A Book of Words – XXV

“The Classics and the Sciences”

by Rudyard Kipling

I HAVE listened with very mixed emotions to Miss Strachan’s flattering estimate of me and what I have done. There was one moment when it seemed to me that Miss Strachan was disposed, with your assent, to count me as a blessing. In return—it comes from the bottom of my heart—I hope that each and every one of you will find one person in the world before you die who can live with you and count you a blessing. I find myself in an awkward position. But I am consoled by the thought that I am not the only person who has said one thing one day and another the next. My Rectorial Address dealt entirely with the advantage of independence as a possession necessary and desirable in itself. To-day I come before you, equally convinced of the necessity and desirability of interdependence combined with association and union. As is usual in such a dilemma, I defend myself by the time-honoured formula: “I have nothing to add, and nothing to retract”. Circumstances, as the doctor, the pure scientist, and the pure politician tell us, alter cases. The case of the University College of Dundee and the University of St. Andrews is this: The end to which men in both centres are working is towards the most complete association, the strongest sympathy between St. Andrews, with its long history and tradition, and this College worthily designed to meet the needs of to-day and to-morrow, growing up beside St. Andrews to heaped honour and high tradition of her own. The goal is that her sons shall look back with equal pride and affection on College and University alike and, in their day and time there, shall consciously rejoice in them both. I set aside the immediate value to any college of access to University degrees, for, outside of this very real advantage, one can perceive the immense possibilities that the future holds, in equal, intimate, intellectual union and comprehension between this College and the University. Their differences of outlook are, after all, merely complementary. You follow, for the most part, Natural Science and Medicine, which schools as you know, were first opened when Prometheus brought down fire from heaven and Epimetheus burnt his fingers in it. St. Andrews, through time and prescription, had leaned more towards the classics, which, though craftily hidden in the decent obscurity of dead tongues, are in essence somewhat more advanced than all the morning papers. Your professors demonstrate to you scientifically that in matter there is no new thing under the sun. St. Andrews proves the same fact philosophically in the region of the mind. These almost parallel views combined give, as it were, a stereoscopic view of life, showing it in full light and shade, with God’s atmosphere about it, instead of as mere pictures on paper. More and more is our world, fresh from the shadow of death, beginning to understand that it contains matters enough for all minds to explore, wonder, delight in, and to interpret with every gift of reason, daring, and reverence that they may possess. Only, since a man’s work, to be any use, takes the whole of him, men are subdued to what they work in, and become impatient of or uninterested in the effort and idea of others in other fields. That is why all we shoemakers think that there is nothing like leather—and leave our lasts to say so! But there has always been a middle way between the attitude of Swammerdam, half-crazed at the sight of the marvels his microscope showed him in a drop of water, shutting his notebook and vowing such revelations were not to be communicated to mankind; and of that other extreme of mind which rationalises over phenomena inexplicable, and because it has given them names would deliver judgement on the secret springs of life, death, and motive in men.Some seats of learning say that they are developing in their sons the spirit that shall take full count and advantage of high faith and cold reason alike. Of that I cannot judge. But of this I am sure—that you hold under your hand unequalled chances for begetting such a spirit in the combined life, thought, and work of the College and the University. For you are stationed here in the heart of a vigorous and many-minded people—in a city opulent, energetic, experienced in the application of means to practical ends, and touching, through a myriad interests and dealings, the ends of all the earth. This is a keen and tense atmosphere rightly reflected in the life of your College. On the other hand, you have within artillery range the ancient University less touched than you by these surroundings or considerations, less impelled than you to the forefront of material strife and inquiry, but maintaining always her secular reserve of accumulated wisdom, which modulates knowledge, and that detachment of view which directs, but does not destroy, human sympathies with all aspects of life. Dundee and St. Andrews are necessary, and, in the present posture of the world’s dislocated thought and action, vitally necessary, to each other. There seems to me, then, an ideal marriage; but, like most marriages, it depends for much of its happiness upon material considerations. Gentlemen of Dundee, makers of the city’s fortune, merchant-princes—they tell me that the bride here is ill-dowered. Is it because she has grown up unnoticed, among you so long that she has to take the world with no full sufficiency of gear to be proud of? The standard of living has risen? The more reason, then, that the standard of thought should rise with it. From what I have seen and felt of the life of the Students’ Union at St. Andrews, it has occurred to me that your city might fitly give to her children here their own lodge of the young men, their own temple of youth, where young men associated together even for childish things, may realise what manner of corporate spirit they serve now, and to what compelling idea they are under obligation in the future. It is not easy to make these things plain in the crowded life and ways of a vast city to busy students coming and going to their homes at the day’s end. But give them their own dining halls and gathering grounds, and that divine spirit of youth, which seeks only an outlet, will create all the rest—lightly, unconsciously, but enduringly.

You and I have seen many men ruined by mere money thrown at them without thought. But independent men who have elected to be bound to hard work till their life’s end take little harm from being given the best equipment, the best thought-out set of working-tools that can fit them for their callings. There is room for such equipment, whether it be instruments, laboratories, halls, or new wings to existing buildings; and since a gift is of no avail unless the giver comes with it, there is room for interest, pride, and care. I agree with you that the present moment, when the key-industry of Great Britain is tax-gathering, is not best chosen for an appeal. You will observe, therefore, that I make no appeal. I merely suggest to you opportunity to advance the honour and interest of your University College. It may also be that the name and line of some of you must now die out for lack of succession. Seeing what great things the dead have done, you may desire to keep that name alive among young men in memory of some son of yours who should have borne it. If so, your road is open.

But it is to the living that we must look, and, though much has been taken away, yet to us who have still the light of the sun and the darkness of earth to deal with, much has been given. And as surely as Science is real and Faith is true, so surely much is required of us.