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Professor and Teacher by James Morgan Hart

The two words that recur most frequently perhaps in the discussion of matters of education are "teacher" and "professor;" yet there are no two that are used so carelessly and loosely. It seems as if the thought that they may not be synonymous seldom, if ever, occurs to those using them. If one of our writers or speakers upon education were suddenly called upon to state exactly what he meant by a "professor" in distinction from a "teacher," he would be at a loss for an answer. He might reply, after some hesitation, "Why, a teacher is a man who teaches at a school or an academy, and a professor is a man who teaches at a college." If he were pressed still more closely, and asked to give the precise difference between a "school or an academy" and a "college," it is safe to assume that he would find himself nonplussed. There are colleges in the country, some large and others small, some old and others young, some good and others poor; but aside from the fact that they provide a curriculum of four years and teach a certain amount of Latin, Greek and mathematics, they do not possess features enough in common to enable us to define with exactness "a college." It is not in the power of language to devise a formula so elastic as to embrace Harvard, Brown, Princeton, Trinity, Cornell and Michigan University, without at the same time ignoring the characteristic features of one or the other. Even if we admit that there is a vague ideal unity underlying the so-called college system, by virtue of which it is a system and not a mere aggregate, we shall not make much progress in our search after the proper definition of the term "professor." The utmost that can be said of our college system, as a system, is that it stands on a somewhat higher plane than the schools, that it is supposed to finish a young man's education, and consequently that the men whom it employs for such a purpose—its professors—are, or at least ought to be, abler men than the teachers proper. The difference, then, between professor and teacher is one of degree, and not of kind. Both teach, and both teach in great part the same subjects and in substantially the same way; that is, by means of textbook and recitation. Herein lies the explanation of the disposition evinced by some of our best schools to call their teachers "professors." An institution like Phillips Exeter or Andover can scarcely be said to assume more than it is entitled to in putting itself on an equality with Hobart College or Racine.

On turning to Germany, we observe no such laxity in the use of the term "professor." He, and he only, is professor who "professes" to have made himself eminent in his special branch, and whose claims have been allowed officially by a university or by the government. He is not even a teacher in the English or American sense. He is a scholar and investigator who has produced results worthy of distinction, and it is upon the strength of those results, and not because of his real or supposed ability to impart knowledge and stimulate industry among students, that he receives his call to a university chair.

The words of one who is himself a leading professor in one of the most renowned universities are so explicit upon this point that they deserve to be translated and carefully studied. Heinrich von Sybel, in his academic address delivered at Bonn in 1868, says: "The excellence of our universities is to be found in the fact that they are not mere institutions where instruction is given, but are workshops of science—that their vital principle is unceasing scientific productivity. Hence it is that the state assembles the best men of all Germany as professors at its universities, so that the phenomenon, common enough in England and France, of a distinguished savant without a university chair is with us a very unusual exception. Hence it is that in appointing to such a chair the first and last demand is for published evidences of such activity. As for the so-called ability to teach (Lehrtalent im formellen Sinne), we are satisfied if it is not utterly and notoriously wanting. The question upon which everything turns is, Has the candidate given evidence of his capacity for original investigation and production? Whoever has this capacity is sufficiently qualified, according to our German notions, for fulfilling the essential function of university instruction."

In other words, a German professor is a man who has devoted himself to special and original research—to "science" as Von Sybel uses the term—and whose discoveries and works give strength and increase of dignity to the university with which he is connected. He is appointed upon his merits as a discoverer or an author. The further consideration—namely, whether he is what we Americans style a "good teacher"—was not so much as an afterthought in the minds of those who gave him his call. The explanation of this disregard of the personal element in the professorial character is obvious. The professor is not called upon to teach. It does not constitute any part of his vocation to spur up the sluggish, to keep the idle busy, to give each student enough to do, and make first principles perfectly clear to all. So far from coming down to the level of the students, the professor expects that the students will make every possible exertion to rise to his level, while he himself can scarcely be said to lend a helping hand. To the sentimentalist, then, he might appear a very selfish mortal. But by going beneath the surface of the relation between professor and student, and examining into its essence, we shall find that it is an eminently healthful relation, because it is based upon the recognition of mutual rights and duties. The professor, as a man of science, has a right to the free direction of his talents. The student has the right to develop what there is in him without supervision or interference. He is to make a man of himself by seeking diligently after the truth in a manly, independent spirit. All that the professor can do for him is to point out the road to the truth.

