William G. (William Gardiner) Hammond.

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George Davidson







UxivKRsrrv OK I<>\v,\

JUflE 17th, 1890











JUflE 17th, 189O.

Republican Company,

Printers und Binders,

Iowa City, Iowa.


Public Education.

N the history of human civilization there are two periods so far sur-
passing others that students who desire to measure man's capacity
for improvement, or to derive instruction for the future, may well
be excused for neglecting all the rest. So far indeed as our own Aryan
branch of the race is concerned there are no others. Whatever anti-
quarian research may have shown, or may yet show us, of Chinese or
Egyptian wisdom, or of the still more ancient "empires that sit in sullen -
ness and gloom," buried beneath the waves of oblivion as deeply as the
fabled Atlantis lies beneath the ocean traversed by the iron steamship
of to-day, yet none of their lessons can have for us the value of those
we draw from these two periods. The earlier is that which men for
centuries (and ever since modern life has been able to feel and appreciate
its matchless charm) have agreed to call the classic age: the age in which
the individual man seemed to attain his highest development as a model
and canon for all af tertime as delicate as the the Greek chisel, as strong
as the Roman sword; profound in speculative thought as Plato, wide and
exact in objective knowledge as Aristotle; embodying the most subtle
moods and tenses of human thought in the infinite variety yet constant
unity of a Greek verb, or sternly governing human action and human
passion by the written reason of Roman law.

The later period dawned upon the dark ages when from feudalism as
a stern father, and the Christian church as a cherishing mother, sprang the
modern state which has made possible for us all the material prosperity
of the present day. But its conquest of the external world is only the
result of ttyat strength of united action, that power of combination, which
springs from the due order of relations among individuals, that perfect
adjustment of legal rights and legal duties found in the "due pro-
cess of law," Perhaps it has raised the individual little if any beyond the
classic standard. We hear frequent complaints that it has not made him
love his brother as himself. Everybody feels keenly that it has not made
others eager to subordinate their own interests to his, or sacrifice them-
selves to himself. But in the failure of this ethical ideal it is a great
satisfaction to know that it has at least saved the weak from the tyranny
of the strong, and guarded the simple from the snares of the shrewd, by



making them equal before the law; and has done what it can to prevent
the most highly developed and highly cultured individual from keeping
his brother beneath his feet, as he did without let or hindrance, in the
classic age.

I know it has often been said that the ancient state was elaborated at
the expense of the individual, and that personal freedom and personal
development are the achievement of modern times. As we have taken
the word polity from the Greeks, it has been assumed that with it we
have learned of them all we know of. politics: and that their chief lesson
to us has been that of merging the man in the state, and perfecting the
organization of the latter.

In part I believe this view to be a mistaken one; but in larger part I
admit it to be true, yet not inconsistent with what I have said before,
that individual men reached almost their highest development in Greece
and Rome, while the nice adjustment of their reciprocal rights and duties
has been the work of modern times.

Undoubtedly the city-state was strong, almost tyrannical in its control
of the citizen,in the classical period though perhaps less so in reality than
in the theoretic republic of Plato, and the hardly less fanciful constitution
as described to us by foreigners, of Sparta. No modern state or king
would dare to disregard the vested rights or the personal freedom of its
subjects,as the fickle demos of Athens often did. But this was not through
the perfection of its polity: it was rather the brute strength of the mob.
It differed from modern constitutional government as the will of the
master over the slave differs from the contract between employer and
employed. The one is the first crude attempt at social order, the other
its advanced product; and as slavery bears hard on the masses, while
allowing the favorites to become the companions, equals, even masters of
their owners, so in this crude and arbitrary form of polity the leading
citizen, the rich man, the popular orator or the favorite sophist, had
chances of individual development that could never be shared by a whole
community of freemen. As Plato rises grandly to overshadow modem
thinkers as the thunders of Demosthenes, even now reverberating in the
echoes of two thousand years, drown the voice of every modern orator
so, too, we look in vain among modern millionaires, in the House of
Lords or in our own Senate, for a figure so splendid as Pericles, and the
finest of our gilded youth seem mere gilded counterfeits beside the
brillianc Alcibiades. Even in those fields of action where modern inven-
tions have given us so great an advantage, as in warfare, have we a
modern general or field-marshal to place above the young Greek volun-
teer who came out of the ranks to save his 10,000 companions in their
darkest despair, and led them through a hostile empire and over all the
opposition of the great King to the spot where their glad eyes again beheld
home, safety, all that life held dear, in the dancing waves of their own
sea Thalatta! Or to crown all with a single instance, study Caius Julius
Crcsar, in all the details of his brief life, as calmly and critically as you
can the politician, the man of pleasure, the augur, the consul, the


