When asked to contribute a short Fresher’s introduction to what the author below describes as our “indiscriminate intimacy” here at St Andrews, it occurred to me that I might be at risk of churning unimaginative rhetoric of little meaning and no integrity. And so it is with great pleasure that instead I have below edited a (highly abridged) piece entitled ‘Student Life’ from the University’s 500th anniversary celebratory volume. I was struck by the value the author held for an education in yourself over an education in academia. Yes, there is a bit of work here and there, but that’s life. To come to St Andrews with only this in mind might just be missing the point.
The first and essential charm of student life is its freedom, the absence of those terribly unwritten laws that fetter more conventional society. Within the ordinary limits there is no reason why the student should not do just as he thinks fit. He depends on no one, and no one depends on him.
If it occurs to him to set out upon a ten mile walk at three o’clock on a February morning, he may go without preliminary, he may even find company. If he feels it more expedient to remain in bed than to attend his earlier classes, there is no emphatic reason why he should not do so.
One learns a little of the arts and sciences, – a great deal more of the world and of one’s fellow men. One begins as a bejant, that is to say, a schoolboy with a red gown on his back, and from that, by infinitely small stages, one makes advance.
I recall one of my earliest experiences at St. Andrews as walking along South Street in the dusk and hearing a tremendous uproar of singing approaching from the Cathedral end. I passed two worthy ladies in conversation, and one of them said “It’s the Students.” She said it so, – in large capitals; she spoke as though it were a manifestation of the Hosts of Darkness; she was genuinely apprehensive.
I cannot believe we have too much frivolity; rather I think we have too little, for men do not come to know each other within the four walls of a class-room. The average man, I think, makes it his aim to put off as long as possible and at the last to make the most of the minimum.
We must have both sorts of men in our University, the men whose names go down to the roll of scholarship, and the men whose histories are never written nor ever die.
So the terms drift by and carry one somehow to that final agonised moment of graduation; there comes a great parting wrench, and it is all ended. Of the educational value of an University training I have many and grave doubts; but I maintain that no man can grow fully in all his parts without some fair experience of this Student Life.
C. Hilton Brown, Votiva Tabella, 1911.
Extract from ‘Votiva Tabella’, [Glasgow] Printed for the University of St Andrews by R. Maclehose and Company limited, 1911.
Image 1 – John McLeish
Image 2 – Jim Bain
Image 3 – Rob Bishop