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MY EXPERIENCES AS AN EXAMINER.
It was, I think, in 1870, that I heard from Bates of the examinations in Physical Geography under the Science and Art Department, for which he was one of the Assistant Examiners, and he advised me to apply to Professor Ansted, the examiner-in-chief, if I wished to obtain the post of, an assistant. I did so; and began the work in 1871, and continued yearly till 1877. In 1871 I also had the examinership in Physical Geography and Geology for the Indian Civil Engineering College, and in 1870 and 1871 for the Royal Geographical Society.
The work under Professor Ansted was hard while it lasted, but was interesting, and often quite amusing, and it was very well paid. The assistant examiners had each over a thousand papers to examine. The work occupied about three weeks more or less, and the remuneration amounted to from £50 to £60, or occasionally even more. In 1878 Professor Judd and Sir Norman Lockyer were appointed joint examiners, the syllabus being altered to include geology and physical astronomy, while the subject of examination was now changed from Physical Geography to Physiography, and I continued to be an assistant examiner till 1897, with the exception of one year during my American tour.
During the earlier period a considerable number of wellknown scientific men, mostly geologists or biologists, were among the assistant examiners, such as H. W. Bates, William Carruthers, the botanist, J. F. Collingwood, Major CooperKing, Professor J. Morris, Professor T. Rupert Jones, Dr. Henry Woodward of the Natural History Museum, Professor H. G. Seeley, and a few others less well known to me. There were three meetings in London to compare results and secure an equal rate of marking, and these afforded an opportunity for a little conversation between persons who rarely met elsewhere, and we also for some years had an annual dinner, which was latterly discontinued when a considerable proportion of the examiners lived in the country.
Although the drudgery and strain of reading through a thousand papers, with replies to the same set of questions, exhibiting every possible degree of ignorance of the subject and often extremely diffuse, was very great, yet a little relief was given by the highly amusing character of some of the answers, of the more curious of which I, as well as several others of the examiners, made notes. During intervals of our more serious work, we often communicated some of these to our fellow-sufferers, and thus contributed a little hilarity to our otherwise strictly business meetings.
On looking over my notes of these examinations extending over more than a quarter of a century, I think it will be both amusing and instructive to give a few examples of these replies, of which I have a rather large collection, as they have an important bearing on the whole question of the utility of such examinations, on which I may, perhaps, afterwards say a few words. The first I will quote are from a rather long series that occurred in 1873. It must be remembered that in Professor Ansted's time sixteen questions were asked, ranging over most of the subjects included in Physical Geography, but only eight were to be answered, so that the candidates need only attempt to answer those about which they knew something. Further, they were all supposed to have had some special teaching in the subject, and were sent up by their masters in the hope of getting the allowance granted by the Government for each one who passed.
The first question was, “Show why the longest day in Edinburgh is longer than the longest day in London.” Out of a large number of answers, showing more or less complete ignorance of the cause of this interesting phenomenon which must be known to every one who has spent a winter at any two places in the north and the south of our islands, I have preserved five.
(1) Because it possesses a maritime climate. (2) Because the manufactures in London produce a smoky atmosphere. (3) Because it is not in such a warm place as London. (4) Because London is on a meridian and Edinburgh is not.
(5) Because the first meridian shades the sun from London, while it is shining in Edinburgh.
Now, these answers, and scores of others equally wide of the mark but not so short or so amusing, show that no attempt had ever been made to teach these boys to understand the commonest facts connected with the motions of the earth—such as the seasons, varying lengths of day and night, change of position of the sun at rising and setting, and its altitude at noon, etc.-in the only way in which they can be taught to the majority of people, that is, by simple experiments with a globe and a lamp in a darkened room. In this way the reason of all the changes is seen to follow inevitably from the form, position, and motions of the earth, while no amount of verbal explanation, even with the help of diagrams, can make it intelligible to any but those who have the special geometrical faculty. By such experiments any intelligent children from eight or ten upwards may be easily made to understand these facts, as well as the apparent motions of all the heavenly bodies. Yet probably to this day not one school in a hundred teaches such things, and not one teacher in a hundred knows how to teach them.
