The Rectorial Address Delivered
by James M. Barrie
at St. Andrew's University
May 3, 1922. To the Red Gowns of St. Andrews
You have had many rectors here in St. Andrews who will continue
in bloom long after the lowly ones such as I am are dead and rotten
and forgotten. They are the roses in December; you remember someone
said that God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.
But I do not envy the great ones. In my experience--and you may find
in the end it is yours also--the people I have cared for most and who
have seemed most worth caring for--my December roses--have been very
simple folk. Yet I wish that for this hour I could swell into someone
of importance, so as to do you credit. I suppose you had a melting
for me because I was hewn out of one of your own quarries, walked
similar academic groves, and have trudged the road on which you will
soon set forth. I would that I could put into your hands a staff
for that somewhat bloody march, for though there is much about myself
that I conceal from other people, to help you I would expose every
cranny of my mind.
But, alas, when the hour strikes for the Rector to answer to his
call he is unable to become the undergraduate he used to be, and so
the only door into you is closed. We, your elders, are much more
interested in you than you are in us. We are not really important to
you. I have utterly forgotten the address of the Rector of my time,
and even who he was, but I recall vividly climbing up a statue to tie
his colours round its neck and being hurled therefrom with contumely.
We remember the important things. I cannot provide you with that
staff for your journey; but perhaps I can tell you a little about it,
how to use it and lose it and find it again, and cling to it more
than ever. You shall cut it--so it is ordained--every one of you for
himself, and its name is Courage. You must excuse me if I talk a
good deal about courage to you to-day. There is nothing else much
worth speaking about to undergraduates or graduates or white-haired
men and women. It is the lovely virtue--the rib of Himself that God
sent down to His children.
My special difficulty is that though you have had literary rectors
here before, they were the big guns, the historians, the philosophers;
you have had none, I think, who followed my more humble branch, which
may be described as playing hide and seek with angels. My puppets
seem more real to me than myself, and I could get on much more
swingingly if I made one of them deliver this address. It is
M'Connachie who has brought me to this pass. M'Connachie, I should
explain, as I have undertaken to open the innermost doors, is the name
I give to the unruly half of myself: the writing half. We are
complement and supplement. I am the half that is dour and practical
and canny, he is the fanciful half; my desire is to be the family
solicitor, standing firm on my hearthrug among the harsh realities of
the office furniture; while he prefers to fly around on one wing. I
should not mind him doing that, but he drags me with him. I have
sworn that M'Connachie shall not interfere with this address to-day;
but there is no telling. I might have done things worth while if it
had not been for M'Connachie, and my first piece of advice to you at
any rate shall be sound: don't copy me. A good subject for a
rectorial address would be the mess the Rector himself has made of
life. I merely cast this forth as a suggestion, and leave the working
of it out to my successor. I do not think it has been used yet.
My own theme is Courage, as you should use it in the great fight that
seems to me to be coming between youth and their betters; by youth,
meaning, of course, you, and by your betters us. I want you to take
up this position: That youth have for too long left exclusively in
our hands the decisions in national matters that are more vital to
them than to us. Things about the next war, for instance, and why
the last one ever had a beginning. I use the word fight because it
must, I think, begin with a challenge; but the aim is the reverse of
antagonism, it is partnership. I want you to hold that the time has
arrived for youth to demand that partnership, and to demand it
courageously. That to gain courage is what you came to St. Andrews
for. With some alarums and excursions into college life. That is
what I propose, but, of course, the issue lies with M'Connachie.
Your betters had no share in the immediate cause of the war; we know
what nation has that blot to wipe out; but for fifty years or so we
heeded not the rumblings of the distant drum, I do not mean by lack
of military preparations; and when war did come we told youth, who
had to get us out of it, tall tales of what it really is and of the
clover beds to which it leads.
We were not meaning to deceive, most of us were as honourable and as
ignorant as the youth themselves; but that does not acquit us of
failings such as stupidity and jealousy, the two black spots in
human nature which, more than love of money, are at the root of all
evil. If you prefer to leave things as they are we shall probably
fail you again. Do not be too sure that we have learned our lesson,
and are not at this very moment doddering down some brimstone path.
