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 6 of 26)
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duels occur continually. I need only cite, among recent
instances, the v deplorable encounter between Armand
Carrel and Emile de Girardin, the one between the Due
de Montpensier and Henri de Bourbon, or the one that
occurred but a few months ago between two Roumanian
noblemen residing in Paris.* One who reads the Euro-
pean press regularly will find mention made of a duel
every month or two. The truth is that public opinion
on the continent sustains the practice, and, in such
matters, public opinion is irresistible. German students
duel for the same reasons that lead German officers,

* Even as I write, the world of Paris is agog with the duel in which Prince
Metternich has figured.



journalists, noblemen, and others of the genus irritabile
to resort to arms, namely, because they regard it as the
only dignified and gentlemanly way of resenting an insult.
In this respect, they are in accordance with the general
tone of feeling in the community, they are neither better
-rior worse than the other upper classes. But they are
to be condemned, even on their own theory, for convert-
ing what should be the exception into a modus vivendi^ as
it were, making student-honor a matter of conventional-
ism and converting a final resort into an every-day
pastime. They duel so much, and on such frivolous
pretexts, that the impartial observer must accuse them
of fighting simply because they like to fight. Further-
more, by their paddings and goggles (to say nothing of
caps and seconds), and by their peculiar mode of fight-
ing, they eliminate the element of danger almost com-
pletely, and make the Mensur encounter a mere display
of address. The wounds inflicted by the Schlager are
rarely serious, being clean cuts with a sharp edge, and
generally heal in a fortnight. If properly cared for, they
do not leave a bad scar. Occasionally one hears of a
grave disfigurement, possibly a fatal termination to a
Schlager duel ; but such results come from what might
be called an accident, as the breaking of a sword-blade.
In ninety-nine instances out of the hundred, a student-
duel is like the two that I have described : either a harm-
less and almost farcical set-to between men who cannot
do each other much harm, or a scientific trial of skill
between veterans who know how to give and take. I


once asked a friend of mine, a corps-student at the time
and a splendid Schlager* what he really thought of the
Mensur. " O," said he, " it is an abominable piece of
nonsense (fin grasslicher Unsinn\ but at any rate it is
better than street-fighting."

It is a notorious fact that nine tenths of the duels are
fought without any real provocation ; one student hap-
pens to bump against the other in the street, or one
chaffs the other a trifle too sharply. The students have
a code of honor of their own, namely, a list of expres-
sions which one can not himself use without rendering
himself liable to a challenge and which one must always
resent. Prominent among these is the word dumm '
(stupid), especially in the connection: dummer Junge.
It is a direct provocation to call your colleague a dummer
Junge ; it is not, to tell him that he lies ! The German
word "lie" does not suggest such a degree of moral
obliquity as does the English.

The reader . must not imagine, however, that
Mensur duels are the only ones. From time to time
there is an encounter with sabres or even with pistols.
These are rare, but they do occur, and are kept very
secret ; generally they are fought outside the limits of
the University jurisdiction. They are real duels, the
supposed satisfaction for some gross insult.

The reader will probably wish to learn why it is that
the university as a rule treats Mensur duels so lightly,
scarcely interfering to prevent them, and, when the

* He is now professor in a neighboring university.


beadles have made an arrest, punishing the offenders
with a mere nominal imprisonment of a few days or a
fortnight. Permit me to meet the interrogatory with the
following imaginary counter-question from the university
court. Here are hundreds of young men from various
quarters of the country, all more or less imbued with the
notion that it is right and honorable to resent an insult,
all at that age in life when passion runs highest, sus-
tained and even urged on by the general opinion of the
community, that looks upon a Mensur as a venial youth-
ful escapade, and a Schlager scar as something to be
boasted of in after-life. What would you have us do ?
Suppress the duel and punish rigorously the duelist ?
We can not do the one, we dare not do the other. Our
students will fight, because the quarrel is in them and
must come out. Our colleagues of the Heidelberg fac-
ulty tried once, years ago, to put an end to the practice,
but outside pressure was too strong for them and they were
forced to abandon the attempt. All that is in our power,
we do ; we discourage utterly pistol and sabre duels, by
ferreting out the real offender and punishing him to the
full extent of our authority ; we leave Mensur duels to
the general good sense of the students ; if they become
too numerous, or if they threaten to assume an aggra-
vated shape, we check them for a while by relegating the
elements of discord. But there is one thing that we can
do, and always do ; we prevent bullying. We suffer no
one to be overridden and dragged into a duel against
his own judgment, either by threats or by abuse. If a


man chooses to fight, he can take his chance. If he
does not choose to fight, we protect him.

