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Scottish Education - Schools and University
Chapter XX - Third Period (1696 - 1858). Marischal College

WE have seen in our second period that Marischal College, in its internal economy as a teaching institution, was not seriously affected by either the Restoration or the Revolution.

In 1690 parliament no doubt passed a measure making subscription to the Confession of Faith for the satisfaction of the Church, and the Oath of Allegiance for the satisfaction of the Crown, imperative on all holding office in the universities, but the effect of this was practically unfelt. To the subscription Episcopalians had little if any objection, and Presbyterians had none. The rebellion of 1715 was not yet upon them, and therefore the Oath of Allegiance was no stumbling-block. As a matter of fact there seem to have been no dismissals from the staff of Marischal College. But in another important respect a great and permanent change was effected. Hitherto the Church - whether Catholic or Protestant - had been the predominant partner in the universities. Henceforth the universities became institutions of the state.

The way was now open for carrying out the three reforms suggested by the Commissioners, which have been already referred to (p. 136), viz. the election of Professors and Regents by examination [They "put in ane hatt ten little peices of paper, upon every one of which was writtine a distinct subject or head of philosophie, one of which the competitors was appoynted to draw, each of them one, and to have a discourse and sustain theses thereupon."], a cursus philosophicus for all universities, and the abolition of ` regenting.' Further reference to them here is unnecessary.

In another direction there was a call for vigorous action by the authorities. Near the end of the 17th century the buildings were much in want of repairs. Though part had been rebuilt by local subscription, the Senatus felt that more was needed, and an appeal to the Scots Parliament was answered by a gift of the vacant stipends of certain churches whose patronage belonged to Earl Marischal. In 1698 help was asked from the Convention of Royal Burghs, and the Commissioners gave 1200 pounds Scots (one hundred pounds sterling). In return for this they gave the Commissioners what would now be called a "cake and wine banquet [In the college accounts the materials are thus recorded: "2 pounds of cours biscat, 6 ounce of fyne biscat, 5 of rough almonds, 5 pounds of raisans, 3 pints of claret, and ane choppin of ail, a pint of Canary, 7 pints of ail, whit loafs, pips, tobacco, and candle."]."

A Chair of Medicine was founded by Earl Marischal in 1720, and in 1712 part of Queen Anne's grant of 210 already referred to (p. 238) was assigned to it. The rebellion of 1715 wrought great changes in the college. Through the Earl's espousing the cause of the Stuarts he forfeited his title, and the headship of the college passed from his family. In 1717 almost all the authorities were removed, and for two sessions the college was closed. When it was re-opened, the Government claimed the patronage of the chairs which had belonged to Earl Marischal. In the same year the founding of a Greek Chair, which had been unsuccessfully attempted more than half a century before, was realised, and Colin Maclaurin was appointed Professor of Mathematics. In this, and indeed generally, Marischal College was progressive, and led the way in popularising the work of the university, and adapting it to meet the wants of other than the wealthy and professional class.

The demands made on the Principal were far from light. In the early part of the century he was expected "to be wellinformed in the holy Scriptures in order to qualify him for explaining the mysteries of religion ; to be well skilled in languages, especially Hebrew and Syriac, which he was to teach once a week; to illustrate, from Greek, Aristotle's Physiology; to explain the sacred writings one hour every Monday; to give a short explication of Anatomy ; to teach the principles of Geography, Chronology, and Astronomy, also the Hebrew Grammar with practical application of the rules [Kennedy's Annals of Aberdeen, II, 92-4.]." In 1726 a most praiseworthy attempt to establish a class of experimental philosophy, covering Mechanics, Optics, Chemistry, Hydrostatics, and Husbandry, failed from want of means. Its aim was eminently practical. The class was to be conducted, "so that even those who have not made progress in Mathematics may understand some of the most useful and pleasant parts of natural philosophy, especially all sorts of machines in husbandry and common life." Next year a Chair of Oriental Languages was established. Between that date and 1741, additions were made to the buildings in the face of great poverty. Most praiseworthy efforts were made by the Senatus, who renounced part of their own interest in the college funds for the purpose. The Town Council gave their aid, and subscriptions came in from private persons in the town and country and from former students. The additions cost 700.

