James Bryce Bryce.

University and historical addresses, delivered during a residence in the United States as ambassador of Great Britain online

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Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceUniversity and historical addresses, delivered during a residence in the United States as ambassador of Great Britain → online text (page 2 of 24)
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concentration which are needed to secure practical
success. It is also meant to form character, to implant
taste, to cultivate the imagination and the emotions,
to prepare a man to enjoy those delights which be-
long to hours of leisure and to the inner life which
goes on, or ought to go on, all the time within his own

All study contains or implies the pleasure of putting
forth our powers, of mastering difficulties, of acquiring
new aptitudes, of making the mental faculties quick
and deft like the fingers. It is a pleasure to see the
intellect gleam and cut like a well-tempered and
keen-edged sword. This kind of pleasure can be
derived from all studies, though not from aU equally.
Some give a better intellectual training than others;
some are better fitted for one particular type of mind


than for other types. But with these differences I do
not propose to deal to-day. I want you to think of the
training of the mind, not for work or display, but for

Everyone of us ought to have a second or inner life
of the intellect over and above that life which he leads
among other men for the purposes of his avocation, be it
to gain money or power or fame, or be it to serve his
country or his neighbors. Considering himself as a
Mind made to reflect and to enjoy, he ought to have
some pursuit, some taste if you like, even some fad
or hobby to which he can turn from the daily routine
of his work for rest and for that change of occupation
which is the best kind of rest, something round which
his thoughts can play when he is alone and in which
he can realize his independence of outward calls, his
freedom from external demands and external restric-
tions. Whatever the taste or pursuit be, whether of a
higher or of a commoner type, to have it is a good thing
for him. But of course the more wholesome and stimu-
lating and elevating the taste or pursuit is, so much
the better.

Now the question I ask you to consider is this :
What can instruction in natural science do, and what
can instruction in the human or literary subjects do,
to instil such tastes, to suggest such pursuits ? What
sort of teaching and training can a university give to
its student fit for him to carry away from the uni-
versity as a permanent possession for his own private


use and pleasure, to be added to by his exertions as he
finds time and opportunity, not that he may be richer
or more famous, but that he may be, if possible, wiser,
and at any rate happier ?

The study of any branch of natural science has one
great charm in the fact that it opens possibilities of
discovering new truth. There is hardly a branch of
physics or chemistry, or of biology or natural history,
in which the patient enquirer may not hope to extend
the boundaries of knowledge. This is what makes
physical science, as a professional occupation, so attrac-
tive. The work is in itself interesting, perhaps even
exciting, quite apart from any profit to one's self.
One is occupied with what is permanent, one is in
quest of reality, one may at any moment taste the thrill-
ing pleasures of discovery.

But such work requires in most departments an
elaborate provision of laboratories and apparatus, and
(in nearly all departments of research) an amount of time
constantly devoted to observation and experiment which
practically restricts it to those who make it the business
of their life, and puts it out of the reach of persons
actually engaged in some other occupation. Dis-
coveries have been made by scientific amateurs. Ben-
jamin Franklin and his contemporaries, Cavendish
and Priestley, are cases in point. But this is increas-
ingly difficult. Few lawyers or merchants or engi-
neers or practising physicians can hope for time to
enjoy this pleasure. The best that a scientific educa-


tion can do for them is to start them with enough
knowledge to enable them to follow intelligently the
onward march of scientific investigation.