This view of the functions of a professor may appear obscure and exaggerated to one who has not studied at a German university. But it gives the clew to the entire German system of university education, and accounts in great part for the high standard of scholarship. Only in part, for the innate proneness of the German mind to research must be credited with some share in the result. It is safe to say that Germany, under any system, would be a land of erudition.

However pleasant it might be to go into the details of the professional position and character in Germany, it will be more profitable, and certainly more practical, to compare this fundamental German idea, as already given, with the salient features of professional life in America. The American professor, then, is a teacher. Unless he is the fortunate occupant of an exceptionally favored chair, his chief, and even his sole, function in the college body is to teach, in the strictest sense of the term. He has to prescribe textbooks, assign and hear lessons, grade recitations, mark examination-papers, submit carefully prepared term and annual reports to the faculty. When the question of conditioning or dismissing a student on the ground of defective scholarship comes up for decision, his opinion must be given and weighed in connection with that of others, in order that the faculty may strike a fair general average. The number of hours that he is compelled, by the college curriculum, to pass per week in the recitation-room is seldom less than fifteen, and may be as high as twenty. The classes themselves are ill-sorted and often troublesome, and are usually unwieldy by reason of their size. The professor's mind must be continually on the watch to prevent disorder and enforce attention. Besides, as every one knows full well who has tried it, there is nothing so exhausting as to supply "brains" to those who either have not received their portion from Nature or else have squandered it for a mess of pottage. Every professor-teacher can bear witness to the truism that one hour in the recitation-room is fully equal, in its drain upon the vital energy, to two passed in private study or authorship. The sense of responsibility, we might say, is omnipresent. It does not cease with the recitation: it follows him to his study, and haunts him with the recollection of absurd blunders made by young men who should have done better—the dispiriting reflection that despite his best efforts the stupid and indifferent will not learn. If to this normal wear and tear and these every-day annoyances we add the participation in what is pleasingly styled enforcement of discipline—that is, protracted faculty-meetings, interviews with anxious or irate parents, exhortations to the vicious to mend their ways—we shall probably come to the conclusion that the professor's burden is anything but light. We all have heavy burdens. But while admitting the universality of the adage, we are nevertheless at liberty to ascertain if we cannot make the burden of a particular man or class easier to bear by fitting it to the back.

Editors, essayists, college presidents and reformers assure us that we are on the verge of a change, and perhaps a great change, in our system of higher education. They dilate upon the indisputable fact that most of our older colleges have made rapid strides within the past ten years, augmenting their endowments, erecting handsome buildings, establishing new departments of study and increasing the number of students. Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Amherst, Princeton, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, were never so well off, in point of money and men, as they are at this day. The inference is, of course, if so much has been done in ten years, what may we not expect by the end of the century? The University of Virginia holds its own, notwithstanding the desolation wrought by the late civil war, and Ann Arbor and Cornell have shot up with extraordinary vigor. There can be no doubt that our institutions of learning are full of robust life. And it is no less certain that this growth of resources is due to private enterprise. Our colleges have grown because graduates, and even non-graduates, have taken an interest in them, and endowed them with a munificence which seems incredible to a Frenchman or a German. But in studying the aspect of higher education it behooves us not to lose sight of the fundamental principle that education is something spiritual in its nature, and that it cannot be gauged by buildings, by endowments, by the trappings of wealth—in short, by anything material. Endowments and buildings are only the means; unless the end to which these means are subservient be clearly perceived and persistently followed, the means themselves may prove a hindrance rather than a help. Of this Oxford is a notable proof.

Have, then, the end and aim, the method and agencies, of college instruction changed essentially within the past fifteen years, or are they likely to change essentially within the coming twenty-five? In the year 1770 the greatest genius of Germany entered the walls of the old university-town of Strasburg, there to complete his education. He has bequeathed to us a faithful record of his studies, his amusements, his daily life. Connecting this Strasburg experience with the previous experience at Leipsic, we know what it meant in the eighteenth century to be a German student. We know that the professors in those days were pedagogues in the Anglo-American sense, and that university-life stood little if at all higher than our own present college-life. But when Goethe died, in 1832, the universities of Germany had reached their prime. Since then they have made no gain. It may be doubted if the professors, on the whole, rank quite so high to-day for originality and vigor of research as did their predecessors forty years ago. Wherein lies the secret, then, of this wonderful change wrought in the brief span of two generations, between 1770 and 1830, and amid the dire confusion of the great Revolution and the Napoleonic era? The change was twofold. It consisted, first, in allowing to the professor the free play of his individuality; second, in providing him with a properly trained body of students. From the practical recognition of these two principles, which have nothing to do with wealth and buildings, proceed the power and glory of the German universities. Viewed from the English, or even the American point, some of these universities might be pronounced poor, not to say starvelings. The buildings are old and out of repair, the professors are scantily paid, the students are needy, there is a general atmosphere of want and discomfort. But the work they do is noble, and its nobility consists in its freedom, its heartiness, its strict devotion to truth.

