William Hamilton.

Discussions on philosophy and literature, education and university reform. Chiefly from the Edinburgh review; cor., vindicated, enl., in notes and appendices online

. (page 86 of 94)
Online LibraryWilliam HamiltonDiscussions on philosophy and literature, education and university reform. Chiefly from the Edinburgh review; cor., vindicated, enl., in notes and appendices → online text (page 86 of 94)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

to the lowest, is that, though nominally equal, these are not the
equal rewards of equal talent and exertion. This absurdity at once



dfbases a whole system of Honours: what had previouslv been
respected, is now indiscriminately despised. Such a result will, I
' am constrained to think, be the natural, even the necessary, con-
I sequence of the new statute. AVe have here four or six rows
: of Honours — of Classes, the same in name, in rank, in nuniber.
• and assigned to four or six co-ordinate departments of know-
! ledge. Apparently, and for anght that the statute intimates, all
' these co-ordinate departments and corresponding classes convey
to a candidate the same amount of honour. He is equally by the
' University a supremely distinguished gi-aduate, whether he be
First Class in one or other of the departments. And yet the
I truth is, that here there can be no proportion between depart-
; ment and department, between class and class. A man may fail
! after long years of toil in meriting the highest Honour in one
[ department, who may obtain it in another, by the amusing occu-
pation of a few weeks. The absurdity is however carried to
its cUmax, when it is considered that the University hero stimu-
lates the shorter, easier, more attractive, but less useful study, to
a neglect of the study, more useful, though less attractive, easy
i and short. The University, in fact, thus errs in a sixfold man-
j ner. In encouraging, what — 1^, needs no encouragement; and
! 2°, is less deserving of it ; in not adequately encouraging, what, —
j 3°, needs encouragement ; and 4°, is more deserving of it ; for,
j 5°, it awards the same amount of honour to the brief, facile,
! amusing, and to the tedious, difficult, irksome ; thus, 6", pro-
] moting what requires and merits no protection, at the expense,
! even, of what pre-eminently does both. Many years ago, I con-
! tended (p. 343) that of all British Universities, Oxford (from acci-
i dental circumstances, indeed,) stood alone, in affording, however
I inadequately, to soUd learning the preference and encouragement
! academically due ; and stated it as my " conviction, that if the
i legislature did its duty, Oxford was the British University sus-
ceptible of the easiest and most elfectual regeneration." But this,
i if the present statute be allowed to stand, I can no longer even
■ hope; and now that this ancient school itself has been drawn into
: the vulgar vortex, I contemplate nothing but our Universities,
I one and all, dechning into popular seminaries for a cultivation oi'
\ the superficial, the amusing, the palpable, the materially useful.
I Were it indeed attem[)tcd, under this statute, to equalise a class
j in one department with the corresponding class in another ; the
I attempt, if possible, would conduce only to icndir matters worse.


For example, could a highest Honour in the " Natural Sciences,"
only be obtained like a highest Honour in the co-ordinate depart-
ment of " Humane Letters," after an arduous and engrossing
study during many years; then would appUcation be diverted
from the fundamental, total, and comparatively useful, to the
adventitious, fragmentary, and comparatively useless. But this is
impossible. The Natural Sciences are essentially easy ; requir-
ing comparatively httle talent for their promotion, and only the
most ordinary capacity for their acquisition. Their study, there-
fore, does not cultivate the mind. As Bacon remarks of induc-
tion applied to physical pursuits: — " Nostra via inveniendi
scientias exasquat fere ingenia, et non multum excellentiae eorum
relinquit. . . . Haec nostra, (ut saepe diximus,) fehcitatis cujusdam
sunt potius quam facultatis, et potius temporis partus quara
ingenii." (N. 0. i. § 122.) In thus honouring the easy and
amusing, equally with the difficult and painful, our Alma Mater
imitates the nurse who would bribe the child by the same reward,
to a dose of bitters or to a sugar plum. The comparative
inutihty of all the new " Schools," with the old department of
Mathematics, is indeed virtually confessed in the prospective sta-
tute itself. For the candidate is herein allowed to omit all of
these except some one; the University thus according its high-
est Honour to his proficiency in a kind of knowledge which it
admits to be unnecessary,* and although he may be no proficient
in any knowledge of any of the kinds which it proclaims as indis-
pensable. The only commendation merited by this statute, is,
that it shows in favourable contrast to the Cambridge Examina-
tion Graces of 1848,* of which it is, however, manifestly an imi-

