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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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 2 of 26)
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It is needless to go deeper into details; I have
said already enough to make it clear to the reader that
a German university, as far as buildings and out-
ward show are concerned, is made up of disjecta mem-
bra. There is a bond of vital union, a very strong
one too, but it is wholly spiritual ; it does not appeal
to the senses. In architectural display, I am confi-
dent that the most unimportant college at Oxford or
Cambridge will surpass any university in Germany.

The new life that I was leading dawned upon me
very pleasantly. The weather continued fine for

many weeks, permitting E and myself to take long

walks every afternoon. Sometimes our landlady,

Frau H- , accompanied us ; sometimes, even, she

made up a small party of her friends for our benefit.
The Germans are very fond of walking, but look upon
it much more sensibly than the English do ; they
regard it as a pleasure, a relaxation, not as so many
miles to be covered, so many ditches to be leaped in
an hour. Old and young, men and women, go out
for a stroll whenever they can find the time and favor-
able weather. The roads in Germany are good, and
the by-paths easy to follow. Around every town in
the land, at distances varying from one mile to two or


three, lie scattered here and there ten or a dozen vil-
lages or gardens where the pedestrian can sit down to
rest and refresh himself with beer or coffee ; in most
of these places a warm supper even can be had. On
any fine day in spring, summer, or autumn, one can
see an entire German family, parents, grandparents
perhaps, children, all wending their way to some
Garten or Muhle, where they will meet other like-
minded families and pass the afternoon and part of
the evening in recreation ; the men roll Kegel (nine-
pins ), the women knit and gossip over their coffee,
the children roam through the fields. Enjoyment is
simple and unrestrained ; there are no " roughs " in
Germany. Now and then one reads in the newspa-
pers of a murder or a robbery in the neighborhood of
Berlin or Vienna ; but such deeds are perpetrated only
in very obscure, degraded localities. Such a thing as
the breaking up of a pleasure party by wanton, mali-
cious " roughs" is an unheard-of occurrence.

The scenery around Gottingen is not grand nor very
beautiful, but it is pleasant. At first I thought it tame
enough, coming as I did direct from the Alps. This
feeling of disappointment, however, soon wore away,
and I began to conceive a decided liking for my new
home. Gottingen lies in a broad, fertile valley ; the
hill to the east, called the Rhons or the Kehr ( both
proper names of men who formerly lived there),
stands quite near the town, and slopes away to a
height of three or four hundred feet ; the hill to the


west, crossed in zig-zag by the railroad from Cassel,
is much farther away and much higher. The little river
Leine, a narrow, muddy stream, that would be called in
America a creek, flows through the middle of the town,
although it is so covered up by mills and other buildings
that it is visible only in a few places.

The valley is uncommonly level, and, in the neigh-
borhood of the town, rather marshy. A small branch
of the Leine flows around the town in a detour. The
water in this branch is a few feet higher than the
land, and is allowed to overflow in winter, partly to
fertilize the soil, partly to give the Gottingese an
opportunity for skating. The land in the district of
Gottingen is both Grossgutsbesitz and Kleingut, that is to
say, there are both large estates and small peasant-hold-
ings. The peasantry, Bauern, as a class, are industrious
and wealthy, although by no means as wealthy as their
famous brethren of Sachsen-Altenburg. In the imme-
diate vicinity of the town, the land is given up to grass ;
farther put, there are immense fields of wheat, buckwheat,
rye and barley. One feature of the German method of
cultivation impressed me as being not only practical but
as enhancing materially the beauty of the landscape ; the
same feature prevails also in France. I mean the total
absence of fences, those wretched snake-like black trails
that disfigure the face of the country in America. I
have walked for miles in every direction from Gottingen,
over meadows, through fields of wheat and rye, but I
cannot remember once encountering a fence. Some of


the gardens just outside of the town are surrounded by
high walls ; but after he has left them behind him, the
pedestrian finds that he has an unobstructed sweep of
vision. The boundary lines of farms and estates' are
marked at the angles by stones sunk in the ground.
In this way the Germans not only save themselves the
trouble and expense of building fences, but they preserve
the natural aspect of the terrain. Cattle, sheep and
horses, when put out to graze, are not allowed to roam at
will but are kept in herds by men and dogs, or else
enclosed by a slight temporary fence. Not even along
the great royal chaussee that follows the valley of the
Leine from Witzenhausen through Gottingen and Nord-
heim to the city of Hanover, is there any thing to sepa-
rate the road from the fields ; only a small shallow ditch
on each side, and two rows of monotonous Lombardy
poplars blending into one in the dim distance.