We are not concerned in this place with the study of the growth of the German school system that prepares the German student. We have to do with the professor. Although the gymnasium and the university are not to be dissevered in actual practice, the one being the necessary prelude to the other, still we can discuss either one of them separately with a view to ascertaining its salient features.

The German university allows to the professor the free play of his individuality. By this is meant that each professor has his specialty, which he teaches as a specialty and after his own fashion. He has been appointed because of his specialty, and to the end that he may teach it. His salary is paid to him, not so much for what he does as for what he is. It is in a measure the reward for having made for himself a name. His standing in the university is based, not so much upon the number of students that he may attract to his lectures as upon the quality of scholarship that he exhibits and his general repute in the world of letters. He has the satisfaction of feeling that his researches, even the most abstruse, can be brought to bear directly upon his official intercourse with his students. A discovery that he makes is usually communicated to them in the first instance, before it finds its way into print. The neglect to take account of this element of originality in the lectures of a German professor has led to an unfair estimate of the lecture-system. Americans and English are apt to regard it as merely the oral inculcation of established truths. Were that the case, we might be right in questioning its superiority over our method of teaching by textbook. But it is not the case. The lecture is the vehicle for conveying the latest discoveries made either by the professor himself or gleaned by him from the labors of his colleagues. So far from merely repeating established truths, it rather promulgates truths in process of establishment. German university lectures, taken all in all, represent the most advanced stage of thought. The instances are not infrequent where a professor refrains from publishing his lectures, lest he should lose his hearers, who are attracted to him by reports of his originality and thoroughness.

The evident tendency of such a system is to encourage productivity and the highest degree of accuracy. A man who has to teach only one subject, and teach it to such students only as are ready and anxious to receive it, can afford to take the time for being thorough. The tendency of the American system, on the other hand, is to beget a spirit of routine and to check productivity. The professor falls into a way of contenting himself with meeting the requirements of the college curriculum. The effects of this curriculum upon the professors are deeper and farther-reaching than is usually perceived. It is in accordance with facts to call American professors, as a class, unproductive. But it would be unjust and inconsiderate to ascribe this want of productivity to the disposition called laziness. Laziness is not a national fault of Americans. On the contrary, we are pushing, active, restless: we yearn, Alexander-like, for something new to overcome. Our professors are of the same stock as our business-men, our lawyers, our doctors, our politicians. But the spirit of progress, if we choose to call it by that name, has been repressed in them. The spirit of emulation, of aggressive competition, which marks our trade, our banking, our manufacturing interests, our railroads, and even our professions, stops at the threshold of our colleges. There is rivalry, true, between Harvard and Yale, for instance. If the former erects a handsome dormitory, the latter must have one larger and finer. If the former establishes a new professorship, the latter must do likewise. The colleges compete among themselves. But we see no signs of competition among the professors of a college, or between the professors of different colleges—competition, be it observed, in the sense that the individual professor regards his attainments and views as a proper subject for comparison with the attainments and views of another professor in the same branch. Once established in his chair, his individuality is merged in the general character of the college. His time, his knowledge and his energy are subordinated to the curriculum. He can teach only so much as may be fitted into his share of the time and may be suited to the capacities of a mixed audience. It matters little whether the curriculum be good or bad, whether it take in a wide or a narrow range of subjects, whether it be behind or up to the times: so long as it is a real curriculum it tends to prevent the full assertion of his individual excellence. He may study for himself, but he cannot teach more than the regulations permit. However advanced he may be in his specialty, however sincere and earnest his wish to impart the choicest fruits of his research, he must admit to himself that there is a point beyond which he is unable to carry his students. They are borne off to something else; they have no more time for him; they slip from his hold, perhaps at the very moment when he flatters himself that he has acquired some formative influence over them.

