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 25 of 26)
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I employed it in studying the outward manifestations of

* It would be ungrateful in me to fail to mention the delightful motets de
livered gratuitously every Saturday afternoon in the Church of St. Thomas.


intellectual activity. At certain hours of the day the
streets of the inner city, in the neighborhood of the
university building, were thronged with students on their
way to and from lecture. More particularly was this
noticeable at ,one o'clock, when the midday pause comes
in. The arched ways and courts of the quondam
Dominican cloister, with all the avenues of approach,
resembled a huge swarming ant-heap. Hundreds, thou-
sands of young men, Mappe in hand, were hastening away
to their rooms and their dining-places. Although there
was no disorder, none of the turbulence and boisterous
demonstrations that distinguish an American class let
loose, it was almost impossible to make one's way against
the surging mass of humanity. On one occasion I amused
myself, while enjoying an after-dinner cup of coffee in the
Cafe Francois, by studying the motley composition of my
neighbors. The upper rooms of the Cafe are given up to
smokers, and at this hour of the day nearly all the guests
are students. To my left sat a party of Poles sibilating
to their hearts' content over a game of draughts. To my
right, a sedate party of Greeks, men of thirty or thirty-
five, puffing cigarettes and conversing in an undertone.
Directly in front, Germans boisterous over " Scat." In
the adjoining billiard-room, three or four of my country-
men still more boisterous over pool, " damning
scratches " and taking for granted, with the license that
prevails among Americans on the Continent, that no one
could understand them. The whole world seemed to be
represented in that post-prandial reunion in the smoking-


room of the Cafe Frangais. Coming fresh from the
scenes of the Vienna Exhibition, I thought to myself that
Leipsic too was a World's Fair, a standing parliament of
the nations. The quiet Saxon town had made the world
its tributary. Among its students were men who had
played the role of professor at home, men well on in the
thirties and even forties, who had saved up a few hundreds
and had come from the four quarters of the earth, had
crossed mountains and continents and oceans, in quest
of the fountain of knowledge.

The reader has before him the materials with which to
construct an image of the great university in its magni-
tude and its variety. Let him add thereto the city gym-
nasiums, with their numerous staff of highly educated
teachers, the celebrated Conservatory of Music, the many
scientific and literary institutions, the bureaus of the
countless perodicals that have their headquarters here,
the great publishing houses of Brockhaus, Teubner,
Tauchnitz and others scarcely less renowned, each one of
which has its personnel of critical proof-readers, editors, and
literary advisers, and finally the many authors themselves
residing here permanently. The aggregation of talent
and culture is startling. The city throbs with the pulsa-
tions of intense and sustained intellectual effort. Leip-
sic is the head-centre for the culture of the most pro-
ductive nation of the present day. Only London, Paris
and Berlin, I am persuaded, surpass it in the number of
men of learning, while in proportion to its population
barely 100,000 it is without a peer.


Practical Hints.

It was part of my original purpose to sketch the promi-
nent features of the six or eight leading universities of
Germany, and to enumerate the most celebrated profes-
sors in each department. But aside from the difficulty,
not to say the impossibility of doing justice to the claims
of all and each, I was deterred by the further considera-
tion, that such a comparison, with all the care that might
be put upon it, would have no permanent value. The
universities are shifting in their nature. One rises, the
other falls ; a few professors die or remove, new ones
come in their place, and the character of the university is
modified. Within my own experience I can recall a strik-
ing instance of this shifting. Ten years ago, Gottingen
stood slightly in the background, while Heidelberg was,
if not the largest, certainly the most conspicuous of all the
universities. But Vangerow and Mittermaier have since
died, and the number of Heidelberg students has fallen
to five hundred, while Gottingen, stimulated by the
accession of new men, has raised its numbers to a thou-
sand. The two universities have changed positions. The
resuscitation of the university of Strassburg has drawn off
many of the best scholars from the older seats^of learn-
ing. The smaller towns, in particular, such as Marburg,
Wurzburg, Tubingen, have suffered severely. Professors
die and remove in America also, but their coming and going


does not affect so directly the general status of the col-
lege. The undergraduate is sent to one college rather
than to another, because the outline of study meets the
views of his parents, or because they wish him to be
reared under the influence of the religious denomination
controlling that college, or because his family is tradi-
tionally identified with it. Each college in America draws
its supply of teachers and students from its own especial
sources, represents certain fixed interests, and moves
therefore in an orbit of its own. I doubt whether one
undergraduate in a hundred is determined in his selection
of an alma mater by the circumstance that a certain pro-
fessor or certain professors are enrolled in its faculty.
Indeed, so long as the professor himself is hindered from
displaying his talents to their full extent, is limited to a
s T iare in the prescribed curriculum, the student is forced
to disregard individual merits and to estimate the college
only in its totality. In Germany, on the other hand,
where the organization is uniform and all the universities
rest on the same basis and are administered in accordance
with the same principle, the character of each one at a
given epoch is determined solely by the professors com-
posing the faculty. If they are men of progress, the uni-
versity itself will flourish; but if they represent rather
the ideas and methods that are passing away, the univer-
sity will be on the wane.

