« PreviousContinue »
talents or acquirements of any individual, however undisputed, justify unqualified self-recommendation; nor can any pursuit, which demands so little exertion of the higher powers of intellect as botany, justly claim that pre-eminent rank, which properly belongs to the nobler exercises of human reason. In estimating the relative importance of the sciences, we form our scale, for the inost part, not only according to their different degrees of usefulness, but according to the opportunities which they afford for the display of all the higher faculties of the mind; and surely no person can pretend, that natural history, in any of its branches, calls for so vigorous an exertion of any talent, inventive or retentive, as the inquiries of moral philosophy, the abstruse investigations of geometrical or analytical truth, or the acquirement of that critical sagacity, which Longinus emphatically terms the last result of practised experience. Every man's personal observation will have informed him, that the reputation of an extremely good botanist may consist with a very moderate portion of intellect; such a portion, in short, as would never have made its professor a profound scholar, or an able mathematician: and, accordingly, the world in general thinks more highly, and with justice, of those who have arrived at eminence in these departments of literature, than of one who can run through the whole nomenclature of Tournefort or Linnæus. For the same reasons we are not of the number of those, who think it a great defect in our academical system, that more attention is not paid to botany and its kindred sciences. Next to the formation of religious principles and virtuous habits, the great object of education is to discipline the mind, and to fortify its powers; to strengthen and improve its faculties by exercising them upon those objects which are best calculated to sharpen them by difficulty, before it is called upon to take a wider range in the arts and sciences, which, without this preparation, would be apt to perplex and confuse. We are therefore inclined to think that our universities do right, in limiting the essential studies of their youth to a few of the most important branches of learning, giving, at the same time, a due portion of encouragement to those departments of science, which, if they do not materially invigorate or sharpen the faculties of the mind, enlarge the sphere of its view, and diversify the dry and, seemingly, barren speculations of geometry, or philology, with the visible or tangible phenomena of physical experiment. We are, therefore, entirely disposed to agree with Professor Monk in the following judicious and well expressed remarks.
It is impossible to assent to the propriety of botany becoming a primary pursuit among the youth of our University. The regular and established objects of study are the classics, the mathematics, and natural philosophy, a competent portion of metaphysics, and such an ele
mentary knowledge of Divinity,* as may form a groundwork of the theological pursuits of those who are designed for holy orders; and furnish every student with an introduction to the evidences of religion, as well as to the history, the allusions, the idioms and phraseology of the Scriptures. It has been decided by long experience, that these studies supply the best and surest mode of forming the taste and cultivating the mind, during the most important season of life, of strengthening the reasoning and other faculties, particularly that of memory, of generating correct and liberal habits of thinking, and of storing the mind with valuable knowledge. They are, accordingly, the primary subjects of academical instruction, and to proficiency in them, the rewards and honours of the place, in their gradations, are attached. I consider the studies of chemistry, anatomy, mineralogy and botany, as useful, though subordinate, objects of attention: and upon those sciences, with the exception of botany, as well as the arts and manufactures of the country, and upon modern history, regular courses of lectures are given with great ability, by the respective Professors. These lectures are highly beneficial, both in diffusing among the votaries of the severer studies, a gentlemanly portion of general information, and in supplying direction and encouragement to others, who are precluded by want of taste and ability, or by other circumstances, from becoming proficients in the regular pursuits, and who might, without such assistance, waste much valuable time in idleness. p. 10.
This we presume to be a very fair and reasonable account of the system of instruction at present pursued in both our Universities; and, for our own parts, we scruple not to confess, we hope never to see the day, when the physical sciences shall take precedence of the intellectual; when, instead of the sublime speculations of Newton, Leibnitz, Euler, and Laplace, the majestic accents of the tragic muse of Greece, and the finished eloquence of Demosthenes or Tully, our academic cloisters shall resound only with floetz, and trap, and schistus, or with Banksias, and Dryandrias, and all the andrias and gynias of the Systema Naturæ.