If this view of the necessary effect of a curriculum is correct, it will enable us to set a more accurate value upon the so-called improvements that have been introduced of late years in our colleges. These improvements, stripped of the éclat with which they are invested, will be found to amount to little more than expansions and slight modifications of a system which remains unaltered in its fundamental features. New studies have been introduced, such as physics, chemistry, geology, the share of attention assigned to modern languages has been increased, a higher standard of admission is enforced, and the salaries of professors have been raised. But in all this there is no radical change of the method of instruction. The establishment of a chair of physics, for instance, can scarcely be said to enable the professor of Greek to exhibit his attainments more fully. The professor of Latin does not perceive that his pupils, because they are now instructed in physical geography, can be carried by him to a more advanced stage of Latin scholarship. In fact, so far as the older studies are concerned, those which made up the curriculum thirty years ago, they seem to be slightly the worse for the recent improvements. The college course of 1840 or 1850 was a comparatively simple thing. It covered only a few studies, and those of a general nature; it taught more thoroughly and with less pretence to universality; in short, it did its work more after the fashion of a good school. At the present day the curriculum embraces a much wider range of subjects—we need only recall to our minds the introduction of general history, chemistry, physiology and the modern languages—but the time has not been lengthened by a single year. The student's time is more broken up than before: the direct influence exerted by the professor is less. Our recognition of these and kindred facts, however, should be something more than a vain regret for the good old past. All these changes are concessions made to the spirit of the age. Our generation demands—and very rightfully, too—that the sphere of knowledge be enlarged, that the sciences of Nature receive sufficient attention. To attempt to undo what has been done, to restore the curriculum to the antiquated cadre of Latin and Greek, trigonometry, mental science and rhetoric, would be a reaction as senseless as hopeless.

Let us be just to ourselves and just to our colleges. We, the public, clamored for new studies, and the colleges had to meet the demand, because, by force of circumstances, they were the only places where the changes could be effected. But in our praisworthy desire for progress we have not considered sufficiently whether the colleges were in truth the proper places for innovation; whether we were bringing in our innovations in the right way and at the right time; whether we were in a fair way of making our colleges what we seek to make them—namely, centres of learning. To discuss all these points would be equivalent to discussing the question of education in all its phases, from the primary school to the university. For the present we must limit ourselves to understanding and appreciating fairly the position of our professors.

That position is not only a trying, but a discouraging one. The greater part of the professor's time is spent—from the point of view of pure science we might almost say wasted—in teaching the same things over and over again. After a few years' practice his round of hours becomes mechanical. Familiarity with the textbooks and with the uniformly-recurring blunders of each successive class begets a feeling of weariness that is not remote from aversion and contempt. So far as his prescribed official duties are concerned, he feels that he has nothing more to learn. There being, then, no stimulus from without, he is open to one of two temptations—either to rest on his past labors, or, which is far more likely, to keep on studying for himself, but to keep the results to himself. It is not only more soothing to our pride, it is juster to our professors, to regard them thus as men who have hid their lights under a bushel, and also to confess that we, our institutions and ways of thinking, have made the bushel for them and held it down over their heads. It is not every man who has the persistency and stamina of Professor Whitney, for instance, who can toil for years with beginning classes in French and German, never losing sight of his real aim, never neglecting an opportunity of bringing it forward, until at last he achieves the success he has especially desired, and is acknowledged to be one of the foremost comparative philologists and Sanskrit scholars in the world. Where a Professor Whitney may succeed in spite of untoward circumstances, a dozen will probably fail because of circumstances. We naturally look to our colleges for the evidences of learning, of enlightenment and culture. We think of the capital invested in them, of the part they play in moulding the character of our young men, and we deem it a matter of course that they should be continually producing something original and independent. But when we compare them with the German universities—and the comparison is forced upon us whenever one of our graduates goes abroad to complete his studies or whenever we look into a recent German publication—we are forced to exclaim, "What are our colleges about? Are they incompetent, or asleep?" Neither one nor the other. Most of our professors do the best they can. But they are fettered by routine: they are not stimulated and sustained by the consciousness that their private studies may be made directly available in the classroom. They lead two lives, as it were—one as professor, the other as thinker and reader—and there is not the proper action and reaction between the two.