The reader will understand, then, that I do not attempt
to furnish the data by which he can decide for himself
which one of the twenty universities may be best suited to


his needs. On this, as on every other point, the advice
and opinion of friends who have lived in Germany, and
are in a position to judge men and institutions by the
light of their own personal experience, will be far more
to the purpose than any mere remarks from me. All that
I can do is to throw out a few practical suggestions of a
general nature.

The first is that every one who thinks of entering upon
German university life should decide beforehand upon
his specialty. The object of the university is not to
afford general culture, but special training. Everything
is made subservient to minuteness and thoroughness of
research. Hence the American who should matriculate
at Leipsic in the expectation of finding merely a Yale or
a Harvard on a more generous scale, would find himself
grievously disappointed. He may study any one subject
he chooses, but he must study it to the exclusion of all

To make a proper selection, one must have finished
his preliminary training, i. e., must have taken his Ameri-
can degree of B. A. or B. S. The American college goes
little beyond the gymnasium, and, moreover, is not so
thorough in its method. The American graduate is
somewhat older and considerably more worldly-wise than
the newly matriculated Fuchs, but I take the liberty of
doubting whether he is equal in solid attainments, or in
capacity for work. His education is marred by many
flaws, it is not sufficiently symmetrical. Composition,

oratory, and miscellanea have been cultivated at the


expense of more difficult acquisitions. One who enters
the university without the preparation afforded either by
the gymnasium or the college, commits the grave blunder
of building on too narrow a foundation. He runs the
risk of making his studies hasty and superficial. The
German is not permitted to make such a mistake ; he is
kept back, even against his will, until he has " ripened."
The American is not under the same restraint, there is
nothing to hinder him from entering a German university
at the age of seventeen or eighteen, quite unprepared.
Yet not many do so. The danger most to be appre-
hended comes in the shape of the temptation to expedite
matters by breaking off one's college course in the Junior
or even in the Sophomore year. Not a few of the Ameri-
cans now studying in the universities of Germany are
young men whose impatience has thus outrun their
discernment. The mistake is fraught with serious con-
sequences. Whoever commits it is neither one thing nor
the other ; he has not secured the benefit of gymnasial
training, nor has he made his mark, so to speak, at home.
If my words are to have any weight, I feel it to be my
duty to impress upon the young reader the importance
of completing his college studies before embarking upon
the ocean of university life. To say this, one does not
need to be blindly enamored of the American college
system. That system has many and grievous faults. Yet
taken as it is, for. better and for worse, it is our system,
the die that stamps its mark upon our culture. The man
who has not received that impress must resign himself to


passing at a discount. College training, imperfect as it
undoubtedly is from the point of view of pure theory, has
nevertheless practical advantages that must not be disre-
garded. It prepares young men for the sudden crises, the
contingencies and irregularities of American life. It does
not afford, I regret to say, the highest instruction in any
one department of knowledge. He who seeks after such
instruction must go abroad for it. Yet the college is the
place where one can best fit himself for playing his part
as an American, the place where one can form useful
connections and enroll himself in the brotherhood of
American thinkers and men of action.

These remarks concerning the colleges will apply with
equal force to the schools of .science and of medicine.
After consulting with friends, and joining their opinions
to the results of my own observation, I feel warranted in
asserting that the surest way of reaping the full benefit of
the advantages afforded in Europe is to prepare for them
by taking a full course of study at home. Study abroad
is like travel abroad ; one brings back only what one took
away with him. That is to say, one must prepare him-
self for the mission, by acquiring an ample stock of ideas
and principles, and a practical familiarity with methods
and processes. Otherwise, the phases of foreign life and
thought slip from the mind like the evanescent kaleido-
scopic impressions made by a moving panorama.
Although entertained for the while, one is left in reality
no wiser than before.

We can even go farther, and hold that the American


student should not only have completed his general edu-
cation, but that he should have mastered the rudiments
of his specialty, before matriculating in a German uni-
versity. It is the first step, as we all know, that costs.
The German passes direct from the gymnasium to the uni-
versity. But then he is at home, he has parents and
friends near at hand, who can advise him from time to
time. The American is thrown more upon his own re-
sources. He has not only to learn the language, but he
has to familiarize himself with novel ways of living. How-
ever high-spirited and self-confident, he will be overcome
at times by a feeling of helplessness, the consciousness of
having to learn everything at once. The struggle is then
too intense, too wearing. It will be materially lightened,
if the student has already taken a start, if, while working
amid strange surroundings and against the odds of foreign
nomenclature, he is still working according to methods
with which he is to some extent familiar. Let us take
the study of chemistry for the purposes of illustration.
To attempt to learn at once German and chemistry
from the very beginning is too difficult. It can be done ;
indeed, it has been done repeatedly. Yet success is
bought at too great a cost. Six months' practice in an
American laboratory would reduce the labor by at least
one half.

