1887 Fredericton Encaenia
Address in Praise of Founders
Delivered by: Stockley, William Frederick Paul
"Encoenial Exercises" The University Monthly VI, 9 (June 1887): 3-7. (UA Case 71)
After a few opening remarks by Dr. Harrison, Professor Stockley, M. A. delivered the oration on behalf of the Faculty in praise of the founders of the institution. The following is a portion of his address on education and utility.
When I have the honor to hold the place before you this year, annually held by a member of the faculty of the University, I believe I but follow tradition in choosing to speak to you about education--education in the narrower sense. It may be indeed thought impossible that one in my position Should have much interest in anything else—-that is perhaps my inevitable misfortune.
Those who are teachers and those who are not are alike easily content in this division of labor, by which education is the work of certain persons appointed to teach others what will fit them to go to occupy themselves with something else when the earlier things taught may be speedily forgotten unless indeed they serve a further secondary purpose. In and for themselves these things first taught have their value; but this value is forgotten, if it was ever known.
There settles down upon us often that dangerous sleep of content, in which ideas on the subject of education and utility are badly confused. If, in a moment of watchfulness, truer and clearer ideas have come to me, as they probably have come to my hearers also, I shall do something not useless in recalling to you such ideas of your better waking moments. For there is rightly no such severance between our interests by which you can place on one side those who have interests in education, and on the other those who have no such interest, or interest only for a time.
Individually and socially, as men and women, we have all an interest in what can give us strength and generosity of mind, finer perceptions, pure delights, richness and fullness of life beyond measure,—infinite. The "withdrawing from all selfish and mercenary thoughts"—the "lesson of all sweet and honorable thoughts and actions to teach you courtesy, benignity, generosity, humanity"—that which Charles Lamb found in Shakespeare, a few sometimes find there; alas too few and those too rarely. And yet knowledge of what Shakespeare can teach is not all that can be gained by education, and such knowledge is for all.
But we practically make it for none or for a few. Those who use it or who pretend to use it, only as a means of gaining something else, however advantageous, do not really gain that knowledge at all. We talk about education, talk more about it, perhaps, than men ever did. Perhaps we are wiser about it than our forefathers—as a whole— perhaps not.
But this is certainly true. Practically we are woefully stupid about education. And shame might perhaps keep anyone who reflects only a little from any more; unless his words might be taken as a cry to awaken us from our dream of content to make us look up, Iook back, look forward, look everywhere but just with bent head on the ground before us.
Practically we are woefully stupid about education. And whether our forefathers were more stupid or not is something we have less to do. But our education may be tested by its results.
Immense numbers learning, and what proportion being led to love learning, or to find delight in such pleasures of the mind, or to believe thoroughly in such pleasures being real delights at all? At best a sad, weak few, those who reflect and a strong host who talk and write noisily what numbers may read and in reading gain neither refinement nor wisdom.
A deep discontent in these things, with ourselves, with our colleges, with nations—such discontent is the condition of men moving to a truer wisdom and clearer sight to be the inheritance of some after time, when men may be "without hardness sage, and gay without frivolity."
"There is no pleasure comparable," quotes Bacon "like to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth as he describes it, "a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene."
I will point ye out," Milton says, "the right path of a virtuous and noble education, laborious indeed at the first ascent, but else so smooth, so green, so full of goodly prospect, and melodious sounds on every side, that the harp of Orpheus was not more charming."
Those writers might look with wonder on our satisfaction with so much fuss and so much talk, with so poor results of such excited interest in education. Perhaps a wiser race will look back with a smile of pity on our satisfaction with learning that we may prepare for examination, the end of years of work given without growing, intelligent, pleasure, and submitted to without hope of any future benefit than that of fitting the learner for something so distinct as to make a high place in his profession.
Examinations may be necessary. I do not see now how they can be avoided. But as at present conducted let wisdom look on them as necessary evils, and true learning look on them with terror. Even the most common sense opportunist will wish that they be known to be means, not thought to be ends, will wish that all those who have the power should help forward, at least negatively—if I may so speak—and by abstaining from congratulating ourselves, that resolution by which enthusiasm may take the place of dogged drudgery; when wearied minds may not die to imagination, and when study having no more to do with a wilderness of single instances, the relations of things may be seen, and further, the true relation of the different powers of man; when minds may have leisure to be calm.
