10th January 1907
The Dedicated Life
A Rectorial Address delivered to the Students of the University of Edinburgh
Published in ‘UNIVERSITIES and NATIONAL LIFE: Four Addresses to Students’,
Viscount Haldane, London, John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1911
It is your custom to leave to the Rector freedom of choice in the subject of his address. I take this freedom to mean that he may, within well-understood limits, turn to the topics that interest him most and to the things that he would fain speak of. With me it has happened that the personal history of the thirty-four years that have passed since I entered this University as an undergraduate has been the story of the growth and deepening of a conviction. It is this conviction that I shall to-day seek to put into words. I shall ask you to bear patiently with me while I strive to express it.
What at present occupies my time is public business; and it is my daily task, in conducting that business, to remember and to remind others that the end which the State and its members have to strive after is the development of the State. No such development can be genuine unless it stands for progress in the realisation of some great purpose. It is a truism, and yet a much-forgotten truism, to say that such purposes cannot be great if they are narrow. The ends aimed at by those engaged in public affairs must be based on foundations both wide and sure; but no foundations are wide or sure unless they are such that all the world can be legitimately asked to accept them as foundations. Such a test leaves room for abundance of healthy party difference and criticism, but it insists on that without which there cannot be real stability.
The foundation of purpose in the State, through all changes of party policy, must, if the national life is to grow permanently and not diminish, to prosper and not to fade, be ethical. A nation can insist on its just rights and on due respect from other nations, and yet seek to understand and meet their efforts after their own development. A certain cosmopolitanism is of the essence of strength. It is not brute force, but moral power, that commands predominance in the world. This becomes more and more plain as civilisation large progressively emerges from barbarism, and other nations increase in capacity to acquire and to rule. In the result it is the voice of the majority of the States of the earth that must determine which of them can be trusted to occupy the foremost places as trustees for the rest.
Armaments, of course, tell, but even the most powerfully armed nation cannot in these days hold its own without a certain measure of assent from those around. And perhaps the time is near when armaments will count for so much less than is the case to-day, that they will tend to diminish, and ultimately to become extinct. I am not so sanguine as to believe that the good impulses of even what I firmly believe to be the majority of men will prove the sole or even the proximate influence in bringing this about. The appallingly increased effectiveness of the means of destruction, to which the advancing science of war is yearly adding, and the accompanying increase in the burden of cost, are progressively cogent arguments. The whole system tends to work its way to its own abolition. What can most help and give free scope to this tendency is the genuine acceptance by the nations of a common purpose of deliverance from the burden—a purpose which the necessities of their citizens will surely bring, however slowly, into operation.
It is not, therefore, merely after brute power that a nation can in these days safely set itself to strive. Leadership among the peoples of the earth depends on the possession of a deeper insight. In national as in private life the power of domination depends on individuality—the individuality that baffles description and much more definition, because it combines qualities that, taken in isolation, are apparently contradictory. Among the States, as among their private citizens, the individuality that is most formidable is formidable because of qualities that are not merely physical. It commands respect and submission because it impresses on those with whom it comes in daily contact a sense of largeness and of moral and intellectual power. Such qualities may, and generally do, carry with them skill in armaments. This, however, is a consequence, and not a cause. It was the moral and intellectual equipment of Greece and Rome that made them world-powers. So it has been with Japan in our own time. And without moral and intellectual equipment of the highest order no nation can to-day remain a world-power. The Turks, who in the sixteenth century were perhaps the most formidable people in Europe, are a case in point.
But if this be so, then the first purpose of a nation—and especially, in these days of growth all round, of a modern nation—ought to be to concentrate its energies on its moral and intellectual development. And this means that because, as the instruments of this development, it requires leaders, it must apply itself to providing the schools where alone leaders can be adequately trained. The so-called heaven-born leader has a genius so strong that he will come to the front by sheer force of that genius almost wherever his lot be cast, for he is heaven-born in the sense that he is not like other men. But in these days of specialised function a nation requires many leaders of a type less rare-subordinates who obediently accept the higher command and carry it out, but who still are, relatively speaking, leaders. Such men cannot, for by far the greater part, be men of genius; and yet the part they play is necessary, and because it is necessary the State must provide for their production and their nurture. At this point the history of the modern State shows that the University plays an important part. The elementary school raises our people to the level at which they may become skilled workers. The secondary school assists to develop a much smaller but still large class of well educated citizens. But for the production of that limited body of men and women whose calling requires high talent, the University or its equivalent alone suffices. Moreover, the University does more. For it is the almost indispensable portal to the career of the highest and most exceptionally trained type of citizen. Not knowledge, not high quality, sought for the sake of some price to be obtained for them, but knowledge and quality for the sake of knowledge and quality are what are essential, and what the University must seek to produce. If Universities exist in sufficient numbers and strive genuinely to foster, as the outcome of their training, the moral and intellectual virtue which is to be its own reward, the humanity which has the ethical significance that ought to be inseparable from high culture, then the State need not despair. For among men who have attained to this level there will, if there be a sufficient supply of them, emerge those who have that power of command which is born of penetrating insight. Such a power generally carries in its train the gift of organisation, and organisation is one of the foundations of national strength.
