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OXFORD. 1 - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 1 (Memoir, Early Essays) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 1.
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It is much to have an exposition of Oxford usages from Oxford men. The ancient Universities of England retain from their mediæval origin a trace of the disciplina arcani:—contumelious divines reject a discriminating reviewer,—“He is not a University man, what can he know?” We with difficulty recognise the subject now that we find on every turn a basis for our arguments and an authority for our facts.
Some believe that Academical Reform is a new idea,—that the existing system of Oxford is coeval with Oxford itself,—that it was found out by Nebuchadnezzar, and is effectually confirmed by the book of Job;—that even if there have been changes, those changes have come from within;—that the authority of the Crown is an innovation of the Whigs; and that to ask a Learned Body if it have money and if it keep its statutes is a “Liberal outrage” and “a judgment for the great Rebellion”. But this is not so. A very little history, a very small number of facts, will prove conclusively that Reform in Oxford is very orthodox; that it flourished especially in the most palmy days of the most palmy Anglicanism; that it was formerly superintended by the straitest doctor of the straitest sect; that if Queen Victoria asks questions, King Charles “The Martyr” issued edicts; that a Commission to inquire—whether legal or illegal—finds at least a precedent in a previous Commission to enjoin.
“Many of the old statutes being grown out of use,” says the contemporary annalist under the year 1633, “by the change of Religion, and others also by long neglect and discontinuance, and some never rightly understood, and all so mingled and confounded, that it was very hard to say which of them were in force and which not, and yet all the Students bound to keep them under their corporal oaths, if not at their first matricculation then at their taking of degrees;—divers attempts were made to digest them into a new body, to the end that every one might know what was to be done and what was not.” Many of these attempts were made when the Earl of Pembroke was Chancellor, but these never prospered, and the great work, as it is called in the documents of the time, lay unfinished till the accession of Laud to the Supreme authority in the University. That remarkable prelate—whom Carlyle has depreciatingly termed “a College Tutor of the first magnitude,”—took extreme interest in the matter, was concerned in some of the previous unsuccessful efforts, and appears from the evidence to have formed very sharp opinions on the most minute points of Scholastic regulation. He immediately on his accession to the Chancellorship began, accordingly, to agitate for what we should now term Academical Codification and Reformation, and with unparalleled good fortune soon obtained the very utmost that he could desire. At a Convocation held in August, 1635, the learned authorities of the University, by a remarkable delegation of their legislative functions, agreed to be subject to and to obey whatever laws the Archbishop, who was much praised, might in the plenitude of his wisdom think it expedient to draw up for them.1 And this it seems by Laud’s own account passed without a single dissentient voice. The Archbishop, who was never accused of indolence or want of regulative activity, did not let the matter sleep; he took for his basis the abortive labours of the previous reformers, and in a short time sent down an entire and digested Code, and directed his subordinate, the Vice-Chancellor, “to declare and publish to the University and every member thereof, that the Statutes now printed,” meaning his own Code, “are and shall be the Statutes by which the University shall be governed for this year; viz., till the Feast of St. Michael, which shall be in the year of our Lord, 1635,” and for that year, which was intended to be a year of trial, he did not think it necessary to require any confirmation of his enactments from the University itself—nor from any authority superior to his own. During that year various objections of detail were made to the Code, which is emphatically a Code of detail, and various suggestions were made to the Archbishop for its amendment, some of which he complied with, but most of which it would rather seem he rejected.
What now remained, was to get this Code finally received and obeyed at Oxford. It seems to have struck the Archbishop that the resolution of Convocation, whereby he was empowered to draw up a “sanam epitomen” of statutes, and thereupon enact and confirm it by his own fiat and authority, was, to say the least of it, a resolution of extremely questionable efficacy: it is now clear, and could not even then have been much doubted, that a corporation—whether literate or illiterate—could scarcely delegate their power of making Bye-laws to a single subordinate legislator, and therefore Laud probably felt it requisite to have for his own Statutes some authority which should secure the respect and obedience of succeeding generations. The obvious course was to obtain a vote of the corporate body—to propose and pass the whole body of Statutes in the usual manner in the regular University Convocation. But this did not suit the Archbishop; a man of his temper—(for though he is now commonly thought at Oxford to be a martyr and a saint, he was ever deemed in his own age a man of imperious and overweening disposition)—could hardly brook that the results of his care and genius and industry should be discussed and criticised and perhaps rejected by a large and popular assembly. Moreover, there was a Puritan minority—a small one certainly—but very zealous, which would perhaps debate, certainly hint evil, and possibly destroy the éclat, unanimity, and glory of the proceeding by voting against the entire enactment. Accordingly, the Archbishop, seeking a more certain and effectual confirmation, procured, by his influence with King Charles, the issue of a Royal Commission, composed of various then important persons, such as Dr. Bancroft, Bishop of London, Sir John Coke, the principal Secretary of State, and other gentlemen now forgotten, who were charged to bring down the new Code to Oxford, and to require its reception by the University under pain of the royal displeasure. With that view Laud sealed the “volume” with his own seal as Metropolitan, with the University seal then in his custody as Chancellor, and the great seal having been also duly affixed, the whole was delivered to the Commissioners. “These,” says Wood, “coming to Oxford on the 21st of June, 1636, bringing his Majesty’s letters with them, dated the 12th of the same month, a Convocation was celebrated the day following in St. Mary’s chancel, wherein all the Heads of Houses, Regents and Non-regents being present, the said Commissioners were conducted thereto by one of the bedells from the Sacellum Vestiarium, commonly called Adam Brom’s chapel, and being all seated near to the Vice-Chancellor, Sir John Coke delivered his Majesty’s letters to the Vice-Chancellor, which he receiving with obeisance, delivered to the registrar to be read with an audible voice to Convocation. Therein it appeared that it was his Majesty’s pleasure, ‘that all the Heads of Houses under their hands should accept of the said Statutes, as the rule by which they should be governed and govern, and likewise to bind themselves upon oath to the observance of the said Statutes,’ in the same manner as they formerly had done to the other loose and confused body.” And then the seals were exhibited, and the enactment and confirmation by Laud as Chancellor and Metropolitan, and under the before-mentioned resolution, were announced, and also the enactment and confirmation by his Majesty de jure coronæ, after which Sir John Coke made “a grave speech in English,” praising his Majesty and the Chancellor, and demonstrating from the nature of the prerogative the “full authorisation and absolute necessity” of submission to the laws so presented by him on behalf of the Crown; to which the Vice-Chancellor replied “in an accurate oration in Latin, and praised the munificence of the prince, and the care and trouble of the Archbishop”; whereupon the Heads of Houses “received and embraced” the book, and swore to observe it; and with that recognition of royal authority the proceedings terminated, without any vote of Convocation or regular assent of the University to those laws (for they are still the Corpus Juris of Oxford), which are now said by the successors of those same Heads of Houses to be wholly removed from the just inquiry of the Crown, and to have sole reference to a subject-matter beyond the sphere of the legitimate Prerogative.
The language of the different actors on the two occasions runs in remarkable contrast. “I will not,” says Lord John Russell in the present day, “enter upon the question of the legality of a Commission. Had it been intended to exercise power going beyond inquiry and report, such a question might enter into consideration. But the present Commission will be a Commission to receive evidence and report opinions, without power to determine any question, or to prescribe any course;” which gentle intention the Bishop of Exeter could not see without the “deepest concern and astonishment,” and the Heads of Houses describe as “of the nature of an unconstitutional proceeding,” impairing “the rights and liberties of her Majesty’s subjects”. So speaks the nineteenth century, even in Oxford, with a democratic voice; but hear the seventeenth.
“That,” we quote Sir John Coke, “which commands in chief, and which no reason can withstand, is his Majesty’s sovereign power, by which those Statutes (as you see) are both enacted and confirmed. Him we all acknowledge to be our Supreme Governour, both of Church and Commonwealth, over all causes and persons, and to his Supremacy and Allegiance we are all obliged by oath. This, then, we must build upon as an axiom and Fundamental Rule of Government, that all our Laws and Statutes are the King’s laws, and that none can be enacted, changed, or abrogated without him;” and after a little, “But for Universities and Colleges, they are the rights of Kings, in a very peculiar manner; for all their Establishments, Endowments, Privileges, and Orders, by which they subsist and are maintained, are derived from Regal power; and as it is your greatest honor, so it is your greatest safety, that now this body of your laws, as well as your privileges and immunities, are established, ratified, and confirmed by the King”; which oration the Rubric-bishop of that day calls “a weighty speech, befitting the occasion”; and which laws the Vice-Chancellor received as a “Pandect,” and the Heads of Houses as “Leges æternæ”—the imperative Proclamation of an ordinance for ever.
Notwithstanding the enactment of several Novels, many of which are in point of legality very dubious, the Code which was thus enacted still remains, as it was intended to be, the Pandect of the University of Oxford. We see therefore that the law now in force, whether obsolete or not, is quite certainly anything but immemorial: that it is by no means very ancient: that it originated in times on no account entitled to a religious respect: that it began in a Reform—the last origin, we suppose, in which Sir Robert Inglis is likely to discern anything that is venerable.
Moreover the very circumstances which the annalist indicates as suggesting the enactment of the Laudian Code exist as much now as they did then: some of the laws—most of them we should say—are “grown out of use”; the more important parts of the system are fallen into neglect—much is in decay, more obsolete, much impossible—everybody is bound under his “corporal oath” to perform what he never attempts and to refrain from exactly that which he habitually performs. What is law is not done, and what is done is not law. It will be easy to show this at length in detail:—the only difficulty is one of selection; for the Report of the Commissioners provides us with materials that are as abundant as they are interesting.
It would not be fair to select any of the portions of the Laudian Code retained from older times, which were perhaps only intended to be formal, and which seem never to have been carried out even as mere formalities. It would be tedious to raise a laugh at an academical jargon. Thus to become a Bachelor of Arts, a man was to attend the “variations in the Parvis and respond under the determining Bachelor”—which were scholastic disputations derived from a mediæval period when philosophical argument was a pecuniary pursuit, and it was a gain to be, in the simple sense of the words, a “sophist” and a “wrangler”—so, for the Master’s degree, it is enacted that a candidate should solemnly determine in Lent, should be a respondent in the quodlibet disputations, the respondent or opponent in Augustines, and read six formal lectures, and afterwards to pass the vesperial disputations, an exercise of apparent length, at the end of which the Moderator is “to propound to each of the inceptors an antinomy or two, to be reconciled by them; and when these have been reconciled, he shall put an end to the disputations in a short speech,” which amicable adjustment is with great judgment omitted in disputations of Theologians, whereat the Vice-Chancellor is “to apportion the period for argument to the several opponents, and cut short the thread of the arguments at his discretion.”
