Front Page Titles (by Subject) (B): UNIVERSITY EDUCATION - Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, Vol. I (Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone)
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(B): UNIVERSITY EDUCATION - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, Vol. I (Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone) 
Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, edited with and Introduction by John Neville Figgis and Renald Vere Laurence. Vol. I Correspondence with Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone and Others (London: Longmans, Gree and Co., 1917).
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The following two letters come from the correspondence between Acton and Sir Peter Le Page Renouf. Renouf (1822-97) was a distinguished orientalist, who was received into the Roman Church in 1842. He contributed to the Home and Foreign Review and the North British. He was an opponent of Infallibility. From 1885 onwards he was keeper of the Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum. As will be seen, Acton and he knew one another well.
Aldenham Park,November 14.
My dear Mr. R.—
I should have written to you sooner had I not heard from Döllinger, that you were detained in Germany. He also spoke of your wish to leave Dublin, of which I had already heard from Newman. I sincerely trust nothing will arise to induce you to leave this country, and that some plan may be devised to keep your proper and natural sphere of usefulness among us.
I have often discussed with Newman the chances of a Catholic University in England, and if I had not been afraid of injuring its prospects by mixing up the idea with the odious H. and F. I should have opened the question in the Review. The Edgbaston school is striking root, and the youths who complete their course so far as it extends will create both supply and demand: they will feel more than the others the want of a University education and they will furnish one necessary portion of the materials. Here is a basis and an opportunity for the growth of something like a Catholic University such as did not exist in Ireland when the institution which has passed through such pitiful phases was octroyée. The great improvement of Oscott by Northcote, and of Stoneyhurst by Pater are helps which such a scheme never possessed before. Newman has the leisure and the wish to assist a scheme which would crown his own work at Edgbaston and vindicate his work at Dublin, and the changes by which you find yourself emancipated make the present moment the most favourable which is likely to occur for a long time to come.
But the prospects of success are greatest if there is no flourish of trumpets to provoke alarm, envy, and opposition, or to offend the Bishops, Propaganda, and the inertia of our body. Many things would help to make a quiet, silent, practical beginning advance and prosper, whilst a plan demanding general co-operation would meet innumerable difficulties. It would be possible to make a beginning in such a way that you would be prepared for either of two contingencies—either to develop into a Catholic University, or to take advantage of the gradual throwing open of Oxford.
I cannot help thinking that the demand for a higher and better education is growing so strong among certain classes that if you would attempt to meet it there would be a very great probability of great and fruitful success. Several persons, like Dr. Waterworth, who have very imperfectly supplied this want, have succeeded as far as their abilities and ambition allowed. It would be very different if the thing were done by Oxford men, deep scholars, and experienced teachers.
If you were to undertake this with as much assistance as you might at first require, I am firmly persuaded that the young men would be quickly forthcoming, that your sails would be filled by all the winds that blow towards a university and all the currents created by the vacuum of higher studies amongst us. The best men would be ready to join you, you would have the whole support of Newman’s influence, and I can really see no quarter in which any susceptibilities would be wounded or any opposition excited. The only essential condition that seems to me quite necessary is that you should give the establishment something of an institutional character—though no more than it would have if you were joined by one or two other men whose names are known.
The increasing liberality of Oxford would perhaps make it important to begin there. I have promised Newman land for buildings at Bridgnorth, and explained to him the merits of the situation for a university—an agricultural country, a large river, a healthy position, a good feeling between Protestants and Catholics, and the vicinity of my very large library. I do not know whether it would be so suitable for a very limited number of Catholic students. Paley1 is succeeding extremely well at Cambridge as a tutor, and though his religion does not attract Catholic students it does not repel Protestants. I do not know whether he would be disposed to co-operate, but I have reason to believe that he would be glad to take part in a Catholic undertaking.
