Charles W. Dabney, Jr.
The Old College And The New
(By Charles W. Dabney, Jr., President of the University of Tennessee. Delivered at the Commencement of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg, Virginia, June 2-4, 1896.)
Twenty-five years ago a Virginia college boy, on a summer's tramp through these grand mountains, climbed late one Saturday evening over the hills to the eastward yonder and saw the sun set on the beautiful valley that holds this then, as to day, good, quiet town of Blacksburg. Hospitable friends entertained him over Sunday and gave him an opportunity to see all there was in those days of this college. After twenty-five years that college boy is here once more to enjoy that hospitality, which, like everything else in old Virginia, “never tires,” and to see that college once more, or rather to see the magnificent new institution which has been built upon the foundations of the old college.
We thought it a good college then, but how much grander and better it is to-day! Your visitor of twenty-five years ago is amazed at what he sees, testifying, as it does, to the wisdom, enterprise, and liberality of the good people of Virginia. Then we saw here a very small institution, scarcely more than an academy; to-day we behold a great polytechnic institute, a collection of lecture-rooms and libraries, of great shops and extensive laboratories, of experimental farms and well equipped factories, planned especially for the liberal and practical education of youth.
These wonderful changes suggest the thoughts of the hour. This, the first commencement of the reorganized institution, now called the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, seems a fitting occasion to consider what has been accomplished in education in Virginia and in the South. By scanning carefully the way we have come, we shall perhaps find useful directions for our future journeys.
The old soldier had cherished throughout the entire war the tenderest memories of the dear children at home, and his first effort, after the restoration of peace and the rehabilitation of his home, was to provide for their education. The command of their great captain had been to go home, take care of their families and build up the country, and he had set them a noble example by his own act. “I shall devote my life now to training young men to do their duty in life,” said Robert E. Lee when he gave up the command of an army and took command of a college, and the great intellect and noble heart once consecrated to the defense of his country were thenceforward dedicated to the education of its youth. The same purpose actuated his brave followers. Many old soldiers became school teachers and the younger men who had been fighting when under other circumstances they would have been studying, addressed themselves, upon the close of the contest, to the business of getting an education. Many a one-legged veteran who could not follow the plow now commanded the forces in an old field school, and many a crippled soldier boy joined the class because disqualified for the farm or shop. As teachers they were strict and faithful, if not always skilled in methods, and as students they were earnest and appreciative, although backward, or rusty. The war was itself a great training school, and our country never had a nobler generation of men than the ones thus educated. They are the men who have done most of the grand work of which we shall learn to-day; they are the men who have built this splendid institution.
In 1870 there were not over forty colleges open in the States from Maryland to Florida, and Missouri to Texas. Soon, however, academies and colleges sprang up all over the country, and they have continued to multiply ever since. The report of the United States Commissioner of Education for 1892-93 shows that these same States, including Maryland and Missouri, had in that fiscal year 145 colleges and universities of different kinds, giving bachelor and higher degrees. Some scholars now question indeed whether we have not too many of them, in proportion to our resources.
As the great universities of Europe grew out of monastic and cathedral schools, so our older American colleges were nearly all the children of the churches. The preachers were in the early days almost the only learned men, and therefore the only teachers. In the case of the country schools the good old dominie, most often a Scotch Presbyterian minister, taught the children during the week, as he did the grown folk on Sunday, and thus laid at the same time the foundations of both religion and education. The institutions for higher education were nearly all founded by the presbyteries, associations, or conventions of the different denominations, and the most learned and devout of their clergy became the instructors. With few exceptions, all of our prominent institutions were founded upon, or grew out of, church colleges. Such was the origin of many of the older ones, as William and Mary, Hampden-Sidney, and Washington and Lee, in Virginia; Davidson, in North Carolina; Washington, in Tennessee; the State universities of North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee; and among those of more recent origin, of Roanoke, Randolph-Macon, and Emory and Henry, in Virginia; Wake Forest, in North Carolina; Vanderbilt, in Tennessee; and many others.
