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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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COMPARISON WI TH RNGLA ND. 3 3 1

know how to spend properly, and who launch accord-
ingly into all sorts of extravagance. What with " tigers,"
horses, dogs, boating-clubs, elaborate dinners and sup-
pers, they make an ostentation of wealth that either
throws the poorer students completely into the shade, or
forces them into ruinous competition. This can scarcely
be said of the German universities. The wealthy students
of Berlin or Bonn or Leipsic do not exercise a like in-
fluence over their fellows, for the reason that they do not
come in such close personal contact with them. In Eng-
land, a student has the same associates for three or four
years, lives with them in the same quadrangle, recites in
the same classes, attends the same chapel and church, sits
at the same Commons. In Germany, each man lives by
himself, selects his rooms and his dining-place according
as his means may permit, and associates only with men
who are personally congenial. If he has had the ill luck
to make the acquaintance of a " fast " set in his first
semester, it is an easy matter to reform by cutting them
in the second. If the worst comes to the worst, he has
only to try a change of air by removing to another uni-
versity. It was a common saying in my day, that the
Heidelberg idlers came to Gbttingen, after a semester or
two, to do their studying.

Not only are the expenses of living at Oxford and
Cambridge out of all proportion to the benefit received,
but the atmosphere of both places, particularly of Oxford,
is thoroughly aristocratic. I do not condemn this un-
qualifiedly as a fault. If England sees fit to maintain



332 GERMAN UNIVERSITIES.

her aristocratic institutions, it is not for the foreigner to
take her to task therefor. Yet this concession should not
prevent us from looking the facts full in the face and
estimating their bearing and probable results. The
higher education of England is in the exclusive posses-
sion of the higher, say rather the highest classes. Not
that all the students come from the nobility and the
bourgeoisie parvenue. The real study at both Oxford and
Cambridge is done by the sons of toiling barristers, coun-
try clergymen of the Church of England, and other per-
sons of limited means. Yet even these students are
under the influence of the aristocratic element. They
themselves are aristocrats in disguise, they represent the
side lines of the nobility. Most certainly they are not
democratic. The popular element in England is ex-
cluded de facto from participation in the real or sup-
posed benefits of Oxford and Cambridge. If we examine,
on the other hand, the mass of students in any German
university, we shall find that it is composed of representa-
tives of every class, from the highest nobility, perhaps
the royal family itself, to the lowliest shop-keeper and dis-
trict tax-collector. From this results the happy equality
that characterizes the German seats of learning. They are
neither aristocratic nor democratic in the political or the
social sense, but they are what they should be, national.
They exist for the entire nation, they are supported by
contributions from the national purse, and they supply
the nation in turn with all its clergymen, physicians, law-
yers, teachers, men of science. Hence the respect, I may



COMPARISON WITH ENGLAND. 333



say the enthusiastic affection, the unbounded pride that the
nation as a whole takes in its universities. It is not pride
in any one university, in Berlin or Leipsic, nor in any
one professor or set of professors, but in the system as a
system, that affords to all an equal chance of first-rate
education at the lowest possible price. Now much as we
respect Oxford and Cambridge, great as may be our
veneration for the names and associations that cluster
around them, we cannot in fairness regard them as in this
sense national. They are English, intensely English;
they could not exist outside the factitious atmosphere
that envelops English " society." Yet they do not rep-
resent the entire nation, only its governing classes. We
do well to think with admiration of the great scholars
that have lived and died on the banks of the Isis and the
Cam. But we shall do better to judge them also by what
they have failed to accomplish. What have they done
for the diffusion of science and of culture in England ?
Have they not, by their exclusiveness, their prejudice,
helped, unconsciously perhaps yet not the less directly, to
make the English folk what it is, the most benighted, the
most illiterate, the most helpless, the most brutal among
all the nations that call themselves civilized? Oxford
and Cambridge are at this day not seats of learning pure
and simple, they are the trysting places of the nobility
and the bourgeoisie parvenue. The noblemen are in need
of money to preserve and round off ancestral acres, the
wealthy seek after titles. At the university, then, are laid
the foundations of future alliances political and matri-