These are not idle words. The reader may rest
assured that there is no more scrupulous defender of
the inviolability of a man's person and feelings than the
court of a German university. In 1863, at a time when
diplomatic relations between Prussia and Hanover were
rapidly becoming delicate in the extreme, the University
of Gottingen did not hesitate to banish for two years the
nephew of one of the most notorious and influential
generals in the Prussian service, merely because he
insulted verbally but grossly a fellow-student in the
street. I feel, no hesitation in affirming that the student
who should presume to strike, either with his cane or with
his hand, another student, and should decline to make
public apology and amends, if demanded, would be
cashiered within a week. He would have Ihe pleasure
of reading his name placarded in big staring letters on
the Black Board, and knowing that he was excluded
from every seat of learning between the Rhine and the
Vistula. American though I am, I feel bound to state
explicitly that, on this point at least, we have much to
learn from Germany. Dueling, it must be admitted, is
an evil. But there are others equally great and much
meaner. I refer to "hazing," "rushing," " nagging," and
"smoking-out." These are outrages upon all that makes
life worth living. They not only invade the sanctity of a
private room, but they humiliate the victim at a time
when the character is forming and impressions are''


assuming their final set. Having myself escaped all
these trials of American college life, I can speak my
mind freely and without resentment. To one who has
lived under both systems, our own will appear a mixture
of childishness and tyranny, a system of terrorism ad-
ministered by beardless youths who were better at home
conning their geography and grammar. 'It is not my
purpose to defend German practices, still less to commit
the absurdity of arguing for their adoption in America.
Both countries are in need of reform. But this much
surely the sober-minded thinker can say : that the Ger-
man system, rough and brutal though it may be, is
at least manly. It holds the student to the strictest
accountability for all that he does and says. He can
not play the Hector one day, and the meek and lowly
minded the next. By insulting in any way his fellow, he
places himself before the inexorable alternative : apolo-
gize or fight! If a student wishes to lead a quiet,
secluded life, devoting himself exclusively to study, he
can do so with the assurance that his intentions will be
respected, his person unmolested. He has only to mani-
fest his disposition, to let the world know that he means
peace. But then he must carefully observe the -golden
rule, he must not fail to do unto others as fte would have
others do unto him. He must never provoke abuse. If,
on the other hand, his wish is to fight and row with con-
genial spirits, it is easily gratified. Time will never hang
heavy on his hands. He will always find men by the


score ready to quarrel with him over the color of the
Prophet's beard and meet him steel to steel.

The fault of the American system is that, under it, the
student who is in the least degree odd in appearance or
manners may be subjected to annoyance and persecution
from which there is no escape and for which there is no
redress. The fault of the German is that it tolerates
bloodshed, and makes student-honor, to a large extent,
conventional. On the other hand, it confines personal
altercation to those who choose to indulge in it of their
own accord.



Daylight in German.

HE fall and winter passed uneventfully. The sea-
son was a cold one, giving us plenty of skating on
the Upper Meadows, outside of the Grone Gate. Skat-
ing and an occasional visit to the theater were my only
relaxations ; otherwise I kept close to my books and lec-
tures. Had the theater troupe and stage repertory been
better, I might have paid perhaps more frequent atten-
tions to the muse. But it seemed to me that the even-
ings could be spent more profitably and agreeably in
talking poor German to my landlady, and listening to her
capitally told stories of German life. It has often been
a matter of astonishment to me how much language one
can learn in conversation with intelligent and cultivated
women. The solid framework of knowledge one has to
construct for one's self, slowly and painfully, but ease and
grace of discourse, the mastery of those charming little
words and phrases that make conversation a continuous
flow, rather than a clumsy chain of detached proposi-
tions, can be obtained only through intercourse with the
other sex. In this respect, German women are not equal
to the French ; they have less style, less finish, and also
less animation. On the other hand, they have more


heartiness, by nature a kinder disposition. They are
devoted friends, always obliging, thoroughly unselfish,
and easily pleased.

