Convocation Addresses of the Universities of Bombay and Madras/Part 2/Honorable A. J. Arbuthnot, C S.I.


(By The Honorable A. J. Arbuthnot.)

Gentlemen,—This is not the first occasion on which it has been my duty and my privilege to address the successful candidates for degrees at the annual Convocation of the University of Madras. Ten years ago, when this University was yet in its infancy, when its permanence was yet uncertain, and its success was a matter of speculation and of doubt, it devolved upon me, by the direction of our first Chancellor, to deliver the first address to the first graduates, to congratulate them on the honourable termination of their academic course, and to exhort them to conduct themselves worthily of the degrees which had been conferred upon them. At the period to which I refer, little more than eleven The dark days of the Mutiny.months had elapsed since the first outbreak of the great mutiny. Delhi had fallen, and Lucknow had been relieved; but the flames of rebellion were still unquenched. Central India was still overrun by Tantia Topee's levies. Rohilcund was still in revolt. The Talookdars of Oudh were still unsubdued. And in our own Presidency, although we had been mercifully spared from the horrors to which our brethren in Northern India had been exposed, there was in the minds of many a not unnatural feeling that the time was scarcely suited to educational experiments, that there were other more pressing necessities for which the revenues of the State ought to be reserved, and that it was not improbable that the comprehensive measures for the extension and advancement of public instruction, which had been sanctioned only four years before, would have to be materially curtailed, if not altogether abandoned.

And not only in this country but in England had doubts begun to be felt and controversies to revive in regard to the educational policy of the Government of British India. Before the mutiny broke out, that policy was considered to have been settled upon just and liberal principles, in what happily continues to be the Great Charter of native education, the Educational Despatch of 1854 ; but at the time of which I speak there was scarcely a topic of importance adverted to in that despatch, which was not treated as an open question ; hardly a principle enforced in it which was not contested by one party or another. That despatch had laid down that considerable extension should be given to the educational operations of the Government in all branches, and especially to the dissemination of useful and practical knowledge among the lower classes. At the very time at which the first Convocation of the University was being held, the policy of such an educational extension was being questioned in an official and authoritative document, emanating from one of the leading members of the British Government, who at that time held the office of President of the Board of Control. The despatch of 1854 had laid great stress on the grant-in-aid system, as being the most economical, and, in many respects, the most effectual means of extending education, and at the same time placing it upon a sound basis. The policy of the grant-in-aid system, and especially its application to schools established by Christian Missionaries, which if not expressly provided for, was clearly contemplated in the despatch, was being denounced by the same Minister and by others who shared in his views, and it was shortly afterwards officially notified that the system was under the consideration of the Home Government. The despatch had declared that it was neither the aim nor desire of the British Government to "substitute English for the vernacular dialects of the country," and that "any acquaintance with improved European knowledge" could only be conveyed to the great mass of the people "through one or other of the vernacular languages." Throughout that year, 1858, it was argued, not indeed officially, but in quarters scarcely less influential ; in public journals whichere now have largely influenced official men and official measures, that the substitution of the English language for the vernacular languages of India was not the impossibility which it had been hitherto considered, that the adoption of the former as the language of official business was both practicable and desirable, and that with reference to the desire for English instruction which existed in many parts of the country, the policy of communicating all elementary instruction through the medium of the vernacular languages was a mistaken policy.

Moreover, it was already known that the Government of India would shortly be transferred from the control of the Great Company, which had administered it for a century, to the direct control of the Crown. The Court of Directors which had sanctioned, and in whose name had been issued the Education Despatch of 1854, that once power- ful body under which some of the foremost statesmen of the British nation had been willing to serve, which had censured Wellesley and recalled Ellenborough, which had honored Malcolm and Munro, and to the great loss of this our Presidency had passed over the high-minded and heroic Metcalfe, that Court which had numbered among its servants. Civil and Military, some of the ablest public officers which any service had produced, was about to be deprived of its powers; that system of Grovernment which in the unexaggerated language of its distinguished advocates had been "not only one of the purest in intention, but one of the most beneficent in act ever known among mankind," which had planted the germs and had laid the foundations of nearly all the improvements since carried out in India, was on the eve of being abolished. It was under these circumstances that the University of Madras held its first Convocation for conferring degrees, and, as might be expected, the character of the ceremonial was in keep- ing with the feelings of doubt and incertitude which prevailed.

