in every line that we may happen to
strike ? Does he possess a clear survey ( Uebersicht ) over
the domain of jurisprudence, an accurate knowledge of
general principles and the ability to apply them correctly ?
Does he hold what he possesses as his own, or is he liable
to be disconcerted by any sudden approach ? The
examiners, as it seemed to me, displayed a high degree
of skill in changing the topic as soon as they found that
the candidate had his answers ready. In this way they
succeeded in running over the entire ground. It was
evident that they knew how to examine.


A second point to which I desire to call attention is
this : tfce great advantage nf |cpepir>g rpnl, An oral
examination lasting three hours and more, going into the
minutiae of two years' study, and driven at the top of the
examiners' speed, is not merely a test of the candidate's
knowledge but is a heavy strain upon his physique. The
least shade of nervousness, the least touch of headache
may lead to disastrous results. One who has his wits
about him can, let the worst come to the worst, extricate
himself from a predicament by intimating to the exami-
ner that he concedes his ignorance on a certain point,
but is ready to be questioned on something else. There
is no harm done by this. Examiners are not inquisitors.
The candidate must, under all circumstances, be able to
give to himself in an instant a clear account of what he
is saying. He must never suffer himself to be led from
bad to worse. But where he begins to stumble, to talk
confusedly, to take back what he has just said, and then
repeat it, and then take it back again, he only makes his
case hopeless. He forgets what he really knows, and
tempts to impatience those who would otherwise treat
him with the utmost consideration. Besides, one who is
under perfect self-control is rather inspired than de-
pressed by a searching examination. The questions act
as a stimulus, developing to a surprising extent latent
powers of memory and judgment. A fellow-countryman,
who took his degree in medicine at Gottingen, narrated
to me the following incident of his examination. After
one or two preliminary questions on general physiology,


the professor asked him for the chemical composition of
the fatty acids. It was a difficult point, and one upon
which he had not thought since leaving the chemical
laboratory, upwards of two years before. For a moment
he was non-plussed. But preserving his coolness and
reflecting quietly but rapidly, he felt himself transplanted
in imagination to the old lecture-room. He saw the
blackboard before him, and upon it the formulae as they
had been written out by the lecturer. He had only to
read them off, by direct vision, as it were. The precision
of his answer gave tone to all the rest of the examination.
But to do this, in fact to pass an examination with any
degree of satisfaction and credit, one must be fresh in
mind and fresh in body. The candidate who goes into
the presence of the examiners tired out with " cram-
ming," runs the risk of killing his chances. I speak on
this point with the confidence of one who has been
through the ordeal and knows what it is. Although my
general health had suffered from excessively rapid prep-
aration, yet on the day of examination itself, thanks to
the scrupulous care with which my studies had been
tapered down and the complete rest of the preceding
twenty-four hours, I was enabled to meet the examiners
with as much unconcern as if they had been a dinner-
party of friends. No amount of coolness, it is true, will
make one know what he does not know. But coolness,
and coolness alone, will enable the candidate to show
what he does know to the best advantage. At the risk of
wearying the reader, I venture to give an illustration of


the folly of neglecting the laws of health. Contempora-
neous with myself at Gl'ttingen was a law-student by the

name of M , from Bremen. He was unquestionably

a remarkable man. His memory was something pro-
digious, and was surpassed only by his ambition and his
capacity for work. He had studied the full term of six
semesters, and had set his heart upon obtaining the rare
distinction of an insigniter. To this end, he had studied
with what seemed at times the fanaticism of an idolator.
Being on intimate terms with him, I was thoroughly
acquainted with his attainments, and set the highest value
upon them. He displayed a maturity of mind that was
incredible in one only twenty-three or twenty-four years
of age. Nothing seemed too minute to escape his atten-
tion, too subtle to perplex his powers of comprehension.
Taken all in all, he was the ablest student that I have
ever met. In comparison with him, I felt that I was but