The founders and early professors of these colleges were among the noblest men of their day. In the true spirit of consecration, they gave their lives to the cause of sound learning and the greater glory of God. Patient, self-sacrificing, and long suffering, they had difficulties to overcome of which we know nothing. The teacher of to-day can draw, not only encouragement, but real profit, from a study of the trials, the privations, the long-protracted struggles, and the unrequited labors of these pioneers in education who read Virgil with their pupils under the trees and taught geometry from figures drawn on the ground. Grand heroes were the Reverend John Brown, the founder of Liberty Hall, now Washington and Lee University, in Virginia, and also of Kentucky Academy, afterwards Transylvania University; the Reverend David Caldwell, who, as the master of Guilford Academy, in North Carolina, educated the men who founded the Commonwealth and provided for a State University in its first constitution; the Reverend Moses Waddel, who at Willington, in South Carolina, and afterwards at Franklin College, in Georgia, educated the great men and laid the foundations of the educational institutions of these two States; the Reverend Samuel Doak, the parent of East Tennessee schools; the Reverend Samuel Carrick, first president of Blount College; the Reverend Philip Lindsley, the founder of the University of Nashville, and the many other teaching-preachers of those early times. These men were as true patriots and heroes as any of those others who faced the Indian in the western forest or the redcoat on the eastern seaboard.
Naturally enough, as their founders and teachers were all preachers, these earliest colleges were devoted almost exclusively to the cultivation of theology, classics, and philosophy. Their parson-teachers taught what they held to be the only things worth learning, and they were right in putting character and culture above everything else, though they were compelled to omit important elements of training.
Because they were the parents of the school and college of to-day, let us look more closely at the school and college of the first decade after the civil war.
First go with me to visit one of those old parsons’ schools. The church and schoolhouse were near together, as the preacher ministered in them both. At the foot of a ridge, covered with forest, and just above the road which followed around a worm fence inclosing a fertile meadow, stood the plain buildings, one large and one small, like the mother and daughter they really were. A plank fence inclosed a plot of ground in the center of which was the square brick church, with white plastered gable and whitened columns in front. The schoolhouse (or “session house,” as it was called from the fact that those “grave and reverend seigniors,” the elders, met there) stood in one corner of this inclosure. Two stiles at the front corners of this yard afforded a convenient mounting place for the blushing maidens who usually contrived to spend a long time getting into or out of their black riding skirts, chatting merrily the while with the brown-cheeked fellows who held the horses’ bits or helped the little feet find the hidden stirrups—for all the sweethearting had to be confined to the dismounting and the mounting. After the men entered the door on the right and the women that on the left, communication was limited to such stolen glances as the good elders, seated in the “amen” corners, could not detect. The preacher thundered at his people from his high white throne until the wicked trembled and the righteous went to sleep.
But when a protracted meeting came around, what a great time the boys and girls had during the midday recess over the lunch baskets under the trees, or strolling through the woods, or down to the spring! Those were the grand feast days of the country. When the school was suspended, after such a “season of blessing,” what a week or two of fresh air was theirs, filled with bright sunshine and sweet smiles; with glorious old hymns, solemn sermons, and earnest prayers! But after that big Sunday when the whole country was there and the religious harvest was gathered in, how dreary was the old church, when early Monday morning the boys returned once more to school, and how sad were the woods and even the murmuring spring! Fortunately for them the dominie was so worn out and listless that for a day or two they were allowed to do pretty much what they liked and had plenty of time to think of the sweet girls, the toothsome pies, and other good things the meeting had brought for them.
In that square brick, shingle-roofed schoolhouse, with three windows, one chimney, and a door, the parson kept school five days in the week and six months in the year. Thither we traveled early each week-day morning on our frisky young colts, or our equally active bare feet, and there, in spite of the pins and paper projectiles, in spite of the pepper or sulphur on the stove and the consequent unexpected recess, in spite of the frostbites in winter and the stone bruises in summer, in spite of the protracted meetings and the blue eyes of the girls, we learned a little Latin, Greek, arithmetic, and catechism. Our “patent school furniture” was slab-boards with stick legs, the lower boards to sit on, the higher ones to hold books and to write on. Nobody wanted any charts, globes, or apparatus in those days. There was the boy, the book, the teacher—and the hickory. Anything else would have been in the way.
