Address to the Students at the Melbourne University
George Robertson Melbourne, Sydney, and AdelaideMDCCCLXXXI
In accordance with custom, I wish, as the year's work draws near its close, to make a few observations on the studies we have been together pursuing. No doubt the study of classics in one year bears a considerable likeness to the same study in another year; still, as a teacher gains experience, it is impossible that there should not be certain truths which must strike him as requiring to be more strongly brought into prominence, while there are many others, which, though they may have been often and carefully dwelt upon, still need repetition until they produce good effects. On the whole, as far as I can judge, the work of the year has been satisfactory. The junior class has considerably more than doubled itself in the nine years I have had the honour to teach it, and now contains not less than ninety-six students inscribed as attending my lectures. The increase in the senior classes has been not less marked. Unfortunately, however, the supply of oxygen has not increased proportionately to the number of students; and I have serious apprehensions that some of you who are studying for the medical school may at an early date find yourselves called on to revive one of your fellow-students from an attack of asphyxia.
I am glad to say that, during the greater part of the past year, I have been in a position to pay greater attention to the composition of the class, and I am glad to acknowledge a considerable, page 4 though not wholly satisfactory, improvement in this important branch of classical training. You will remember what stress I have always laid upon a close attention to composition. I want you to understand why it is that this exercise is so important. There are two ways of learning any language. The first of these is by mastering what is known as its grammar thoroughly—i.e., the different typical words, together with the different forms which these words take according as they perform one or other function in a sentence. According to this plan whole lists of hard technical terms have to be mastered by the learner before he is familiar with cases in which these technical terms should be applied. At the same time as the pupil is thus mastering his grammar, with its mysterious and bewildering array of words such as Participle, Supine, and Paulo-post-future, he is commonly employed in reading some portions of authors who have written in the language he is studying. But composing in the language is a later accomplishment, and, being delayed until many words and rules and formulas have been mastered, becomes a purely artificial process. This is the method according to which ancient languages are commonly taught. In grammars of modern languages, however, the opposite system is adopted. Here, no sooner has the pupil mastered a dozen words than he is taught to frame a sentence with them. He is taught to turn them in and out, and to master the different forms which they take according to their function. In fact, he is taught, from the first moment that he applies himself to learn a language, to "think" in it, to express his thoughts in it, either aloud to his teacher or on paper. The former of these two systems must lead the learner to direct his attention more to words than to sentences, and must tempt him to be on the look-out to classify and arrange all the words and constructions he may meet with under one or other of the categories of grammatical abstractions with which he is familiar before he has come across the object to be classified. The second method I have mentioned tends to draw attention to sentences rather than words; to impress upon the learner's mind that the "student of language cannot deal with words apart from sentences. The significant word—that combination of sounds which represents a thought—is really a crystallized sentence, a kind of shorthand note, in which a proposition has been summed page 5 up."* Now, if it were customary to deal with Latin and Greek as with modern languages, if oral instruction in framing sentences were commonly given from the very outset by masters to their pupils, I believe that more rapid progress would be made; that the idioms in the classical dead language would be more speedily mastered, and that the genius of the language would be far earlier and more fully appreciated; and that the instinct of the true scholar, which enables him, from sympathy with his author and with his language, to catch at a glance what his meaning must have been, would be earlier developed.
Perhaps I ought to have added that there is a third method of learning languages—viz., by taking Mr. Bohn's series of blue books in the place of grammar, dictionary, and tutor. But the only person who can gain anything by this method is the bookseller.
You will see, then, that in recommending you to practise assiduously, and from the very outset, Latin and Greek composition, I am merely saying use the best possible substitute for the Hamiltonian method of teaching languages, and do not entertain the idea that Latin prose is a series of frequent and dangerous pitfalls or of ingenious Chinese puzzles.
As to Latin verse, I confess that my feelings with respect to its importance as a subject of instruction are undergoing a change. I believed with English educational reformers, that if classics were to be maintained as an important branch of English education, Latin and Greek verse writing must be set aside to make room for more practical studies. But I now wish that every student who comes into the class had been thoroughly taught the principles of Latin and Greek scansion, and that he had acquired the art of turning easy English verses into Latin hexameters and pentameters, and into Greek iambic trimeters. It is only by this means, aided and supplemented by committing to memory well-chosen portions of the classical poets, that the prevailing lamentable inattention to quantity in reading Latin and Greek can be overcome.
