THE century preceding the
Revolution, with ever-recurring changes in staff and administration, had
such an injurious influence on university life that even the stimulus of
rivalry between the two universities in Aberdeen could only partially
counteract it. The animosity and wrangling shown on both sides, though
undignified, had probably one good result. It made them try to outstrip each
other in aiming at fuller equipment of chairs, Marischal College as usual
leading the way. At the beginning of the 18th century, laxity in many
respects was the characteristic of King's College. Nepotism had crept in,
and, to guard against suspected corruption, a commission decided that
election to appointments should be settled by examination [Bulloch's
University of Aberdeen, p. 133.].
Buildings were dilapidated;
no records of graduation had been kept for over ten years; the
Chancellorship was vacant for twelve and the Rectorship for five years. For
negligence in these latter respects the authorities cannot escape censure.
These officials were not, as now, almost purely honorary, but had attached
to them important functions, the performance of which was essential to
efficient administration. The Chancellor was the final court of appeal in
professorial quarrels, he was consulted about the filling up of vacancies,
and sometimes the patronage was put in his charge.
Finances also were at a very
low ebb; some of the students' rooms were ruinous, and no funds for
rebuilding them were available; the conduct of bursars was unsatisfactory;
gowns were not worn, and public prayers not kept. Efforts to correct all
this were made, but with only partial success. We find that, up to 1716,
there are periods of considerable length, of which minutes were either not
kept, or have been lost.
The Commission of 1690 which
finished its work in 1700 insisted on the institution of a separate Greek
Chair. In 1703 Bower was elected lecturer in Mathematics, but the "class
turned to little account." He seems never to have taught at all, and
resigned in 1717 [He was to have a salary of 200 merks and "be made free of
the College table during the winter session." This salary was paid from a
tax on ale sold in the town. Kennedy's Annals of Aberdeen, vol. II, p.
381.]. There appears to have been an attempted revival of the lectureship in
1732, but the final establishment of the Chair was not made till 1800, when
Jack and Duncan were appointed Professors of Mathematics and Natural
Philosophy respectively [Bulloch's University of Aberdeen, p. 138.].
There is evidence at this
time of breaches of discipline, such as riots and release of prisoners from
the Tolbooth. Laxity of this kind is found in all universities, and, though
calling for punishment, may have youthful folly urged as a palliative. But
the circulation of scurrilous verses, holding up to ridicule the weaknesses
of Professors, bodes ill for academic welfare [In the "Student's Liturgy"
there is a "Description of the useless, needless, headless, defective,
elective Masters of the King's Colledge of Aberdeen 1709." All the verses
are very poor. The least offensive and, in comparison with the others,
almost kindly deal with Urquhart the Mediciner. From ane old Physick doctor
that cairs not for pelf, Thinks every man honest just like himself, Libera
There were also bickerings at
Senatus meetings about the election of Regents. The Professors of Oriental
Languages and Mathematics claimed the right to vote. The Principal denied
their right, on the ground that they were not named in the original
foundation. The case was taken to the Court of Session, which decided that
they had the right. It would seem from this that in the Senatus matters were
far from comfortable.
Queen Anne continued to show
the traditional interest of the Stuarts in the northern universities, by
granting, the year before her death, an annual sum of £210 sterling, to be
divided equally between King's and Marischal Colleges for the benefit of the
Principals and Professors.
Here, as elsewhere, the
Rebellion of 1715 was a greatly disturbing element, and doubtless
injuriously affected King's College. To what extent it did so is not exactly
known, owing to the absence of minutes for that year. It of course made much
difference to Marischal College, because Earl Marischal was outlawed and his
estates confiscated. It is known that, in 1716, students were expelled for
showing sympathy with the Pretender, under the name of James VIII, by
drinking his health and kindling bonfires in his honour.
In the following year a Royal
Commission was appointed to visit the colleges, the result of which was the
deposition of almost the whole staff, because of their Jacobite leanings.
