Front Page Titles (by Subject) JEFFERSON\'S UNIVERSITY. - Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 2
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JEFFERSON'S UNIVERSITY. - Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 2 
Retrospect of Western Travel in Three Vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1838). Vol. 2.
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“That the legislater should especially occupy himself with the education of youth, no one can dispute; for when this is not done in States, it is a cause of damage to the polity. For a State must be administered with reference to its polity: and that which is the peculiar characteristic of each polity is that which preserves and originally constitutes it; as, for instance, the democratical principle in a democracy, and the oligarchical in an oligarchy; and that which is the best principle always constitutes the best policy.”—Aristatic. Politik: Book viii.
The existence of the university of Virginia is scarcely recognized by British travelers. I was welcomed there as the first who had ever visited it. Charlottesville lies out of the ordinary route of tourists: but Monticello, the seat of Jefferson, is within sight of his favourite institution; and Mr. Madison's residence is only about thirty-five miles off; and it seems surprising that such a combination of interesting objects should not have drawn more pilgrim feet that way.
It was between five and six in the morning when we entered the stage at Orange Court House, which was to deposit us at Charlottesville before an early dinner. The snow had wholly disappeared; and I looked out eagerly to see what aspect the far-famed Virginia wore. For the greater part of the way, all looked very desolate: the few dwellings were dingy: large mansions. With slave-dwellings clustered near. The trees were bare: the soil one dull red: the fences shabby. The eye found a welcome relief in the woods of stone-pine, and in an occasional apparition of the beautiful blue-bird, perching upon a stump, or flitting over the fallows. We breakfasted at a farm, a little way off the road, whither we had to pick our way by a field-path, which was a perfect slough. The hostess was friendly, and served an excellent breakfast to the stage-passengers in a bedchamber.
From this point, the road improved. The mountains were before us: and as we approached them, the undulating surface of the country presented many beauties. It was Sunday. We mounted an eminence, all grown over with stone pine: and on the top found, in the heart of the grove, a small church. where worship was going on, while seventeen horses, two of them with side-saddles. were fastened to the trees around. This church was free to all seets: but at present used by the Presbyterians: they being the most numerous seet in the neighbourhood.
We arrived at Charlottesvile, at the foot of the mountains, by one o'clock, and joined the friends whom we found awaiting us at dinner at the hotel. A Unitarian clergyman was to preach in the Court House in the afternoon: a rare event. I imagine: for we heard afterwards that one of the Professor's ladies could not sleep, the night before, from the idea of a Unitarian being so near. We attended the service, which was very spiritless. The whole burden fell upon the minister; there being no preparation for singing, and apparently no interest beyond more curiosity. Two long rows of students from the University were there: and I thought I never saw so fine a set of youths. Their demeanour was gentlemanly, to the last degree, except in the one particular of spiting: and the seriousness of their manner must have been gratifying to the preacher.
After the service, we walked to the University, at the distance, I think, of a little more than a mile from the town. The singular ranges of college buildings are visible from a considerable distance, as they advantageously crown an eminence, presenting the appearance of a piazza surrounding an oblong square, with the professors' houses rising at regular intervals. We found that the low buildings connecting these larger dwellings were the dermitories of the students; ground-floor apartments, opening into the piazza, and designed to serve as places of study as well as sleep. The professors' houses are inconveniently small. Jefferson wished in the first instance, that the professors should be young men: and this fact, and the smallness of the dwellings, have given rise to the ridiculous belief, entertained by some people, that Jefferson made celibacy a condition of holding professorships in his University. Instead of this, ladies' faces may be seen at many windows, and plenty of children tripping along in the piazzas. At one end of the quadrangle is the Rotunda, containing the lecture-rooms, library, and other apartments: and outside the other end, a gothic chapel was about to be created. Well-kept grass-plats and gravel walks fill up the quadrangle.
The number of students at the time of my visit was 206. They are not admitted under the age of sixteen, except in the case of a younger brother accompanying one above that age. Each dormitory is designed to accommodate two students: but when there is room, any student may rent a whole one, if he chooses. The ordinary expenses are so moderate as to be worth specifying:—
exclusive of books and stationery, clothing and pocket-money. The students wear a uniform, which is very becoming, and not at all conspicuous being merely a coat of particularly simple fashion, and dark colour.
