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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look upon the rest of the world with disdain or indiffer-
ence. Their days pass in a quiet round of study. While
their means are usually quite limited, their desires are
simple and easily gratified. It matters little how a man
may live or what he may do, provided his work be agree-
able and his surroundings congenial. The Privatdocent
has nearly all that goes to making life pleasant. The
professors treat him with deference, the students look
up to him with respect. He is already becoming, in a
quiet way, an authority in the university world. He has
for his next-door neighbor or his vis-a-vis a brother
docent, a co-worker in the same line of thought, with
whom he can hold familiar intercourse in a spirit of
generous rivalry. The reader who wishes to view this
phase of life in its refreshing simplicity cannot do better
than study the charming tableau presented by Gustav
Freytag in his Lost Manuscript.

I should give the reader a very unfair impression of
professors and docents by suffering him to infer that they
all injure themselves with overwork. On the contrary,
the first thing that puzzles the newly fledged student from
America is the leisurely, dole e far niente way in which his
instructors seem to live. Not a few labor unremittingly,
but the majority, I am persuaded, indulge in a good deal of
recreation. On any fine day, from spring to autumn, one


can see professors with their families out for an airing.
They do not fail to attend concerts, balls, and the thea-
tre. As for the Privatdocenten, one stumbles upon them
everywhere and at all times. The secret of success in
study is, in the first place, to be well trained, in the next
place, to limit the field of study, and finally to work by
rule. These three elements are combined in Germany to
perfection. A German works about as he fights ; he tries
to keep cool and to avoid overshooting the mark. What
cannot be done to-day, may be done to-morrow, provided
one is on the right course and does not desist altogether.
A rest of half a day or even a whole day does good
rather than harm. The German university men accom-
plish a prodigious amount of work, but they do it by
planning intelligently, by carefully forecasting ways and
means, by availing themselves of the countless side-helps
that each man can get from his co-workers in a land
where labor is so minutely subdivided, and by adding
here a little, there a little, until the whole becomes
symmetrical and complete in all its parts. Viewed from
day to day, the progress may seem slow. But if you only
have the patience to wait six months or a year, you will
find something grand in its proportions and original in
its conception.

The office of the Privatdocent, whatever it may be in
theory, is in practice twofold. He mediates between
professor and student. He stimulates and helps his stu-
dent-friends by advising them in their choice of lectures
and books, and by mapping out their studies for them.


He gives them hints as to examination, or the best way
of approaching professors, and also private instruction.
On the other hand, he keeps the professors up to the
mark by competition. What should we say if the senior
professor of mathematics in some American college con-
tented himself with the Calculus, while his aspiring tutor
announced in the college catalogue a special course in
Quaternions ? We should say that it looked as though
the tutor were trying to steal the professor's thunder, and
that it could not be tolerated because subversive of order.
Yet this is what every Privatdocent does, or tries to do.
His sole aim in life is to cause himself to be regarded as
one who knows quite as much as, if not more than, the
nominal professor. No one will assert, of course, that a
young man of thirty or thirty-five is likely to be better
informed than a professor who has had the start by
twenty years and more. Yet the mere effort to compete
does credit to the Privatdocent. It quickens his faculties,
it gives point to his studies. It does credit also to the
German system. Under that system, no professor, how-
ever celebrated, has a right to rest from his labors, to say :
My work is done, there is nothing more to learn. The
university can be imagined as arguing in this wise : We
shall become a dead body, if new ideas be not set forth
in our lecture-rooms as fast as they arise. If the profes-
sor is not equal to the task, here is Dr. So and So, who is
evidently a man of the times. Let us leave the professor
to vegetate in harmless indolence, and make the Dr. his
colleague, else we shall lose our students.