I am far from implying that even worse things than war may not come
to a State. There are circumstances in which nothing can so well
become a land, as I think this land proved when the late war did
break out and there was but one thing to do. There is a form of
anaemia that is more rotting than even an unjust war. The end will
indeed have come to our courage and to us when we are afraid in dire
mischance to refer the final appeal to the arbitrament of arms.
I suppose all the lusty of our race, alive and dead, join hands on
'And he is dead who will not fight;
And who dies fighting has increase.'
But if you must be in the struggle, the more reason you should know
why, before it begins, and have a say in the decision whether it is
to begin. The youth who went to the war had no such knowledge, no
such say; I am sure the survivors, of whom there must be a number
here to-day, want you to be wiser than they were, and are certainly
determined to be wiser next time themselves. If you are to get that
partnership, which, once gained, is to be for mutual benefit, it will
be, I should say, by banding yourselves with these men, not defiantly
but firmly, not for selfish ends but for your country's good. In the
meantime they have one bulwark; they have a General who is befriending
them as I think never, after the fighting was over, has a General
befriended his men before. Perhaps the seemly thing would be for us,
their betters, to elect one of these young survivors of the carnage
to be our Rector. He ought now to know a few things about war that
are worth our hearing. If his theme were the Rector's favourite,
diligence. I should be afraid of his advising a great many of us
to be diligent in sitting still and doing no more harm.
Of course he would put it more suavely than that, though it is not,
I think, by gentleness that you will get your rights; we are dogged
ones at sticking to what we have got, and so will you be at our age.
But avoid calling us ugly names; we may be stubborn and we may be
blunderers, but we love you more than aught else in the world, and
once you have won your partnership we shall all be welcoming you.
I urge you not to use ugly names about anyone. In the war it was
not the fighting men who were distinguished for abuse; as has been
well said, 'Hell hath no fury like a non-combatant.' Never ascribe
to an opponent motives meaner than your own. There may be students
here to-day who have decided this session to go in for immortality,
and would like to know of an easy way of accomplishing it. That is
a way, but not so easy as you think. Go through life without ever
ascribing to your opponents motives meaner than your own. Nothing
so lowers the moral currency; give it up, and be great.
Another sure way to fame is to know what you mean. It is a solemn
thought that almost no one--if he is truly eminent--knows what he
means. Look at the great ones of the earth, the politicians. We
do not discuss what they say, but what they may have meant when they
said it. In 1922 we are all wondering, and so are they, what they
meant in 1914 and afterwards. They are publishing books trying to
find out; the men of action as well as the men of words. There are
exceptions. It is not that our statesmen are 'sugared mouths with
minds therefrae'; many of them are the best men we have got, upright
and anxious, nothing cheaper than to miscall them. The explanation
seems just to be that it is so difficult to know what you mean,
especially when you have become a swell. No longer apparently can
you deal in 'russet yeas and honest kersey noes'; gone for ever is
simplicity, which is as beautiful as the divine plain face of Lamb's
Miss Kelly. Doubts breed suspicions, a dangerous air. Without
suspicion there might have been no war. When you are called to
Downing Street to discuss what you want of your betters with the
Prime Minister he won't be suspicious, not as far as you can see;
but remember the atmosphere of generations you are in, and when he
passes you the toast-rack say to yourselves, if you would be in the
mode, 'Now, I wonder what he means by that.'
Even without striking out in the way I suggest, you are already
disturbing your betters considerably. I sometimes talk this over
with M'Connachie, with whom, as you may guess, circumstances compel
me to pass a good deal of my time. In our talks we agree that we,
your betters, constantly find you forgetting that we are your betters.
Your answer is that the war and other happenings have shown you that
age is not necessarily another name for sapience; that our avoidance
of frankness in life and in the arts is often, but not so often as
you think, a cowardly way of shirking unpalatable truths, and that
you have taken us off our pedestals because we look more natural on
the ground. You who are at the rash age even accuse your elders,
sometimes not without justification, of being more rash than
yourselves. 'If Youth but only knew,' we used to teach you to sing;
but now, just because Youth has been to the war, it wants to change
the next line into 'If Age had only to do.'