About the capacity to organise I wish to say something before I pass on. It is a gift of far-reaching significance. It is operative alike in private and in public life, and it imports two separate stages in its application. The first is that of taking thought and fashioning a comprehensive plan, and the second is the putting into operation the plan so fashioned. The success of what is done depends on the thoroughness of the thinking that underlies it. The thought itself is never complete apart from its execution, for in the course of execution it is brought to the test, and may even modify and refashion itself. The most perfect scientific treatise, the most finished work of art, has to a great extent become what it is only in the actual execution. And yet the result has in reality been but the development of what had to be there before the start was made. The greatest statesmen and the greatest generals are those who have adapted their plans to circumstances, and yet the capacity for forming plans in advance has been of the essence of their greatness.
Now, it often happens in organisation on a great scale that the work of fashioning the broad features of the plan is done by one man or one set of men, and the work of realising the ideas so matured by another. For any task that is very great, and must extend over much time, co-operation is essential. The thinker and the man of action must work in close conjunction, but they need not be, and generally cannot be, the same person, nor need they live at the same time. The history of perhaps the most remarkable case of organisation based on culture—the case of Germany in the nineteenth century—is highly suggestive on this point. For the beginning of the story we must turn back to the beginning of the nineteenth century. After the Battle of Jena, Germany was under the heel of Napoleon. From the point of view of brute force she was crushed. In vain she shook at her chains; the man was too strong for her. But there is a power that is greater than that of the sword—the power of the spirit.
The world was now to witness the wonderful might of thought. Germany was weak and poor, and she had no Frederick the Great to raise her. But she had a possession that, even from a material standpoint, was to prove of far greater importance to her in the long run. Since the best days of ancient Greece there had been no such galaxy of profound thinkers as those who were to be found in Berlin, and Weimar, and Jena, gazing on the smoking ruins which Napoleon had left behind. Beaten soldiers and second rate politicians gave place to some of the greatest philosophers and poets that the world has seen for 2000 years. These men re fashioned the conception of the State, and through their disciples there penetrated to the public the thought that the life of the State, with its controlling power for good, was as real and as great as the life of the individual.
Men and women were taught to feel that in the law and order which could be brought about by the general will alone was freedom in the deepest and truest sense to be found the freedom which was to be realised only by those who had accepted whole-heartedly the largest ends in place of particular and selfish aspirations. The State obtained through this teaching a new significance in relation to moral order, and this new significance began gradually to be grasped by the people. The best of them learned a yet farther-reaching lesson, that none but the largest outlook can suffice for the discovery of the meaning of life or the attainment of peace of soul. It is not in some world apart that the infinite is to be sought, but here and now, in the duties that lie next to each. No longer need men sit down and long for something afar from the scene of their toil, something that by its very nature as abstract and apart can never be reached.
The end is already attained in the striving to realise it. Faust at last discovered happiness at the very end of his career. But it was not an external good reached that made him for the first time exclaim to a passing moment, “Stay, thou art fair!” It was the flashing on his mind of a great truth: “That man alone attains to life and freedom who daily has to conquer them anew.” The true leader must teach to his countrymen the gospel of the wide outlook. He must bid them live the larger life, be unselfish, be helpful, be reverent. But he must teach them yet more. He must fill the minds of those who hear him, even of such as are in the depths of national despair, with the sense of the greatness of which human nature is capable.
Such was the lesson taught to downcast Germany at the beginning of last century. It was taught by a succession of great men. The world has hardly before seen a formative influence so powerful brought to bear on the youth of nation. Its strength lay in the wonderful combination, directed to a common end, of genius of the most diverse kind. In science, in philosophy, in theology, in poetry, in music, the Higher Command was given and obeyed, and the subordinate leaders, penetrated by great ideas, set to work animated by the same spirit. One notable result was the life which, almost from the first, was breathed into the Universities of Germany. The new ideas dominated them, and they were to remain dominated by these ideas for nearly half a century.