334 GERMAN UNIVERSITIES.

monial. Probably half the students who go to Oxford
and Cambridge, do so not to study but to " form connec-
tions." And the possible results ? It is not for me to
predict coming events. Yet should the fourth estate
succeed in sending a certain number of representatives
to parliament, enough to form a majority with the Dis-
senters and the Catholics, such a conjuncture is any-
thing but impossible, what position would the English
universities occupy ? Could they make any reply to the
searching demand : What have you done for us ? Of
what good to us are your scholarships, your fellowships,
your Regius professors ? Why should we refrain from
reconstructing you from top to bottom ?

Finally, the English university system is comparatively
unproductive of results. It may seem presumptuous in
any one man to break thus the rod of judgment over the
backs of so many hundreds older, wiser, more renowned
than himself. Yet surely any one claiming to be a
scholar has the right to judge other men's scholarship by
what it accomplishes. Personally acquainted with not
one of the many professors and fellows of Oxford and
Cambridge, I can estimate them only by what they do
and by what they fail to do. Regarding science and
scholarship in the aggregate, then, I venture to assert
that there are only two departments in which the English
are at the present time prominent, viz., pure mathematics
and natural history. In all the others, they play a sub-
ordinate part, And in these two departments themselves,
the universities have but a small share. Such men as



COMPARISON WITH ENGLAND. 335

Tyndall, Huxley, and Darwin, move outside the univer-
sity sphere. It may be doubted even whether they meet
with as hearty support and encouragement in their own
country as they do in Germany and in France. In the
departments of law, history, speculative philosophy, phi-
lology, orientalia, theology, the English universities pro-
duce scarcely anything that can be called first-rate. Let
us take up some of them in order. As for law, neither
Oxford nor Cambridge pretends to give a legal education.
Oxford looks upon its honorary degree of D. C. L. as the
choicest gift in its power to confer. Yet Oxford is
incapable of teaching the Pandects. Were an Oxford
fellow, I do not say an undergraduate, to undertake the
study of the Civil Law, what help could he obtain from
the university ? The very first thing that he would have
to do would be to learn German and French, because in
those languages alone would he find available text-books.
Even in the English Common Law, Oxford and Cam-
bridge do nothing. The lawyer pursues his studies at
the Temple, and at the Westminster Courts. Should he
be foolhardy enough to venture upon the history of the
Common Law, where will he find any aid and encourage-
ment, any professors who can guide him in his researches,
can tell him what to read and how to read it ? He must
work by himself, must spend years of toil in forming mere
preliminary judgments, such as the German student picks
up in his first semester. In other words, there is not in
all England a school of legal history or legal philosophy.
Nor are the English better off in the matter of political



33 6 GERMAN UNIVERSITIES.

history. The leading historians of the present generatior
are Freeman, Froude, Trollope and Lingard. As tc
Froude's merits, the reader may consult the stinging
reviews of him in the Historische Zeitschrift. With regarc
to the others, can any one compare them for a single
sober moment with men like Ranke, Waitz, Wattenbach
Droysen, Jaffe, and von Sybel? Is there any spot ir
England, inside or outside the universities, where history
is taught as an independent branch of science? The
English do something for the history of their own coun-
try, but not much more than the Germans are doing foi
them. Whereas they do nothing for the history of Ger-
many, next to nothing for the history of France, Italy and
Spain. The most that they do is to appropriate the hard-
won researches of continental scholars and serve them
up to the public in the shape of palatable magazine
articles. Still worse is the case with philology. One
might suppose that the shades of Bentley and Porson
would rise from the dust and castigate their degenerate
successors. The only philologist of general reputation
connected with the English Universities is Max Miiller,
a German ! It would be superfluous to call off in this
place the long array of names of men who have made
Germany famous in this department, all the Grimms and
Bopps, and Schleichers. What have the English to set up
against them ? When the student of philology begins his
investigations into the origin of language, into the rela-
tions of the Indo-Germanic, the Semitic, the Ugric fami-
lies of languages, what English authorities and text-books