In so far as this attitude of yours is merely passive, sullen,
negative, as it mainly is, despairing of our capacity and
anticipating a future of gloom, it is no game for man or woman.
It is certainly the opposite of that for which I plead. Do not
stand aloof, despising, disbelieving, but come in and help--insist
on coming in and helping. After all, we have shown a good deal
of courage; and your part is to add a greater courage to it.
There are glorious years lying ahead of you if you choose to make
them glorious. God's in His Heaven still. So forward, brave
hearts. To what adventures I cannot tell, but I know that your
God is watching to see whether you are adventurous. I know that the
great partnership is only a first step, but I do not know what are
to be the next and the next. The partnership is but a tool; what
are you to do with it? Very little, I warn you, if you are merely
thinking of yourselves; much if what is at the marrow of your
thoughts is a future that even you can scarcely hope to see.
Learn as a beginning how world-shaking situations arise and how they
may be countered. Doubt all your betters who would deny you that
right of partnership. Begin by doubting all such in high places--
except, of course, your professors. But doubt all other professors--
yet not conceitedly, as some do, with their noses in the air; avoid
all such physical risks. If it necessitates your pushing some of us
out of our places, still push; you will find it needs some shoving.
But the things courage can do! The things that even incompetence
can do if it works with singleness of purpose. The war has done at
least one big thing: it has taken spring out of the year. And, this
accomplished, our leading people are amazed to find that the other
seasons are not conducting themselves as usual. The spring of the
year lies buried in the fields of France and elsewhere. By the time
the next eruption comes it may be you who are responsible for it and
your sons who are in the lava. All, perhaps, because this year you
let things slide.
We are a nice and kindly people, but it is already evident that we
are stealing back into the old grooves, seeking cushions for our old
bones, rather than attempting to build up a fairer future. That is
what we mean when we say that the country is settling down. Make
haste, or you will become like us, with only the thing we proudly
call experience to add to your stock, a poor exchange for the
generous feelings that time will take away. We have no intention
of giving you your share. Look around and see how much share Youth
has now that the war is over. You got a handsome share while it
I expect we shall beat you; unless your fortitude be doubly girded
by a desire to send a message of cheer to your brothers who fell,
the only message, I believe, for which they crave; they are not
worrying about their Aunt Jane. They want to know if you have
learned wisely from what befell them; if you have, they will be
braced in the feeling that they did not die in vain. Some of them
think they did. They will not take our word for it that they did not.
You are their living image; they know you could not lie to them, but
they distrust our flattery and our cunning faces. To us they have
passed away; but are you who stepped into their heritage only
yesterday, whose books are scarcely cold to their hands, you who
still hear their cries being blown across the links--are you
already relegating them to the shades? The gaps they have left
in this University are among the most honourable of her wounds.
But we are not here to acclaim them. Where they are now, hero is,
I think, a very little word. They call to you to find out in time
the truth about this great game, which your elders play for stakes
and Youth plays for its life.
I do not know whether you are grown a little tired of that word hero,
but I am sure the heroes are. That is the subject of one of our
unfinished plays; M'Connachie is the one who writes the plays.
If any one of you here proposes to be a playwright you can take this
for your own and finish it. The scene is a school, schoolmasters
present, but if you like you could make it a university, professors
present. They are discussing an illuminated scroll about a student
fallen in the war, which they have kindly presented to his parents;
and unexpectedly the parents enter. They are an old pair, backbent,
they have been stalwarts in their day but have now gone small;
they are poor, but not so poor that they could not send their boy
to college. They are in black, not such a rusty black either,
and you may be sure she is the one who knows what to do with his hat.
Their faces are gnarled, I suppose--but I do not need to describe
that pair to Scottish students. They have come to thank the
Senatus for their lovely scroll and to ask them to tear it up.
At first they had been enamoured to read of what a scholar their
son was, how noble and adored by all. But soon a fog settled
over them, for this grand person was not the boy they knew.
He had many a fault well known to them; he was not always so
noble; as a scholar he did no more than scrape through; and he
sometimes made his father rage and his mother grieve. They had
liked to talk such memories as these together, and smile over them,
as if they were bits of him he had left lying about the house.