Our particular dear old parson, although a pretty fair teacher of Latin grammar, according to Ruddiman, and having some knowledge of Greek as far as the Anabasis and the New Testament, had no liking for algebra and geometry, and was, therefore, exceedingly strict with those classes when they came up before him. If a boy could not “work it,” or “prove it,” without his assistance, he was in very great danger of the hickory. This may account for the fact that that particular boy learned more geometry and algebra than anything else. The work was all done at the point of the hickory, so to speak, and as a result the boy who went to this school and tells this tale does not recall that he had the slightest ambition, or took any marked interest in anything, unless it was the girls, the colts, and the squirrels. In his opinion the best teacher he had about that time was the kindly old neighborhood loafer who roamed the woods with him, told him of the times of the wild flowers and the habits of the birds, and taught him to shoot the long rifle. He followed the “natural method” and showed a pupil how to do a thing by doing it.
But after awhile came the college, with its first two years devoted entirely to Latin, Greek, and mathematics during the week, and church and Bible class on Sunday. In the junior year the student was introduced into the mysteries of natural philosophy and mental philosophy, as they were called in those days; and in the senior year, in addition to the Latin and Greek, which continued to the end, although the mathematics had been dropped, there were brief courses in chemistry and geology, and better ones in logic, ethics, and the history of philosophy. This was the educational course which led to the degree of “Artium Liberalium Baccalaureus,” the receipt of which convinced the lad, for the time being at least, that his education was as complete and as thorough as it was possible to be.
But the awakening came soon enough! Unless he had a large fortune and could retire upon a plantation to lead the charming, though intellectually enervating, life of the country gentleman, the graduate of this classical curriculum soon found that his real education was just beginning. “Commencement” was passed, but now the question was, with this preparation, what was he to commence? If honest, he must answer with Faust :
“I've now, alas! philosophy, medicine, and jurisprudence, too,
And to my cost theology with ardent labor studied through,
And here I stand with all my lore,
Poor fool, no wiser than before.”
If he felt any genuine ambition, this young man usually taught school for a while and finally studied law, medicine, or theology. Besides these there was no work for the classical graduate. As poor Hawthorne expressed it in a letter to his mother: “I can not become a physician and live by men’s diseases; I can not be a lawyer, and live by their quarrels; I can not be a clergyman, and live by their sins. I suppose there is nothing left for me but to write books.” In writing books Hawthorne certainly made good use of his education. But America has had but one Hawthorne. So it came about that the South, with the whole country, was filled to overflowing with the followers of these so called learned professions, and had no chemists, engineers, or manufacturers.
The errors of those days grew largely out of false conceptions of the character and relations of teacher and pupil. The popular conception of the scholar was a cyclopædia of information from which any one could borrow a fact, as we take a book from the circulating library a vast storehouse of supplies, kept up for the benefit of the community, upon which any one could draw for whatever he wanted. Naturalists say there is a family of ants in Mexico which habitually sets apart some of its members to act as honey-jars, or storage vats, in which to deposit the sweets collected from the fields by their industrious brethren. These poor ants are imprisoned at home and made to practice extending their abdomens until they can contain a large amount of precious nectar, which they then keep “on tap” for the benefit of the entire community. It is their especial duty, however, to nurse the young, and pump a due amount of honey into them each day. This, I think, was the too common conception of the nature and duty of the scholar and teacher in the olden times.
The true scholar or teacher is not merely a receptacle for knowledge, he is not a drone in the hive, or a honey-jar ant; he is a worker, a gleaner in the fields of science. So our present conception of a college is not a storehouse of knowledge merely, or even a rehearsing stage where amateurs are taught a few facial expressions or professional gestures, in addition to learning their parts and finding their cues; it is something more than this. It should be a laboratory for research, a real workshop for real workers. Colleges are something more than factories for making subjects for examinations. The true teacher is not a pump with a big tank back of it; but a master workman who teaches his apprentice by doing it himself, and a guide for the young searcher after truth in this earthly wilderness. The student who has found this true guide will see beyond the wilderness of college life a land flowing with the milk and honey of eternal truth. Our colleges and universities should at least raise the student high enough before the end of his course to give him a Pisgah view of the land of promise, which stretches far beyond the Jordan of examinations and the sweet conquests of commencements.
Have I drawn too dark a picture of the old-time system of higher education? I have tried to point out its weaknesses and abuses, and have not time here to speak of its advantages. This is not necessary, as you know them. They are seen in many of the men and women around me to-day.
