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A Hint For C. S. Examiners
by [?]

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?