Perhaps the reader is familiar with the expression
attributed to Dr. Johnson on landing at Dieppe : " Good
Heavens ! Even the little children speak French ! "
On arriving at Gottingen, I found, in like manner, that
all the boys and girls spoke German ! What was even
more surprising and humiliating, they spoke a good deal
faster and better than .1 could. Can there be anything
more absurd than to find yourself, who have obtained
your legal majority, beaten completely by a child not yet
in its teens, to see that all your book-learning is as noth-
ing by the side of prattle imbibed, as it were, with the
mother's milk, picked up unconsciously and without an
effort in the nursery-room? Although not offering my
experience on this point as anything novel or extraordi-
nary, I desire to make an application of it that has not
yet received the attention which it deserves. It is this,
that whoever seeks to learn a language well and com-
pletely must, in a measure, learn it even as a little child,
must approach it in a humble, we might say a reverent
spirit, and let it work upon him before he attempts to
work upon it. Language is a mode of expression for the
widest range of ideas and feelings ; unless we essay it in
all its stages, from its lispings and stammerings to its
most exalted utterances, we shall never fully enter into
its character. Furthermore, the beginner can learn very
much from children's talk. The more I reflect upon the


numbers of those who exert themselves from year to year
to acquire a practical knowledge of foreign languages, the
greater is my surprise that no one of our professed teach-
ers has given to this fact special prominence. It would
be going out of my way to attempt to give an explanation
of all the causes. Let me call attention to one or two.
The besetting sin of the beginner in language is mauvaise
honte ; he is tongue-tied, helpless, embarrassed in the
presence of his equals. He is ashamed to speak, for fear
of making a mistake ; it seems to him at times as though
everybody were watching him and waiting for a blunder.
Of course this is a delusion, but, like other unreasonable
delusions, it cannot be reasoned away. In speaking with
children, however, this mauvaise honte vanishes of itself;
the young man who is ashamed to open his lips before
other young men, will converse freely with a boy, as if it
were his own brother ; he loses the morbid dread of being
watched and corrected, and blunders on the best he can.
This, it is to be observed, is half the battle in learning to
talk. But there is another point equally important.
Children are great tyrants ; they are not exacting in the
matter of grammar ; they tolerate all sorts of mistakes,
without even suspecting one of talking queerly, that is,
as a foreigner ; but, in one respect, they are inexorable.
They will have easy words and phrases, and they will
have the right word for the right thing. No amount of
circumlocution, of general platitudes and second-hand
knowledge will answer ; one must call a kettle a kettle, a
saw a saw, or the child will not understand. Experience


will teach us that in conversing with children we must
always reconstruct our knowledge, so to speak ; must put
our ideas into the clearest and most compact shape ;
keep the sharpest watch over nouns, adjectives and verbs,
and drop all conventionalisms. In listening to children's
talk, we can almost imagine ourselves " hearing the grass
grow ; " we surprise the human spirit in its healthful,
spontaneous evolution.

It is not in my power to dwell upon this subject.
I can only assure the reader that, having lived in both
French and German families, and tried the experiment
thoroughly, I attribute whatever conversational ability
I may possess quite as much to the children as to the
parents. My landlady in Gottingen had but one child
living with her, a mere girl just in her teens, but very
affable, intelligent, and devoted to her lessons with an
assiduity that would put to shame the typical American
miss who has begun already to dream of balls and val-
entines. For three years we were the best of friends,
and the German that I learned from her will stand me in
good stead for a life-time.

