1913 Fredericton Encaenia

Alumni Oration

Delivered by: Bridges, Henry Seabury

"The Alumni Oration" University Monthly 32, 8 (June 1913): 325-330. (UA Case 67a, Box 1)

The Higher Education and its Value in Practical Life was the subject of the Alumni Oration delivered at the Encoenia by Dr. H. S. Bridges, Superintendent of Schools at St. John.

He said in part:

A college education aims to accomplish two comprehensive objects which run into and are in a measure complementary to each other—first, the training of the student's powers both intellectual and moral, since these cannot wisely be disassociated and secondly, the cultivating and broadening of the student's intelligence by introducing him to a wide range of knowledge in language and literature, in science of all kinds, in history, in economics, in mathematics and philosophy.

A college training also aims to develop a man's self-making powers, that he may fashion himself and his life according to no narrow pattern, and to impart to him the faculty, as some one has aptly expressed it of "individual, initiative" which other things being equal is the key to success. A liberal education cannot it is true develop this power in a man if it does not already exist in him in a latent rudimentary form—since a college education does not profess to manufacture such a power to order, or to make bricks without straw. This self-making power includes the masonry of one's self, of one's own faculties, the ability to control and direct them with a sustained and intelligent energy, to whatever work the circumstances of life or his own inclination may summon a man.

It is training such as this which in Germany permeates the whole fabric of society, the army, professional life, literature and science, and which has given to the Germans their acknowledged supremacy in so many lines of activity. And it would be well for Canada if her young men, instead of relying on the many adventitious aids to success supplied by a new and rapidly growing country, will prefer to submit to that rigid prolonged discipline which in the long run is the only sure road to the highest eminence in any line of work.

The Earl of Derby in his oration on "Life and Culture" which he delivered on assuming the Lord Rectorship of the University of Glasgow, made the following remarks which merit special attention at the present day when vocational education is growing to be the popular fad, "The aim of a liberal education ought not to be to fit men for this or that special profession exclusively, but to supply such acquirements and to sharpen such faculties as shall be useful in any walk of life. Law, medicine, architecture, engineering, practical art—all these are pursuits of the highest usefulness and even necessity, but the architect has no particular use for law, nor the lawyer for architecture. What they both want, what they both have a use for is accuracy of thought, clearness of expression and that indefinable something, excluding pedantry on the one hand and vulgar coarseness on the other, which marks the man to whom literature has been more than the amusement of a casual hour."

Aiming to accomplish this all-round training of the whole man, the college and university are making more and more of the study of the great literature of the world, modern as well as ancient, inasmuch as these are not only the expression of the best life of the race, but also furnish the most generous inspiration to that which is noblest and best in life.

In this connection I may be allowed to quote the words of the late James Russell Lowell, poet and true statesman as well: "It is only through literature," said he "that we become complete men, for there and there alone, we learn what man is and what man may be for it is nothing else than the autobiography of mankind." Ennius too was right when he claimed to have three souls, because he understood three languages.

While increasing attention has been, paid to the modern languages and literatures, no system of education that calls itself liberal, unless it is willing to be regarded as scientifically insufficient, will omit to give an important place to the Greek and Latin classics which, especially the former, have proved not merely their own inherent vitality, but also their power to communicate life. I am a firm believer in keeping the ancient classics substantially where they have always been in the scheme of a truly liberal education; and I am sure that our colleges made a serious mistake some twenty-five years ago when they allowed the substitution of the modern languages for the ancient classics. It cannot be denied that the ancient classical languages, and especially Greek, are on account of their very construction and the superiority of their equipment, by far the best media for the study of language and for acquiring the ability to appreciate and understand what is best in old literature. Even those who oppose the study of the classics will seldom be found to deny that in conciseness, in dignity of style and in felicity of expression, the great writers of antiquity have never been equalled. In this connection permit me to quote two eloquent tributes to the value of the ancient classics, the first from the pen of Dr. Hamilton Wright Mabie, one of the accomplished editors of The Outlook; the second from an address of Judge Storey the most eminent jurist of his time in the United States. "There is no grander entrance to the great world of thought," says Dr. Mabie, "than the Great Literature. Universities are broadening their courses to meet the multiplied demands of modern knowledge and to fit men for the varied pursuits of modern life. For those who desire familiarity with human life in its broadest expression and especially for those who seek familiarity with the literary spirit and mastery of the literary art, Greek must hold its place in the curriculum to the end of time. Greek literature holds its place not because scholars have combined to keep alive its traditions and make familiarity with it the bond of the fellowship of culture, but because it is the faithful reflection of the life of a race who faced the world on all sides with mastery, intelligence and power."

"He who studies English literature" says Judge Storey, "without the lights of classical learning loses half the charms of its sentiments and style, of its forces and feelings, of its delicate touches, of its delightful allusions, of its illustrative associations. Who that meditates over the strains of Milton does not feel that he drank deep at
"Siloah's brook that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God,"
that the fires of his magnificent mind were lighted by coals from ancient altars? It is no exaggeration to declare that he who proposes to abolish classical studies, proposes to render in a greater measure inert and unedifying the mass of English literature for three centuries; to rob us of much of the glory of the past, and much of the instruction of future ages; to annihilate associates which are interwoven with our best sentiments, and which give to distant times and countries a presence and reality as if they were in fact our own."

