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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interested advocate of the most friendly relations with
England, the policy of which he had so often opposed.
But hours, rather than the few minutes at my disposal,
would be needed to do justice to a character so varied
and so complex, to a career connected with so many
great events and entangled into the web of so many



personal and political controversies. Moreover, in
painting the portrait it would not be right to give the
lights without giving also the shadows ; and this is not
the place in which one could bring oneself to speak any-
thing but praise of the illustrious founder of an illustri-
ous institution.

It is easy to pick holes in the Declaration of Inde-
pendence, and to decry, as one of your own distinguished
men did, its "glittering generalities." But under the
rhetoric and the overbold and overbroad assertions of
doctrine it contains, there is a condensed and concen-
trated force which few documents have equalled, and
which accounts for the immense power it has exerted.
There is, however, I may say, one matter on which all
are agreed whether or no they approve the principles and
the doings of Jefferson. He was a man of a wonderfully
vigorous and many-sided activity. Scarcely a subject
of enquiry lay outside of the range of his versatile in-
tellect. Whether you like him or not, you cannot help
being attracted by him. Whether you think his in-
fluence on American politics and thought to have been
in the mam wholesome or pernicious, you must admit
that influence to have been pervading and permanent.
How far it is still a really effective influence, now that
the conditions of the United States have become so dif-
ferent from those which surrounded him, I will not
attempt to determine. His writings are no longer
widely read; his name is more often on the lips than
are his ideas fresh in the recollection of those who pro-


fess themselves his disciples and seek to conjure with his
authority. But that men should still call themselves
his disciples and should, nearly a century after his
death, claim to be maintaining his traditions, is a re-
markable tribute to his gifts, and a remarkable evidence
of the power he exerted in his own time upon the great
party that still looks back to him as its founder.

He had a lively interest not only in human affairs
but also in all matters of natural history, an interest
which sometimes led him into odd hypotheses, as when
he conjectured that the bareness of the Western prairies
which were being explored in his day was due to the
action of the mastodons, the remains of those pri-
meval monsters had been recently discovered who
had devoured all the trees. But this sort of interest
strikes us as being all the more remarkable because he
was in a notable degree a-man of the eighteenth century.
His whole way of thinking is unlike our way of to-day,
and we might say that compared with such contempo-
raries as Bentham, Burke, Alexander Hamilton, and still
more if he be compared with such much younger con-
temporaries as Goethe and Coleridge, Jefferson is
almost archaic. Yet having a bright, keen, inventive
mind, which played freely round many subjects, he
was sometimes in advance of his time, and hit upon
ideas characteristically modern.

Of all Jefferson's ideas and projects none lay nearer
to his heart and none deserve such unqualified praise
as his faith in education and his efforts to diffuse it.


He desired to establish in Virginia a scheme of general
elementary instruction and to create therewith a
system of upper secondary schools corresponding
broadly to the grammar schools of England, though
with a less purely classical curriculum, and then to
complete the fabric by a University whose aims should
be commensurate with all human knowledge and
which should recognize, both in the variety of its
studies and in the range of choice allowed among
those studies, as well as in the absence of ecclesiastical
control and even of coercive discipline, those prin-
ciples of liberty which he held so dear.

It was a fine and fertile conception. It does all the
more credit to Jefferson because nearly all the col-
leges of the United States were in those days classical
or mathematical academies attached to particular
denominations and with a narrow range of subjects,
drilling their pupils thoroughly, but drilling them on
old-fashioned methods. Ardently interested in all
sorts of studies, natural as well as civil or humanistic,
Jefferson desired a University which should take, as
Bacon said, all knowledge to be its province, and should
provide instruction hi every subject that men sought
to study. This view of a university the old true
view of those early Middle Ages when universities
first arose but when there were few subjects to study
had been almost forgotten. We are so familiar
with it now that we scarcely realize how novel it
was when propounded by Jefferson, and how much


it transcended the common notions of his own times
when, in England, Oxford and Cambridge were just
beginning to awake from their long torpor, days during
which it had been left to the Universities of Scotland
to keep ablaze the sacred torch in Britain. Jefferson
lit the torch afresh in the South. In 1779 he tried to
secure a scheme for establishing popular education. In
1794 he sought to transfer bodily to Virginia the whole
faculty of the University of Geneva, threatened by the
progress of the Revolution in France, a really brilliant
idea, which ought to have been carried out, for the gam
to America would at that time have been greater than
the loss to Geneva. Never thereafter did he desist from
his efforts, till in 1819 the Legislature passed an act,
which, while providing primary schools, crowned the
edifice by making an appropriation for the University
of Virginia. You remember his own words, "Our
University, the last of my mortal cares and the last
service I can render to my country."