The valley of the Leine has always been a thorough-
fare between the region of the Weser and the region of
central Germany, Franconia and Thuringia. During the
Middle Ages, when the " fist-law " was in force, numerous
castles raised their frowning battlements along the hills
that line the valley, principally along the eastern ridge.
The remains of two of these knightly burgs, or robber
strongholds, still exist in the neighborhood of Gottingen,
namely the Gleichen and the Plesse. The former is
five or six miles to the south of the town ; the latter,
by far the more frequented of the two, is about four
miles in the opposite direction, near the village of Wende.


The ruins are on a detached spur of the eastern ridge,
and overlook the plain from an elevation of several hun-
dred feet. The path leads up from the small concert
garden at Mariae Spring, through a charming grove of
beeches and maples. The outer walls of the castle are,
in most places, still standing, and the general ground-
plan can be easily recognized. The old tower is almost
intact. It was roofed-in with a stained-glass roof in 1862,
if I remember rightly. The platform of the castle is a
cosy retreat on a warm summer afternoon, and affords
an extensive view of the smiling plains below and the
long, high western ridge directly opposite.


Attacking German.

WAS now ready for the winter's work, namely, the
*- formal investment of that Gibraltar ycleped the
German language. On reaching Gottingen, I knew just
enough of German to realize that I knew practically
nothing. The three months' instruction, exclusively
book-work, that I had received at Geneva was scattered
to the winds during a long pedestrian tour through the
Alps; scarcely any thing remained of the lessons but
the uncertain remembrance of a few paradigms of nouns
and verbs. The spirit of the language was wholly
unknown to me ; I was neither better nor worse off than
the average American graduate who has been passed
in Otto, Woodbury or Comfort, and has read an act or
two of Wilhelm Tell.

As the opening of the fall term was still six or seven
weeks off, I had a fair opportunity of trying what I could
do in the way of preparation for understanding lectures.
But before beginning the account, it will be advisable to
say a few words about my novel abode.

Continuing the plan which had worked so well in Gen-
eva, I determined to live, for the first few months at least,
in a family where I should have the privilege of speaking


and hearing German continually. The landlady, Frau

H , was the only one who pretended to give what we

call "boarding." German students, be it observed, never
board ; each man lives by himself, in his own room, takes
his breakfast, and generally his supper, there, but dines
at the table d'hote o a hotel or restaurant. The life,
then, that I led during my first winter in Gottingen
was not strictly that of a German student. My breakfast,
merely rolls and coffee, was brought to my room by the
servant ; dinner and supper, we, /. e. myself and the other
boarders, two Americans and an Englishman, had in
the dining-room with our landlady. We paid so much
a month for " full board," while the German student hires
his room by the semester, and keeps a book-account for
whatever he orders, paying up at the end of every week
or month.

Yet the rooms that we had were like those of every

other student. The one occupied by E being rather

more typical than my own, I shall describe it in prefer-
ence. It was a large square room, the two front windows
facing on the street, the side window overlooking the
wall as it sloped down to make an entrance for the Geis-
mar road into the town. Off to one side was the sleep-
ing-room, one half the size of the study. Neither room
was carpeted. In one corner of the room, near the door,
stood the inevitable Of en, a big stove of porcelain reach-
ing almost to the ceiling. The German theory of heating
is to have a large stove of massive porcelain, in which
your servant makes a rousing fire in the morning ; after