But these enactments were even then falling into desuetude, and it is simply going the way of all the earth if the course of instruction and examination, which the Laudian Code plainly regards as practical, has shared the fate of that which it seems to admit to be obsolete. If there was any point to which Laud attached special importance, it was to the regularity and efficiency of the Professorial lectures. Both his “History” and his “Code” perpetually allude to it. “Because,” says he,1 “the man who should prefer to climb by the precipice to the pinnacle of elevation, though there are stairs by which to mount, seems to court a fall, it is ordained that scholars of the faculty of the Liberal arts, shall, before they aspire to the B.A.’s degree, thereon be bound to bestow four full years in the study of those arts within the University (not in any man’s private house, but boarding and living without evasion in some College or Hall), and diligently to attend the public lectures as the Statutes require, that is to say, during the first year Grammar and Rhetoric, during the second those in Logic and Moral Philosophy, and during the third and fourth, those in Logic, Moral Philosophy, and the Greek language;” and in succeeding sections the Code strays into ridiculous minutiæ in elaborately enacting where and how the Students are to stand—when they are to be allowed to move—when they must suffer in silence—exactly when the Professor is to speak, exactly for how long, and exactly with what tone of voice, and exactly with what rapidity of utterance. But vain are laws against the indolence of mankind. In matter of fact, the Professors during a very long period have ceased to lecture at all. Gibbon observed in the last century, that they had relinquished the “pretence” of it, and the practice can scarcely be said to have been since his time revived. A very great and very notorious professor, like the late Dr. Arnold, may draw a very large audience, especially to Inaugural or Introductory lectures; a clever man may induce some of the more idle or literate of the elder residents to take advantage of his best instructions occasionally; but for any general influence on the Undergraduates, for any instruction which they give to the people to whom the Statutes refer, to the Students who go to Oxford to learn, the Professors might just as well be eloquent in Kamtschatka.
Again, the fate of the theoretical course of examination has been exactly that of the theoretical course of instruction. Laud gives the following account of the system by which he designed to supply the defects of the scholastic argumentations which were even in that age becoming impossible: “The examination is not to be in philosophical subjects merely, to which limits the narrow learning of the last age was confined, but also on matters of philology, and a principal object of inquiry with the examiners will be, what facility the several persons have of expressing their thoughts in Latin. For it is our will that no person should be admitted to the Bachelorship of Arts but those who can with consistency and readiness, and still less to the Master’s degree but those who can with suitableness and aptitude, express their thoughts in Latin on matters of daily occurrence.” This is not exactly the standard of linguistic information now necessary for a common degree.
But badly as the University has observed her Statutes, her very laxity seems scrupulous when compared with the scandalous evasions of her colleges. The Duke of Wellington, it may be remembered, publicly defended the present usages of Oxford, by alleging, that though perhaps hardly in conformity with the wants and ideas of the present age, they were strictly and literally pursuant to the deliberate wills of ancient founders and the coincident directions of subsequent benefactors. An excellent example of this rigid observance may be found in the history of the college of All Souls—which is one of the most conspicuous in Oxford, and the one about which a stranger is, on the whole, the most likely to ask information. Now if he wishes to know how many people are taught in that splendid building, and on how many subjects, he will learn that no one is there instructed in anything. The college does not receive any Undergraduates,1 and the revenues are devoted to the maintenance and support of various gentlemen of aristocratic birth, and by no means preceptive habits, who are called Fellows, and though mostly pursuing their agricultural avocations in remote parts of England, occasionally reside for a term or two in the University, but who have never had any idea of studying anything at those periods. We feel sure our readers must have a high respect for the intelligent founder of so beneficent an institution, so conspicuously elevating perhaps twenty gentlemen above the irksome occupations of defiled mortality:—they will learn with regret, that the founder had no idea of the kind at all. The Fellows according to his design were to be “poor and indigent,” and none were to be chosen save those, “who having the first clerical tonsure, are qualified and disposed for the priesthood, are of free condition and born in lawful wedlock, and well adorned with good qualities and character, and are anxious to make progress in study, and are really making such progress”. It is curious that this is one of the institutions which the Heads of Houses in their Report to the Duke of Wellington particularly set themselves to defend. They observe, “The several colleges in Oxford have been founded at various times from one to six centuries ago, in some few instances by Royal but chiefly by private munificence. They have exercised an important and salutary influence on the discipline and the education of the University. But it should be observed that they have not been usually founded, or in all cases endowed, for the education of youth, but for higher purposes.” In the case of All Souls these higher purposes are remarkable. The college was founded in the 15th century by a certain Archbishop Chichele, who had taken a great share in instigating King Henry the Fifth to declare war against France, and who in his old age was not unnaturally repentant and sorrowful at the amount of the useless suffering that he had caused. According to the ideas of those times, a certain reparation was still in his power: the souls of some of those who were killed in the war that he had stirred up might still be in purgatory, and might (he imagined) be more speedily released from that terrible region if a continual intercession were made for them on earth. He therefore established a Chantry, the Fellows of which are by his Statute expressly directed to pray, “not so much to ply therein the various sciences and faculties, as with all devotion to pray for the souls of glorious memory of Henry the Fifth, lately King of England and France, his own illustrious progenitor, and the Lord Thomas Duke of Clarence, and the other lords and lieges of his realm of England, whom in his own and in his father’s times the havoc of that warfare hath drenched with the Bowl of bitter death, and also for the souls of all the faithful departed;” and this Chantry, from the last clause, is called “All Souls,” and this devotional service is the “higher purpose” which the Fellows of the college, according to the Heads of Houses, are bound to subserve.
An almost parallel instance is presented by Lincoln College, founded by a certain Richard Fleming, a renegade Wickliffite, who designed to root out and destroy “the pestiferous sect which attacks the sacraments, estates, and possessions of the Church,” and wished in this, his foundation, to train up missionary theologians to preach continually against the new doctrines, and who directed that any Fellow tainted with these ideas should “be cast out, like a diseased sheep, from the Fold of his College”; and yet the whole college is now inhabited merely by “diseased sheep”; no one not tainted with the ideas which the college was to extirpate has the most contemptible chance of obtaining entrance within its walls: no one not adhering to the “pestiferous sect” has for 200 years derived benefit from its emoluments; the revenues of the renegade have been perverted to the uses of the creed which he relinquished; the man of most note, bred within the walls of his school, has been John Wesley; the votes of all that are educated there go quite unanimously to “the tainting of sheep,” to the maintenance of Sir Robert Inglis, and the extirpation of Dr. Wiseman.
It is altogether idle to affirm that a Commission, which has brought to the public notice facts like these, was either unnecessary or uncalled for. The University magnates are in a dilemma: either it is their duty to observe their Statutes, and the inquiry was right, because they don’t, or the Statutes must be modified to suit the public convenience, and the public have a right to see that, in fact, they do suit it. The resident authorities put it the other way: they argue, “We ought not to be inquired into, because we keep our Statutes, and we have adapted ourselves to the age because we don’t”. But this is nonsense; and clergymen should not want to have at once the advantage of performing their duty, and the gratification of neglecting it.
Nor must we be met by the dilatory plea that the present was not the time, because the University is reforming itself. It may be disputable how far even the intentions of the local Government are so meritorious as is alleged. But that may pass, for the labours of the Commission have elicited a fact which renders discussion of any other point quite irrelevant. It is very doubtful if the University can reform itself: perhaps the better opinion is that it cannot. It has always been regarded as pretty certain that the Colleges could not, by any act of theirs, dispense with the duties and obligations imposed by their Statutes; but it was only curious inquirers that knew how remarkable was the position of the University itself, and how disputable was its power to re-model itself from within. From the brief sketch which we gave a short while ago of the events attending the enactment of the Laudian Code, it will be clear how different were its circumstances from those attending common academical legislation, or the customary enactment of a bye-law by an ordinary corporation. The idea at the time certainly was that its contents were imposed by Royal authority,—that the enacting energy (so to speak) was in the fiat of the Crown, and that a mere acceptance and declaration of obedience was all that could be required from the subject University, and the plausible idea has accordingly been suggested, that the Code, in fact, is rather a charter emanating from the Crown, and received by the Corporation, than a bye-law enacted by the Corporation itself of its own will and by its own power. So sound a lawyer as the present Chief Justice of England gave, when at the bar, a distinct opinion that such was the fact; and if so, there is no doubt whatever that the University would be quite unable, of its own authority, to alter an iota of what it had accepted from the “munificence” of Royalty; the election has been made: and if the University have subjected herself to a statutory yoke, she must petition the authority which imposed those Statutes, and desire to be relieved from their oppression. We only need to prove the existence of a doubt: the principle, it will be conceded, of a great national institution like Oxford, ought to be free from every shadow of question; people ought not to be left in doubt whether the greatest educational establishment in England is not conducted on an illegal system, is not guilty of a breach of trust, and is not governed by persons who take oaths to abstain from what they do, and constantly to do that which they constantly refrain from doing. Moreover, the language of the Statutes themselves is very much in favour of the doctrine of Lord Campbell, and the consequent inability of the University to deviate in the least from their provisions. Thus one section says expressly that no dispensation, whether total or partial, should be proposed concerning any Statute or Decree, framed, or to be framed at the command or suggestion of the Royal authority, unless a change or relaxation to some extent has been expressly enjoined by Royal authority. And another denies any “power of explanation” to Statutes similarly enacted; Laud himself considered them to be enacted for ever, and would most certainly have imagined that the Puritanical “sin of rebellion” had strayed into the University of Legitimacy, if he could have been informed that there was even now a proposal to amend the ordinances that were to endure for the Platonic year—the Leges Æternæ—the Leges Regia Auctoritate confirmatæ et sancitæ.
The Commission, therefore, justifies itself; it has brought to light these facts; it has shown us that the present system must be defended,—not by eloquence or by poetry—not by an appeal to the wisdom of King Alfred, a rhapsody on the great Chichele, or a playful panegyric on Queen Philippa—not by a mystical scruple as to deviating from the directions of any one deceased, because what is now done does not accord with the directions of any one who is dead—not by a eulogium on recent reforms by the resident authorities, for it may well be that those reforms are illegal, and those authorities guilty of perjury—not by erudite pathos on the academical attainments of the martyred Laud, for the archbishop’s Statutes are hourly broken, and he would hardly know his own University again; but by coarser pleas and less winning topics,—by the doctrine of desuetude, the evils of a Pharisaic conservatism, the doctrine of utility, the change of religion, the change of politics, the unalterable necessity of alteration, and the mere impossibility of standing still in an ever-shifting and transitory world.