Jefferson carried further than any other man of equal
ability and equally large practical experience has done,
for we need not place in the category of practical men
the contemporary visionaries of France, a faith in the
politicial perfectibility of mankind. He believed, or at
least he frequently declared, because we cannot be sure
that all he said represented his permanent convictions,
that the greatest evil from which men suffered was the
control of other men. He liked to call that control
Tyranny, but the language he sometimes used was ap-


plicable not merely to a despotic and irresponsible power
but to many other kinds of authority. He would appear
to have thought that liberty was so much the best thing
in the world that with enough of it all human affairs
would go well, and he so heartily distrusted authority
as to conceive that insurrections were needed every now
and then to check the misdeeds of rulers.

When one reads Jefferson's writings and examines
his conduct, considering on the one hand his faith in
the people, the average uninstructed people, of his
day, and on the other hand his high sense of the value
of knowledge and his constant efforts to spread uni-
versity instruction, three questions present themselves
to our minds questions of permanent interest for
all students of politics.

The first of these questions is, How far is it true
that the people are sure to go right ? As you here would
express it in familiar terms, Is the average man
the farmer or the artisan "fit to run a democracy" ?
He is always being told so on public platforms. But is
he really so ? and do those who tell him so always believe
what they say ? If freedom alone is enough to enable a
people to govern themselves well, that is to say, if the
impulses of man are preponderatingly good, if the masses
may be trusted to know their own true interest, and
to select the proper means to secure it, the average man
ought to be able to do so. Yet Jefferson evidently had
his misgivings. Though he refrained from the condem-
nation which he ought to have passed on the excesses


committed by some of his French Revolutionary friends,
he knew well enough that a great deal more than the
abolition of monarchy and "aristocracy" was needed to
secure good government; and his own experience in
office was amply sufficient to show him how many knots
there are that the "average man" cannot untie.

This question is so large that I must not attempt to
discuss it here. I am content to commend it to your
reflection as one of the most momentous and funda-
mental questions of politics that has ever occupied
men's minds. We are always getting fresh light upon
it every year, and from every part of the world where
power has been placed in the hands of the multitude.
It has appeared in a somewhat new form hi the exten-
sion which men seek to give to the principle of direct
legislation by the institutions of the Initiative and the
Referendum. The amount of truth contained in
Jefferson's sanguine view of human nature is really the
basic problem of all politics and of all government,
which men are continually trying to solve, and no
doubt we have advanced further towards a knowledge
of its conditions than had the founders of your republic
and of the French Republic of those days, for the world
has had a much ampler experience of popular govern-
ments, or at least of governments claiming to be popular.
That experience ranges downward from republics so
well governed as Switzerland and the Orange Free
State to republics of the class to which Nicaragua and
Hayti belong.


A second question suggested by Jefferson's ideas and
efforts is this: What ought to be, and what has usually
been, the effect of education on the highly educated
man so far as politics are concerned ? Have knowledge
and training been found to give him a deeper sympathy
with the people and a greater fitness for leading the
people, or do they rather cut him off from the masses,
making him detached, perhaps supercilious, possibly
even scornful or cynical ?

The question I put to you is not that which is often
debated in Europe, though seldom here, whether the
masses of the people on the one hand, or the wealthier
and educated class on the other, are more generally
likely to be right that is, to be shewn by the result
to have been right in their attitude on political ques-
tions. It is rather this question : What is the effect
of the highest education, coupled with superior intel-
lectual gifts, on a man's political attitude and ten-
dencies ? Will it tend to increase or to reduce his faith
in popular government ?

You may say that this will depend upon his tempera-
ment, whether he is hopeful and buoyant, or timid and
despondent. No doubt temperament, which itself de-
pends largely on physical health, does make a difference.
But the average of cheerful and gloomy temperaments,
or of bad and good digestions, is pretty much the same in
the best educated and the least educated classes, so the
element of temperamental difference may be eliminated.

Instead of trying to discover a priori what sort of


influence high intellectual capacity and a store of knowl-
edge might be expected to have on a man's political
tendencies, let us see what has in fact been the attitude
of such gifted men towards the politics of their own
countries. We shall find plenty of instances on both
sides. If you take those republics of antiquity which
the contemporaries of Jefferson were so fond of talking
about, you will find some great thinkers on the side
of democracy and some against it. This happened also
in modern Europe. In England, for instance, Milton,
Locke, Addison, Adam Smith, Bentham, Romilly,
Mackintosh, were in their days more or less on the popu-
lar or reforming side, while Hobbes, Swift, Bolingbroke,
David Hume, Samuel Johnson, were on the other.
Some great men, such as Burke, Coleridge, and Words-
worth began in the one camp and ended in the other,
altering their position as life went on under what people
call the teaching of events.