Along with a conception of the reality and importance of the State, which was of almost exaggerated magnitude, there grew up the reverent acceptance of the necessity of thought as a preliminary to action. The result was a tendency to organisation in every direction, and the rule of the organising spirit. This took hold as it had never before taken hold of any nation. The great thinkers and their disciples were quick to perceive that if Germany could not, as she was, rival France, with Napoleon as the leader of the French nation, she might yet evolve in course of time a military organisation to whose perfection no limit could be set. Scharnhorst and Clausewitz showed the way, and began the work which was to be completed by Moltke and Roon and Bismarck.
But it was not to military organisation that the German mind turned first of all. The leaders saw clearly that education was the key to all advance, and they set to work to prepare for the education of the people. The work took sixty years to complete, but completed it was at last, with a thoroughness the like of which the world has hardly seen elsewhere. For again the spirit of organisation, of the systematic action which is based on preliminary and systematic thinking, was at work. The German scheme of education stands out to-day as a single whole, containing within itself its three great stages. As a triumph of the spirit of organisation it is unrivalled, except by that wonderful outcome of scientific arrangement—the German Army. And the means by which all these things were called into existence and brought about was chiefly the co-operation of the University with the State in producing the men who were to lead and to develop the organisation.
Germany is to-day immersed in practical affairs. But she cherishes the educational and military institutions, of which the great figures of the early nineteenth century were the real founders. The development of her technical high schools and of her navy, under the brilliant leadership of the Emperor William II, shows that she has not lost the faculty which came to her through them. When the lesson of self-organisation is once learned by a people, it is not readily forgotten. The habit survives the effort that initiated it. But this has another side, the drawback of which must not be overlooked. Recent German literature points to effects of organisation on the history of German life other than those I have spoken of. When a leader of genius comes forward, the people may bow before him, and surrender their wills, and eagerly obey. Such was the response to the great German leaders of thought of a century since. But men like these dominated because they inspired, and lifted those they inspired to a new sense of freedom gained. To obey the commanding voice was to rise to a further and wider outlook, and to gain a fresh purpose.
Organisation, were it in daily affairs, or in the national life, or in the pursuit of learning, was a consequence and not a cause. But this happy state of things by degrees passed, as its novelty and the original leaders passed away. It revived for a time later in its national aspect under the inspiration of the struggle for German unity and supremacy. But, so far as the lead in the region of pure intellect was concerned, the great pioneers had nearly all gone by 1832, and the schools of thought which they had founded had begun rapidly to break up. What did remain were the Universities, and these bore on the torch. Yet even the Universities could not avert a change which was gradually setting in. After 1832 the source of the movement ceased for the time to be personality. A great policy had become merged in habit, and was now the routine of the life of the State. As a consequence, the deadening effect of official dom had begun to make itself felt.
To-day in Germany there are murmurs to be heard on many sides about the extent to which the life and freedom of the individual citizen are hemmed in by the State supervision and control which surround him, and which endure almost from the cradle to the grave. The long period of practically enforced attendance at the secondary school for him who seeks to make anything of life; the terror of failure in that leaving examination, to fail in which threatens to end the young man's career; the feeling that the effect on· life of compulsory military service cannot be certainly estimated; the State supervision and control of the citizen in later days; all these are leading some Germans to raise the question whether a great policy has not been pushed forward beyond the limits within which it must be kept, if initiative and self-reliance are not to be arrested in their growth.
Where we in this country are most formidable as competitors with the Germans is in our dealings with the unforeseen situations which are always suddenly arising in national life, political and commercial alike. We are trained to depend, not on the State, which gives us, perhaps, too little help, but on ourselves. So it has been notably in the story of our Colonial development. The habit of self-reliance and of looking to nothing behind for support has developed with us the capacity of individual initiative and of rule in uncivilised surroundings in a way which makes some reflecting Germans pause and ask whether all is well with them. They point to our great Public Schools, and compare them with their own great secondary schools. They are, many of them, asking to-day whether the German gymnasium, with its faultlessly complete system not only of teaching but of moulding youth, really compares altogether favourably with our unorganised Eton and Harrow, where learning may be loose, but where the boys rule themselves as in a small State, and are encouraged by the teachers to do so. Thus, declare some of the modern German critics, are leaders of men produced and nurtured, with the result that they rule wherever they go, and that when they migrate to distant lands they love their school and their country in a way that is not possible for the German of to-day, who has not in the same fashion known what it is to rely on himself alone. [cf. Ludwig Gurlitt, Der Deutsche und sein Vaterland. Berlin, 1903.]