Yet, notwithstanding the advantages of the home-circle
that I was enjoying, I determined in early spring to make
a change of quarters. To come to a German university
and not live just as a student, seemed like visiting Rome
without getting a look at the Pope. Besides, I was some-
what cramped and uncomfortable, the best rooms in the
house being occupied by the older boarders. I selected,
therefore, a student-room on the Wende street, the prin-


cipal street of the town, and had my books and " traps "
transferred. It was a pleasant abode. The main room
had three windows in front, and one on the side ; the
sleeping-room, facing on a side street, had two windows.
The furniture was altogether new. For all this comfort
I paid the moderate sum of five and a half louts d*or per
semester, i. e., from Easter to Michaelmas, or vice versa.
In university towns, this is the habitual way of renting
rooms. Reckoning the louts d'or at five thalers and a
half, my rental for six months was a fraction over thirty
thalers, say twenty-two dollars. I had really more room
than I needed.

Meals and fuel were of course extra. I had to make a
slight outlay for table-furniture, buying some knives and
forks, plates, cups and saucers, napkins, and table-cloths.
This was my bachelor outfit. The slight expense was
more than balanced by the luxurious sense of being my
own master, of being able to give a bachelor supper
to my friends, whenever so disposed. I continued to

take my dinner with Frau H , but breakfast and

supper were'in my own room. Short of being in one's
own family, I doubt whether there is a more enjoyable
state than that of living by one's self in hired lodgings in
Germany. It is possible in New York, to say nothing
of London and Paris; but in New York, the expense is
ruinous, and even in England and France one will
miss that peculiar institution, the Dienstmadchen. The
German Dienstmadchen is no more the domestique of
France, or the " Bridget " of America, than Gottingen


is Oxford or Harvard. She is an institution by herself,
and therefore deserves especial mention. In fact, life in
Germany would be scarcely what it is without her. If
you wish an extra supper in the evening, you consult
your Dienstmadchen j if you merely wish to send out for
a glass of beer, you employ her services. She will bring
home a basketful of books from the university library,
make your fires, go on all your thousand and one errands,
and do everything for you but blacken your boots. That
is the perquisite of the Stiefelfuchs. Her capacity for
work and her general cheerfulness border on the marvel-
ous. One such servant girl will wait upon six or seven
students and do the family-work in addition. She brings
the, dinner for those who take that meal in their rooms;
she makes the beds and sweeps the rooms (when they are
swept) ; in the autumn, she is sent to the family-estate
outside the city walls to dig potatoes by way of variety.
Yet she is able and ready to dance every Sunday night
from seven o'clock to two, and go about her work on
Monday morning as fresh as a June rose. Her only fault
is a slight shade of impertinence ; not the surly, mutinous
impertinence of " Bridget," but the pert forwardness of
a good-natured, spoiled child. Like all privileged ser-
vants, she thinks that she knows everything much better
than her master.

Students commonly take their dinner at a hotel or

restaurant, paying a fixed price per month. Some few,

either on account of ill health or because they wish to

economize time, dine in their rooms. This is unques-



tionably a pernicious habit ; no one can really enjoy the
principal meal of the day in solitude. But the basket
used for bringing meals into the house is so practical and
so peculiar that I cannot refrain from describing it. It
is round, small in diameter, and very deep; a wide slit
runs down one side to the bottom. Into this basket the
dishes, generally four in number, are dropped one upon
the other. The bottom of the first dish fits upon and
into the second, the third upon the second, and so on,
after the fashion of the rings used in moulding for long
vertical castings. Each of the dishes has a knob that
slips down the slit and is used as a handle in pulling the
dish out. When the dishes are all in place and the
cover is on, the whole can be easily carried quite a dis-
tance, by means of an arched handle over the top, with-
out spilling or cooling the contents.

The reader may imagine me, then, as lodged in very
comfortable sunshiny rooms on the principal street in
town, nearly opposite the church of St. James. This
venerable edifice, the stones of which have grown gray-
black with the lapse of centuries, is not beautiful; its
outlines are too bald, its solitary tower too stiff and
awkward. Still it is an attractive building; my chief
pleasure in connection with it was to watch the going and
coming and listen to the incessant cawing of the rooks
that had built them nests under the eaves and in the
chinks of the tower. Every fair day, about sunset, they
flew around the tower again and again in a flock, evi-


dently settling the affairs of the day and wishing each
other good night before retiring.

