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We attribute to universities either too much or too little: Some assert that they are the only proper places to advance learning ; while others deny even their utility in forming an education. Both are erroneous.
Learning is most advanced in populous cities, where chance often conspires with industry to promote it ;
where the members of this large university, if I may so call it, catch manners as they rise ; study life, not logic, and have the world for correspondents.
The greatest number of universities have ever been founded in times of the greatest ignorance.
New improvements in learning are seldom adopted in colleges until admitted everywhere else. And this is right : we should always be cautious of teaching the rising generation uncertainties for truth. Thus, though the professors in universities have been too frequently found to oppose the advancement of learning, yet, when once established, they are the properest persons to diffuse it.
There is more knowledge to be acquired from one page of the volume of mankind, if the scholar only knows how to read, than in volumes of antiquity. We grow learned, not wise, by too long continuance at college.
This points out the time in which we should leave the university. Perhaps the age of twenty-one, when at our universities the first degree is generally taken, is the proper period.
The universities of Europe may be divided into three classes. Those upon the old scholastic establishment, where the pupils are immured, talk nothing but Latin, and support every day syllogistical disputations in school philosophy. Would not one be apt to imagine this was the proper education to make a man a fool? Such are the universities of Prague, Louvain, and Padua. The second is, where the pupils are under few restrictions, where all scholastic jargon is banished, where they take a degree when they think proper, and live not in the college, but the city. Such are Edinburgh, Leyden, Gottingen, Geneva. The third is a mixture of the two former, where the pupils are restrained, but not confined ; where many, though not all, the absurdities of scholastic philosophy are suppressed, and where the first degree is taken after four years' matriculation. Such are Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin.
As for the first class, their absurdities are too apparent to admit of a parallel. It is disputed which of the two last are more conducive to national improvement.
Skill in the professions is acquired more by practice than study; two or three years may be sufficient for learning their rudiments. The universities of Edinburgh, &c. grant a licence for practising them when the student thinks proper, which our universities refuse till after a residence of several years.
The dignity of the professions may be supported by this dilatory proceeding ; but many men of learning are thus too long excluded from the lucrative advantages, which superior skill has a right to expect.
Those universities must certainly be most frequented, which promise to give in two years, the advantages which others will not under twelve.
The man who has studied a profession for three years, and practised it for nine more, will certainly know more of his business than he who has only studied it for twelve.
The universities of Edinburgh, &c. 'must certainly be most proper for the study of those professions in which men choose to turn their learning to profit as soon as possible.
The universities of Oxford, &c. are improper for this, since they keep the student from the world, which, after a certain time, is the only true school of improvement.
When a degree in the professions can be taken only by men of independent fortunes, the number of candidates in learning is lessened, and, consequently the advancement of learning retarded.
This slowness of conferring degrees is a remnant of scholastic barbarity. Paris, Louvain, and those universities which still retain their ancient institutions, confer the doctor's degree slower even than we.
The statutes of every university should be considered as adapted to the laws of its respective government. Those should alter as these happen to fluctuate.
Four years spent in the arts, (as they are called in colleges,) is perhaps laying too laborious a foundation. Entering a profession without any previous acquisitions of this kind, is building too bold a superstructure.
Teaching by lecture, as at Edinburgh, may make men scholars, if they think proper ; but instructing by exami
nation, as at Oxford, will make them so often against their inclination.
Edinburgh only disposes the student to receive learning; Oxford often makes him actually learned.
In a word, were I poor, I should send my son to Leyden or Edinburgh, though the annual expense in each, particularly in the first, is very great. Were I rich, I would send him to one of our own universities. By an education received in the first, he has the best likelihood of living ; by that received in the latter, he has the best chance of becoming great.
We have of late heard much of the necessity of studying oratory. Vespasian was the first who paid professors of rhetoric for publicly instructing youth at Rome. However, those pedants never made an orator.
The best orations that ever were spoken were pronounced in the parliaments of King Charles, the First. These men never studied the rules of oratory.
Mathematics are, perhaps, too much studied at our universities. This seems a science to which the meanest intellects are equal.* I forget who it is that says, “ All men might understand mathematics, if they would.”
