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Sketch

Robert Mark Wenley
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.