So thank you kindly, and would you please give them back their boy
by tearing up the scroll? I see nothing else for our dramatist to do.
I think he should ask an alumna of St. Andrews to play the old lady
(indicating Miss Ellen Terry). The loveliest of all young actresses,
the dearest of all old ones; it seems only yesterday that all the men
of imagination proposed to their beloveds in some such frenzied
words as these, 'As I can't get Miss Terry, may I have you?'
This play might become historical as the opening of your propaganda
in the proposed campaign. How to make a practical advance?
The League of Nations is a very fine thing, but it cannot save you,
because it will be run by us. Beware your betters bringing presents.
What is wanted is something run by yourselves. You have more in
common with the Youth of other lands than Youth and Age can ever
have with each other; even the hostile countries sent out many a
son very like ours, from the same sort of homes, the same sort of
universities, who had as little to do as our youth had with the
origin of the great adventure. Can we doubt that many of these
on both sides who have gone over and were once opponents are now
friends? You ought to have a League of Youth of all countries
as your beginning, ready to say to all Governments, 'We will fight
each other but only when we are sure of the necessity.' Are you
equal to your job, you young men? If not, I call upon the
red-gowned women to lead the way. I sound to myself as if I were
advocating a rebellion, though I am really asking for a larger
friendship. Perhaps I may be arrested on leaving the hall. In such
a cause I should think that I had at last proved myself worthy to be
You will have to work harder than ever, but possibly not so much
at the same things; more at modern languages certainly if you are
to discuss that League of Youth with the students of other nations
when they come over to St. Andrews for the Conference. I am far from
taking a side against the classics. I should as soon argue against
your having tops to your heads; that way lie the best tops.
Science, too, has at last come to its own in St. Andrews. It is
the surest means of teaching you how to know what you mean when
you say. So you will have to work harder. Isaak Walton quotes the
saying that doubtless the Almighty could have created a finer fruit
than the strawberry, but that doubtless also He never did. Doubtless
also He could have provided us with better fun than hard work, but
I don't know what it is. To be born poor is probably the next best
thing. The greatest glory that has ever come to me was to be
swallowed up in London, not knowing a soul, with no means of
subsistence, and the fun of working till the stars went out.
To have known any one would have spoilt it. I did not even quite
know the language. I rang for my boots, and they thought I said
a glass of water, so I drank the water and worked on. There was
no food in the cupboard, so I did not need to waste time in eating.
The pangs and agonies when no proof came. How courteously tolerant
was I of the postman without a proof for us; how M'Connachie,
on the other hand, wanted to punch his head. The magic days when
our article appeared in an evening paper. The promptitude with
which I counted the lines to see how much we should get for it.
Then M'Connachie's superb air of dropping it into the gutter.
Oh, to be a free lance of journalism again--that darling jade!
Those were days. Too good to last. Let us be grave. Here comes
But now, on reflection, a dreadful sinking assails me, that this was
not really work. The artistic callings--you remember how Stevenson
thumped them--are merely doing what you are clamorous to be at;
it is not real work unless you would rather be doing something else.
My so-called labours were just M'Connachie running away with me again.
Still, I have sometimes worked; for instance, I feel that I am
working at this moment. And the big guns are in the same plight
as the little ones. Carlyle, the king of all rectors, has always
been accepted as the arch-apostle of toil, and has registered his
many woes. But it will not do. Despite sickness, poortith, want
and all, he was grinding all his life at the one job he revelled in.
An extraordinarily happy man, though there is no direct proof that
he thought so.
There must be many men in other callings besides the arts lauded
as hard workers who are merely out for enjoyment. Our Chancellor?
(indicating Lord Haig). If our Chancellor has always a passion
to be a soldier, we must reconsider him as a worker. Even our
Principal? How about the light that burns in our Principal's
room after decent people have gone to bed? If we could climb up
and look in--I should like to do something of that kind for the
last time--should we find him engaged in honest toil, or guiltily
engrossed in chemistry?
