Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. V


University. I COURSE OF STUDIES. 19 ~ ~ ~~ - ~~ Save Glasgow, all the Colleges complied with I translate, in the professor?s hearing, Aristotle?s this requisition, and at a later meeting of the Commissioners, drafts of the courses used by the different teachers were presented and read ; but the zeal of the Church was not attended with any permanent effect ; for notwithstanding all their efforts to introduce uniformity, no particular cursus was ever distinctly agreed upon, and each University continued to pursue the method to which it had been used of old. The professors, however, were not at liberty to teach any book, or pursue any system they chose. On the contrary, these matters came under the scrutiny of the Senatus Academicus of each university, and in the case of Edinburgh they were, strangely enough, under the supervision of the Town Council. In 1730, when Dr. Stevenson was appointed to the chair of logic and metaphysics, we get the next glance at the system of education pursued there. This professor, whose merits and memory were long a tradition of the university, was the first who, in all our Scottish seminaries, ventured to question the utility of scholastic logic as a study for youths, and to introduce, in lieu thereof, lectures of a more miscellaneous nature. He did not restrict the work of his students to subtle subjects connected with the dialectics of Aristotle, but directed their attention to the principles of composition, and the laws of just criticism ; while, that he might comply with the practice of the age, he continued-rather inconsistently it has been said-to deliver his remarks on English literature, and the doctrines of French critics such as Dacier and BOSSU, in Latin. At that time the hours of assembling were two o?clock one day, and three another, alternately; and in the morning, about the conimencement of each session, the students generally read a book of the ? Iliad.? ?? Dr. Stevenson,? says Bower in his ? History,? ?? had two reasons for this : besides becoming acquainted with the progress which they made in the Greek language, he wished to begin with an easy author, that those who were most deficient might have it in their power to improve themselves, and come better prepared to the perusal of such Greek rhetoricians as were afterwards to be put into their hands ; and it afforded him an opportunity of commenting upon the beauties of Homenc poetry, pointing out the imitations which Virgil, Milton, and others have borrowed from the great father of the epic poem, and giving to his pupils such a specimen as was calculated to incite them to become more familiar with his works. They next proceeded to read and Poetics, and Longinus?s Essay on ;he Sublime. These exercises formed the business of the morning hour during the session.? The forenoon he dedicated to the subject he was more strictly called upon to teach-logic ; and he was very attentive to this portion of hi5 duty, conceiving it absolutely necessary to give a clear account of its history and nature, and to render intelligible to the students the art which for ages was deemed the only path to science. When Dr. Stevenson was admitted a professor Locke?s philosophy was little known in the Scottish universities, and he was. the first who attached a proper value to the speculations of the illustrious Englishman. These were altogether new to Stevenson?s Scottish students, and it is said that it ?required all the familiarity of his illustrations, and all the forcibility of his address, to enable them to grasp such abstractions, and to celish inquiries that explained the operations of the human mind. He held the chair from 1730 to 1744 He assembled his students thrice weekly in the afternoon, and delivered to them a history of philosophy, using as his text-book the Histurio Ph& JO&&Z of Heineccius. He also used freely Diogenes Laertius, Stanley and Brucker?s more recent works on the same subject. He required his students to compose a discourse upon a topic assigned to them, and to contest or define a philosophical thesis in presence of the principal, or whoever might be present. It is necessary to be somewhat minute in some of these details, as in the history of a university it is impossible to omit a reference to the method of instruction adopted at different periods. In 1695 it was directed that ?the courses of all colleges (in Scotland) should commence on the first lawful day of November, and continue to the last day of January thereafter, and that the magistrand or senior classes were only to continue till the first of May.? This was probably to leave time for the necessary examinations, prior to the annuaI graduation ; but for many years after the establishment of the Edinburgh University, the work of the professors was a system of perpetual drudgery. The classes assembled in the gloomy buildings of the old rambling college at six in the morning in winter, at five in summer ; and were under the eyes of the teachers till nine. At ten they met again, and continued their studies till twelve. At mid-day the regents attended to confer or dispute. At six an examination commenced ; and on days set apart for recreation
Volume 5 Page 19
  Enlarge Enlarge  
and play, the students went into the fields around the Burgh loch, or elsewhere, and returned at four, for examination at six. In summer they held their conferences concerning the lectures till three. From three to four they were examined by the regent, and from four to six were again permitted to ramble in the fields. Even on Saturdays each of the professors held a disputation in his own class-in winter from seven till nine a.m., and in summer from six till nine, and was similarly occupied from ten till twelve. ?That is,? says a writer on this subject, ??a few tourists who came to Edinburgh in those days. ?? What is called the college,? wrote an Italian traveller in 1788, ? is nothing else than a mass of ruined buildings of very ancient construction. One of them is said to be the house which was partly blown up with gunpowder at the time it was inhabited by Lord Darnley, whose body was found at some distance, naked, and without any signs of violence. The college serves only for the habitation of some of the professors, for lecture rooms, and for the library. Here resides, with his family, the celebrated Dr. William Robertson, who is head THE ORIGINAL DESIGN FOR THE EAST FRONT OF THE XEW BUILDING FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBUKGH. From the Plde in ? I The Work in Architecture of Robw&madJmes ddatn,? London, 1789-1821.) regent in those times taught as many hours on a Saturday as his successors at the present devote to their students in the course of a whole week. In short, the saving of human labour in teaching seems to be the great glory and improvement of the age.? The examination on the students? notes had become that which the commissioners of 1695 regarded it-the most useful and instructive part of a professor?s duties. On the aznd November, 1753, one of the most shining lights of the old university-Dugald Stewart-was born within its walls, his father, and predecessor in the chair of mathematics, being Dr. Matthew Stewart, who was appointed thereto in =747. The poverty and dilapidation of the old university buildings excited the coninlent of all the of the university, with the title of principal. The students, who amount annually to some seven or eight hundred, do not live in the college, but board in private houses, and attend the lectures according as they please. Dr. Robertson thinks this method more advantageous to youth than keeping them shut up in colleges, as at Oxford and Cambridge. He says that when young men are not kept from intercourse with society, besides that they do not acquire that rude and savage air which retired study gives, the continual examples which they meet with in the world, of honour and riches acquired by learning and merit, stimulate them more strongly to the attainment of these; and that they acquire, besides, easy and insinuating manners, which render them better fitted in the sequel for public employments.?J Elsewhere the tourist says, ?The results are such,
Volume 5 Page 20
  Enlarge Enlarge     Pictures Pictures