What is said of the Commission having troubled the peace of the University, we own we take very lightly. Indeed, it does not seem that the place has ever been allowed to enjoy an over-tranquil or untroubled calm. “That,” commences perhaps abruptly the learned annalist, “the University of Oxford flourished after the going away of Grimbald and the preferment of the other Professors, many there are, I persuade myself, that doubt it not, and especially in the reign of King Alfred.” As Oxford has been disquieted so long, she may be disquieted still. We doubt not that the University will continue to flourish after the advent of the Bishop of Norwich—the departure of Heads of Houses, perhaps as notorious as Grimbald—and the preferment of unscrutable Professors, equally profound with the most so of his contemporaries.
But if the Report of the Commission justifies the Commission, the evidence taken before the Commissioners in some sense justifies the University: Oxford is a fascinating city. Here are a very considerable number of gentlemen, all of them Reformers—some of them opposed in spirit to the characteristic theories of the University—none of them in the least representing the school with whom it is connected in the popular imagination—all of them abounding in attainments—many of them able—some with a large knowledge of the world—and they are all of them fond of the place. They all look back to their residence there with an evident and singular fondness. They all feel too, that the effect of the system on their minds has been strong; they are conscious that they are materially different from what they would have been if they had not been educated at all, or been educated elsewhere, and not any one hints that the training of Oxford has not been in his own case beneficial. Not one can suggest even an alteration without evident and heartfelt remonstrances. To alter Oxford is to alter their own youth. A place of education so winning and so effective may have many failings, but it must have great merits. We hope to show that, though we wish much change, we can at any rate in some degree, though, no doubt, incompletely, appreciate a few of the qualities that have gained the affections and obtained the gratitude of so many superior minds.
Very odd, indeed, at first sight, is the received English theory, that as places of education Oxford and Cambridge are both perfection. The schemes of tuition seem so different. Cambridge teaches her students the discoveries of Cambridge men; she occupies them with great P. and little q., with Airey’s tracts, perplexing dynamics, the last reachings of the Newtonian deduction, the best results of the best teaching of Francis Bacon. Oxford, on the other hand, disdains every approach to novelty. Till the time when, thirty years ago, the much-reviled Dr. Hampden introduced an academical examination in the writings of Bishop Butler, not one of her most influential pursuits owed anything whatever to her own students: she taught exclusively from authors who were already very old when she was herself young; according to the admission tacitly suggested by the course of her tuition—she had not herself, any more than the rest of the modern world, contributed any considerable element to human knowledge, that it was desirable to introduce into common education. Surely these diverse systems, one thinks at first sight, cannot both be right; if Cambridge is right in receiving the modern learning, then it should seem that Oxford is wrong in rejecting it; if Oxford rightly rejects it, then Cambridge is unwise in accepting and inculcating it. Is this true? We regret that we cannot answer the question save by a tedious disquisition, bare controversy, and mere principle.
Ποι̑ καὶ πόθεν; what is a University for? unless we know with some accuracy that which we wish to have done, we can scarcely expect to discuss satisfactorily whether it is done for us or not. It is quite clear, even from the blue-book before us, that on this point there is no agreement. The theories there suggested are very various; and the only gratifying circumstance is, that throughout the whole medley no one gentleman is bold enough to avow an adherence to a thoroughgoing theory of negation. Even the Fellows of All Souls decline, we observe, to maintain explicitly that the object of a University is exactly to do nothing.
A very common notion is, that the Universities are places for study, and this not for the study of youth and semi-men, but of grown-up gentlemen and bearded scholars. And this was most certainly the general design of the Founders of colleges. These great institutions were founded for the benefit of what are called in this age, poor scholars. As we have seen in the case of All Souls, so in general, the object was to train a band or order of rigid, ascetic, semi-monastic students, who were to spend their lives in acquiring the learning of the age. Nor perhaps was this idea perfectly unsuitable to the purposes and wants of that period. In mediæval society Learning was more than at any other time divorced from the finer and subtler, and given over to the coarse and voluntary energies of the human mind. The learning of that age was analogous to the learning of positive law. It was necessary to master a huge traditional theology, abounding in decisions, technicalities, and positive enactments, which no one could know without study; but which any man of energy and moderate ability could be quite certain of in some degree acquiring; and wherein a strong-natured man of poor parents—used to a hard life, with the dread of poverty behind him, and the hereditary energies of the working people within him—could not, and we see in history in general did not, fail to acquire great information. There was no poetry, no fine literature, no imaginative relaxation, in the scholarship of that time: the bulk of the mighty tomes in which it is enshrined warns the experienced eye that he must not seek in them the record of the rarer thoughts or more elevated moments of human nature—for these come seldom and are soon ended; but of the laborious vigour, the coarse understanding, the deductive reason, which can be used when we will, which proceed on definite assumptions, which therefore lead infallibly to definite conclusions. But this is not to be thought of for the colleges now. The canon law is gone by, the mediæval theology is food for the inferior animals. The finer classics—the lighter thoughts—the more delicate fancies—the most evanescent shades of meaning and of language, these are what we now call scholarship: and we cannot expect to train any great number of persons in any age to spend their lives on these. Keen excitements are at hand, and carry off into the great and busy world the very minds whose exquisite structure is the best adapted for literary discrimination. Those who really enjoy the best books take an interest in human life, concerning which those books are entirely written; and it is not likely that such will be content to hear in the cloister the secondhand stories of others, when the gates are open, the train passes by, and in an hour they can walk in Parliament Street themselves. A strange timidity, an instinctive pedantry, an inaptitude for common life—may force them back again within the narrow cell. But this is painful and rare.
In England of course this is especially true. We are not Germans, who care for what is not. Take up the Life of Niebuhr that was translated the other day, and it is surprising to see the eagerness with which he withdraws from the living realities of life—not to the exquisite fancies or the profounder imaginations or the subtler observations of the higher orders, which might and do rest and invigorate and refresh the worn and troubled mind; but to the driest technicalities—to grammar and philology, to Basque refreshments and Polynesian recreations; and what is more strange still, he does not feel that his taste is queer or extraordinary. He seems conscious that in degree he feels it more powerfully than those who surround him. But the thing itself, the preference of what has been to what is, of what is abstract to what is fleshly, of what is in the grammar to what is in the ledger, the love of letters in general, and the contempt for £ s. d., seems to him the natural notion common to all that are awakened to real enjoyment—that are not of the earth, and earthy. In such a country as that it might be well to afford facilities for a race of students. We might hope that they would be active and cultivated, and ardent and happy. But here in a land of larger enjoyments, and better opportunities, and bolder energies, it would be entailing misery on many to bring up many to a life of research. The taste is rare, and a library of lofty volumes is the worst of prisons to such as think it a prison at all; it is “hard labour” without the stimulus: the bread-mill moves, but what is there “going on” in the Bodleian? Nor is Natural science or Mathematical science better adapted to the inclinations of any great number of common Englishmen; on the contrary, we respect, and perhaps justly, fine scholarship more than a familiarity with cubic equations, or the details of the dissecting-room. We must not try to fill many buildings with naturalists, nor did Providence mean many Londoners to be devotees to the “factorial integral”. In attempting by large bounties (and such would be the resource of the Universities) to increase much the number of life-long students, we should but add to the supply of stupid and indifferent works, to the list of authors without a call. Why should we pay people to compose A Structural Dissertation on the Walls of Athens, Abstractitudes of the Sciences, Thoughts on Tissue, or A Biography of Greek Heroes anterior to Agamemnon? Some might write more agreeably; but these, if the partisans of the Students—a considerable number of estimable people—had but their way, these and such as these would be the labours of most inhabitants of Magdalene and Merton, which surely were not built for what is so superfluous.
A view exactly opposite to this has been advanced by an intelligent gentleman, who having recently become a legislator, seems entitled to very special attention. The member for Kidderminster, Mr. Lowe, regards Oxford as a “preparation for Australia”. He tells us that he has seen in the colonies Oxford men placed in situations in which they had reason “bitterly to regret that their costly education, while making them intimately acquainted with remote events and distant nations, had left them in utter ignorance of the laws of Nature, and placed them under immense disadvantages in that struggle with her which they had to maintain”. And we have no doubt that this is so; nor do we deny that the present system of Oxford is open to the sarcasm which is intended. We are not going to argue that there are now at Oxford sufficient facilities for the acquisition of natural science: indeed we hold rather strongly that these facilities might and ought to be somewhat increased. But if Mr. Lowe has, as we collect, a notion or imagination that a University ought to fit men for colonial life—that it professes to do so—that if it neglects to do so, as it does, a sentence of inefficiency is immediately due, we dissent. We imagine that in a hard and earnest conflict with material and brute nature, a literary education can never give any superiority. Take the case of a goldfinder who spends his day bent double grubbing in the bed of a stream for imperceptible dust,—of what use is literature to him? Tacitus won’t keep him from cold, nor is the Principia a preservative from damp. The thing there is the knack of finding gold. All that is requisite to be known of the laws of nature is rather obvious, nor will a profounder knowledge be really of extreme advantage. If all the people in Australia were taught a thousand sciences or a thousand languages, the yield of gold would be as it was before. And so of other pursuits. A certain small and rude knowledge of outward objects is all that is commonly wanted by common practitioners, and that knowledge is apt to puzzle if there be any attempt to inculcate it systematically. Turnspits are in general ill-informed about the theory or laws of rotatory motion, nor do the cleverest people tell the time a moment quicker for understanding the works of their watches. The real education for every practical pursuit is specific—a digger wants the habit of digging—a shepherd, of keeping sheep—a mining agent should be bred in the mines. Christchurch will never prepare men for Labuan nor Oriel for the Rocky Mountains; and we suspect even from the case under consideration, that a superfluous conversancy with Sydney may much mislead a Reformer in Oxford.
