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society, for we cannot gauge how much it may have retarded its advancement. We may attempt to estimate it somewhat vaguely in this way. Let us make the supposition that neither Homer, nor Shakespeare, nor Milton, nor Newton, nor that crowd of illustrious worthies, whose early years were passed in poverty and privation, had ever emerged from their obscurity, and enriched us with “ those thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.” Who shall sum up the whole amount of damage that in the case I am now supposing would have been inflicted on mankind? Would the untold millions which lie buried in the dried up channels of the preadamite rivers of Australia or California recompense society for the loss? But I would take a still lower ground, and ask, would all the treasures of Peru compensate the manufacturing industry of this country, in lieu of the discoveries of Watt, and Arkwright, and Cort, and Stephenson, and Wheatstone, with a crowd of other little less illustrious names. From the amount of our actual gains, we may form some notion of our unknown loss.
Let us live in hope that this at least shall be amended. That merit however retiring, and genius however obscure, shall have a fair field thrown open to them; they ask for and they want no favour. This the Society which I have the honour to represent, now proposes to some extent to attempt. The Society of Arts of London, whose Royal President, aided by its Council, not only matured the crude notions of an international display of works of industry and art into a grand conception, but realized it as a fact in the Palace of Industry of all Nations, erected in Hyde-park, the same Society is now prepared to carry into intellectual matters that principle of competition which was then sanctioned and confirmed in material things. We propose to hold annual* public examinations conducted by men, some of them of the very highest eminence in literature and science. We commenced the system last June, at our house in the Adelphi, and the results were, indeed, most flattering and unexpected. For the information of those here present, who may not be acquainted with what the Society of Arts is now doing, I will give you a brief account of our proceedings. In the first place, you are all, no doubt, aware that the principal Mechanics’ Institutions of the country, nearly 400 in number,
* Note A. Page 52.
are in union with the Society of Arts. To ascertain how far our proposal might obtain the sanction of the friends of education, and of the great employers of labour, whether of the mind or of the body throughout the country, we issued for signature a Declaration* of confidence in our fitness to undertake such a task, and of opinion affirming its importance. Although our scheme was not matured until the February of last year, or put forth to the world, as one that would be actually worked out, until the beginning of April, yet we had no less than 56 candidates at our examinations in the Society's House in the Adelphi, which extended over four days, the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th of June, for nine hours each day. Now you will be curious to learn the results of that examination. Our best mathematician was a young man from Leeds, a bookseller's shopboy. He passed so good an examination that the managers of the Kew Observatory, much to their credit, have appointed him AssistantObserver, a situation which, to one of his predecessors, opened the way to rank and fortune. Within the last few weeks the Council of the Society of Arts have come to the determination to establish a public Registryf of their certificated candidates, which they propose to throw open, free of charge, to all those persons who desire to make merit and intelligence the qualifications of those whom they may employ. Our examinations will be conducted with the most rigid impartiality, and with the greatest strictness. Indeed, the examiners know nothing whatever about the candidate, as they recognise him only by the number on his card of admission. The Society of Arts, through its Board of Examiners, pledges its credit and character that the certificates which it issues, whatever the grade, shall state with the most precise accuracy attainable, and without the least tincture of exaggeration, the clear,
* “We, the undersigned, having considered the Memorandum of the Council of the Society of Arts, and the plan therein set forth, for examining and granting Certificates to the students of classes for instruction in the Literary and Scientific Institutions, Mechanics’ Institutes, Athenæums, and other similar bodies in union with the said Society, do hereby declare that we desire to promote the success of the said plan, and are prepared to regard as Testimonials worthy of credit such CERTIFICATES as may be awarded in conformity thereto."
† See Appendix. Page 60.
uncoloured truth. It is this truthfulness that will constitute the entire value of our certificates.
But now some among you may object to this plan of general examinations,* and say, examinations do not communicate knowledge. This is quite true. But the great utility of periodic examinations, as a means of promoting intellectual development, may be shown by the fact, that the system of conveying instruction through the instrumentality of formal lectures, almost exclusively adopted in the middle ages, has gradually fallen into disuse. So much is this the case, that Professional Chairs at the Universities have become nearly, if not altogether, sinecures; and this through no fault or lack of zeal on the part of the very eminent men by whom such chairs are usually filled. But experience, through a long succession of years, has shown that proficiency, that real knowledge of any subject, is most effectively promoted by judicious examinations in those subjects, recurring at periodic intervals.f This is the course now generally followed. The Universities, the Inns
* Professor Liebig of Giessen, in a communication published by the Oxford University Commissioners, thus expresses his opinion of the value of Examinations as an instrument of Education.