general, the conqueror of Gaul, the moulder of the empire, the reformer
of the world's calendar and of the Roman law, the orator, the historian
measure him as closely as you can in all these characters, and then, if you
can, match him! The first emperor of Rome and of the world, it was his
brilliant personality that converted the common title of a military com-
mander into the proper designation of the highest civil dominion over
men and kings. By a singular coincidence he was also the last of those
whose private family name became the title of his successor. That this
was a common practice in the early ages may be inferred from many
instances, such as that of the Pharaohs of Egypt. I know of no other
modern example but this. When man's aspirations for a universal
monarchy came nearest totalization in the Holy Roman Empire of the
middle ages, they called the monarch of all Christian men, by his name,
pronounced if not spelled, as he probably spoke it; and to-day each
European monarch that claims to be a king of kings, preeminent even
among the rulers of the earth, is proud to name himself a Kaiser.

On the other hand, the surpassing excellence of the modern state
seems to me to lie, not in its absorption of the individual, but in the full
and equal development of individual characters combined with the widest
variety of relations between them, and the most delicate adjustment of
their mutual rights and duties. In all classic antiquity, even in Roman
law, I find nothing to equal the definition of civil liberty, not yet a
century old, as freedom to do all that is consistent with an equal freedom
on the part of every fellow-citizen. At once a scientific definition and a
practical test, it applies to all concrete rights with the flexibility of an
algebraic formula: it measures every object of a legal right or legal duty
like one of those great balances that can weigh a ship and her cargo, or
turn with every drop of the water she displaces. Compare it with the
maxims so often repeated to-day, as if their classic authors had uttered
the last word of wisdom on this head two thousand years ago. "So use
your own rights as not to injure others." "He who is usinghis own right
cannot be injuring another." Unquestionably one of these is a charm-
ing piece of erudition especially when quoted in the original to
adorn a decision for the plaintiff; and the other is equally so when
the decision is for the defendant. But what help does either or both give
until you have determined what is the. right, or what is the wrong.

Do not understand me in this as claiming pert'ectness for modern law
or infallibility for those who dispense it. No one will admit its imper-
fections more candidly than those who know it best. Ask the judge,
who for almost a life-time has given to its administration the powers of
one of the soundest of human intellects, and a conscience as spotless as
ever ruled a human breast. Ask the eminent counsel, whose deep learn-
ing has never been prostituted to an unworthy call. I appeal to them
for the weight their testimony will lend. But perhaps no man can feel
the mistakes and imperfections of the law more profoundly than one whose
humbler task it has been for years to repeat to beginners the mere A. B.
C., the fundamental lessons what should be the primary truths of the


law. He will never claim for it infallibility. But if he knows anything of
its history for the seven or eight centuries of its modern life, he will tell
you that it has constantly been enlarging its beneficial influence over
human actions, and the reciprocal powers of every man over the conduct
of his fellows. It has enabled him to claim at first safety from wanton
attack on person or property then from fraudulent injury under a
specious guise then care and diligence to avoid even indirect harm to
one's neighbor and at last self-restraint and watchful forethought in
the use of his own possessions lest he endanger that neighbor in the like
or equal use. Even the mistakes and fictions of modern law seem to
have tended, or to have been over-ruled to the same end. The confusion
of law and ethics under the name of the Law of Nature, and its antag-
onist theory of the social compact were alike herein. In this respect, at
least, the merit of the latter lay in its baseless and visionary nature. No
man could prove the terms of that original contract, for no man could
prove its existence. Hence every generation was free to restate these
terms for itself in accordance with its highest conception of social order
and man's nature and destiny. It constantly led them to a higher ideal
while the patriarchal theory, as then understood, perpetuated primitive
tyranny. Something of the same character has descended from the
social compact to its offspring, the implied contract of modern English
law. New duties of man to man, almost numberless, have become legal-
ly enf orcible by the beneficient fiction that one shall be supposed to have
agreed to do whatever injustice or right he equitably should do for an-

I have dwelt so long on the contrast of these two great periods that I
have left myself scant time for the main purpose of my inquiry the
causes of that difference. I say causes, for they are many. The great
phenomena of history are too complex to be traced to a single or a
simple origin. We have had indeed a pseudo philosophy of history that
loves to fix attention on some trivial fact in the past, and say, Lo! if this
had happened otherwise, all after history had been different! As when
Sir Francis Palgrave gravely tells us that if Duke Richard, of Normandy,
had not one fine morning happened to see the baker's daughter, Arlotta,
washing her feet in a brook, there would have been no William the Con-
queror, and therefore no Norman- Conquest, no Magna Charta, no
modern England. Such "philosophical reflections" are the merest tricks
of an artificial rhetoric. No human intellect can compute the number of
infinitessimal changes of person and detail that might have taken place
at every step of the long pilgrimage of the race from savagery to civiliza-
tion, without changing the order of the march or the regular develop-
ment of each event in it from all that preceded. It is only the inter-
weaving of many causes to produce each single result, the effect of a
single causation upon many and unlike events, that prevents us from
tracing these grand laws of human evolution upon which individuals
and single facts have as little influence as the pieces on the chess board
have upon the brain that orders the game. Men are nothing but pawns;