Such, with one or two notable exceptions, were the only schools in the South before the war. As there was less commerce and manufactures, so there was less demand for scientific and technical education in the old South than in the old North. A purely literary education suited the tastes and demands of the wealthy planter, and these methods produced a race of preachers, teachers, lawyers, statesmen, soldiers, poets, and orators who have been scarcely equaled and never surpassed.
The preacher gave the youth of that day only a narrow classical education, but he usually gave him broad moral training. The study of languages, literature, and philosophy develops the memory, imagination, and taste especially; the study of science trains the judgment and the power of observation. The latter are as necessary as the former to make safe observers and safe thinkers, and herein were the chief deficiencies of the old college. A one-sided system makes many one-sided men, and thus the parson's school and college gave the South, besides preachers and statesmen, many idle dreamers and impractical theorists.
Let no one understand me in what I have said, as depreciating the value in education of language and literature. Language, the vehicle of thought, is absolutely essential, especially a mastery of the mother tongue. It is the crystal vial that contains all the potentiality of the living present, as literature is the sculptured urn that holds all the ashes of the dead past. These are not mere accomplishments; rightly viewed and used, they are an inspiration, a lesson, and a guide. Aside from their direct, or first uses, the languages are the most perfect educational polishing machines. In the gymnasium of the Latin and Greek the mind, stripped like the athlete, brings many an intellectual muscle into play. Properly used these studies exercise every faculty observation, comparison, and analysis, as well as memory, imagination, and taste. Through them the youthful mind grows to a robust manhood, so that he, who was but a stripling of a Freshman, finds himself an intellectual Hercules when a Senior. For cultivating these faculties of the intellect the classics can not be surpassed or substituted. But are these the only faculties of men? The old classical curriculum was good as far as it went. The classics are essential, the mother tongue is essential, literature and history are essential, but they are not all.
It is related that an old Emperor of China, who knew that his country was kept back by its exclusive devotion to the classics of Confucius, invited all the teachers of the Empire to come to Pekin to a grand symposium and to bring all their well-loved manuscripts with them. They came, and after giving them a grand banquet he buried all the professors alive with their books in a deep pit. But Confucius still has followers, and neither Greek nor Latin, books nor professors, will ever be buried.
The adaptation of education to a scientific age does not thus involve a contest as to whether science or classics shall prevail, for both are indispensable to true national, if not individual, education. The real question is whether schools will undertake the duty of molding the minds of boys according to their mental varieties. The classics may, from their structural perfection and power of awakening dormant faculties, have claims to precedence in education, but they have none to a monopoly. The study of nature may sometimes quicken dull minds which the classics have failed to arouse. By claiming a monoply for the classics these teachers would sacrifice mental receptivity to a Procrustean uniformity. To illustrate, in the language of an accomplished son of Virginia, Col. William Preston Johnston: “What would the men of Lynn say if a great shoe syndicate should turn out shoes of one size and pattern only, and demand that all the world should wear them? They know that the demand would meet a flat-footed refusal on the ground that they will not fit. When urged to believe that the classic buskin—a little Latin and less Greek—is for every foot the best, as Lord Eldon said, ‘I doubt.’ And when a scientific curriculum is thrust forward—French patent leather—as the sole supporter of the advancing step of progress, I can not but remember that Philosophy has her airy realms, trodden only by the wing-tipped sandals of Hermes. And when again, last of all, comes the young giant, Manual Training, with his seven-league boots, shouting, ‘Come all ye sons of men, and wear these boots, and with them compass land and sea; they are the best, and biggest, and onliest boots of all,’ the scholar would fain ask, ‘And will these wonderful boots lift you to the upper realm of thought? Land and sea—yes, it is true, they will compass these; but the Heaven and the Heaven of Heavens, what of them?’” No, my friends, though all men must be shod, there is no shoe that will fit every foot. The foot must be regarded, the path it has to tread, and the load it has to bear.
The harmonious and equitable evolution of man does not mean that every man must be educated just like his fellow. The harmony is within each individual. That community is most highly educated in which each individual has attained the maximum of his possibilities in the direction of his peculiar talents and opportunities. This produces not a Procrustean sameness, but an infinite diversity in purpose and potentiality. The perfect education is one which tunes every string on each human instrument. Each musical instrument must, they tell us, in order to develop the most perfect sounds, be tuned separately by a sympathetic spirit and a skillful hand. A nation of men and women all perfectly educated would be like a grand orchestra of such musical instruments, all perfectly tuned. There are hundreds of instruments and players, and yet each instrument can make its own peculiar music. All are necessary to produce the grand symphony. An orchestra made up entirely of like instruments would be no orchestra at all. So the life of each man and woman may be a melody, and whether it is the loud-pealing hymn of the cathedral organ, or the soft pleading of the Spanish lover’s guitar as he sings his serenade, it makes little difference what instrument each one plays so he makes music in his life.