Giessen, 2nd December, 1851. " It is not possible for me at this moment to give you an explicit answer to the question you propose, and to give full reasons for my opinion. That it is a requirement of our times to incorporate the natural sciences as means of education into the university course is not, perhaps, doubted anywhere except in England; but there is only one way to promote the effectual study of the natural sciences, and that is to introduce them as subjects of university examination. Without examination all efforts are useless, and no scheme of instruction has any perceptible effect.
“ I am supported in my assertion by an experience of twenty-seven years, and I can assure you that, even among our medical students, the study of natural philosophy, of chemistry, and of zoology, was utterly neglected until we determined to divide the examination of these students into two, namely, a previous examination in the natural sciences, and a second examination in them proper to the medical department. When I assure you that for twenty years no medical student at Giessen visited the laboratory, this is a full and sufficient proof of what I say. But immediately after the examination was introduced the students pursued their studies with zeal and ardour. I repeat it—if no examination is introduced, the best schemes will fail, and will produce no effect; introduce the examination, and all the rest follows of itself. This leading point must first be determined.” — Report of Oxford University Commission, p. 124.
† Note B.
of Court, the Military and Naval Colleges, the East India Company, the Colleges of Physicians, Surgeons, and Apothecaries, the various Government Boards, the Committee of Privy Council on Education, all provide examinations of various degrees of strictness for candidates who desire to obtain degrees, certificates, or employment. Proficiency is estimated not by the punctuality, the attention, and decorum of the student at the lectures of the Professor, but by the ordeal of a rigid examination. And in the case of the Bar where men have been admitted to practise without being called on for any proof of their legal attainments, the exception is more apparent than real; for what more trying ordeal, more searching examination can we conceive of than the legal practice of the lawyer in the presence of his brethren before him on the bench and around him at the bar. His whole professional life is nothing less than a continuous examination.
The Society of Arts does not profess to teach. It leaves education, and the instruction which is the chief instrument of education, in the hands of the educational institutions of the country, whether they be Public Schools or Colleges, Trade Schools or Mechanics’ Institutions. But it does profess to test and to set its seal to the attainments of those whom it examines, in the shape of the certificates it awards and the prizes it bestows. It is too much taken for granted by educators in general, that when you have built a school-house, divided it out into class-rooms, hung the walls with maps and diagrams, and appointed a teacher with a committee of management, education must go on as it were by clock-work. Though you catch your boys and impound them in your school-rooms, you cannot force them to learn. But once hold out to your pupils the inducement that every hour they give to hard labour, to real head-work, will tell on their future advancement and prospects of life; mark what a face of reality it will put upon all they are doing, how their attention will be awakened. I have had many instances of this brought under my notice during the last few months.
Now look at this matter from another point of view. The son of the nobleman or the country squire, when at one of the public schools, has all the rewards the University can bestow before his eyes. Its honours, its prizes, its scholarships, its fellowships, its professorships, are all within his reach. The very
highest honours a subject can attain to, loom in the distance. What stimulants are these to unflagging exertion. Do not motives such as these invigorate and confirm the “constant will” to persevere to the end? What inducements equivalent to those—I do not say equal, but even like in kind—do we hold out to the youth of the middle and lower classes ? Why should the son of the tailor or the shoemaker or the
greengrocer pore in solitude over books, and filch from idle sports and boyish amusements the few hours he can gain by overwork? He may become a profound mathematician. Who knows, or cares anything about it, or thinks he is other than a mere pretender? He may become a great chemist; who believes him? or a good botanist; who puts faith in his pretensions ? The pure gold passes for base metal, because there is no legitimate authority to stamp it with the impress which would make it current. But for the Society of Arts, who would have ever heard anything about those young men who obtained our certificates, or known anything of their attainments. Chambers would have remained in obscurity, selling books in a little shop, or working problems in solitude, had not the Society of Arts dragged him forth out of darkness into light. Few of you, I dare say, knew that you had a very promising young chemist among you until the Board of Examiners had awarded a certificate in chemistry to your townsman Charles Wells.
I know it may be said, as it often has been said, knowledge ought to be cultivated for its own sake: the pleasure of its acquisition is its own best reward. Now, this is one of those conventional platitudes which usually garnish afterdinner speeches, and which take in nobody, neither him who hears them nor him who utters them. Who follows trade, or commerce, or business of any kind, or professional employment, but as means to an end? The lawyer does not plead causes for the sake of pleading; the manufacturer does not weave for the pleasure of contemplating mounds of cotton goods; a young man at college works hard for a fellowship, and why are we to expect in a poor man that abnegation of self which we do not look for in the rich ? I am free to grant that when a man becomes profoundly vers any branch of knowledge, he is then apt to pursue it for its own sake; his toil becomes a labour of love; at length he falls into