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THE DECLINE OF THE GERMAN UNIVERSITY SYSTEM. AMONG the questions most canvassed by those who are connected with university education in its various forms in this country, that of the relative merits of the English and German systems holds a prominent position. On few questions are bolder assertions made than on this, and that by those who have either no acquaintance at al), or at most a merely superficial one, with the working of the Continental system in its own home. The experience gained by a prolonged residence as a student at one of the most celebrated of the smaller German universities as yet little frequented by Eng. lishmen or Americans, and exhibiting the old system in its purest form-combined with that intercourse with the teachers which the standing afforded by a regular position in an English university renders possible, emboldens the writer to think that some of the impressions collected during such period of residence may prove not uninstructive to the general reader.
It will doubtless astonish many of those who look with dismay on the present state of transition at Oxford and Cambridge to be told that the German universities are passing through a similar period of change. Yet this is certainly true. Just at present, by virtue of recent legislation, they are being brought much more under the complete control of the central government than has hitherto been the case. The general impression in England seems to be that their position has always been that of immediate subor. dination to the state. This is simply not true, except in so far as they have been 80 regulated from without as to constitute a mere basis for one stage of the system of graduated education which is car. ried to perfection throughout Germany. Within many of the smaller universities, until last year, there existed a kind of academic jurisdiction not altogether dissimilar to that of the University of Oxford. A sort of proctorial power was exercised by the bedells, and as a rule students were amenable only to the university courts for offences committed within the town. University prisons existed, and in some cases a tribunal similar to that known as the Vice-Chancellor's Court at Oxford regulated the question of debts incurred by students. Moreover a few universities still hold their own lands.
By an ordinance which came into force in October last, these privileges were in most cases withdrawn, and the academical stat. utes revised by government authority. The change may or may not be considered a disadvantage by political theorists, but of one thing there is no doubt-its effect on the students. In Germany, where the facilities of migration from one university to another are very great, a slight cause for dissatisfaction in the regulation of a particular one will produce a startling diminution in its num. bers. This has certainly come about in some universities affected by the change of last year, and in one instance the result was the immediate diminution by one fifth of the total number of students. This was no doubt partly owing to other causes-some hereafter to be mentioned but certainly many migrations took place to places still possessed by privileges. Singularly enough, Berlin still falls under the latter head. The university jurisdiction has there been retained, probably more as facilitating police regulation than for any other reason. Foreigners, for example, on matriculating there, are required to surrender their passports, in return for which they obtain the matriculation card : this must always be carried on the person like the passport, for which it must be again exchanged on ex-matriculation.
The centralizing tendencies of the empire, coupled with the con: solidations which preceded and have ensued on its establishment, have naturally commended themselves to the present generation, which is reaping the advantages of the old spirit persisting under the new law. The rivalry of petty states, though disastrous enough in its consequences in some directions, yet made amends to some extent for the early extinction of that independent spirit of corporation to which we owe so much in England. The sense of a Joss in this respect is shown by the attempts at present in progress to re-establish in the German towns the trade-guilds of the middle ages.
The government is everywhere employing artificial means to breathe life into the dry bones which still remain to testify to the former glories of the corporations. The attempt must fail, be'cause it is made from without, and is not a development from within. It is an anachronism, but it is the result of a correct ap. preciation of the advantages which have been lost, and of the means by which those advantages were gained. What will be the result when centralization has swept away the last traces of the old system is a question which other nations besides Germany may take to heart.
Even as the petty states of Greece, through that same pettiness, produced politicians and heroes numberless, and even as the an. cient genius died away under a more regular but a more levelling rule; so, in the last agonies of the central government, when the dislocation of the Holy Roman Empire was complete, did the little German principalities bring forth their galaxy of literary glory ; and even so is the spirit wliich produced this glory dying away un. der the enervating influence of imperial bureaucracy. Among the more thoughtful of those who once rejoiced in the perfect order of the new state, there are not wanting some who are beginning to perceive that they cannot_serve two masters ; they cannot bring back the times when every Landesuniversität was the pride and the
special care of the few little states which supplied its students, and when professors still clung to their own university, happy to confer upon it the glory of their name, even at the expense of their own interests. Such a system is plainly incompatible with that which has Berlin for its corner-stone, and which apparently makes the collection there of literary ability from all parts of the empire its main end and aim. Already, says a recent German writer, the sciences have discovered that they inust betake themselves to new liomes, other than their state-appointed seats, if they would enjoy that liberty which is their very life. Nor have they been slow in making the change.
Another result of centralization, closely connected with that last mentioned, is the destruction of the old idealism which in the past made German student-life so lively and energetic a thing.
O alte Burschenherrlichkeit, wohin bist du verschwunden ? are the first words of a song which resounds throughout Germany, in the last week of each semester, at the solemn Commers and leave-takings of the Burschenschaften. It is impossible to hear the song in such an assembly, sung, as it still is, with great energy and vigor, and then to look round on the surroundings, without feeling that much of the old enthusiasm has vanished forever. It was no doubt to a great extent rebellious and foolish in its tendencies, but it preserved, or at least managed for a time to take the place of the feeling of attachment to a particular university, which is now so utterly lacking in the ever-changing ranks of the students.