There is also a pleasure in meditating upon the ulti-
mate problems of matter, force, and life, even if one
cannot do anything toward solving them. The un-
known appeals to our imagination, especially if we have
imagination enough to feel that the unknown is all
around us, and to realize the grandeur and solemnity
of nature. You all remember the majestic lines in
which the Roman poet declares his passionate
desire that the divine mistresses of knowledge should
explain to him the secrets of the universe :

Me vero primum dulces ante omnia Musae,
Quarum sacra fero ingenti perculsus amore,
Accipiant, coelique vias et sidera monstrent;
Defectus soils varies, lunaeque labores;
Unde tremor terris; qua vi maria alta tumescant,
Objicibus ruptis, rursusque in se ipsa residant. 1

The mysteries which chiefly excited Virgil's curiosity
were the movements of the heavenly bodies, the eclipses
of the sun and moon, the cause of earthquakes, and
the theory of the tides. Of these the second and the
last have so long ago been explained that they no
longer greatly engage the thoughts of others than
astronomers, while the causes that produce earth-
quakes are at any rate partially known. Our curiosity
regarding the first, now concentrated upon the move-

1 Virgil in the second book of the Georgics.


ments of the so-called Fixed Stars, has of late years
become keener than ever as new vistas of enquiry are
opening themselves to view. Yet it is now that border-
land of physics, chemistry, and metaphysics in which
lie questions relating to the nature of matter itself
and the persistence of force under diverse forms, which
chiefly rouses our wonder, and makes us speculate as
to whether light may be thrown from that side upon
the relations of what is called Matter to what is
called Mind. Whoever possesses even a slight ac-
quaintance with chemistry and physics is more capable
of following the course of investigation in this direc-
tion than are persons altogether without scientific
training ; and these problems are no less fitted to touch
a susceptible imagination than were those which Virgil
vainly sought to comprehend.

In these ways natural science may appeal even to
those whose daily course of life debars them from
continuing to study it; and this is one of the reasons
which suggests that some knowledge at least of the
method and the fundamental conceptions of science,
mathematical and physical, is a necessary part of a
liberal education.

What we call natural history (i.e. geology, botany,
and zoology) stands on a somewhat different footing.
No pursuits give more pleasure, or a purer kind of
pleasure, than that given by these forms of enquiry.
They take us into open-air nature, they make us fa-
miliar with her, and they generally involve active exer-


tion of body as well as mind. The only drawback is
that it is difficult for the dwellers in those vast cities,
which have unfortunately grown up during the last
hundred years, to enjoy these pursuits, except for a
few holiday weeks in summer.

If, however, we revert to the question of how much
science can do, in the case of those whose occupa-
tions forbid them to prosecute systematic scientific
study, for the enrichment and refinement of that inner
life whereof I have spoken, we shall find that the range
of its influence is limited. It is only in certain aspects
that it appeals to the imagination, nor does every man's
imagination respond. To the emotions, other than
those of wonder and admiration, it does not directly
appeal. It is remote from the hopes, the fears, the
needs, the aspirations of human beings. While you are
at work on the hydrocarbons in the college laboratory,
your curiosity and interest are roused by the remark-
able phenomena they present. But they do not help
you to order your life and conversation aright. Euclid's
geometry is interesting as a model of exact deductive
reasoning. One remembers it with pleasure. A man
who has some leisure and some talent in this direction
may all through his life enjoy the effort of solving mathe-
matical problems. But has any one at a supreme mo-
ment of some moral struggle ever been able to find help
and stimulus in the thought that the square described
upon the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal
to the squares described on the two other sides thereof ?


By far the larger part of the life of everyone of us
as a being who thinks and feels is that part which puts
him in contact with other human beings, either with the
lives of those whom he meets or with the thoughts and
deeds of those who in time past have done memorable
acts, or have left written words round which his own
mind can play. Man himself "the little God of the
world " as Mephistopheles calls him 1 is the principal
thing on this globe as we know it, and that which ex-
plains him has after all the deepest interest for us.