Is there then no general principle to be discovered
affecting the attitude or sympathies of leading thinkers,
and are they divided between Liberals and Conserva-
tives just like other men ?

Let me suggest to you such a principle, the hint of
which comes to me from what we have seen happen in
Europe during the last fifty years.

Fifty years ago there were in Continental Europe
no free governments except in some small States,
Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, and the Scandinavian
countries. In some countries, such as Russia, Austria,


the whole of Italy, except Piedmont, and to some ex-
tent in France under Louis Napoleon's sway, there ex-
isted not only arbitrary rule but an administration which
was oppressive and generally inefficient. In Prussia,
and some other German states, the administration
was good, but the people had little influence upon it.
Now, in all these countries at that tune the great
majority of superior minds were strongly liberal.
They saw the evils of the existing system more clearly
than did other men hi their own rank of life ; and
whether or no they suffered personally from misgovern-
ment, they were disgusted by it and anxious to over-
throw it.

To-day in Continental Europe the position is dif-
ferent. I will not attempt to decide to which side the
preponderance of men distinguished in literature and
science belongs. Many might be named as conspicu-
ous on each side. But such men, taken as a whole,
are more generally conservative in temper, and less
heartily democratic in opinion, than men of the
same type were in 1858. Why is this? Because
the facts are different. The liberty formerly sought
has, in most European countries, now been attained,
while the administrative evils which then excited
indignation have now been largely removed. Experi-
ence has, moreover, disclosed evils incident to some
forms of popular government which were not and
could not have been felt while arbitrary government
held the field, and because demands are now made


in the name of liberty for further changes, political or
economical, which many deem to be dangerous. De-
mocracy has not brought with it all the benefits that
were expected, so there has been a certain revulsion of
feeling against democratic government. Many of the
most powerful minds are occupied in trying not to
broaden and deepen its channel, but to erect barriers that
may check or guide its flow. But if arbitrary govern-
ment were in any country to gam once more the upper
hand, a thing very improbable (so far as we can look
forward) either here or in western Europe, no doubt
there would, among the thinkers in such a country, be
as strong a tendency away from it back toward popular
government as there was fifty years ago.

History will supply you with many other instances
to illustrate this law of a reaction of great thinkers
against the tendencies of their own time. Plato's
criticism of the Athenian democracy is the most
familiar instance. The explanation is simple enough.
Penetrating minds see the causes of the evils that exist
around them more clearly than other men do, and ardent
minds have a stronger impulse to sweep away those evils.
Men of imagination have a finer vision of what the world
might be, and incline to condemn what exists because
they believe in the possibility of something better.
Whatever the actually existing institutions may be, they
see the faults of those institutions. They despise the
catchwords of a dominant party, they see the hollowness
of current prejudices and the weakness of many a cur-


rent theory; they condemn the tendency to push a prin-
ciple to extremes, and the intoxication with its own power
which sometimes seizes upon the multitude. The same
tendency that makes the great thinker in an age of
despotism an advocate of popular government may make
him conservative in an age when popular government
seems to him to be in danger of going too fast or too far.
So we may say, speaking broadly, that the philosopher
and the idealist tend to be in opposition to the prevalent
tendencies of their own time, be those tendencies what
they may. Such men are apt to be hi the minority.
One might almost say that they belong rather to the
future (or perhaps, like Dante, to an idealized past) than
to the present ; because it is they who are most exempt
from the habit of blind obedience and the sway of
custom, and are least inclined to acquiesce in what
exists merely because it exists.

The moral of this is a moral fit to be stated and
reiterated and emphasized in a University that
no one must ever be afraid of being in a minority.
Where at any rate the question is not of immediate
action hi a matter lying within the competence of the
average man, for in such things the average man may
fairly claim to prevail, but a question requiring wide
knowledge or serious and independent thought, he
who is hi a minority is at least as likely to be right as
he who is in a majority. The majority must no doubt
prevail, for no means has been discovered of weighing
as well as counting votes. But to prevail and to be


right are not the same thing; and in a democracy
men must never be dissuaded, because they have been
out-voted, from continuing to assert their convictions.
Obey the majority while they are the majority, but
do not for a moment suppose that because they are the
majority they are right.

Thus the finest kind of mind may be, according to
the circumstances of his time, either a liberal or a
conservative, a man who cries " Forward " or a man who
cries "Walk warily." But he will usually be one who
rises above the passions and prejudices of the moment,
who refuses to follow the crowd, who is not moved by
popular cries. It is well that this should be so,
provided always that the detachment of the indepen-
dent thinker does not go so far as to put him out of
touch with the sentiment of his country and so prevent
him from serving it. The great thinker who tries to
be also a good citizen will have enough sympathy with
his fellow-men to see that he must adapt his counsels
to their needs, and must, instead of soaring above
them, place himself on their level, and speak to them
in a language they can understand. He ought to be
independent ; he must not stand apart in isolation.