little better than a school-boy. Yet M , despite

advice and remonstrances, simply threw away the prize
just as it came within his reach. He was examined ex-
actly one week before myself. Not only did he keep
up his twelve and sixteen hours of " cram " from Monday
to Friday, but he committed the unpardonable sin of
studying all Friday night and all Saturday morning. I
met him Saturday afternoon, as he was on his way to the
examination. To use a boating-phrase, he was " pumped
out " before the race. Deep black rings were around his
eyes, the eyes themselves had lost their lustre, his whole
manner was painfully nervous. He asked me, in the


tone of a dying man catching at a straw, whether I could
think of any subject on which he might be unprepared.
I suggested one or two formulae which had never oc-
curred to him. He made me repeat them until he had
got them by heart, and then hurried away. What took

place in the examination never transpired. M left

town the following Monday, without bidding his friends
good-bye. He passed with only the second degree,
which, to him, was little better than none at all. He was
a disappointed man. Yet he had no one but himself to
blame. Whoever could have seen him, as I did, only ten
minutes before the examination, would not have needed
the gift of divination to foretell the result. The exam-
iners, who could only judge by what they saw and heard
during the three hours of examination, doubtless regarded
the candidate as a young man who had overrated his
abilities, who had worked hard, but knew nothing thor-
oughly and clearly.

In America there is a widely prevalent. practice called
" reviewing for examination." What it amounts to, every
professor knows too well. Students who have neg-
lected their studies from week to week, preparing them-
selves only when they expected to be called upon to recite,
review for examination, by attempting to get up three
months' work in as many days. Night and day the sud-
denly industrious toil over " Trig.," or Greek, or Logic,
in the hope of mastering just enough to pass without
conditions. The idea of the value of the studies as
something to be learned for future use has never occurred


to them. Whether the fault lies wholly with the student,
or the collegiate system itself is to come in for a share
of the blame, is a point open for discussion. Without
attempting to settle it in this place, may I take the liberty
of submitting at least a query ? Can the system which
grades the performances of young men down to the per
cent and fraction of the per cent, and lays so much stress
upon good recitations and good examination-papers, be
a happy one ? Even assuming that the present method
of recitations will be retained, is it necessary that the
professor-teacher shall always subordinate instruction to
marking ?

The candidate who has passed his university examina-'
tion is not yet a doctor. He is only a doctorandus. The
ceremony of conferring the diploma is distinct from the
examination, and is confined to the dean and the candi-
date. .On the Monday after the examination, I called,
by appointment, upon Hofrath Kraut to receive the
diploma. This document, printed on parchment-paper
and not on parchment, is signed by the dean alone in the
name of the faculty, and sealed with the great seal of the
university. It is worded, as might be expected, in Latin.
It is not my intention to inflict the text upon the reader,
especially as it does not differ much in style from the
pompous declarations of a like nature issued from our
American colleges. But one other document connected
with the diploma I must give entire. Before presenting
me formally with the diploma, the dean said : " Herr
Hart, you must first sign this declaration : "



Ego juro atque promitto, me supremos in jure hon-
or es mihi nunc confer endos, in nulla alia universitate, ut mihi
denuo conferantur, petiturum vel admissurum ; _porro, quo-
ties continget, ut vel publice vel privatim sit docendum, scrib-
endum, patrocinandum, judicandum, vel de jure responden-
dum, me conscientiae, legum, justitiae, veritatis et modestiae
summam semper rationem esse habiturum, nee quidquam in
his, quod Dei gloriae vel publicae privatorumve saluti adver-
sum sit, commissurum ; de cetero omnia, quae officium, digni-
tasque doctor alis postulat, sincere optimaque fide peracturum
atque praestiturum. Ita me Deus adjuvet et sacrosanctum
ejus evangelium.

Abundantly satisfied with the honor of a degree of
doctor of laws from the University of Gottingen, and
unaware of any intent to pervert my legal attainments to
the frustration of divine or human justice, I signed the
declaration cheerfully and with a good conscience. The
dean informed me that it was a relic of mediaevalism.*
The object of the first clause was to suppress the prac-
tice, once common among candidates, of going about
begging the same degree from different universities. The
concluding phrase, et sacrosanctum ejus evangelium, is
altered in cases where the doctorandus is a Hebrew.