Furthermore, there is a practical consideration which
has been too often overlooked. It is this. I The Ameri-
can does not live to study; he rather studies to live.j
Were life merely a pleasant sojourn in the secluded


haunts of literature and science, one could afford to take
up his abode early in a German university and linger
there year after year in the delightful pursuit of abstract
knowledge. But to the American mind, study presents
itself as the means to an end, and that end is position,
salary, whatever we may choose to call it. Much that is
taught in a German university is proper enough in itself,
and conducive to the highest interests of culture, but is
not available, not yet at least, in America. One who
wishes to prosper on his return home, should have the
faculty of selecting, should be able to seize upon the
essential, the practical, and disregard the unessential.
But this ability presupposes experience, a knowledge of
what the home-public will receive with favor. Hence it
is that the men who have first initiated themselves into
their vocation at home, serving their time as tutors or
assistants, maturing, growing with the needs of the com-
munity whom they serve, will succeed in turning even
the briefest course in a German university to such good
account, while others, who hastened abroad and pro-
longed their stay, return confused in their notions and
blundering in their aims.

The parents who place their children at school in Ger-
many, in the expectation of giving them the benefits of a
" thorough continental education," commit a grave error.
It is not an easy matter to get an American boy into a
really good German school. Our boys stand in marked
disfavor with the school-authorities. Teachers and
directors have learned by painful experience that young


Americans are prone to be idle and mutinous, exerting
an evil influence over their associates. Nothing short of
the strongest testimonials, backed by explicit guarantees
from resident citizens, will open the doors of the gym-
nasium. The private schools that make a practice^ of
admitting Americans and English are, to say the least,
questionable in their character and in the quality of their
instruction. They are unquestionably inferior to the best
of our own schools. Besides, conceding even that the
American boy is placed at the gymnasium in his fifteenth
or sixteenth year, pursues successfully the studies of
Secunda and Prima, and enters the university, in what
respect is he better off than his countryman who has just
arrived from over the water? He is more thoroughly
trained in Latin and Greek, in mathematics, and in his-
tory, and he speaks German with the fluency and pre-
cision of a native. A great gain, no doubt, but obtained
at a terrible price. The youth is completely denational-
ized ! He is no longer an American, he has no sympathy
with American life and character, he fails to appreciate
American modes of thought and sentiment. Unless he
has had the good fortune to reside with his own family,
the probability is that his proficiency in German has cost
him the total, in any case the partial loss of his mother-
tongue. He is unable to write a letter or a composition
in English, without committing the most absurd blunders
in style, in grammar, and in orthography. Let him pass
three years additional at the university. He will return
to his native country, a young man of twenty-three,


highly educated, no doubt, but helpless, unpractical,
ignorant of the ways of his countrymen. He will be
almost as much a foreigner as any one of the hundred
immigrants landed to-day at Castle Garden.

Of all cruel delusions that have played havoc with
education, this one of " the languages " has been the most
baneful. Parents do not seem to perceive that their first
duty to their children is to make them Americans. What
is in itself only a means, they look upon as an end. It
is perfectly true that a knowledge of French and Ger-
man is not only useful, but is necessary in all or nearly
all the professions. The man who has not command over
the resources of these two languages labors under great
disadvantage. Yet it is advisable that we should meet
and answer fairly the question : What is meant by know-
ing a language ? If by knowing a language is meant
simply the ability to maintain a conversation or write a
letter, let us be candid and admit that the accomplish-
ment is a mere superficial varnish, a something that is
not worth the acquisition. The small-talk of the ordi-
nary letter and the drawing-room is no better and no
worse in one language than in another. Where is the
gain in keeping a boy or a girl for years in a Pension, far
away from the refining influences of home, merely
that he or she may be able to rattle off bilingual plati-
tudes ? How many of the hundreds and thousands of
young men and women who have been reared at great
expense in France and Germany, and who pride them-
selves on their glibness of conversation, have made or are


likely to make their mark as authors and thinkers ? If
French is worth learning at all, and this applies to
German and every other language, it is worth learning,
not as a " beggarly account of empty boxes " with pretty
gilt labels, but as a vast storehouse of thought and cul-
ture. To know French in the sense of being able to say,
Good Morning, How D'ye Do, and to order one's dinner
and berate the waiter, is a superfluous accomplishment.
But French as the vehicle used by Racine, Pascal,
Moliere, by the great writers of France, to convey their
thoughts and ideas, is an object worth striving after.
The man or the woman who is able to read French works
with an understanding of their relative merits, with a clear
insight into their development and into the special phase
of national life that each one represents, has just reason
to be proud. French language is one thing, French
literature is another. The latter is a final object of
study, the former is not. But to know French literature
as the body of French thought, one must look upon the
language as preliminary, the mere avenue of approach.
And to become a good scholar in French literature, one
must be in the first place a good scholar in English.
One must be reared at home, must receive the best train-
ing that his own country can afford, and must place him-
self in accord with whatever is distinctively American
and English. In no other way can one compare the
literature in French with the literature in English, and
do justice to each. The two Americans whose names
are most strongly associated with foreign culture are


