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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wrote all the exercises in Woodbury and Otto, and a good
many in Ollendorf, until this last grew insufferably tedi-
ous, and then mastered Plate. This work is not so
well known in America as it should be ; the author, prin-
cipal of the Commercial Academy of Bremen, is thor-
oughly familiar with both languages, and has treated
certain subjects, e. g., the separable verbs, the passive
voice, and the German substitutes for the participial
phrase, better and more fully than the other grammar-'
ians.* Woodbury I found chiefly valuable for the collec-
tion of idiomatic phrases illustrating the use of the
German prepositions. Besides these English-German
grammars, which I literally " swallowed " word for word,
I also consulted incessantly Heyse's Schulgrammatik der

*It was not until my return that I became acquainted with Dr. Arnold's
Orerman Exercises. They are the best of the kind in existence.


deutschen Sprache^ a book written for the use of pupils
in the upper classes of the gymnasia. But my hardest
work was in translating from English into German.
Here I tried my hand at all sorts of books and styles,
from Hawthorne's " Marble Faun " to leaders from the
London Times. My plan was to translate a few passages
from one book, enough to seize the peculiarities of the
author's style and diction, and then pass to another. In
looking over my old copy-books and manuscripts, blurred
and corrected in places so as to be scarcely legible, it is
easy for me now to see that, notwithstanding the help of
grammar and teacher, I wrote a good deal of rubbish,
clumsy, un-German sentences that no native would think
of putting on paper. But with all their imperfections,
these exercises answered their purpose ; they gave me a
better insight into the peculiarities of the language than
I could have got in any other way. There was scarcely
an English idiom that I did not attempt to " upset " into
German after a fashion.

Permit me to narrate one amusing incident. In the
English text that I happened to be working upon
occurred the phrase "he said, by the way." The expres-
sion " by the way " I had left blank, not finding any
equivalent in the dictionary. "But," said my teacher,
"why don't you translate: auf dem Wege?" It was in
vain I tried to convey the idea of the English, how the
word " way " was not used in a literal sense, like " road,"
but in a figurative sense, to denote something thrown in,
as it were, something incidental. What misled the


teacher was the circumstance that the person speaking
was actually in motion at the time described; of course,
then, the phrase must be auf dem Wege. I felt instinc-
tively that he was wrong ; but how hit upon a word or
an idiom that would convey the idea exactly? We
talked to and fro, I exhausted my vocabulary and the
teacher his patience, until we sat confronting each other
as disconcerted as a bridal couple after their first quarrel.
All at once a light, as the German students would say,
a "tallow-light," dawned upon me. I bethought me of
the French phrase en passant, and flourished it in triumph
at my teacher. " Ach so ! (with the delicate sneer that
so can be made to suggest in German). En passant! Na
nun, naturlich ; BEILAUFIG wollen Sie sagen i " I con-
sulted my watch; we had spent ten minutes in finding
one word. A liberal outlay of time, but then the word
was there, and furthermore it had been got in such a
way as insured its never being forgotten; there was no
danger of my losing sight of beil'dufig.

The teacher, " by the way," was not a particularly good
English scholar. At that time in his third or fourth
semester, he was a good philologist, but had read very
little English and had never had an opportunity of hear-
ing or of speaking the language. So far from regarding
this as a disadvantage, I considered it then and still con-
sider it a positive gain. It forced me into the position
of talking German even in my lessons, of explaining all
my wants in my own phraseology. Whenever any diffi-
cult passage or peculiar idiom occurred, as the above, I


had to give the sense of the entire context by "beating
around the bush," by stating what the thing was not, until
the teacher could gather from my broken utterances what
it really was j then, when the answer came, when the cor-
rect rendering was reached, it made its impression. It
did not go in by one ear and out by the other, the mind
was ready to receive and retain it. Judging from the
experiences of my friends, I am disposed to look upon
"crack" teachers in Germany with some mistrust. In
the first place, they are apt to cultivate their own Eng-
lish at the expense of the pupil's German. In the next
place, the pupil, finding the teacher thoroughly prepared
on all points, lapses into a state altogether too passive ;
he is content to sit and listen to explanations, to take
every thing for granted, to rely upon the teacher to do
the thinking. After all, the chief result to be aimed at is
to train and develop the faculties, to acquire the habit
of expressing one's self in German, to get a German mem-
ory and turn of thought, as it were. This accomplished,
the rest will follow as a matter of course, in due time and
with patience ; but whether a certain word is learned one
week or the next, is a matter of comparative indifference.
The more haste at first, the less speed at last.