the blaze has died out, and nothing is left but the glim-
mering coals, the door and the clapper are made fast.
The stove is then supposed to hold its heat and maintain
a uniform temperature in the room. The fuel used is
generally wood ; even in Leipsic and Berlin, where wood
is dear and coal comparatively cheap, the former is pre-
ferred for room and parlor stoves. This plan of heating |
has its advantages and its drawbacks. It is rather eco-
nomical, and it secures a uniform temperature for a
certain time ; besides saving one the trouble of raking
and adding fresh fuel every few hours, it dispenses with
dust and ashes. The disadvantages are that the air in
the room is not properly renewed, and also that the stove
cools down so gradually that, before the inmate is aware,
the temperature has dropped several degrees. On the
whole, I prefer the American base-burner.

Another indispensable article of furniture in a stu-
dent's room is the Secretar, or secretary. This consists
of three parts: the lower, a set of drawers; in the
middle, a sort of door that can be let down, disclosing a
fascinating arrangement of pigeon-holes and very small
drawers for storing away letters and papers and " traps "
generally ; up above, a cupboard.

The ceiling of E 's room was scored in every

direction. These marks, I was informed, were the scars
of old sabre-wounds, that had been left there .by the
former inmate. As the ceiling was rather low, a tall man
in reaching out for Hochquart would be apt to graze the
top of the room with the point of his sabre or his Schla-


ger. The former inmate, judged by the number of
tokens of his existence that he had left, must have kept
himself and his visitors in pretty thorough practice.
Against the wall, in the corner opposite the stove, hung
a pair of the instruments of destruction, with masks
and gloves. In a third corner was the equally inevi-
table sofa, upon which the student lies off to enjoy
his after-dinner pipe and coffee. Over the sofa hung
a picture of the Brunswick Corps, representing, in litho-
graph, the members of the corps holding their annual
Commers (celebration) at some place in the country,
perhaps Mariae Spring. Some are sitting around a
table, others are grouped picturesquely on the grass, oth-
ers again are standing; but every one has a long pipe in
one hand, and a Deckel-schoppen (large beer-glass with a

cover) in the other. E was not a member of the

corps, but he had been for some time a Conkneipant, i. e.,
one who attends the weekly meetings when he feels dis-
posed, and joins in the revelry ; the picture, then, was a
souvenir of his old friends. Around this large picture
were grouped many smaller ones, all likenesses of German
and American students. Scattered around the room were
pipe-bowls, stems, ash-cups, " stoppers " (curious little
arms and legs of porcelain for plugging the pipes), and
the other paraphernalia of smoking. Nearly all these
articles were gifts. The German plan of making pres-
ents, by the way, is a curious one. Jones and Smith, we
will suppose, agree to dedicate (dediciren) to each other.
They select two articles of exactly the same kind and


value, say two porcelain pipe-bowls ; each pays for the
other, and has the inscription put on : Jones to his dear
Smith, or Smith to his dear Jones (J. sm. In. S.) The
advantage of the system is that you get a keepsake pf
your friend without feeling that you have put yourself
under obligations. Each man gives as good as he gets.

What books E possessed were stacked up in a

rather rickety set of shelves under the sabres, E

was an industrious student, but, being a chemist, was not
supposed to have need of a large library. His helps to
study were in the laboratory, in the shape of apparatus.

Every student in a university town occupies a room like
the one that I have described. The room may be larger
or smaller, may be located front or back, its furniture
may be more or less elegant, but the general features do
not vary. The point to which I desire to call especial
attention is this : every student, no matter how straitened
in circumstances, has a study and a sleeping room exclu-
sively to himself; " chumming " is unknown in Germany,
except occasionally in the large cities, Berlin and Vienna,
where the disproportionately high rents force a few of
the poorer students to take apartments in common. But
even in Berlin and Vienna, chumming is looked upon as
a last resort. The superiority of the German system is
incalculable ; it is more manly, it conduces to indepen-
dence of study and prevents much waste of time. One
who shares his room with a chum is often at the mercy
of bores ; he can turn away his own visitors perhaps, but
not his chum's. Besides, if two or more students wish



at any time to work up a subject after the cooperative
fashion, as the Germans frequently do, they can accom-
plish the object by simply meeting at each other's rooms.
But really independent, thorough research, study that is
to tell in after life, can be done only in the privacy of
one's own sanctum.