Another question was, “ Mention the natural habitat of the horse, the elephant, the hippopotamus, and the rhinoceros," and the following answers were given
(1) The horse is used for drawing anything, such as carts, plows, or anything he is taken to do ; the hippopotamus is a very disagreeable beast and runs about very wild.
(2) The habit of the horse is plowing, the elephant goes to shows.
(3) The principle habitat of the elephant is the fauna, the rhinoceros, the buffalo, and the hippopotamus is the white bear.
The above replies show gross ignorance of the facts of animal distribution or of the terms used in regard to it; and the following show equal ignorance of common geographical or meteorological phenomena. The answers show sufficiently what were the questions :
l. 11. The principal Atlantic icebergs come from the Alleghanies on he east of America ; when they reach the valley below they melt and form small straits, which in time spread out into rivers. They enrich the climate through which they pass.
l. 11. Iceberg is a mass of ice formed in the polar regions and generally connected with volcanoes.
l. 11. Icebergs are formed by geysers shooting up in the air out of the sea and frozen there.
In reply to a question as to deep dredging in the Atlantic the following answers were given :
l. 15. The depth of the water of the Atlantic is measured by large things called ravines. The depth is 90,000,000 miles. Gold is found at the bottom.
l. 15. The matter found at the bottom of the Atlantic is copper, pearls, and diamonds.
l. 15. The material found by deep dredging in the Atlantic is—the Atlantic canal or cable.
The question being, "What is meant by the distribution of plants and animals in vertical and horizontal space, and what do you understand by representative forms?”—I have notes of the four following answers :
(1) Horizontal distribution is when they grow near the horizon ; vertical distribution is when they grow in vertical space, as wheat, or anything on the same level.
(2) Plants grow in gardens, animals live on the earth.
(3) By distribution of plants and animals in vertical and horizontal space, we mean, the plants and animals in the distance between pointed and curved lines.
(4) Representative forms of animals and plants is, how they are represented in books.
In 1878 I had some good examples of the kind of answer in which the candidate evidently has a very high opinion of his own attainments and his mode of explaining the whole matter. The question was, “In what respects do a volcano and a geyser resemble each other, and in what respects do they differ ?” The answer is rather a long one :
A volcano is a raised piece of land in about a thousand years, then in another thousand years it has become larger and larger till it becomes as high as would be called a volcano. But a geyser is a raised piece of land done all in a night.
Difference. The volcano takes a long long time to be at the point of saturation, but the geyser is done all in one night.
Agreement. They are both raised-up pieces of land. Sometimes a volcano goes on fire and makes a creator, and then it bursts. When it bursts you will always observe that down at the bottom of the volcano and about ten miles round and round about it there lies cinders as large as bricks, and as you proceed to the top of the volcano it always becomes smaller, till at the mouth of it it is all dross, like very small coal.
This last sentence is so precise and clear in its statements that one might suppose it to be the result of personal observation !
Another of the same class occurred in 1879, when in answer to the question, “What evidence have we that lions and tigers once lived in this country?” the reply was
We have only this evidence that lions and tigers once lived in this country, that when a man, or even any man or men, have been digging for minerals, wells, or anything else, they have found the fossils, and it has at last after a good long consideration and perseverance it has turned out to be the skeleton of a lion or tiger.
The same paper explains thunder as follows:
The cause of the noise made during thunderstorms is the meeting of the electric and other gases. It is said that a gentleman caught a glimpse of one of these collisions by means of a kite. It was thus found out what was the cause of thunderstorms, and also what made the flash of lightning.
In 1880 we had the following answers to a question about the causes of the extinction of animals, and as to any which have become extinct since the appearance of man on the earth:
(1) Giants, and the great fish which swallowed Jonah.
(2) Extinct volcanoes not having erupted for a length of time is one cause which has brought about the extinction of animals.
(3) Animals which lived before the flood no longer exist except their fossilized remains. Iothoraics, Pleathorus, Mammoth, Dothorium, Adam and Eve never saw, having become extinct.
(4) Animals which have become extinct since man has been on the earth are Ammonites, Belemnites, Mammals and Productus horridus.
(5) The unicorn is extinct.
(6) Extinct means that they have gone away, but may become active again. Some of the causes that they have become extinct are that they have been caged up, etc. The animals that have become extinct since the appearance of man are the jaguars.