A gentleman of great acuteness has adopted another theory. Mr. Clough is of opinion that the Universities are, ought to be, and must be, “mere finishing schools for the higher classes”—and apparently would reject with impartial equanimity the studious delusions of common Reformers, and the Australian advice of Mr. Lowe. Now it is quite certain that the Universities do perform the very important office hinted at rather than expressed by Mr. Clough. “If,” says Sir James Stephen, “I had the pen of Edward Gibbon, I could draw from my own early experience a picture which would form no unmeet companion for that which he has bequeathed to us of his education at Oxford. The three or four years during which I lived on the banks of the Cam, were passed in a very pleasant, though not a very cheap hotel. But if they had been passed in the Clarendon in Bond Street, I do not think that the exchange would have deprived me of any aids for intellectual discipline or for acquiring literary or scientific knowledge.” And notwithstanding many reforms and innovations, an increase of study and an inroad of private tutors, there can be no doubt at all that to very many of their youthful sojourners both Universities are much as they were. The real gain to perhaps a majority is anything but scholastic. The gentlemen of England are educated at many schools, they come to college for a year or two to learn one another’s faces and names, to unlearn the overweening notions of public schools, and the “three-cornered opinions,” as somebody calls them, of the private academy. They derive from the society of one another—from wine-parties—from the common et ceteras of college life—a certain cultivation, certain friendships, certain manners, which are a step in advance on what in each kind they previously possessed, and give them besides an excellent start in English life. The gentry of England are thus, as it is said, “finished”. They take the social type which is to last them for life. But surely this is hardly a sufficient reason for so great colleges? scarcely a sufficient account of such large structures and such enormous revenues? As Sir James says, the Clarendon would do. It is obvious that we must look elsewhere for the complete formulas of academical utility.
The Catholic Church has busied herself, as with other matters of late, so with this. Father Newman, who seems expected, or who is of himself inclined, to interfere in every matter beneath the sun, has recently and elaborately expounded a theory of Universities. We opened “The Dublin Lectures,” as they are to be called, with expectation, but we closed them with disappointment. Father Newman is a man to fail. With all his ability, and invention, and logical accuracy, there is generally in all his writings some impossible postulate, some incredible axiom, that mars the whole. So it is here. He deduces his entire theory of a University from what we had always understood to be the obsolete derivation, that it is to teach “universal knowledge”. This is odd enough. We are actually to receive from the emissaries of the Pope the very theory which twenty years ago was in vogue among certain rather advanced sectaries of the Radical philosophy. A man of some wealth and transactive ability sometimes has a family—he is struck with the importance of various subjects: he says, “There is Chemistry; what progress it makes day by day! What a scheme for making soap Dr. Dirtihands was mentioning yesterday!—my son must know Chemistry. And there is French; ‘Commong survatteel?’—my son shall know French. And there is Physiology; what an interesting topic the human frame is! We are always having diseases we can’t account for. I wonder where I caught that cold last week—my son shall know Physiology. And then too what was that when I felt so floored the other morning? I remember it was those barrister-fellows that were for me against the Brewer’s Company, and they were talking of the late Lord Chancellor, and his always giving things to his relations—what’s called Nepotism; and then a little red-headed man, who was very quick in business, said, ‘Certainly, certainly, why he’s Nepos himself’; and then everybody laughed at him, and I laughed. I wonder why we laughed? It is very unpleasant laughing when one don’t know the reason. I fancy it is something in Latin—my son shall know Latin.” And so on through all the range of the sciences; and the end is, that the young gentleman is sent to a “Seminary” near London, where everything is taught, according to the Times, “without corporal penalties,” whereat he learns at least nothing. Something of this sort, we learn, is the Catholic idea of a College. Universal information is to be diffused; all sciences, “as the term University expresses,” are to be taught; everybody is to be set to learn everything. But was it necessary to have so great an apparatus for so small a work? Is this what the Catholic Church is to do for us?—to build new lecture-rooms—to overteach a few pupils—to try, and fail, to induce mankind at large to search and seek for universal knowledge? Why did she come so far? We could do that for ourselves.
Nor must we repeat the yet more pernicious cant that education makes educated people cleverer than the uneducated. This idea is still believed in rural districts, where a good deal of conversational information is sometimes derived from reading, and where it is not known that literary men as much over-estimate the importance of literature as the currier in the legend the repulsive resources of the substance leather. But, authors and schoolmasters apart, the generality of mankind are pretty well agreed that in transactive ability, in common-sense, in industry, in energy, people who read little are at least as eminent as people who read much. “I never,” said Sir Walter Scott, “knew a Dominie that was not weak.” “Do not,” says Mr. Gilbert in his book on banking, “choose a clerk because he has studied for one of the learned professions, for that is no advantage.” No one goes to Cambridge to inquire for a cutler. A first-class scholar would, in general, be a ninth-rate man-servant. If learning is an advantage for some things, it is a disadvantage for others. What does it then do?
In our notion the object of a University education is to train intellectual men for the pursuits of an intellectual life. For though education by training or reading will not make people quicker or cleverer or more inventive, yet it will make them soberer. A man who finds out for himself all that he knows is rarely remarkable for calmness; the excitement of the discovery, and a weak fondness for his own investigations, a parental inclination to believe in their excessive superiority, combine to make the self-taught and original man dogmatic, decisive, and detestable. He comes to you with a notion that Noah was discarded in the ark, and attracts attention to it, as if it were a stupendous novelty of his own. A book-bred man rarely does this; he knows that his notions are old notions, that his favourite theories are the rejected axioms of long-deceased people: he is too well aware how much may be said for every side of everything to be very often overweeningly positive on any point.
It is of immense importance that there should be among the more opulent and comfortable classes a large number of minds trained by early discipline to this habitual restraint and sobriety. The very ignorance of such people is better than the best knowledge of half mankind. An uneducated man has no notion of being without an opinion: he is distinctly aware whether Venus is inhabited, and knows as well as Mr. Cobden what is to be found in all the works of Thucydides; but his opinionated ignorance is rather kept in check, when people as strong-headed as himself, as rich, as respectable, and much better taught, are continually avowing that they don’t at all know any of the points on which he is ready to decide. And when those who are careful have opinions, they are in general able to bear the temperate discussion of them. Education cannot ensure infallibility, but it most certainly ensures deliberation and patience. It forms the opinions of people that can form the opinions of others.
This, too, is a function which increases in difficulty with the increase of civilisation. As society goes on, life becomes more complicated, and its problems more difficult. New perplexities, new temptations, new difficulties, arise with new circumstances; every walk in life is clogged with tedious difficulties, and thronged with countless competitors, and overrun with infinite dangers. The moral problems, the political problems, the social problems, the religious problems, require a greater stress of understanding: we were in simple addition, we are in the Differential Calculus. Take the case of politics in this country now and as it was a century and a half ago. In Queen Anne’s time the question was whether the Pretender should be king,—whether Popery should be the religion of the state, and that was nearly all;—on so large an issue very inferior and illiterate minds were quite competent to form a sound judgment. Sir Roger de Coverley, for example, who believed in witchcraft, and was not a college man, was quite able to reject the Pope and receive the Queen—“God bless her”. But how the poor old gentleman would have been confounded in the present day! what would he have thought of Free-trade, Protectionism, and Caucasian Christianity? He would we fear have reflected in this wise on the General Election: “You see, though I can’t quite tell (for I am getting old) what Lord Derby has done with all his old principles, I shall vote for young John Rising, who intends to support him, for you know his father Sir John was my very old friend, and knew more of fox-hunting than any one in Worcestershire, notwithstanding some were so foolish as to think me his equal; and though the Chancellor of the Exchequer is said in London to be a Jew, I could not deny but the poor in my county was more comfortable than ever.” This was good influential reasoning in the first year of the eighteenth century, but it won’t do now. We want men to get up facts, weigh principles, suggest illustrations, appreciate arguments; and this is the use of learning.
So too in religion,—how differently are we placed now-a-days in this Babel of sects, and the deluge of criticism, from the old times, when the choice was between two or three distinct creeds, depending on common and conceded postulates, and differing only in the respective correctness of a few not too complicated deductions! Now that the postulates are gone, who is there that can estimate the insuperable task of, as it is phrased, making a religion? And in the minor subjects of taste and refinement, with the growth of literature, the increase of luxury and the advent of æsthetics, who can too highly estimate the difficulty of reviewing works of art, and criticising styles, and comprehending the German speculations? And in the practical concerns of life, though a prolonged education rather interferes than otherwise with a perfect and instinctive mastery of a narrow department, though it disqualifies men for special or mechanical labour and the petty habits of a confined routine, yet for affairs on a considerable scale, for a general estimate of general probabilities, and for changing the hand and the mind from one species of pursuit to another, a carefully-formed mind and a large foundation of diversified knowledge are indisputably wonderful and all but indispensable aids. Men who blindly and instinctively follow out and feel after the minute details of a single occupation, generally know but that one, and can learn no other. In the increasing and multiplying wealth of the world, in the various and ever-varying ramifications of human industry, it becomes necessary that some people should comprehend the general plan, while others elaborate the special minutiæ, and it is lucky that the very wealth which by its superabundance, and the complexity of its nature, renders more than anything else all this enlargement of knowledge necessary, also by getting together in single hands, secures the easy conditions, the pecuniary resources, and the youthful leisure that are the necessary pre-requisites for its extensive diffusion.
So too by common consent certain of the professions have long been called learned and literate. Not thereby meaning so much that a great deal of literary information is commonly necessary in their everyday practice, as that the tone of mind commonly produced by a calm and deliberate education, by the habit of learning, by the acquisition of abstract knowledge, is especially favourable to the best exercise of the highest faculties in their more abstruse and difficult departments. Particular portions of legal business are very properly conceived to be of this nature; the same may be true occasionally in the applications of medicine; and in many other newer and yet unclassified pursuits similar points often occur requiring the application of much knowledge, and the steady exercise of a disciplined mind.
Does Oxford accomplish this? Does it frame a type of character capable of forming the more abstruse opinions and of transacting the more severe portion of the intellectual business of the world? We can be at any rate at no loss for an answer. The materials are ample. In public life the Oxford men are conspicuous; they seem more perhaps than the pupils of any other seminary to have a very marked type running through them all, though of course modified and qualified in each by the difference of circumstances and of natural character. They appear to represent a principle, and that in itself is a stimulus to curiosity.
In some respects the character is old enough. In a few outward features, it is certainly rather like that of the mediæval student whom Chaucer sang of some four centuries ago:—
“I regret to say,” observes Dr. Arnold, “that the prevailing spirit of many Oxford men is the very opposite of liveliness.”