You will all fall into one of those two callings, the joyous or the
uncongenial; and one wishes you into the first, though our sympathy,
our esteem, must go rather to the less fortunate, the braver ones
who 'turn their necessity to glorious gain' after they have put away
their dreams. To the others will go the easy prizes of life,
success, which has become a somewhat odious onion nowadays, chiefly
because we so often give the name to the wrong thing. When you
reach the evening of your days you will, I think, see--with, I hope,
becoming cheerfulness--that we are all failures, at least all the
best of us. The greatest Scotsman that ever lived wrote himself
down a failure:
'The poor inhabitant below
Was quick to learn and wise to know
And keenly felt the friendly glow
And softer flame.
But thoughtless follies laid him low,
And stained his name.'
Perhaps the saddest lines in poetry, written by a man who could make
things new for the gods themselves.
If you want to avoid being like Burns there are several possible ways.
Thus you might copy us, as we shine forth in our published memoirs,
practically without a flaw. No one so obscure nowadays but that he
can have a book about him. Happy the land that can produce such
subjects for the pen.
But do not put your photograph at all ages into your autobiography.
That may bring you to the ground. 'My Life; and what I have done
with it'; that is the sort of title, but it is the photographs that
give away what you have done with it. Grim things, those portraits;
if you could read the language of them you would often find it
unnecessary to read the book. The face itself, of course,
is still more tell-tale, for it is the record of all one's past
life. There the man stands in the dock, page by page; we ought
to be able to see each chapter of him melting into the next
like the figures in the cinematograph. Even the youngest of you
has got through some chapters already. When you go home for the
next vacation someone is sure to say 'John has changed a little;
I don't quite see in what way, but he has changed.' You remember
they said that last vacation. Perhaps it means that you look less
like your father. Think that out. I could say some nice things
of your betters if I chose.
In youth you tend to look rather frequently into a mirror, not at
all necessarily from vanity. You say to yourself, 'What an
interesting face; I wonder what he is to be up to?' Your elders
do not look into the mirror so often. We know what he has been
up to. As yet there is unfortunately no science of reading other
people's faces; I think a chair for this should be founded
in St. Andrews.
The new professor will need to be a sublime philosopher, and for
obvious reasons he ought to wear spectacles before his senior class.
It will be a gloriously optimistic chair, for he can tell his
students the glowing truth, that what their faces are to be like
presently depends mainly on themselves. Mainly, not altogether--
'I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.'
I found the other day an old letter from Henley that told me of the
circumstances in which he wrote that poem. 'I was a patient,'
he writes, 'in the old infirmary of Edinburgh. I had heard vaguely
of Lister, and went there as a sort of forlorn hope on the chance of
saving my foot. The great surgeon received me, as he did and does
everybody, with the greatest kindness, and for twenty months I lay
in one or other ward of the old place under his care. It was a
desperate business, but he saved my foot, and here I am.' There he
was, ladies and gentlemen, and what he was doing during that
'desperate business' was singing that he was master of his fate.
If you want an example of courage try Henley. Or Stevenson.
I could tell you some stories abut these two, but they would not
be dull enough for a rectorial address. For courage, again,
take Meredith, whose laugh was 'as broad as a thousand beeves at
pasture.' Take, as I think, the greatest figure literature has
still left us, to be added to-day to the roll of St. Andrews'
alumni, though it must be in absence. The pomp and circumstance
of war will pass, and all others now alive may fade from the scene,
but I think the quiet figure of Hardy will live on.
I seem to be taking all my examples from the calling I was lately
pretending to despise. I should like to read you some passages of a
letter from a man of another calling, which I think will hearten you.
I have the little filmy sheets here. I thought you might like to see
the actual letter; it has been a long journey; it has been to the
South Pole. It is a letter to me from Captain Scott of the
Antarctic, and was written in the tent you know of, where it was
found long afterwards with his body and those of some other very
gallant gentlemen, his comrades. The writing is in pencil, still
quite clear, though toward the end some of the words trail away
as into the great silence that was waiting for them. It begins:
'We are pegging out in a very comfortless spot.