It was not in the spacious hall in which we are now assembled, surrounded by the portraits of some of the most conspicuous of India's worthies; of Clive, the founder of the Empire; of the great Duke and his illustrious brother; of Munro, the soldier-statesman, whose fame is imperishably connected with the Presidency in which he faithfully served and wisely ruled, and whose minute on native education is the earliest State paper on this subject in the archives of the Madras Grovernment ; of the eminent Judge and Jurist, Sir Thomas Strange; of Bentinck who, with the aid of his talented colleague, determined the much- vexed question whether the educational funds, then sufficient only for the instruction of the upper classes, should be devoted to teaching European literature and science^ or should be reserved exclusively for Oriental learning ; of our first Chancellor, Lord Harris, whoso government is entitled to the credit of having inaugurated nearly all those measures for the moral and material improvement of this Presidency which are now in progress; (Grentlemen, if this Convocation had been held a few months later, it would have been in my power to draw your attention to anotiier portrait, which will soon adorn these walls, the portrait of one who will long be held in affectionate remembrance in Madras; the lamented William Morehead, the second Vice- Chancellor of this University) ; it was not, I repeat, in this spa- cious hall, surrounded by the historical associations which these pictures recall to our minds, that we assembled for our first Con- vocation. We met on that occasion in a small and unpretending building, ill-adapted and inconvenient for an important public gathering. The ceremonial, if such it may be called, was of the most informal and unimpressive description. The attendance was scanty. The interest in the proceedings was confined to a few.

During the ten years which have since elapsed, a great change has taken place. Most of the questions which were then so eagerly discussed have been long since settled ; each one of the benevolent measures sanctioned by the Court of Directors in 1854 has been more or less vigorously carried out. The University is no longer an experiment. It is an accomplished and admitted success. Its influence is annually attested by the increasing number of under-graduates, and by the marked improvement which is taking place in the standard of school instruction throughout the Presidency ; — an improvement which, is not con- fined to the Government schools, but which is to be found in an equally marked degree in the nuuDerous independent institutions which have grown up and thriven of late years under the foster- ing influence of the grant-in-aid system and of the valuable system of examinations which this University has supplied. I find that in the first year of the University's existence the num- ber of candidates who passed thee Matriculation Examination (and in that year two examinationss were held) was 44, of whom all but 14 came from Government schools. For some years after- wards the numbers diminished instead of increasing ; the fact, I believe, having been that many of; the candidates who presented themselves at the first two examinations were persons who had completed their school studies^^some time previously. It was not until 1862 that there were decided and unmistakable symptoms of progress. In that year the number of students who passed the Matriculation Examination rose to 82, of whom 33 came from independent schools; and since that time there has been a continuous advance up to and including the present year, when the number of successful candidates has reached 338, of whom no less than 209 have been educated in other schools, either entirely independent of, or only partially supported by, the State.

The results of the First Examination in Arts, an examination which was introduced only five years ago, must be regarded as not less satisfactory, if due allowance be made for the higher standard which is demanded, the number of successful candidates having risen from 23 in 1864 to 117 in the present year.

One very satisfactory feature in these examinations is that nearly every district in the Presidency is represented in them. Districts in which not very long since English education was almost unknown, now send up year after year successful candidates for Matriculation and for the First Examination in Arts. At Combaconum and Tanjore, at Calicut and Trevandrum, at Madura and Tinnevelly, at Bellary and Vizagaptam, at Masulipatam and Rajahmundry, at Nellore and Ohittoor, at Salem and Cuddalore, at Trichinopoly and Negapatam, at Mangalore and Cannanore, at all these places well instructed youths annually come forward to pass examinations which a few years ago would not have been attempted by a dozen students in the Presidency town.