Darnell had some idea of this kind in connection with Oxford, and I dare say he entertains it still. I did not see my way to encourage a plan which was not sure of being supported by Newman; but I have no reason to think a reconciliation hopeless. The preparation of students for the London examinations might be combined with this plan—at least so I imagine. If you have no dislike of tuition I hope there is nothing in this idea which you would not accept if it could be shown that there was a real likelihood of a permanent success. If you entertain it as subject for consideration the chances will have to be gone into more fully and comprehensively than is in my power. But I am convinced, judging from all I know and have heard, and considering especially the peculiarity of the present conjuncture, that the germ of an English university can never be laid with so much hope that it will prosper as at this moment, when Dublin has lost all importance for England, when Edgbaston school has revived studies in all our colleges, and is about to turn out its upper class, when you are free to embark in the enterprise and Newman has not lost his vigour or even the better part of his influence.
Should you think it well to prepare men’s minds in some degree for a new effort to supply higher studies, the H. and F. will at any time be open to you for the purpose. I fought shy of a proffered article on the opening of Oxford in order not to injure this plan when its time should come.—I remain, ever sincerely yours,
J. D. A.
16 York Street,Dublin,
My dear Sir John,—
I have thought a good deal about the contents of your letter.
The demand for university education on the part of English Catholic youth and the necessity of a supply being taken for granted, I have still very grave doubts as to the wisdom or even possibility of meeting the want by the foundation of an English Catholic university. In presence of such powerful growths as Oxford and Cambridge, and the ground occupied by the London University, a new university must ever remain a sickly plant. And it seems to me that the old universities would always have it in their power to put an end to the new one whenever they pleased by granting to Catholics advantages equivalent, and therefore on the whole superior, to what a purely Catholic university could afford. If they allowed, for instance, a Catholic college to be founded, or even Catholic halls to exist on equal terms with Anglican, the students being allowed to graduate in all degrees but theology—I do not see what Catholic students or their parents could desiderate or what more they would get in a purely Catholic university.
Newman had the strongest objection to sending Catholic students to Oxford, and I thoroughly agree with him as to the mischief of sending individuals to Protestant colleges, when even if directly anti-Catholic influences are not brought to bear on a man the whole set of influences to which he is necessarily subjected must be, to say the least, uncatholic. But I think quite differently of the case of a Catholic college or hall, particularly if numerously attended. Here the student would have Catholic tutors (and in spite of all changes tutorial teaching will always be dominant both at Oxford and at Cambridge), his society would be almost exclusively that of fellow-Catholics, and the other influences of the place are not different in kind from those to which every Englishman is subject through life. I know of no danger (not even that of extravagance) to which a student would be exposed in a Catholic hall at Oxford to which he is not equally exposed as a member of the Catholic university of Ireland.
These views are wholly independent of any idea of my own co-operation with the plans of which you speak in your letter. Ten years ago I would most heartily have joined in the least promising of the schemes. I have, however, now reached an age at which a married man eschews experiments (particularly if after ten years’ time he has no chance of repairing his mistake if it be one), and is rather inclined to look wistfully after a modest place in the Civil Service. I would be very sorry, however, if you took for cowardice what is only prudence, and I promise to give the most serious consideration to any definite plan that you consider as bearing with it the elements of success.—E.s.y.,
P. le P. R.
11 Carlton House Terrace, S.W., Jan. 25, ’66.
My dear Sir John Acton,—
I would willingly dwell on the earlier parts of your letter: but, only stopping a moment to say I shall read your letter with great interest, I pass on to the subjects connected with the inclosure which comes, I presume, from Mr. Sullivan.
It is a most delicate matter for us to become the champions of the Roman Catholic laity against their own Bishops, or to adopt any other criterion for estimating the wishes of the Roman Catholic people of Ireland than the judgment of their representatives. Nevertheless it is also most desirable for us to know your sentiments in full, and perhaps you would hardly trust yourself to give them in that manner by letter. Now we are at this very time in the thick of the question with respect to the University in Ireland and are shortly about to decide whether any and what provision shall be made for the representation of the religious element in the Senate. I should be very glad to hear that you are coming up, or otherwise to know your views as far as you can state them. I keep Mr. S.’s letter for the present, and remain,—Very sincerely yours,
W. E. Gladstone.
Sir J. D. Acton, Bart., M.P.