A certain speechlessness is still a part of the character. “You will,” says Hazlitt, “hear more good things in one day on the top of the coach, going or coming from Oxford, than in one year from all the residents in that learned seminary.” A slightly excitable lady was once asked within our hearing what she thought of the literati of Oxford: she said: “They were so stupid I could strike them”. But this is not quite conclusive. It is not good that every one should be loquacious or excitable or original: some must listen if it is meant that they should understand. Particularly the custom is to refrain from speaking on their own pursuits;—there is some story of a Head of a House who was presented to Napoleon after the peace of Amiens, and was asked on his return what was his opinion of the French Emperor. “Sir,” replied the dignitary, “you see at once he is not a University man, he talks about the classics.” Such was his opinion.
In moral and political opinions the Oxford man is quite as defined. Mr. Gladstone, to take the most marked and decisive example, is obviously and utterly different from what he would have been if educated anywhere else. He is the only considerable political Englishman who has undergone what can even by courtesy be called a philosophical training. There is about him and in all his writings and in all his speeches a certain desire for principle, a wish to have an ultimatum, a reason, an axiom from which and to which the intellectual effort may start and be referred. His first principles are rarely ours; we may often think them obscure—sometimes incomplete—occasionally quite false; but we cannot deny that they are the result of distinct thought with disciplined faculties upon adequate data, of a careful and dispassionate consideration of all the objections which occurred, whether easy or insuperable, trifling or severe. How Dr. Arnold estimates this training—still conveyed from the same text-book as in Chaucer’s time—may be read in a hundred passages of his letters and works. “We have been reading,” says he, speaking of Aristotle, “some of the Rhetoric in the sixth form this half year, and its immense value struck me again so forcibly that I could not consent to send my son to a University where he would lose it altogether, and where his whole studies would be formal merely and not real, either mathematics or philology—with nothing answering to the Aristotle and Thucydides of Oxford.” And again—“If one might wish for impossibilities I might then wish that my children might be well versed in physical science, but in due subordination to the fulness and freshness of their knowledge on all subjects. This, however, I believe cannot be; and physical science, if studied at all, seems too great to be studied ἐν παρέργῳ: wherefore rather than have it the principal thing in my son’s mind, I would gladly have him think that the sun went round the earth and that the stars were so many spangles set in the firmament.” And he acted on his theory. “You may believe,” he remarks with respect to the London University, “that I have not forgotten the dear old Stagyrite in our examinations, and I hope that he will be construed and discussed in Somerset House as well as in the schools.”
In other Oxford men this is as remarkable. You cannot open the writings of the most dissimilar among them without being struck by the thoughtful element which they have in common. There is a perpetual and often quite unconscious employment of expressions and illustrations derived from the Greek, but especially from the Aristotelic philosophy—a certain accuracy in the expression of principles—and a certain keen deductiveness of understanding, which distinguish the works of men whom Nature markedly and of set purpose discriminated from each other; and this lasts their lifetime. Coleridge used to say, that if you took up a philosophical German writer, no matter whether second-rate or first-rate or fourth-rate, you would be struck with a certain carefulness of tone, a curious and guarded discrimination in the use of exact terms, a foreseeing of objections and so on, which would induce you to remark, “Really this writer is a philosopher”; whereas in fact it was only that the general style of philosophical thought was so diffused in Germany, that any man of fair ability, fair industry and fair power of imitation could easily acquire and affect it. Something of the same sort seems to exist in the very atmosphere of Oxford; for if you turn even from such great writers as Dr. Whewell, Sir John Herschel, or Mr. Mill, to the writing of even an inferior man trained on the characteristically Oxford system, you will feel at once, that although you may and will lose in vigour of originality, in variety of knowledge, in brilliancy of illustration, in liveliness of mind, yet you will gain in mere speculativeness. What theories there are will be expressed, as theories should be, with calmness, with accuracy, with dulness, with carefulness, with an anticipation of objections, after a conversancy with the ideas of what philosophers have preceded them.
On the theoretical side, therefore, we think that Oxford,—we won’t say, succeeds; nothing succeeds in this world—but fairly and with much credit approximates to valuable success. On the practical, we fancy that it wholly fails. This seems admitted in the “Evidence”. Mr. Denison, for example, who has favoured the Commissioners with some schemes for the improvement of legal education, is decidedly of opinion that at present the University man is under a disadvantage.
“The usual routine,” he says, “of what is now called a legal education is as follows: a youth of twenty-two years of age, after completing his studies at the University, comes to London to commence the study of the law. He is entered at one of the Inns of Court, is received as a pupil for a year by some eminent conveyancer, to whom he gives 100 guineas for the privilege of going daily to his chambers and seeing the business there transacted. That business is ordinarily the most technical, complicated, and difficult in the whole range of legal practice; and requires great professional knowledge and considerable experience in particular departments of the practical concerns of life. It is therefore obvious that the special knowledge there to be acquired is purely practical; and is confined to few subjects. The youth soons finds that, at the cost of 100 guineas, he has purchased the right of walking blindfold into a sort of legal jungle. Masses of papers are placed daily before him, every sheet of which contains numberless terms, as new and strange to him as the words of a foreign language, and the bare meaning of which he rarely arrives at before the clerk announces that the client has called to take the papers away. Fresh masses of papers replace those that have been thus untimely removed, and bring with them fresh grounds of vexation and despair; and thus throughout the whole year of his pupilage the youth has to struggle with difficulties, which are an hundred-fold greater than they need have been, had he been fortunate enough to have learnt the alphabet of legal science before he undertook to grapple with the most subtle, abstruse, and difficult details of its practice. This unprofitable and disgusting year at length over, the youth is doomed to go through a second year of the like probation, at the same cost and almost as unprofitably, in the chamber of a special pleader or an equity draftsman; and by the end of that year he is either so bewildered or so wearied with wandering through the seemingly endless mazes that obstruct the very approaches to his profession, that he either gives up the attempt as hopeless, and becomes a clergyman (an event of extremely common occurrence with Oxford men), or finding out that he is at last beginning to feel his way a little, hopes, by dogged perseverance, to attain, sooner or later, to a knowledge of that art which he sees very many persons of only average capacity practising with credit and success.”
The system works simply. The educated pupil prepares a draft;—the uneducated practitioner looks it over. “I do not,” he remarks, “quite see the necessity for those recitals. Did it strike you that they had any relation to the present purpose? I am afraid this operative part would give the court some trouble. Did you find any authority for giving an estate to A.B., his heirs, executors, administrators and assigns? Humph! Humph! Yes, yes, I see you’ve taken great pains with that original covenant. Yes, yes, we must put something in the place of that.” What language to a solemn gentleman who has been during three years the idol of tutors, maybe been a tutor himself, and especially from a man who never heard of Sphacteria and can’t define “distributive Justice”: no wonder if the victim thinks gently of a grammar school, or at the first opening absconds into a parsonage.
The fact is, that Oxford men want εὐστοχία,—they want intuitiveness. From a defect of liveliness, from an over-caution of understanding, they have not the ταχύ τι, the happy facility which takes hold at once and for ever of the right point or the right questions at the right moment. There is often not spring enough in the nature of such a man: he can go well in the high road of learning, but he won’t do for the cross-country exercise of human life. It puts him out. He does not like that there should be virtues not in Aristotle’s list, and it is impossible to convince him that there is anything which is not dreamed of in his philosophy. Give him time and he will generally come right, but in this hasty world who can have time? as the best speaker in a concourse of men is the man who has the best sayings there ready, so in action we must be able to act wisely at once, or else we must either do nothing or act unwisely.
In this respect the Cambridge men do better. A hard and mathematical Johnian is perhaps perfectly prepared for every abstract difficulty of active life. He may want taste and discrimination, and judgment in character, and skill in dealing with men, or art in persuading them; but in the bare application of mere principles, in the thorough mastery of appalling facts, in the technical manipulations—to speak absurdly—of any intellectual pursuit, according at least to our observation, he will never fail. Such men generally see a thing in the right light at first, and if they once get right, all the oratory which ever was or can be, all the eloquence of a private tutor, all the pathos of senior Fellow, will never induce them to swerve from their pragmatical honesty or to abate one jot of clear intellectual certainty in their dogmatic conviction. But they fail even in intellectual pursuits, when the finer faculties are required; they are good actuaries but bad metaphysicians; when they write books on thoughtful subjects they make blunders without end. Mr. Mill, we believe, somewhere says of the last generation of eminent Cambridge men—that he never heard an argument from them which was worth anything, and though this be a trifle contemptuous, yet it is certain that of late the amount of general thought on general subjects for which we are indebted to Cambridge, is immensely less than what we owe to Oxford.
Is not this really good? We asked so long ago that no reader can be asked to remember it, whether there was not something very singular in the old English idea that the educational systems of both the two old Universities were both perfect. Like most odd and old ideas, it has much truth. Is it not perhaps better that we should have one University which practically devotes itself mainly to the culture of thought, and another which devotes itself principally to the training men for the more difficult species of intellectual action? These are the two duties of a University, as we showed just now. It is perhaps good that they should be kept in a certain measure separate. Each fulfils its own task rather better, if it aim at one mainly, than if it aspire to both equally. Besides, it is to be observed that each selects out of the general society exactly those who are thought to be best fitted to excel in the requirements and studies which constitute its test and its training. A mathematician—the son perhaps of a blacksmith—goes to St. John’s; the son of a country vicar, with a taste for moral subjects and the classics, is most probably despatched to Oxford. Each is well trained; the first for the conveyancer’s chambers; the second for a rural rectory.
In two points the two Universities coincide—selecting two elements which we believe to be quite necessary for the real education of an intellectual Englishman. They both teach a compact system of learning. If we were teaching a Frenchman who is versatile, or an old Athenian who was versatility itself, this might not be of so great importance, perhaps it would not even be possible, for we question whether those unstable and changeable organisations could be kept resolutely to a narrow pursuit. With the Englishman it is different. His intelligence is slow and stubborn and sure; his memory, though retentive, is not facile; it is certain, therefore, that if you bother him with many things, he will learn none; if you do not allow him to become, as he thinks, possessed of some one acquisition, you will discontent him, and he will leave you. “It would be well,” so says a thoughtful writer,1 “to impress on the young men of the present day the value of ignorance, as well as of knowledge; to give them fortitude and courage enough to acknowledge that there are books which they have not read and sciences which they do not wish to learn, and to make them feel that one of the very greatest defects in a mind is want of unity of purpose, and that everything which betrays this betrays also want of resolution and energy.” For if this be not learned easily and early, it will be learned painfully and late. One by one, day by day, the world will strip off the pretensions and false assumptions which we may put forth, no matter how great they be. What do you do for me? she asks; and she will require a solid answer. It has been a great happiness to many that two seats of national learning have consciously or unconsciously taken each a defined course and adopted a rigid system; the one by severe training in philosophers and historians, to teach men what has been thought, the other by a discipline in the technicalities of study, to prepare men for the like technicalities of abstruser action.
