Address before the Students of the College of William and Mary, Speech

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Gentlemen:-In obedience to the customs of our institution, I proceed to address you on the present occasion; and I do it, I assure you, with feelings of no ordinary character. When I reflect upon the antiquity and reputation of this venerable institution,-upon the numerous alumni who have been sent forth from its halls, so many of whom have graced the walks of private life, or risen into the high places of our government, and shed around them the benign influence of their talents and statesmanship,-when I reflect upon the long line of efficient and distinguished men who have preceded me in this office, and upon the character and virtues of him who was my predecessor, I cannot but feel a weight of responsibility which excites in me a deep and painful solicitude. For eight years it was my pleasure to be associated with him whose place I have been called to fill. His learning, his piety, his conscientiousness in the discharge of his duties, however onerous, will long be remembered by all who knew him well; and the regret manifested in the countenances of the citizens of our town when he bade them an affectionate farewell, marks conclusively the deep impression which his virtues and usefulness had made upon their hearts, and the loss which our society has sustained by the departure from among us of one, who, with his amiable family, constituted so interesting a portion of our social circle. Again, then, let me say, I enter upon the duties of my station with deep and painful solicitude, sustained alone by the consciousness, that I shall yield to none who have gone before me in this office, in zeal, fidelity, and love for our venerated Alma Mater.

I shall not on the present occasion, endeavor to present to your view an exposition of the general advantages resulting from education; the limits of which I have prescribed to myself in this address, together with other topics, will, of course, prevent me from such an effort. Nor is it necessary;- your presence in this hall- your determination to subscribe to our laws and to obey the requisitions of our statutes, prove that you have already comprehended inestimable benefits of education, and have come up here to pursue your college career.

Gentlemen: In obedience to the customs of our institution, I proceed to address you on the present occasion; and I do it, I assure you, with feelings of no ordinary character. When I reflect upon the antiquity and reputation of this venerable institution,-upon the numerous alumni who have been sent forth from its halls, so many of whom have graced the walks of private life, or risen into the high places of our government, and shed around them the benign influence of their talents and statesmanship,-when I reflect upon the long line of efficient and distinguished men who have preceded me in this office, and upon the character and virtues of him who was my predecessor, I cannot but feel a weight of responsibility which excites in me a deep and painful solicitude. For eight years it was my pleasure to be associated with him whose place I have been called to fill. His learning, his piety, his conscientiousness in the discharge of his duties, however onerous, will long be remembered by all who knew him well; and the regret manifested in the countenances of the citizens of our town when he bade them an affectionate farewell, marks conclusively the deep impression which his virtues and usefulness had made upon their hearts, and the loss which our society has sustained by the departure from among us of one, who, with his amiable family, constituted so interesting a portion of our social circle. Again, then, let me say, I enter upon the duties of my station with deep and painful solicitude, sustained alone by the consciousness, that I shall yield to none who have gone before me in this office, in zeal, fidelity, and love for our venerated Alma Mater.

I shall not on the present, occasion, endeavor to present to your view an exposition of the general advantages resulting from education; the limits which I have prescribed to myself in this address, together with the necessity of introducing other topics, will, of course, prevent me from such an effort. Nor is it necessary;–your presence in this hall–your determination to subscribe to our laws, and to obey the requisitions of our statutes, prove that you have already comprehended the inestimable benefits of education, and have come up here to pursue your collegiate career.

As it is probable there may be students in every department of our college, and each one may be anxious to know something of our entire system previous to the selection which he may make of the courses of study for his attendance I will, in the first place, give you some information as to our general plan. Our plan embraces a course of general study, which may be pursued to great advantage by all having the time and means, no matter what may be their professions in after life. Besides this course of general study, it embraces the subject of law, and aims at accomplishing the student in one of the learned professions.

Let me then commence with the subject of the classics. In this school we have a preparatory department, in which the student may acquire that elementary instruction requisite for the successful study of the higher classics. As but few of you, however, will, in all probability, wish to enter this school, I shall confine the remarks which I have to make on this subject to the higher classical studies. In one department of this higher school, the attention of the student will be confined to the following authors: Horace, Cicero de Oratore, Terence, Juvenal, Livy and Tacitus, in Latin-and to Xenophon’s Anabasis, Aeschylus, Herodotus, Euripides, Sophocles, Thucydides, and Homer in Greek.

He will be required to read them with facility–to construe them–to explain their meaning–to master portions of history which may be referred to, and to acquire a thorough and intimate acquaintance with the whole philosophy of the Latin and Greek Grammars. In this school it is expected that the classic student shall complete his knowledge of the ancient languages. I would therefore recommend it to all who may have the time and inclination to pursue such studies, or whose profession in after life may demand deep classical learning.