The results of the examinations for degrees have not hitherto been so marked. Up to this time the degrees in Arts have been almost entirely monopolized by the Presidency College ; but the Provincial College at Combaconum bids fair to become a formidable rival at no very distant date, and if we may judge from the large number of Presidency College graduates who have received the ground-work of their education in the College on the banks of the Cauvery, it will need all the efforts of the older institution to maintain her position in the examination list. The admirable school at Madras under the management of the Free Church of Scotland Mission, those maintained by the Church Missionary Society at Masulipatam and by the Gospel Society at Tanjore, and the High School supported at Trevandrum by the enlight- ened Rajah of Travancore, all give promise of carrying away in future their fair share of the honors which hitherto have been almost exclusively enjoyed by the Government College. Gentlemen, when we consider these facts, and when we look back to the educational condition of this Presidency within the memory of not a few of those who are now assembled in this hall; when we call to mind the acrimonious controversies which so long obstructed progress, and the party spirit which existed; when we remember the difficulties and discouragements under which my friend and colleague in this Senate, our present Director of Public Instruction, sent forth year after year those batches of High School proficients who were the first fruits of his modest but most useful labours, and were the pioneers of Western civilization among their countrymen; when we compare the spirit of generous rivalry and co-operation which now animates the various sections of educationists, with the atmosphere of contest and controversy under which the earlier educational efforts of this Presidency were put forth, it is impossible not to be struck by the contrast which the present offers to the past, not to be impressed by the wisdom of the policy laid down in that memorable despatch to which I have more than once alluded.

But here, gentlemen, I must guard against its being supposed, that while I thus draw attention to the comparatively satisfactory results of the educational policy adopted by the Government of India of late years, we who have been engaged in the duty of carrying out that policy, are not painfully sensible that still greater results might reasonably have been looked for; that at all events in some branches of our educational administration more ought to have been effected ; and that what has been done is insignificant in comparison with that which remains to be accomplished. In the matter of the elementary education of the masses, we have done little more than turn the first sods. The great lines of progress in this department of national education have still to be constructed. It has yet to be settled what machinery shall be finally adopted; whether the measures now in progress for the improvement of the indigenous schools with which the country abounds, will in the long run prove effectual, or whether for our village schools, as for our local roads, we shall be compelled, here, as elsewhere, to resort to a local cess. These are questions which demand the anxious consideration of all who are interested in the progress of the nation, and not least of those who, like yourselves, having been taught to value sound learning, are bound to do what you can to disseminate its treasures, even though it be in a rudimentary form, among your less favoured countrymen.

And now, gentlemen, it behoves me, without any longer dwelling on the reflections which have been suggested by a retrospect of the past history of education in Madras, to address to you those words of congratulation and of counsel which the University has commissioned me to speak. Gentlemen, the Senate bids me to welcome you on your admission as members of an honorable body, to offer to you their congratulations on the completion so far of your academic course, and in the words of the Bye-law, in obedience to which this address is delivered, "to exhort you to conduct yourselves suitably unto the position to which, by the degrees severally conferred upon you, you have attained."

It has been more than once pointed out that the examination for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in an Indian University corresponds rather with the Honor Exaininations, than with the mere Pass Examinations, of the great English Universities. It is considered that a place in the first class in the examination for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in this University is fully equal in respect to the attainments which it represents to a second class in Honors either at Oxford or Cambridge.

Rama Rau Swaminatha Suba Rau, to this honorable position you have attained, and on behalf of the Senate I heartily congratulate you on your success.

I do not know whether any of you intend to compete for the still higher distinction which the University holds out in the degree of Master of Arts. You are probably aware that some of your fellow-students at Calcutta have already attained this honor, and I trust that this University will be in a position to enrol Masters of Arts among her graduates at no very distant date. But whatever may be your intentions on this point, the course of study which you have gone through has been sufficient to develop and strengthen your intellectual faculties, and has enabled you to pursue without further aid from teachers that system of self-education which it behoves every man to carry on, so far as circumstances may admit, throughout the whole period of life. It has rendered you more or less qualified to enter upon the study of any branch of Natural Philosophy or of Physical Science to which your tastes may lead you, and it has unsealed to you the copious, the inexhaustible stores of a literature, which in its variety, in its extent, and in its intrinsic value, surpasses all the literatures of the civilized world. It has, I would fain hope, reached your hearts as well as your minds, and has filled you with that love of truth, with that high sense of duty, for the absence, of which no amount of mental cultivation can make amends. But every position has its responsibilities as well as its advantages, and the greater the advantages, so much the more weighty are the obligations which they entail. It is for you to be the interpreters to your countrymen of the principles and of the knowledge which you have acquired in the course of your academical studies, of the training, moral and intellectual, which you have received; to prove by your conduct in the affairs of every-day life, whether your lot be cast in the Court or in the Cutchery, in the mart or on the farm, that the studies to which you have devoted yourselves have had an ennobling and purifying influence upon your characters, that they have taught you to love truth and honor, to eschew all that is mean and selfish, and to be guided in all the actions of your lives by a prevailing and constraining sense of duty.