I do not desire either to extol or to detract from the spectacle which our great commercial and political rival on the continent of Europe presents. She has to learn from us, as well as we from her. I would only point to the lesson she has taught us of the value of organisation and the part the Universities have played in it. Like all valuable principles, that of the duty to organise may be ridden too hard, but into this danger our national characteristics are not likely to let us fall. But let us turn from the contemplation of these ideals to the actualities of our Scottish University life, and glance at the possibilities which that life affords.
You are, most of you, the sons and daughters of parents whose care has been that you should have the higher education. Riches were not theirs. Perhaps a struggle has been necessary in order to give you your chance. Some of the best of you strive hard to lighten the burden and to make yourselves self-supporting. Bursaries and scholarships and employment in private teaching are the aids to which many of you look. Most of you have to content yourselves with necessaries and cannot ask for luxuries, nor do the most eminent among you seek these. Learning is a jealous mistress. The life of the scholar makes more demand for concentration than any other life. He who would really live in the spirit of the classics must toil hard to attain that sense of easy mastery of their language which is vital to his endeavour. The mathematician and the physicist who seek to wield the potent instruments of the higher analysis, must labour long and devotedly. To contribute to the sum total of science by original research demands not only many hours of the day spent in the laboratory, but, as a rule, vast reading in addition, and that in several languages. The student of philosophy must live for and think of little else before he can get rid of the habit of unconsciously applying in his inquiries categories which are inapplicable to their subject matter. For he has to learn that it is not only in practical life that the abstract and narrow mind is a hindrance to progress, and an obstacle in the way to reality.
And as it is with the finished scholar so it is even with the beginner. He is subject to the same temptations, is apt to be deflected by the same tendencies. Nothing but the passion for excellence, the domination of a single purpose which admits of no foreign intrusion, can suffice for him who would reach the heights. As the older man moulds his life in order that he may pursue his way apart from the distractions of the commonplace, so it is with the best students in the University. They live for their work, and as far as can be, for that alone. They choose their companions with a view to the stimulus of contact with a sympathetic mind. Social intercourse is a means to an end, and that end is the pursuit of the object for which the best kind of student has come to the University. His aim is to grow in mental stature and to enlarge his outlook. This he seeks after quite simply and without affectation, and the reason is that what he aims at is an end in itself, which he follows reverently and with single-minded devotion. I am speaking of men such as I used to observe daily in this University thirty years ago, and I doubt not—nay, I know—that the breed is not extinct, and that my native Scotland sends to-day to the portals of the old walls just such material as she did a generation since.
In no other way of life, not even in those which witness the busy chase after wealth and political power, is such concentration to be found as is required in the way of life of the genuine student. Whether he be professor or undergraduate, the same thing is demanded of him. He must train himself away from the idea of spending much time on amusement unconnected with his work. His field of study may be wide; he may find rest in the very variety of what he is constantly exploring. But the level of effort must ever be high if he is to make the most of the short span of existence. Art is long, and Life is short. The night in which no man can work comes quickly enough to us all. The other day I read some reports which had been procured for me of the fashion in which the Japanese Government had provided for the training of the officers who led their countrymen to victory on the plains and in the passes of Manchuria. There were recorded in these dry official reports things that impressed me much.
In the first place, the Japanese explicitly base the whole of the training which they give to their officers on a very high code of ethics and of chivalry. To learn to obey is a duty as important as to learn to command. The future officer is taken while he is still young, and in his cadet corps the boy who is a born leader is systematically taught to submit to the command of him who may be feeble and even incompetent, but whom he is forbidden to despise. What is aimed at is to produce the sense that it is the corps as a whole for which the individual must live, and, if necessary, die, and that against this corps no individual claim ought to be asserted. Self effacement, the obligation of truthfulness, devotion to the service of his nation, these are the ethical lessons in which the young Japanese officer is instructed with a thoroughness and a courage which, so far as I know, has no parallel in our time. He must rise early, abstain from luxuries, cultivate the habit of being always busy. Amusements, as such, seem to be unknown in the Japanese officers school. Recreation takes the shape either of exercises of a kind which are useful for military purposes, or of change of studies. Whether any nation can continuously produce generation after generation of officers trained up to this high level, I know not. What is certain is that such training has been practised in Japan during this generation. The result is to be found in the descriptions of those who were witnesses of the fashion in which the trenches of the Russians were stormed at Liaoyang and Mukden.