No one shall surpass me in giving praise to the old-time college. For giving men character and classical culture it was perhaps unsurpassed in its day, but it was deficient in that it did not qualify all its students for all the work of life. We can not all be preachers, teachers, or statesmen, and the great defect of the old college was that it had no training for young men who had no taste for the classics, literature, or philosophy, and were not fitted for the higher walks of professional life. It gave a one-sided education. As Emerson said, “We are students of words; we are shut up in schools, colleges, and recitation rooms for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing. We can not use our hands, or our legs, or our eyes, or our arms.” The old college gave the youth splendid training in the humanities, so-called, but it was deficient in the study of nature. “The proper study of mankind is man,” but man, his languages, literatures, and philosophies, are not the only things in the world. Outside of man is the whole world of nature, and man has to live and work out his own salvation in accordance with the laws of this natural world. The same Creator made all things and declared them good. Man is, indeed, fearfully and wonderfully made; but nature is just as full of wisdom and of law and almost as fearful and wonderful, as man himself.
About 1870 the necessity for reform in our system of college education became apparent to us, as it did to scholars in all parts of the world; for the defects mentioned were not peculiar to our country or to our time. The movement for scientific and technical education during the last 20 years was world-wide, and the changes made in college education in the South were only a part of, and in harmony with, the trend of modern thought and industrial development.
It was otherwise an auspicious time for a change of our system of education. A new day had dawned. In 1865 the South awoke suddenly out of mediæval night and found itself in the midst of a scientific age and a day of tremendous material development. She commenced to appreciate for the first time her birthright of almost boundless material resources, and set bravely to work to build up her waste places and win back the wealth she had lost. She commenced asking herself, What good are coals, iron ores, zinc ores, hard wood, water powers, marbles, and such things, unless utilized? Why not train our own young men to manufacture these things into commercial products? Is not the fact that these things still lie in the mountains unused chiefly owing to that other fact that we have no men who know how to use them? Hence it was determined that Southern boys, at least, should have an opportunity to secure a scientific and technical education and thus be qualified to assist in the development of the material resources of the country. As Huxley expresses it, “It is folly to continue, in this age of full modern artillery, to train our boys to do battle in it equipped only with the sword and shield of the ancient gladiator.” The chemist’s balance or the engineer’s transit are better instruments for this time. In a scientific age and in an industrial section an exclusive education in the dead languages was a curious anomaly which we hastened to abandon. The flowers of literature should indeed be cultivated, but it is not wise to send men into our fields of industry to reap the harvest when they have been taught only to pick the flowers and push aside the wheat. We wanted to grow rich and strong, and here was an honorable and healthful way of doing so. As a result, therefore, of these considerations, practical as well as philosophical, there has been, between 1870 and the present time, a wonderful development in scientific and technical education in the South.
Such were the forces and the necessities which gave rise to an entirely new class of institutions in this section. After the wonderful growth of all kinds of schools in the South, the most interesting fact in our recent history in the rapid development of schools of science and technology. The report of the U. S. Bureau of Education for 1892-93, just referred to, shows that out of 145 colleges and universities of general character in the South, including Maryland and Missouri, 16 have extensive technical departments. In addition to this there are in these States 15 agricultural and mechanical colleges (not counting departments for colored students as separate ones); 2 State schools of technology or mining, separate from these colleges; 4 or 5 local technical schools; and 2 separate military academies—making a total of 40 schools, giving instruction in science or technology. None of these except the military schools existed prior to 1865. The great majority of them were established between 1870 and 1880.
Time would fail me to mention any of these schools or their work. The Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, now well named the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and the Miller Manual Training School of Albermarle, are splendid representatives of this class of institution. Their scope and work are so well known to you that I may point to them without description as the best types of the kind of school that the South especially needs.