But I recommend you to practise learning by heart on other grounds as well. During youth the mind is as wax; it will take and retain any impression you like to stamp on it. The more you page 6 learn by heart the easier you will find the task, as any professional or amateur actor will tell you; and if you once secure the habit of exercising your memories when you are young, have no fear that they will play you false in after years. You will find that the habit of concentration formed by committing to memory will materially increase your powers of observation; and that such a thorough mastery as is implied by the power of repetition of portions of an author will enable you to catch his peculiarities of thought and diction, which your mind will, insensibly to you, generalize and apply to the rest of his works. And I am not now recommending you to study Greek and Latin authors alone in this way; my advice to you is to learn English, French, and German poetry as well, only be sure that you learn nothing but what are by common consent admitted to be masterpieces in either language; life is too short to learn trash, which, besides, is too apt to remain, even uninvited, in the memory. You could, most of you, learn twenty lines a day with the greatest ease, read them over carefully before going to bed, and have them by heart before your breakfast time—Satur est, quum, dicit Horatius evoe!
As regards the best method of becoming a sound scholar, I believe that this end is best attained by studying one or two plays or books of an author carefully, and critically mastering every difficulty therein, and knowing them well enough to quote freely. You cannot meet with better works for this purpose than those which we have been studying together this year. The "Agamemnon" of Æschylus stands unique for majesty, for interest, and perhaps, I may add, for difficulties. But these difficulties are not insuperable; they in no way obscure the general interest or sequence of the thought or action, but are mainly connected with textual criticism. The "Agamemnon" gives you an insight not merely into its author's dramatic power, but also into his philosophy and his religion. It abounds with fine sustained images, and also with epigrammatic lines and sayings, which cling to the memory. Similar merits may be said, in a less degree, to belong to Sophocles' "Electra," and to Horace and Juvenal in Latin.
In addition to this, but not till you have done this, read portions of other authors less carefully and critically, satisfying page 7 yourself that you have gained their general meaning. And do not be satisfied with merely reading other authors. Select typical passages from them, and translate them into the best English at your command. Put the translation by for a week or two, and then translate back into the original. You will thus have the advantage of being able to employ Tacitus, or Livy, or Plato as your tutor for style and accuracy. This method has the great advantage of retaining in your mind much of the rhythm and cadence, and many of the words, of the original.
I am no longer the teacher of English language and literature in this University, but I do not, on that account, take the less interest in your progress in that subject. I am glad to see that it is proposed to make two courses in this branch—one for the first year students, and a more advanced one for those of the second year. But I beg you to remember, and I cannot impress it on you too strongly or too often, that you cannot pretend to know thoroughly either your mother tongue, nor that science of comparative philology on which a knowledge of English rests, without a competent knowledge of French and German. Many of the illustrations you receive from your teacher or from your text-books on this subject necessarily are taken from those languages. You are well aware that the French, or Romance element, counts for about half in our language; while the German, as the great literary Teutonic language, has even other claims than its mere cousinship to recommend itself to our studies. Consider, too, that the masterpieces of these languages are wholly untranslatable. The clearness and precision of the French, and the somewhat ponderous, but powerful, majesty of the German, possess a cachet all their own, which it transcends the power of the most practised translator to retain in a foreign idiom. It is so easy for you to learn these tongues; there are so many good teachers in Melbourne, and you would find the study of modern languages a pleasant promenade after unravelling the mazes of a Thucydides, or digging out Aristophanes' wit by the aid of a German com-mentator.