After this sweeping clearance of a body of men, whose tendency was to
obstruct rather than promote progress, there followed a period of over a
hundred years, during which neither commissions nor visitations gave
trouble, and reform was thus facilitated. Freedom from interference allowed
the authorities to think of altering both the matter and method of
university study, and giving it a more popular character.
An arrangement was made in
1720 and carried out for at least one session, for the delivery of public
lectures by the Regents in turn before the whole college. It does not appear
that this was repeated. About this time also a munificent gift was made to
the college by Dr James Fraser for repair of the dilapidation of buildings.
He also made a handsome contribution of books for the library, and in his
will bequeathed large sums for bursaries, a salary for the librarian, and
the purchase of mathematical instruments [Rait's University of Aberdeen, p.
From the middle to the end of
the 18th century information about the history of the college is scanty,
owing to irregular registration and recording of the minutes of the Senatus.
The Rebellion of 1745 seems to have aroused little interest within the
college walls, and to have been thought worthy of nothing more than an
incidental and almost colourless reference.
But, though the condition of
this and other universities was, at this time, in many respects far from
satisfactory, there is, from the last quarter of the 17th to the end of the
18th century, no scarcity of great Scotsmen, whose names have come down to
us, permanently inscribed on the roll of fame, for eminence in almost every
branch of academic culture. Among the most conspicuous names connected with
Aberdeen are the Gregorys - father, son, and grandsons - all of whom
occupied with distinguished ability Chairs in Art, Science, or Medicine, in
one or other of the Universities of St Andrews, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh. We
have also Colin Maclaurin, a mathematician of the first rank, Professor of
Mathematics in Marischal College, and afterwards in Edinburgh; Thomas
Blackwell, Professor of Greek in Marischal College; James Beattie, poet,
essayist, and Professor of Moral Philosophy in Marischal College.
Contemporary with these there are five whose names cannot be passed
over-Adam Smith, the founder of Political Economy as a separate branch of
human knowledge, and Professor of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow; David Hume,
philosopher and essayist ; Lord Monboddo, who studied in Marischal College
and was raised to the Bench in 1767; Thomas Reid, the head of the Scottish
Philosophy, Professor of
Philosophy in King's College, Aberdeen, and afterwards of Moral Philosophy
in Glasgow; and lastly Sir Walter Scott. Of these five, Monboddo and Reid
alone had any connection with Aberdeen. Hume was twice an unsuccessful
candidate for a Chair of Moral Philosophy in Edinburgh, and of Logic in
Glasgow. The list of eminent Scotsmen could be lengthened by the addition of
such names as James Watt, Allan Ramsay, Boswell, biographer of Dr Johnson,
Lord Hailes and Lord Kames, both of whom were raised to the Bench, and had
earned a reputation beyond their native country as men of learning and
capacity. Enough has perhaps been said to warrant the statement that,
notwithstanding the considerable laxity which characterised some university
matters at this time, the century, which has placed on its permanent roll of
great names those recorded above, is one of which we have no reason to be
ashamed. An estimate of the intellectual condition of the middle and end of
the century would not, however, be complete, which did not advert to the
fact that the prevailing trend of thought was secular rather than religious
or theological. Ecclesiastical matters had lost much of their interest and
prominence, and their place had been largely taken by metaphysics,
philosophy, and science, in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, Hume's
Treatise of Human Nature, and Reid's Inquiry into the Human Mind.
While Professor Gregory's statement that "absolute dogmatic atheism was the
present tone of intellectual society" was probably an exaggeration, it
contained an appreciable amount of truth.
When in 1751 Thomas Reid was
appointed to the Chair of Moral Philosophy in King's College, the system of
`regenting' had been abolished in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but the King's
College authorities clung to the old system, and were backed up by Reid who,
though he saw that the Arts curriculum required important alterations,
maintained that 'regenting' had a moral influence on the students, and
argued that every Regent was "a Tutor to those who study under him; has the
whole direction of their studies; the training of their minds; the oversight
of their manners; and it must be detrimental to a student to change his
Tutor every session [Bulloch's University of Aberdeen, p. 151]." This view
coupled with the traditional conservatism of the college probably accounts
for their retention of the old system till the end of the century.