The knowledge of the ancient languages is far more important to us than that of any other, save our own. At the time that the barbarians from the north and east broke up the Roman Empire, and engrafted the feudal system on its fragments, whence the nations of modern Europe have arisen, the Latin and Greek languages were the two great languages of the civilized portion of the ancient world. It is necessary to study them in order that we may be enabled to understand their transition into the modern languages; the latter are derivations from the former. It has been well observed that there is not a single nation from the north to the south of Europe, from the shores of the Baltic to the plains of Italy, whose literature is not imbedded in the very elements of classical learning, and this remark applies particularly to the literature of England. But again, in order that you may understand well the classical authors put into your hands, it is necessary that you should become acquainted with the manners, customs, institutions and religion of the ancient world. Great and mighty changes have taken place in the condition of man since the fall of the vast fabric of the Roman Empire. The whole interior economy of nations has been changed. The complex system of polytheism, with its thousands of forms, and ceremonies, and sacred mysteries, has all been overthrown, and the beautiful and simple religion of the meek and humble Saviour of the world traced, as with the pencil of light, upon the sacred page, and revealed even unto babes, has been established in its stead. The great and salutary change alone has stamped a new character upon the age in which we live. How vast the difference between a Priest of Jupiter and a Minister of the Gospel! How great the difference between the Eleusinian mysteries of the Polytheist and the communion service of the Christian! In order then that you may be enabled to read the classic authors to advantage, and apply with skill the lessons which you may draw from the page of ancient history, it is necessary that you should study the laws, customs, institutions, religion, and polity of Greece and Rome. For this reason, there has been recently attached to our classical department, a school of Roman and Grecian Antiquities, and Heathen Mythology, in which you will be enabled to derive full and complete information on all these topics.

The degree in the classical department has been placed upon a high footing. It is necessary that the candidate for this honor should not only be a proficient in the studies just mentioned, but that he should obtain a certificate of qualification on the junior, mathematical, rhetorical, and historical courses. With this additional information, our classic graduate goes into the world not a mere Latin and Greek scholar, but an elegant classic. This course of study has been devised principally for the benefit of that large and respectable class of students who propose to follow the profession of teaching. To all students of this description, I would recommend the attainment of this degree–a degree which will at once give its owner a high standing in our community, and be a most ample certificate of his merits and qualifications.

Besides the degree in the classical school, there are three others of a high order given in our institution; these are the degrees of A. B., B. L., and A. M. With regard to the first, you will find in our laws a detail of the courses of study necessary to its attainment. These courses you will find full well selected, bearing an advantageous comparison with similar courses in any other college of our Union. They embrace the four great departments of mathematics, physics, morals and politics. These studies I would recommend to all who may follow in after life. Independently of the pleasure which each of them imparts to the mind of the zealous student, there is a utility arising from them far beyond the conception of ordinary minds–a utility which springs both from the enlargement of the understanding by the salutary exercise which they afford to it, and from the light which they respectively cast on each other. One of the most beautiful and interesting facts in relation to literature, is, that all its departments are connected and associated with each other; the study of one perfects the mind in the comprehension of another. The acquisition of a new idea sometimes revolutionizes the little republic of the mind, and gives a new cast to all our thoughts. Hence the division of labor in science is not productive of the same advantage as in physics, but we should always extend the range of our studies in proportion to the enlargement of mind and the facilities for acquiring information, no matter what may be our profession or occupation hereafter.

If the time or means of the student, however, should constrain him to limit his course of studies whilst here, then it would be certainly proper that he should make a selection of those subjects which may have the closest and most intimate connection with the profession which he may follow, or the station in life which he may expect to fill. His own judgment will readily inform him of the selection which should be made, taking care always, according to the requisition of our statutes, to enter a sufficient number of classes to afford him full occupation. Every young man should task himself fully, lest want of employment, while here, should induce idle habits. For the peculiar advantages of each course of studies, I must refer you to the introductory lectures of the Professors, all of which will be open to your attendance, and will give you much more complete information on each department than I could possibly impart, even if not confined within the limits of an opening address.

The degree in law is of a professional character, and consequently we can generally expect that those alone will aim at its attainment who propose to follow the profession of the law. This profession, in all countries, but particularly in our own, is one of elevated standing, of superior learning, and, I may add, of great moral and political power. The habits of his profession ensure the lawyer, in every country, an honorable station among statesmen, and the foremost rank in deliberative councils. Law, said Dr. Johnson, is the science in which the greatest powers of the understanding are applied to the greatest number of facts. The common law of England, with the great modifications which it has undergone in our own country from the operations of our government and republican institutions, will form the principal text to which your attention will be directed in this department. “This law,” it has well been said, “is not the product of the wisdom of some one man, or society of men, in any one age; but of the wisdom, counsel, experience and observation of many ages of wise and observing men.” It is, emphatically, “the gathered wisdom of a thousand years.” And you, gentlemen, who propose to accomplish its study, must devote yourselves to it with unremitting ardor. You must not study the mere statutes and prescriptions of the law alone, but you must examine, with the eye of philosophy, the whole foundation on which the great superstructure is raised. It is necessary that you should examine the principles of sciences of government; that you should look into the wants of nature; examine the beautiful structure of the human mind, with all our feelings, principles, propensities and instincts. In fine, you must, in the language of one who has risen to the highest eminence in his profession, “Drink in the lessons and spirit of philosophy. Not that philosophy described by Milton, as ‘A perpetual feast of nectared sweets where no crude surfeit reigns;’ but that philosophy which is conversant with men’s business and interests, With the policy and welfare of nations; that philosophy which dwells not in vain imaginations and platonic dreams, but which stoops to life, and enlarges the boundaries of human happiness; that philosophy which sits by us in the closet, cheers us by the fireside, walks with us in the fields and highways, kneels with us at the altars, and lights up the enduring flame of patriotism.”