The reader need not infer from the above account that
I read absolutely no German during the first six months.
I skimmed the papers every day for news from home
German leaders were too heavy for my taste, in fact they
are so at the present day ! and read short pieces of
poetry and an occasional story in the Gartenlaube or


Ueber Land und Meer. But I kept carefully in abeyance
whatever looked like literature.

This plan of devoting one's self exclusively to grammar
may seem to conflict with the opinions expressed by Mat-
thew Arnold * upon the aim and methods of linguistic
study, opinions moreover with which I heartily agree.
Matthew Arnold says : " An immense development of
grammatical studies, and an immense use of Latin and
Greek composition, take so much of the pupil's time, that
in nine cases out of ten he has not any sense at all of
Greek and Latin literature as literature, and ends his
studies without getting any. His verbal scholarship and
his composition he is pretty sure in after life to drop, and
then all his Greek and Latin is lost. Greek and Latin
literature, if he had ever caught the notion of them,
would have been far more likely to stick by him." But
this conflict was apparent rather than real. I regarded
my grammatical studies and translations strictly as a
means to an end, and merely crowded them into a period
of six months instead of letting them prolong themselves
over a year and a half. It seemed to me, and still seems
to me, that such a plan after all saves time. No sooner,
however, did translation and grammar threaten to become
a mere drudgery, a mere tread-mill round without pro-
gress, than I dropped them forever, as any thing more
than incidental work, and took up reading, literature in
Mr. Arnold's sense of the term, as the reader will learn
in the sequel.

' ;

* Higher Schools and Universities in Germany ', p. 183. (Edition of 1874).


Matriculation and Lectures.

Deeming it advisable to preserve a certain unity of sub-
ject, I have thrown all remarks upon the study of German
grammar into the preceding chapter, in order to dispose
of them, although thereby making that chapter overlap
the present by several months. I was not through with
my grammar-travail until early spring, but I was matricu-
lated in October.

A German university is the one institution in the world
that has for its motto: Time is NOT money. The
university is a law unto itself, each professor is a law unto
himself, each student revolves on his own axis and at his
own rate of speed. English and Americans have formed
not a few queer notions of university life in Germany. They
picture to themselves a town like Gottingen, for instance,
as a place where everybody is running a break-neck race
for scholarly fame, where days are months and hours
days, where minutes are emphatically the gold-dust of
time. The truth is that no one hurries or gets into a
feaze over any thing, the university itself setting a good
example. The academic year is divided into two terms,
called the winter and the summer semesters. The winter
semester covers nominally five months, from October



1 5th to March i5th. In reality, both beginning and end
are whittled off, so to speak, and there is a pause of two
weeks at Christmas, so that the actual working time
is little over four months. From March i5th to April
1 5th is the spring vacation. The summer semester then
runs to August i5th, but practically the work is over by
the first of that month.

Supposing yourself to be a tyro in such matters, and
the 1 5th of October to be drawing near, you are naturally
impatient to be matriculated and at work. But you will
discover that the older students are not yet back, and, on
consulting the " Black Board," you see no announcement
of lectures. There is no hurry. A day or two after the
1 5th, perhaps, a general announcement is affixed, to the
effect that candidates for matriculation may present
themselves at the Aula on such and such days of the
week, at certain hours. The ceremony is a simple one.
In the first place, you proceed to the secretary's office and
deposit there your " documents " entitling you to admis-
sion. For a German, this is a matter of some impor-
tance ; he is not ^admitted unless he is able to produce
certain papers, the principal one of which is a certificate
that he has attended a gymnasium or Realschule and has
passed satisfactorily the final examination (AbituHenten-
examen). As the university holds no extrance-examina-
tion, this is the only guarantee it can have that those
seeking admission are properly qualified. But in the

