On The Art of Reading eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 241 pages of information about On The Art of Reading.


All very well.  But, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning asked,

     Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers?

‘Yes,’ I hear you ingeminate; ’but what about Examinations?  We thank you, sirs, for thus relieving and guiding us:  we acknowledge your excellent intentions.  But in practice you hang up a bachelor’s gown and hood on a pole, and right under and just in front of it you set the examination-barrier.  For this in practice we run during three years or so, and to this all the time you are exhorting, directing us—­whether you mean it or not, though we suspect that you cannot help yourselves.’  Yes; and, as labouring swimmers will turn their eyes even to a little boat in the offing, I hear you pant ’This man at all events—­always so insistent that good literature teaches What Is rather than What Knows—­will bring word that we may float on our backs, bathe, enjoy these waters and be refreshed, instead of striving through them competitive for a goal.  He must condemn literary examinations, nine-tenths of which treat Literature as matter of Knowledge merely.’


I am sorry, Gentlemen:  I cannot bring you so much of comfort as all that.  I have a love of the past which, because it goes down to the roots, has sometimes been called Radicalism:  I could never consent with Bacon’s gibe at antiquity as pessimum augurium, and Examinations have a very respectable antiquity.  Indeed no University to my knowledge has ever been able in the long run to do without them:  and although certain Colleges—­King’s College here, and New College at Oxford—­for long persevered in the attempt, the result was not altogether happy, and in the end they have consigned with custom.

Of course Universities have experimented with the process. Let me give you two or three ancient examples, which may help you to see (to vary Wordsworth) that though ’the Form decays, the function never dies.’

(1) I begin with most ancient Bologna, famous for Civil Law.  At Bologna the process of graduation—­of admission to the jus docendi, ’right to teach’—­consisted of two parts, the Private Examination and the Public (conventus): 

The private Examination was the real test of competence, the so-called public Examination being in practice a mere ceremony.  Before admission to each of these tests the candidate was presented by the Consiliarius of his Nation to the Rector for permission to enter it, and swore that he had complied with all the statutable conditions, that he would give no more than the statutable fees or entertainments to the Rector himself, the Doctor, or his fellow-students, and that he would obey the Rector.  Within a period of eight days before the Examination the candidate was presented by ‘his own’ Doctor or by some other Doctor or by
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On The Art of Reading from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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