Within twenty-four hours after my examination, every
one in town who knew me at all seemed to have heard of

* Gtfttingen is a comparatively modern university ; but in this respect it has
adopted the manners and practices of the others.


my success. Even the waiters put on an extra touch of
politeness, and greeted me as Herr Doctor. Titles have
great weight in Germany. Perhaps some of my readers
have heard of the German Mrs. Partington, who divides
mankind into two classes, the orderly (prdentlichen) and
the ^unorderly (unordentlichen). The orderly are those
who have an order, and the unorderly are those who have
not. The case is not quite so bad as that. Still there can
be no question but that the man who is able to put Doctor,
or Professor, or Rath before his name is much better off,
in the eyes of the community at large, than one who is
simply Herr. The title is an official recognition that the
wearer is a person of some culture and attainments.

The value of university degrees varies greatly with the
universities themselves, and even with the several facul-
ties of the same university. In general, the degree of D.
D. is not given in course, on examination, but conferred
only honoris causa, that is, upon men who have distin-
guished themselves by their published works. With
regard to the degree of M. D., the requirements are exten-
sive, and are strictly enforced. The candidate must
have studied the full term of four or five years, and
offered very satisfactory dissertations, before he is admit-
ted to examination. Jena, I believe, is the only univer-'
sity in Germany that degrades itself by selling its degrees
to foreign applicants. The degree of J. U. D. is not
often sought after by foreigners, and is even going out of
vogue among the Germans themselves. It is not required
for admission to the state examination. Ten years ago,



Heidelberg was very liberal in conferring it, while Gut-
tingen was just the reverse. Whereas the philosophical
faculty of Gottingen was liberal, and that of Heidelberg
not. In general, the Prussian universities were some-
what stricter than the others. Berlin, in particular,
pushed its rigor to unwarrantable limits. At one time it
was almost impossible to meet the requirements of the
Berlin faculty in philosophy. Several universities made,
and still make, a practice of excusing the candidate for
Ph. D. from the oral examination. This is called taking
the degree in absentia. The candidate submits his dis-
sertation and goes out of town for a few days. The
fiction is, of course, that he is called away by some unex-
pected and urgent business. To obtain the degree in
absentia, however, one must prepare a very elaborate dis-
sertation, containing a good deal of original matter. In
chemistry, physics, and the like, where the candidate has
worked two or three years, perhaps, under the constant
supervision of the professors, so that they have had
abundant opportunity of testing his knowledge from
week to week, this dispensing with the examination is not
such an evidence of laxity as it would seem. Upon the
whole, the reader may take for granted that a degree is
not conferred by a German university except for thorough
and bona fide work in that special department of study.
Jena, as I have already stated, is the only exception. No
German university showers down honorary degrees upon
business men and generals, after the fashion of our
American colleges.




T^ROM the foregoing personal narrative the reader
-*- will probably be able to obtain a glimpse at the
mode of life at a German university, to the extent at least
of realizing how an American may live and study there.
Yet there are certain features of the German method of
higher education that can be adequately elucidated only
by eliminating the personal element and discussing them
in their more general bearings. I have deemed it proper,
therefore, to supplement the personal narrative with the
following remarks in the way. of criticism.

I revisited Germany in 1872-3. In that time I studied
at Leipsic, Marburg, and Berlin, and passed a summer at
Vienna. Brought thus in contact with professors, stu-
dents and men of letters in the great German centers of
thought, I had ample opportunity of reviewing and modi-
fying early impressions, and of judging the university
system as a whole. I venture to offer these remarks,
then, as the result of recent comparative investigation.
The first question that suggests itself is naturally this,


What is a University ?

To the German mind the collective idea of a univer-
sity implies a Zweck, an object of study, and two Beding-


ungeri) or conditions. The object is Wissenschaft ; the
conditions are Lehrfreiheit and Lernfreiheit. By Wissen-
schaft the Germans mean knowledge in the most exalted
sense of that term, namely, the ardent, methodical, inde-
pendent search after truth in any and all of its forms, but
wholly irrespective of utilitarian application. Lehrfrei-
heit means that the one who teaches, the professor or
Privatdocent) is free to teach what he chooses, as he
chooses. Lernfreiheit^ or the freedom of learning, denotes
the emancipation of the student from Schulzivang^ com-
pulsory drill by recitation.