The remedy is as easy to propose as it would be difficult to apply. We have only to convert our colleges into universities, our college instructors into professors after the German model. Let us relegate all teaching, so called, to the schools, and let us give our professors permission to expand into veritable scholars discoursing to young men of kindred spirit. Any one can see at a glance that from the wish to the accomplishment is a long way. Upon some of us the consciousness is beginning to dawn that perhaps we have not even taken the first decisive step. The best that can be said of our colleges is that they are in a state of transition. We have increased the number of studies, as well as the number of colleges; we have established schools of law and schools of science, sometimes independent of, sometimes co-ordinate with or subordinate to, the college. We have also established post-graduate courses, in the hope of inducing our young men to complete their studies at home. Yet every year we see a larger number going abroad. In those days of golden memory, both for Germany and for America, when Longfellow was gliding down the Rhine with Freiligrath, and Bancroft and Bismarck were comrades at Göttingen, an American in Germany was something of a rarity. In most instances he was a man of wealth and high social standing, who looked upon his semester or two as a romantic episode. But now every outward-bound steamer carries with it one or more who, emerging from obscurity and poverty, have saved up a few hundred dollars and are bent upon plain, hard, practical business. "We go," they can be imagined as saying, "because we can get in Germany what we cannot get at home. Your schools of science and your post-graduate courses may be well enough in their way, but they do not give us what we are after, and we cannot afford to wait until they may be able to give it. Some of the professors are first-rate men—perhaps just as good as any we may meet in Germany—but what does their learning, their science, avail us, so long as they are obliged to withhold from us the best that they know? They trained themselves in Germany, and if we are ever to rival them we must do the same."

It is not pleasant to listen to such reasonings, much less to see them carried into effect. But the defect which they bring to light will not be cured by closing our eyes to it and trusting to time, the sovereign healer. Time is a negative factor: it only enables the forces of Nature to do their positive work. But schools and colleges are not the product of the elemental forces of Nature: they are distinctively the work of man as a free agent. If we are free to shape any of our institutions to suit our needs, we are certainly free to shape our educational institutions. By having a definite result in view, and willing its attainment, we may succeed; but if we fail either in clearness of vision or persistency of will, we cannot expect the result to come of itself. The present university system of Germany, which might seem to a careless observer the natural outgrowth of German life, is the result of hard thinking and strenuous, well-directed effort. We should not commit much of an exaggeration were we to call it the deliberate creation of Frederick the Great, Von Zedlitz and Wolf, who dragged with them Prussia, and the other German states in her wake. They and their associates and followers, Schleiermacher and William von Humboldt, clear-headed, iron-willed men, perceived what was needed, and bent all their energies to the task. They emancipated the schools from the control of the clergy, and established the principle that teaching is a distinct vocation, requiring special training, over which the state has supervision; furthermore, that the state should pronounce who is fit and who is not fit for university education, thereby abolishing entrance-examinations, and putting an end to the ignoble practice on the part of the universities of lowering the standard for the purpose of increasing the number of students. They abolished the last vestiges of the scholastic system by raising the faculty of philosophy from its position as a quasi-preparatory course to the others, and placing it on a footing of perfect equality with law, theology and medicine. They removed all restrictions from the Lehrfreiheit, or professional freedom of instruction, while at the same time they preserved the right of the state to control indirectly the quality of university instruction by means of state-examinations for pastors, teachers, lawyers, physicians and officeholders. Ever since then the university system of Germany has rested upon a secure and lasting basis.