In 1755 'regenting,' which had been practised for more than a century, was abolished, and the following curriculum was introduced.

First year. Greek.

Second year. Greek, Latin, History Natural and Civil, along with the elements of Geography and Chronology, on which Civil History depends, Elementary Mathematics.

Third year. Mechanics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Optics, Astronomy, Magnetism, Electricity, and any others which further discoveries may add; Criticism and Belles Lettres, Mathematics.

Fourth year. Pneumatology, or the Natural Philosophy of spirits, including the doctrine of the nature, faculties, and states of the human mind; Natural Theology, Moral Philosophy, containing Ethics, Jurisprudence, and Politics, the study of these being accompanied by the perusal of some of the best of the ancient moralists; Logic, Metaphysics.

In the new curriculum it is to be noted that Logic and Philosophy are taken up in the last, and not in the first year of academic study, as was the practice in the middle ages. Sensible reasons for this and other changes in the plan were given.

Attempts at the union of the two colleges were made but without success. In 1747 both unanimously agreed to, and subscribed, articles of union. The number of professors in the United College was to be that existing at King's, with the single addition of a Professor of Mathematics. The disposal of the superfluous professors was arranged for by the resignation of some, and the alternative discharge of duty by others. The only unsettled point was the locality of the new Institution. One party claimed New Aberdeen, the other Old Aberdeen as the most suitable. Neither would give way, and the proposed union fell through. Other schemes failed, and though in 1786 a fresh attempt, on what seemed a feasible plan, was proposed, King's College rejected it [Old Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol. xxi, 1799, pp. 113, 114.]. In 1755 residence in the college was given up and `disputation' as an element in graduation was discontinued after 1765. An observatory in connection with the college was erected on the Castle Hill in 1781, the Town Council contributing twenty guineas for the purchase of instruments. In 1795 it was transferred to the college.

The first forty years of the 19th century seem to have been a period of academic activity. Within that period no fewer than five new lectureships were instituted-Anatomy, Midwifery, Surgery, Materia Medica, and Scots Law. The joint medical school, established between Marischal and King's College in 1818, had a Professor of Medicine and four lectureships, and in 1839 when the joint medical school was dissolved, Marischal College had teaching provided in Materia Medica, Physiology, Medical Jurisprudence, Anatomy, Midwifery, and Botany. In 1825 the degree of M.D. which, as in Glasgow, had been very loosely conferred on the recommendation of two or three medical practitioners, was obtainable only after examination.

Similarly, with regard to graduation in Arts, the authorities thought the time had come for a change. Till now nothing more was required for graduation than attendance at the classes. The defence of a thesis [See Appendix for graduation theses of 1730, and programme of lectures delivered by the Professor of Civil and Natural History in 1810, p. 255.] had been gradually abandoned, and there was substituted for it an examination which was the most unqualified sham. The same questions in Logic and Rhetoric were used every year, the candidates being supplied with copies of both questions and answers which they committed to memory, and, a week later, repeated in presence of the Faculty.

In these circumstances no candidate for degree was rejected. It was even rumoured that degrees were sometimes given to men who had neither attended university classes, nor passed even a formal examination. Nothing seems to have been asked but the name of the school, academy, or university the applicant had attended, and a certificate of fitness from a moral and literary point of view. It was certainly not too soon that the authorities decided that the time for a change had come. A change accordingly was made as gradually as possible, the questions set being so easy, that the candidate who failed to answer them placed himself clearly below graduation mark. Of the thirty-three who came forward as candidates, five "could not answer the simplest question," and were not allowed to graduate. Feeling aggrieved at this, and having besides some faults to find with the Senatus, they appealed to Joseph Hume, the financial reformer, recently elected Rector, who thought it necessary to hold a Rectorial Court, the first for nearly a century, to consider the complaint. He seems to have thought the students had been rather hardly treated, and recommended the Senatus to deal leniently with them.