the world, the moral universe as well as the physical is governed by
eternal law. We can only read that law in history, as we read the com-
mon law in its past decisions, which have .the same weight whether it is
John Doe or John Jacob Astor that is party to the record. So too, in the
great laws that rule all history, as in common law of the courts, it is not
the law itself that we read, but only its reflection in facts: held-, that on
such and such antecedents the law ordains such a consequence; the
mighty, unwritten law that so ordains and "holds," no human tongue
can formulate with authority. (Forgive me if I seem to carry out the
comparison with professional pedantry. I do it because I believe it to
be true. You who are to deal with the common law in its most practi-
cal and narrowest sense, will do your work better and far more intelli-
gently, if you take with you the conviction that its methods and author-
ities are those of all human reasoning on abstract subjects, and that
courts and judges do not make the law.)

Hence it is only by a large abstraction that we can say of any great
event or any great phenomenon of life that it is caused by any other.
This, working in unison with all contemporary causes, has produced,
among all future phenomena, influenced by it, in a special and evident
line of causation, that. It is only in this carefully guarded manner that I
venture to state the two propositions to which at last I ask your atten-
tion as the end and purpose of all I have to say:

First, that the peculiar feature of modern civilization which I have
tried to point out, the mutual control of the fellow members of society
over each other's conduct, for the welfare and happiness of all, by law in
the form of reciprocal rights and duties, is the result, in large
measure perhaps we may even say in the largest measure of another
factor of modern civilization, i. e., public education.

And second, that public education unknown to the ancient world, be-
gan with, has always been rooted in, and must live or die, flourish or de-
cline with the University.

Public education does not necessarily mean free schools; though of all
the senses we Americans attach to the word liberty, there is none more
precious than the freedom of the poorest child in the land to enter the
school house without a fee to teacher or to district. I hope the time is
coming when every boy and girl of Iowa may come as a right to the
highest school in the State, and to all its departments. But I must add
that if to-day some fairy could give me the needful power, and the
needful wisdom, to make of the whole educational system what it should
be, I think there are other tasks that would claim the first place, rather
than a mere abolition of tuition fees. In one sense, this and most of
our western schools, are free already. Every young man or young woman
who is thoroughly in earnest to get an education, can earn in a moderate
time the money necessary to take their course throughout. I have my-
self known not a few that did it; and knowing what men and women,
what lawyers, and physicians and teachers and engineers, they have
made of themselves by their patience and industry and persistence of pur-


pose, I am not sure but they are better off for the obstacles they have
surmounted: obstacles that would have deterred weaker men, such as I
have known elsewhere tempted into a profession for which they have no
real fitness, by the mistaken kindness of parents or the largess of some
society or fund.

The education here given is public even now in the most important
sense; it is supplied mainly at the cost of the entire public, with no im-
plied contract for the maintenance of any party, creed or section; and it
is open to all alike as a means of direct preparation for their work in
life, as chosen by their own free will, uninlluenced by their teachers.
Perhaps we hardly appreciate the value of this, since it has become the
dominant idea of higher education in this country. To know what an ad-
vance is already made, will require some comparison with the ages in
which it was unknown.

Those of you who recall Macaulay's brilliant sketch of the education
furnished by the daily life of Athens, may think 1 am unjust to the
classic age when I call public education an innovation of modern life.
But one needs to penetrate little beneath the surface, to see that ancient
instruction was always in the hands of a small and privileged class, who
sought to perpetuate their own caste and privileges rather than to diffuse
the light of education as widely as possible; and further, that its method
invariably was to transmit to pupils what the teacher thought it need-
ful or advantageous for them to learn, instead of opening wide the doors
of knowledge, and prompting all who came to enter for themselves and
appropriate all they could seize and master for their own advancement
in learning and in active life. It is in the absence of these two elements
of genuine education that I find the difference of which I have already
said so much.

So far as 1 know there is no trace in all ancient history, of one people's
having studied the language or literature of another as a means of edu-
cation. The Greeks were not likely to hold in such esteem the jargon of
barbarians. Even the singular interest of Herodotus in Egyptian cus-
toms may have given him the reputation of a mere collector of foreign
fables which has always clung to him until modern students have per-
ceived the true value of his matter. If there is an exception to this
narrow contempt of all foreign culture, it is the Roman affectation of
Greek thoughts and phrases; and even that seems to have been the mark
of a small coterie whom their contemporaries regarded much as Chaucer
did the Abbess's affectation of French "after the schole of Stratford atte
Bowe." Of real linguistic and critical study, of world-culture, as the
Germans say, there is not even a germ traceable anywhere till the re-
vival of letters and of Greek came together in the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries three hundred years after the rise of the first great Univer-
sity at Bologna.

