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ART. IV.-Catholic Almanac. Baltimore, 1856.--Catalogue
of Mount St. Mary's College.- Catalogue of Georgetown College.--St. Mary's College, Baltimore.
FROM the constant reference made to the first of these brochures, as an exponent of the general condition of the Church in this country, and from the prominence it gives to the academical inducements held out to the youth of the land, whose means are ample enough to enable them to enter life with the advantages of a collegiate education, we are led to give it a place in some remarks we propose to offer on the subject of Public Instruction.
Leaving the question how far the respective merits of these centres of education tally with the published statement of their condition, to be canvassed and solved by those immediately concerned, we can, in an article of very general scope and bearing, consider even such of them as have the prestige of age and established reputation, from no nearer point of view than that which may best afford evidence of the adaptation of their course of instruction to the interval between the elementary preparation of the grammar school and the reception by the student of his first degree.
We approach the consideration of this subject, freed at least from the acerbities, political and otherwise, that sometimes surround and obscure the discussion of the good and bad qualities of what is recognized as common school education. The defects to be remedied, if they exist at all, are too plain, the benefit to result from their correction too salutary, and the question presents itself too distinctly to the interests, rather than to the passions of men, to provoke a renewal of the education fray.
The comparatively recent period at which a large najority of the institutions, commemorated in the lmanac, received a “local habitation and a name;" and the traces of affiliation that exist in a course of study, in many respects common to all
, enables us to give a reasonably clear notion of the precise nature of the classical and scientific instruction now offered to the predilections of the Catholic community, whilst the prominent position occupied by the time-honored halls to which we refer, in the open field of public favor, will preclude good-humored criticism from being hastily construed into broad caricature, much less into unlooked-for and ungenerous attack.
In an age when the skilful development and practical application of the resources of nature and of art are completing the revolution in the pursuits of men which their discovery initiated, and have transferred from the collective force of the many to the intelligence of the individual the power of attaining results of eminent value in social life, classical education ceases to arrest the gaze of illiterate admiration, and academic honors, simply as such, find their most lasting appreciation in the social circle of partial connections and sympathizing friends. The production of the diploma of a university is no longer a prerequisite for a strictly professional career, and in the enlarged sphere of intellectual energy, once comprised by the bar, the pulpit, and the practice of medicine, pre-eminence is not uncommonly attained by the unaided force of natural parts and genius ; nevertheless, the intrinsic value of a university course is as apparent, and the vantage ground it affords to its possessor is as highly prized, as when its claims were potent enough to arrest the uplifted arm of judicial action in vindicating the supremacy of the law.
The never-ending change and modification to which the forces of the physical world are subjected, in the successful endeavor to multiply and diffuse the means of increasing the material and social well-being of man, have caused a corresponding movenient in the domain of mental cultivation ; and the wide-spread necessity for exact scientific knowledge has been promptly met by enlarging the facilities for high scientific acquirements. Hence it is that learning, in ceasing to be the privilege of the few, has become the blessing of the many ; that its haunts are thronged by a rapid succession of eager votaries ; and that there attaches to those who serve in her temple a social consideration second to that of no other profession in the wide range of intelligent and useful activity. The ancillary and provisional employments of the schoolmaster and tutor are lost to view, and are replaced by the delegated trust and duties of the professor, in the discharge and performance of which he finds “room and verge enough,” not only to fill the measure of well-directed conscientious labor, but to gratify
the inclinations of a praiseworthy ambition by the attainment of an enduring fame.
Proficiency in divine and human knowledge is so constantly found united in the same individual, that an intimate relation has ever subsisted between the office of religious and of scientific instructor ; and in our day the van of educational progress and its most important posts, are occupied by men already eminent as religious guides and teachers. Indeed, when the way for readily imparting knowledge is to be made straight by conciliating and attaching the affections, encouraging the faint and reproving the wayward, there seems to be a peculiar fitness in committing the delicate task to those, whose sacred calling endows them with a spirit of tenderness and sympathy for all, who are so practically conversant with the processes of the human heart, and who enter into the various feelings by which it is tried. But this salutary alliance, instead of being regarded as the means, and as such subject to all the conditions and qualifications that attach in the discharge of an office simply vicarious, has been confounded in some minds with a guaranty of a finished education.