The nature and the basis of the system of Corps and Burschenschaften, as they exist at the present day, is so little known in this country, where they are generally classed together as soci. eties for the propagation of duelling, that some slight account of them may not be out of place here. Whoever will take the trouble to turn over the pages of the Calendar for German Uni. versities, which is published at the beginning of every semester, will find, before the names of the professors, who represent what is comparatively an ephemeral and transitory branch of the uni. versity, the names of several Corps-usually denoting the part of the country from which their members are supposed to be drawn then those of one or two Burschenschaften-national names like Germania, Teutonia, or Arminia—and lastly a list of academic societies of more or less importance. Students who belong to none of these are known as camels" savages.”
Of all these the Corps are far the oldest in origin, dating from the sixteenth century. Originally known as “orders," and after. ward as Landsmannschaften, they bear witness by their names to the former local and representative character of each university.
They are and always have been aristocratic in character, and de. voted to duelling, which is carried on among them with more ferocity and less precaution than among the Burschenschafien, which are usually classed with them. The confusion of these societies in the minds of our countrymen has been materially aided by the careless observations of casual visitors to the German universities. Yet a very small amount of investigation, of intercourse with the present, or, still better, with the past members, would suffice to convince the most superficial observer that a really deep bistoric interest attaches to some of these associations—an interest relating to a period of Continental history remarkable for its politi. cal lessons, but far too recent to be yet appreciated.
The German Burschenschaft, one and undivided, had its origin in the excited feelings of the men who, hot from the field of battle, streamed back to the universities after the termination of the wars of liberation, with the enthusiasm roused by those wars still fresh in their breasts. They had, they thought, accomplished a great task; they hoped to inaugurate a still greater-thie freeing of all Europe from the despotisms which they considered to have been re-established at the Congress of Vienna. More than suspected by their rulers of holding the most anarchical opinions, regarded indeed much in the same light as the social democrats of the present day, the members of the Burschenschaft cherislied the idea of making the universities nurseries of political and intellectual lib. erty. The means they adopted were questionable.
The great demonstration at the Wartburgsfest of 1817 produced no very favorable results, and three years later the murder of Kotzebue by
Sand--the mere act of an isolated fanatic-seemed conclusively to prove the pernicious character of the principles of the society. From that time forward a struggle against government began, which lasted for some forty years. The result soon showed itself in the separation of the one Burschenschaft into two main divi. sions, the more moderate “Arminia” and the fiercely revolutionary - Germania.” The members of the latter quickly put themselves in communication with the kindred spirits in France, and with their assistance the Burschenschaften played a conspicuous part in all the commotions in Germany from 1820 to 1848. The suppressive measures taken by the governments were most stringent. The societies were suppressed at all Prussian universities, but as a natural consequence increased in numbers at those belonging to smaller states. After the wretched attempts at revolution in 1830, thirty-nine students were condemned to death by Prussian tribu. nals. Yet persecution merely seemed to increase the vigor of the association, and in the revolution of 1848 a principal part was taken by the Burschenschaften. In Vienna in particular, headed by their tipsy teachers, they held sway for weeks, and here and there gray. headed professors may still be found who made their reputation as orators in the Frankfort Parliament. Even so late as 1858, as the writer was assured by an old Arminian, it was usual for members of that society on crossing the frontier of the tiny duchy in whichi their university was situated, to draw a black silk covering over their uniform cap of black, red, and gold, the only means of avoid. ing immediate arrest. Nay, even last autumn a branch of the same Burschenschaft, which had allowed its members to frequent political meetings, was officially suppressed by the Austro-Hun garian government.
With the cessation of these stringent measures the political meaning of the Burschenschaften in Germany has died out. It survives in their songs, mostly composed many years ago ; and un, doubtedly, in case of new commotions such as those which arosé at the beginning of this century, it might still be revived'; but the possibility of this is growing less every year. One main advantage of its continuance was the attention it secured for those necessary bodily exercises which are at present so neglected in Germany. To many it will no doubt seem absurd to be told that the duelling system arose out of the desire to furnish gymnastic exercise in & profitable form, and indeed we know that the practice in its more deadly shape is at least many scores of years old. Yet it is certain that the Burschenschaften adopted it-in the words of one of their original statutes—as a means of training the body for the service of the Fatherland. No doubt it also commended itself as a means of defence against the bitterly hostile corps, who were so to speak under the particular protection of government, on account of their aristocratic composition and proclivities. In accordance with tliis origin of schläger-fighting-originally, it may be remarked, rapierplay-is the fact that until within the last twenty years no member of the Burschenschaften was really expected or compelled to fight, except under provocation, and that the mere match. duelling common among the corps is little favored by the rival societies, which in all such cases at least provide efficient protection nst deadly wounds. Another statute of the Arminia contains stringent rules against immoral conduct on the part of its members. The hard drinking so often spoken of did and does no doubt go on, but it is rarely, if ever, compulsory.
Taking all these circumstances into consideration, there is no doubt that in many respects the loss of influence of the Burschenschaften is to be regretted. That the constant sacrifices of time required by them from their members are prejudicial to hard work is probably truer of their present constitution than of their former state, when the living energy within them needed no continual outward demonstrations to preserve its vigor. Certainly among the men of scientific and literary fame whom Germany can buast,