'Two Cultures' in Nineteenth-Century Portugal:
Scholarship v. Science in Higher Education
Leal de Faria
Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa
In the nineteenth century, the Portuguese intelligentsia
addressed one of the issues that confronted them with other European
countries: the need to face the challenges of industrialisation through
educational reform. This paper focuses on the main issue of university
reform at a time when the only university in the country, Coimbra, showed
signs of excessive conservatism both in its syllabus and teaching methods,
and was confronted with new proposals for the introduction of technological
disciplines at the creation of polytechnical schools. A parallel will
also be drawn with the ongoing debate on the same subject in England.
University, education, culture, tradition, science
In the well-known Reith Lecture of 1959, C. P. Snow stressed what appeared
to him to be a major cultural problem in Western society: it was "increasingly
being split into two polar groups
the literary intellectuals
and the scientists"(Snow 1978: 3-4). For Lord Snow, a huge gap had
evolved between these groups, separating them into two different cultures,
which did not communicate with each other and, worse than this, could
even be hostile to each other. This polarisation generated an immense
intellectual loss. For Snow, the situation required drastic measures,
involving the breaking of a longstanding pattern of education at all levels.
This pattern was set in the nineteenth century, when education became
both a major social problem and a major solution for social problems.
Different diagnoses were made of the social situation and different solutions
were attempted, involving a broad range of responses: from childhood to
adult education; from innovation in methodology to innovation in content;
from reform of the old institutions to the creation of countless new ones.
But, already in the early nineteenth century, the main line of argument
was whether education should focus essentially on the formation of the
character through the study of the classics, or whether it should follow
utilitarian guidelines and prepare young people for a useful profession,
helping to increase technological capabilities and to meet the challenges
of industrialisation. Or, to quote the words of Robert J. C. Young:
A sublime elevation versus a rational ground, a glorious truth versus
vulgar utility, knowledge for its own sake versus debasing instrumentality,
quality of mind versus practical needs, the universal versus the particular:
such were the terms of the debate which, in spite of local variations,
has remained the basis of discussions of university education from that
day to this (Young 1996: 188).
This paper seeks to compare the way the English intelligentsia
pondered the role of education in general and of the universities in particular,
in the decades of swift industrial change from roughly the 1820s to the
1860s, with the concerns shown by the Portuguese intelligentsia
in relation to the same subject. Roughly the same questions were raised,
and, as Robert Young said, they still remain much the same today. We can
perhaps summarise the main problems faced then and now under three main
headings: 1) the opposition between literary and scientific knowledge;
2) the nature of the institutions of higher education dedicated either
to the one or the other, i.e. universities and technical schools; and
3) the nature of state intervention in institutions of higher learning.
We could, of course, extend this discussion into other relevant areas,
such as the relationship between teaching and research, the awarding of
academic degrees, careers in higher education, social access to the university
and to technical institutions, and many others. We would probably find
that the nature of these problems has not changed significantly in the
past 150 years.
In the second half of the eighteenth century, a group of dissenting academies
had already begun to create alternatives to the more conservative universities.
Many elected English as the medium of instruction instead of Latin, and
were concerned with the study of the natural world. Students were encouraged
to specialise and Natural Science was taught through experimental methods.
The seeds of what was later to develop, in the works of Jeremy Bentham,
into utilitarianism and chrestomathic education, had already been sown
in dissenting academies by Joseph Priestley, who outlined the doctrine
of the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Many students went from
these academies to Scottish or continental universities, where the natural
sciences were taught, and on their return applied their knowledge to local
industries. At the end of the eighteenth century, we can already notice
that English and Scottish universities offered not only different syllabuses,
but also that the nature of the institutions was quite different.
As Elie Halevy points out, "when a boy left school he proceeded to
the University. He became a student at one of the four Scottish
universities, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St. Andrews, Aberdeen, or an undergraduate
of Oxford or Cambridge. To the two terms correspond two distinct types
of university" (Halevy 1987: 469). The Scottish universities offered
entrance at about the age of fourteen, whereas Oxford and Cambridge admitted
undergraduates at more or less the age of eighteen. Therefore, the Scottish
universities could hardly be regarded as institutions of higher education.
On the other hand, the course of studies, which took four years, or four
"sessions", as they were called, was almost exempt from the
study of the classics and focused mainly on a philosophical education.
The first session was spent on the study of Latin and the beginnings of
Greek. The second was devoted to Logic and the third to Moral Philosophy,
which included the philosophy of history and political economy. The fourth
session was dedicated to the study of natural philosophy, i.e. physics
and chemistry. In addition, there was a special course in mathematics
during the second and third years, which served as a basis for the study
of natural philosophy. "It is the curriculum, comprehensive without
being overburdened, of a superior type of secondary education. England
did not possess its equivalent," stresses Halevy (id.).1
The students who wanted to follow a profession, whether in the ministry,
law or medicine, would then progress to a specialised school and receive
professional training. It is worth mentioning that the medical schools
of Scotland were particularly famous.
