A Book of Words – XVII

“The Scots and the War”

by Rudyard Kipling

YOU must remember that an Englishman looks on the record of Edinburgh University, not with fear, but with envy. Your University represents sacredly and intimately the natural expression of the genius and sacrifice, the spirit and devotion of your race. But have you ever considered that these great buildings of yours, seen from the south, loom up as one of a great chain of well-devised Border fortresses and keeps of learning which, generation after generation, have trained and equipped the Scot for his conquest of the world in almost every detail of the world’s development and administration? Many excuses for these overwhelming facts have been put forward by the overwhelmed. One has heard it argued that a race born among granite boulders and compelled, at an early age, to seek their sustenance from under the snow would naturally find any condition of life elsewhere sub-tropically luxurious. It is true, too, that surroundings which enforce a certain wise thrift do save a man from wasting his soul on barren emotions in spiritual matters, as well as from lending himself to the grosser cruelties of collective sentimentalism.A stranger, speaking with due deference, might be forgiven for thinking that, though the liberality of your citizens made and adorned your University, none the less, the driving force behind this three-hundred-year-old dominion of the Scot derives in essence from the strict and unbreakable spirit of that great educationist John Knox, who, whatever he may have said about the monstrous regiment of women, neither flattered nor feared any flesh. It was John Knox who, at lifelong hazard, laid down and maintained the canon that it should be lawful for men so to use themselves in matters of religion and conscience as they should answer to their Maker. Is it too much to say that, after all these years, on these triple foundations of freedom, authority, and responsibility, the moral fabric of your University was reared? Nor did it fail when the bitter and grinding dispensation of the Great War overtook us.

Here, as elsewhere, the sins of the fathers were visited upon the children. The sons of your University were constrained, like their forbears, so to use themselves in matters of conscience as they should answer to their Maker. All earth has witnessed that they answered as befitted their ancestry; that they endured as the strong influences about their youth had taught them to endure. They willingly and wittingly left the purpose of their lives unachieved in order that all life should not be wrenched from its purpose; and without fear they turned from these gates of learning to those of the grave. This is their glory and also that of their severe but beloved Mother who, while she gave them learning, dowered them also with that Wisdom lacking which all Learning is folly.