1908 Fredericton Encaenia

Address in Praise of Founders

Delivered by: Geoghegan, Harold


"The Study of Literature Brings a Broader Outlook" Daily Gleaner (28 May 1908): 3.

If we look on page 9 of our calendar we shall find that a "College called the College of New Brunswick was founded and incorporated by a provincial charter under the great seal of the province, bearing the date February 12th, 1800."

The founders, I think, stand in no need of praise now; their works speak for them. This University which they founded more than one hundred years ago has justified its foundation. It has taken and kept its position as the center of education in the Province, and gone on increasing in number of students and professors. Professional courses have been added to the original course in arts, the students in engineering nearly equal those in arts, and, with the addition of a course in forestry next year, the number of professional students will, doubtless, be further increased.

Now, we call ourselves the University of New Brunswick. What is a University? Newman defines it as a 'place for teaching universal knowledge,' that is a place the main object of which is to produce a well educated man and not a man skilled in one particular branch of knowledge only. If what we call education be only a four-years' accumulation of materials for making a living, merely the acquiring of that knowledge which is marketable and which, when we leave college, we can sell to whoever likes to buy it for so many dollars and cents. If this be our ides of education why bother about such a thing as a university degree? Why go to a university at all?

There are other and cheaper ways of becoming efficient in the various branches of professional work if practical utility be our only aim. But, as has been well said "The professional character is not the only one which a man engaged in a profession has to support. As a friend, as a companion, as a citizen at large, in the connections of domestic life, in the improvement and the embellishment of his leisure, he has a sphere of action, revolving, if you please, within the sphere of his profession, but not clashing with it, in which, if he can show none of the advantages of an improved understanding, whatever may be his skill or proficiency in the other he is no more than an ill-educated man.

And it is the making of companions and citizens at large that a university has in view just as much as the production of men skilled in one particular branch of learning. If the doctor and the engineer were machines for doctoring and engineering, if the professional man were to be limited to his own profession [   ] subjects of conversation, what a dull uncompanionable race we should become! We have all, at one time or another, had to suffer at the hands of the man with one subject, and we know how impossible conversation becomes, especially if his hobby be one of which we know nothing.

This specializing, then, would be the death of all intelligent general conversation--Indeed conversation as an art (even as a game) is in a very precarious condition--are we to let it die altogether?

Perhaps with Henry V. one may answer--"What! A speaker is but a prater!" and object that it is of no particular advantage at a critical moment in this life to look grievely and gasp out one's eloquence" but it must be remembered that it is "just of the same consequence to a man's immediate society how he talks as how he acts." A professional man's professional talk can only influence those interested in his work to the outsiders it is more or less unintelligible, but--I quote again--"One of the best companions is a man who the accuracy and research of a profession, has added a free encursive acquaintance with various learning, and caught from it a spirit of general observation."

On what common ground are we to meet? What is the subject which is to supply us with common topics?

The answer is obvious--Literature--the literatures of Greece and Rome, of England, France and Germany. Of these Greek and Latin have unfortunately almost disappeared from among the subjects required from professional students and there seems some tendency to make of the other subjects merely utilitarian--utilitarian in the lowest sense--the object being, as has been elegantly put, to acquire "Enough English to write a decent report, and enough foreign languages to talk to a Dago."

If this is all that is required I might even go farther and suggest that the subjects in question be dispensed with completely. Because, after all, a report has to be very badly written to be absolutely incomprehensible, and as for the "dago," if you attack him in his own language he is more than likely to answer you in yours--if he understands.

There is, however, a higher usefulness in the study of literature than the writing of reports and conversing with gentlemen of foreign extraction in their own languages. By its study we find a common ground of discussion with our fellowmen: our minds come in contact with theirs and are sharpened and made more alert. This discussion oils our mental machinery, causing it to run more smoothly and making of our brain more perfect instruments; not only for our ordinary intercourse with the world, but also for the practice of our profession. Our judgement, too, is formed, our outlook on life becomes broader, some of our prejudices disappear, for literature is a study of life and as such helps us to see and understand our fellow men better and more clearly. How many friendships mutually beneficial have not had their beginning in the discussion of books, or in the discovery of an admiration of some play or poem, where conversation on any other subject would have been impossible.

A thorough study of any one branch of literature is quite out of the question for a professional. He has not sufficient time. We do not enact it of him--To him we are merely sign posts--We start him on his way. The rest of his journey is for him to plan and follow--and he will follow it in his own way and for his own pleasure and for he pleasure of those with whom chance may happen to throw him, unless he be one  of those whom Sir Philip Sydney curses with a great curse--those "who are born so near the dull making cataract of Wilus that they cannot hear the Planet-like music of poetry, and who have so earth-creeping a spirit that it cannot lift itself up to look to the sky of poetry."

A play of Moliere struggled through at college may suggest to a student that here is a track worth following, and may lead him into the clear land of French literature. Three or four plays of Shakespeare, in spite of notes and inendations, may let us into a world peopled by men and women who mean more to us than many of those whom we meet in the real world.

There are some students who may not need this start, some who have been set on the way before they come to the University. But to most of us it is during our first year in college that our real introduction to literature takes place. A taste for literature cannot, of course, be created where it does not exist. But it exists in nearly all of us under one form or another. It is hidden and ignored. The possessor is not conscious of its possession, but with a little nursing not only a pleasure to ourselves but also a link which binds us to the educated world.

I once met a man who after pouring scorn on me for wasting my students' time with such an unprofitable thing as poetry, suggested that perhaps if I could teach them to write it themselves they might pick up a dollar or two by sending it to the magazines. No! It is not for the material profit that we study poetry; it is very seldom seen, as Locke tells us, "that anyone discovers mines of gold and silver in Parasus" and for most of us, in spite of the examples this university affords us, the mountain must remain inaccessible, but around its foot lies a pleasant land from whence we may see peaks and make perhaps excursions to its lower slopes. The way to this country has been shown to us, and the work is ours to follow.

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