The other point of substantial unanimity between Oxford and Cambridge is the collegiate system. It is well observed by a gentleman who has given evidence, that this also is suitable to the national character. There is nothing for young men like being thrown into close neighbourhood with young men; it is the age of friendship; and every encouragement should be given—every opportunity enlarged for it. Take an uncollegiate Englishman, and you will generally find that he has no friends. He has not the habit. He has his family, his business, his acquaintances, and these occupy his time. He has not been thrown during the breathing-time of human life into close connection with those who are also beginning or thinking of beginning to enter on its labours. School-friendships are childish; “after-life” rarely brings many; it is in youth alone that we can engrave deep and wise friendships on our close and stubborn texture. If there be romance in them, it is a romance which few would tear aside.
Of course also the college system, quite beside the labours of Tutors and Fellows, mainly aids in the work of education. All that “pastors and masters” can teach young people, is as nothing when compared with what young people can’t help teaching one another. Man made the school: God the playground. He did not leave children dependent upon the dreams of parents or the pedantry of tutors. Before letters were invented, or books were, or governesses discovered, the neighbours’ children, the out-door life, the fists and the wrestling sinews, the old games,—the oldest things in the world,—the bare hill and the clear river—these were education. And now, though Xenophon and sums be come, these are and remain. Horses and marbles, the knot of boys beside the schoolboy fire, the hard blows given and the harder ones received—these educate mankind. So too in youth, the real plastic energy is not in tutors or lectures or in books “got up,” but in Wordsworth and Shelley; in the books that all read because all like—in what all talk of because all are interested—in the argumentative walk or disputatious lounge—in the impact of young thought upon young thought, of fresh thought on fresh thought—of hot thought on hot thought—in mirth and refutation—in ridicule and laughter—for these are the free play of the natural mind, and these cannot be got without a college.
We admit, however, that these excellences of our elder Universities have often passed into excess—have become defects. The compact system has become exclusive, and the colleges have gained a monopoly. For although it may be quite right and quite prudent, that every one should be taught a compact system, it does not quite follow that every one should be taught the same. Although the general scheme of Oxford education, based on the old philosophy, and the more weighty classics, may still, in our notion, be rightly preserved, there will be no harm in a good sprinkling of mathematicians, in an increase of undergraduates, learned in modern philosophy, or even in a small deposit of naturalists. And though in a general way, everybody should be discouraged from learning everything, some versatile men will attain eminence in several studies, and these should have their reward. A choice between compact systems, as has been said, the good sense of our forefathers found out to be the fitting rule, and this choice which now only exists between the two systems of Oxford and Cambridge, should, without touching the rightful supremacy of the systems that are, be extended to an additional choice at Oxford and at Cambridge, between subsidiary and subordinate systems.
We shall be reminded, that this is there or thereabouts the very system which has been adopted in the recent statute passed in 1851; for by that statute three new schools were erected, in which, after evincing a certain acquaintance with the classics, a student may obtain a degree and a class by passing a sufficient examination in Mathematics and Mathematical Physics, in Natural Science—meaning the sciences of classification or observation, or in Law and Modern History. And though these three schools are not by any means exactly what we should like to see them, we very willingly acknowledge that if we believed that this statute would now really work in an efficient manner, we should applaud the Heads of Houses for having actually at last proposed something that is beneficial. But we believe that this piece of legislative extension will, in practice, turn out to be wholly nugatory. It is at best a mere expression of a desire on the part of the University as to what it wishes to have learned, and as to the subjects, proficiency in which it is willing to test by examination. Now, if the University were crowded with eager and disinterested students ready immediately to acquire and be examined in any branch of knowledge which the authorities of the place might indicate or mention, no reform would be more effectual. But more potent inducements are needed. People go to Oxford to get station and money—and they can only receive them from those who have them. The University is but a poor body, and has nothing of real consequence to bestow. The enormous wealth of which we hear so much, is in the gift of the colleges, and it is from their endowments, and the places in their gift, that the successful class-man looks and must look for his pecuniary reward. A very distinguished observer has given his opinion on this point. “I think,” says Professor Vaughan—
“. . . that the fellowships should be opened practically to merit in all branches of learning which the University system now recognises. At present they are practically devoted to the literæ humaniores; the examination at most colleges is traditional, and the only merit recognised in the award of fellowships is classical knowledge and taste, and the power of dealing with moral and historical questions—departments of prime importance and great value, but no longer deserving exclusive ascendancy. When a mathematical tutor is wanted in the college, an exception is commonly made in the principle of election; but as a general rule, even mathematical attainments are disregarded in the choice of fellows, and the consequence has been that in spite of distinctions, classes, and scholarships, the study of mathematics still languishes. The number of candidates for honours does not increase; the reason is not doubtful—mathematics in Oxford are a bad investment for intellectual, physical, and pecuniary capital. The fellowships are the first substantial return for all the money and toil and self-denial involved in an intellectual education. The prospect of a fellowship closes the vista, it leads the eye, and directs the energies as well as animates them. On this account, notwithstanding all the honorary and titular encouragements given to mathematics, they are practically discouraged. This consideration is one of vast importance in its bearing on the recent extension of University studies. If it be seriously desired and intended to give vitality to new studies, we must operate upon the fellowships for this purpose. If the course of things is left to itself, the traditional system of election will probably prevail in the colleges. The examinations will embrace the old topics; the new either will not be admitted, or, if introduced, will but lightly or occasionally affect the election. Thus under a system nominally comprehensive we may find our actual course as narrow as ever in its range, and perhaps even less energetic than before. For if the fellowships be opened to merit, and this merit consist in the classical proficiency of persons destined to holy orders alone, the standard of excellence will fall, even in classical subjects, lower than at present. Let us suppose thirty fellowships vacant every year in the University: under this system every second-class man in classics might be sanguine of obtaining one. In lieu of the few fellowships now open to competition and stimulating to great exertions, the numbers will be largely multiplied, and the pressure of motive to exertion be proportionately lowered. I do not mean to state that an encouragement to mediocrity has not its advantages: it is better to be in the middle than at the bottom, to be indifferently good than bad. But I think that those who seriously consult the improvements of our institutions cannot be content with such: I would propose, therefore, that a certain numberof fellowships in each college should be specifically devoted to certain branches of learning. This arrangement, I believe, and this alone, will secure the cultivation of all valuable knowledge—classical, historical, theological, philosophical, mathematical, and physical.”
Nor can it be said that the endowments of the colleges are insufficient for the purpose—since a very accurate authority has described them as follows:—
“There are in Oxford 542 fellowships. This does not include the demyships at Magdalen, but it does include all the fellowships at St. John’s and New College, and all the studentships at Christ’s Church, which differ from fellowships elsewhere in being tenable, and to some extent actually held, by undergraduates.
“From this body of men has to be supplied all the studying and all the educating power of the University—all the professors, all the tutors, all those who pursue learning for its own sake and beyond the needs of practical life.
“Out of this number only 22 are in such a sense open, that a young man, on first coming up, sees his way clear towards them, with no other bar than may arise from his own want of talents or diligence.”
It is evident, therefore, how nugatory the late statute will be; also where we are to look for reform.
In another point too the colleges require innovation. They have a monopoly, and, like all Protected classes, they have a little slumbered on their work. Every student by the Laudian Code must be a member of some Hall or College. No college can admit more than the number, whether large or small, that its own buildings can accommodate, and by very natural, if not very commendable, arrangements, every student is a good deal confined to his own college for education and instruction.
The Commissioners substantially purpose that all these restrictions should be broken down; they would allow persons to keep terms at the University, without being members of any collegiate establishment, which was also most certainly the ancient system, as the present restriction dates only from the time of Queen Elizabeth and the Chancellorship of the erudite Lord Leicester, and they would also allow every college to admit students to its other advantages, without necessarily requiring their residence within the walls. The benefit of the latter plan, which is that pursued at Cambridge, is that the best colleges gain thereby the power of unlimited competition, and the inferior, if they would not see themselves altogether destitute of undergraduate residents, must, in some measure, emulate the well-doing of their superiors, and cannot rely on a certain annual dividend of students, who, better places being full, must go to them, or forego the University entirely. In both respects, it seems to us that the Commissioners are practically right. We should, as our readers will have gathered, regret to see any general abandonment of the collegiate system; for we regard it as the sole mainspring of the best education. But exactly because we believe it to be the best, we are willing to let others be tried. We have no fear that the extra-collegiate residence or instruction can ever be more than a healthy and gentle stimulus from without. It may quicken the lazy consciences of certain Fellows, but it cannot change the habits of our people.
The Commissioners also propose the revival of the Professorial element—which would indeed be necessarily needed if any considerable number of “unattached” students were to congregate at Oxford, but not to enter at any college; for the Professors, as we need not remind our readers, are the teachers provided by the University, and are the persons to whom the Laudian Code almost exclusively looks for Academical instruction. The great reason for doing this is not exactly connected with the detail of education; since it is very dubious if under any management the University lectures could be made of more than a subordinate or subsidiary usefulness. In practice and upon trial they have yielded to the inroads of the more modern instructions of the College Tutor and the Private Tutor, and though with the growth of the new Studies a fair place may perhaps be found for them, still they are not and cannot be necessary or essential or primary. The argument for their revival is different. It is odd how few men of European reputation Oxford has turned out. It used to be argued, “What University, I pray, can produce an invincible Hales, an admirable Bacon, an excellent well-grounded Middleton, a subtile Scotus, an approved Burley, a resolute Baconthorpe, a singular Ockham, a solid and industrious Holcot, and a profound Bradwardine? all which persons,” continues the wondering author,1 “flourished within one century.” But now the mediæval luminaries are waxed dim, and admirers of Oxford are compelled to allow—
“The great want of Oxford hitherto has not been merely nor chiefly that the Professors have not been sufficiently active in teaching, but that the system has disfavoured the existence and missed the general effects of Professorial learning. Some powerful men we have had; a considerable body, or a constant succession of such, we have not had; men who could give authoritative opinions on matters connected with the sciences; whose words when spoken in public or private could kindle an enthusiasm on important branches of learning, or could chill the zeal for petty or factitious erudition; men whose names and presence in the University could command respect for the place, whether attracting students of all kinds and ages to it, or directing upon it the sight and interest and thought of the whole learned world; men whose investigations could perpetually be adding to knowledge, not as mere conduits to convey it, but as fountains to augment its scantiness, and freshen its sleeping waters. Of such men we desire more than we have had. The first care must be to encourage the existence and promote the creation of such.”