*Or admitted only under very grave conditions and restrictions.


case of a foreigner, the utmost liberality is displayed.
Ten years, ago, while Gottingen was a Hanoverian uni-
versity, the only document required of a foreigner was
his passport. It is the same to this day in Leipsic,
Heidelberg, and the South German universities. The
Prussian universities are a trifle stricter ; in the case of
Americans, they generally expect a diploma of Bachelor
of Arts or the like, but they can scarcely be said to exact
it. I doubt whether any German university would refuse
to admit any foreign candidate who showed by his size
and bearing that he was really a young man able to look
after himself, and not a mere boy. Besides, it would be
easy to evade the Prussian requirements, if they were
strictly enforced, by first entering a non-Prussian univer-
sity, say Leipsic, and after remaining there a semester or
two, procuring an honorable dismissal (Abgangszeugniss)
and then removing to Berlin or Bonn. By virtue of the
parity existing among the universities of Germany, a
student in good standing in one is entitled to admission
to any other. But the Germans know perfectly well that
they can afford to be liberal toward foreigners. They
take it for granted that when a young man puts himself
to the trouble and expense of a visit to Germany, the
chances are that he means to do well. The mere fact of
his coming is a compliment to them, which they recipro-
cate by making things easy for him. Foreigners do not
interfere with the course of instruction, while they do
lend eclat to the university and help to swell its income.
There is nothing selfish or exclusive about the higher


education in Germany ; although intended for Germans,
it is open to all who choose to avail themselves of it,
capacious enough to accommodate every type of mind,
and absolutely free from dwarfing restrictions. The
newly matriculated student, the Fuchs, is made to feel
from the start that he is his own master.*

But I am digressing. The next step in matriculation is
to visit the treasurer (Quaestor) and pay the matriculation
fees. These vary somewhat with the different universities,
but are nowhere excessive. In Gottingen they amounted
to about five dollars. In exchange for your fees you get
two weighty documents, the a b c of student life : your
Anmeldungs-buch) and your student card. The former
varies in size and shape (in Berlin they used the Anmel-
dungs-bogcn as distinguished from buch\ but whether
book or merely folded sheet, it answers the same purpose ;
it is to be your record of work done. Imagine to your-
self a large, stout book, like a copy-book ; each page is
for a semester, and there are eight or ten pages in all, that
being the estimated maximum number of semesters that
you will remain ; if you study longer, you can get a fresh
book. The page is ruled in vertical columns, one for the
names of the courses of lectures that you hear, another
for the treasurer's certificate that you have paid the
lecture-fees, a third and a fourth for the professor's cer-
tificates that you have attended the course, entered at
the beginning and at the end of the semesters. The

* The applicant has also to sign a pledge that he will not become a member
of any secret political society.


modus operandi is as follows. After deciding what lec-
tures you will hear, you yourself write the official title in
the left-hand column. You then get the Quaestor
to affix his teste in the second column. This entitles
you to a seat, and if the course happens to be a popular
one, attended by large numbers, the sooner you secure
your seat the better. After " hearing " a week or two,
you make your visit upon the professor himself, selecting
some hour in the forenoon when he has no official
engagement. If you wish to conform rigorously to eti-
quette, you must appear in grand toilet, i. e., in dress
coat and kid-gloves, although the chances are ninety-nine
in a hundred that in so doing you will catch the profes-
sor himself in wrapper and slippers, unshaven and smok-
ing a long pipe. Your appearance in grand toilet is an
intimation that you not merely wish to have your attend-
ance at lectures certified, but that you know " what is
what " and take the liberty of presenting yourself to him.
as gentleman to gentleman. Whether you remain to chat
for a few minutes or simply present your book for certifi-
cation, will depend upon the manner of the professor
himself ; some instructors make it a point to detain the
student for about ten minutes, others regard the affair as
something to be disposed of in the quickest manner
possible, and scarcely even ask the student to sit down.
With regard to the second certification, given at the close
of the lecture course, there is no fixed rule ; any time
not too long before the end of the semester will do ; you
can even wait until the next semester or still later, in fact


you need not go in person, but can send the book around
by your servant-girl or your boot-black.