Such great changes have taken place in the direction of scientific and technical education that the time has come to utter a warning. There is danger that we eliminate too much of the old education and make the courses of these new institutions too narrow and utilitarian. From one extreme we are in danger of going over to the other. The college which formerly had only a few months of natural science in the junior or senior year now has courses which are called wholly “scientific.” Even the more conservative church colleges are eliminating Latin and Greek at a great rate in order to put in more science, “ologies,” etc. So it has come about that while once our Southern colleges taught nothing besides liberal arts, now many of them have very little of the liberal arts left in their courses.
The “elective system” is the fashion, and the old curriculum is a thing of the past. The success of this system in Germany, where the freedom to teach whatever one chooses and the freedom to learn whatever one chooses, form part of the chartered rights of the universities, is not a proof that the system is the best for our comparatively young American colleges. The trouble here is that we have so few thorough preparatory schools. The ordinary German gymnasium gives as good an education in the humanities as the best of our classical colleges, if not better, and the German builds his scientific or technical education upon this foundation. Our experiment in scientific education will surely fail if we do not prepare our student as the German is prepared. Our boy just out of the public high school, with only the elements of an English education and perhaps a smattering of Latin and science, enters the university and takes up a special course in natural history or engineering, in which he gets little additional liberal education. The all-too-common product of this course is that intellectual deformity which we call a crank—the man of one study, one interest, one idea. Such a creature can not make a good citizen, a good teacher, a good writer, or even a good safe investigator in his own line, simply because he is not a good broad man. The scientist may know the life history of a hundred bugs, but he is a dangerous scientist if he does not know the history of his own race; the engineer may have a wonderful command of the higher mathematics, but he is a very useless engineer unless he knows how to use his own language. From such colleges as this we are already getting chemists who believe that nothing exists which they can not dissolve, precipitate, and weigh in the balance; biologists who believe that nothing lives which they can not fry in paraffine, slice in thin layers and study under the miscroscope; and engineers who believe that nothing has value which they can not calculate in dollars and cents, or that any force exists in the universe which they can not measure in horse powers, foot pounds, or electrical ohms. If this condition continues, where will we educate the future thinker, man of affairs, teacher, preacher, or statesman?
It is time, I think, for a reaction in favor of the liberal arts. The remedy for this condition is, as suggested, a thorough preparatory course in languages, literature, and history. Our colleges should refuse to admit young men to the special scientific or engineering courses until they have the elements of a liberal education.
But I fear worse results than this from the change of system and the total abandonment of the old classical course. There has been a great deal of nonsensical talk about the “new” education, “practical” education, “industrial” education, “normal” education, and even “business” education, as if any of them, or all combined, could take the place of the old liberal education. As the result of it all, thoughtless people have come to the conclusion that a boy needs no education, and therefore put him to work in the counting-room or the shop as soon as he comes out of the common school. They seem to think that the only aim of a boy should be to make money, and to get at it just as soon as possible. They take a child out of the common school and either apprentice him to business or put him into a so-called business college for a few months to be taught a few mechanical methods, so that when he ought to be at college he is already astride a bookkeeper’s stool, measuring calico, or drumming country merchants for a wholesale grocery or hardware house. The alarming fact is that, as a result of this way of doing, less than 6 per cent of the boys in Southern cities and towns between the ages of 15 and 21 are at school.
This system can only be characterized as a “slaughter of the innocents.” The boy’s soul is stamped with the die of the “almighty dollar” before it has reached its manhood size. He has not merely lost all the inspiration that culture, learning, and liberal education would give, but he has had his mind and soul utterly poisoned with the things of this world before he has passed through that period of life which should be filled with learning, hope, and ambition. With that “little learning” which is a “dangerous thing” this poor school boy is set afloat in life without ambition, except to get money, and too often without character. Behold him! What is he and what can he do? Should he ever develop ambition or character, he will find himself, alas, too late for reformation, disqualified to reach any better position. He is fitted for no profession except a commercial one, which is, morally speaking, the most dangerous calling in the world. He is set adrift on the great ocean like a lightly built pleasure bark, worthless for any heavy seas, although equipped with costly trappings and with broad sails longingly spread to catch every breeze, but without compass to guide or engine to drive through the billows against the storm. From this uneducated class of business men—these men with wants beyond their means of satisfying them—come, as history tells us, the bank defaulters, the commercial and municipal thieves and the other gentlemen who failing to earn all they want by honest means take it from the bank or commercial house and go to Canada. Such a system of education—or no education—has filled the country with salesmen, bookkeepers, merchants, brokers, and many others, too, who call themselves lawyers, doctors, and even preachers and teachers, some few, doubtless, honest and earnest workers, but many of them living by their wits, from hand to mouth, seeking, some of them, to wear clean clothes at the expense of a clean conscience, and all desiring to live and make money with the least work possible.