Hoping this letter may be found and sent to you, I write
you a word of farewell. I want you to think well of me
and my end.' (After aome private instructions too
intimate to read, he goes on): 'Goodbye--I am not at
all afraid of the end, but sad to miss many a simple
pleasure which I had planned for the future in our long
marches. . . . We are in a desperate state--feet
frozen, etc., no fuel, and a long way from food, but it
would do your heart good to be in our tent, to hear our
songs and our cheery conversation. . . . Later--(it
is here that the words become difficult)--We are very
near the end. . . . We did intend to finish ourselves
when things proved like this, but we have decided to die
I think it may uplift you all to stand for a moment by that tent and
listen, as he says, to their songs and cheery conversation. When I
think of Scott I remember the strange Alpine story of the youth who
fell down a glacier and was lost, and of how a scientific companion,
one of several who accompanied him, all young, computed that the
body would again appear at a certain date and place many years
afterwards. When that time came round some of the survivors returned
to the glacier to see if the prediction would be fulfilled; all old
men now; and the body reappeared as young as on the day he left them.
So Scott and his comrades emerge out of the white immensities always
How comely a thing is affliction borne cheerfully, which is not
beyond the reach of the humblest of us. What is beauty? It is
these hard-bitten men singing courage to you from their tent;
it is the waves of their island home crooning of their deeds to you
who are to follow them. Sometimes beauty boils over and them spirits
are abroad. Ages may pass as we look or listen, for time is
annihilated. There is a very old legend told to me by Nansen the
explorer--I like well to be in the company of explorers--the legend
of a monk who had wandered into the fields and a lark began to sing.
He had never heard a lark before, and he stood there entranced until
the bird and its song had become part of the heavens. Then he went
back to the monastery and found there a doorkeeper whom he did not
know and who did not know him. Other monks came, and they were all
strangers to him. He told them he was Father Anselm, but that was
no help. Finally they looked through the books of the monastery,
and these revealed that there had been a Father Anselm there a
hundred or more years before. Time had been blotted out while
he listened to the lark.
That, I suppose, was a case of beauty boiling over, or a soul boiling
over; perhaps the same thing. Then spirits walk.
They must sometimes walk St. Andrews. I do not mean the ghosts
of queens or prelates, but one that keeps step, as soft as snow,
with some poor student. He sometimes catches sight of it.
That is why his fellows can never quite touch him, their best
beloved; he half knows something of which they know nothing--the
secret that is hidden in the face of the Monna Lisa. As I see him,
life is so beautiful to him that its proportions are monstrous.
Perhaps his childhood may have been overfull of gladness;
they don't like that. If the seekers were kind he is the one for
whom the flags of his college would fly one day. But the seeker
I am thinking of is unfriendly, and so our student is 'the lad
that will never be told.' He often gaily forgets, and thinks
he has slain his foe by daring him, like him who, dreading water,
was always the first to leap into it. One can see him serene,
astride a Scotch cliff, singing to the sun the farewell thanks
of a boy:
'Throned on a cliff serene Man saw the sun
hold a red torch above the farthest seas,
and the fierce island pinnacles put on
in his defence their sombre panoplies;
Foremost the white mists eddied, trailed and spun
like seekers, emulous to clasp his knees,
till all the beauty of the scene seemed one,
led by the secret whispers of the breeze.
'The sun's torch suddenly flashed upon his face
and died; and he sat content in subject night
and dreamed of an old dead foe that had sought
and found him;
a beast stirred bodly in his resting-place;
And the cold came; Man rose to his master-height,
shivered, and turned away; but the mists were
If there is any of you here so rare that the seekers have taken an
ill-will to him, as to the boy who wrote those lines, I ask you to
be careful. Henley says in that poem we were speaking of:
'Under the bludgeonings of Chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.'
A fine mouthful, but perhaps 'My head is bloody and bowed' is better.
Let us get back to that tent with its songs and cheery conversation.
Courage. I do not think it is to be got by your becoming solemn-sides
before your time. You must have been warned against letting the
golden hours slip by. Yes, but some of them are golden only because
we let them slip. Diligence--ambition; noble words, but only if
'touched to fine issues.' Prizes may be dross, learning lumber,
unless they bring you into the arena with increased understanding.