The most methodical manner of lecturing, whether on morals or nature, is, first rationally to explain, and then produce the experiment. The most instructive method is to`shew the experiment first ; curiosity is then excited, and attention awakened to every subsequent deduction. Hence it is evident, that in a well formed education a course of history should ever precede a course of ethics.
The sons of our nobility are permitted to enjoy greater liberties in our universities than those of private men. I should blush to ask the men of learning and virtue who preside in our seminaries, the reason of such a prejudicial
* This is partly true, but not to the extent which is implied in our author's general assertion. The elements of the science may certainly be acquired without any extraordinary share of intellect; but surely distinguished proficiency in the higher branches of mathematics implies something more than the industrious efforts of the “ meanest intellects.” Goldsmith himself was a very indifferent mathematician; and this will perhaps account sufficiently for his attempt to underrate the importance of the science, and his wish to consider its acquisition .as the despicable triumph of plodding mediocrity.-B.
distinction. Our youth should there be inspired with a love of philosophy; and the first maxim among philosophers is, That merit only makes distinction.
Whence has proceeded the vain magnificence of expensive architecture in our colleges ? Is it that men study to more advantage in a palace than in a cell ?
One single performance of taste or genius confers more real honours on its parent university, than all the labours of the chisel.
Surely pride itself has dictated to the fellows of our colleges the absurd passion of being attended at meals, and on other public occasions, by those poor men who, willing to be scholars, come in upon some charitable foundation. It implies a contradiction, for men to be at once learning the liberal arts, and at the same time treated as slaves ; at once studying freedom, and practising servitude.
EVERY subject acquires an adventitious importance to him who considers it with application.
He finds it more closely connected with human happiness than the rest of mankind are apt to allow ; he sees consequences resulting from it which do not strike others with equal conviction ; and still pursuing speculation beyond the bounds of reason, too frequently becomes ridiculously earnest in trifles or absurdity.
It will perhaps be incurring this imputation, to deduce a universal degeneracy of manners from so slight an origin as the depravation of taste ; to assert that, as a nation grows dull, it sinks into debauchery. Yet such, probably, may be the consequence of literary decay; or, not to stretch the thought beyond what it will bear, vice and stupidity are always mutually productive of each other.
Life, at the greatest and best, has been compared to a froward child, that must be humoured and played with till it falls asleep, and then all the care is over.
Our few years are laboured away in varying its pleasures ; new amusements are pursued with studious attention ; the most childish vanities are dignified with titles of importance; and the proudest boast of the most aspiring philosopher is no more, than that he provides his little playfellows the greatest pastime with the greatest innocence.
Thus the mind, ever wandering after amusement, when abridged of happiness on one part, endeavours to find it on another ; when intellectual pleasures are disagreeable, those of sense will take the lead. The man who in this age is enamoured of the tranquil joys of study and retirement, may in the next, should learning be fashionable no longer, feel an ambition of being foremost at a horse course ; or, if such could be the absurdity of the times, of being himself a jockey. Reason and appetite are therefore masters of our revels in turn ; and as we incline to the one, or pursue the other, we rival angels, or imitate the brutes. In the pursuit of intellectual pleasure lies every virtue ; of sensual, every vice.
It is this difference of pursuit which marks the morals and characters of mankind; which lays the line between the enlightened philosopher and the half-taught citizen ; between the civil citizen and illiterate peasant; between the law-obeying peasant and the wandering savage of Africa, an animal less mischievous, indeed, than the tiger, because endued with fewer powers of doing mischief. The man, the nation, must therefore be good, whose chiefest luxuries consist in the refinement of reason; and reason can never be universally cultivated, unless guided by taste, which may be considered as the link between science and common sense, the medium through which learning should ever be seen by society.
Taste will therefore often be a proper standard, when others fail, to judge of a nation's improvement or degeneracy in morals. We have often no permanent characteristics, by which to compare the virtues or the vices of our ancestors with our own. A generation may rise and pass away without leaving any traces of what it really was ; and all complaints of our deterioration may be only topics of declamation, or the cavillings of disappointment : but in taste we have standing evidence; we can with precision compare the literary performances of our fathers with our own, and from their excellence or defects determine the moral, as well as the literary, merits of either.
If, then, there ever comes a time when taste is so far depraved among us that critics shall load every work of