Calculations based on a fatuity so gross would be sufficiently illusory at any time; but are alarming in an age when an outvying emulation is fast supplanting the spirit of disinterestedness and of magnanimity; when the testimonies and virtues, the learning and dogmatism of the closet are not fairly arrayed, in the arena of life, against astuteness, dexterity, practised skill and manly self-reliance, and when, in fine, the course of studies that is to fit a welltaught boy to become an intelligent man, is more than ever valuable, only so far as the principle of efficiency gives life and vigor to the whole.
That there are claims which humanity makes on the Christian scholar, whose discharge is daily attested in the practice of instructors in whom this twofold office appears, no one who has given himself the trouble to think at all on the subject can fail to admit; but these are by no means the only or most peremptory claims advanced by country, society, or religion, and are, besides, so entirely dependent on the acquirement of that knowledge which is power, that we must first be shown those crowds of Catholic alumni who, on the great theatre of affairs, are not only eminent,
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each in his particular sphere, but who outrival their religious instructors in a field peculiarly their own, before we can acquiesce in the prominence so complacently given to this feature of Public Instruction.
The oppressive demand that is universally felt in the Catholic community for a public instruction that, in its organization, working, and material results, shall come up to that bestowed in colleges, endowed and supported by other confessions, is a matter grave enough to interest every man of education, and it is very desirable, if possible, to acquire some clear perception of the features in our own system that distinguish it from others, and cause the unfavorable contrast. If, on examination, we recognize at every turn traces of a great radical defect, that must ever prevent it from attaining the desired efficiency, the discovery should lead, at least, to some effort for its correction. There is a manifest ambiguity in the indiscriminate use of the artificial distinction of College, when applied to the various institutions that go by that time-honored name ; for whilst some of them possess not a few of the characteristics of a university, there are others, as seen through the olympic dust of exhibition day, that remind us only of a high school. A college is a public institution of learning, favored by the law, with express functions in the economy of science, and possessing within itself all the powers requisite for discharging them. Not unfrequently the religious sentiments of a single denomination are alone enlisted, and its public spirit displayed in a liberal endowment, whilst its prominent social position is marked by the presence in its communion of men of character and respectability, capable of distributing the bounty, guarding the privileges, and perpetuating the blessings of the institution. Within its halls, lectures are publicly given by a learned faculty of professors, students matriculated and engaged in a common pursuit, a course of studies and the terms within which it is regularly given prescribed, the acquirements of freshmen, just from school, and the qualifications of seniors about to receive their degree, ascertained by examination ; regulations that leave little, to the discretion, or, rather, despotic fancy of the administration established. The discipline and the destinies of the whole are presided over by rare and attractive merit, a merit so conspicuous, that, as illustrated in the paternal rule of Dwight, of Kirkland, of McCaffrey, and of Wayland, has made the name of President, in its relation to Public Instruction, a household word.
If such an institution is to exist for any valuable end, it must exist in its integrity. The bare mention of some of its most obvious characteristics excludes the possibility of confounding it with that of an institution for any of the special professions. Having methods, principles, and truths of its own, its peculiar discipline and course of study can no more be adapted to comprise those of a military academy, or of a college of physicians, than it can those of a theological seminary, or of a preparatory school.
It is idle to suppose that public opinion will move spontaneously in this matter, or that its equilibrium is not to be disturbed lest the attempt to direct it in this particular channel may fail. The voluntary endowment of colleges by individuals, is as traditional as their existence; as a charity, its precedents are historical ; and in the present estimation of learuing, their proper equipment challenges public favor in so eminent a degree, that it needs but to impress upon an intelligent community, how intimately the subject is connected with their onward progress, to win for it a favorable consideration. That the cause of education finds a hearty response from Catholics as well as from the community at large, if not so judiciously expressed, is clearly shown by the recent contribution, raised from one end of the country to the other, for the purpose of founding a university in one part of Europe, and by the substantial proffers elicited by the bare suggestion of establishing a seminary in another.
We do not know that there exists an institution of note, under the supervision of Catholics, the sole object of whose erection was to impart a collegiate education, in its strict sense, to youth who would naturally seek it at such a source ; on the contrary, their origin, their name, the wants present and prospective which it was hoped they would supply, the auspicious direction to which they owed an unchallenged access to public favor, all savor of the theological seminary.
In this department of science, our colleges take rank gracefully and fitly with their sister institutions of separated confessions. And if the almost universal success of alumni can be fairly attributed to the meritorious deserts of Alma