Longfellow and Lowell. They have won for themselves
imperishable fame as genial mediators between the Old
World and the New. Yet neither Longfellow nor Lowell,
I am confident, looks upon his knowledge of French, or
German, or Italian as anything more than the key with
which to unlock the treasure-houses of European thought.
They were both sound English scholars, graduates of
American colleges, before they embarked upon their
foreign tours of exploration. They went abroad know-
ing what to look for, prepared to accept or reject, to
assimilate, and to reproduce.

It is time that protest should be raised against this
pernicious practice of placing our boys and girls at
European schools. These schools are excellent, better
indeed than our own, in many respects. But they are
not planned for Americans, and they can never fit their
pupils for the peculiar duties and responsibilities of
American life. The higher education of the German
universities is the best in the world. Yet Americans
should beware of entering upon it before they are fully
ripe, before they know what to take and what to leave.

In speaking of the universities of Leipsic and Berlin, I
have already mentioned the rates of the chief ifems of
expenditure. It will be needful to add in this place,
therefore, only a brief comparison of Leipsic with the
smaller university towns. At Marburg, my room cost
exactly one half the Leipsic price, but was much inferior
in every respect. Indeed, by reason of the wretched
style of building that has prevailed at Marburg, it is


difficult to obtain a good room at any price. I may say,
in general, that a good room may be had at Tubingen,
Halle, Wiirzburg, Jena, and the other towns, except Bonn
and Heidelberg, for six or seven thalers a month. Table
d'hote will be somewhat less than at Leipsic, the other
meals will differ but slightly. Whoever has at his com-
mand $500 per annum, in gold, will be able to live in
comfort, to have good rooms and excellent fare, to add
twenty or thirty volumes each semester to his library, and
to travel for a fortnight each vacation. There is many
a German student who would be thankful to receive as
much as $300 per annum. The only universities that can
be called expensive are Berlin and Vienna. For these
two places, $800 to $1,000 will scarcely be too much.

What particular subject shall be studied, is of course a
question that must be settled by each one for himself,
according to his predilection and his opportunities. As a
matter of fact, the majority of the Americans who study
in Germany pursue chemistry and medicine. Next in
point of numbers are the students of the classics. After
them come the theologians. Very few take up the subject
of Roman jurisprudence. So long as the law is looked
upon in America as a bread-and-butter study, I see no
reason to expect a change in this respect. To use the
current phrase, " it will not pay " to spend two or three
years over the Institutes and the Pandects. Yet I can-
not refrain from expressing my regret that so few of our
young lawyers should think it worth the while to make at
least the effort to emulate the great Chancellor Kent, and


to develop themselves not merely into clever practitioners
but into accomplished jurists. A knowledge of the prin-
ciples of the Roman Law is the foundation of study in
international jurisprudence, and is also indispensable to
a full understanding of the movements recorded in Conti-
nental history. If by history we mean in sincerity the
formation of national character and habits, and not
merely the chronicle of battles and court intrigues, we
cannot escape the conclusion that to study the history of
a nation one must examine into its system of laws. For
the laws of a nation are the permanent expression of the
nation's habits, its views concerning property, the mar-
riage relation, the rights and duties of parents and
children, the connection between church and state. The
political and social constitutions of France, Germany,
Italy, and Spain, rest, to a large extent, upon the system
of rules and maxims bequeathed to them or imposed
upon them by the Romans and confirmed by the mediae-
val church. The first step, then, toward the knowledge
of continental history is the study of the general princi-
ples embodied in the corpus jur is. In support of this
position, I refer to the practice of the German universi-
ties, that place the Institutes and History of Roman Law
among the requirements for the degree in history.

Although loth to say aught that may have the appear-
ance of an attempt to influence others in the selection
of their vocations, I make one, and only one suggestion.
Should any one of my readers be desirous of testing for
himself the boasted superiority of the German university


system, and should he be wholly undecided in his choice
of a subject, why may he not take up history, and more
especially the history of Germany ? Not only is the field
inviting in itself, but it is one in which he need fear no
rivals. The balance of power in Europe has been shifted

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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 25 of 26)