Of the 206 students whom I had the pleasure of seeing, 151 belonging to the State; 5 came from the Northern States; and the rest from the South and West; 6 from South Carolina, though there are colleges both at Charleston and Columbia. Professor Patterson spoke of the youths among whom he was living as being as steady and promising a set of young men as could be met with. We heard afterwards a somewhat different account in a stage coach: but, of course, the testimony of a resident professor is worth much more than that of two chance travellers; and all that I saw of the appearance and manners of the students was very creditable to the institution. Every student visits each professor's house twice in the session; once to dinner, and once to a ball; and, I suppose, as much oftener as he may be asked. The session lasts ten months; the vacation being in the hot months of July and August.
The distinctive principle of this University is that each student is free to attend the schools of his choice, and no others; provided that, being under twenty-one years of age, he shall attend at least three professors. The professors highly approve of this arrangement, finding that it enables young men to qualify themselves rapidly and effectually for particular callings, in cases where time is valuable; and that the youths put givour into tyheir pursuits, in proportion as they are free, within a reasonable limit, to gratify their tastes, and fulfil their own purposes, in the choice of their studies.
There are nine professorships; and in each school there are three regular lectures a-week, besides the instructions suited to the several classes into which the school is divided. The Professors, when I was there, were—
Professor Harrison; Ancient Languages and History. This gentleman must find himself fully occupied. He was the sole instructor, that session, of 75 young men in Latin and Greek, and, of such as desired it, in Hebrew. His qualifications are understood to be of a very high order.
Professor Blœttermann had 64 pupils in Modern Languages; viz., French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Anglo-Saxon: and was ready to teach, more over, the Danish, Swedish; Dutch, and Portuguese language.
Professor Bonnycastle (Mathematics) had a large attendance, consisting of 109, divided into five classes, beginning with the theory of Arithmetic, and concluding the course of pure Mathematics with the Integral Calculus. There is, moreover, a class of Mixed Mathematics, for such of the more advanced students as choose to pursue it; and another of Civil Engineering.
Professor Patterson undertakes the Natural Philosophy, having an attendance of 73 pupils. The apparatus provided for the use of this school is very extensive and complete; and an observatory, with the necessary astronomical instruments, is open to the students.
Professor Emmet, Chemistry and Materia Medica; 89 pupils.
Professor Magill, Medicine; 41 pupils.
Professor Warner, Anatomy and Surgery; 44 pupils. An extensive musseum is attached to the Medical Department; and the anatomical school is regularly supplied with subjects, from which the lectures are delivered. The advantage claimed for this above all other medical schools in the country is that it session lasts ten months instead of four.
Professor Tucker, Moral Philosophy; 67 pupils, who are divided into two classes: the examinations of the junior class being in Rhetoric, Belles Lettres, Logic, and Ethics, from the Professor's lectures, Blair's and Campbell's Rhetoric, and Stewart's “Active and Moral Powers.” The senior class studies Mental Philosophy, and Political Economy; and the examinations are from the Professor's lectures. Brown's Lectures: Say's and Adam Smith's Political Economy.
Professor Davis. Law; 48 pupils. The students of this school have instituted a Law Society, at whose meetings the Professor presides, and where the business of every branch of the profession is rehearsed.
Three honorary distinctions are conferred in this University; a Certificate of Proficiency, conferred by the faculty on any proficient in a particular branch of study: that of Graduate in any school, and the third, of Master of Arts of the University of Virginia, is obtained by graduation, in the schools of Ancient and Modern Languages, Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and Moral Philosophy. All these are obtained when deserved, and not in consequence of any prescribed term of study having been gone through. The title of Doctor of Medicine is conferred on the graduate in the Medical Department. The certificates and diplomas are delivered in the presence of all the members of the University, and of the public, on the last day of the session, in the Rotunda, amidst many observances and rites.
