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The Universities of Scotland

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The associations of the older universities, both physical and spiritual, differ essentially from those of the universities which are springing up in the great English cities. To a large extent the older universities created, or at any rate dominated, their physical environment, resenting, as we ourselves have seen in the case of Oxford, unwelcome encroachments, especially of a commercial character. On the other hand, the newer universities have their environment already made for them. They have to fit into the frame instead of making for themselves the frame and most of the picture it encloses. They do so not merely in the physical sense, but in a spiritual way, for in many cases we find the new university developing close relations with the special commercial activities of the district which it serves, sometimes to the extent of starting new faculties to meet these requirements.

Originally founded by the Church on a broad philosophical basis known as the Studium Generale, which to a large extent lingered in spirit down to our own day, many of the older universities tended to remain aloof "seats of learning," far removed physically and otherwise from the least suspicion of utilitarianism. The older Scottish universities - a large number for such a small country - were all organized on the same broad traditional lines, for they were modelled on - indeed in some cases, were exact copies of - the great Continental universities, such as Paris and Bologna. What happened was that, when some pious benefactor, usually an ecclesiastic, proposed founding a new university, the Pope, in granting permission, sent full instructions for an institution in full academic panoply.

Thus, in creating the University of Aberdeen in 1494-5 the papal bull actually set up a medical faculty - the first, indeed, to be founded in this country. Nobody can suppose that in the bleak, God-forsaken townlet on the North Sea which Aberdeen was at that time there was any clamant necessity for such a highly technical faculty; and, as a matter of fact, it took a long time to get fully going. But the creation of the faculty, even on paper, is a symbol of the fact that this university from a very early period aimed at getting into close touch with the life of the mass of the people, and was in no sense a mere cloister for the learned. This was even more strongly illustrated by the way in which the Scots universities created the teachers. On being sent back into the countryside they devoted their energies in preparing suitable boys for the university; and the latter in turn, on getting their degrees, went back to the country to prepare a new race of students. Thus the process went on like the blood system, so that in time, by careful adaptation, the universities and the nation became inextricably connected, leading to the export of ability which has taken the Scot all over the world.

The effect of the Scots universities on their immediate hinterlands, often incredibly uncultivated, has been far greater than on the southern side of the Border, where Oxford and Cambridge, developing along intensely independent lines like so many other institutions in England, for long affected a far smaller class of the community. In any consideration of the associations of the Scots universities it is essential to understand from the first their spiritual effect, for this conditioned many things that followed in their actual physical environment.

It is not inappropriate that St. Andrews, the oldest and smallest of the Scots universities, should have retained more than any of the others the cloistered character of a "seat of learning."

Founded in 1411 by Bishop Wardlaw, it reminds you more of Oxford and Cambridge than any of its neighbours, not least by the fact of the number of its colleges, St. Salvator's, St. Leonard's (now united) and St. Mary's, and because the site on which it was placed has remained pretty much as it was, for there has been nothing in its position to induce a large growth of population, as would have happened had it been nearer a seaboard capable of becoming a big port. Had it been founded in 1911 instead of 1411, it is certain the university would never have been placed in St. Andrews at all. It would have been erected at Dundee, which, from its position on the more accessible Tay, has completely outstripped the charming little town in point of population and commercial activity. As it is, Dundee has set up a college system of its own, though it is associated with St. Andrews as the supreme Alma Mater. University College, Dundee, provides instruction ir, science and commerce.

As a matter of fact, St. Andrews had such a struggle in its earlier period that its devoted historian thinks it a "perpetual source of wonder that the university maintained its existence at all." Indeed, in the end of the seventeenth century there was a proposal to remove it to Perth, where it might have deflected some of the Highland students who have looked so much to Glasgow. To those who know the trim little town of to-day, with its wide streets - the chief of which have hardly changed since 1530 - and the lovely links, it is scarcely credible that in 1697 the reason for the proposed move was based on the conviction that "the streets are foul and full of noisome pestilence," although one can understand that the town was felt to be rather "out of the way." It is so still.

It is just that out-of-the-wayness which has made St. Andrews as we know it the gem it is; quiet and peaceful, though far from asleep, for not only has the university increased its activities, but it has become a rallying point for many other educational efforts, of which perhaps the best known is St. Leonard's School, the first school for girls founded (1877) in Scotland on English Public School lines.

The early associations of the old town sprang less from the university than from the cathedral, from which the university may be said to have started, for St. Andrews owes its origins to the Church. The cathedral, so impressive in its gaunt-ness, was really the nucleus of the town, for the three principal streets all diverge from it. Again, the old ecclesiasticism blazed forth in the martyrdom of George Wishart, who was burned in front of the castle, a mere shadow of its former self, and in the retaliatory murder of Cardinal Beaton in the same old keep. St. Andrews still thinks of these old tragedies, because the shrunken frame of them still remains.

Similarly, it is of the old church you think when you see the magnificent monument of Bishop Kennedy, the founder of St. Salvator's College. When it was opened in St. Leonard's Church in 1683, more than two centuries after his death, six beautiful silver maces were discovered within it. St. Andrews is full of such associations, and they are cherished to-day as they have never been before, for the neglect of the ancientries which our forefathers tolerated has definitely stopped; and, luckily, the town has not been modernised in such a way as to "improve" its landmarks out of existence.

That is why St. Andrews to-day is like a page of history where you can see clearly before your eyes the road it has travelled down the centuries. No other Scots university - indeed, no other town in Scotland, not even Edinburgh - has preserved so much of its past in visible, if shrunken, form. The university, not the cathedral, is the focus of St. Andrews to-day, and it does everything to maintain the town as a select example of a dignified seat of learning far removed from all the bustle of the busy modern world.