Whatever be anyone's occupation, he spends most
of his working hours in the company of his fellow-men.
They may not delight him, as they did not delight
Hamlet, or they may delight him, as they surely must
have delighted Shakespeare. But whether they delight
him or not, they are an inexhaustible field of study ; and
the study becomes more interesting when we compare the
persons whom we meet and observe with the figures that
stand out in the works of those masters of fiction who
have known how to make human nature as true in tale
or drama as it is in fact. So is it, too, with those whose
words and deeds have come down to us from the past.
When one has gazed upon the portraits of famous men
in the long and stately gallery of history, one can view
with a more sympathetic or more humorous eye the
endless picture-show that moves before his vision in the

Accordingly, when we turn from thinking of our
1 In the Prologue to Goethe's Fattst.


active life in the world to the inner or personal life,
it is the human subjects which are best fitted to nourish
it and illumine it. Under the human subjects I include
history, philosophy, and imaginative literature. His-
tory (of which biography is a part) covers all that
man has thought and felt and said and planned and
achieved. It is the best mirror of human nature,
for it describes things in the concrete, human nature
not as we fancy it but as it is. It reveals to us
not only what has been, but how that which is has
come to be what it is. It helps to explain to us our
own generation as well as those that have gone be-
fore. Rightly understood, it does this better than
all the dissertations and exhortations, plenius et
mdius Chrysippo et Crantore, perhaps better even
than the sermons. That there are many doubtful
questions in history does not materially reduce its
value. The trained historian smiles at those who
say that history is false because some things are and
some may even always remain uncertain ; though no
one will be and ought to be more severe toward those
who recklessly neglect or wilfully pervert the facts
so far as ascertainable.

Psychology and ethics, though they are more and
more seeking, like history, to follow scientific methods,
approach the study of human nature in a more abstract
and general way than history does. They have the
great interest, of appealing directly to individual
consciousness, and whoever has formed a taste for them


will find that he has an infinite field open for observ-
ing the phenomena which he himself and those around
him present. He may even experiment on them, but
such experiments, unless carefully conducted, may be
as dangerous as those which chemists euphemistically
describe as attended by a sudden and rapid evolution
of sound, light, and heat.

Of literature, as apart from history and philosophy,
there are many branches, but that branch which I seek
to dwell upon for our present purpose is poetry and the
imaginative treatment, whether in verse or hi prose,
of human themes. Epic and dramatic poems present
pictures of life as the highest constructive minds have
seen it. Reflective and lyric poems are the finest
expression that has been found for human emotion.
In their several ways they give voice to what in our
clearest moments of vision or at our highest moments
of exaltation, we ordinary mortals are able dimly
to feel but faintly or feebly to express. In this
way they both instruct us and stimulate us more than
anything else can do; and they also give a rare and
delicate pleasure by the perfection of their form. In
urging on you what universities may do to implant a
love of literature which shall last through life, let me
lay especial stress upon the literature of periods remote
from our own. The narratives and the poetry of prim-
itive peoples such as the ancient Hebrews, and the
ancient Greeks, and our own far-off Teutonic and Celtic
forefathers have the incomparable merit of presenting


thought and passion in their simplest form. They do
us an immense service in illuminating the annals of
mankind as a whole, by making us feel our own identity
with and yet also our differences from the earlier phases
of human society. They give a sense of the growth
and development of the human spirit which carries us
out of our own narrow horizon, which makes all the
movements of the world seem to be part of one great
drama, which saves us from fancying ourselves to be
better or wiser than those who went before, which
ennobles life itself by the ample prospect which it

Most though not all of the literature I am
speaking of can be fully enjoyed and appreciated only
in the languages in which it was originally composed.
These are vulgarly called "dead languages." Let no
one be afraid of that name. No language is dead which
perfectly conveys thoughts that are alive and are as
full of energy now as they ever were. An idea or a
feeling grandly expressed lives forever, and gives im-
mortality to the words that enshrine it.

Let me add that it is in large measure through
literature that we have been able to enjoy the pleas-
ures of nature and those of art. Whoever possesses
a sense for form and color may appreciate a fine pict-
ure without any knowledge of the technique of paint-
ing. But he will see comparatively little in it if his
taste has not been formed and trained by the study of
masterpieces and if his mind has not received the cul-


tivation which letters and history give. So a man need
not have read the poets to be able to find delight in a
beautiful landscape. But he will enjoy it far more if he
knows what Thomson, Cowper, Burns, Scott, Shelley,
Ruskin, and above all, Wordsworth, have written.
How much have they done to increase a sense of
the charm of nature in all who use our tongue !