Other characteristics marked a distinction between Scottish and English
universities: in Scotland, the students were non-collegiate, living in
lodging in town and only attending the lectures, which were public, for
twenty-two weeks, the duration of each session. The fees were payable
to the professors, a system that Adam Smith praised in the fifth book
of the Wealth of Nations as stimulating free enterprise and competition,
thereby increasing the quality of the lectures. On the other hand, the
universities of Oxford and Cambridge, heavily endowed by the Church of
England and private funding, seemed to favour idleness and a lack of interest
on the part of the tutors and fellows, who earned their salaries whether
they lectured or not (Smith 1998: 422, 588 n.).
In spite of occasional interest shown by the two universities of Oxford
and Cambridge in the study of the natural sciences in the eighteenth century
and the endowment of chairs in fields such as botany and experimental
philosophy, together with the creation of laboratories and observatories,
the fact remains that, in the early decades of the nineteenth century,
education in both universities was mainly dedicated to the study of the
classics as the proper knowledge for a gentleman. Nevertheless, the torpor
into which both universities had fallen began to be shaken, as criticism
began to mount in articles published in the Edinburgh Review, for
instance, in 1810, which elicited a vehement response from E. Coppleston2,
or in comparisons with the Scottish and German universities, and even
with the reforms of the French higher education system promoted by Napoleon.3
But the main challenge to Oxford and Cambridge came from within England,
and not from without. Until the mid-1820s, the alternatives to the Anglican
universities had been mainly the Dissenting academies, which had no university
status. But, in 1826, a new University was formed, this time with a secular
orientation. The Benthamites and the dissenters founded the University
of London in 1826, as an alternative to the somnolence of Oxford
and Cambridge (Hobsbawm 1980: 339). It started in a disused rubbish
dump on Gower Street and was at first little more than a joint-stock
medical school, for, by 1834, more than half of its students were
studying medicine and attempts to enlist further professional groups such
as mineralogists, engineers, designers and educationalists had failed
(Armytage 1964: 103). But, nevertheless, a revolution had been started:
London University was the first to admit students without a religious
test, and it stressed its secular and utilitarian orientation.
Besides, it was a non-residential university and its funding was run on
private lines. The radicals, Brougham, Birkbeck and Francis Place, provided
the secular and utilitarian frame of the syllabus, Isaac Goldsmith, the
financier and philanthropist, the main funding.4
The challenge set by the Godless curriculum of London University
was enough to stimulate the Church Party, which founded Kings College,
in the Strand, in 1828, followed by Durham University in 1834 (cf. Perkin
1994: 298). Kings, though specifically Anglican and offering religious
and moral instruction, made similar concessions to preparation for
the professions and enrolled a majority of medical students, as London
University had done. Both colleges appointed professors who were not only
scholars but were also distinguished in the applied sciences. Among the
first five professors at Gower Street, three were graduates of the University
of Edinburgh: Anthony Panizzi, who later built the great reading room
of the British Museum; Leonard Horner, who founded the Edinburgh School
of Arts; and J. R. McCulloch, the expositor of the Wages Fund
theory. Kings College enlisted the services of J. F. Daniel, the
inventor of the hygrometer, who took the chair of Chemistry, and Charles
Wheatstone, the pioneer of spectrum analysis and submarine telegraphy,
who took the chair of Physics.
The two colleges were joined by charter in 1836, under the name of London
University, and the institution at Gower Street became known as University
College. The new university was organised in a completely different way
from Oxford and Cambridge: not only did it stress its emphasis on professional
education, but it was also concerned with offering opportunities for higher
education to the middling and lower classes. By 1851, it was offering
degrees to 29 general colleges and 60 medical schools spread all over
England. Harold Perkin sums up the challenge posed by the Benthamites
to the conservative forces in English society:
[I]n spite of the failure of the Benthamites and their allies
to create alternative systems of education for the various classes capable
of completely replacing those of the aristocracy and its Church, they
were able to stimulate the latter to reform and extend the existing provision
and to do so in accordance with the spirit of the entrepreneurial ideal
(Perkin 1994: 294).
The project behind this new departure was Jeremy Benthams Chrestomathia,
which means useful knowledge. The full title of the work,
Chrestomathia, Being a Collection of Papers explanatory of the Design
of an Institution, proposed to be set on foot under the name of the Chrestomathic
Day School, or Chrestomathic School, for the Extension of the New System
of Instruction to the higher Branches of Learning. For the Use of the
middling and higher Ranks in Life, shows that it served more than
one purpose. It was, on the one hand, a blueprint for a new kind of school,
to be built on the panoptical plan5 and managed under new guidelines.