I do not quote this case because it illustrates some extreme of the capacity of human nature. On the contrary, this kind of concentration has at all periods of the world's intellectual history been demanded of and freely given by the scholar. We learn from his example that when once the highest motives become operative they prove the most powerful of all. Just as men will die for their religion, so history proves that they will gladly lay their entire lives without reserve on the altar of learning.
One sees this much more frequently than is currently realised in the Universities themselves. Youth is the time of idealism, and idealism is the most potent of motives. The student who is conscious that his opportunity has been purchased for him, not merely by his own sacrifices, but by sacrifices on the part of those who are nearest and dearest, has a strong stimulus to that idealism. That is one of the sources of strength in our Scottish Universities, the Universities of which Edinburgh presents a noble type. I have myself witnessed, in days gone by, individual concentration more intense than even that of the Japanese officer, because it was purely voluntary concentration, and not of action merely, but of spirit. I have known among my personal friends in this University such dedication of life as rivalled the best recorded in the biographies. When the passion for excellence is once in full swing, it knows no limits. It dominates as no baser passion can, for it is the outcome of the faith that can move mountains.
To my mind, the first problem in the organisation of a University ought to be how to encourage this kind of spirit. Noble characters are not numerous, but they are more numerous than we are generally aware. In every walk of life we may observe them if we have eyes to see. Such nobility is the monopoly neither of peer nor of peasant. It belongs to human nature as such, and to that side of it which is divine. We may seek for it in the University as hopefully as we may seek for it elsewhere. When once found and recognised, it is potent by its example. Hero worship is a cult for which the average Scottish student has large capacity. And so it comes that it is not merely lecture-rooms and laboratories and libraries that are important. The places where those who are busy in the pursuit of different kinds of learning meet and observe each other are hardly less so. The union, the debating society, the talk with the fellow pilgrim on the steep and narrow way, the friendship of those who are struggling to maintain a high level—these things all of them go to the making of the scholar; and we in the North may congratulate ourselves that they are in reality as open to us as is the case in the Universities of England and of the Continent. If the corporate spirit of the University life is not with us made manifest by as notable signs, it is not the less there.
Ideas have been as freely interchanged, and ties between scholars as readily created, with us as in other Universities. The spirit needs but little surrounding for its development, and that little it finds as readily in the solitude of the Braid Hills as on the banks of the Isis or the Cam, in the walks round Arthur's Seat as in the gardens of Magdalen or of Trinity. It rests with those immediately concerned whether their intellectual and social surroundings shall suffice them or not. Certainly in the Scottish University of to-day there is no lack of either opportunity or provision for the formation of the tastes of the scholar and the habits of the worker. A man may go from these surroundings to devote his life yet more completely to literature, or science, or philosophy, or he may go to seek distinction in a profession or success in commerce. Lucretius has described him who chooses the latter, and prefers the current of the world's rivalry to the scholar's life, in words which still seem to ring in my ears as I recall the figure of a great scholar-William Young Sellar—declaiming them to me and others, his reverent disciples, from the Chair of Humanity in this University many years since, in days when we were still full of youth, and were borne along on the flood tide of idealism. The Roman poet declares that the lot of the man of affairs must be:
“Errare atque viam palantis quaerere vitae,
Certare ingenio, contendere nobilitate,
Noctes atque dies niti praestante labore,
Ad summas emergere opes rerumque potiri.”
Still, it is not the spirit of haughty contempt which moved Lucretius to these burning and stinging words that should be ours. It is not enough to declare with him that the scholar finds nothing so sweet as to look down on those engaged in the battle of life, himself securely entrenched within the serene temple of wisdom, and to watch them struggling. Rather does the University exist to furnish forth a spirit and a learning more noble—the spirit and the learning that are available for the service of the State and the salvation of humanity. The highest is also the most real; and it is at once the calling and the privilege of the teacher to convince mankind in every walk of life that in seeking the highest of its kind, they are seeking what is also the most real of that kind.