There is no saying, in matters of this sort, so false as the dictum of Mr. Carlyle, “the true University of this day is a collection of books”;—it is so if you wish to form a bookworm, but not else. Who doubts that the presence of a man like Arnold in any place is a dynamical power of the first intensity? Who does not see in the once omnipotent influence of Father Newman, a plain indication that if the Professoriate is silent, the pulpit of St. Mary’s is ready to misuse its functions?
The greatest change in theory and principle of all, is one that is not technically before us—we mean the admission of the Dissenters. On this the Commissioners were not asked to report, nor is it one on which their inquiring or our writing is likely to be of extreme avail. In fact, the onus probandi is on the other side; here are, we will say, perhaps a hundred English youths, as clever, as able, as intellectual, as likely to participate in the full benefits of University instructions, as any other youths. Why then should they be excluded?
It is commonly said, that “the auspices are not favourable”. The “Founders’ wills,” which are analogous to “the chickens” under the Roman Republic, it seems are adverse, at least so the dignified magistrates who alone can duly interpret such occult mysteries explicitly declare, but from which however we must only infer that those magistrates dislike what is proposed, for it has long been observed that in the explanation of testaments and auguries, nothing is ever forbidden which is agreeable to the prejudices and purposes of the presiding authority. But with implicit deference to the Heads of Houses, who alone of course can form a court of competent jurisdiction in matters so ominous, it seems anomalous on this ground to exclude Roman Catholics, who are of the religion of the Founder. It appears odd and wonderful that every benefactor—though, as the divining authorities state, laudably anxious for the exclusive benefit of his own kin,—should have always neglected to provide any preference for his own religion. It is more singular again, that he should have always expressed a strong preference for the religion of others. No doubt it is so, if the augurs say so; but it is not quite what we should expect.
Why do we draw the line at the Thirty-nine Articles? Why should young Gorham and Philpotts, junior, learn side by side, if children of one religion only can safely be taught together? Their parents don’t agree at all—on the contrary, each suggests that the other will sometime be in a difficulty. Surely, with the recent history of Oxford before our eyes, it is idle to fear an access of theological disputation. Of the year 1182, it was remarked, “Politeness being now vanished, and declamatory orations and such like exercises being laid aside, those students of the University who had no intentions to busy themselves, or make benefit by the laws, applied themselves to controversial divinity, and spent their chiefest time in unfolding the thorny questions thereof—so that neglecting also the vein of purity both in writing and speaking, their Latin became generally barbarous, and they themselves so conceited, as to esteem all things most eloquent that they spoke. Baleus seemeth to be a great enemy to this divinity and the Professors thereof, for after his wonted way of exclaiming against all things done in these times, which he took to be altogether superstitious, he gives us an uncouth and harsh opinion of it, thus: ‘Et stultior est hæc sententiarum Theologiæ ex hoc centaurorum biformi confleto genere, quam sunt scripta fabulosa Hesiodi et Orphei Theologorum Gentilium’. In another place he calleth it, ‘Theologiam ineptiorem quam erat antiqua illa Gentilium Sapientia poetica et fabulosa’:” really Baleus was a great man. We suggest that an admission of the Dissenters may improve the quality of the discussion.
In truth, there is no reason. The University of Oxford is a part of the nation; it has changed, is changing, and will change, with the nation. Notwithstanding that a verbal assent is exacted to the Thirty-nine Articles, what proportion of Oxford-bred men can give any rational account of them, or of the weary controversies out of which their very nomenclature arose. On a hundred points therein contained, the English nation has no opinion at all; since our fathers fell asleep there has been no bonâ fide discussion of them; we have grown to manhood, and must pick up our belief as we can. The English nation is divided; English Dissent is a congeries of sects; the English Church is a congeries of sects: a really national institution should attempt and endeavour to embrace, if so it might be, reconcile them all. Certainly, the present system encourages jesuitry and equivocation. “Science,” say the Tractarian divines, “tells us that the earth goes round the sun; Scripture that the sun goes round the earth: for our part, we believe both; both may be.” Excellent if you can—admirable if it be only possible; but is the State to be asked to give a monopoly to the teachers of such a theology?
We do not suppose, however, that the admission of the Dissenters would be practically any amazing change. Not an enormous number would go. It must be recollected that the theological division of the English people corresponds, though very roughly, with a social division. Nonconformists differ much from Conformists; their habits are different; their manners are different; their ethics are different. A Unitarian marries a wife, and turns banker; his son is made a lord, and turns to the Church; sic itur ad astra. So subtle and so strong are the influences of life and society, of rank and homage and luxury—so feeble the strength of loose opinion, that few families resist the former long; hereditary wealth, in a generation or two, very conscientiously retreats to the religion of the wealthy. All this was quite forgotten at the establishment of the London University. Lord Brougham is accustomed to describe the expectations of thronged halls, and eager students, and intense and ceaseless study; and the astonishment of the promoters at the moderate number, and calm demeanour and brief sojourn of those who responded to their call. Nor is the case altered now. The expanse of Gower Street will not emulate the slopes of St. Geneviêve, nor will De Morgan be followed like Abelard. The number of Nonconformists who desire to give their sons what can, in the English use of the term, be called a University education, is not very considerable, nor, according to the better authorities, does it increase. They do not design their sons in general for an intellectual life, for the learned professions, for business on a large scale or of a varied kind; they do not wish their sons to form aristocratic connections; but to be solicitors, attorneys, merchants, in a patient and useful way. For this they think—and most likely they think rightly—that twenty years of life are quite an adequate preparation; they believe that more would in most cases interfere with the practised sagacity, the moderate habits, the simple wants, the routine inclinations, which are essential to the humbler sorts of practical occupation. Open therefore the older Universities though you may, you will not practically increase or materially change the class who will resort to them; the Dissenters in Oxford will ever be but a small, a feeble, an immaterial, though certainly a respectable and perhaps an erudite minority. The English Catholics might be a more numerous, as we suspect they are in Oxford opinion a far more formidable, faction: a Catholic Hall, we can believe, would really be a nuisance in Oxford; yet even this, we imagine, should be boldly encountered. It would become much less fearful in a very few years. The English leanings and prejudices are so contrary to Romanism, that it is only the semblance of persecution and the fortuitous opportunities of recent years which have occasioned its recent prominence. Would not the Tractarian movement have come to a point sooner, have gained less strength, have effected less for the Roman Church, if the Oxford men had from early youth seen exactly what Catholicism was. Familiarity will spoil romance,—the charm of Romanism is its mystery. But anyhow, if what has been said be in the least true, if Oxford is, as we have hinted, to educate our thinkers—how absurd to train them in ignorance of what is—how peculiarly foolish to deny them the instruction of associating with people formed in other disciplines, and bred in other faiths, the only sure mode of comprehending those disciplines and estimating those faiths. How wretched to make them say exactly beforehand what they will believe—and that with an accuracy which hardly any cultivated man would like to apply even to his most elaborate or mature speculations. What wonder if this ends in the common doctrine that the articles are “forms of thought”—irremediable categories of the understanding—certain by nature,—as clear as if they were themselves revealed.
Of what would follow upon the admission of Dissenters—of the Halls or Colleges that should be established—of the rules proper for them—of the mode in which theology should be taught when there are known and tolerated differences of opinion to be taken account of—of these and other points it would be premature to speak now. What is wanted for the moment, is to take off the subscriptions to articles both at entrance and at the degree. This, without any other change, would secure the great step, the admission of the non-Anglican classes: we have proved that this is wanted for Oxford itself, and what we have said of a modern University shows, we imagine, that the Dissenters are not numerous enough to form a University by themselves—that London is not, as Lord Derby has oddly argued, an equivalent for Oxford.
What is our chance of getting these Reforms? From within, exactly none. The government of the University of Oxford is one of the worst features of its present condition. A little principle will make this clear. The best and most natural administrative and presiding government of a corporate body professing to promote the pursuits of education is, we suppose, an aristocracy of the persons educated there—a select body, in a great degree, at least, composed of those who have had a practical experience of the benefits and evils of that institution itself, and who have shown during the period of their education—or otherwise in after-life—that they were competent to appreciate the one and counteract the other. In a college, we conjecture, of necessity, the power (division of pecuniary dividends perhaps excepted) must be mainly in the hands of persons engaged in education at the time, or recently before, within its walls. Few others will know the requisite detail, nor do the affairs of such an institution in general possess very great interest for any others. With a University it is otherwise. Teachers, in general, do not settle too well what is to be taught: the manner of teaching under a little healthy competition they will be pretty sure soon to know; but why it is good to know anything—what are the advantages of each subject—which is best for what persons—on such questions they are little likely to be better informed than others, and on them their conversation has commonly, in our experience, a rather opaque texture, and a somewhat torpid effect. And if the University be prosperous and useful, it is likely that a considerable number will be found among its more distinguished students interested in its good fortune, and able and willing to take a share in its government and direction. Such a body exactly is, according to the theory of it, the Hebdomadal Board, or weekly meeting of the Heads of Houses—that is, of Halls and Colleges in Oxford. It might seem likely that the Head of a College would be one of the best men in the University, one of the persons most distinguished, locally, and in the world. The duties of the office are light, they do not entail daily residence, and the emoluments are very considerable. They fill a fair station in the eyes of mankind, and have every opportunity to acquire much acquaintance with the external world. It might seem that this was just such a body as we have imagined and described. The whole is spoiled by a vicious system of choice. The Heads of Colleges are elected by the Fellows; and the Fellowships—we have seen—are, as it is termed, close—that is, not open to general competition, or given to merit. We have quoted already, from Mr. Temple’s evidence, the rather startling assertion—which the Commissioners quote as accurate—that out of 542 Fellowships not more than 22 are really accessible to all the best men that may be at Oxford, whenever they chance to be vacant;—the rest are given to the Founders’ relations—to people bred at the school where he was born—to people that were born within two miles and a half of the place where he is buried—not more than six precisely from that at which he beneficially died. And the remainder, as well as these in default of claimants, are given by favour. The candidate is some relation to somebody else—is gentlemanly—is praised by persons unknown—has connections with patronage in the Church—and he is elected. Sometimes there is an examination previous to election, but there is always a mischievous doctrine that the knowledge there shown is not to be the sole test for that purpose of merit; but that the Examiners may allow for what they otherwise know to a man’s advantage—which is interpreted by a legend of a distinguished dignitary’s observing to a friend of his that was a candidate—“I ain’t going to read the papers—I shall vote for you, old fellow”. And as the Fellows are elected, so in general do they elect. “They,” says Mr. Senior, speaking of the Heads of Houses—
“. . . are generally taken from those who are or have been fellows of the college. When taken from those who have been fellows, the incumbent of a valuable college living is frequently chosen, as two persons unite their influence for that purpose, the incumbent and the person who according to the habits of the college is entitled to succeed him. When an actual fellow is chosen, it is frequently a man who has passed an idle Oxford life, and become familiar therefore with all the fellows, or has been an active useful bursar, and is supposed likely therefore to manage well the college revenues, or is recommended by sympathising in the doctrinal or political opinions of the majority, or simply by an easy temper. I am inclined to think that the peculiar qualities which fit a man to preside over a place of education have seldom much influence; the selection is made from a very narrow circle, and even in that very circle the best, or even the second best, man is seldom chosen.”