The greatest classical work which has appeared during the year is the translation of Thucydides by Professor Jowett. The style is luminous, the translation accurate without being servile, and the reader is able to peruse it without being at every page 8 moment pulled up by some awkward idiom, only intelligible by a reference to the Greek. An important appendix on the value of Greek inscriptions follows, and notes are added fully discussing questions relative to difficulties in the text. I think that Professor Tyrrell's edition of the "Miles Gloriosus" certainly vindicates British classical scholars from the charge of want of acumen and perseverance in emending texts, and throwing light on hitherto misunderstood passages. I am pleased to be able to tell you that you will now find on the shelves of the public library all the best editions of the Greek and Latin classics mentioned in the "Guide to Classical Studies." I am afraid that you will also find there many of the works which are strongly condemned in that guide—viz., the worthless and inaccurate translations of the classics, from which I hope you will refrain. Believe me that a poor translation is the most certain means of effectually preventing your ever obtaining a just idea of the style or beauty of the author whom it affects to interpret. It presents you its original in a ghastly and grotesque travesty, and the comical effect of the translation is always present to your mind when reading the finest passages of the author. But I recommend you to read good English translations of your authors when such good translations exist; but this only after having carefully gone over the original, and after endeavouring to make out the meaning yourself. Fortunately, fine versions of the most celebrated classics are now within the reach of every scholar. Conington's Persius, Mayor's translation of the Tenth Satire of Juvenal, Monro's translation of Lucretius, and Jowett's of Plato and Thucydides, cannot well be surpassed. But in cases where the classical author has been imitated or translated by modern authors of renown, then make a point of reading the original and the copy together. Dryden's translation of Juvenal would prove him to be a first-rate master of satiric power and of harmonious diction, even were we not familiar with the original. In Johnson's "Vanity of Human Wishes" we certainly see a great deal of Johnson, and not so much of Juvenal as in Dryden's version of the same satire; but we have the advantage of comparing Johnson at his best with Juvenal at his best, and contrasting the way in which each handles a congenial theme. Thus, to every student of Horace I would say, read his satires page 9 with Pope's imitations at hand; you will find as much of novelty in the latter as in the former. Mr. Browning's translations and imitations of Greek plays are well known. Of the two, I confess that I prefer the imitations; for in the translation of the "Agamemnon" the curious fidelity attained by the translator seems to be dearly bought by the obscurity of the meaning. Butcher and Lang's "Odyssey," and Church and Brodribb's "Agricola" and "Germania," seem to me models of what translations ought to be.
Many of those whom I see before me to-day will come up to the second and third year classes next year. To those I would say, get a competent knowledge of your subject before you come up to the University, in order that you may be able to get the full amount of benefit out of your teacher. For, consider that a University teacher is very much what his students make him. If the mass of students come up unprepared, and intend to leave it to their teacher to teach them their rudiments, it is quite clear that the teacher must be prepared to accept the position. He must teach his students something. He is not in a position to give them the result of his thoughts upon higher work, from a feeling that they would not comprehend his meaning, and consequently he is driven to do the work of a fifth form schoolmaster. I say, then, come up to the University in such a state of preparation that you may be in a position to ask your teacher thoughtful questions only, such as may when answered illustrate principles rather than points which you can easily settle for yourselves by dint of dictionary and grammar.
There is one point on which I have often spoken to you, but which I may be forgiven for referring to again. I am most anxious to see created in you what I may call a literary habit of mind; a love of study for its own sake, wholly independent of any courses which the University may prescribe for your guidance. I may be wrong, but as far as I can ascertain from many of you, you do not seem to me to care for the great models of English literature as much as I could wish. I can quite understand that those who have been brought up in the ways of thought and action of the old country may feel that many of the English writers speak more to their hearts than to those of natives of a newer country. Possibly writers like Sir Walter Scott may be page 10 too national and local in their descriptions and feelings; but still I think that even the passages in which his patriotism rises highest should have an interest for many of you, whose fathers passed their boyhood amid the scenes that inspired the poet novelist. Surely, again, the types of character presented by Thackeray and Dickens meet us at every turn, and will continue to do so as long as human nature is the same. A love of poetry, I believe, is rare amongst you : this I regard as a misfortune; I should like to know that there were rival schools of critics among you : admirers of Wordsworth, Byron, Tennyson, I care not whom, so that some poet could succeed in firing your imagination. It is perfectly possible for you to establish a school of criticism among yourselves—you have abundant leisure for reading in your vacations, plenty of books, plenty of teachers able and willing to aid you in every way, and the indescribable charm of possessing a magnificent country with a future which must be very much what you make it. It is quite possible to be bookish without being pedantic or priggish; indeed, what is known as "priggishness" is more commonly the sign of shallowness or ignorance than the outcome of study and reflection. I consider that it is as weak and cowardly for a man to be ashamed of being thought studious as it is for him to be ashamed of being called religious: and I think that the one and the other of these feelings is equally disgraceful.