How shall one portray successfully in words the linea-
ments of that unique variety of the human species known
as the German student ? Although myself a student for
over three years, associating more or less intimately with
my fellow-students, I must plead inability to do better
than sketch a very imperfect silhouette. The difficulty
lies in the circumstance that there is no analogy between
the German student and the American undergraduate,
nothing that can help both the reader and the writer to
make a fair comparison. The American collegian is
pardon me the expression simply a school-boy of larger
growth. He may be old enough to luxuriate in a mous-
tache, muscular enough to row in the Saratoga regatta,
eloquent enough to carry off some gold medal, studious
enough to be regarded by his associates as a prodigy of
learning. But, with all that, he is none the less a school-
boy. From the day of his matriculation to the day of his
graduation, he is under surveillance more or less in-
trusive, he pursues a prescribed routine of study, his
attendance is noted down, his performances are graded,
his conduct is taken into the account, his parents or
guardians receive monthly or term reports. In other
words, during the entire period of four years the collegian
is made to feel that he is looked upon as one incapable
of judging and acting for himself. His college life is a
mere continuation of his school life. The sphere is a


trifle larger, it is true, the teachers are abler men, there is
a greater variety of character among his associates, yet,
in all substantial respects, he is still a school-boy, he
learns set tasks. Whereas the German student is the
direct opposite. When the young Primaner receives
from the gymnasium his certificate of " ripeness " for the
university, he knows that his school-boy days are over,
that he has done forever with lessons, marks, grades, sur-
veillance, courses of instruction. He is a young man free
to select his studies, his professors, his rooms, his hours
of work, to regulate the entire course of his life, to be
what his own energy and talents may make him. Possibly
he is not any older than the Freshman, possibly not any
better prepared than if he had just left Andover or Exeter
or the Boston Latin school. Nevertheless he is an alto-
gether different creature. The shaping of his destiny lies in
his hands, and his alone, and he feels it. If he succeeds, the
merit is due to himself; if he fails, he has no one but him-
self to blame. He knows that neither rector nor dean
nor professors will trouble themselves about him, will
care whether he attends regularly or " cuts " regularly,
whether he improves or wastes his time, whether he has a
Mensur every week, whether he goes to bed sober or
intoxicated. He is a young man, and can look after him-
self. Should he make himself obnoxious by a breach of
public order and decency, he will be summoned before
the university court, tried as every culprit is tried, accord-
ing to the forms of justice, and punished impartially,
without favor and without shedding of tears.


It will be impossible to understand the character of
the German student without making this element of moral
freedom and direct personal responsibility the starting-
point in our investigations. In no other way shall we be
able to account for such extremes of lawlessness on the
one hand, such models of industry on the other. Both
idleness and industry display an intensity, so to speak,
that we shall look for in vain in an American college.
The " rowers " do nothing but row, the industrious do
nothing but study. Young Graf von, whose position in life
is fixed, whose allowance is ample, feels that he is not
sent to the university to study, but to while away his
minority. What does it matter to him, whether the pro-
fessors are dull or interesting, whether the Pandects were
the work of Justinian or of Julius Caesar ? The Graf is
a man of some education, perhaps. A goodly amount of
Latin and Greek and mathematics has been drummed
into him at the gymnasium or the Ritter-akademie, But
he does his best to shake off the burden and to enjoy life,
after his fashion, with other like-minded young scions.
He becomes reckless, and would degenerate into a bully
but for one wholesome check. He has to fight. Side by
side with the son of the nobleman is the son of the bour-
geois, aping the follies of the upper classes, wasting his
father's hard-earned gains, committing all sorts of ex-
travagances, yet sturdy, clear-headed, and hard-fisted.
Not more than one Mensur is needed to teach the noble-
man that he is no match for the plebeian in fighting. It is
the old story, re-told, of the Cavaliers and the Roundheads.


Nearly all the good Schlager in Gottingen came from the
middle and lower classes. The very best one, I believe,
was the son of a country parson. University life has cer-
tainly this one merit : it puts all its members on a footing
of perfect equality.* Distinctions of rank vanish on the
Mensur and in the lecture -room. The university court,
in its praise be it said, knows no respect of persons. The
son of the humblest barber or shop-keeper will get
nothing less than justice, the son of the count or baron
nothing more.