On the other hand, it set forth a new programme of studies, which, according
to its author, would afford access to reasoning and knowledge, guaranteed
to produce the happiness of the greatest number. The syllabus provided
in Chrestomathia was conceived for the instruction of children
up to the age of fifteen, but it could be expanded and followed along
more specialised lines in further education. Since the chrestomathic project
formed the basis of a whole concept and philosophy of education, developing
into higher education, it is important to look at the main lines of the
argument and follow its impact on the Portuguese system of education.
Bentham gives full credit to a few predecessors, who had developed what
he calls the scholar-teacher principle, above all Dr. Lancaster
and Dr. Bell. The system consisted in the employment of the most
advanced, and in other respects most capable, among the scholars themselves
as teachers to the rest (Bentham 1994: Chrestomatic
Tables: Table II, 8)6. This system, which included another
two degrees, scholar-tutors and scholar-monitors, was designed to enable
one single Master to be in command of a room of 1000 pupils. The advantages
of the system are fully presented by the author, who stresses that the
application of this principle is
not a make-shift occasionally
employed, as under the old system, for want of a supply of grown-up under-Teachers,
- but an essential feature, operating to the complete and purposed
exclusion, of all such naturally reluctant and untractable subordinates
(id.: 9). The enforcement of discipline was another main feature of the
new project. Bentham was against corporal punishment and devised an intricate
system of rewards and punishments that worked psychologically, in large
part through the effects of the panoptical architecture of the school,
which provided the means for a constant inspection of individual work
and performance. By means of this system, large numbers of students would
then be fully instructed in a course of studies which was completely secular,
designed to provide useful encyclopaedic knowledge and be open to boys
and girls on an equal footing.7
But what is also interesting in Chrestomathia, though much less
stressed in comments on the work, is the second part, which Bentham calls
An Essay on Nomenclature and Classification: including a critical Examination
of the Encyclopaedic Table of Lord Bacon, as improved by DAlembert;
and the first lines of a New One, grounded on the Application of the Logical
Principle of Exhaustive Bifurcate Analysis to the Moral Principle of General
Utility. Here, Bentham devises a whole system of thought designed
to replace the long line of logical thought from Aristotles Organon
to Bacons New Organon and the work of the French Encyclopaedists,
which was grounded on Bacons The Advancement of Learning. Benthams
project consisted in the development of a system of logic based on Eudemonics,
i.e. felicity, conducive to the well-being of the greatest number: once
a pupil at the chrestomathic school could master the system, he or she
would attain the desirable state of happiness. So, besides providing for
the useful professions, the chrestomathic school sought to be an instrument
of universal bliss.
The monitorial system itself was highly praised in Portugal. Several writers
refer to the merits of the Madras system and describe how
Bell and Lancaster had devised this interesting process of multiplication
in the school room. The first sign of its impact on Portuguese soil appeared
on the island of Madeira in 1817, barely one year after the publication
of Chrestomathia. An English merchant, Joseph Phelps, created a
society for the promotion of the scholar-teacher system, according to
Lancasters method, and, on 1 December 1832, he opened a school for
both sexes, to which 135 pupils were admitted8. By then, the
system had already been enforced by law in Lisbon in 1824, and in 1826
it was extended to the whole country. As far as we can read in the documents
of the time, the reasons for the Portuguese acclaim for Lancasters
method were practical ones: it was not the philosophical concept behind
Benthams proposals but the expedient means of providing a great
number of teachers at short notice that attracted the praise of the Portuguese.
Besides, there were some who thought that the method was congenial to
the Portuguese, who had long before adopted the "happy method"
of having the more advanced students teach the more backward and form
among themselves the sabatinas, or repetition of questions and
Teófilo Braga, one of the Portuguese scholars belonging to a highly
creative generation of writers who studied at the University of Coimbra,
and who, like most of the Portuguese intelligentsia of the nineteenth
century, deeply resented Britains political, military and economic
power over Portugal at the time, nevertheless highly praised the advances
made in the "sciences of education" all over Europe through
the works of Fellenberg and Pestalozzi, and also that of the British scholars,
Bell and Lancaster. Like many of his contemporaries, Braga was persuaded
that Portugal could face the challenges of industrialisation only through
education, that education should be open to all classes and that the State
should support the education of the working classes. He also thought that
the process should be conducted along secular lines and that it should
follow a system, i.e. there should be a philosophy of education running
from the basegeneral education for allto the topuniversity
education. At all levels, education should be concerned not with "knowledge
for its own sake", as Newman was to put it in the 1850s, but with
a purpose: preparation for a profession.