* This is saying little in favour of the Oxford Statute, for the Cambridge
regulation equals even the worst measures in that University, and is M'hoUy
unparalleled in any other. The thing is not only illegal, but beneath criti-
cism ; if regarded as aught higher than a tax on the undergi-aduates of
Arts, in favour of all and sundry who, in the Cambridge spectral faculties of
Law, Medicine, &c., are accidentally decorated with the nominal status of
Professor. The students of the Liberal Arts are taxed for the profit, amongst
sundry others, of two Professors of Medicine, two of Law. But whilst thus
commended to special sciences, Avhich no other University has ever even
proposed to the alumni of its general faculty, the Cambridge student of this
faculty has no opportunity afforded him of becoming acquainted with what
all other Universities, and Cambridge itself by statute, justly regard as the
most essential of preparatory disciplines. This new regulation is, indeed,
only the last of a series of illegalities, calculated, not for the permanent good
of the nation and University, but for the temporary advantage of the usurp-


tation. For both measures innovate in the same ways; both
curiously invert the very purpose of an academical honour ; and

ing interest. In Cambridge the student is now, and Las long been, taught,
not what and how lie ought to learn, but what and how it is jios.siblo— it is
convenient for that interest to teach him. Even in the preparatory faculty,
he is, therefore, treated to Mathematics, not to Logic ; inured to calculate
like a machine, not disciplined to reason like an intelligence. The easier
sciences,— Physics— Physiology,— Physic even, are presented to him at
Irandom, and in various forms; Psychology and the more arduous gym-
luastic of philosophy, in none. His attention is multifariously expanded
ion the world without ; but, never is his reflection contorted im the world
jwithin. If many things, both right and wrong, be taught him of mate-
frial forces, he learns nothhig whatever of mental powers; and though,
{perhaps, superficially indoctrinated touching the functions of his body,
he is left scientifically uninstructed, that he even has a soul. — In all
this illegal Cambridge, (with the partial — I say the partial exception of
[illegal Oxford,) stands alone.— Indeed, whatever mechanism for the time
[the Tutors were capable of teaching, that in Cambridge has been always
[;ui"e of being academically proclaimed^the one tiling Avorthy to be aca-
jJeniically taught. Above a centm-y and a half ago. Philosophy was
Itutorially contracted to the easy mechanism of Physics, and extended
t" the easier mechanism of Mathematics. For sixty years, as has been
- aid, after the appearance of the " Principia," the physical doctrines of
Ntwton were treated by the Tutors of his own University as false and
iiplexiug innovations, and the (self-styled^ romances of Descartes, who
:ilso confessed the anti-logical effect of matlicmatical study (p. 271,)— con-
tinued to be there coUegially inculcated, as the only elements of a sound and
scientific education. Compelled, at length, to follow the age and its intelli-
gence, for fifty years, Newtonianism in Physics and Mathematics remained
n Cambridge the symbol of academical orthodoxy. But, finally, for the
:i<t fifty years, the most mechanical Mathematics— the algebraic analysis,
ilucationally condemned by Newton (p. 306),— has risen to a decided
)redominance in Cambridge ; and that school is now at once anti-Newtonian,
luti- Cartesian, antigeometric. Of what value, thcu, are the recent opinions
)f the Cambridge Syndicate or Cambridge Senate, in regard to " the supe-
•iority of Mathematics, as the basis of General Education?" Would they
eriously maintain, (the reverse of all authority, as indeed of obtrusive fact,)
i;hat mathematicians, out of mathematics, reason better than their neigh-

The very constituting of interested parties into the official, and (even
■xfeptionally) unsworn arbiters of sufficiency and distinction, would be
.lecisive of the new " Triposes "—for the absurdity does not apply to the
;)ld.jtln every University where such impolicy has been followed, as, indeed,
't too generally has, degrees and academical honours have then- become
i:ontemptible. But, in this instance, Cambridge abandons the function of
'rial and classification to these ex qffino examiners, who, in all repects
mlike the other special examiners, are both nmvstrained by any form of


both seem more or less intended to bestow on the Professors
who, in any defunct faculty of the University, chance to have a
titular existence, a certain profit out of the candidates proceeding
in the still living faculty of Arts.