Whatever occupation in life the student chooses, be it that of the study or that of the market-place, he is the better the greater has been his contact with the true spirit of the University. At the very least he will have gained much if he has learned—as he can learn from the scholar alone—the intellectual humility that is born of the knowledge that teaches us our own limits and the infinity that lies beyond. He will be the better man should he perchance have caught the significance of the words with which Plato makes Socrates conclude a famous dialogue: “If, Theaetetus, you have a wish to have any more embryo thoughts, they will be all the better for the present investigation; and if you have none, you will be soberer and humbler and gentler to other men, not fancying that you know what you do not know.” For the ends of practice as for those of theoretical study, for skill in the higgling of the market, for the control of great business organisations, for that swift and almost instinctive grasp of the true point which is of the essence of success at the Bar—for these and countless other situations in everyday life the precept of Socrates is of a value which it is difficult to overrate. It is the want of insight of the narrow mind that is the most common reason why apparently well-laid plans get wrecked.
The University training cannot by itself supply capacity; but it can stimulate and fashion talent, and, above all, it can redeem from the danger of contracted views. Thus the University becomes a potent instrument for good to a community, the strength of which is measured by the capacity of the individuals who compose it. The University is the handmaid of the State, of which it is the microcosm—a community in which also there are rulers and ruled, and in which the corporate life is a moulding influence. And so we arrive at the truth, which is becoming yearly more and more clearly perceived, not here alone, but in other lands, that the State must see to the well-being and equipment of its Universities if it is to be furnished with the best quality in its citizens and in its servants. The veriest materialist cannot but be impressed when he looks around and sees the increasing part which science plays year by year in the struggle of the nations for supremacy. It is true that mere knowledge is not action; but it must not be forgotten that the transition to successful action is nowadays from knowledge, and not from ignorance. Things are in our time too difficult and complicated to be practicable without the best equipment, and this is as much true of public affairs as it is the case in private life.
And now let us pass to yet deeper-going conclusions. If it be the ideal work of the Universities to produce men of the widest minds—men who are fit to lead as well as merely to organise—what must such men set before themselves? The actual is not merely infinite any more than it is merely finite. The merely infinite were perfect, but the eye of man could not behold it. Only in the daily striving to reach them, imperfect as that sterving may seem, are life and freedom accomplished facts. The particular and the universal are not separate existences. Each is real only through the other. It is not in Nature, but as immanent in the self, finite as consciousness discloses that self to be, that we find God; and so it is that this great truth pervades every relation of life. “He who would accomplish anything must limit himself.” The man who would lead others must himself be capable of renouncing. Not in some world apart, but here and now, in the duty, however humble, that lies nearest us, is the realisation of the higher self—the self that tends God ward—to be sought. And this carries with it something more.
To succeed is to throw one's whole strength into work; and if the work must always and everywhere involve the passage through the portal of renunciation, be special and even contracted, then the only life that for us human beings can be perfect is the life that is dedicated. I mean by the expression a “dedicated life” one that is with all its strength concentrated on a high purpose. Such a life may not seem to him who looks on only from outside to comprise every good. The purpose, though high, may be restricted. The end may never be attained. Yet the man is great, for the quality of his striving is great. “Lofty designs must close in like effects.”
The first duty of life is to seek to comprehend clearly what our strength will let us accomplish, and then to do it with all our might. This may not, regarded from outside, appear to the spectator to be the greatest of possible careers, but the ideal career is the one in which we can be greatest according to the limits of our capacity. A life into which our whole strength is thrown, in which we look neither to the right nor to the left, if to do so is to lose sight of duty—such a life is a dedicated life. The forms may be manifold. The lives of all great men have been dedicated; singleness of purpose has dominated them throughout.
Thus it was with the life of a Socrates, a Spinoza, or a Newton; thus with the lives of men of action such as Caesar and Cromwell and Napoleon. We may well see their limits; theirs was the sphere of what is human, the finite. But they concentrated on the accomplishment of a clearly conceived purpose, and worked with their whole strength, and the greatest of them threw that strength into the striving after what was noblest. They may have perished before their end appeared accomplished in time, and yet they have succeeded. The quality of their work lay in the very striving itself. The end, a profound modern thinker tells us in a great passage, does not wait to be accomplished; it is always accomplishing itself. “In our finite human life we never realise or see that the end has in truth been reached. The completion of the infinite purpose is thus only the process of removing the illusion that it is not accomplished. The good, the absolutely good, is eternally working itself out in the world, and the result is that it is already there in its perfection, and does not need to wait for us.”