The parliamentary commission appointed in 1826 recommended, among other suggestions, a union of the two universities, and a change in the method of teaching Latin, which had latterly been taught by a Regent as part of the History course. The report of this commission was not incorporated in an Act of Parliament, the political excitement aroused by the approach of the Reform Bill of 1832 throwing university matters into the shade. The evidence given before the commission of 1837 showed that the suggestions of the former commission had received little attention but one of its recommendations, a Chair of Church History, was furnished in 1833 by William IV. Latin was now introduced into the first year of the curriculum, and candidates for degree were examined in Latin, Greek, Civil and Natural History, Natural Philosophy, Moral Philosophy and Logic, and Mathematics. This curriculum remained unchanged till the Act of 1858 was passed.

Marischal College was completely rebuilt between 1836 and 1845 at a cost of 30,000, Government, the city of Aberdeen, private individuals, the Chancellor, Rector and almost every member of the college down to the sacrist being contributors. A Chair of Humanity and Chairs of Anatomy and Surgery were founded by Queen Victoria in 1839. Medical and other Chairs were instituted. Mathematical bursaries, travelling scholarships, and gold medals were furnished by benefactors for the promotion of scholarship and research.

Between 1826 and 1860, no fewer than eight attempts were made by means of Bills or Commissions to unite the two colleges, but mutual jealousy barred the way. The conservatism of King's, and the progressive instinct of Marischal, forbade a coalition that would have prevented the scandalous waste of energy involved in two sets of professors lecturing on the same subject, each to a mere handful of students. To give details of the various schemes proposed would be tedious. Slight concessions on both sides would have resulted in a workable system. Union was at last effected in 1860, during the Rectorship and by the skill of Inglis, afterwards Lord President of the Court of Session, and Marischal College ceased to exist as a separate university. The difficulty connected with the existence and disposal of what was to a large extent a double set of professors was skilfully overcome. The bitterness which was felt for a considerable time has long since disappeared, under the mellowing influence of a common interest.


The earliest extant printed Thesis, the maintenance of which by the candidate was a condition of graduation, is dated 1616. It is probable that, during the intervening century, similar Theses were printed every year for both Marischal and King's Colleges. Few have survived, and soon after 1730 they ceased to be printed. The subjoined has been kindly supplied by Mr P. J. Anderson, Librarian of Aberdeen University.


I. Omnis idea aut oritur a sensibus aut a reflectione.

2. Nulla cadit in ideis falsitas, proprie sic dicta.

3. Potentia DEI, secundum nostrum concipiendi modum, est prima possibilitatis radix.

4. Mens humana est Spiritus dependens, immaterialis, ac immortalis.

5. Mens humana semper cogitat.

6. Intellectus et Voluntas, non inter se realiter distinguuntur.

7. Voluntas semper bonum appetit, malum semper aversatur.

8. Bruta non sunt mera Automata.

9. Omnes et solae actiones liberae, earumve omissiones, sunt legis directione obnoxiae.

10. Rerum Dominium, sola occupatione corporea, animo sibi habendi, ab origine acquiri, absque caeterorum hominum consensu, potuit.

11. Omnis materia sua natura iners est, neque ullum corpus cogitationis capax est.

12. Datur vacuum.

13. Omnis motus est proportionalis vi motrici impressae, et sit semper versus eandem plagam, qua vis ista dirigitur.

14. Velocitates gravium, ex eadem altitudine cadentium, quando ad eandem rectam Horizontalem pervenerunt, sunt aequales.

15. Radii lucis sunt materiales, varie refringibiles et reflexibiles.



Introductory Lecture - Four Lectures on Poetry and Ancient and Modern Versification. Ten Lectures on Chronology and Geography and Progress of Discovery.

Introduction to General History - On Government -The British Constitution, &c.

History of the more ancient nations, Egypt, &c.

History of Ancient Greece.

Literature - Eloquence - Fine Arts - Philosophy and Religion of the Greeks.

Rome from its origin to Belisarius - Literature and Antiquities.

Natural History.

Introductory Lecture.

Lecture on Chemistry, introductory to Mineralogy.

Mineralogy, Geology, and Meteorology, &c.

Botany and Vegetable Physiology.

Zoology - Anatomy - Animal Physiology - History of Man and of the Animal Kingdom.

Concluding Lecture.

Return to Book Index Page


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