Practical Essays eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 299 pages of information about Practical Essays.
find the Regents given without a specific designation.  Why it should have gone on so long, and been then dropt, we are not informed.  Melville’s influence started it in the other Universities, but it was defeated in every one from the very outset.  After six years at Glasgow, he went to St. Andrew’s as Principal and Professor of Divinity, and tried there the same reforms, but the resistance was too great.  In spite of a public enactment, the division of labour among the Regents was never carried out.  Yet such was Melville’s authority, that the same enactment was extended to King’s College, in a scheme having a remarkable history—­the so-called New Foundation of Aberdeen University, promulgated in a Royal Charter of about the year 1581.  The Earl Marischal was a chief promoter of the plan of reform comprised in this charter.  The division of labour among the Regents was most expressly enjoined.  The plan fell through; and there was a legal dispute fifty years afterwards as to whether it had ever any legal validity.  Charles I. was made to express indignation at the idea of reducing the University to a school!

We now approach the foundation of Marischal College.  The Earl Marischal may have been actuated by the failure of his attempt to reform King’s College.  At all events, his mind was made up to follow Melville in assigning separate subjects to his Regents.  The Charter is explicit on this head.  Yet in spite of the Charter and in spite of his own presence, the intention was thwarted; the old Regenting lasted 160 years.


Still the Curriculum reform was gained.  There was, indeed, one great miss.  The year before Marischal College was founded, Galileo had published his work on Mechanics, which, taken with what had been accomplished by Archimedes and others, laid the foundations of our modern Physics.  Copernicus had already published his work on the Heavens.  It was now time that the Aristotelian Physics should be clean swept away.  In this whole department, Aristotle had made a reign of confusion; he had thrown the subject back, being himself off the rails from first to last.  Had there been in Scotland an adviser in this department, like Melville in general literature, or like Napier of Merchiston in pure mathematics, one fourth of the college teaching might have been reclaimed from utter waste, and a healthy tone of thinking diffused through the remainder.

A curious fascination always attached to the study of Astronomy, even when there was not much to be said, apart from the unsatisfactory disquisitions of Aristotle.  A little book, entitled “Sacrobosco on the Sphere,” containing little more than what we should now teach to boys and girls, along with the Globes, was a University text-book throughout Europe for centuries.  I was informed by a late King’s College professor that the Use of the Globes was, within his memory, taught in the Magistrand Class.  This would be simply what is termed a “survival”.

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