The principles which I have stated of academical education,
(pp. 674, 676, 689, sq., 695, sq., 706,) would here require the fol-
lowing fulfilments. (It is proper, however, parenthetically to pre-
mise, that I here say nothing of Rehgion. In this respect, I wholly
acquiesce in the views of the Oxford legislature, — that a certain
amount of theological information should be required of candi-
dates, but that theology ought not to be proposed as a study in
the faculty of Arts, from which academical distinction should be

1°, The University should confine its highest honours to those '
departments of study which are most arduous, being, at the same
time, subjectively and objectively most usefid. Tbis would limit
the departments thus honoured to two ; the one of wbicli may be
denominated that oi Humane Letters, the other, that oi Philoso-
phy. The former is of empirical, the latter of rational knowledge.

Empirical knowledge is a knowledge of the fact. Humane
Letters would thus comprehend all dexterity at language, all
familiarity with literary products, all acquaintance with historicaL
record. This department, by the conditions stated, should in a
great measure be limited to the domain of Greek and Roman

Rational knowledge is a knowledge of the cause or reason.
Philosophy would tbus comprehend, — in a proximate sphere, the
science of mind in its facidties, its laivs, and its relations, (Psycho-,
logy, Logic, Morals, Politics, &c.) ; in a less proximate sphere,
the science of the histrument of mind, (Grammar, Rhetoric,
Poetic, &c.); in a remoter sphere, the science of the objects of
mind, (Mathematics, Physics, &c,). The conditions stated wouldl I

obligation, and yet beset by interests of various kinds, inciting them to
attract competitors from the old Triposes to the new, by rendering the
honours of the easier and more amusing studies, more easy also of attain-
ment. The Oxford statute avoids many of these errors. The examiners if
appoints, are specially constituted ad hoc, — sworn, — and not interested ; nor
does it tax the students of Arts for the Professors of Law, Medicine, &c.— Butj
as if to consummate the absurdity of the Cambridge regulations, while thC; i
aspirants of the new Triposes are left absolutely free, no one is allowed to
compete for Classical distinction who has not previously taken a Mathe
matical honour !



exclude this last section tVoin tlic dciiartmcnt of hi(jlu'.'<t lion.tur ;
for the sciences wliicli it comprises are subjectively too uninnirov-
ing, and objectively too eccentric, too vast, and Avithal t(m easy,
if not too attractive, to be proposed as academical disciplines of
pi'eparation. The Oxford distinction of the Mathematical and
Physical sciences, into a department by themselves, is therefore,
I think, right; as right, also, the leaving the study of that
department to the option of the candidate. I must, however,
dissent from Oxford theory, (contradicted, as has been seen, by
Oxford practice,) which elevates, or has elevated, this section of
science into one of the two departments of highest honour ; for I
would not only divide (what is still confounded,) the Liters
Humaniores into the two, and two exclusive, departments of
highest honour, but relegate the Disciplinoi MathematiccB to a
lower order, of which I am soon to speak. The present confusion
of the Empirical and the Rational in the one department of Z?7e?Ye
Humaniores, originated in the inability of the Tutors, as at
present constituted, to teach Philosophy as it was taught of old,
and as by statute it should be taught still. The elevation of the
University teacher is consequently a condition of the restoration
of Philosophy to its proper place ; and of these I have previously
spoken (pp. 695-702.)

Leaving then Humane Letters and Ph'dosophij, (apart from the
Mathematical and Physical sciences,) as two departments, afford-
ing two several series of primary honours ; it is evident, that as
j proficiency in either or in both of these affords the exclusive
j quahfication for a highest academical distinction, so a minimum,
: not in one but in each, ought to be established as the condition of
a degree at all. What, however, the amount, and what the con-
j tents of these minima should be, — this as a matter of detail I
I overpass,

j When a candidate aspires to honours, as I have already said,
i it might be an improvement to allow him to give up his book.s
i and take his trial, in part, before a last examination ; provided,
that a plan could be devised, whereby the value of his two exami-
nations could be fixed, added, and duly rated in a decisive classi-
fication. Of this 1 shall speak in the sequel,