To have as little content as possible with the existing state of things is well; but that need not bring us to refusal to make efforts, and to hopelessness.
If we are awake to what is absurd, to what is wrong in our attitude towards education we need not therefore refuse to try to reform and to be wise; and we must not. For, indeed, as has been said "ignorance which in morals extenuates the crime, of the first order." Your best instincts of wisdom will hardly have to pass one of the greatest minds without finding him a guide; he carries light to enlighten sleep and blindness, to clear a way for men who will follow.
Any such one will be with you to point out how knowledge is its own reward, and in itself is its chief end. That end, that reward, he will make known to you as an end and a reward most worthy of your best efforts. To the pleasures thus necessarily gained, you will rise, to be satisfied by them, to enjoy them honestly and without affectation: pleasures which "cheer the languor, and gild the barrenness of life."
Now indeed we work in no such way, as the greatest mind would guide us to. To enter such a profession, to gain such a social or political or civil position, to this education is directed. And indeed to nothing more necessary could it be directed, to nothing, in its way more admirable.
But when the utility of education is seen in such gains alone, the chief utility is forgotten, that is what is gained by education itself; but this chief gain is not to be obtained thus incidentally—while men's enthusiasm and powers are incited by gains quite distinct.
I shall try to remind my hearers of this distinction between direct and indirect gain by education of mind. I shall try to explain again what confusion there is, what hopeless confusion, in thinking that in training whole classes up to certain standards—Oh! what weary unreality such a term now suggests--that thereby they may pass certain examinations, we are doing the best to make nations wise and calm, and individuals strong and gentle. The things left undone. Among them is the learning the distinction between education in a secondary sense, shall I say in the sense in which our daily unending talk and fuss we use it—and education which is gained in strength of quietness and confidence, by no expeditious, popular and wholesale method.
I do not wish to be misunderstood. It is well to teach all to read and write, and to teach them a great deal more,—as a means, too of gaining positions. Perhaps all this should be even compulsory, but for the real education of young men and women, arrived at what used to be called "years of discretion." We have done nothing until there is a voluntary interest in things of the mind in and for themselves. Self-abasement and that secret union of known strength and known weakness, growing together in the by retreats of a mini and character living a full life—recognition of power gained together with openness and readiness to accept—quietness and confidence combined.
Gibbon’s words might be applied falsely and might be mischievous, but in a sense they are true; education can do nothing except for the favored few, and for them it is unnecessary.
We desire to-day to restrict our thoughts to universities. Our thoughts naturally confine themselves for the most part to universities such as our own.
And I claim to speak on this matter, not only theoretically, though the application of much that is said must be left to each one in his particular circumstances.
Not long ago a distinguished Canadian professor, in a newspaper letter, incidentally named the chief functions of an university—the university was there to teach. Not long before, a well-known former Oxford tutor and man of letters had entered the discussion about certain proposed changes in the course of study in English colleges. He assumed the functions of the university to be first and above all, research; secondarily to fit to be teachers the best of its students, though whether students choose to come or not made little matter; lastly to fall in with the custom of giving a smattering of learning to the common run of mortals.
That the university is to teach and to do nothing else is not the general belief in America now; but it is still too common. At least we may note that teaching holds a higher or a lower place in these different ideas of an university, with ourselves the highest.
It may do good and it cannot do harm to try to see more clearly the relation between education in such an university and utility; why if we acted rightly and wisely learners should learn and teachers teach.
The direct object of education, specially through universities, is the nourishing and strengthening of the mind, without thought in the first instance of the soul or of the body. Such education has its confessed limit. We seek to gain wisdom, justness in dispute, generosity of temper, an emancipation from small things, a power of talking, not only to relate, and a total indifference to gossip, a sense of humor, and the power to see things in their real relation and true proportions. The "disciplined intellect preserves one from the blundering discourtesy of better, perhaps, but less educated minds; who like blunt weapons, tear and hack, instead of cutting keen, who mistake the point in argument, waste their strength on trifles, misconceive their adversary, and leave the question more unsolved than they find it. But this interest in things of the mind, this mode of laughing at last, almost unconsciously, at absorption in the petty interests around you, this sense of power, we can but begin to gain that at college. Let that be remembered, for if we consider only of what can be gained there, as something final, such consideration becomes really comparatively unimportant.
