The Michigan Alumnus 79-84
PROFESSOR ROBERT MARK WENLEY
By George Rebec, ‘91
(That much anxiety should have been felt by the friends of the University when it became necessary to call a new man to the chair so successfully filled by Professors Morris and Dewey, was not strange. But this feeling of anxiety and suspense now gives place to a feeling of sat isfaction, when the appointment of Professor Wenley is contemplated. Why this is so is clearly set forth in the following article, contributed by Mr. Eebec, '91, to the Oracle. — Editor.)
The old saying that every Scotchman, from the prophesying Highlander up to the Empire's First Lord of the Treasury, is either a theologian or a metaphysician, is a poor one; not merely because it is so old, but for the reason that it does not hit the fact. There is no point or justice in saying of your average Scot, that he is either a theologian or a metaphysician; for the truth is, he is both. Tour Scotchman, furthermore, is, high or low, always something of a lover of letters. If, on the one hand, you are to picture him as carrying under his arms a Bible you must, on the other hand, think of him as having, some where about his person, a thoroughly-thumbed copy of Burns.
The main difference between ranks, in this particular, is, that as you go up the social scale, the Bible is likely to grow rather smaller and daintier, and the Burns larger, and printed on better paper. Perhaps also, as you go socially upwards, there is a finer discrimination in the choice of passages from both books; for your man of education in Scotland no longer has quite the same brimstone solemnity, nor so "unco mirthfu" as his hum bler brother; nevertheless of great Scot and small Soot alike it may be said, if his heart is grave with religion, his head is filled—I was going to say, with shrewdness; but that is another theme; my point here is, not that the Scotchman's head is full either of metaphysics or of business, but of song. In the case of the peasant, one does not at every moment readily see just how the respective contents of head and heart are to be recon ciled; but the peasant's metaphysical casuistry looks out for that. With your cultured Scottish man, poetry and religion coalesce into a sterling human nature, and both together (cer tainly since Carlyle's generation) lift his speculation—as they alone can do—to the difficult vantage-heights of a strenuous moral and spiritual out-looking. —All this preface by way of emphasizing at the beginning, and once for all, that the subject of this sketch, Prof. Wenley, is, in spite of his large strain of English blood, in temperament and intellectual interests, as well as by birth and national sympathies, after all a Scotchman.
Robert Mark Wenley was born in Edinburgh, in 1861, his father, a man of English parentage, filling the distinguished post of Head of the Bank of Scotland; while through his mother, a descendent of the old border-clan of the Veitchs, Dr. Wenley can claim connection with such honored names as Prof. Veitch, occupant of the chair of Logic in Glasgow till 1894; James Sibbald, the translator of Dante, and George J. Romanes, the eminent evolutionist-philosopher.
Mr. Wenley's earlier education was obtained at the chief secondary schools of the two great Scotch cities; his undergaduate university course was pursued at Glasgow. In the latter institution, he achieved so prodigious a record that his reputa tion became a matter of tradition among the classes of after- years. Says a writer in the Glasgow Evening News: "Dr. Wenley was a subject of great personal interest to most of us (the philosophy-students who, after he became a teacher in the university, came under his instruction). His very brilliant career as a scholar was still recent enough to become the subject of frequent remark, and the tale of his multitudinous honors was often told."
Here is a list of those "multitudinous honors." He was first prizeman in the classes in Logic, Higher Metaphysics, and Systematic Theology; and was placed among the three-prize men in English Literature, Political Economy, and Moral Philoso phy. He gained, further, four medals in Philosophy, and was awarded the Coulter Prize and the Henderson Prize—all in competitions open to graduates and undergraduates alike, from the whole university, then attended by twenty-three hundred students. And it must be borne in mind that these prizes were wrested from a student-body counting in its midst a dozen men now holding distinguished University posts in all parts of the kingdom and empire. When it came to the final honor- examination in Philosophy—an examination that has nothing to do with mere " passing," but is, as its name implies, an extra and very rigid trial for honors, and taken only after one has earned one's M. A. degree—young Wenley was alone put into the first class.
