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An essay by Charles Lever

A Hint For C. S. Examiners

Title:     A Hint For C. S. Examiners
Author: Charles Lever [More Titles by Lever]

I have frequently heard medical men declare that no test of a candidate's fitness to be admitted as a physician was equal to a brief examination at the bedside of a sick man. To be able to say, "There is a patient; tell us his malady, and what you will do for it," was infinitely better than long hours spent in exploring questions of minute anatomy and theoretical physic. In fact, for all practical purposes, it was more than likely he would be the best who would make the least brilliant figure in an examination; and the man whose studies had familiarised him with everything from Galen to John Hunter, would cut just as sorry a figure if called on to treat a case of actual malady.

It cannot possibly be otherwise. All that mere examination can effect, is to investigate whether an individual has duly prepared himself for the discharge of certain functions; but it never can presume to ascertain whether the person is one fitted by nature, by habit, by taste, or inclination, for the duties before him. Why, the student who may answer the most abstruse questions in anatomy, may himself have nerves so weak as to faint at the sight of blood. The physician who has Paracelsus by heart, may be so deficient in that tact of eye, or ear, or touch, as to render his learning good for nothing. Half an hour in an hospital would, however, test these qualities. You would at once see whether the candidate was a mere mass of book-learning, or whether he was one skilled in the aspect of disease, trained to observe and note all the indications of malady, and able even instantaneously to pronounce upon the gravity of a case before him. This is exactly what you want. No examination of a man's biceps and deltoid, the breadth of his chest or the strength of his legs, would tell you whether he was a good swimmer--five minutes in deep water would, however, decide the matter.

Now, I shall not multiply arguments to prove my position. I desire to be practical in these "O'Dowdiana," and I strive not to be prosy. What I would like, then, is to introduce this system of--let us call it--Test-examination, into the Civil Service.

I have the highest respect for the pedagogues of Burlington House. I think highly of Ollendorff and I believe Colenso's Arithmetic a great institution. I venerate the men who invent the impossible questions; but I own I have the humblest opinion of those who answer them. I'd as soon take a circus-horse, trained to fire a pistol and sit down like a dog, to carry me across a stiff country, as I'd select one of these fellows for an employ which required energy, activity, or ready-wittedness. There is no such inefficiency as self-sufficiency; and this is the very quality instilled by the whole system. Ask the veterans of the Admiralty, the War Office, the Board of Trade, and the Customs, and you will get but the same report, that for thorough incompetency and inordinate conceit there is nothing like the prize candidate of a Civil Service examination. Take my word for it, you could not find a worse pointer than the poodle which would pick you out all the letters of the alphabet.

What I should therefore suggest is, to introduce into the Civil Service something analogous to this clinical examination; something that might test the practical fitness of the candidate, and show, not whether the man has been well prepared by a "grinder," but whether he be a heaven-born tide-waiter, one of Nature's own gaugers or vice-consuls.

I know it is not easy to do this in all cases. There are employments, too, wherein it is not called for. Mere clerkship, for instance, is an occupation of such uniformity that a man is just like a sewing-machine, and where, the work being adjusted to him, he performs it as a matter of routine. There are, however, stations which are more or less provocative of tact and ready-wittedness, and which require those qualities which schoolmasters cannot give nor Civil Service examiners take away; such as tact, promptitude, quickness in emergency, good-natured ease, patience, and pluck above all. These, I say, are great gifts, and it would be well if we knew how to find them. Let us take, by way of illustration, the Messenger Service. These Foreign Office Mercuries, who travel the whole globe at a pace only short of the telegraph, are wonderful fellows, and must of necessity be very variously endowed. What capital sleepers, and yet how easily awakened! What a deal of bumping must their heads be equal to! What an indifference must they be endowed with to bad roads and bad dinners, bad servants and bad smells! How patient they must be here--how peremptory there! How they must train their stomach to long fastings, and their skins to little soap! What can Civil Service examination discover of all or any of these aptitudes? Is it written in Ollendorf, think you, how many hours a man can sit in a caleche? Will decimal fractions support his back or strengthen his lumbar vertebrae? What system of inquiry will declare whether the weary traveller will not oversleep himself, or smash the head of his postilion for not awaking him at a frontier? How will you test readiness, endurance, politeness, familiarity with 'Bradshaw' and Continental moneys?

I think I have hit on a plan for this, suggested to me, I frankly own, by analogy with the clinical system. I would lay out the Green Park--it is convenient to Downing Street, and well suited to the purpose--as a map of Europe, marking out the boundaries of each country, and stationing posts to represent capital cities. At certain frontiers I would station representatives of the different nations as distinctly marked as I could procure them: that is to say, I'd have a very polite Frenchman, a very rude and insolent Prussian, a sulky Belgian, a roguish Italian, and an extremely dirty Russian. Leicester Square could supply all. It being all duly prepared, I'd start my candidate, with a heavy bag filled with its usual contents of, let us say, a large box of cigars, a set of fire-irons, twenty pots of preserved meats, a case of stuffed birds, four cricket-balls, and a photograph machine, some blue-books, and a dozen of blacking. I'd start him with this, saying simply, "Vienna, calling at Stuttgart and Turin;" not a word more; and then I'd watch my man--how he'd cross the Channel--how he'd cajole Moossoo--and whether he'd make straight for the Rhine or get entangled in Belgian railroads. I'd soon see how he dealt with the embarrassments of the roads and relished the bad diet; and not alone would I test him by hardships and hunger, fatigue and occasional upsets; but I'd try his powers of self-resistance by surrounding him with dissolute young _attaches_ given to blind hookey and lansquenet. I'd have him invited to ravishing orgies, and tempted in as many ways as St Anthony; and all these after long privations. Then, I'd have him kept waiting either under a blazing sun or a deep snow, or both alternately, to test his cerebral organisation; and I'd try him with impure drinking water and damp sheets; and, last of all, on his return, I'd make him pass his accounts before some old monster of official savagery, who would repeatedly impugn his honesty, call out for vouchers, and d--n his eyes. The man "who came out strong" after all these difficulties I would accept as fully equal to his responsibilities, for it would not be alone in intellectuals he had been tested: the man's temper, his patience, his powers of endurance, his physical strength, his resources in emergency, his readiness to meet difficulty, and, last of all, his self-devotion in matters of official discipline, enabling him to combine with all the noble qualities of a man the submissive attractions of a spaniel.

"Are you sure," asks some one, "that all these graces and accomplishments can be had for L500 per annum?" Not a doubt of it. It is a cheap age we live in; and if you wanted a shipload of clever fellows for a new colony, I'd engage to supply you on easier terms than with the same number of gardeners or strong-boned housemaids.

Last of all, this scheme might be made no small attraction in this economical era--what is called self-supporting; for the public might be admitted to paid seats, whence they could learn European geography by a new and easy method. "Families admitted at a reduced rate--Schools and Seminaries half-price."

[The end]
Charles Lever's essay: Hint For C. S. Examiners