I should like to see you establish a University debating club; but I should like to be quite sure that when founded it would remain and flourish. It has been the fate of too many of the clubs that you have founded here to be allowed to perish from want of support. Many of England's greatest statesmen have won their laurels in the mimic debates of the Union Club at Oxford, before descending into the true arena of Parliament. Conceive how, in the refining atmosphere of a University, you would accustom one another to the courtesies of debate, and what a grand influence for good you might have in the public meetings in which, as good citizens, you will be constrained to take part hereafter. For I hope that you will all set before you as one of your objects in life to become good citizens. I always rejoice when I see that one of you has gone into public life in any capacity, and resolved "unum civem donare sibyllœ." Above all things, page 11 remember that if public affairs are not conducted with the dignity and high principle which, as a rule, distinguishes them in older countries, that it is to you, the rising generation of our young men, we must look to remedy this state of things. It is not for you to stand aloof in an attitude of cynical isolation, and to dismiss, with a sneer, what it should be your earnest and ever-present desire to amend. Strive, therefore, to serve your country in and out of Parliament, and carry with you always the impress of a university training, the habitual courtesy and consideration for the feelings of others, the thoughtfulness, the docility, the modesty, the learning, which should be the characteristics of every university man.
As to field sports, believe me that there is no one who sympathizes with your love of them more heartily than I do. I am president of your football club, and am justly proud of the position. But I wish you to bear in mind that sports are only the recreation and not the business of life; and I would not see you, to parody Juvenal, "propter ludum ludendi perdere causas." Those sports are best for the student which admit of most exercise in the shortest space of time. You rarely find a first-rate cricketer who is a first-rate scholar. I should like to see an open air gymnasium, such as might be erected in your recreation ground at a very small expense; but gymnastics ought to be practised at first under the eye of a teacher, else the learner is apt to overdo the exercise and strain himself.
I now wish to say a few words to you on another subject, which has been rather prominently before the public lately, and in which you are more especially concerned. I refer to the growing feeling of nationality and unity among Victorians, which was not long since formulated in a public meeting at the University in words to the effect that Victoria should in future fill her public posts from her own sons. Now, I conceive that a healthy feeling of individuality must necessarily arise in a vigorous young community separated by the distance of the world's diameter from the mother country. The very climate would suffice, in no long time, to engender a different type of physique and of character. The fusion of the different races which make up the kingdom of Great Britain, must again tend to produce a character distinct from each, while partaking of the page 12 nature of each. Some caste distinctions tend in this country to disappear, such as an aristocracy depending on birth; while new ones appear to be formed, such as an aristocracy of wealth: for mere wealth, apart from hereditary rank, and unless accompanied by a high sense of public duty, is more honoured in new countries than in Europe. Again, our government is in many ways more democratical than the government of Great Britain; for good or for evil, each man feels that he, singly; is in a position to affect the whole well-being of the community more immediately than if he were one of a larger and more aristocratically governed community. Each of his blows has more effect here than in Europe; in fact, each man has a greater responsibility cast upon him towards his country than he has in older countries. Consequently, we may well look for the formation of a national type of a decided kind to be formed before many generations, under circumstances like those I have mentioned; and it is on you, gentlemen, that it is incumbent to endeavour to make this national type a noble and a liberal one, free from petty prejudices and from parochial jealousies. Now, I think that the canon laid down to you the other day, apparently for your guidance, and accepted by you with approval, is eminently calculated to foster such petty feelings as I have deprecated. It means, in other words, that we will artificially protect ourselves against strangers who may compete with us, in the same way that we artificially protect our clumsy colonial shoes; and because we have never seen anything better, we fancy that they are the best possible of all coverings for the human foot. We will surround ourselves by a huge wall of China, and will grow up as a mutual admiration society; each of us will seem a prince of men to his neighbour, for none of us here will ever see anything better. We shall court the risk of growing up after one type, for it is quite clear that the formation and development of character must depend very much upon the easy access of new ideas; and new ideas are brought into life most readily by the contact of mind with mind. The wider you open your portals, the more able men are you likely to secure for the service of your state; and I think that it is of very great importance that a young country, in its infancy, at a time when its character is in process of formation, should endeavour to secure the best page 13 men to fill all its posts, wholly irrespective of the place of their birth.
I would take, then, as my rule, to invariably try and get the best man to fill the place requiring to be filled. If I felt that this rule were adopted and maintained, I should then have good reason to rejoice at the successes of our own University men. I should know that they had fairly distanced all in the race whenever they attained any goal; and it is my firm belief that young Victorians could prove themselves the equals—I do not say the superiors, because I do not believe it—of young men of other countries. But I do think that there is a certain spirit of incuriosity and complacency among many of our younger generation which I would fain see shaken off. I would like, above all things, to see all those who can manage it visit older countries; but, before taking this trip, I would like to see them store their minds with an adequate knowledge of the countries they may intend to visit.