Oxford and Cambridge offered degrees for the Church and a literary education
for gentlemen. The University of Coimbra offered courses in Theology,
Medicine, Mathematics and Law, just like most European universities at
the time, but, in the nineteenth century, a majority of students followed
Law. Most Portuguese writers who were critical of the University charged
it with giving excessive emphasis on the study of Law and credited the
backwardness of the political ruling class to the theological character
of the University, seeing the power of a degree in Law as a simple instrument
for achieving a sinecure and a lifetime in public service. In contradiction
to this practice, the country needed engineers, chemists and all sorts
of professionals in the natural and applied sciences.10
In Portugal, as in Britain, a number of institutions with a more professional
and applied profile had already sprung up: schools of medical sciences,
veterinary sciences, polytechnical institutions giving courses in engineering,
both military and civil, accounting and many others. But these did not
possess university status. The Academies, where scientific research was
conducted on experimental lines, had developed in England from the foundation
of the Royal Society in 1660, and Portugal could boast of two Academies,
both founded in the eighteenth century, The Royal Academy of History (1720),
and The Royal Academy of the Sciences (1779). But the Portuguese Academies
were to cooperate closely with the University and become entangled in
the political strife of the nineteenth century, thereby losing sight of
their scientific purposes to some extent.11
The attempt to overthrow the practices of Portuguese education took its
inspiration from abroad. Many Portuguese were exiles in England and France
during the civil wars of the nineteenth century and were in touch with
the latest reforms and experiments in the field of education. We have
already mentioned the educational theories that circulated in Portugal
and were sometimes adopted by law. The experiments undertaken in Germany
and the creation of the University of Berlin were welcomed as projects
based on philosophical grounds, as the works of Humboldt and others stressed
the need to reconcile teaching and research, and to guarantee the independence
of the University from state intervention. The French initiatives, which
were an outcome of the French Revolution, were also often quoted as examples
of a radical reform that abolished the old Sorbonne and its ecclesiastical
teaching and replaced it with various new institutions with no religious
orientation, geared towards the new sciences and technologies. State intervention
and centralisation did not seem to bother the Portuguese, who always relied
on the State to dictate reform, particularly when the university seemed
unable or unwilling to do so. The liberal English model of the university
based on the college system was absent from both implicit and explicit
examples of possible models for university reform in nineteenth-century
In my view, the reason for this absence derives from the fact that Oxford
and Cambridge retained their ecclesiastical and classical outlook well
into the middle of the century. Oxford, in particular, remained close
to the spirit that inspired the Oxford Movement in the 1830s, and Arnold
could still say, in the late 1860s, "Oxford, the Oxford of the past,
has many faults; and she has heavily paid for them in defeat, in isolation,
in want of hold upon the modern world
We have not won our political
battles, we have not carried our main points, we have not stopped our
adversaries advance, we have not marched victoriously with the modern
world" (Arnold 1971: 62). Newman, on the same side of the debate,
defended an idea of a university where theology was, with philosophy and
the classics, the core curriculum for the education of the gentleman,
and where knowledge would be non-utilitarian and science considered a
skill not requiring much intellectual power. In a conference titled "Knowledge
Viewed in Relation to Professional Skill" he debated both points
of view at length, opposing a utilitarian and liberal education and the
university (Newman 1962: 114-135)12. Coleridge had already
denounced the initiatives of the Benthamites as the symptoms of a disease
that threatened to kill the culture of the country (Coleridge 1972: 53).
John Stuart Mill, who was emphatically critical of the Universities of
Oxford and Cambridge, nevertheless recommended that Ancient Literature
form the main part of a university curriculum, together with History,
Logic and Philosophy of the Mind. He referred briefly to the natural and
applied sciences as "all those sciences, in which great and certain
results are arrived at by mental processes of some length and nicety
sciences of mere ratiocination, as mathematics; and sciences partly of
ratiocination, and partly of what is far more difficult, comprehensive
observation and analysis" (Mill 1981: 102). In the latter group,
he stressed only those "which relate to human nature".
The concerns about a scientific education at the university would acquire
a persuasive apologist in T. H. Huxley, who criticised the Newman/Arnold
concept of liberal education, and called the universities of Oxford and
Cambridge simply "boarding schools for bigger boys" (Huxley
1971: 93). From the 1860s onwards, many more thinkers and politicians
sided with Huxley, and the universities began to make major changes in
their curricula. New universities were created, often by granting university
status to colleges, as at Manchester in 1877, Sheffield (1897), Birmingham
(1900) and Liverpool (1904).
In Portugal, by 1823, the idea that education deserved a comprehensive
reform from primary school to the university had already been stated by
Mousinho de Albuquerque in a work entitled Ideas about the Establishment
of Public Instruction. According to the author, education should proceed
from the level of primary schools for both sexes in each parish, to secondary
schools in each district, to Lyceums in each provincial capital and to
Academies, in the cities of Oporto, Coimbra and Lisbon, each with five
full faculties: Exact Sciences, Natural Sciences, Medicine, Law, and Letters.