It will be observed that there is no Theological professorship. It was noticed by the religious North, at the time of the foundation of the University, that this was probably the first instance in the world of such an establishment exhibiting this kind of deficiency: and the experiment was denounced as a very hazardous one. The result seems to have been that, while theological instruction has been obtainable elsewhere, a greater number and variety of young men, of different religious persuasions, have been educated at this institution than would have been likely to resort to it if it had, by the choice of theological professor, identified itself with any single denomination. The reasons for the omission of professorship of Divinity are stated in the first Report of the Commissioners who met in August, 1818, at Rockfish Gap, on the Blue Ridge, for the purpose of organizing the plans of this institution. Jefferson was understood to be the author of the Report, which contains the following passage:
“In conformity with the principles of our constitution, which places all sects of religion on an equal footing; with the jealousy of the different sects, in guarding that equality from encroachment and surprise; and with the sentiments of the legislature, in favour of freedom of religion, manifested on former occasions, we have proposed no professor of Divinity: and the rather, as the proofs of the being of a God, the Creator, Preserver, and supreme Ruler of the universe, the Author of all the relations of morality, and of the laws and obligations these infer, will be within the province of the professor of Ethics; to which, adding the developments of those moral obligations, of those in which all sects agree, with a knowledge of the languages of Hebrew, Greek and Latin, a basis will be formed, common to all sects. Proceeding thus far without offence to the constitution, we have thought it proper at this point to leave ever sect to provide, as they think fittest, the means of further instruction in their own peculiar tenets.”
There are no daily public prayers at this institution; but there are regular services on Sundays, administered by clergymen of the four denominations, in turns of a year each. These clergymen officiate on the invitation of the professors, officers, and students. The attendance upon public worship is purely voluntary; and, as might be expected as a consequence, it is regular and complete.
This institution may well be called Jefferson's University. The first conception was his; the whole impulse and direction; the scheme of its studies, and the organization of its government. His letters to his intimate friends, during the last five years of his life, breathe a rational ardour about this enterprise which is very animating to those connected with the University, and which affords a fine stimulus to the students who are daily reminded of what they owe to him, and what were his expectations from them. “I fear not to say,” he writes, “that within twelve or fifteen years from this time, (1825) a majority of the rulers of our State will have been educated here. They shall carry hence the correct principles of our day; and you may count assuredly that they will exhibit their country in a degree of sound respectability it has never known, either in our days, or those of our forefathers. I cannot live to see it. My joy must only be that of anticipation.” In his last letter to Madison, a few months later, he says, “And if I remove beyond the reach of attentions to the University, or beyond the bourne of life itself, as I soon must, it is a comfort to leave that institution under your care, and an assurance that it will not be wanting.”
The following passage in the same letter renders strangers curious to learn the politics of the University. “In the selection of our Law Professor, we must be rigourously attentive to his political principles. You will recollect that, before the Revolution, Coke-Littleton was the universal elementary book of law students; and a sounder whig never wrote, nor of profounder learning in the orthodox doctrines of the British constitution, or in what were called English liberties. You remember also, that our lawyers were then all whigs. But when his black-letter text, and uncouth but cunning learning got out of fashion, and the honied Mansfieldism of Blackstone became the student's horn-book, from that moment, that profession (the nursery of our Congress) began to slide into torysim, and nearly all the young brood of lawyers now are of that hue. They suppose themselves, indeed, to be whigs, because they no longer know what whigism or republicanism means. It is in our seminary that that vestal flame is to be kept alive; it is thence to spread anew over our own and the sister States.” On inquiry I found that, out of the 206 students, 7 held the principles of the democratic party. There seemed to be little or none of the federalism of the North; but a strong attachment to Calhoun on the part of the majority in the establishment. The evil influences of slavery have entered in to taint the work of the great champion of freedom. The political attachments of this once democratic institution are to the leader who, in order to uphold slavery, would, to judge him by himself, establish a Lacedemonian government throughout the South; making every white man a soldier, in order to preserve a false idea of honour, and to obviate danger from the oppressed servile class. To observing eyes it appears plain that the hour is approaching when these young men must, like all other American men, choose their part, and enter decisively into struggle, to maintain or overthrow the first principles of freedom. It will then be seen whether “the vestal flame” has been kept alive, or whether the name of him who cherished it has been honoured with mere lip-worship, while the labours of his latter years have been despised and undone. The eyes of the world will be fixed on Jefferson's University during the impending conflict between slave-holders and freemen.
To return to our Sunday afternoon. It was known that we should soon arrive at the University with our letters of introduction; and a truly hospitable welcome was prepared for us. We called first at Professor Patterson's, where we found ourselves, in half an hour, as much at home as if we had been acquainted for months. We were obliged to decline taking up our abode there at once; but promised to return the next morning, and remain for as long a time as we could spare. Professor Tucker, long known in England, and at present more extensively so, through his very acceptable Life of Jefferson, was recovering from an illness which confined him to his room, and sent to ask me to visit him there. I was glad that he was well enough to see me; and that I had thus the benefit of a good deal of his lively, sensible, and earnest conversation.