The certifying to attendance at lectures has lapsed into
an empty form. Every now and then a professor, inspired
with unwonted zeal for his vocation, tries to make it a
means of enforcing attendance, of preventing "cutting."
But such isolated attempts speedily die out and are for-
gotten ; if you show yourself two or three times at the
beginning and a dozen times at the end of the semester,
your attendance is certified as a matter of course,
although you may have " cut " the entire intervening time.
As an item of my own personal experience, I can state
that Professor Gneist of Berlin certified to my attend-
ance at his lectures on the Institutes, {fleissig besucht\
although he must have known, if he knew anything, that
I had not been inside his lecture-room within a month.
The real proof of a student's diligence is not the profes-
sor's certificate but ability to pass a searching examination.

In a large city, like Berlin, it is not even necessary to
call upon your professor; the latter remains for a few
minutes after every lecture during the first week or two,
so as to give the students an opportunity of coming for-
ward and presenting their Anmeldungs-bucher.

The student-card, like the Anmeldungs-buch, is a
peculiarly German institution. When you are matricu-
lated, not only is your name entered in the general univer-
sity register, but you must be inscribed under some one of
the four general faculties, viz. : theology, law, medicine,
philosophy. You then receive a card, not much larger


than an ordinary visiting card, of stout pasteboard. On
the face of the card is placed your name, Herr N. N., aus
(from) such and such a place, student in such a faculty.
On the reverse is a printed announcement, couched in
the knottiest of German sentences, that none but the
accomplished scholar of both English and German can
untie, to the effect that you are always to carry this card
about you on your person, and produce it whenever it
may be demanded by the university or town police, under
penalty of a fine of twenty Silber Groschen (50 cents).

This simple card is your Legitimation. In a university
that has a complete jurisdiction of its own, as Gottingen
has, at least did have in the days of which I write, pro-
ducing this card secures you against all municipal arrest.
You are member of a special corporation, and as such are
amenable only to the university court ; neither civil nor
criminal action' can be brought against you in the ordin-
ary courts, but must be laid before the university court in
the first instance. If this body should find you guilty of
a crime or a grave misdemeanor, it would then surrender
you to the Supreme Court, Criminal Section, the German
equivalent to our Circuit Court. You cannot be arrested
or locked up by a town policeman ; all he can do with
you is to keep you for a few minutes in custody, until he
finds a University Pedell (beadle) to take you in charge.
I hope to be able to speak more at length in another
place of this curious relic of mediaevalism.

Your card in your pocket and your Anmeldungsbuch
in your hand, in company with ten or twelve other candi-


dates, you are then ushered into the august presence of
the Rector magnificus* or Chancellor of the University.
You will probably find him to be a man much as other
men, only looking a trifle uncomfortable in his dress-coat.
The rector makes a short harangue, of which, if you are
in the backward condition that I was, you will probably
understand one word in five, but the substance of which
is that he is rejoiced to see so many promising young
men aspirants to the higher culture imparted by the
Georgia Augusta (the official name of the university),
and that he hopes you will be good fellows and make the
most of your time and opportunities. In token of which,
each candidate in turn shakes hands with him. You are
then ushered out, to make room for a fresh squad who
have just got their books and cards.