Wherever we find anything that can be called systematic education in
the ancient world that is, anything beyond the mere training of children
in the necessary arts of life, such as even the beasts and birds give to


their young it is invariably the privilege of a small and chosen class.
What is still more significant it consists in the imparting to these of a
body of traditional learning their formation by the hands and uniler"
the arbitrary direction of the teachers. Thus "the wisdom of the
Egyptians" was confined with jealous care to the close corporation of
the priesthood. So it was apparently with the Eastern magi, while
even the sons of the nobles had to be content with a course that taught
them only "to ride, to draw the bow and to speak the truth!" Pythagoras
.and all the sages of Greece taught their most important lessons only to
an esoteric circle, and the sophists, to the sons of the wealthy. The chief
offense of Socrates against the orthodoxy of his age seems to have been
in his method of instructing any youth of bright parts whom he met in
his walks, though even he made no effort to educate youth in general.
In Rome, everything that we should call professional education, was
long the secret of the patricians. From them it passed to be the preroga-
tive of the rich. It is not inconsistant with this though it sounds to
modern ears like a paradox that the best educated men and the
teachers of rich men's sons were often themselves slaves. It would have
been a much greater wonder if a poor freeman had ever had a chance to
get an education ; but we hear of not a single instance. The rich knight
or Senator could buy education in a slave if a father's care had not be-
stowed it on him, or his own caprice or stupidity had refused it. In
either case knowledge was in safe hands, conservative hands, not likely
to peril the established order of things by innovations. Had a bright
proletarius had the opportunity to acquire it, he might have discovered
something new and thus periled the established order. But naturally the
proletariat was content with panem et cir census. When the Western
Empire went down like a huge ship, foundering beneath the waves of
barbarism, much of this traditional learning disappeared with it, only to
be recovered centuries afterward, as men find gold and jewels in the
wreck of some Spanish galleon long at the bottom of the sea. But its
methods were perpetuated through the Dark Ages by the church aided
by princes like Charlemagne and Alfred. These did their best to in-
struct in the traditional learning the rude races that had become domi-
nant in Western Europe. After a time, every royal palace and every
bishop's seat had its school, teaching the trivium and the quadrivium
after the most approved methods. The clergy seem to have been
specially active in gathering into these schools the brightest minds they
could find and instructing them in all that they themselves knew. They
succeeded in making Latin the language of the Roman church, the
tongue of all educated men. Their methods of instruction were prob-
ably little if any inferior to those of their predecessors in the classic
times. They had a new race to deal with, rude and uncultivated, but
eager, ambitious and capable. Single minds like Eginhard, Alcuin, Eri-
gena, Lanfranc, arose to show that the capacity of the old method for
training the individual, was not yet entirely effete. Each episcopal
school had no doubt its group of these, that never attained posthumous


celebrity. But they failed to make any lasting impression on the great
mass, or even on the most active leading minds of the class that
governed the world. They added nothing to the traditional stock of
knowledge and aroused no fresh desire for it. The vast majority of men
had never known that desire, even in the classic age. The church ab-
sorbed and satisfied all who might have continued the higher cultivation
of Greece and Rome. The most active and ambitious minds found in
that cultivation nothing to their purpose and neglected it.

We are accustomed to think of the Dark Ages as a time of mere
eclipse, when the lights that had previously illuminated the world were
darkened for six or eight centuries, only to shine out afterward with
increased lustre. We thus leave out of view an important fact: that in
many regions of Europe where the former light shone with greatest
lustre it went out then never to be rekindled; and that the provinces where
the newer light shines brightest now are those least brilliant in the earlier
time. What has become of the eastern half of the empire which makes
such a figure just before its decline? These were prosperous, wealthy,
enlightened countries, while Gaul and Britain were scarcely out of
barbarism. The entire southern coast of the Mediterranean was civilized
as early as Italy itself. All felt the Dark Ages alike, but these never saw
the sun of civilization rise again. It was not a mere eclipse, but rather
the waning of an ancient luminary, the rise of a new. The old slowly
expired under the bushel of the church. The new was set upon a mighty
candlestick, as new as itself, called university,

The twelfth century was not a favorable period for literary activity
or improvements in the science of education. Even the bishops and
clergy were too busy in the great contest for supremacy between church
and state to pay much attention to improvements in the trivium, or what
we should call new theories of normal instruction. It was a period of
"storm and stress" in which men were busy with the most practical


Online LibraryWilliam G. (William Gardiner) HammondPublic education → online text (page 1 of 2)