This project was not followed until ten years later, in 1833, when a Royal
Commission was appointed to design a new and comprehensive reform. The
Secretary of the Commission, Almeida Garrett, propounded the most advanced
ideas about education and instruction that circulated in Europe and conceived
a "great, simple and uniform framework," in which every aspect
from the various degrees in education to the management of institutions
was contemplated. Teófilo Braga commented on the project by saying
that Garrett was introducing the "polytechnical spirit" into
Portugal. In fact, he devised a reform of the University, and the creation
of Polytechnical Academies, both military and civil, the School of Civil
Building and Engineering, and a number of Institutes annexed to the Faculties
of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, as well as new provisions for the
study of the Arts. The Polytechnical Academies were to complement the
Faculties of Mathematics and Philosophy, thereby giving them "a purpose,
a social application they did not possess until now, appearing more like
institutions of academic luxury than professional establishments of public
utility." (cf. Braga 1892-1902: 109).
Impressed by the reforms he had witnessed in France, Guilherme Dias Pegado,
a professor of Mathematics at the University of Coimbra, devised a scheme
for the reform of the University on French lines, and advised the transformation
of Coimbra into the "University of Portugal", concentrating
all schools and faculties in one single national project. Both thinkers
were already concerned with the space allowed for Portuguese and contemporary
literature at the university and advanced the idea of the creation of
a Faculty of Letters, which only came into being in 186013.
In 1836, another Mathematics professor from the Royal Naval Academy, Albino
de Figueiredo e Almeida, published a Project for the Reform of Public
Instruction, in which he defended the idea that education should comprise
the complete circle of science, i.e. theory, practice and application
. The project contemplated the creation of a university in Lisbon, where
the "sciences, the arts and the letters" would be taught. The
author was influenced by the Course of Positive Philosophy started by
Auguste Comte in 1826, and who, from 1829 to 1836, had proceeded to systematise
the entire order of knowledge, a process which preceded the birth of the
discipline of Sociology. The idea of transferring the University from
Coimbra to Lisbon highlighted the concern for a centre for higher education
to be situated in a larger city, which would server to stimulate activities.
In the 1830s, the conflict between the University and the proponents of
a secular and technical education was in full swing. The secretary of
state Rodrigo da Fonseca Magalhães had presented the government
with a proposal to create an Institute for the Physical and Mathematical
Sciences. The project consisted in uniting the schools and institutes
of higher education involved in the fields of the natural and applied
sciences, management, civil and military engineering, draughtsmanship
and other subjects, into one single institution for higher learning which
would further be equipped with laboratories for physics and chemistry,
a botanical garden and an astronomical observatory. The opposition of
the University, with great influence over the new cabinet, succeeded in
aborting the project nine days after it had been approved.15
The University of Coimbra showed the most emphatic rejection of the prospective
Institute. But, instead of trying to reorganise its courses of studies
according to the new developments in the sciences, it fought to retain
its privileges. One of the Rectors of the University, Villa Maior, wrote
at length about these years and confess that the state of the university
in 1835 was so discouraging that those who despaired that it would ever
regenerate itself and who recognised the need to create institutions for
higher education in the sciences found it expedient to propose its transfer
to the capital16. He further writes that these ideas began
to awaken an ill-disguised envy amongst the body of Professors at Coimbra,
who were afraid that the competition from new schools might endanger the
supremacy of their university. As a result, the ensuing reforms were limited
to the improvement of scientific institutions in Lisbon and Oporto, without
touching the university. The failure to achieve a comprehensive law to
reform the University was greeted in Coimbra with uproarious demonstrations
of satisfaction. Villa Maior nevertheless stresses that the campaign of
the "conservative professors of Coimbra" against the "promoters
and defenders of the Institute in Lisbon" was badly managed, highly
passionate, ill-timed and exceedingly unfortunate. In his opinion, the
university had nothing to fear from the new Institute, since the "professional
learning at the university is of a different kind, and for different purposes
and the competition should, anyway, be of advantage because it excites
the desire for improvement." His criticism is best summarised in
the sentence: "To prevent the creation of a centre of useful and
necessary education is always a crime".17
Alexandre Herculano, another important essayist, historian and novelist
of the nineteenth century, deplored the triumph of the university, and
said that the tombstone had fallen upon physics, chemistry, mathematics,
astronomy, and that on it sat rejuvenated the old disciplines and old
"The question of the Polytechnical School summarises and represents
the immense question of the system of national education which was, and
which will be: the question between the education and improvement of the
agriculturists, the artisans, the industrialists on the one hand, and
the propagation of the lawyers, casuists and prigs on the other; the question
between work and idleness; the question between the farmyard and the cathedral
choir; between the printer's blade and the metaphor of the sermon; between
the steam engine and the prattle of the boaster."