I have said that the " rowers " do nothing but row, the
industrious do nothing but study. This is a blunt way
of putting the antithesis, and needs some qualifications
and restrictions. Those who idle away their time do so
without fear and without restraint. Their attendance at
lectures is merely nominal. In most instances, the habit
of idleness, once acquired, is not shaken off. But in
very many instances, it is. To understand this point
fully, it will be necessary to look more closely into the
student's antecedents. As a general thing, the young
Fucks enters the university overworked. He has been
kept at school for eight or ten years, drilled unmercifully,
watched sharply, and held in strict subordination. He
cannot obtain his certificate of " ripeness " until he has
complied with all the school requirements. The final
examination is conducted under the supervision of state
officials. All at once the pressure is removed, he is free

*The reader cannot do better than study, in Freytag's Lost Manuscript, the
spirited description of the Crown Prince's duel, the causes that led to it, and
the results.


to enter the university, becomes his own master. The
first effect of this newly acquired freedom is to unsettle
him. He changes his place of residence, forms new asso-
ciations, is brought in contact with unwonted tempta-
tions. A new life has dawned upon him. He hardly
knows which way to turn his steps, every prospect seems
so fair. He joins probably some Corps or Verbindung,
thereby subjecting himself to the direct influence of men
more experienced than himself. It becomes his ambition
to rival them in all that they undertake. His new friends
are so agreeable, the new life is so fascinating in its free-
dom, that he glides along in a round of pleasure and
excitement. He is undergoing the process called in
German ausrasen, by us, "sowing wild oats." But if
there is in him the making of a man, the dream will not
last forever. By the end of the first semester perhaps,
and certainly by the end of the second, an awakening
will come. The Fuchs is no longer a Fuchs, but a Bursch.
He perceives that what was once pleasure has begun to
pall, that he has wasted valuable time and opportunities.
Yet his case is not hopeless. Energy and self-denial will
make the loss good. He, therefore limits his Kneipen to
one evening a week, discards Fruhschoppen, attends lec-
tures diligently, turns a deaf ear to invitations for a walk
or a drive, keeps as much as possible out of the way of
a challenge, brushes the cobwebs from his books, and
begins hir, studies in earnest. His previous dissipation
has served to sharpen his wits and to give his character a
somewhat firmer set.


Some few students lose no time at the university. They
pass from their preliminary to their special training with-
out a break. Yet they are less numerous than one might
suppose, and they do not always make the best workers
in the long run. Taking the German method of educa-
tion just as it is, we may be tempted to regard Ausrasen
as after all not an unmixed evil. The admission need not
imply sympathy with dueling and inordinate drinking.
The question can be put in this shape. Is it not desira-
ble that the boy who has been subjected to severe and
protracted schooling should take a year or a half-year for
rest ? As Secundaner and Primaner he has been worked
up to his full capacity. He has had scarcely a day outside
of the brief vacations, that he could call his own. Before
taking up in seriousness his life-study, is it not well in
him to let his mind lie fallow a while ? The shiftlessness,
the bravado that prevail among German Fuchse are, I am
persuaded, nothing more than the misdirection of this
healthful instinct to snatch a brief respite, to look around
and enjoy life during the interval between spells of severe
labor. The roll of professors and docents of any German
university will be found, on examination, to contain the
name of many a man who was a wild student in his first
and second semester. The professions will reveal even a
larger percentage. No less a man than Prince Bismarck
himself was among the wildest of the wild at Gottingen
thirty years ago.

The German students exhibit such varfeties of charac-
ter that it would be useless to attempt to reduce them to


one category and label them thus and so. They have
only one trait in common : individuality of thought and
freedom of action. Such a sentiment as " class-feeling "
does not exist among them. In America, where the same
set of young men recite side by side in the same recita-
tion-rooms for four years, it is perhaps only natural that
the feeling of class unity should exist as it does. It is
not in itself an evil, although liable to grave perversion.
Three fourths of the public disorder in our colleges are
due to it in one or another shape. In Germany, it
simply does not exist. There are no courses of study,
no classes. Even those who are pursuing the same
general studies do not take the same lectures in the
same order. Among those who attended Herrmann's
lectures on Church Law with myself were men who had
heard the Pandects at Heidelberg, with Vangerow, or at
Munich, with Windscheid, or at Leipsic, with Wachter.
Nearly every German student changes his university
once, many of them more than once. Comparatively few
pass their entire triennium or quadrennium in the same
place. This is not mere vagrancy. It arises from the'
laudable desire to hear the best men in each department.
Its effect is also beneficial. It gives breadth and variety
of culture. The South German, by removing to Gottin-
gen or Bonn or Berlin, shakes off his superfluity of broad
good-nature, becomes less garrulous and more earnest.
The Prussian or Hanoverian at Heidelberg or Tubingen,
on the other hand, is toned down and softened by the
charms of southern Gemuthlichkeit.