The Regents of Philosophy had
come to realise the barrenness of the scholastic Logic and Metaphysics, and
decided to confine their teaching to such parts of them as were practical
The bursars' work seems to
have been marked by the laxity already referred to, and it became necessary
to threaten them with withdrawal of their emoluments, unless they showed
satisfactory proficiency in their studies. The habit of living outside the
college was also increasing, and it was laid down in 1753 "that for the
future all the students shall lodge in rooms within the college, and eat at
the College table during the whole session." With our modern ideas, there
seems to have been good reason for complaint by some students at this period
about the supply of food, and little wonder that it was necessary to have
recourse to compulsion to make students eat at the common table. [There were
two tables. For a seat at the first an additional fee had to be paid. Those
who could not afford this fee sat at the second, for which the supper fare
was "sowens, or bread with ale or milk," while at the first there were
provided "eggs, or sowens, or roots, or pancakes, or bread and butter, or ox
cheek or Finnan haddocks and ale." Rait's Aberdeen, p. 204. The bill of fare
for dinner, though far from luxurious, was somewhat better, and varied from
day to day.]
The attempt to enforce
residence was for a considerable time successful, but it gradually lost its
force, and 1824-5 was the last session of residence. Continuous espionage at
prayer, meals, and in private rooms had, as in Glasgow, become intolerable.
Up to this time the degree of
M.D. had been, as in Glasgow, conferred on the recommendation of well-known
doctors, but Dr Chalmers, the Mediciner, anxious to promote medical
teaching, prepared an examination paper in 1789 as under.
"(1) What are the principal
peculiarities in the structure of the foetus, and are there any impediments
to seeing or hearing at birth? What are they?
(2) In how far may Acrimony
be considered as existing in the system, and what are its effects?
(3) In what proportion of our
present diseases may debility be supposed to take place, and how may it
effectually be obviated?
(4) What are the advantages
resulting from the Brownonian doctrine?"
Dr Chalmers with the approval
of the Senatus in 1792 renewed his attempt to revive medical teaching, but
he died soon after, and the proposal fell to the ground.
At this time also (1792) an
attempt was made to abolish `regenting,' but the professorial system was not
adopted till 1799. In the following year somewhat stricter rules were laid
down for graduation in Arts. A complete attendance at all the classes in the
philosophical course was imperative, but even as late as 1826 there was no
examination worthy of the name. The Professor of Natural Philosophy set a
paper on Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, but the commissioners say
"there is no instance of anyone being prevented from taking the degree in
consequence of this examination."
Degrees in Medicine were
dealt with in a much more satisfactory way in 1817. Evidence of classical,
literary, and scientific education was insisted on. It was necessary that
the candidate should have attended certain courses of lectures, passed
certain public examinations, and produced evidence of practice signed by two
physicians, graduates in Medicine. From this, it may be said, the Aberdeen
Medical School took its rise, for in the following year the members of both
colleges agreed to the establishment of a joint medical school [For the
Articles of Agreement see Appendix A, p. 247.].
The impulse towards more
thorough medical education came from Marischal College. When the joint
school was established there were medical classes in Marischal, but none in
King's. The strong feeling of jealousy between the two colleges deprived the
scheme of hearty support.
That the work of King's
College was, in several respects, culpably loose, is evident from the
Chancellor's finding it necessary, in 1824, to make to the Senatus the most
reasonable suggestion, that the Principal, the Civilist, and the Mediciner,
should discharge the several duties of teaching Divinity, Law, and Medicine,
to which they had been appointed, and for which they were paid. When the
Senatus conveyed this suggestion to these officials, they all with one
consent began to make excuse; the Principal, that he was officially exempted
from teaching Divinity, the Mediciner, that his health was bad, and the
Civilist, that he was too old. The question was handed over to a committee,
whose injunction to the simple discharge of duty had only the meagre result,
that the Civilist gave a few lectures, and the other two did nothing. In
other words the Chairs of Medicine and Law were mere sinecures.