The project of the Polytechnical School was revived by the Society of
the Friends of the Letters (Associação dos Amigos das Letras),
which in 1836 published a small volume called The Question of the Reform
of Higher Education in Portugal, in which a full reorganisation of
the university was contemplated and universities or faculties were to
be created in Lisbon and Oporto, thereby making several of the schools
in Coimbra redundant. For instance, theology should be taught by the Church
in seminaries and not at the university; the Faculties of Canon Law and
Law should be united in a single school, to remain in Coimbra until such
time as state funds allowed for the creation of two Faculties of Law,
one in Lisbon and the other in Oporto, where a four-year degree course
in Law would be taught. The Medical Schools in Lisbon and Oporto should
be improved and allowed to give degrees in Medicine, Surgery, Obstetrics
and Pharmacy, thereby making the School of Medicine in Coimbra redundant.
And then a new Institute for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences should
be created, where Management and Engineering would be taught, as well
as the core scientific disciplines in Mathematics and Philosophy, leading
to the award of doctoral degrees in the Sciences. This institution would
make the Faculties of Mathematics and Philosophy redundant.
In 1837, the Polytechnical School was at last created through the efforts
of the Minister of War, Sá da Bandeira, and the University of Coimbra
was reformed in 1836. But the reform of the University attracted the usual
criticism: for some it went too far; for others, not far enough. The Faculties
of Theology and Law were highly critical, but the Faculties of Medicine,
Philosophy and Mathematics welcomed a reform that showed concern with
the improvement of the natural sciences.18
In 1844, another reform was to follow which would reinforce the power
and influence of the University over every other institution for education:
a Supreme Council, operating as a kind of Ministry of Education, was constituted.
Its president was the minister of the realm and its vice-president the
Rector of the University; the other members were university professors.
This close association between the Government and the University, based
on the French centralising model, aimed at creating a co-ordinating centre
for the entire cycle of education. But many viewed it as "anti-liberal",
"anti-political" and "anti-scientific" (in Silvestre
Ribeiro, vol. 9: 197), operating as "the eye of the government, and
its main agent, upon all things relating to education" (id.: 217).
For these critics, it was a true calamity for education in Portugal;
the professors in the Council promoted the fetishism of the University,
and approved inept textbooks which atrophied entire generations, since
these textbooks were the only objects of examination all over the country
and were slavishly learnt by heart in order to satisfy bovine examiners"
(Braga 1892-1902: 158).
As the sole authority upon all things concerning education, which also
meant having authority over itself, the university tended to stay put
and resist change. In 1858, the Supreme Council presented a report stating
that, except for primary education, education in Portugal did not need
extraordinary reform measures, and that, under the august protection of
the King, and in full obedience to the laws of the country, it would progress
with splendour and public profit (in Braga 1892-1902: 161). Yet, the opinion
of foreigners travelling through Coimbra at the time registered the medieval
outlook of the students, the professors, and of the University in general:
"who would believe that there still exists in Europe a place where
the students dress like Doctor Faustus and Paracelsus, speak Latin, call
themselves the sons of the Muses and play the guitar in the moonlight
under the windows of their beloved?" Or another impression from 1878,
based on the photographs sent by the University to the International Exhibition
in Paris: "here is the Doctor, red hood and black cap, wide eyed,
he is truly the mediaeval Doctor
As a frame
to this picture, add those figures, much more of that time than of ours,
of the beadle and the halberdier" (id: 161-2 n).
Coimbra looked anachronistic to most contemporaries. The fact that all
institutions for higher education in the country were controlled by the
University led to the comparative inefficiency of the Polytechnical Schoolstheir
"denaturation", according to Bragathat is, their inclination
towards theoretical courses, following the decline of their more practical
purposes. In 1852, the government created a new Ministry of Public Works,
and by decree, this Ministry created the Industrial Institute of Lisbon
and the Industrial School of Oporto, as well as the General Institute
of Agriculture. Many reforms and the foundation of new schools dedicated
to useful learning were to follow until the end of the century. But the
political turmoil into which the country had been plunged prevented the
completion of these projects and many never saw the light of day, even
after legal ratification. This was the case with the provincial schools
of technology founded in Guimarães, Covilhã and Portalegre.
Others were truncated through a lack of funding and yet others were corrupted
by the theoretical bias of the teaching.
Yet another important development in higher education in Portugal was
to take place at the end of the 1850s: the project for a Faculty of Philosophy
and Letters in Lisbon. The young King, Dom Pedro V, was the main architect
of what was created in 1860 as the "Curso Superior de Letras".