Hanker not too much after worldly prosperity--that corpulent cigar; if
you became a millionaire you would probably go swimming around for
more like a diseased goldfish. Look to it that what you are doing is
not merely toddling to a competency. Perhaps that must be your fate,
but fight it and then, though you fail, you may still be among the
elect of whom we have spoken. Many a brave man has had to come to it
at last. But there are the complacent toddlers from the start.
Favour them not, ladies, especially now that every one of you carries
a possible marechal's baton under her gown. 'Happy,' it has been said
by a distinguished man, 'is he who can leave college with an
unreproaching conscience and an unsullied heart.' I don't know; he
sounds to me like a sloppy, watery sort of fellow; happy, perhaps, but
if there be red blood in him impossible. Be not disheartened by
ideals of perfection which can be achieved only by those who run away.
Nature, that 'thrifty goddess,' never gave you 'the smallest scruple
of her excellence' for that. Whatever bludgeonings may be gathering
for you, I think one feels more poignantly at your age than ever again
in life. You have not our December roses to help you; but you have
June coming, whose roses do not wonder, as do ours even while they
give us their fragrance--wondering most when they give us most--that
we should linger on an empty scene. It may indeed be monstrous but
Courage is the thing. All goes if courage goes. What says our
glorious Johnson of courage: 'Unless a man has that virtue he has
no security for preserving any other.' We should thank our Creator
three times daily for courage instead of for our bread, which,
if we work, is surely the one thing we have a right to claim of Him.
This courage is a proof of our immortality, greater even than
gardens 'when the eve is cool.' Pray for it. 'Who rises from
prayer a better man, his prayer is answered.' Be not merely
courageous, but light-hearted and gay. There is an officer
who was the first of our Army to land at Gallipoli. He was
dropped overboard to light decoys on the shore, so as to deceive
the Turks as to where the landing was to be. He pushed a raft
containing these in front of him. It was a frosty night,
and he was naked and painted black. Firing from the ships was
going on all around. It was a two-hours' swim in pitch darkness.
He did it, crawled through the scrub to listen to the talk of the
enemy, who were so near that he could have shaken hands with them,
lit his decoys and swam back. He seems to look on this as a gay
affair. He is a V.C. now, and you would not think to look at him
that he could ever have presented such a disreputable appearance.
Would you? (indicating Colonel Freyberg).
Those men of whom I have been speaking as the kind to fill the fife
could all be light-hearted on occasion. I remember Scott by
Highland streams trying to rouse me by maintaining that haggis
is boiled bagpipes; Henley in dispute as to whether, say, Turgenieff
or Tolstoi could hang the other on his watch-chain; he sometimes
clenched the argument by casting his crutch at you; Stevenson
responded in the same gay spirit by giving that crutch to
John Silver; you remember with what adequate results. You must
cultivate this light-heartedness if you are to hang your
betters on your watch-chains. Dr. Johnson--let us have him again--
does not seem to have discovered in his travels that the Scots
are a light-hearted nation. Boswell took him to task for saying
that the death of Garrick had eclipsed the gaiety of nations.
'Well, sir,' Johnson said, 'there may be occasions when it is
permissible to,' etc. But Boswell would not let go. 'I cannot
see, sir, how it could in any case have eclipsed the gaiety of
nations, as England was the only nation before whom he had ever
played.' Johnson was really stymied, but you would never have
known it. 'Well, sir,' he said, holing out, 'I understand
that Garrick once played in Scotland, and if Scotland has any
gaiety to eclipse, which, sir, I deny----'
Prove Johnson wrong for once at the Students' Union and in your
other societies. I much regret that there was no Students' Union
at Edinburgh in my time. I hope you are fairly noisy and that
members are sometimes let out. Do you keep to the old topics?
King Charles's head; and Bacon wrote Shakespeare, or if he did
not he missed the opportunity of his life. Don't forget to speak
scornfully of the Victorian age; there will be time for meekness
when you try to better it. Very soon you will be Victorian or that
sort of thing yourselves; next session probably, when the freshmen
come up. Afterwards, if you go in for my sort of calling, don't
begin by thinking you are the last word in art; quite possibly you
are not; steady yourself by remembering that there were great men
before William K. Smith. Make merry while you may. Yet
light-heartedness is not for ever and a day. At its best it is
the gay companion of innocence; and when innocence goes--
as it must go--they soon trip off together, looking for something
younger. But courage comes all the way:
'Fight on, my men, says Sir Andrew Barton,
I am hurt, but I am not slaine;
I'll lie me down and bleed a-while,
And then I'll rise and fight againe.'