COMPARISON WITH ENGLAND. 337

does he consult? Even in the field where, above all
others, we have reason to expect much of English
scholarship, namely, the very limited department of
English philology, the state of things is, to speak mildly,
humiliating. The only scientific, rational grammars of
the English language are the works of two Germans,
Koch and Matzner. The only critical edition of the
body of Anglo-Saxon poetry is by a German, Grein.
And that same German is obliged to suspend his edition
of the body of Anglo-Saxon prose because he discovers
that the English text-editions upon which he relied are
untrustworthy! No Englishman thinks it worth the
while to go out of his way to study the Hildebrandslied or
the Nibelungenlied or Parzival, yet he suffers the German
to invade him in his home and instruct him upon
Beovulf, Cynevulf, and Aelfric.

It is needless to push the comparison farther. While
the Germans, restless, enterprising, thoroughly trained,
have ransacked the libraries of all Europe, making them-
selves at home in the political and literary history of
every country, editing rare works in old French, old
Spanish, Italian, Slavonic, Norse, inventing new theories
and processes and bringing them within the reach of
every student, the English have rested on their labors, in
insular exclusiveness. They have trod their round of
Tripos and Little-Go, they have written clever verses in
Latin and made smooth translations and " floored "
papers, but they have not produced their share of
scholars. They are laggards in the great international
29



338 GERMAN UNIVERSITIES.

handicap, because they are overweighted with routine
and with narrow-minded devotion to certain studies. Is
it because the English spirit has lost its quondam energy
of initiative ? For one, I am loth to believe it. I have
not lost faith in the brain-power of the Anglo-Saxon race.
What that race needs is emancipation from the thraldom
of caste in education. Should the fourth estate do noth-
ing worse than reconstruct Oxford and Cambridge, Eton,
Harrow, Rugby, and the entire system from top to
bottom, its advent to power might be hailed as a blessing.

VII.

Comparison with American Colleges.

I To enter into an elaborate comparison of the German
and the American systems of higher education, feature
by feature, would not only swell the present work beyond
reasonable limits, but would expose the one making it to
the charge of being unpractical, unpatriotic, radical, ag-
gressive, doctrinaire. The time has not yet arrived when
the real friends of educational reform can look for a fair,
rational discussion. Passion and prejudice run too high,
there is too much dogmatism on the part of both con-
servative and innovator. The argument of the advo-
cates of the existing regime might be framed somewhat
in this wise. The American system is American, it has
grown out of the needs of the country, it is adapted to
the formation of national character, it gives our young
men what they require for playing their part in public



COMPARISON WITH AMERICA. 339

life. Moreover, we are here, strongly entrenched. Be-
side us there is none else, we cannot be dispossessed of
our vantage ground, what are you going to do about it ?
Now there is not one of the above propositions that is
not susceptible of being overhauled and corrected, or at
least modified. But the time for doing it is not yet at
hand. The American public is still indifferent, as a pub-
lic. It is not aroused to the vital connection between
the State and education in all its stages, highest as well
as lowest. The explanation of the signal failure of the
movement in behalf of Civil Service Reform is to be
found in the circumstance that the public is apathetic.
The nation at large does not care whether it has better
office-holders or not. It secretly approves, rather than
disapproves, of the principle of succession in office. After
a man has been post-master or revenue-collector for four
years, it is only fair argues the American mind that
he give some one else "a chance." Such is public opin-
ion, and it is idle to quarrel with it. A similar view is
f .aken of education. We do not need highly educated
men. So long as our graduates can spell with tolerable
accuracy, have a modicum of the classics and mathe-
matics, can write and declaim with fluency, what more do
you expect of them? They must become "practical,"
must learn the theory through the practice, and rough it
with the others. Right or wrong, this is the average
estimate set upon the value of college education. The
public does not perceive the importance of any thing
higher and more systematic. Indeed, I am tempted at