A great disappointment awaited our rising on the Monday morning. On the Sunday afternoon the sun had been so hot that we threw off our shawls. The next morning we looked out upon a snow-storm. There was, from the beginning, no hope of our getting to Monticello. Jefferson's house upon the mountain was actually in sight and there was no possibility of our reaching it: and we were obliged to satisfy ourselves with the traces we found of him about the University. Professor Patterson's carriage came for us early, and we passed a morning of the liveliest gossip with the ladies and children of the family, while the Professors were engaged in their duties. The frankness of the whole society was particularly winning; and so was the cordiality among themselves; a degree of mutual good understanding which is seldom found in the small society of a college, village-like in its seclusion and leisure, with added temptations to jealousy and censoriousness. The ladies of Professor Patterson's family gave me a spirited and amiable description of their arrival as strangers at the University, and of the zeal and kind consideration with which they were welcomed and aided on every hand. Two facts struck me, in the course of our feminine talk on the subject of housekeeping; that chickens are there to be had for a dollar a dozen; plump fowls ready for the fire: and that Mrs. Patterson's coachman, a slave, could read. These ladies, seeing apparently only domestic slaves, kindly treated like their own, spoke lightly on the great subject, asking me if I did not think the slaves were happy: but their husbands used a very different tone, observing, with gloom, that it was a dark question every way.
Four of the Professors, and two or three students, fine, well-mannered young men, joined us at dinner; and many ladies, and others of the Professors, in the evening. I was amused and gratified by the interest shown in the living authors of England, especially the ladies. Every particular that I could tell about Mrs. Somerville and Mrs. Marcet was eagerly listened to. The Herschel family, Mr. Malthus, and many more, were fully and affectionately discussed. The great treat of the evening to me was a long conversation with Professor Hamilton on the German language and literature, and on the mutual criticism of the Germans and the English. He offered a comparison of the genius of the Greek and German languages, which, for want of sufficient learning, I do not pretend to appreciate, but which impressed me strongly with admiration of his powers of conversation.
One of the ladies took an opportunity of asking me privately to request leave to attend a lecture with the Natural Philosophy class, in the morning. Ladies are excluded by rule: but she thought that the rule might for once be infringed without injury, in the case of foreign ladies. The Professor kindly made no difficulty; and my prompter highly enjoyed her single opportunity.
We breakfasted before eight, and went immediately to survey the large building,—the Rotunda. First we saw the library, a well-chosen collection of books, the list of which was made out by Jefferson. The students read in the Rotunda, and take out books by order. In the gallery, above the books, the mineralogical collection, belonging to Professor Patterson, is arranged, and open to observation. Higher up still is a whispering gallery. The lecture to which we were admitted was on Heat. It was clear, fluent, and entertaining. The young men appeared to be good listeners; some wrote down almost all they heard; and many asked questions of the Professor at the conclusion of the lecture.
Mr. Tucker begged us to go to his chamber to luncheon, as he was still unable to venture out of it. We had a delightful hour there. The sick gentleman's room was crowded with guests, all busy with question and remark, our time being short, and the quantity we had to say, like old friends in a brief meeting, being inexhaustible. A serious request was made to us that we would stay a month, giving up a portion of our southern journey in exchange for the good offices of the University. We could not possibly do this; but there can be no doubt of what our enjoyment would have been, during a whole month of intimate intercourse with such stirring people as this graceful, kindly little society is composed of. Having said all that so many tongues could, in an hour's time, about the Theory of Rent, Colonel Thompson, and Mr. Malthus; the value of public censure and eulogy; Mrs. Somerville again, Philadelphia ale, American politics, and a hundred other things, we were obliged to go. Keepsakes of the ladies' work were put into our hands, and packets of sandwiches into the carriage; and a party escorted us to our inn, bad as the weather was. Letters of introduction were hastily prepared, and sent after us; and during our whole visit nothing was omitted which could concern our comfort, or enhance our pleasure. As I cast my last look from the window of the stage towards the University, it was with less regret than pleasurable astonishment at my own experience of the speed with which it is possible for foreign minds to communicate, and lasting regard to be established.