Is the course pursued by Prussia to be regarded as a mere incident in history, or may it serve as an example and model for us? Prussia is a monarchy, clothed with some constitutional forms but at bottom a state where the personal will of the sovereign has always made, and continues to make, itself felt in the final instance. We are a republic, or rather a cluster of republics under an imperfectly centralized national government. It is evident that the agencies and mode of reform with us must differ from those that have been employed in Prussia and in the rest of Germany. But it does not follow that the reform itself is impossible. What has elsewhere sprung from the autocratic will of a single man and his cabinet may be effected here through that other force, equally great and perhaps more pervasive, to which we give the vague name of "popular opinion." We know that popular opinion in our country is irresistible. It makes everything bend to it. It broke up the Tweed Ring, seemingly impregnable, in a single campaign. But this popular opinion is not a natural product: it is the work of a few men who devote themselves to awakening the sense of right and wrong and guiding the understanding of their fellows. But for popular leaders like Mr. O'Conor and Governor Tilden, the late Tweed Ring might be in power at this day. Education is not so different from politics but that we can regard it as subject to similar laws of cause and effect. Our present common-school system is an off-spring of popular opinion, as that opinion was created and led to action by a few men. And whether our common schools are to stand or fall is again becoming a question of the day, and will be decided according as popular opinion may be swayed by a few zealous friends or enemies. Our colleges, it may be said, do not occupy the same relation to the state that our schools do. They are nearly all private corporations, enjoying vested rights which the state is powerless to touch. Undoubtedly true, but it is no less true that what cannot be done directly may be done indirectly. The state need not make so much as the attempt to lay hands upon college property or to interfere with college studies. It has only to say, "I, the state, exact such and such qualifications of all who seek to practice law or medicine within my limits or to become my officeholders. I establish my own free colleges and schools of law and medicine, and I proceed to tax all others at their full valuation." There is not a college in the country, not even Harvard, that could compete upon such terms. The state need not even express its sovereign will so precisely. It can content itself with establishing a university of its own, and facilitating the direct influence of this university over the public and private schools. We see the operations of such a system very plainly in Michigan. Not only does the university at Ann Arbor overshadow completely the private colleges, but the "union schools," administered under its auspices, are—to borrow the expression of one of its graduates—"killing" the private schools. We may rest assured that whatever the people of a State or of the United States is earnestly bent upon having, will come.

Whether all our States are to act as Michigan has done—whether we are indeed ripe for thorough change—whether a change is to be effected by direct State action or indirectly by the mere pressure of public sentiment—whether we have real need of a body of professors and a set of universities such as Germany possesses—whether we are to make our higher as well as our primary education non-sectarian,—are all questions which may rest in abeyance for a long time to come. It is also possible that one or the other of them may, in legal phraseology, be sprung upon us at any time. Not to be taken unawares, we have to bear steadily in mind several fixed principles and to disabuse ourselves of one misconception.

The misconception is this: that what Germany accomplished in the eighteenth century we cannot accomplish in the nineteenth, because circumstances are so very different, chiefly because Germany is an old country and we are a young country. The circumstances are not so very different, and the difference, however great it may be estimated, is in our favor. We are a union of thirty or forty States: in the Germany of the eighteenth century there were three hundred. Ever since the adoption of our Federal Constitution we have enjoyed common rights of citizenship, common laws of commerce, common legal protection. Will it be necessary to remind the student of history that the Germans have acquired these blessings only within our own day? We are a nation of forty millions, rich and prosperous, free to develop our resources. The Germany of 1775 could count barely twenty millions, its soil was poorly tilled, its mineral wealth undeveloped, manufactures in an embryonic state, trade fettered in a thousand ways, the peasantry brutally ignorant and servile, the national character—to all appearance—ruined by cruel religious wars, the sense of national unity blunted by the recollections of a hundred petty feuds reaching back to the gloom of the Middle Ages, the national taste dominated by poor French models to an extent that now seems incredible, learning either dry pedantry or shallow cox-combry. We are indeed a young country, but we are young in hope; Germany was old, but it was old in weakness, in poverty, in despondency. Whoever doubts our ability to do as much as Germany did one hundred years ago, fails to profit by the teachings of history—overlooks the fact that Germany in 1840 was only where she had been in 1618. That we should take Germany for our standard of comparison, rather than England or France, is a postulate which has one circumstance unmistakably in its favor. Although we are connected with England by common descent, institutions and language, although the politics and philosophy of France have exerted considerable influence over our own, we do not observe our young men going in numbers to England and France to receive their final training. Their instinct leads them to Germany. For one American graduate of Oxford or Cambridge or of the French écoles, it would be easy to count ten doctors of Göttingen or Heidelberg. Our young men are not attracted to the German universities by such factitious considerations as cheapness of living or the acquisition of the language, but by sympathy with German methods and academic liberty.