Mr. Senior would vest the appointment of the Heads of Houses in the Crown. Professor Vaughan, whose evidence has been before quoted, propounds a different scheme. “The Heads of Houses,” he observes—
“. . . do not necessarily, or even very generally, follow literary and scientific pursuits. Nor are they directly and closely connected with the instruction of the place. They simply appoint the tutors, and preside with more or less activity at the terminal examinations in College. They live generally with their families, and do not immediately imbibe the spirit or learn the wishes of those who more directly carry forward the instruction. They constitute a most valuable element for legislation as well as administration; but I think that it would be advantageous, if in addition to this, other influences were admitted to give their aid in suggesting and framing the laws of the University. It would be well, I think, at least to comprehend a learned element, such as in many European Universities has the chief if not the only sway. It would be desirable that in the seat of learning and instruction, those who have attained the highest position as cultivators of literature and science, who must be considered as intimately acquainted with the state of the several departments of knowledge, who are brought into occasional contact with students of all ages and degrees in the place, who have proved themselves to possess a considerable degree of intellectual power, and who are necessarily interested in the success and reputation of the University, should take some active part in making and administering the laws. I allude of course to the Professors as a body, who at present are scarcely recognised to be a part of the University system. That a University, in the higher sense of the term, should exist without such a class seems almost impossible; and it would be wasteful to possess it, or call it into existence, without assigning to it an important place in legislation and management. I do not suppose that there could occur any signal difficulty in the attempt to form a legislative and administrative Board out of the body of Heads of Houses and Professors. But I venture to suggest a scheme which would fulfil the conditions I have pointed out, and at the same time it would comprehend a third element tending to give the legislative Board somewhat of a popular and representative character, and thereby aiding its efficiency. For in order to convey information as to the state of the students, their moral condition, discipline, and attainments—in order to bring the public opinion of the place to bear more completely on the legislation—and to harmonise the legislation with the actual working of the system—it might be well to include in the legislative body a certain number of representatives of the present Masters.”
The Commissioners think the present scheme would work well, in time, if only the fellowships were thrown open. Anyhow, and one way or other, we hope to see the presiding board composed of the best men that Oxford can train.
Even when that is obtained something will be left. It is not to be expected that a large and highly educated body of persons, like the graduates of Oxford, will remain contented without some real share in the government and direction of a University—to which, in general, they are very strongly attached—nor is it to be wished. A small board of a dozen people, however well formed, even if composed of the twelve wisest men now living on earth, would be liable to considerable errors. It will be exposed to pique, and prejudice, and mistake. It will now and then be indolent. It will be exposed to domination from a restless and resident man. Being a bureaucracy, it will have the defects of a bureaucracy. It will always require criticism, and will often work the better for occasional censure.
At present there is in theory ample scope for popular action. The Convocation of Master of Arts at Oxford is in theory supreme; not a single bye-law, not a single change in the curriculum, not a single honorary degree, can be enacted, effected, or conferred without its authority. It has ample powers of debate; no Charter from the Crown can be accepted or surrendered without its assent. Savigny notices the popular Constitution of the Universities of England as one of their peculiarities, and it might really seem as if he spoke truly. But in fact, if we except an unlimited power of mere rejection, the Oxford Convocation has no power at all. Its right of debate and discussion are reduced to narrow limits, by the rule that all members must speak in Latin; their power of legislation is abolished by an exclusive right of initiating measures that has for a very long time been vested in the Heads of Houses. The effect is, that the Convocation has merely the right of rejecting or accepting without amendments, or alterations, or modifications, the whole of what is proposed to them by the Hebdomadal Board. It appears to us that these restrictions are on principle erroneous, and that it is advisable that they should be immediately and entirely removed.
We have not here the good fortune to find our opinion confirmed by the authority of the Commissioners. The fact is, that the Convocation at Oxford is an eminently Conservative body; perhaps more so than any other body now in the realm; its members are exceedingly out of the way of new ideas; they never understood Latin by the ear, and it is forbidden to address them in any other language; they don’t know what is wanted and they can’t be told it: they are interred in parsonages, and dream over their youth; what wonder if they wish the University to be as it was in their time; and if they are altogether opposed to changes, the bent and bearing of which they cannot comprehend. They see that Modern History is of no use among the poor, and very commendably object to its being taught. It is clearly preposterous to give a miscellaneous and casual body of this sort, the final decision on the details of a curriculum. Its members are certainly not competent to exercise varied, or questionable, or complicated powers, but what powers they have they should really and truly exercise. The right of debate and petition (petition we mean addressed to the Hebdomadal Board) on matters connected with Universities, could scarcely in an assembly of English gentlemen lead to any very atrocious results. Several gentlemen argue in the evidence, and it is evident their representations carry great weight with the Commissioners, that there is an extreme danger in erecting “a vast debating society in which, as occasion offered, every question might from time to time be discussed”. And certainly if it were proposed or designed to establish a society in Oxford for discussing theological or political questions in general, the objection might well be called unanswerable;—continual discussion on miscellaneous but exciting subjects would obviously interfere with the calm torpidity which does and should characterise the place. But if the discussion were by the law and constitution of the University rigidly and exclusively confined to matters affecting the welfare and interests of the University itself, the evil could not be of immense magnitude. Suppose there were—as very likely there would be just now—a striking debate once in two years, and almost mere silence between, surely that would hardly annihilate Oxford. Big buildings and broad acres can outlive much eloquence.
In place of abolishing the restrictions on the freedom of the old Convocation—which they propose to leave pretty much as they found it—the Commissioners propose to revive an old body called the House of Congregation, to be practically composed of the working tutors and teachers of Oxford, who are on this scheme to exercise the controlling, suggesting, and criticising function with respect to the higher authorities which it is generally felt some popular body ought to exercise. This is in fact a scheme to get a Convocation without what are sometimes called the “country masters”. We will not say that we dissent from a recommendation which we do not feel very able duly to appreciate, but we doubt. We have a great suspicion of complicity in Constitution-making; two bodies, we should have imagined, were ample for duties so simple and problems so little perplexing as those which are likely to come before the consideration of academical authorities. The British constitution does very well for Great Britain and Ireland, and all the colonies, but it would be ridiculous for three acres of land. We would rather see a popular Convocation with limited but efficient powers controlling and criticising and beseeching a select and admirable Hebdomadal Board.
From without, our chance of a reform in Oxford is much greater. The Heads of Houses do not know where they stand. Oxford is unpopular. Innovation may not come this year or next, but give destiny time, and it will be. It is useless to count up the number of her scholars—to demonstrate that, since the middle ages, her teachers have never been so many, or so diligent, or so useful. Mere labour will not save her. Year by year, hour by hour, as it were by a magical or secret influence, authority and dominion are leaving the classes that reverence her, and pass to those who know her not. What do the people in Wigan care for the Dons in Oxford? The authority which the cultivated and hereditary gentry of England have exercised for ages, is now to be transferred to classes not more instructed, not more wise, not more learned, not more refined—inferior in gentleness, in grace, in judgment, but superior in overbearing labour, in coarse energy, in the faculty of work. It will be well, if the wisest designs, the best opinions, the most beneficent institutions, the most time-honoured and efficient establishments, prevail against that ardent ignorance, that unknowing energy, that sharp and overweening decision. It will be much if pure argument, if deliberate eloquence, if wise reasoning, avail with men whose notions are so narrow, whose fancy is so weak, whose indolence is so finite. To them we doubt if Reason will justify her children—we are certain she will do no more. If we are to defend the nonsense of antiquity as well as its sense, we shall speedily cease to defend either. Will Financial Reformers neglect the sinecures of All Souls? Will scoffers at the House of Lords crouch before the Hebdomadal Board? Will believers in Mesmerism be tender to Magdalene or Merton?
Lastly, Oxford has vexed the English people—she has crossed their one speculative Affection; she has encountered their one speculative Hatred. So often as a Tractarian clergyman enters a village, and immediately there is a question of candlesticks and crosses and rood-lofts and piscinæ—immediately people mutter, “why that is Oxford”. More than that. A hundred educated men (as Romanists boast) with her honours to their names, and her token on their faces, and her teaching on their minds, have deserted to the enemy of England. This can not be answered. These people are ever busy; their names are daily in the papers; they visit out of the way places; they are gazed at in the quietest towns;—and wherever one of the grave figures passes with a dark dress, and a pale face and an Oxonian caution, he leaves an impression. The system which trained him must be bad. Such is our axiom;—tell an Englishman that a building is without use, and he will stare; that it is illiberal, and he will survey it; that it teaches Aristotle, and he will seem perplexed; that it don’t teach science, and he won’t mind; but only hint that it is the Pope, and he will arise and burn it to the ground. Some one has said this concerning Oxford; so let her be wise. Without are fightings, within are fears.
[1 ]Report of Her Majesty’s Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the State, Discipline and Studies of the University of Oxford, together with the Evidence, and an Appendix. London, 1852.
[1 ] “Placuit Academiæ,” says Laud himself, “in frequenti Convocatione (ne uno refragante) rem totam ad me curamque meam referre ut sub incude meâ Statuta hæc limarentur et a me confirmationem acciperent.”
[1 ] We quote here, as on all other occasions, the translation of the Laudian Code by Mr. Ward, one of the many useful works which Academical Reformers owe to the zeal and liberality of Mr. Heywood.
[1 ] Four “Bible clerks” to perform menial offices are the only exception.
[1 ] Sewell on Plato, p. 125.
[1 ] Anthony à Wood.