Practical Essays eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 299 pages of information about Practical Essays.



Now as to the mode of instruction.  There were viva voce examinations upon the notes, such as we can imagine.  But the stress was laid on Disputations and Declamations in various forms.  Besides disputing and declaiming on the regular class work before the Regent, we find that, in Edinburgh, and I suppose elsewhere, the classes were divided into companies, who met apart, and conferred and debated among themselves daily.  The students were occupied, altogether, six hours a day.  Then the higher classes were frequently pitched against each other.  This was a favourite occupation on Saturdays.  The doctrines espoused by the leading students became their nicknames.  The pass for Graduation consisted in the propugning or impugning of questions by each candidate in turn.  An elaborate Thesis was drawn up by the Regent, giving the heads of his philosophy course; this was accepted by the candidates, signed by them, and printed at their expense.  Then on the day of trial, at a long sitting, each candidate stood up and propunged or impunged a portion of the Thesis; all were heard in turn; and on the result the Degree was conferred.  A good many of these Theses are preserved in our Library; some of them are very long—­a hundred pages of close type; they are our best clue to the teaching of the period.  We can see how far Aristotle was qualified by modern views.


I said there might have been times when the students never had the relief of a second face all the four years.  The exceptions are of importance.  First, as regards Marischal College.  Within a few years of the foundation, Dr. Duncan Liddell founded the Mathematical Chair, and thus withdrew from the Regents the subject that most of all needed a specialist; a succession of very able mathematicians sat in this chair.  King’s College had not the same good fortune.  From its foundation it possessed a separate functionary, the Humanist or Grammarian; but he had also, till 1753, to act as Rector of the Grammar School.  Edinburgh obtained from an early date a Mathematical chair, occupied by men of celebrity.  There was no other innovation till near the end of the 17th century, when Greek was isolated both in Edinburgh and in Marischal College; but the end of Regenting was then near.

The old system, however, had some curious writhings.  During the troubled 17th century, University reform could not command persistent attention.  But after the 1688-Revolution, opinions were strongly expressed in favour of the Melville system.  The obvious argument was urged, that, by division of labour each man would be able to master a special subject, and do it justice in teaching.  Yet, it was replied, that, by the continued intercourse, the master knew better the humours, inclinations, and talents of their scholars.  To which the answer was—­the humours and inclinations of scholars are not so deeply hid but that in a few weeks they appear.  Moreover, it was said, the students are more respectful to a Master while he is new to them.

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