22 Dover St.,Feb. 14, 1873.
Dear Mr. Gladstone,—
I never could congratulate you more heartily than I do on the plan I heard you describe last night.
I have not read your speech, and write only from the memory of what I heard you say. The bishops, I think, will object to the establishment of a teaching body separate from the Colleges. Although I wrote strongly in favour of that scheme to Hartington, I have since thought that there might be University professors teaching in the Colleges—so that the staff of each College would consist of so many University professors, and so many College professors—a distinction which would probably fall into that between professors and tutors. This might even do more to vivify the College teaching than a separate University staff, whom it would be optional to hear, and whom the ecclesiastical authorities would be able to put aside together. The University Professors apart from the Colleges will increase the disadvantage of the provincial Colleges, and seem hardly necessary for the small number of independent students. The admission of these is, I presume, made necessary by the analogy of English university reform, and by the conditions of T. C. D. at present. But they, again, will weaken the weak College system of Ireland, and will hardly bring much strength to the University.
To those who heard you it appeared that you expelled the theological faculty of Trinity from the University entirely, and I could not catch whether you made full allowance for consequent loss of fees. But are they expelled without the chance of readmission? Surely Magee College is theological, and no principle of the bill prevents the admission of Maynooth, or the establishment of a theological faculty in Stephen’s Green College. I fancied, in listening to you, that the vagueness of your speech on this point was necessary management, and hope so.
The admission of Maynooth, and compulsory examination in Arts of the Church students at some point of their course, is nearly the only thing in my letter to Hartington which is not in your bill, and it might, I think, be of immense value.
T. C. has a magnificent library, with copyright privileges. You did not say anything about the University library and Museums.—Ever yours most faithfully,
My dear Mr. Gladstone,—
I was as anxious as anybody could be for the success of your University bill last winter, and for the same reasons I cannot refrain from congratulating you now on the late appointments, as well as on the tardiness and reluctance with which you have adopted the resolutions they seem to imply. It will be very difficult to avoid sooner or later a breach with the Ultramontanes, and my sincerest wish is that it may not be precipitated by the Liberal party, but may be forced on them; and I hope still more—though it does not seem a kind wish—that it may come in your time.
I was on the continent when you were good enough to write to me last summer. Döllinger was much gratified by your mention of his lecture, as he always is by what recalls your long and friendly acquaintance. The lecture has been translated, I think by the Editor of the Academy.
You are a little hard on us in saying that we import knowledge but do not produce it for exportation. We are exporters of a commodity familiar enough to yourself—political economy. I was struck in reading Karl Marx’s new work1 by the extent to which he fetches his materials from England. It is a remarkable book, as the Koran of the new socialists. Have you not had time to look at it?
Sullivan, the new President, has been employed for some years on an Irish Glossary, of which the lines were laid by the late O’Curry. It is an important work, especially because much of it is taken from unpublished manuscripts. O’Curry’s papers were purchased by the Catholic University, and the work which Sullivan has prepared for publication belongs to them. It will hardly be possible to get it published. As a speculation it would not answer, and the owners of the MS. have neither funds nor zeal for learning.
It would be both more valuable, more national, and more congruous than some of the works published by Government. I mention this to you now in case the “ragion di stato” might recommend an undertaking which would be of great use to Ireland, and would put a few hundred pounds into the hands of the enraged University authorities. If you care to know more, I can find it out confidentially.—Believe me to remain, very faithfully yours,
[1 ]F. A. Paley (1815-88) was an M.A. of S. John’s College, Cambridge; he became a Roman Catholic in 1846; returned to Cambridge in 1860, acted as private tutor, and edited classical texts.
[1 ]Das Kapital.