What are the practical conclusions which I desire
to submit to you as the result of these suggestions?
They are two.

The ardour with which the study of the physical
sciences is now pursued for practical purposes must
not make us forget that education has to do a great
deal more than turn out a man fitted to succeed in
business. It must also endeavour to give him a power
of enjoying the best pleasures. The physical sciences
do open such pleasures, but these are not so easily
obtained, nor so well adapted to stimulate and polish
most minds, nor so calculated to strengthen and refine
the character, as those which can be drawn from the
human or literary subjects.

Secondly, in the study of such literary subjects as
languages and history, we must beware of giving
exclusive attention to the technicalities of grammar
and to purely critical enquiries. There is some risk
that in the eagerness to apply exact methods so as
to secure accuracy and a mastery of detail, the literary
quality of the books read and the dramatic and personal
aspect of the events and persons studied may be too


little regarded. Exact methods and the whole ap-
paratus of grammatical lore have their use for the
purposes of college training, but in after years it
is the thoughts and style of the writers, the perma-
nent significance or the romantic quality of the events,
that ought to dwell in the mind. There is certainly
in England a tendency, perhaps due to German in-
fluences, to hold that history ought, hi order that
it may be thoroughly scientific, to welcome dulness
and dryness. It is said, I know not with what truth,
that the same tendency is felt here. The ethical side
and the romantic side may have been overdone in
time past, but it must never be forgotten that one of
the chief aims of history is to illustrate human nature.
We need throughout life to have all the light thrown
upon human nature that history and philosophy can
throw ; to have all the help and inspiration for our own
lives that poetry can give. Much of everyone's work
is dull and monotonous, perhaps even depressing, and
that escape from the dulness of many a business career
which the strain of fierce competition or bold specula-
tion promises is a dangerous resource. It is better to
nurture and cherish what I have ventured to call the
inner life. Not all can succeed ; none can escape sor-
rows and disapointments. He who under disappoint-
ments or sorrows has no resources within his own
command beyond his daily round of business duties,
nothing to which he can turn to cheer or refresh his mind,
wants a precious spring of strength and consolation.


Nowhere in the world is there so strong a desire
among the people for a university education as here
in America. The effects of this will no doubt be
felt in the coming generation. Let us hope they will
be felt not only in the completer equipment of your
citizens for public life and their warmer zeal for civic
progress, but also in a true perception of the essential
elements of happiness, an enlarged capacity for enjoy-
ing those simple pleasures which the cultivation of
taste and imagination opens to us all.






FIRST let me thank you, in behalf of the Sovereign and
the people whom I am honoured by being deputed to
represent in the United States, for your invitation to
join hi the celebration to-day of a great event. It is
fitting that Old England, whence came the settlers
whose anding at this spot you commemorate, should
be remembered here in this oldest part of New England
and should send you her greeting.

These colonists were men of the right stamp to settle
and develop a new country. England gave you of her
best, and she gave them in a great crisis of her own fate.

She has ever since watched the fortunes of their
descendants, marking their growing greatness, and
never with more pride, more sympathy, and more
affection than she does to-day.

Many of you may remember to have seen some-
where on the island-girt coasts of Massachusetts or
Maine a rainbow stretching from one isle to another,
and seeming to make a radiant bridge from land to land.
It is a beautiful sight, and still more beautiful when the
rainbow is a double one.

In this shape of a double rainbow, bridging the ocean



from England to America, there presents itself to me
the double settlement of this continent by the men
who founded Virginia and the men who founded
Massachusetts. The rainbow is the symbol of hope,
and America has been and still is to Europe the Land
of Hope. Over this bridge of hope millions have passed
from the Old World hither, and it is in the spirit of hope
for the future of a land so blessed by Providence as
yours that we of England send our hearty greetings.