: It is no doubt true, as Sir James Smith observes, that classical studies
may derive illustration from botany. As an instance of this, he observes that the acanthus of Virgil is still undetermined; and adds, 'I am persuaded, of what no commentator has hitherto con
Here indeed one of our Universities lies open to reproach. A degree is generally considered by the bishops as a necessary qualification for holy orders; and yet, constituted as the examinations now are at Cambridge, of what importance can it be, with reference to the duties of the sacred office, whether the candidate lias proceeded to the degree of B.A. or not? Why do not the governing members of that learned and enlighteued body remove from it a stigma which is too justly merited, and make an acquaintance with at least the elementary parts of divinity, the evidences of revealed religion and the Gospels in their original tongue, an essential and indispensable part of that knowledge which shall entitle its possessor to an Academical degree? At present, we fear that the Professor's remarks on this head are true only of particular colleges. The University examinations are in this respect glaringly and inexcusably defective
jectured, that Virgil's plant is our common holly, a shrub not indicated in any part of his writings, though frequent in Italian gardens and thickets, as well as elsewhere throughout Europe. He speaks of it as an evergreen with flexible twigs, forming thickets, clipped by the gardener in winter, and bearing berries. It is to be observed, however, that Virgil speaks of the prickly acanthus as a foreign plant, not as a native of Italy. Sir James does not seem - to be aware that the poet describes two kinds of acanthus; nor that the common reading in Georg. IV. 137. Ille comam mollis jam tum tondebat acanthi has been altered, upon the authority of the best MSS., into jam tondebat hyacinthi. And in the only passage where the berries are mentioned, (G. II. 119. baccas semper frondentis acanthi,) Heyne properly observés, ' De agrifolio (the holly) cogitare non licet: laudantur enim plantæ peregrinæ.' For our own parts, we are inclined to suspect that the berry-bearing acanthus of Virgil is no other than the nupcéxavea of the Greek botanists, which is so great an ornament to our walls. This is the opinion of Ciofanius on Ovid’s Met. xiii. 701. '
Again, Sir James says that he is the first person who has elucidated that beautiful apostrophe of our Saviour, Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, &c.,' which is commonly supposed to apply to the white lily, or the tulip, by referring it to the amaryllis lutea, or autumnal narcissus, with which the fields of the Levant are overrun. We wish to remind Sir James, that Souciet (Recueil de Dissertations Critiques, p. 155.) has observed that the lily mentioned in Scripture is not what we call by that name, but rather the lilium Persicum, or crown imperial, which is common in Palestine. And perhaps this is as probable a conjecture as that of Sir James.
We cannot help observing that arguments for the great importance of botany, drawn from a few elucidations of Scripture, are of no great weight, since there are many other arts and sciences which may rest their claims to distinction upon similar grounds. · Upon the whole, although we are very far from thinking, with Socrates, that there is nothing to be learned from trees, yet we must enter our protest against any attempt to exalt botany or its kindred sciences to a level with the more abstruse and more intellectual
pursuits, which constitute the fyxuracos quideía of our English Universities. Far distant be the day, when we shall copy the example of Sweden, where, says Sir James, Natural Science takes place of every other, being the pursuit which leads to preferment in Church and State, like the mathematics at Cambridge'! a most accurate and well-drawn comparison. How these matters may be managed in Sweden we know not, except from Sir James's testimony; but we have yet to learn, that, in this country, the least piece of preferF F 3
ment, ecclesiastical or civil, has been given as a reward for mathematical science alone-To this,' says Professor Monk, and all such remarks, I shall merely reply, that the results of our general system of education have been so successful, that we should not be justified in changing it for that of any other University on the face of the earth. It is by progressive steps that it has been brought to its present state. Even within the last few years, additional efficacy has been given to our system of studies, by an improved method of examination.'