The student lives by himself and selects his com-
panions according to his own taste. Even if he is not a
member of a Corps or a Verbindung, he belongs to some
less formal association that holds its meetings regularly.
The members are not necessarily of the same faculty ;
one may be a chemist, another a philologian, another a
jurist. The only bond of union is that of congeniality.
There are no literary clubs,* no debating societies among
the students. Reunions are for social pleasure, not
for work ; still less for mere displays of questionable elo-
quence. Study is something that each man is supposed
to attend to in the seclusion of his own room. When he
meets his friends, he lays aside "shop." Politics, in the
English and American use of the word, are unknown in
the German university. The time when the students
were political conspirators has gone by, the time when
they may take a part in the liberal discussion of political
questions of the day has not yet arrived. Perhaps it will
never arrive. What prompted the conspiracies and insur-
rections among the students during the period of the
Reaction was a sense of the gross injustice and glaring
incompetency of the Metternichian era, rather than a
deep-seated preference for a republican form of govern-
ment or a clear perception of the ways and means of
reform. The Germans as a nation do not take an absorb-
ing interest in political questions. Now that the petty
miskre of the old Confederation has been swept away, and

* There were literary clubs at one time, e. g., the celebrated Gtfttingen
Hainbund^ but they seem to have gone out of fashion.


the country placed under the control of one permanent
dynasty, the Germans are satisfied to let well enough
alone. The only subject that is in the least degree likely
to arouse them is the conflict between Church and State.
Yet even this important issue cannot be said to have
agitated the students, and for a very obvious reason.
They all think alike on the point. The students, Catho-
lic no less than Protestant, are liberals. The Ultramon-
tanes do not attend the universities, even the paritetic
and purely Catholic universities, in numbers, for they feel
that the general tendency of higher education is against
them. The reader will remember that the leaders of the
Old-Catholic movement in South Germany are the mem-
bers of the theological faculty of Munich. The priests
of the Catholic church are, at least have been until now,
educated at the so called convicta and seminaries, rather
than at the gymnasiums and universities. Indeed, the
express object of the recently adopted Church Laws in
Prussia is to force all candidates for orders into the
gymnasium and university. Those laws provide that
henceforth no one shall be admitted to orders or receive
a parochial charge who has not passed through the full
gymnasial and university course. The influence of uni-
versity life is so liberalizing that the Ultramontane party
meets with little favor from students, even from those of
the Catholic faith. The young man who is made to feel
every day for upwards of three years of his life that he
must weigh all things and judge for himself, will not be
apt to fall on his knees before the dogma of infallibility.


I have heard the most conflicting opinions expressed
by Americans as to the intellectual ability of German
students. It is not, under any circumstances, an easy
matter to gauge with exactness the capacities of a class
of young men numbering many thousands. One is liable
to blunder by attempting to generalize from the imper-
fect data furnished by the very few with whom one may
come in direct contact. The difficulty is increased,
moreover, by the circumstance that the German mode of
study affords so few opportunities for testing merit.
Under the American system, where each student recites
in public from day to day for years, both his fellow-stu-
dents and his professors know perfectly well what he is
capable of. Whereas, in Germany, the most promising
scholars may pass unnoticed amid the crowd of listeners.
There is absolutely but one way of eliciting information,
namely, through personal intercourse, and that way is,
from its very nature, limited and imperfect.