The scientific background to the institution was the "linking of
philosophy with philology; both disciplines of thought would impregnate
and fertilise each other, joining scholarship and synthesis in a way which
should lead to the correction of the mean spirit of specialisation that
affected the harmony of modern consciousness" (Braga 1892-1902: 198).
The document in which the King recommended the creation of the new institution
for higher education is in itself a manifesto regarding the state of education
in Portugal. Dom Pedro saw the new institution as a principle of
reform for Higher Education through the study of literature, ancient
and modern, and the study of history. And he located the institution in
Lisbon, because the schools are situated where they best can recruit
their staff and best may serve the intellectual development of the people
(id: 201). The new institution served no utilitarian purpose. It did not
prepare for a profession and could remain completely independent from
the pressures that the University of Coimbra suffered when it released
into the world batches of law graduates who saw their bachelors
degree merely as an instrument for promotion in public office.
The latest developments in philosophy, philology and history in Europe
defined the early programmes of the Course. The King wanted the Faculty
to be experimental in the sciences of language and society and he himself
would attend the first lectures that were given. Unfortunately, Dom Pedro
died at the age of 24, barely eleven months after the formal opening of
the institution. Afterwards, it began to acquire some of the characteristics
of a teacher training college for secondary education and its more creative
purposes were impaired.
According to the most creative writers of the late nineteenth century,
education in Portugal suffered from a deficit of pedagogical thought,
from the absence of a system of education and from a very defective systematisation
of the sciences. For the Portuguese intelligentsia, the university
in particular lacked subjection to any philosophical principle in its
ordering of the sciences. The works of Auguste Comte, T. H. Huxley and
Herbert Spencer provided the scientific basis on which Teófilo
Braga founded his Integral System of Public Instruction (Braga
1892-1902: 232-7), in which he expressed his ideas about the ordering
of the sciences and their correspondence into institutions dedicated to
their research and teaching. But such projects were not put into practice.
The various degrees in education remained comparatively isolated from
one another and the University of Coimbra was to retain its status as
the only university in Portugal until the end of the monarchy and the
beginning of the republic in 1910-11. In spite of the fact that the Faculty
of Philosophy had, since 1844, included the study of sciences such as
Physics, Chemistry, Zoology, Botany, and also Mineralogy, Geology, Mining,
Agriculture, Rural Economy and Veterinary Science, the university retained
its theoretical bent. Furthermore, the new disciplines seemed to be included
without any real care for their content and sequence in the syllabus,
more like a half-hearted concession to the pressures of the time than
a true revision of content and methods.
Education for the professions, on the other hand, was the subject of a
considerable number of initiatives, although "polytechnical"
education remained in an uncertain position with regard to its academic
Apart from the repeated complaint that there was not a full and satisfactory
philosophical system for the ordering of academic disciplines in the Portuguese
institutions of higher learning, we can perceive another line of thought
which is of interest: the dependence of education upon state funding and
state decisions. From the above, we can see, time and again, that the
various processes of reform in the nineteenth century were all dependent
upon state legislation and that the upheavals in government and cabinet
decided which institutions were created and which were suppressed, as
well as which disciplines and chairs. Even the University, in spite of
enjoying great financial autonomy at the beginning of the century, gradually
lost some privileges and was, as we saw, forced by the government to introduce
some reforms. This dependence on the government represented, for many,
a grievous limitation of the liberal spirit that was meant to shape higher
The conflict between "knowledge as its own end" and vocational
education took on different shapes in England and in Portugal, but in
both countries it was perhaps the main bone of contention in the debate
about higher education that took place during the nineteenth century.
As the need for specialisation grew, as new sciences struggled for recognition
as independent disciplines at the University, literary and scientific
education was unable to find a middle way, where both points of view could
be balanced. In the late 1950s, C. P. Snow denounced "the two cultures"
as a major impoverishment in the general culture of the century. Fifty
years later, the debate is still open.
Thomas Carlyle is a well-known example of a student at Edinburgh University
at the beginning of the 19th century. He was admitted in November 1808,
one month before he turned fourteen. His impressions of the university
can be found in Sartor Resartus and in some essays, namely his
Address to the students of the University when he was elected
Rector in 1866. The first volume of his biography by James Anthony Froude
also contains a description of the conditions of life at the University
at that time.
2 Writing in the Edinburgh Review in 1809, Sydney
Smith attacked the classical education that formed the syllabus at Oxford.
The grounds for his criticism were the lack of utility for future life
afforded by the great system of facts with which [the student]
is the most perfectly acquainted. And these were the intrigues
of the Heathen Gods: with whom Pan slept? with whom Jupiter?
whom Apollo ravished?