The next question which arises is this, whether it be expedient to confer a professorship in the University, on a perfect stranger and alien, when there are members of the University itself, willing and competent to undertake its duties. Sir James, of course, argues for the affirmative, and produces from the Academical annals three instances of strangers being appointed to professorships upon their first foundation; but not one, where an entire stranger has been elected to an office already established.
• The distinction,' as Professor Monk observes, is important. When it was an object to introduce into the University a pursuit hitherto uncultivated in the place, it was right and necessary to look beyond its limits for an able instructor in that science. But when a study has once been established, and successfully pursued by some of its own body, it is more consistent with justice as well as policy, to elect one of them to fill a vacant appointment, than to have recourse, as was done in the first instance, to aliens. It is by the hope of these offices and distinctions that our members are encou
couraged to devote their leisure to such pursuits. When a gentleman, educated amongst us, is proposed as a candidate, not only his abilities, but his personal character, can thoroughly be appreciated by the electors themselves, instead of being taken upon the partial representation of others: and in the choice of such a person, there exists a security, that he will have a community of views and feelings with the University, and a devotion to its interests, which it would be unreasonable to look for in a stranger. It is, besides, natural and proper to be extremely cautious'in admitting into the bosom of our institution, and investing with our offices, persons however unexceptionable in their private characters, who have been educated in a system of studies and discipline very dissimilar to our own, and whose age and talents may give them influence over the junior members.'
Nothing can be more just than these observations; and they are backed by the authority of Philip Melancthon, one of the most moderate and candid of mankind. In the advice which he gave for the regulation of a University at Leipzig, be expresses himself thus :
• In facultate artium habetis aliquot eruditos magistros, et rationem haberi præsentium, qui sunt idonei, utile est multis de caussis. Invitan
tur enim ceteri, ut Academia libentius maneant. Et novi ac peregrini magis sunt obnoxii invidiæ: hinc oriuntur certamina ac factiones.'
Where,' asks Sir James,' would have been the celebrity and the utility of the foreign universities of Edinburgh, of Göttingen, of Pavia, and many others, had the choice of their professors been restricted by any rules, but the claims of acknowledged and eminent ability ?' that is to say, · Unless you elect me, a man of acknowledged and eminent ability, farewell to your celebrity and utility, good Mrs. Alma Mater! Whether the celebrated father of Matilda Pottingen was chosen-law-professor of Göttingen from another university, we have not been able to ascertain ; but of this we are sure, that if competent professors could be found in their own body, neither Edinburgh, nor Göttingen, nor Pavia, nor Connecticut would elect them from another.
But the great point of all still remains for discussion; whether Sir James could, with propriety or safety, be invested with an academical office, being a professed dissenter from the established church. This was the main ground upon which the remonstrants founded their objection; an objection which Sir James mildly describes as proceeding from a conspiracy,' and from a jealous and exclusive spirit.' Sir James is, it appears, a member of that society of dissenters, who modestly assume the title of Rational Christians, implying thereby, that the church from which they dissent is irrational. Our readers need not be told that these reasonable personages are no others than Socinians, or Photiniars, or Unitarians, or Humanitarians, or Priestleians, or Belshamites, which last, we believe, is the name at present in vogue. It is fair, however, to state that Sir James informs us, that he had always been in the habit of attending frequently the public worship of the church, and of receiving the sacrament many years since; not on any particular occasion, nor with any particular object, except the principle of Christian communion. Is it possible that any man, who persuades himself that he is sincere, can sanction, by his presence and participation, the performance of a solemn rite and act of adoration, the whole tenor of which, in his heart, he disbelieves and disapproves ? This it is to be a rational Christian! This circumstance, however, and the readiness with which Sir James, it seems, would, in the event of his election, subscribe to the necessary declaration that he conforms to the Liturgy of the Church of England as by law established,' we are not disposed to dwell upon. It is sufficient to remark, that such a declaration would come with singular grace and propriety from the mouth of a professed dissenter; and could not fail of encouraging, in the breast of the youthful student, the virtues of sincerity and consistency. The question is, can either of our universities, consistently with a due regard to the