It has been very different with Glasgow, the next oldest of the Scots universities, which was founded forty years after St. Andrews by Bishop Turnbull. So far as the physical structure is concerned, Glasgow has completely overlaid the vestiges of its early form, for building after building associated with the university has disappeared, and even the home erected in the High Street in the seventeenth century had to give way to the railway. The university as we see it to-day, rising with characteristic Gilbert Scott majesty on Gilmorehill, is a creation of yesterday; but, if the town has swamped the old associations, there can be no doubt that the spirit of the university has done a great deal to make Glasgow flourish by exercising an inspiring influence on the material potentialities of the Clyde.

The influence of the university, however, has not been continuous, for it has been said that for more than a hundred years after its erection it was "permanently on the verge of extinction," and did not meet a real demand in the community. That, indeed, as I have already hinted, is true of the older Scots universities, which were planned not to meet the immediate needs of the wild and sparsely populated districts in which they were dumped; they were simply transferred (on paper) from the great Continental cities in which they had been at work for a long time. It is not quite correct to say that the town's requirements swamped the old university site of Glasgow. Gradually the university, by adapting itself to the trend of the time, became overrun with students who wished to specialise in some particular subject without going through the entire curriculum.

This began to be markedly the case when the old Studium Generale was varied by science, in which Glasgow has since taken a very strong lead, especially in the classic figures of Kelvin and Lister. It got a splendid start in this direction in Joseph Black, the discoverer of latent heat, who began his career in the chairs of anatomy and medicine, and then became lecturer in chemistry. Another great advance in the same direction was made when John Anderson, in the chair of natural philosophy - which has done so much to make Glasgow - drew huge classes largely composed of tradespeople. Anderson was, indeed, so keen on the spread of education on these lines that he founded a university now known as Anderson's College. It was typical of the broad interest of Glasgow in science that James Watt got his first footing, under the encouragement of Anderson, as mathematical instrument maker to the university. This sort of influence was brought to the highest pitch in our own day by Kelvin, affording a splendid example of how a university, exercising its stateliest function, can help industry. You have only to think of Kelvin's scientific help to seamanship to see how a busy place like the Clyde has been eager to learn the lessons of science as patiently worked out in the laboratory within its gates.

If it was almost premature for their respective bishops to found the universities of St. Andrews and Glasgow when they did, it was one of the greatest acts of faith in the whole history of education for Bishop Elphinstone to create a university at Aberdeen in 1494-5. At that time Aberdeen was not only a very small, if ancient place, but it was a regular back o' beyond, stuck out in the bleak North Sea - "Aberdeen Awa'" it is still called - and cut off, as the Papal bull giving effect to the bishop's proposal said, from the rest of the country by arms of the sea and very high mountains. These remote regions, his Holiness went on to say, were inhabited by unlettered, ignorant and almost barbarian people who not only had no opportunity of coming into touch with culture, but who had scarcely among them any man "capable of preaching the Word of God or of administering the Sacraments."

The bishop's enthusiasm was all the more remarkable because he had seen the struggle of the young university at Glasgow, with which he was closely identified before going to Aberdeen, where the conditions were so much more unfavourable for the creation of a seat of learning. But, being a statesman and a scholar, as well as an ecclesiastic, he not only set the university going, but got it equipped in Old Aberdeen from the very first with four faculties, instead of the three which existed elsewhere in this country.

It was almost as astounding that within a century a second university was founded on Protestant lines in 1593 by the fifth Earl Marischal in the New Town of Aberdeen, the two, King's College and Marischal College, co-existing as degree-granting universities as late as 1860, when they were united, after much trouble, as the University of Aberdeen, the faculty of medicine being confined to the younger university.

Next to St. Andrews, the older part of the university retains more of the character of an ancient academic colony than any other in Scotland, for Marischal College, in its glittering white granite, has been totally reconstructed. Indeed, though Old Aberdeen has been incorporated municipally with the New Town, it remains a charming little backwater, with the university at one end and the fine old cathedral at the other. King's College, of course, has been largely added to, but its beautiful old crown-capped tower still recalls its ancient form, not least in the use of freestone for its material; for when it was erected the native granite was far too hard to manipulate architecturally. There, too, as at St. Andrews, you will find the students wearing the scarlet gown which originated from the University of Paris, whose members, strangely enough, wear the toga no longer.

To its association with the university the whole hinterland owes a great deal, not merely as a general educational body, but in the specific interests of the countryside in the shape of agricultural science, the university overrunning the countryside in the immediate vicinity with experimental farms and the remarkable Rowett Institute, where animal nutrition is being studied closely on behalf of the whole Empire. It is an extraordinary thing that the Scots capital itself was the last to be equipped with a university, and that, too, a hundred and seventy-one years after Glasgow. But it was a notable creation, for it started on the new Protestant lines with a novel range of ideas. These had a great effect on the older universities, the Roman Catholic inspiration of which had been wearing thin. And yet the old order had enough resistance left to thwart the enthusiasm of the Reformers, so that the inception of the new university, or college, as it was first described, was much more difficult than in the case of the other universities.

Although King James granted the charter for the Edinburgh College in 1582, he was only the nominal founder. The real promoters were the Town Council and the ministers of the town, who made constant efforts to establish a seat of learning. Most enthusiastic of all was the Rev. James Lawson, who succeeded John Knox as chief minister of Edinburgh, so that Edinburgh, like all the rest of the Scots universities, was really inspired by the Church, though, of course, on very different lines from the other universities, which the Reformers duly took in hand. Almost as a symbol of the new regime, Kirk o' Field, which formed part of the site, had seen the blowing up of Darnley, and that tragedy may be said to have marked a stage in the ending of the old regime from which Queen Mary never really wanted to escape. But part of the buildings served to house the principal, and existed down to 1803. The site is now covered by the university library.

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