The noblest of souls can find full satisfaction for his best aspirations in the sustained effort to do his duty in the work that lies at hand to the utmost that is in him. It is the function of education in the highest sense to teach him that there are latent in him possibilities beyond what he has dreamed of, and to develop in him capacities of which, without contact with the highest learning, he had never become aware. And so the University becomes, at its best, the place where the higher ends of life are made possible of attainment, where the finite and the infinite are found to come together. The wider our outlook, the more we have assimilated the spirit of the teachers of other nations and other ages than our own, the more will the possibilities of action open to us, and the more real may become the choice of that high aim of man, the dedicated life. We learn so to avoid the unconscious devotion of our energies to that for which we are not fit, and the peril of falling unconsciously into insincerity and unreality of purpose. We learn so to choose the work that is most congenial to us, because we find in it what makes us most keenly conscious that we are bringing into actual existence the best that lies latent in us.
The wider outlook, the deeper sympathy, the keener insight, which this kind of culture gives, do not paralyse. They save him who has won them from numberless pitfalls. They may teach him his own limits, and the more he has learned his lesson the more he will realise these limits. But they do not dishearten him, for he has become familiar with the truth that the very essence of consciousness and of life is to be aware of limits and to strive to overcome them. He knows that without limits there can be no life, and that to have-comprehended these limits is to have transcended them. As for what lies beyond him he has realised that it is but as the height in front, which is gained only to disclose another height beyond. He is content with his lot if, and so far as he feels that in him too, as he seeks with all his strength to bring forth the best that is in him, and at the same time to be helpful to others, God is realising Himself.
Such, to my mind, is the lesson which it were the noblest function of the ideal University to set forth, and in this fashion can such a University help to give to the world leaders of men, in thought and in action alike. The spirit which it inspires brings with it the calm outlook which does not paralyse human energy, because it teaches that it is quality and not quantity that counts, and that the eternal lies not far away in some other world, but is present here and now. For the man who has learned in this school the common picture of the future life becomes an image that has been raised to correct the supposed inadequate and contingent character of this one; and, as his insight into the deeper meaning of reality in this world grows, so he realises that his true immortality begins on this side of the grave.
To feel himself infinite in his finitude, to learn to accept his closely bounded life and task as the process in which the side of him that is touched by infinity becomes real, to be aware of the immanence of the Divine in the humblest and saddest consciousness—this is the lesson which each of us may learn, the secret which the teaching of a true University may unlock for us; the teaching of a University, but not in the commonplace and restricted sense. In such a school we are instructed in the theoretical meaning of life as we can hardly be elsewhere. But this is not the only discipline by which we obtain deliverance from the burden of our ignorance, and are led to dedicate ourselves to noble ends. There is a lesson which ought never to be overlooked, and that is the necessity of suppressing the will to live. Before we can command we must learn to obey, and this also a true University life has to teach.
There is innate in the great mass of men and women instinct of obedience to the nature that is higher than their own. In the days in which we live mere rank does not awaken this instinct; in the Anglo-Saxon race the belief in the Divine right of kings has passed away. But even in this forgotten faith we have the spectacle of something that was symbolical of a deeper truth.
Belief in God and submission to His will is the foundation of religion. Belief in the State as real equally with the individual citizens in whom it is realised and whom it controls, this is the foundation of orderly government. It is not a king as individual, it is a king as the symbol of what is highest in national life that to-day commands loyalty. The instinct of obedience shows itself here, but its real foundation resembles the foundation of that other obedience which is made manifest in the religious life. It is the tendency to bow before the truth, to recognise the rational as the real and the real as the rational. In the main, what is highest will assert its authority with the majority of mankind, and assert it in the end successfully.
What is necessary, and what alone is necessary, is that what is highest should be made manifest, and that for this purpose the mists of ignorance should· be dispelled. The more the leader embodies the quality that is great, the wider and more complete will be his ultimate sway. Time may be required, the time that gives birth to opportunity, but the truth will prevail. History, and the history of religion in particular, furnishes us with an unbroken succession of witnesses to this conclusion. A leader may apparently fail, his doctrine may be superseded. But if in his period he has represented the best teaching which the Time Spirit could bring forth, his appeal has never been in vain. His victory may not have been complete until after his death. He himself may have been narrow and even fanatical. He may have given utterance to what seems to us, looking back with a larger outlook, to have been but a partial and inadequate expression of the truth.