The ceremony is over;<ryou are a German student, or a
student in Germany, at last, ready to absorb all the
knowledge and Bildung that your Alma Mater deals out
with lavish hand. If you happen to be of an amiable,
convivial turn of mind, your spirits will be buoyant ; you
will consider it your privilege and duty to celebrate the
occasion by " dedicating " a bowl of punch to your elder
brethren and compatriots who have helped you through
the ordeal by telling you where to go and what to do.
You and they will then make an afternoon of it, driving
out to the Gleichen or the Plesse to enjoy the scenery,
and indulge in coffee in the open air, and on your return,

+Prorector^ in universities where the sovereign is the nominal head of the


if still unsatisfied, you can make a night of it at Fritz's
or the Universitatskneipe. Should you wake up the next
morning with a headache, a Jammer or a Kater, you can
derive consolation from two circumstances : first, that it
is only what has happened to thousands before you and
will happen to thousands after you ; next, that you have
fairly and honorably initiated yourself into student-life.
You know now what it is to be a student, as Victor Hugo
might felicitously express it, avant davoir crache du
latin dans la boutique dun professeur.

Having habituated yourself to the sense of your new
dignity, the next step is to decide upon the professors with
whom you are to "hear." This will not be so easy as
you might suppose. Unless you have come to the uni-
versity with a preconceived plan of study, you will find
yourself embarrassed by the wealth from which you are to
choose. Fortunately the professors give you ample time
for making a suitable selection.

The university opens nominally, it may be assumed, on
the 1 5th of October. One professor announces that he
will begin ^ to read on the i8th, another on the 2oth,
a third on the 25th ; in fact, I have know^n one professor
to begin his course on the pth of November. Each pro-
fessor, it has been already observed, is a law unto himself;
the main point is that he read at least one course of lec-
tures each semester, on a subject of his own selection, for
which he has properly qualified himself, and that he cover
about so much ground. Whether he begins late and
stops early, is a matter in his own discretion. This is


not indifference or sloth on the part of the professors,
but rather a deliberate forecasting of time and labor.
Where the work is heavy and the field wide, the professor
will not waste an hour. Vangerow, for instance, in lec-
turing at Heidelberg on the Pandects, used to begin on
the very first day after the nominal opening day, and con-
tinue, averaging three hours daily throughout the winter,
until two weeks after the semester had nominally closed.

Each course of lectures is paid for separately, the
prices varying with the number of hours occupied in the
week. Thus a single course, as it is called, one taking
four or five hours a week, is charged about $5 ; a double
course, one of ten or twelve hours a week, would cost $10.
The usual double courses are those on the Pandects, on
Anatomy and Physiology, and on Chemistry. The high-
est number of courses (double and single) that I have
taken in any one semester (my fifth) was four, aggregating
twenty-five hours a week, for which I paid between $25
and $30, a small price, in view of the quantity and
quality of the instruction.

Lecture-fees are paid to the Quaestor^ and not to the
professor direct, although this latter eventually receives
them, or the greater part of them, from the Quaestor.
The new-comer will be puzzled at the distinction
between lectures publice, privatim, and privatissime. Pub-
lic lectures are those held by a professor gratuitously,
on some minor topic of general interest. In the Prus-
sian universities each professor is held to announce at
-least one such lecture a term. The privatim lectures


are the ordinary ones, for which fees are paid and which
are regarded as the substance of university teaching. A
lecture privatissime is nothing more than our private
lesson, the terms and times for which are settled by
agreement between the professor and the student. The
fees for it are not paid to the quaestor, and the lecture
or lesson, is not entered in the Anmeldungsbuch.

I have used more than once the expression " a course
of lectures " ; to guard against misapprehension, it
may be advisable to stop and explain at length. By
a course of lectures in a German university is meant
a series of lectures on one subject, delivered by one
man, during one semester. A German university has,
strictly speaking, no course of instruction ; there are no
classes, the students are not arranged according to their
standing by years, there are no recitations, there is no
grading, until the candidate presents himself at the
end of three or four years for his doctor's degree,
when the quality of his attainments is briefly and
roughly indicated by the wording of the diploma.
More of this hereafter. For the present it will be suffi-
cient to say that all students stand on a footing of
perfect equality irt the eye of university, and that
theoretically each one is free to select such lectures in

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 3 of 26)