Another piece of advice; almost my last. For reasons you may guess
I must give this in a low voice. Beware of M'Connachie. When I
look in a mirror now it is his face I see. I speak with his voice.
I once had a voice of my own, but nowadays I hear it from far away
only, a melancholy, lonely, lost little pipe. I wanted to be an
explorer, but he willed otherwise. You will all have your
M'Connachies luring you off the high road. Unless you are
constantly on the watch, you will find that he has slowly pushed
you out of yourself and taken your place. He has rather done
for me. I think in his youth he must somehow have guessed the
future and been fleggit by it, flichtered from the nest like a
bird, and so our eggs were left, cold. He has clung to me, less
from mischief than for companionship; I half like him and his penny
whistle; with all his faults he is as Scotch as peat; he whispered
to me just now that you elected him, not me, as your Rector.
A final passing thought. Were an old student given an hour in
which to revisit the St. Andrews of his day, would he spend more
than half of it at lectures? He is more likely to be heard
clattering up bare stairs in search of old companions. But if you
could choose your hour from all the five hundred years of this seat
of learning, wandering at your will from one age to another, how
would you spend it? A fascinating theme; so many notable shades
at once astir that St. Leonard's and St. Mary's grow murky with them.
Hamilton, Melville, Sharpe, Chalmers, down to Herkless, that
distinguished Principal, ripe scholar and warm friend,
the loss of whom I deeply deplore with you. I think if that hour
were mine, and though at St. Andrews he was but a passer-by,
I would give a handsome part of it to a walk with Doctor Johnson.
I should like to have the time of day passed to me in twelve
languages by the Admirable Crichton. A wave of the hand to
Andrew Lang; and then for the archery butts with the gay Montrose,
all a-ruffled and ringed, and in the gallant St. Andrews student
manner, continued as I understand to this present day, scattering
largess as he rides along,
'But where is now the courtly troupe
That once went riding by?
I miss the curls of Canteloupe,
The laugh of Lady Di.'
We have still left time for a visit to a house in South Street,
hard by St. Leonard's. I do not mean the house
you mean. I am
a Knox man. But little will that avail, for M'Connachie is a
Queen Mary man. So, after all, it is at her door we chap, a last
futile effort to bring that woman to heel. One more house of call,
a student's room, also in South Street. I have chosen my student,
you see, and I have chosen well; him that sang--
'Life has not since been wholly vain,
And now I bear
Of wisdom plucked from joy and pain
Some slender share.
'But howsoever rich the store,
I'd lay it down
To feel upon my back once more
The old red gown.'
Well, we have at last come to an end. Some of you may remember
when I began this address; we are all older now. I thank you for
your patience. This is my first and last public appearance,
and I never could or would have made it except to a gathering
of Scottish students. If I have concealed my emotions in addressing
you it is only the thrawn national way that deceives everybody
except Scotsmen. I have not been as dull as I could have wished
to be; but looking at your glowing faces cheerfulness and hope would
keep breaking through. Despite the imperfections of your betters we
leave you a great inheritance, for which others will one day call
you to account. You come of a race of men the very wind of whose
name has swept to the ultimate seas. Remember--
'Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,
Not light them for themselves. . . .'
Mighty are the Universities of Scotland, and they will prevail.
But even in your highest exultations never forget that they are
not four, but five. The greatest of them is the poor, proud
homes you come out of, which said so long ago: 'There shall be
education in this land.' She, not St. Andrews, is the oldest
University in Scotland, and all the others are her whelps.
In bidding you good-bye, my last words must be of the lovely
virtue. Courage, my children and 'greet the unseen with a cheer.'
'Fight on, my men,' said Sir Andrew Barton. Fight on--you--
for the old red gown till the whistle blows.