In the first place, the German student is older than
the American. The average age of admission of this
year's graduating class at Yale was eighteen. This is for
America a high average. The German rarely attends the
university before his twentieth year. Many students are
even older. In the next place, the German is much more
thoroughly trained. On this point, I must beg the reader
to dismiss all prejudice and look the facts full in the face.
That we have a few good schools, is a truism which
nobody will deny. But that we have not any thing like
a school-system, by virtue of which all young men,


wherever they may live, can be trained for their higher
education, is equally true. I except the eastern part of
Massachusetts, where wealth and intelligence are so
diffused that almost every district has an excellent pre-
paratory school. But where, I venture to ask, outside of
the eastern part of Massachusetts shall we find the match
for a German gymnasium ? Is there in the entire State
of New York a single school, public or private, that can
show a programme like the following :

Religion: a. Catholic. Martin's Manual, The Church
and Her History, b. Protestant. Bek's Exposition of
the Book of Acts.

Latin : Cicero's Catiline Orations, 1-4, pro Milone, pro
Ligario ; Virgil's ^Eneid, Books 3, 5 and 6, and parts of
9 and 10 ; Cicero's Tusculan Disput. ; Tacitus, Book
3, and parts of 2 and 4 ; Horace, Odes, Books 3 and 4 ;
Epistles, Book i ; Satires, Book i.

Greek : Xenophon's Anabasis, Book 7 ; Herodotus,
Schnitzer's Chrestomathy ; Homer, Odyssey, i, 2, 15, 16,
17, 18, parts of 20, 21, 22 ; Sophocles, Antigone ; Demos-
thenes, 1-3 Olynthiacs; Philippics, i; Iliad, 7, 9, 21,
22, 24; Plato's Apology and Crito.

Hebrew: Grammar, Mezger's Exercises; Gesenius'
Syntax ; Psalms ; Isaiah.

French : Syntax, according to Eisenmann ; Grauer's

English : Gantler's Chrestomathy ; Shakespeare's Julius

German: History of Old and Mediaeval Literature,


with Scholl's Specimens ; Nibelungenlied ; Grammar of
Middle High German; Schiller's Wallenstein read and

History : Pu'tz, Roman History ; Piitz, Middle Ages.

Physical Geography.

Chemistry : Metalloids and Metals.

Physics : Brettner's Manual.

Natural History: Mineralogy and Geology; Soma-
tology and Anthropology.

Mathematics : Quadratic Equations ; Diaphantic Equa-
tions; Arithmetical and Geometrical Progression; Ge-

Archeology: Homerica; Greek and Roman Antiqui-

Mythology : Stoll's Greek and Roman Mythology.

Philosophy : Psychology and Logic.

Perhaps the reader thinks that this must be some
" crack " school in Berlin or Leipsic. Not at all. It is the
programme for the gymnasium of a town of which he has,
in all probability, never heard. If he consults his Gazet-
teer, he will find that Ellwangen is a small town in Wiirt-
temberg, forty-five miles N. E. of Stuttgart. Population,
in 1857, 3,000. At the present day, probably 5,000. Yet
we find this obscure Franconian town, off the highroad
of commerce and culture, giving its children the best of
training. I have quoted the programme only for the
upper classes of the gymnasium proper, and have omitted
the Realclassen.

As an offset, let me submit the following programme


from North Germany. As Prussia is the centre of Ger-
many, so Brandenburg is the centre of Prussia. In the
Prima of the Ritter-Akademie of Brandenburg were pur-
sued, during the year ending Easter, 1872, the following

Religion, 2 hours a week. Gospel of St. John, in the
original. History of the Mediaeval Church. Epistle to
the Galatians, in the original. History of the Modern

German, 3 h. Themes. R6sum6 of German national
literature from Opitz to Lessing. Also, reading of Rich-
ard II. and Macbeth. Exercises in Logic.

Latin, 8 h. Cicero pro Plancio. (In private, Quin-
tilian X). Tacitus, Annal. XH-XV. Exercises and
Themes. Extemporalia. Horace, Odes Bk. II. and III.
Selected Satires and Epistles. 10-12 Odes memorized.

Greek, 6 h. Sophocles, Electra. Thucydides II, 1-64.
(In private, Homer). Plato, Protagoras. (In private,
Thucydides, IV). Exercises and extemporalia.

Hebrew, 2 h. Selections from Psalms and Samuel.
Hebrew doctrine of forms, entire, according to Gese-
nius. Selections from the Snytax.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 21 22 23 24 25 26

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 19 of 26)