Much has been said indeed, little has been left
unsaid in praise of the Pilgrim Fathers, for this coun-
try is fertile in celebrations, and I cannot hope to say
anything new about them. But every man must
speak of a thing as it strikes him.

I ask myself, when I think of these exiles coming to
make their home on what was then a bleak and desert
shore : What was it that brought them thither ? Was
it the love of civil liberty? They loved civil liberty,
for they had suffered from the oppression of the royal
officers, but it was not mainly for the sake of that
liberty that they came, nor indeed had the great struggle
yet begun when they quitted England to spend those
years in friendly Holland which preceded their voyage
hither. Nor were these Pilgrims made of the same stern
fighting stuff as the Puritans who came to another
part of Massachusetts Bay a little later and became
the founders of Salem and Boston.

Was it for the love of religious liberty ? Not at any
rate for such a general freedom of conscience as we and


you have now long enjoyed, not for the freedom that
means an unquestioned right to all men to speak and
write and teach as they would. The proclamation of
that general freedom and the rights of the individual
conscience might not have been altogether congenial to
either Pilgrims or Puritans. Certainly it had not yet
been made by its noble apostle, Roger Williams, the
founder of Rhode Island, the most original in his think-
ing and perhaps the most lovable hi his character of all
the founders of North American Colonies.

What these Pilgrims did desire and what brought them
here was the wish to worship God in the way they held to
be the right way. It was loyalty to truth and to duty as
they saw it that moved them to quit first their English
homes and friends, and then their refuge in Holland, and
face the terrors of the sea and the rigours of a winter far
harsher than their own, in an untrodden land, where
enemies lurked in trackless forests.

No one expected to find gold on the shores of Massachu-
setts Bay. No one hoped for that fountain of youth
which Ponce de Leon had sought in Florida a century
before. No one dreamed of the mighty State which
was to grow out of the tiny settlement.

Not in the thirst for gold ; not hi the passion for
adventure ; not for the sake of dominion, but in faith
and in duty were laid the foundations of the Colony
and State of Massachusetts.

Is not this what their settlement means to us now
after three hundred years? Faith and duty, when


mated to courage (for without courage they avail little)
are the most solid basis on which the greatness of a
nation can rest. The strength of a State lies in the
characters of its citizens.

It is a far cry from Massachusetts to Italy, but when
I think of these forefathers of yours, and here I think
of the Puritans as well as the Pilgrims, and of the men
of Connecticut and Rhode Island as well as the men of
Massachusetts, men of plain, stern lives, of high pur-
poses and steadfast wills, I am reminded of the famous
line in which the great Roman poet says that it was on
the austere simplicity of her olden days and the strong
men she reared that the might of Rome was founded.

Moribus antiquis stat res Romana virisque.

Such men were your Puritan makers of New England.
They were hewn from the same rock as those soldiers
of Cromwell, some of whom were doubtless their kins-
folk, before whom every enemy went down, and to
whom was fitly applied that verse from the Hebrew
Psalm : "Let the praises of God be in their mouths and
a two-edged sword in their hands."

They were men of a bold and independent spirit, but
they knew the value of law, and these Pilgrims of A. D.
1620, coming into a region for which no government
had yet been provided, bound themselves to one another
by a solemn compact signed in the cabin of their ship ;
constituting themselves "a civill body politick" with
power to "enacte just and equall lawes," to which they


promised all due submission and obedience, thereafter
choosing one of themselves to be their Governor for
the year ensuing.

Many generations have come and gone since the
November days when the little Mayflower lay rocking
in yonder bay, with the Pilgrim mothers and sisters look-
ing out wistfully over the cold, gray waters, in those days
silent and lonely, and with the children, cooped up for

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceUniversity and historical addresses, delivered during a residence in the United States as ambassador of Great Britain → online text (page 2 of 24)