Two very important reforms in University matters have come into operation this year. The one of these is the reform in respect to the matriculation examination, which is a great improvement, inasmuch as it recognizes the principle that less work well done is more useful than more work done less perfectly. But I do not dwell upon this, inasmuch as I can hardly regard the matriculation examination as a University examination at all. It really is, and it ought to be called, a middle-class examination; and a distinct and more simple examination should suffice for admitting our students into the University. The other reform I speak of with the most unqualified satisfaction. I refer to the establishment of boards of examiners for the University examinations. The details are not quite settled, but the two main principles are affirmed, viz. :—First, that each paper shall be set by a board of examiners, and not by a single examiner; secondly, that each paper of answers of each candidate shall be looked over by more than one examiner. I conceive that the result of this system, which is, I believe, in vogue in every University of the world excepting our own, will be excellent in every way. As attendance at lectures is not compulsory, it will leave the student free to get his instruction where he pleases, and the teacher will feel that no one is attending his classes merely with the view of page 14 gathering the probable line of examination at the end of the year. It will leave the professor free to deal with the higher aspects of his work, to give more instruction to honour-men, and will give him cause to feel that he is lecturing to men who take an interest in their work for its own sake. Men who come up to the University imperfectly prepared will be able to get their instruction wherever they please, and the bulk of the students will certainly be engaged on higher work than they are at present. There will, however, be a certain premium attached to attendance on the lectures of the professors, because the professor, or lecturer, is to make one of an examining board of three. It may not be theoretically right, according to some, that the teacher should have any voice in examining in his own subject; but I believe that the principle is just. Such a subject as classics, for example, admits of being taught in so many different ways, that it is at least desirable that one member of the board should be a teacher, so as to be in a position to state to the examiners the line of instruction which he has given.
I wish to impress upon you all to set before you the attainment of a degree as your goal. I wish you to be in a position, as soon as possible, to exercise an influence upon the destinies of your alma mater; and you know that the new University Bill—the result of the efforts of Professor Pearson and Dr. Hearn—gives the Senate the power of amending any bills sent down to it by the Council. Consequently, the moment that any University undergraduate has become a graduate, he becomes, from a University point of view, enfranchised, and, with his new privileges, assumes new responsibilities and new duties. And it is a noble end to have in view, the shaping the destinies of an institution which ought to have such a great and marked influence upon the whole community.
I conceive, too, that it will be a great spur to your studies to reflect that, if you duly qualify yourselves, you will be in the position to fill the important posts of examiners, and will yourselves become masters of the "art of pluck." But, in order to fill these posts, remember that you have a great deal to do, and a very high standard to attain to. I tell you, quite honestly, that there are not very many of you whom I would consent to accept as examiners (I speak of those who are on the eve of taking their page 15 degree) in the case of an examination in Latin composition, simply because you have not attained the art of writing prose and verse (especially the latter) with correctness and elegance.
How I wish that I could induce some of our millionaires to devote the proceeds of the year's clip to found a few prizes for accomplishments not yet pursued in the University because it is felt that there is no adequate premium for them. I would have a large prize for Latin prose annually, and one for Latin verse, but I would give a larger prize still to the best essay in English prose on a literary subject, and an equally large one to an English poem. I do not say that you can create poets. But something short of a real poet is still a desirable addition to a community, and no law can oblige others than the examiners to read his productions, so that I don't think that we need stand aghast at the vision of "Augusto recitantes mense poetas."
I am afraid that, should this short address ever go to the printer, it may be found that he has not enough of type to print the numerous I's that have occurred. But you must remember that I have merely undertaken to put things from my own point of view to you, who are entrusted to my teaching; and anything that I have said is not intended to be spoken dogmatically, but simply in the way of advice. Such counsel as I can give you shall always be at your command; and, believe me, that your future success in every path of life will be matter of deeper interest to me in proportion as I see cause to believe that it depends upon your career passed at your Alma mater.
Walker, May, and Co., Printers, Melbourne.
* Sayce's "Introduction to the Science of Language," vol. i., p. 115.