2°, Besides the departments of study, which, as most arduous
in themselves, and also most useful, both subjectively as mental
disciplines, and objectively as conditions of an ulterior progress in
knowledge, merit pre-eminent encoin-agement in the fundamental


faculty of a University : there are other departments, which it is
proper that a University should, in a lower degree, promote;
care being taken, that the minor favour shown to the latter, do
not interfere with the higher favour due to the former. All the
studies not the necessary conditions of a degree are to be
excluded from its higher distinctions ; and this by the admission
of a University itself. Thus Oxford, in leaving (rightly, I have
said,) Mathematics to be taken up or not for examination, as the
candidate may himself think fit, virtually confesses, that as a
mathematical minimum is not a requisite for its degree, so t
mathematical proficiency is not an attainment to be distinguished
by its highest honours. For, (as a selection must be rigorously-
made,) a University ought not to encourage by its chief distinc-
tion a science which it does not view as of absolute necessity ;
since thus it would frustrate even its own end, by promoting the
unessential at the expense of the essential. This must, in fact, tend
to frustrate even the honour itself. For the competitors would
be few, the standard low, and the distinction consequently under-
valued. And of what account are the mathematical honours in
Oxford, we have already seen. It may, indeed, be doubted,
whether, in that University, these honours do not operate as much
in counteracting the study of Literae Humaniores, as in promoting
the discipline for which tl\ey were exclusively organised.

On this special ground, (and independently of the general pro-
priety of the measure,) Mathematics ought, in Oxford, to be
relegated to that lower order of sciences, proficiency in which
should entitle a candidate to honour certainly, but to honour
decisively inferior in degree to that awarded to excellence in the
sciences comprised in the higher. Beside, therefore, the superior
studies, in which a certain minimum of progress is necessary for
an academical degree, and to the various pitches of proficiency in
which, the various amounts of highest academical honour are due ;
a University may, further, reasonably require, as a condition of
its degree, a certain competency in some one or more of certain
inferior studies, and it may also reward any greater progress in
these, by an inferior honour. Of this order are many branches
of knowledge which, as easier and more attractive, do not require
external promotion, or which, as less useful, subjectively and
objectively, do not, by comparison, deserve it. Of this order are
all " the schools " in the new Oxford statute, with the exception
of the Literae Humaniores ; these ought not, I think, to appear


here at all. But to this secondary order of alternatively optional
-tndies, about which, as less essential, we need be less scrupulous,
I would add a certain mastery of the principal modern languages.
I\ir, assuredly, the candidate who is able to follow out his pur-
suits, without impedmient, through French, German, Italian, &c.,
is less unworthy of a degree, than the candidate who, ignorant of
tliesc tongues, still passes for the minimum, or even obtains an
honour in some of the secondary departments.

But again : A University, hke Oxford, which employs Tutorial
instruction, and consequently limits the academical study of the
pupil to a determinate series of approved books, has, at its dis-
posal, certain powerful means of ensuring and ascertaining the
proficiency of candidates for a degree ; and should these remain
lunappUed, the University may justly be repi'oached for neglecting
lor for not understanding the peculiar advantages of its pccuUar

The first of these advantages— is the capability, in so for as
that may be expedient, of regulating the order of academical
Study. The objects of this study are not all, are not even for
i;he most part, isolated from each other. Many stand in consecu-
|;ion. Certain subjects, certain books, can only be profitably
{studied after others. A University, like Oxford, can therefore
lisefully prescribe, not only, in general, that the higher shall
jdways presuppose the lower ; but articulately, what are the sub-
jects, and what the books, which ought to be consecutively studied.
Irhis is even a duty for such a University ; and the series being
»nce promulgated, there is no hardship on the candidate for a
legree in being subsequently obliged to accommodate his reading
|0 the proper order of study. Such a regulation, though it ought
iiot, of course, to be carried beyond certain bounds, will naturally
lause the greater number of the books ffiven up by candidates to
j'e the same ; and this identity, in the object matter of examina-
|ion, will render it, as we shall see, a very easy problem to ascer-
tain with the minutest accuracy the comparative proficiency of