Another very important branch of the curriculum of the modern university is that of science. The science of nature and the science of matter and mind, are studied now as they were never studied before, and that too both in their abstract and concrete relations, more especially the former, since the abstract must always form the basis of all solid permanent advance in the sciences. Hence, those in our colleges and universities who are devoting their lives to the pursuit of abstract science, are rendering to the world a most practical though often unappreciated service. They are doing more, they are training their students in the methods of scientific investigation when often necessities of practical life. They have a direct bearing on the varied great universities of the land which are likewise conducting the study of history, both ancient and modern, in a more rational and scientific way than formerly, for history is not studied now as a mass of events that bear no relation to each other but as events which illustrate the development of the race, and therefore full of practical instruction for the statesman and citizen alike. It is highly probable that in the lapse of years most of us have forgotten the demonstrations of the higher mathematics but their influence upon the logical faculty can never be lost, as it remains a permanent possession of the mind often proving valuable in many unsuspected ways. It is said that the speeches of Abraham Lincoln were remarkable for their clearness and logical force. One day after he had made a great speech in the campaign of 1859, he was met in the train by a gentleman who, after expressing his admiration for the logical clearness of his speech of the previous evening, ventured to ask Lincoln how he had acquired this power. "Well," said Lincoln, "when I was studying to be a lawyer, I found that I had no comprehension of what it meant to absolutely prove a thing. Conscious that this difficulty must be removed, if I would succeed in my chosen profession I dropped my law books and went home somewhat discouraged, but taking up my Euclid I proceeded to master it. Then I thoroughly understood what it meant to demonstrate a proposition and to do it clearly and logically. I then went back to my law studies and found that my difficulty had entirely disappeared." Lincoln had thus obtained one of the most valuable benefits of truly liberal education.

Nor is the education which our higher institutions of learning give, one of books and class-room alone. At these institutions young mien of all grades and varieties of talent and character from different sections of the country are represented. What then, I ask, can be of greater practical value than the intercourse of these students among themselves broadening, as it does, their minds, sharpening their faculties, imparting a knowledge of men and helping each one of them to form an accurate estimate of his own abilities and powers? Side by side with the education acquired from lectures and recitations, there is going on in every college that education which comes from a vital contact of the minds and hearts of the students with one another and indirectly with the world around them. As Augustine Birrell, who is himself a distinguished example of the university man in practical life, has so happily expressed it: "It is within the crumbling walls of colleges that mind meets with mind, that permanent friendships are formed and lofty ambitions stirred. It is indeed a great and stirring tradition."

It must be acknowledged, however, that the mere cultivation of the intellect is not the only thing to which attention should be paid in our higher institutions of learning? Perhaps there has never been a period in the history of the world when character was of such supreme importance in practical life as the present one. The gross materialism of an age which is mainly concerned with the accumulation of wealth will surely be fatal to moral growth and true culture if the moral balance in education is not preserved. When that great philosopher, Herbert Spencer, was in the United States some years before his death, some one asked him if he did not think that the general diffusion of knowledge would tend to fit men for free institutions. "No, certainly not," he replied, "that is essentially a question of character, and only in a secondary degree a, question of knowledge. The idea that mere education is a panacea for political evils is a universal delusion."

Had all the higher institutions of learning throughout the United States paid as much attention to the development of character as they might have done in the past fifty years, would we not now be spared the sorry spectacle which the senate of a great nation presents in their attempt to recede from the obligations imposed by an international treaty? Again, if in Canada, our educators laid more emphasis on the maintenance of moral obligations, would not such a course exercise a powerful influence in preventing1 the scandalous things that are often done under the plea of practical politics? What shall I say of the transactions recently brought to light by the Socialist party in Germany, who have proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that a great manufacturing concern has used every effort in its power to foment unfriendly feelings between two great nations, simply for the sake of increasing the sale of their weapons of destruction? Is not this a result of that gross mercenary spirit which is permeating the whole fabric of society on both sides of the Atlantic, and which our higher institutions should resist with all their power? Though it is confessedly their duty to cultivate the intellect, they should never lose sight of the fact that they are also responsible for the development of character, ever bearing in mind that a man’s usefulness in life depends far more on his character than on his intellectual ability, and that it is righteousness and righteousness alone that exalteth a nation.

From what has been said in the course of this address, it will be observed that the word practical has been used not in that narrow utilitarian sense in which it is so often employed, but in a wider and more liberal signification. In my opinion, nothing can possess a higher practical value for any man than that which makes him a man in the fullest sense of the word; which gives him habits of clear, systematic and independent thought; which sharpens iris penetration, gives vigor to his powers of reasoning, chastens and refines his taste, and confers upon him the priceless gift of clear and forcible utterance. Considered from this point of view, the studies of the College course, however, abstract, barren or profitless they may appear to the superficial observer, possess a practical value of the very highest and most inestimable character, since their beneficial effects are spread over the entire life, and are daily manifest in every variety of circumstances by which men are surrounded.

Addresses may be reproduced for research purposes only. Publication in whole or in part requires written permission from the author.