University anniversaries

Jubilee celebrations 1902

Address on "Universities, some characteristics and use" by Sir Josiah Symon KC

In the evening of Monday 29 September 1902 Sir Josiah Symon, KC, lectured in the Great Hall in connection with the jubilee celebrations, under the auspices of the University Union, upon "Universities: Some Characteristics and Uses."

The Chancellor (Sir Normand MacLaurin) presided, and the gathering included members of the professorial board and other representative university men. Those also on the dais Messrs. E. R. Holme and R. C. Teece (President and Vice-President of the Union); Senators R. E. O'Connor, Walker and Gould; Professor MacCallum, Judges Backhouse and Docker, Rev. J. Ferguson, Messrs. R. N. Teece, G. H. Wilson, and others.

There was a large audience in the body of the hall.

Before Senator Symon delivered his address, Mr. Arnold R. Mote gave a performance on the organ.


Sir Josiah Symon

Sir Josiah Symon was a lawyer and politician who had been knighted in 1901 for his services to the cause of federation ... picture 1 and picture 2.


Summary of the Address

Sir Josiah Symon said that the people of New South Wales should be specially proud, as that was the first university jubilee celebrated under the Southern Cross The university was, like most Australian institutions, its own ancestor, and he trusted it would add to the brilliant roll of names eminent in literature, science, and art. Referring to the uses of a university, he quoted Russell Lowell, who said a university was a place where nothing useful was taught. Lowell probably meant nothing practical instead of nothing useful, but a university was useful, if only for its encouragement of those good purposes which good men had in view.

After dealing with several other spheres of a university's activity, Sir Josiah made a strong plea for the preservation of the integrity of the English language, which was the wealthiest and best endowed with noble literature, the language of Shakespeare, Bacon, Milton, and Shelley. Most particularly he urged should they preserve the proper articulation of the language, and to that end elocution should form part of the curriculum of ever university.


A fuller version of the Address

Senator Symon, whose uprising was the signal for welcoming applause, said that little did Darwin foresee, when he bade his famous farewell, that an Australian University, full of the traditions and learning of the past, sharing in the destinies of an all-Australian Commonwealth, would so soon celebrate its jubilee. They might be specially proud, as theirs was the first jubilee under the Southern Cross. His remarks, he explained, were chiefly for those of the Union, not for the professors, the dons, and the sages. He regarded the admission of women to the University, and the opening of the avenues of labour to them, as far more important than the granting of the franchise. Why, oh, why, did not the late Mr. Cecil Rhodes permit of women competing for his scholarships? How was the efficiency in the University they sought to be attained? In the forefront came the professors. Upon them it chiefly depended whether the University should fulfil or fail in its high purpose. Quality, and not quantity, was the one thing needed in their teaching. The time of the professor was the property of his student, but the most heaven-born professor could not do all; students must do their part - a great and important part. They should not be restless under discipline or affrighted by difficulties. There was a Spartan thrill in learning "to scorn delights and live laborious days." At the same time the University and its priesthood, the professorial staff, should have a watchful care lest disappointment overtook the sensitive student and daunted him.

With the examination system he was not deeply in love. It was, he thought, overdone. It led too much to learning to pass, and not learning to know; to cramming the memory and starving the intellect. The examination over, the student was tempted to say, like some academic Micawber, "Thank God that is over," instead of saying, "I am glad to have had that opportunity of showing what I know." Might he also protest against that much-used quotation, "A little learning is a dangerous thing." Let no undergraduate abstain from drinking at all because he fancied he could not "drink deep" - this is to say at the Pierian spring. After all allowance for the too affluent heart of youth, if there was to be effervescence, it should be a disciplined effervescence. That, again, was largely in the hands of the colleges and staffs, whose success would depend on the extent to which graduates and undergraduates were treated as human beings with human passions and human weaknesses, and not as inanimate vessels to be filled with so much learning ; and on the extent to which their lives, as well as their studies, were of interest to professors and tutors. There was a fine safety valve in the sports: cricket, rowing, and so on, which occupied a not unimportant and by no means too large a place in the University life.