, The second of these advantages— is, that the books of study
•nd examination bemg limited, these Books can be compar<ttively
lilted; that is, a determinate value, (to be expressed therefore by
i certain number,) may be pubUcly assigned to each. If a candi-
late answer the questions proposed to him on any book, all and
In fully, he would naturally be entitled to the whole number at


which the book is rated. Should a candidate fall short of thil
completeness and accuracy, the value of his answers could b
expressed by any smaller number, down even to zero ; nay, if i
■were requisite, a negative number might punish his presumptiorj
and fall to be deducted from any positive amount which he migtj
otherwise obtain. Did the answers transcend simple plenitudi
and correctness, a number above the full value of the book migh \ •.
but only as an extraordinary exception, be allowed. — I need hardl;
add, that a book may have a value in more than one department
it may, for example, avail, and variously, in Humane Letters, c'
in Philosoph}^ or in both. A separate estimate should therefoi
be assigned to it in reference to each.

The third of these advantages — is, that the several Classes ca
be determinately valued, and this value with great utility, public]
made known. The several books being articulately rated ; ar
the rule, by which their amount can be made available by cane
dates, being understood ; it follows, even as a matter of cours
that the University should state the amounts — the numbei!
vrhich being attained in a certain department, -would entitle to i;
several classes. i

The fourth of these advantages — is, that instead of leaving theij
as at present, unai*ranged, we might have Candidates ofthesai',
cla^s placed therein before and after other^ according to the rati
value of their examinations ; nay, if numbers were affixed i
names, the men of one class and of one examination might >
brought into collation with those of another. Were this arrant •
ment, indeed, realized in the case of First Classes alone, still woi 1
the principal advantage of the measure be compassed. For it -3
only in a First Class that signal risings of individual above in -
vidual are possible ; but for a University, without necessity, 'J
equalise such differences, is, if not unjust, certainly inexpediek/
In this respect Lou vain and even Cambridge may afford a prov-
able example to Oxford.

The fifth advantage — is, that there might thus be one Hon.r
and a double Examination. It would be a great improveraenjif
the object-matter of examination could be taken up in, at Ieit>
one instalment ; and this persuasion seems to have determined \9
views of the Oxford legislature, in recently dividing the examiii-
tion for Literce Humaniores and Disciplince Mathematicce i'oo
two. But, as already stated, I cannot but regard their divis^n
of the honour alonff with the examination as most unfortunf);


tliough, indeed, not having adopted such suhordinatc measures as
liave now been detailed, it would, foi' them, have been impossible
to render a double trial available to a single classification, I say.
that it is expedient to divide the Examination : and this, were it
only that the candidate might be more accurately and fairly tried ;
while less superiority would accrue to the merely animal advan-
tages of a stronger memory and of stronger nerves. The single
prerequisite of this would be, — that the value of the first examina-
tion were noted, preserved, and added to the value of the second.

The sia'th advantage — is, that the Examination might be ren-
dered at once far more accurate and far more easy. A large pro-
portion of the candidates Avould give up the same book. To these,
called into the " schools" together, a series of questions prepared
and printed for the occasion, might be proposed ; and the (unassist-
ed) answers returned in writing before leaving the room. These
answers being perused by the Examiners, each paper could be
rated at its value, and that value placed to the credit of the can-
didate. In this manner the trial would in a great measure be
easily and accurately gone through. (There is no reason, it may
be observed, why the examination of candidates should be com-
pleted in consecutive days ; nor need an examination in writing
supersede any oral questioning.)

Such a standard, as these last five advantages suppose to be
accurately instituted and accurately applied, Oxford does not
attempt ; but leaves it to each of her transient Examiners to
extemporise a criterion for himself, or rather to classify candidates
as he may, according to his individual lights, and temporary
impressions. That Universities in general do nothing more, is an
invalid answer. For the Univer.sities, in which the Professorial
or unrestricted system of instruction prevails, can at best only
lavish degrees according to a rude appraisement ; and are wholly
unable (what indeed they right rarely attempt) to classify candi-
dates, even in the vaguest or most capricious manner. Oxford,
therefore, in adopting the Tutorial or restricted system of instruc-
tion, should, in tolerating its peculiar disadvantages, be able to

Online LibraryWilliam HamiltonDiscussions on philosophy and literature, education and university reform. Chiefly from the Edinburgh review; cor., vindicated, enl., in notes and appendices → online text (page 86 of 94)