This brings me to the third question, which a reflec-
tion upon Jefferson and his faith in university education
suggests. What should a university do for its students
in the way of fitting them for a life of learning or a life
of public service ? That it should give them knowledge
is obvious enough. But it should also give them what


is even better than knowledge; that is, Wisdom, by
which I mean the power to apply an intelligent criti-
cism to facts and ideas, to look at things all round, to
know how to get principles out of facts, and to test
the worth of ideas by their conformity to facts.

It should also teach them public spirit and the love
of truth.

Public spirit is often spoken of as a moral virtue.
That it is, but it is a virtue which intellectual
training may help to form. The function of Philosophy
and History is so to enlarge our minds that we may
see how each man's highest interest, conceived in its
true moral aspect, is bound up with the public weal,
and how nations and states prosper or decline just
in proportion as the public interest prevails in
their government or as that interest is allowed to
be overborne by the selfish interest of classes or of

Still more evidently is it the duty of a university to
instil a devotion to truth. Knowledge and wisdom
and practical shrewdness, a sense of how to adapt
means to ends, are needed in all the walks of life any
one may have to tread. But in whatever work is
to be done for the permanent benefit of mankind, be
it for learning or science, be it for theology or poli-
tics; and also for all the higher kinds of practical
achievement that the service of the Church or the State
demands, the one vital and supreme requisite is a de-
sire to find the truth and a resolve to follow it when


found. The temptation that most easily besets us
all is to let personal interest, or vanity, or party spirit,
or friendship, or even the sense of beauty, distract us
from the pursuit of truth. Now the habit of seeking
truth, though it is rightly counted among the moral
virtues, is a habit which University training can help
us to acquire through the examples set by great scholars
and historians and investigators of nature, and by the
practice of critical methods applied with scrupulous
accuracy. It is the ever-present note of the real scholar,
the real philosopher, the real historian.

The bitterest critics of Thomas Jefferson have never
denied his patriotic devotion to the interests of Virginia
nor ever disparaged his zeal for the spread of knowl-
edge. It was the union in him of these two passions
that prompted his life-long labors for the establishment
of your University. There are no excellences which
he would have more desired that it should implant in
its students. Nor has its career belied his hopes.
The University of Virginia has always sent forth men
eminent both in learning and in the field of public life.
She has never condescended to the superficial or the
meretricious. Her standards of attainment have been
high and her scholars have maintained them. She
has been also a home of patriotism and civic virtue.
Many of her sons have done splendid service for the
nation, and have reflected glory upon this seat of learn-
ing and on the Commonwealth of Virginia. May this
oldest of all your States, the mother of Washington


and of so many other illustrious figures in American
history, ever hold high that banner of freedom and
enlightenment which her founders planted on the
shores of the New World three hundred and one
years ago.





THE history of Christian Missions combines the
interest which attaches to striking characters and
strange adventures with that of tracing a long world
movement which has passed through various phases,
and has in each of them affected, and been affected by,
events of the first moment. A comprehensive view of
that history, connecting it with the general progress
on the one hand of geographical discovery and on the
other of religious thought and practice, would be a
theme worthy of a philosophic historian. It is, how-
ever, only with the most recent phases of missionary
work that I can attempt to deal in this address.

In the ancient world there was, before Christianity
appeared, neither religious propaganda nor religious
persecution. Each tribe, each region, had its own
special or local gods, and each respected the local
gods of the others. If now and then some invad-
ing general pillaged a sanctuary of the deities of
another country, it was avarice alone that prompted
him. Opinion condemned him, and he was likely
so men believed to receive speedy punishment at the



hands of the offended powers. Thus the worship of one
set of gods did not exclude the worship of another set,
for all deities were deemed entitled to respect, each in
his own jurisdiction. Similarly, since no faith claimed
to be exclusively true or of universal authority, its
votaries had no reason for trying to convert others to
it by persuasion, nor for persecuting those who adhered
to their local worships. Even when the people of Israel
denied the existence of any God but their own, they
did not seek to proselytize, because it was to Israel
alone that Jehovah had revealed himself.

With the advent of Christianity the scene changed.
It claimed to be the only true religion, and sought to
save a world lying in wickedness by denouncing and
expunging all the worships of the heathen. Devotion
to God and love for perishing men alike made the
propagation of the faith its first duty. Hence it
encountered a hostility never previously aroused by

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceUniversity and historical addresses, delivered during a residence in the United States as ambassador of Great Britain → online text (page 7 of 24)