He put in an urgent plea for greater attention to the English language, the language of Shakespeare, of Bacon, of Pitt and Fox, of Byron and Shelley. It was the vehicle of the finest literature in the world. The French Academy existed to preserve the delicacy of the French language. Ought they to be indifferent to English? But in urging this increased attention to English he wished to couple with it, not merely its reading and study, but its utterance and articulation. Speech played so important a part in the movement and government of the world that to be effective the manner had to be studied as well as the matter. The muttering and want of clearness in our spoken speech was very lamentable. Elocution should be taught in every University. Their glorious English was too often ruined in its utterance; instead of going trippingly from the tongue, it was mutilated, and halting. Was there not room, also, for poetry? It was not to make poets, but to cultivate the mind, refine the tastes, enlarge the understanding, and perfect the powers of expression that poetry had claims on a University curriculum. The usefulness of a University was ill served if it did not take into account history under which men would learn to apply the science of philosophy to the study of facts. Civil history was the record of the life of nations, and was all-important. Was the beauty of art to be left out of sight? Surely, painting and sculpture and architecture were worthy of a place in any University course. If there were doctors of music, why not of painting and sculpture and architecture? The University of to-day was ill-fitted for its task without technical schools, as it was without the equipment of an adequate library. No University in these times would answer its educational destiny unless it allowed the free air of reform to enter its gates, and to blow away the cobwebs of old-fashion and use. The time had come when Universities might well resolve that everything which might tend to help in the world's advancement was worthy of their attention and direction.

It was almost with whispering humbleness that he put forward a plea in the direction of a field of usefulness upon which no University, so far as he was aware, had entered; might not a University do something to keep the people politically sound? What ought to be the goal of the wisest and best Government? Was it not to fill the country with brave, wise, contented, and happy men and women. We were of a race first among the strong ones of the earth ; but that strength must be moral, as well as material. Our rulers must be taught to do right. Was there no room for that in the University curriculum? Might they not help to a right comprehension of affairs, of conditions, of principles, and that fairness, justice, and equality amongst men which ought to hold - if it did not - as high and efficient a place in politics and Governments as in their Courts, and among their judges? Surely a University might do something to inspire the minds of future rulers with these great principles, and make impossible the reproach which was sometimes levelled, that they had departed out of the land.

What was the sum of it all ? What, then, was the chief end of a University? Its purpose was not alone to impart learning, but to see that the learning it imparted was not used for selfish or ignoble ends ; that it was used to promote all physical and moral good, to extend man's empire over nature and the material world to keep the flag of civil and religious liberty flying, and to uphold virtue and order and justice. If that be the legend inscribed upon her banners, then "signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine upon you.'' They looked to the University to give them open-minded men and good citizens, who would maintain the moral currency, who would not suffer it to be debased. The growth of the democracy had not lessened, but vastly enlarged, the power, as it had increased the responsibility of the University. Was there not much to be done through the University in mitigating the over-weening confidence and self-glorification of material success and depreciation of the things of the mind.

What had the authorities of the University done towards directing or controlling the tyranny of public opinion? Had it raised human nature from its intellectual languor and moral indolence? Had they, or their sons, led, as they ought in these times of vast movement and change ? It had often been said of the English Universities that their aim was to form what England valued as the flower of her life - a well-educated gentleman. Finally, the ultimate design of it all was to make good men - not goody-goody, but good men in the best sense.

Let them imbue themselves with principles of virtue and sound philosophy, and learn the lessons of self-government and discipline on the one hand, and of kindness and consideration to their fellow-men on the other. Animated by this spirit, they might, when the time came, step with confidence into the world of life and action from the portals of the University, thanking God that, to them at least, it had been of use.


Votes of thanks

On resuming his seat, Senator Symon was enthusiastically applauded for several minutes.

Judge Backhouse, one of the members of the Union at the time of its inception, proposed a vote of thanks to Senator Symon, whom he described, in the words of Henry VIII, as "a learned and a most rare speaker."

Mr. R. C. Teece seconded the motion, which was carried by acclamation.

On the motion of Mr. E. R. Holme, President of the Union, a vote of thanks was also accorded to the Chairman.