If the object of an institution is anything else than
knowledge as above denned, or if either freedom of teach-
ing or freedom of learning is wanting, that institution, no
matter how richly endowed, no matter how numerous its
students, no matter how imposing its buildings, is not, in
the eye of a German, a university. On the other hand, a
small, out-of-the-way place like Rostock, with only thirty- .
four professors and docents, and one hundred and thirty-
five students, is nevertheless as truly a university as
Leipsic, where the numbers are one hundred and fifty
and three thousand respectively, because Rostock aims at
theoretical knowledge and meets the requirements of
free teaching and free study. The difference is one of
size, not of species.

If we examine the list of lectures and hours of univer-
sities like Leipsic, Berlin, and Vienna, we shall be over-
whelmed, at first sight, with the amount and the variety
of literary and scientific labor announced. The field


seems boundless. All that human ingenuity can sug-
gest is apparently represented. On examining more
closely, however, we shall find that this seemingly bound-
less field has its limits, which are very closely traced and
which are not exceeded. Strange as it may sound to the
American, who is accustomed to gauge spiritual greatness
by big numbers and extravagant pretensions, a German
university, even the greatest, perceives what it can do and
what it can not do.

\ It is not a place^whereany man can study anything."
Its elevated character makes it all the more modest. It
contents itself with the theoretical, and leaves to other
institutions the practical and the technical. The list of
studies and hours for Leipsic in the semester 1872-3 fills
thirty octavo pages. In all that list we shall discover
scarcely one course of work that can be called in strict-
ness practical. /A German university has

one object: to train, thinkers. It does not aim at pro-

ducing poets, painters, sculptors, engineers,jnmers r a.rc]ii-
tects, bankers, manufacturers. J For these, the places of
instruction are the Art Schools of Dresden, Munich,
Dusseldorf, the Commercial Schools at Bremen, Ham-
burg, Berlin, Frankfort, the Polytechnicums at Hanover,
Frankenberg, Stuttgart, etc. Even in the professions
themselves, theory and practice are carefully distin-
guished, and the former alone is considered as falling
legitimately within the sphere of university instruction.
Taking up the four faculties in order : theology, law,


medicine,* philosophy, and watching them at work, we
shall perceive that the evident tendency of their method
is to produce theologians rather than pastors, jurists
rather than lawyers, theorizers in medicine rather than
practitioners, investigators, scholars, speculative thinkers
rather than technologists and school-teachers. Yet every
pastor, lawyer, doctor, teacher, botanist, geologist has
passed through the university course. What is meant,
then, by the assertion that the university gives only theo-
retical training ? Do not the practical men in all the
professions receive their professional outfit at the univer-
sity and can receive it nowhere else ? The seeming dis-
crepancy is to be explained only by considering the
university as a permanent, self-supporting institution, a
world in itself, existing for itself, rather than a mere lad-
der by which to ascend from a lower to a higher plane.
Self-supporting, I mean, of course, in the sense that the
university is a detached organism assimilating and grow-
ing in accordance with its own laws. In a pecuniary
sense, it is wholly or almost wholly dependent upon state
subvention. The distinction, subtle as it may appear,
is essential in forming a just conception of the character
of university work. The university supplies itself with its

* Medicine seems to torm an exception ; the universities do teach the prac-
tice of medicine very thoroughly. Yet the exception, which is apparent
rather than real, only serves to illustrate the general principle. It is precisely
because medicine is so much a matter of empiricism, so little a matter of pure
science, that the German universities teach it as they do. Were it possible to
establish a science of medicine, as distinguished from the mere tentative treat-
ment of disease, we should find the practice thrown into the background of the
university course, as is the case in law and theology. Even as it is, the study
of medicine is made as theoretical as it well can be.


educational staff exclusively from its own graduate mem-
bers, who pass their entire lives within its precincts. The
professors, assistant-professors, docents whose names one

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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 16 of 26)