In these circumstances, it is
not matter for surprise that reasons were found for discontinuing the scheme
of a joint medical school between the two colleges. The Senatus of King's
charged the authorities of Marischal College with "laying aside the rules"
for the conferment of medical degrees, and with other infringements of the
agreement entered into; and by unanimous resolution the scheme came to an
end in 1839, after being in existence for about twenty years. There is a
very strong presumption of an absence of uniformity in either the teaching
or examination, from the fact that, between 1825 and 1839, there were only
three medical degrees conferred by King's, and twenty-five by Marischal
College [Bulloch's University of Aberdeen, p. 187.].
It now became necessary for
King's College to reorganise a separate medical staff for itself.
The Professorship of Medicine
had just been filled by William Gregory, grandson of John Gregory who, a
little less than a century before, had been Mediciner in King's College. He
had taught in Dublin and Glasgow, and, after occupying the Aberdeen Chair
for five years, was appointed Professor of Chemistry in Edinburgh, a Chair
which he occupied till his death in 1858. With the help of an energetic
medical committee, of which he was the convener, he was able to advertise,
for the opening of the session in October, classes for Materia Medica,
Physiology, Botany, Midwifery, Surgery, and Medical Jurisprudence.
With a view to improvement of
the Arts curriculum, a Parliamentary Commission was appointed in 1826, and
its report was printed in 1831. By it the Rector and four assessors were
constituted a Court having control over the university, and were also a
Court of Appeal, whose decisions might be subject to review by the
Chancellor. King's College had then an attendance of 235, of whom more than
half had bursaries. The average age of entrants was 14. The classical
attainments were consequently poor, and it was decided that Latin and Greek
should be taught throughout the whole course thus:
Bajan year - Latin and
Semi year - Chemistry, Mathematics, Latin and Greek.
Tertian year - Natural Philosophy, Mathematics, Latin and Greek.
Magistrand year - Moral Philosophy, Logic, Rhetoric, Latin and Greek
[Bulloch's University of Aberdeen, p. 183.].
All these classes were
imperative for bursars, and for others optional. The classical books to be
read included, among others, Tacitus, Juvenal, Thucydides and the Greek
poets. In this rearrangement of the Arts curriculum we have, in comparison
with that of the southern universities, evidence of the greater attention
paid to classical learning in Aberdeen, which has been its characteristic
The programme for Natural and
Moral Philosophy was of the same satisfactory character. Some suggestions
about the comparative importance of Mathematics, Moral Philosophy and
Political Economy were not carried out.
Examination was by this time
fully established as the only channel by which graduation could be reached.
The pitch was satisfactorily high, the subjects sufficiently numerous, and
remained practically unchanged for the next forty years. One third of full
marks was requisite for a pass. The candidate for a simple pass at that time
had a less toilsome ascent to climb at Oxford or Cambridge than at Aberdeen.
As an encouragement to
industry in the Arts classes, prizes were offered, and awarded by the votes
of the students. This was found to work satisfactorily for some time, but in
1833 it was discontinued, and merit was thereafter determined by
examination. The Commission of 1826 suggested increase in the amount of
teaching in the junior Humanity class, and the addition of a third class in
Greek, which should be optional. Both suggestions were, but only after a
long delay, adopted.