There is no royal road to learning, at least to learning
a living language. German, for instance, is a vast treas-
ure-house from which each one carries off only so much
as his shoulders will bear. A volume might easily be
filled with all the schemes, some sensible, others absurd,
for making the first approaches to German easier. The
truth is that German never can be made easy, not even
for the natives ; there is a subtle, lurking spirit in the
language that always baffles the vision and eludes the
grasp. Speaking with the experience of thirteen years, I
feel it my duty to warn the reader against all " easy cour-
ses " or works entitled " German in Thirty Lessons With-
out a Master." I doubt whether such a thing as a
smattering of German is desirable or even possible. The
man who thinks that he can " get up " German in a month
or so, as he might French, will speedily discover his mis-
take. Permit me to quote, with reference to this very
view of the case, one of Klopstock's Odes which is not so
well known as it should be :

Dass Keine, welche lebt, mit Deutschlands Sprache sich
In den zu kiihnen Wettstreit wage !
Sie ist damit ich's kurz, mit ihrer Kraft es sage,
An mannigfalt'ger Uranlage.


Zu immer neuer und doch deutsches Wendung reich ;

1st, was wir selbst in jenen grauen Jahren,

Da Tacitus uns forschte, waren :

Gesondert, ungemischt, und nur sich selber gleich.

Nothing is farther from my purpose than to write a
dissertation either upon the language or upon the best
way of learning it. After all there is only one way,
namely : to set about the work resolutely, to take plenty
of time, and never to grow weary, especially of writing
exercises. Scarcely one of the many Americans who
were contemporary with myself in Gottingen seemed to
devote enough time to the study of German grammar.
The common belief was that one set of lessons in gram-
mar was quite sufficient ; after you had finished Otto or
Woodbury, for instance, you might lay aside your gram-
mar and trust to reading for further progress. Besides
the general feeling of impatience, there is a practical
motive that prompts to such a course ; nine of every ten
Americans who study in Germany regard a knowledge of
the language as only the means to some ulterior object,
generally a knowlege of chemistry or medicine. It is not
surprising, then, that they reduce their preliminary study
to a minimum, in order that they may begin what they
consider their real work as soon as possible. They are
satisfied with learning enough grammar to recognize the
connection of words in a sentence ; the technical words of
their science, which are to them the all important ones,
they know by actual practice ; all others are relatively
unimportant. They read a play or two of Schiller, some


of Goethe's poems, perhaps a few of Uhland's or Heine's.
Of the language as an entirety, of German literature as a
body of thought, they have but a very inadequate con-

It seems to me that this is to be. regretted. The num-
ber of Americans who finish their studies in Germany is
already large, and grows from year to year. Is it asking
too much to expect from them, on their return, sound
general notions of German literature and thought, some
familiarity with the steps by which Germany has been
conducted to her present pinnacle of greatness? At all
events, is it not a shame that many a Ph. D., who
has passed two or three years in the land of Lessing,
should be beaten by his stay-at-home brother or sister in
attempting to explain the mysteries of an easy play by
Kotzebue or Benedix ?

As for myself, I took a serious view of the question,
and resolved to master the language as far as in me lay.
In one respect, certainly, my plan differed from that of
every one else. Knowing that there was at least a year
before me, I decided to spend six months with the gram-
mar, before venturing upon any course of reading. This
may seem strange, if not paradoxical ; how can one learn
a language without reading its authors ? Easily enough.
Text-books, of grammar, phrase-books give models of
forms and sentences ; the beginner, for whom the form
is every thing, can learn more from a good grammar than
from the best reading; that is to say, he will get, in a
condensed and a more available shape, what lies scat-


tered over many pages of an ordinary book. By writing
exercises constructed for the express purpose, he can
train himself in the use of the very modes of expression
in which he may be weakest. Let me give an example
or two. The most perplexing features of the German
language are the so called passive voice, the government
of the prepositions, the separable and inseparable verbs,
the use of the particles of motion, hin and her. It is not
so difficult to glide over these peculiarities as they arise
in reading; the beginner can translate after a fashion,
making out the meaning by the aid of the context. But
it is a much more serious undertaking to master them so
as to use them, and as it is impossible to put together
five consecutive sentences in German in which they will
not be involved, the shortest way out of the difficulty is
to learn them once for all, by writing and committing
to memory a great number of model sentences in which
the same principles are applied again and again.