Some of the most important fixed principles have been already touched upon, but only one can be developed in this place. It is, that if we are to establish a system of higher education, we must begin by recognizing freely and fully the distinction between teacher and professor. We must perceive the importance of having two sets of men—the one to teach, the other to investigate; the one engaged in training boys to learn, the other in showing young men how to think. When and how this distinction is to be established, in what special form it is to be embodied, is a secondary matter. The chief thing is to admit that it is essential and feasible. The young man who returns after a three years' absence in Germany, exhibiting with dignified pride his well-earned doctor's diploma, looks of course upon the institution that conferred it as the ne plus ultra. But riper experience, contact with the sharp corners of American prejudices and peculiarities, renewed familiarity with our social, political, commercial and literary life, will gradually convince him that a German university is not a thing to be plucked up by the roots and transplanted bodily to American soil. We have rather to take our native stock as we find it, and engraft upon it a slip from the German. One trial may fail, another may succeed. Our first efforts will be like those of a man groping about in the dark. More than one department in a German university will be of little avail in an American, and conversely we shall have to create some that do not exist elsewhere. For instance, in view of the great power exerted by the newspaper press, it might be desirable to have a course of study for those who think of taking up journalism as a profession. In such a course, political economy, constitutional and international law, English and American history, and the modern languages and literatures should constitute a full and serious discipline. It is not probable that the study of philology will ever attract the same attention here that it does abroad. Our needs lie in the direction of the natural sciences rather than in the direction of history and linguistics. But we should be derelict to our duty were we to sacrifice these sciences of the spirit, as the Germans call them, to the sciences of Nature. A culture without them would be the bleakest and most repulsive materialism.

The practical recognition of the difference between teacher and professor would be a decided step. By the side of it those which we have already taken would appear insignificant. The addition of chemistry, geology, or physiology to the previous curriculum does not change its character, so long as the professors of those branches instruct after the fashion of the professors of Latin and Greek. The advantage that the men of natural science have over their colleagues is one which the nature of the subject brings with it. In order to teach at all, they must come in close personal contact with their pupils, and to escape falling behind in their department, where new theories succeed one another with such rapid bounds, they must continue a certain amount at least of original research. Supplementing the present curriculum by post-graduate courses will hardly suffice. Such courses are open to serious objections. If conducted by the regular professors, they impose additional burdens upon men who have already more than enough. If conducted by special professors, they will tend to raise those professors at the expense of the regular faculty. A lecturer to graduates must necessarily appear, in the eyes of the undergraduate, superior to the man who hears recitations and prepares term-reports. Besides, young men who have passed four years at one college need "a change of air:" they will develop more rapidly if brought into contact with new ideas and new instructors. Every institution has an atmosphere of its own, which ceases after a time to act upon the student as a stimulant.

There is one additional point that should not be overlooked. A careful discrimination between the functions of the professor and those of the teacher would benefit both classes of men. Such has been the effect in Germany. The gymnasium-teacher has a high sense of the dignity of his vocation and a keen sense of its responsibilities, because he perceives that he must bring his labors to a well-rounded conclusion. He knows that the university does not supplement the gymnasium—that the university professors do not undertake to make good his shortcomings. The gymnasial course is a completed phase of training. It aims at giving the pupil all the general knowledge that he requires previous to his professional studies. What is lost or overlooked in the gymnasium cannot be acquired at the university. Hence the peculiar conscientiousness of the German teacher, his almost painful anxiety to make sure that his pupils master every subject, his unwillingness to let them go before they are "ripe." With us the change from school to college is not an abrupt transition, like that from gymnasium to university. The college course, certainly during the two lower years at least, is a continuation of the school course: the same or similar subjects are taught, and taught in the same way. Hence the school-teacher is tempted to regulate his efforts according to the college standard of admission. If he can only "get his men into college," as the saying is, he thinks that he is doing enough. To say this of all schools and all teachers would be flagrant injustice. Not a few of our older schools compare favorably with the best German gymnasiums, and in the large cities we find schools of even recent origin that endeavor faithfully to give a well-rounded discipline. But it remains nevertheless true that our schools, taken as a whole, give no more than the colleges require, and that only too many of them give less, trusting to the colleges to be lenient and eke out the deficiency. Moreover, when we read in the daily papers advertisements like the following, "Mr. Smith, a graduate of Harvard (or Yale or some other college, as the case may be), prepares young men for college," what inference are we to draw? Simply, that Mr. Smith, having gone through Harvard or Yale, knows exactly what is required there, and will undertake to "coach" any young man for admission in two or three years. Such coaching, if the young man is dull or backward, will consist in cramming him with required studies, to the neglect of everything not required. Teaching is not easy work. In many respects it is more difficult to be a good teacher than to be an original investigator. Whatever operates to strengthen and elevate the teacher's position, therefore, must be a gain. The highest incentive would be the consciousness that his school is not a mere stepping-stone to another school of larger growth, but the place where he must in truth prepare the youthful mind for independent study.