The mode of electing the
Rector had undergone a number of changes into which it is unnecessary to
enter. After considerable discussion as to who were, according to Bishop
Elphinstone's foundation, the proper electors, it was agreed after a
conference between the Senatus and the graduates in 1856 that the Lord
Rector should be chosen by the Masters of Arts, and that the Senatus should
confirm the election so made [P. J. Anderson's Officers and Graduates of
King's College, p. 21.]. On this occasion Lord Ellesmere was elected, and on
his death in the following year, John, afterwards Lord Inglis, Lord
President of the Court of Session, succeeded him and was the last Rector of
Since the donation by Queen
Anne in 1713 already referred to (p. 238), a large number of valuable gifts
had been made to the university, some for bursaries, some for Sunday
lectures and Murtle lectures. Among the most important are the Hutton
Foundation, and the Simpson prizes of £60 each. The Hutton for some
twenty-five years after the union was awarded to the best student in
Classics and Philosophy combined. It is now a philosophical prize. The
Simpson prizes were awarded, one for excellence in classics, the other for
excellence in mathematics, an arrangement which still holds.
The permanent union of the
two colleges was completed by the Commissioners of 1858. Since 1860 they
exist as the University of Aberdeen.
At the Union the buildings of
both colleges were retained, Arts, Divinity and the Library being assigned
to King's College, Law and Medicine to Marischal. Dr Dewar, Principal of the
latter, was in poor health, and Principal Campbell of King's College became
the first Principal of the University of Aberdeen. Both Chancellors, the
fifth Duke of Richmond, and the fourth Earl of Aberdeen, were retained, but
within three months both died, and the sixth Duke of Richmond was elected
In dealing with the double
Chairs all the senior Professors retired. One, Clerk Maxwell, though junior
Professor of Natural Philosophy in Marischal College, retired in favour of
Professor Thomson his senior. This was thought to be on the appeal of
Professor Thomson, who had a young family and limited means, while Clerk
Maxwell had a private fortune, and probably was not at all sorry to retire.
The union made an extension
of the buildings of King's College necessary, at a cost of £20,000. Six new
Chairs were created, Logic, Biblical Criticism, Physiology, Materia Medica,
Midwifery and Botany. Medicine was at last satisfactorily equipped. The Act
of 1858 gave to Aberdeen, as to the other universities, a University Court,
and a General Council, and, under the " Representation of the People
(Scotland) Act," along with Glasgow, a Member of Parliament.
ARTICLES OF AGREEMENT FOR JOINT MEDICAL SCHOOL.
(1) The two universities to
have equal power over the Medical School.
(2) Courses of lectures to be
given during the winter session on the following subjects:- Anatomy, Animal
Economy, Surgery, Practice of Physic, Theory of Physic, Materia Medica,
Clinical Medicine, and Midwifery, and a course of lectures on Botany during
(3) Lecturers to be appointed
or confirmed before the ensuing session.
(4) The nomination of
lecturers to be alternate, and the nominations of one university to be
confirmed by the other.
(5) The already existing
Marischal College lecturers in Anatomy, Surgery and Materia Medica to be
confirmed by King's College and that body to have the first nomination of
the other lecturers.
(6) The Theory and Practice
of Physic to be reserved "in case the Professors of Medicine at either
college should at any time wish to give courses of lectures."
(7) The lecturers to give
(8) Appointments to be made
within six months.
(9) Standing committees of
both colleges to co-operate in organising and managing the school.
(10) An equal number of
classes to be taught at each college; the anatomy class to meet at Marischal
The minimum specified ,for
graduation in the Senatus minute of Nov. 1834 was as under:
Latin - Horace, Odes,
two books; Virgil, Aeneid, two first books; Cicero, Tusculan
Questions, first book.
Greek - Xenophon, Anabasis,
first book; New Testament, two Gospels; Homer, two books.
Mathematics - Euclid, first
six books; Plane Trigonometry. In Algebra, Simple and Quadratic Equations.
Chemistry - Leading doctrines
of Chemistry and Geology, as taught in the class.
Natural Philosophy - Leading
doctrines of Natural Philosophy, as taught in the class, or Playfair's
Moral Philosophy - Leading
doctrines of Moral Philosophy, as taught in the class, or Stewart's
The above is practically the
same as in Glasgow except that, in Glasgow, Chemistry and Geology were not