340 GERMAN UNIVERSITIES.

times to believe that the colleges have exceeded, on some
points, the demands of their friends. They give more
than is expected of them. There are symptoms of a
desire to react from the progress made during the past
fifteen years. In making this assertion, I have in view,
not so much Yale and Harvard as the colleges in the
Middle and Western States. Urged on by a spirit of
rivalry which is in itself deserving only of praise, these
latter have made their curriculum more extensive and
have also enforced its requirements more strictly. In
doing this, they have gone a step too far, they have out-
run the capacities of the preparatory schools. Up to the
outbreak of the Civil War, the American college was an
easy-going institution, where one was not forced beyond
his natural gait, but had leisure to follow his inclinations,
and especially to read. This has been changed. New
professorships in the natural sciences have been created,
and the chairs have been filled with energetic young men,
enthusiastic in their vocation, and I trust they will par-
don the bluntness of the expression rather intolerant
towards those who do not keep pace with them. Many
of the professors in the older departments are also young
men who have studied abroad, are equally enthusiastic,
and equally intolerant. The result is that we are called
upon to witness a curious phenomenon, one that must act
as a disturbing element in every system of education, to
wit, a direct conflict of studies. Our undergraduates have
at the present day too many studies, and are hurried
through difficult and disconnected subjects at too rapid a



COMPARISON WITH AMERICA. 341

rate. The new professors in the classics and the new
professors in the natural sciences threaten to tear the
child asunder between them, and there is no Solomon at
hand to decide upon the true alma mater. Viewed in
this light, the assertion now going the rounds of the press
and attributed variously to Mr. Beecher and Mr. Fields,
namely, that our colleges have not succeeded in produc-
ing one first-rate man in any department since 1855, will
perhaps receive its explanation. Whatever the college
of by-gone days may have failed to do, it certainly gave
its pupil a better opportunity than his successor now
enjoys, of maturing in conformity to the laws of indi-
vidual being.

The present remarks will be confined to three points :
the want of connection between College and State, the
question of economy, and the question of discipline.

The College, unlike the German University, rests upon
nothing and ends in nothing. We shall not obtain a just
conception of the University unless we view it in its two-
fold bearing. It is, on the one hand, the key-stone of
the arch of public-school education in Germany. Every-
thing in that system leads up to the university by a series
of carefully graduated steps. The gymnasium rests upon
the Volksschule, the university rests upon the gymnasium.
The whole cannot subsist without each one of the parts.
On the other hand, the University is the door of approach
to all the professions and also to public office. Whoever
is not content with trade and commerce must sub-
mit to its' liberalizing discipline. Without the public

*2 9



34 2 GERMAN UNIVERSITIES.

schools as a basis, and state-service or the professions as
a goal, the University would speedily lose its right of
being.

It will be needless to dwell upon the contrast presented
by the college. I have said that it rests upon nothing
and ends in nothing. By this is meant that the college
is wholly dissevered from the state. It does not rest
upon the system of public schools, neither is it the place
where candidates prepare themselves for state-service.
Massachusetts excepted, there is not a state where pub-
lic schools attempt to fit young men for college. The
needful preparation can be obtained only at academies
and private schools which are exempt from state control
and which pursue each the plan that seems to it best.
However excellent these schools may be, they do not
constitute a well organized, uniform system. The college
ends in nothing, because its curriculum is not enforced
as the condition precedent to civil and professional
appointment.

Dropping abstract terms, I put the case of real " na-
tional education " before the reader in the shape of an
imaginary example. Let us suppose the state of New
York to enact a statute to the following effect : "As soon
as may be practicable, the academies of this state shall
be reconstituted as public schools of the first grade.
The teachers now in office shall be required to pass an
examination equivalent to that for B. A. or B. S. in some
one of the acknowledged colleges of the state. Future
applicants for the position of teacher in the academies