Lest some intellectually lagging man of society or of the athletic field murmur that these are the achievements of a dry bookworm, here are some of Prof. Wenley's student distinctions of an "outside" sort. He held the two highest offices which it is in the power of a man's fellow-students at a Scotch university to bestow, namely, the Presidency of the Students' Represen tative Council, and that of the Union. The Union, it may be proper to remark, is, at a Scottish seat of learning, the society, which amalgamates all the other societies in the university. It has valuable buildings, and is the centre of all social life. The presidency of this organization is, accordingly, not merely, next to the above-mentioned Presidency of the Representative Coun cil, an honor prized beyond all others of student gift, but is distinctively a social honor. Dr. Wenley held, further, the positions of President of the Philosophical Society, and Presi dent of the Theological Society—both of which may be looked upon as estimates, coming from fellow students, at once of his social and scholarly qualities. He was also elected to the Presidency of the Liberal Club—a recognition that decidedly points to him as a man among men, as well as suggests keen political interests. The following items, again, would argue an attention to matters athletic sufficient to satisfy the extremest enthusiast for physical culture: —He served, for a time, as Chief Consul of the Cyclists' Touring Club for the West of Scotland, was Secretary of the National Cyclists' Union in Scotland, and acted, for sev eral years, as Cycling Editor of the Scottish Athletic Journal. Furthermore, he was, from 1877-85, Secretary of the Kyles of Bute Rowing Club, held the championship of the club for three years, and stroked the most successful crew the club ever had. Finally—we must suppose, to round off his aquatic attainments— he won, in 1882, the Arlington Challenge for swimming.
Prof. Wenley took his M. A. degree in 1884; and was, after a year and a half of residence at Paris, Rome, and several Ger man towns, appointed assistant Professor of Logic in his alma mater. He began by carrying off, in open competition, succes sively the Scott and Clarke Fellowships in Philosophy. In 1886 he was appointed head of the philosophical department in Queen Margaret College, Glasgow; in 1888, was elected Examiner for degrees in Philosophy and English Literature for the Univer sity of Glasgow; in 1890, became Secretary of the Glasgow University Extension Board; in 1891, was chosen Dean by the Literary faculty of Queen Margaret College; and finally, in 1894, became lecturer in Philosophy at University Hall, Edin burgh—an appointment which he still holds in connection with the Summer School. Of the estimation in which Dr. Wenley's work as a teacher was held, the best opinion can be formed from a reading of the various articles and appreciations that appeared in leading Scottish journals at the time his proposed departure for America was announced. Space will not permit our quoting from these; suffice it to say, that on every hand there is nothing but unstinted praise, coupled with expressions of earnest regret at Scotland's losing so strong and promising a man, and of hope for his speedy return to merited promotion in his own land—a hope which we of Michigan somehow maliciously fail to concur in.
Prof. Wenley did not find his teaching duties so arduous but that he could manage, in between, to win him a wife. His marriage to Mrs. Wenley—formerly Miss C. D. Gibson, and daughter of a prosperous and finely cultured stock, numbering in its different branches such worthy names as Lockhart, Dick son, and Scott-Moncrieff—occurred in 1889. The following year he took, at Edinburgh, the degree of Sc. D.; and in 1894 received from Glasgow the highest token she has to bestow upon a scholar—the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. The Ph.D. degree is a new thing in the Scotch universities, Prof. Wenley being the first person ever to obtain it. It was inaugurated in 1894 as a special recognition to experts; accordingly no man can attain it who is not an M. A. of at least five years' standing, and who, at the end of his Master's course, received anything short of first class honors in Philosophy. As other marked recognitions coming to Dr. Wenley during the period of his labors as a teacher, may be enumerated, his election as member of the Council of the English Goethe Society, as member of the Aristotelian Society of London, as Honorary Vice-President of the Scottish branch of the Teachers' Guild, as Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and as fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburg.
Prof. Wenley has written more than sixty articles and reviews for the foremost British periodicals. Besides, he has published an edition of Veitch's philosophical essays, with an introduction, and has put forth two books of his own, " Socrates and Christ," and " Aspects of Pessimism." A third work, " Contem porary Theology and Theism," is now in the press of the Scrib ners; while a fourth, on the " Preparation for Christianity," is at the moment under way. It is to be issued in the Church of Scotland Guild series, Mr. Wenley being the only layman that has been asked to contribute.
A mere reading of the titles of Prof. Wenley's articles and books would make one feel the pertinence of the comment of the critic already quoted: " Philosophy is not to him an exclu sive interest It is the opinion of many, that he would be as much at home in a chair of English Literature or of Theology, as in that of Mental Philosophy.'' But this fact brings us round again to the point from which we started, namely, that Dr. Wenley is a Scotchman; and here we shall stop. Of the history of his coming to Ann Arbor, nothing need be said; the circumstances are too newly in mind to need repeating. Be it enough for us to express the hope that in this New World and in this new field, he may find his full opportunity for that kind of work, which he feels, is for him to do.