The first four months passed in my new abode were
a period of unmixed delight. I was in the spring-time
of life, unfettered, free to follow the promptings of fancy,
and, above all, stimulated by the consciousness that day-
light had at last dawned upon my studies. The patient
toil of preparation through the fall and winter blossomed
and put forth leaves, as it were, in company with the
trees on the old city wall. For six long months I had
slaved through grammar and translations; about the
beginning of March, as near as I can remember, I said
to myself: "Somewhat too much of this." Bidding
grammars, copy-books and exercises a lasting farewell, I
read ! I gave myself up without restraint to the fit, let
the appetite that had been fasting so long gorge itself
without stint. The preparatory work having trained my
memory and perceptions, it was an easy thing then to di-
gest and assimilate whatever I might take up. My read-
ing was as immethodical as possible ; nothing was too
easy and simple, nothing too exalted. In the language of
Voltaire, je permettais tous les genres hors le genre ennuyeux.
The first literary work that I read was the Faust. A
strange selection, yet perhaps the best. The copy that I
used is still in my possession, with all the notes and
explanations inserted in pencil at the time. It surprises
me to see how few words I was obliged to look up in the
dictionary. It would be presumptuous to say that I
understood Faust thoroughly; to do that, one must be


mature in years and make it a subject of special study.
But so far as sentiment and diction were concerned, I
understood and enjoyed the poem with an intensity that
rather unsettled me for the time. It haunted me day
and night, the rhymes and the play of words rang in my
ears. I read and re-read, until the lyrical and descrip-
tive passages were firmly lodged in the memory. Besides
Faust, I read Egmont, Tasso, in fact nearly all the dramas
and all the minor poems of Goethe, committing many of
them to memory. It seemed as though I could never
weary of Goethe. As to Schiller, I cannot speak with
like accuracy. I read much, but it did not make such
an impression upon me as to keep the recollection dis-
tinct from reading done in subsequent years. My favor-
ite author after Goethe was Lessing; I read all his
dramatical works and poetical pieces, and many of his
essays, but not the Laocoon. I also skimmed through
the minor poets and romancers, Klopstock, Uhland, Wie-
land, Heine, and the like. But the book that impressed
me most strongly, the Faust excepted, was one that I
almost hesitate to mention. The name will sound so
unfamiliar to the reader, and the subject so far-fetched
and unattractive. It was Vilmar's Geschichte der deuts-
chen Nationalliteratur, a history of the national literature
of Germany from the earliest times down to and includ-
ing Goethe and Schiller. The remembrance of the first
reading is as distinct as though it were but yesterday. I
began at seven in the evening and did not knock off until
my eyes gave out at three in the morning. No sensa-


tional romance, I am confident, was ever devoured more
eagerly. The book came upon me as the revelation of a
new world. Kriemhild, Hagen, Gudrun, Parzival, Tris-
tan and Isolt, now familiar apparitions, I then met for
the first-time face to face and recognized in their beauty
and their grandeur. The entire field of German mediae-
val poetry, depicted so glowingly by the artist-critic,
swept before me in a majestic panorama. Subsequently,
when increased familiarity with the subject had brought
me to look upon mediceval German and its literature with
more critical eyes, I was often at a loss to account for
the enthusiasm which the first perusal of Vilmar's work
had called forth. His views seemed exaggerated, his x
judgments too sanguine. It was only in the fall of 1872
that I obtained the clue to the puzzle, and learned that
my earliest impressions were after all justified. A pupil
and warm admirer of Vilmar, Professor Grein of Mar-
burg, with whom I was then privately reading Anglo-
Saxon, informed me that Vilmar had written his History
from a full heart, so to speak. He was invited to deliver
a special course of lectures on German literature at
Cassel. Although already very familiar with the ground,

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 6 of 26)