But the history of knowledge is no record of system cast aside and obliterated by what has succeeded it. Rather is the truth a process of development in which each partial view is gradually corrected by and finally absorbed into what comes after it. There may be, as elements in the process, violent revulsions—revulsions to what proves itself in the end to be as one-sided as that which it has superseded. But, taken over a sufficient tract of time, the process of knowledge in the main displays itself as one in which the truth has turned out to be a larger and deeper comprehension of what for the generation before was the best of which that generation was capable. Thus there is at all times a tendency for a new phase of authority to display itself—the authority which rests either on reason or on the instinct that the highest is to be sought beyond what belongs merely to the moment. And the striving in which this tendency in the end takes shape appears in just a deeper meaning conferred on what is here and now. Sometimes even to a nation the revelation comes suddenly. It wakens from its dogmatic slumber, is wakened perhaps by the sense of impending calamity, and proves at a bound what is the measure of its latent capacity.
So it was with England under Cromwell, with France under Napoleon, with the United States under Washington, with Germany under the great leaders of the intellectual awakening of the nineteenth century. So it has been with Japan, the spectacle of whose new and rapid development has just been unrolled before the eyes of this generation. The awakening has come suddenly in such cases, and that awakening of thought and action has been in response to the Higher Command:
“There are flashes struck from midnights,
There are fire-flames noondays kindle,
Whereby piled-up honours perish,
Whereby swollen ambitions dwindle,
While just this or that poor impulse
Which for once had played unstifled,
Seems the sole work of a lifetime,
That away the rest have trifled.”
In peace as in war, history displays the irresistible nature of this Higher Command where it really has made itself manifest. He who wields it may be humble. If the divine fire of genius has inspired him, no barrier can hold him from the highest recognition—that recognition which is founded on the popular conviction that, at last, in this particular sphere of thought or of action, the truth has been made evident.
Sometimes—perhaps more often than not—this Command is wielded, too, by no single man. It may take the form of a great doctrine—the foundation of a penetrating faith, inculcated and enforced by a group of leaders in co-operation, no one of whom would have been great enough to be the head of a nation. This was so with Germany at the commencement of the last century, and it would seem to have been so in the recent instance of Japan. The lesson is that, given an inspiring faith, moral or intellectual, and a sufficiency of men imbued with it and fit to teach and to preach it, no nation need languish for want of a single great leader. The Higher Command is there all the same; it is only differently expressed and made manifest. Here, then, it has for long seemed to me, lies the true and twofold function of the University. It is a place of research, where the new and necessary knowledge is to be developed. It is a place of training, where the exponents of that knowledge—the men who are to seek authority based on it—are to be nurtured and receive their spiritual baptism.
Such a University cannot be dependent in its spirit. It cannot live and thrive under the domination either of the Government or the Church. Freedom and development are the breath of its nostrils, and it can recognise no authority except that which rests on the right of the Truth to command obedience. Religion, art, science—these are, for the body of teachers of the true University type, but special and therefore restricted avenues towards that Truth — many-sided as it is, and never standing still. It was Lessing who declared that were God to offer him the Truth in one hand and the Search for Truth in the other, he would choose the Search. He meant that, just as the Truth never stands still, but is in its nature a process of evolution, so the mind of the seeker after it can never stand still. Only in the process of daily conquering them anew do we, in this region also, gain life and freedom. And it is in the devotion to this search after the Most High—a search which may assume an infinity of varied forms—that the dedicated life consists; the life dedicated to the noblest of quests, and not to be judged by apparent failure to reach some fixed and rigid goal, but rather by the quality of its striving.
I know no career more noble than that of a life so consecrated. We have each of us to ask ourselves at the outset a great question. We have to ascertain of what we are really capable. For if we essay what it is not given to us to excel in, the quality of our striving will be deficient. But, given the capacity to recognise and seek after what is really the highest in a particular department of life, then it is not the attainment of some external goal—itself of limited and transient importance— but in earnestness and concentration of effort to accomplish what all recognise to be a noble purpose, that the measure of success lies. So it was with Browning's Grammarian. Men laughed at him while he lived. That did not matter. In the end they bowed their heads before him, and' when his life was finished laid him to rest in the highest place they knew. For they saw the greatness of spirit of the man who chose what he could best accomplish, limited himself to that, and strove to perfect his work with all his might.
If its Universities produce this spirit in its young men and women, a nation need not despair. The way is steep and hard to tread for those who enter on it. They must lay aside much of what is present and commonly sought after. They must regard themselves as deliberately accepting the duty of preferring the higher to the lower at every turn of daily existence. So only can they make themselves accepted leaders; so only can they aspire to form a part of that priesthood of humanity to whose commands the world will yield obedience.
There is a saying of Jesus with which I will conclude this address, because it seems to me to be, in its deepest interpretation, of profound significance for us, whose concern is for the spirit of this University and for its future influence: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven.”