The people who have declaimed against the deficiencies of the old-time classical colleges and their one-sided education are partly responsible for this, though not wholly so. It is one of the tendencies of an industrial age and commercial people against which we, as teachers, must contend with earnest zeal. The remedy is a system of all-around complete education which neglects no part of a man while it trains him for the highest service in life.
The perfect education, as we all now agree, consists of a complete, harmonious development of the whole man in his threefold nature—physical, intellectual, and moral; hand, head, and heart. This is very trite; but we must often go back to first principles to get right. Any system that fails to take into account any one of these three is worse than useless; it is hurtful, for it distorts the man.
Our criticism of the old college was that while it provided a certain intellectual discipline which produced magnificent results in some instances, it provided no training for the physical man and the senses with which he should study nature. Our criticism of the new college is that it has too often gone to the opposite extreme and neglected the training and furnishing of the mind in its zeal to train the eye and hand. Both systems have failed to give due attention to man’s moral nature—to character-building.
The Bible is the best text-book of education, as of many other sciences. In it we read where Paul tells Timothy, his “dearly beloved son in the faith,” that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Nowhere in literature or philosophy is there a better or clearer expression of the true purpose of education than this. The object of education is not pleasure, or comfort, or gain, though all these may and should result from it. The one true purpose in education is to prepare the man for “good works.” It is a noble thing to develop a perfect soul, to thoroughly furnish a body, mind and heart, but the perfection, the furnishing, should result in “good works."
We are taught also that a man may be perfect, thoroughly furnished; not for one good work merely—not for preaching the Gospel only, as glorious a work as that is; not for healing the body only, as merciful a work as that is; not for defending the nation only, as heroic a work as that is; not even for furnishing other souls only, as noble a work as that is—but “unto all good works.” Men are multiform and life is multiform. There are as many callings, in fact, as there are men; each of us has his own peculiar work to do, and for each work a perfect man, thoroughly furnished, is required. Every profession in life requires the best training; the business of farming, of mining, of building, or of manufacturing, demands a perfect man, just as much as preaching, healing, fighting or teaching, and no system of education is correct that does not aim to train the whole man harmoniously and completely, according to his nature, fitting him for “all good works."
If the new college has any just claim to superiority, it is because it recognizes the fact that the whole man must be trained, the physical as well as the intellectual, and that all men must be educated, according to their God-given natures, to do, each, his own work. The carpenter has the same right to a good education as the teacher, the farmer as the physician. The educated man to-day need not hesitate to enter any field of human activity since “all good works” demand the perfect man.
The new college emphasizes the development of the physical man, training the eye and hand, and herein has made a great advance upon the old college. But is this all? The perfect education of mind and body alone is not enough. It neglects the most important element of the man, and therefore will not furnish a soul perfect for all good works. What says Paul again? He tell his son Timothy that the scripture is profitable not only for doctrine and correction, but also for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect. After all, then, it is instruction in righteousness that makes man perfect. Righteousness is the finishing touch on the picture, the final tempering of the tool, the governor on the engine, the compass of the ship. Righteousness is the teacher of conscience, and conscience is the guardian and guide of the man What is education worth without righteousness? What is man worth without conscience? Just as much as the picture without the finish, the tool without temper, the engine without a governor, the ship without a compass. It is worth nothing; it is a delusion to its possessor and a danger to others. Better not educate a man at all than train only his mind and body and leave his character unformed. Culture and education are good in themselves, only as they are used by the perfect soul. If you can not give a child a conscience, in the name of all that is good do not strengthen and sharpen the powers which he will certainly use for his own destruction and the harm of others. Better a coarse brute than a cultured sinner; better a noble savage than a conscienceless savant; better a wild cowboy than a mean bank-robber; better a brutal Geronimo who slays his enemies openly than an educated Guiteau who shoots a President in the back.