It is of little avail in German, or indeed in any lan-
guage, to commit rules to memory, unless the student has
an example for every rule and every modification of
a rule at his tongue's 'end, ready for use at any moment
and in every place. This result can be attained only
through a generous outlay of time and patience, and
incessant drill in certain standard forms, what a French-
man might call cadres of expression. It is a common
mistake to suppose that the beginner must acquire a
large stock of words; fifteen hundred, perhaps even
less, will answer for all ordinary conversation and



writing. The first and chief thing is to learn how to
put these fifteen hundred words together, to assign each
one to its proper place in the sentence and to show its
grammatical relations to other words. That done, but
not sooner, the student may begin to enlarge his vocab-

Another point has been too much overlooked, namely,
the importance, not to say the necessity, of translating
copiously from the mother tongue into the foreign.
There is probably no other means of seizing the spirit
of a foreign language. The labor, I am aware, is im-
mense, but it will be found to yield the largest returns.
It is one thing to be able, grammar and dictionary in
hand, to pick your way through a German book; it is
quite another to read it off, looking out a word here and
there perhaps, but feeling that all the idioms, the forms
of thought, are familiar to you, that you yourself might
have expressed your own ideas after very nearly the same
fashion. It is the final stage of the student's progress,
and when he has reached it he may well exult, for he is
in possession of a new power. But this cheering result
is not the work of a week or a month ; it can be attained
only by unremitting and well directed efforts. The way
to it leads through composition and translation from the
mother tongue. On many points composition and trans-
lation will coincide; they both have the advantage of
breaking up one's habits of thinking and forcing them
into new channels. By attempting to write as a German
would write, we acquire the habit of using German words


with the exactest knowledge of their meaning, we accus-
tom ourselves to the use of particles of thought that do
not exist in English, but which cannot be omitted from
the German phrase, we are made to feel the importance
of correct grammar, not as something foreign to our-
selves, but as the only tolerable or even intelligible way
of connecting single words. The advantage of transla-
tion over free composition is this. Each man's range of
words and ideas is limited. When we compose, even in
our mother tongue, we are liable to fall into a sort of rut.
If we write in a foreign language, this natural tendency
is only increased by the constant temptation to use the
most familiar words and phrases ; we are apt to say what
'we have to say in the shortest and easiest way possible,
so as to avoid trouble. We fall into a school-boy style
from which it is almost impossible to escape. But when
we undertake to translate the writings of a stranger, we
have before us work of a higher order ; we are held to
reproduce, to the best of our ability, words, ideas and
sentiments that lie outside our own narrow sphere.
Instead of merely working up old material, we enlarge
our capacity of expression in both languages.

I trust that the reader does not take me to be better at
preaching than at practising. The advice that I have
just given him may sound strange and impracticable.
But he can rest assured that it is sincerely meant, and
is the fruit of my own personal experience. During the
first six months of my stay in Gottingen, I read nothing
that could be called a German book. It seemed to me


profanation, as it were, to stumble through Goethe or
Schiller, hunting up every other word in the dictionary,
striving to seize the poetry of the original yet succumb-
ing to every paltry irregular verb or preposition governing
different cases. It was too much like parsing the " Para-
dise Lost." I felt persuaded that it would be better in
the long run to wait until I had developed myself into
somewhat of a German, before intruding into the sacred
precincts of German art. The reader will have the
opportunity, in a subsequent place, of judging whether
the experiment succeeded.

So I settled down to an unmerciful "grind." For six
long months I toiled over grammar and grammars. I

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 2 of 26)