It is sometimes said that a wide separation has taken place between that comparatively small section of the native Community who have been educated through the medium of the English language and the masses of their countrymen, that the former have become denationalized, and that they do not form that link, which it was hoped they would have constituted, between the European Governors of the country and the great mass of the population. Whether this be the case or not at the present time, it is clear that it must be so eventually, if the learning of the West shall continue to be confined to those who are able to acquire it through the medium of what must ever be an unknown tongue to the millions in this land. Surely, therefore, it is the bounden duty of every man who is interested in native progress, to do what in him lies in stimulating the diffusion of sound learning through the medium of the vernacular languages, and in helping forward the creation of a pure vernacular literature. In this latter object the University has a right to look for active co-operation from her graduates ; for if such a vernacular literature as this country needs, is ever to be formed, it must be the work of men who, like yourselves, combine solid attainments in English literature and science with a thorough knowledge of the languages of India.

There is another sphere of duty for which the University of Madras desires to enlist the services of her graduates, and upon which she hopes that some of you, who have this day been enrolled as her members, will not be unwilling to enter. I refer to the profession of a schoolmaster. It is clear that if the elementary instruction of the great body of the people of this land is to be carried out to the extent which her well-wishers desire, it must be altogether by means of native agency, and that even in the higher branches of education native agency must be largely and increasingly employed. At the present time, the Senate of this University have under their consideration an important proposition of which the practical effect would be to substitute Sanscrit for the vernacular languages in the higher examination in the Faculty of Arts; a proposition which I believe might be adopted without in any way hindering the acquisition of that knowledge of the vernacular languages which every educated Hindoo ought to possess : provided only, — and this I hold to be an essential proviso, that we had the means of so conducting our examinations in the languages which we retain in our curriculum, as to render them practical tests, not only of the candidate's knowledge of the language to which the examination more particularly relates, but of his power of explaining himself with elegance and precision in his mother-tongue. I never read the examination papers which are printed Annually in our University Calendar without being struck by the complete exclusion of the vernaculars from the papers of questions on the English and Latin languages. In all these papers, and even in those which specially relate to the native languages, English is treated as if it were the mother-tongue of all the candidates. This, of course, arises from the fact that for the most part both teachers and examiners are Englishmen, most of them professing either no knowledge, or, at the best, a very imperfect knowledge of the languages of India. All this must be changed if the vernacular languages are no longer to be made special subjects of examination, and both in teaching and in examining native agency must be much more largely employed.

Gentlemen, I am aware that the profession of a teacher is generally regarded as deficient in many of the attractions which are to be found in other walks in life. The position is usually considered to be less influential than those which may be attained in other professions. As a general rule, the emoluments are smaller, and the work, if it be done effectually, involves no slight amount of mental and physical labour. But the picture has its bright side as well. In no profession is a talented and conscientious man enabled to exercise a greater amount of real influence for good. In few does he see more speedily or more tangibly the results of his labours. And in the duties themselves, especially in the higher branches of the profession, there is surely much that must afford a constant interest and gratification to a cultivated mind, — much that is perfectly consistent with the development of those qualities which go to constitute human greatness. The greatest man of the XIXth Century. If I were called upon to name the greatest man who has lived and died in this nineteenth century, I should select, not a great Statesman, not a great Orator, not a great General, not a great Lawyer, not a great Poet; not Pitt, not Canning, not Wellington, not Peel, not Wordsworth, not Metcalfe, not even our own Munro, though in him were embodied more than in most of those I have named, the true elements of greatness;—I should select none of these—my choice would fall on one who labored long and nobly in the profession which I am now urging upon your attention, on one who in the piety and purity of his life, in the earnestness and simplicity of his character, in the largeness and liberality of his views, in the solidity of his learning, in his reverence for all that was great and good, in his abhorrence of all that was mean and petty, combined in himself more of the real characteristics of greatness than are to be found in any other man of his time. I pray that among the graduates of this University there may yet be some who will strive to follow the example of him, with whose name I close this address, the great and good Dr. Arnold.