COMPARISON WITH AMERICA. 343

and grammar schools must have passed through the full
public school course, beginning with the grammar school
and finishing with the college, and received the degree
of B. A. or B. S. The colleges shall be placed under the
supervision of the State Board of Education. The trus-
tees of a college shall have the right to propose nomina-
tions for professorships, but the governor of the state
shall exercise his discretion in rejecting unsuitable
nominees. No college shall be considered as a state
institution or entitled to recognition as an institution of
learning, that does not submit to the regulations of the
state authorities. As soon as the provisions of this act
shall have been carried out, no one shall be admitted to
the bar or bench of this state, or be permitted to practice
medicine in the state, or be employed as teacher in the
public schools, who shall not have received the degree of
B. A., M. D. or B. S. from some state college acknowledged
as such. Furthermore, no one shall be eligible for
appointment or election to state-office without such
degree. Finally, all private schools wishing to be placed
on an equality with the state academies or grammar
schools must conform in all respects to the curriculum
of the academy or the grammar school, and must submit
to the state requirements in the matter of holding exami-
nations and appointing teachers."

Such an ideal enactment, imperfectly sketched as it is,
will nevertheless, I trust, bring the case home to the
reader. It is of course impracticable. Yet I venture to
say that until we are prepared to introduce and maintain



344 GERMAN UNIVERSITIES.

something of the sort, it will be useless to talk of Civil
Service Reform and University Education. Our office-
holders may be improved somewhat in quality, our col-
leges may give a higher grade of instruction, but we shall
not have a body of trained officials, neither shall we have
a system of universities. Our colleges teach already all
that can be demanded of institutions that receive no
official recognition from the state, and that are- viewed
with indifference, not to say skepticism, by the leaders in
mercantile and political life. Let the reader extol our
college system to the best of his ability, I still maintain
that so long as three fourths of our national and state
representatives, nine tenths of our office-holders, and the
majority of the teachers in our public schools are non-
graduates, it is the most extravagant optimism to regard
the colleges as playing any acknowledged part in national
life. The famous Simmons case proves this beyond con-
troversy. If there be any city in America that has just
reason to be proud of its public-school education, it is
Boston. If there be any college in America that has
done more than another for the promotion of learning
and culture, and that is merely waiting for the word to
constitute itself into a bona fide university, it is Harvard.
Yet Boston and Cambridge combined were unable to
prevent the appointment of a man notoriously incompe-
tent, a man whose mere nomination, under a system like
that of Germany, would have been an impossibility.

It would not be difficult to show that in point of
economy also our colleges have much to learn from Ger-



COMPARISON WITH AMERICA. 345

many. The reader's most careful attention is invited to
the tabular statement of income and expenditure for the
university of Leipsic, presented elsewhere. Two of our
colleges, Harvard and Yale, have each if I mis-
take not as large an income as that of Leipsic. If
smaller, the difference is certainly inconsiderable. Yet
both Harvard and Yale would be slow in provoking a
comparison between themselves and Leipsic. To what,
then, must we look for the explanation of this dispro-
portion in America between the outlay and the results
effected ? In part, but only in a small part, to the rela-
tively higher figures of professors' salaries in America.
Each one of the full professors at Harvard receives
$4,000 a year, I believe. At Yale, the salaries are very
nearly as high. No one will have the shabbiness to
assert that the pay is too high. As a class, American
professors are insufficiently recompensed. After years
of toil and annoyance, they can be thankful if they are
able to keep themselves and their families out of debt.
Were the salary of every professor doubled, the increase
would be nothing more than justice. It is difficult to
understand why professors, who are men of ability and
culture, who devote themselves unselfishly to the best
interests of the nation, should not be paid as liberally as
our best lawyers and physicians, why the guardians of
the spiritual interests of men should fare worse than
those who look merely after their bodies and estates. It
is not more than six years ago that the president of
Harvard was forced to admit in public that his senior



346 GERMAN UNIVERSITIES.

professor received less than the chief cook of the Parker
House ! Things have been bettered since then, but they
have not been radically cured.

Now for this state of affairs the party chief in respon-
sibility is the college itself. Not Harvard, nor Yale, nor
Princeton, nor Cornell alone, but the spirit of our college


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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 22 of 26)