Deep and extensive knowledge is, above all things, requisite for the success of him who aspires to an elevated stand in this honorable profession. Well, then, have the officers of our institution ordained that the degree in this department shall not be conferred for a mere knowledge of laws. The candidate for this honor must have studied, beside the municipal law, the subject of government and national law, together with some exposition of our own system of government, all of which subjects are taught by the Law Professor. He must, moreover, have obtained the Baccalaureate honor in this, or some other institution, or if not, must have attended a full course of lectures in some one of the scientific departments of this institution. With the collateral information thus obtained the graduate in law will go forth, not a mere lawyer, equipped only with the forms and technicalities of his profession, but with a mind deeply imbued by the principles of science and the spirit of philosophy. With a mind thus furnished every hour of study in his profession becomes efficient, and moves him forward with ease a rapidity in his career enabling him to encounter all the difficulties and obstacles which beset him on his way. For a full exposition of the courses of study in the law department, I must refer you to the introductory lecture of the Professor, which will impart all the information which you may desire on this subject.

Before speaking of our Master’s degree, I will say a few words on the school of civil engineering, lately established by the visitors in this institution. The United States of North America present at this moment one of the most sublime spectacles which has ever been offered to the eye of the philanthropist-the spectacle of a people few in numbers at first-rapidly increasing and spreading over one of the fairest quarters of the world; building up institutions, the admiration of the age in which we live; and rearing up, by the mere development of internal resources, a fabric of greatness and empire, unparalleled in the annals of history. The original heterogeneous interests of the different portions of our Union are made to harmonize more and more, from day to day, by the magic influence of internal improvement. The canal and the rail road, the steam boat and steam car, constitute in fact the great and characteristic powers of the age in which we live. Throughout our extensive territory, covering so many degrees of latitude and longitude, embracing every climate and yielding every production, nature calls on art to aid her. Although we have already executed works of improvement within the limits of our system of republics, which rival in splendor and grandeur the boasted monuments of Egypt, Rome or China, and far surpass them in usefulness and profit, yet the work is still in a state of incipiency-a boundless field is opening to the enterprise of individuals and states. In the peculiar phraseology of a favorite science, there at this moment exists a vast demand for internal improvements. From one side to the other of our immense territory, turnpikes, rail roads and canals are constructing every where; the engineer is abroad in the land, almost annihilating by his skill, time and space. Yet his labors are not commensurate with the demand. There is, at this time, scarcely any profession in our country which rewards its successful follower more highly and certainly than that of civil engineering. The visitors of our institution have therefore very wisely attached a school of this description to our college, placing it under the direction of an individual who combines, most happily, profound scientific knowledge with great practical skill-an individual who for years zealously and successfully pursued the business of engineering in another country, until called off by other employments. I would therefore warmly recommend this school to all who are anxious to follow this profession, as soon as their attainments will enable them to join it with advantage. In the supplemental laws, published since the last session of our board of visitors, you will find a detail of the studies requisite for the attainment of the degree of A.M. This is the highest honor in our institution which can be won by the student during his collegiate career. It will require generally two years additional study after obtaining the Bachelor’s degree; few of you, consequently, can be expected to aim at its attainment. Those however who shall have an opportunity will find themselves amply rewarded by the advantages which may be derived from it. In this course, all the studies which are pursued in the first portion of your collegiate career, are extended and amplified. In the first portion of your studies, you master the great principles of science; in the latter, you enter more fully into your subjects, and begin the great work of applying your principles to facts. He who shall have the good fortune to obtain this degree, will have amassed a fund of knowledge which will enable him to grace and ornament any of the walks of life into which he may choose to enter. His mind will have been trained in the most important of all arts-that of acquiring knowledge and generalizing facts. He will almost necessarily have attained the great desideratum of literary men love of study and the power of discrimination.

Source Citation:

Dew, Thomas R. 1836. “An Address Delivered before the Students of William and Mary at the Opening of the College on Monday, October 10th, 1836.” Southern Literary Messenger 2 (12): 760-769.

Cite this page:

Dew, Thomas R.. 1836. "Address before the Students of the College of William and Mary, Speech." History of Higher Education. https://higheredhistory.gmu.edu/primary-sources/thomas-r-dews-address-before-the-students-of-the-college-of-william-and-mary-1836/