Character-building, conscience-forming, then, is the main object of education. The teacher dare not neglect character, the college to provide for its development. We must always and everywhere, in every course and scheme of study, provide those methods and agencies which shall develop the character of the pupil along with his other powers.
How, then, shall we develop character in our pupils? What are the methods and the agencies for doing this? This is the crucial question of this age, as of every age. To this question all the ages give but one answer, and that is, Christianity. The world has had many teachers of science, art, and philosophy, but one true teacher of righteousness and he was Jesus Christ, the Son of God. With all his wisdom and learning, man has never invented a system of righteousness to approach that in the Sermon on the Mount. So declared Paul, to whom Christ appeared as a bright and shining light in the heavens, and who believed him God; and so said Renan, who never saw him and refused to believe him God. This is the one great fact in all history, upon which all men agree, believers and unbelievers alike, namely, that the righteousness of Jesus Christ is the only perfect righteousness, the only system worth following in the building of character.
How, then, can there be any question about teaching it? The fact is, no thoughtful person questions this to-day. Not a great thinker can be found, not even a materialist or agnostic, who has the hardihood to deny the value and power in character- form ing of the teachings of Jesus. What say our philosophers, our apostles of culture and science? How, for example, does Matthew Arnold, the prophet of “sweetness and light,” define culture? The purpose of culture, he declares, is not “to make an intelligent being more intelligent,” but rather “to make reason and the will of God prevail.” Hear also Huxley, the greatest teacher of natural science our century has produced. In a classical paper, well known and often quoted, he says, “That man, I think, has had a liberal education whose body has been so trained in youth that it is the ready servant of his will, and does with ease and pleasure all that, as a mechanism, it is capable of; whose intellect is a clear, cold logic engine, with all its parts of equal strength and in smooth running order, ready, like a steam engine, to be turned to any kind of work and to spin the gossamers as well as forge the anchors of the mind; whose mind is stored with the knowledge of the great fundamental truths of nature and of the laws of her operations; one who, no stunted ascetic, is full of life and fire, but whose passions have been trained to come to heel by a vigorous will, the servant of a tender conscience; one who has learned to love all beauty, whether of nature or of art, to hate all vileness and to esteem others as himself."
These eloquent words read like a commentary on St. Paul or an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount. Can any one doubt where Huxley got his idea of an education that should develop a “vigorous will, the servant of a tender conscience” and a nature that should “hate all vileness and esteem others as himself?” No man before Jesus of Nazareth ever taught the brotherhood of all mankind. He was the first to declare this, the fundamental principle of modern sociology, and every improvement in civilization, in government, and in society, in the last eighteen hundred years, may be traced directly to this principle.
The hope of America is the American college. It is characteristic of this college that it has stood faithfully to the ideals of a sound culture; a culture not withdrawn from active life but intimately concerned with that life. It was the glory of the old college that it gave to the country so many men of culture and character. Never did our country need men of moral courage more than now, and it should be the great aim of the new college to give it more men of high character, while it trains more men with powerful intellects and skilled hands.
Such should be your chief purpose, honored members of the Board of Visitors, in laying out plans for this magnificent institution. Such is your most important work, Mr. President and gentlemen of the Faculty, in teaching these promising youths; and such is your solemn duty, young men, students of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, while prosecuting your courses, to develop that conscience and character which alone can pilot men and nations through the storms of our times, and that moral courage and unselfish love of all mankind which alone can make us benefactors of our race. Young men—you who receive to-day the highest testimonials of this institution—one single fact will decide whether that education shall be a blessing or a curse to you and all your fellows, and that fact is character. With character you will be a boundless blessing; without character you will be an infinite curse. Upon you rests this awful decision.
With such a Board to direct, such a Faculty to teach, and such students as I see here to-day to learn, we should have little doubt, however, that the Virginia Polytechnic Institute will be the training ground of many noble leaders of our people in the paths of peace, prosperity, and rectitude. Sitting here upon the very crest of these grandest Virginian mountains, bathed in the pure air and clear sunlight of a heaven that seems to bend lovingly down to meet our spirits, may it be truly a city set upon a hill, shedding the light of truth and morality for the guidance of all the people of this Commonwealth—a home of the true culture which makes perfect men, “thoroughly furnished for every good work.”