Front Page Titles (by Subject) Appendix C Jowett on Civil Service Examinations (1854) - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XIX - Essays on Politics and Society Part 2
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Appendix C Jowett on Civil Service Examinations (1854) - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XIX - Essays on Politics and Society Part 2 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XIX - Essays on Politics and Society Part II, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Alexander Brady (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977).
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Extract from “Letter from the Rev. B. Jowett, Fellow and Tutor of Balliol College, Oxford, to Sir Charles Trevelyan,” in “Report on the Organisation of the Permanent Civil Service,” Parliamentary Papers, 1854, XXVII, 24-5 (this extract contains the remarks JSM criticizes in his comments [see 210 above]; the rest of Jowett’s letter, which concerns the mode of examination, is irrelevant to JSM’s discussion); and the footnote containing Jowett’s response to JSM’s criticism, in “Papers relating to the Re-organisation of the Civil Service,” Parliamentary Papers, 1854-55, XX, 96n-97n.
See the Textual Introduction, lxxviii above, for comment.
I think two objections are likely to be made to the report you were so good as to show me on the “Organisation of the Permanent Civil Service.” First, that it is impossible to be assured of the moral character of persons elected by examination into the public service; secondly, that it is impossible to carry on an examination in so great a variety of subjects as would be required, and with such numberless candidates; in other words that the scheme, however excellent, is not practicable.
I am convinced that neither of these objections has any real foundation.
I. For the moral character of the candidates I should trust partly to the examination itself. University experience abundantly shows that in more than nineteen cases out of twenty, men of attainments are also men of character. The perseverance and self-discipline necessary for the acquirement of any considerable amount of knowledge are a great security that a young man has not led a dissolute life.
But in addition I would suggest that there should be a system of inquiries and testimonials, which might be made considerably more efficient than testimonials for orders are at present. The analogy of insurance offices would afford the best model for carrying out such a system. I would propose:
1. That the candidate should give notice (as in the case of orders) of his intention to offer himself at least three months before the examination.
2. That he should at the same time send papers comprising a certificate of birth and baptism, with a precise statement of all the places of his education, whether at school or college, together with testimonials of his conduct for two years previously from the head of the school or college in which he was last a pupil, and also a statement of his present occupation and residence.
3. That he should give references—
to all of whom carefully-drawn questions respecting the candidate in the form of an insurance office paper should be submitted; the answers to be confidential. To prevent the possible forgery of a character, an independent letter might be sent to a clergyman or magistrate in the district, with the view of his certifying to the existence and respectability of the references.
The scrutiny of the character and testimonials of the candidates ought to be quite separate from the examination. The rejection should be absolute and without reasons; whether it took place on medical or moral grounds would remain uncertain. In case of Parliamentary inquiry, however, a register of the reasons might be privately kept in the office.
With such or even a less amount of precaution the standard of character among public servants would surely be maintained as high as at present, or higher; as high certainly as the standard of character which can be ensured in persons admitted to holy orders.
Yours, very truly,
Balliol College, January 1854.
[Footnote to Mill’s “Reform of the Civil Service”[*] ]
Mr. Mill has misunderstood the intention of Mr. Jowett’s recommendations, as will be seen from the following explanation which Mr. Jowett was invited to furnish. “I should object as strongly as Mr. Mill to the proposals contained in the paper relating to the examinations, if I understood them as he does.
“1. The certificate of baptism was not required as a religious test, but as affording the readiest means of identifying the candidate, and verifying his age. If, from whatever cause, it could not have been obtained, it must have been dispensed with.
“2. The reference to a clergyman or dissenting minister was equally without any religious or party object. They were supposed to be friends of the candidate, chosen by himself. They would not, therefore, have refused testimonials to moral character because they differed from him in religious opinions.
“3. Neither for the same reason would they have brought secret accusations against him. It was not proposed that any inquiries should be made of persons not indicated by the candidate himself. He could surely trust his own references. If he were a man of decent character, he would easily find friends willing to act in that capacity. If he were of bad character, the manner in which the proposal would work would be, by his being unable to find them. But it seemed hardly fair to subject them against their will to an altercation with him about the mode of their answers.
“If, however, such suspicions as Mr. Mill suggests were engendered by any degree of secresy or confidence, it would be far better that the inquiries should be entirely public. But there would then arise the fresh difficulty of casting a public stigma on the character of a young man for offences of which there would be no legal proof.
“The only reason for fixing on magistrates and ministers of religion, rather than any other known persons as the referees, was the necessity of adopting some general rule in a scheme so large as that proposed by the Report, instead of having to ascertain the respectability of each person who offered his testimony in favour of a candidate. Magistrates and ministers of religion appeared to be the most responsible class which could be selected, and sufficiently numerous not to be exclusive. The form of inquiries rather than testimonials was suggested, not with the view of instituting a minute investigation into the life and habits of the candidate, but only of avoiding the evasive and ambiguous use of language which has made testimonials a byword.
“I have made these remarks in justice to myself, though unwilling to obtrude the subjects discussed in the paper on examinations again on the attention of the public, and still more so to claim any authority for its suggestions as a part of the Report.
“My aim was to meet an objection at one time very strongly felt and strongly urged against the plan of Sir C. Trevelyan and Sir S. Northcote, that ‘it would fill the Public Offices with clever scamps.’ The various precautions enumerated are intended rather to show how completely such objections might be obviated than as necessary regulations to be precisely observed. Securities of this kind would be useful or mischievous according to the spirit in which they were enforced. In my own judgment a much less amount of precaution would be quite sufficient. The real and great precaution is the examination itself. Experience would probably show that hardly any other was required. I quite agree with Mr. Mill in thinking that any limitation not absolutely necessary would be in the highest degree injurious.”
[[*] ]See p. 210 above.