Now, this long career of classical
learning, we may, if we please, denominate a foundation; but it is a
foundation so far above ground, that there is absolutely no room to
put any thing upon it. In 1810, Edward Coppleston, Professor of
Poetry, published A Reply to the Calumnies of the Edinburgh Review
against Oxford, followed by a second, and then a third, reply. Among
his arguments in defence of the Oxford syllabus was the idea that classical
literature provided a common culture and a common link between conflicting
sets of ideas, as well as unprejudiced feelings, and this was the utility
of a classical education: And thus, without directly qualifying
a man for any of the employments of life, it enriches and ennobles all.
(Cf. Young: 188).
3 In Germany, the creation of Berlin University, and the
publication of the works of Humboldt, Schelling and Schleiermacher provided
a new model for the University, where both teaching and research were
to be conducted, free from state intervention. In France, under strong
state direction, the Sorbonne was dismembered and polytechnical institutions
were created, such as the Grandes Écoles.
4 Both Birkbeck and Brougham came from Scottish universities.
Birkbeck had been professor of chemistry and natural philosophy in Glasgow,
before he became a physician in London, where he played a leading part
in the formation of the London Mechanics, or Birkbeck, Institute
in 1824, now Birkbeck College. Brougham was a graduate of the University
of Edinburgh and was one of the founders of the Edinburgh Review.
5 The panopticon was a circular building, conceived
to ease the tasks of surveillance and discipline. Benthams project
could be applied to schools, prisons, workhouses, hospitals or barracks,
ensuring that discipline could be maintained without recourse to physical
force. Michel Foucault devotes a chapter to Panopticism
in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated
rom the French by Alan Sheridan. London: Penguin Books, 1991.
6 Our edition of Benthams Chrestomathia is a
reprint of the first edition of 1816, where, from page 68 onwards, Table
II is introduced, without pagination, after which the pages are once
again numbered, starting with page 2.
7 Dickens gives a vivid description of a school based on
the utilitarian model in the opening chapters of Hard Times,
where not only the schoolmaster and the pupils, boys and girls, are
featured, but also Mr. Gradgrind and a third gentleman, who was probably
a caricature of Henry Cole.
8 Teófilo Braga, História da Universidade
de Coimbra, vol. IV, p. 31, and José Silvestre Ribeiro, História
dos Estabelecimentos scientificos, litterarios e artisticos de Portugal
nos sucessivos reinados da Monarquia, vol. V. pp. 262-5. Silvestre
Ribeiro dedicates several pages to the subject and gives the highest
praise to the method and the initiative of Mr. Phelps, assisted by Mrs.
9 Cândido Xavier, in Annaes das Sciencias, das Artes
e das Letras, Paris, 1818-22, Tomo II, p. 6.
10 The University of Coimbra underwent a full reform in 1772,
through which two new faculties were created, in addition to the existing
faculties of Theology, Canons, Law and Medicine: a Faculty of Mathematics
and a Faculty of Philosophy. This reform possessed an unquestionable
modernising intention according to the interest paid by the Enlightenment
to Natural Philosophy. Nevertheless, this reform was criticised by many
and, in the nineteenth century, writers such as Theophilo Braga attributed
to it the spirit of the compendium, i.e. the introduction
of set textbooks that discouraged scientific renewal and the development
of the critical mind.
11 Veríssimo Serrão quotes the purpose of the
Royal Academy of the Sciences as being for the advancement of
National Instruction, the perfecting of the Sciences and the Arts and
the furtherance of popular Industry. He says, furthermore, that
both Academies received the valuable cooperation of the University of
Coimbra in the parallel work that they developed in favour of the national
culture. In História das Universidades, p. 123.
12 Newmans discourse has, as its background, the attacks
made by the Edinburgh Review on the University of Oxford and
the responses made by Coppleston and others, as mentioned above.
13 Guilherme Dias Pegado, Organização Geral
da Universidade de Portugal, Coimbra, 1935 (in 4º, xxxi pp. report,
plus 48 pp. regulations).
14 Albino Figueiredo e Almeida, Projecto de reforma da
Instrução publica, 1836, in 8º, lxxii, 84 pp.
15 The arguments presented by the University are fully rendered
in Silvestre Ribeiro, op. cit., vol. 9, pp. 103-9.
16 Visconde de Villa Maior, in Instituto. Revista scientifica
e litteraria, Coimbra, vol. XLIV, p. 396, apud Teófilo
Braga, op. cit., pp. 123-4.
17 Teófilo Braga treats this question at length. See
pp. 122 ff.
18 For a detailed appreciation of the changes made in the
organisation of the Faculties and the syllabuses of all the courses,
see Silvestre Ribeiro, op. cit., vol. 9, pp. 124-31.
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2004, ISSN 1645-6432
e-JPH, Vol.2, number 1, Summer 2004