Now with wide experience and with increased responsibility our mental life of a new spring, many can bear witness, it grows and expands, becomes rich and beautiful.
Only, what have you not planted? You cannot then expect the ripening season to bring the fruit. Not all the experience of life—whatever other powers it may give him, will give flexibility of mind to the man who is ignorant of what has been and is the thought of the human race, whose imagination is void, for whom poetry to prosaic, and who is but half conscious of the importance in the long run, of much that seems important to, him, or his friends or his nation.
But the way of escape for his mind and spirit is open--though he never stir from his native place. He can be free, whether he be engaged in business or in a profession unknown to the world at large or famous. It is to be the greatest purpose of life that our education should be direct; there can be none more grave than is found in the strong and balanced mind, and the free and rejoicing imagination.
Perhaps what has been said it is more necessary to say to us, many of whom came from races and who were once Puritans, or who, for good or for bad in other things with which I have not to do have received Puritan influence.
A Puritan had at least a high ideal. If he despised intellectual recreation, and killed his natural love of what was beautiful, he did these things in the interest of his soul.
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Thus penetrating, thus studying, though coming, out for other work and play which you perhaps must have in hand, you will become educated, you gain a liberal education, the result of single minded devotion in mental things. Always learning—not only numbers of things distinct—but learning "to leaven the dense mass of facts and events with the elastic force of reason."
The intellect which has been disciplined to the perfection of its power which knows and thinks while it knows such an intellect cannot be partial, cannot be at a loss, cannot but be patient, collected and (majestically) calm because it discerns the end in every interruption, the limit in each delay; because it ever knows where it stands and how its path lies from one point to another.
"Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas atque metus omnis et inexorabile fatum subiecit pedibus strepitumque Acherontis avari."
To quote further from Cardinal Newman—and with his words on the utility of university education I shall close.
"The man trained to reason, the philosopher, has the same command of matters of thought, which the true citizen and gentleman has of matters of business and conduct."
If, then, a practical end must be assigned to a university cause I say it is that of training good members of society. Its art is the art of social life and its end is fitness for the world. It neither confines the views to particular professions on the one hand, nor creates heroes or inspires genius on the other. Works indeed of genius fall under no art; heroic minds come under no rule; a university is not a birthplace of poets or of immortal authors, of founders of schools, leaders of colonies, or conquerors of nations. It does not promise a generation of Aristotles or Newtons, of Napoleons or Washingtons, of Raphaels or Shakespeares, though such miracles of nature it has before now contained within its precincts. Nor is it content on the other hand with forming the critic or the experimentalist, the economist or engineer, and though such too, it includes within its scope.
But a university training is the great but ordinary means and a great but ordinary end; it aims at raising the intellectual tone of society; at cultivating the public mind; at purifying the national taste, and at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and find aims to popular aspirations and at giving enlargement; and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political powers and defining the intercourse of private life. It is the education which gives a man a clear conscientious view of his own opinions and judgments and a truth in developing them and an eloquence in expressing them and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point and to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant. It prepares him to fill any post with credit and to master any subject with facility; it shows him how to accommodate himself to others, how to come to an understanding with them: how to bear with them. He is at home in any society; he has common ground with every class; he knows when to speak and when to be silent; he is able to converse; he is able to listen; he can ask a question pertinently and gain a lesson seasonably, when he has nothing to impart himself; he is ever ready, yet never in the way; he is a pleasant companion, and a comrade you can depend upon; he knows when to be serious and when to trifle, and he has a sure tact which enables him to trifle with gracefulness and to be serious with effect. He has the repose of a mind which lives in itself while it lives in the world which has recourses for its happiness at home when it cannot go abroad.
He has a gift which serves him in public and supports him in retirement, without which good fortune is but vulgar and with which failure and disappointment have a charm. The art which ends to make a man all this and is in the object which it pursues as useful as the art of wealth or the art of health and though it is less susceptible of method and less tangible, less complete in its result.
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