Historical Sketches: Volumes 1 To 3 -Blessed John Henry Newman

I MAY seem in the foregoing Chapter to have relapsed into the tone of thought which created some surprise when I was speaking of Athens and the Sophists; and my good friend Richard, the Epicurean, may be upon me again, for my worship, as he will consider it, of the intellect, and my advocacy of the Professorial System. This is an additional call on me to go forward with my subject, if I can do so without wearying the reader. I say “without wearying,” for I beg to assure him, if he has not already found it out for himself, that it is very difficult for any one to discuss points of ancient usage or national peculiarity, as I am doing, and to escape the dry, dull tone of an antiquarian. This is so acknowledged an inconvenience, that every now and then you find an author attempting to evade it by turning his book of learned research into a novel or a poem. I will say nothing of Thalaba or Kehama, though the various learning displayed in the notes appended to those pleasing fables, certainly suggests the idea, that the poetry may have grown out of the notes, instead of the notes being the illustration of the poetry. However, I believe it is undoubted, that Morier converted his unsaleable quarto on Persia into his amusing Hadji Baba; while Palgrave has poured out his medieval erudition by the channels of Friar Bacon and Marco Polo, and Bekker has insinuated archeology in the persons of Charicles and Gallus. Were I to attempt to do the same, whether for the grouping of facts or the relief of abstract discussion, I have reason to believe I should not displease men of great authority and judgment; but for success in such an undertaking there would be demanded a very considerable stock of details, and no small ability in bringing them to bear on principles, and working them up into a narrative. On the whole, then, I prefer to avail myself, both as counsel and as comfort, of the proverb, “Sigravis, brevis;” and to make it a point, that, weary as my reader may be, he shall not have time to go to sleep. And to-day especially, since I mean to be particularly heavy in the line of abstract discussion, I mean also to be particularly short.

I purpose, then, to state here what is the obvious safeguard of a University from the evils to which it is liable if left to itself, or what may be called, to use the philosophical term, its integrity. By the “integrity” of anything is meant a gift superadded to its nature, without which that nature is indeed complete, and can act, and fulfil its end, but does not find itself, if I may use the expression, in easy circumstances. It is in fact very much what easy circumstances are in relation to human happiness. This reminds me of Aristotle’s account of happiness, which is an instance in point. He specifies two conditions, which are required for its integrity; it is indeed a state of mind, and in its nature independent of externals, yet he goes on (inconsistently we might say, till we make the distinction I am pointing out), he goes on, I say, after laying down that “man’s chief good is an energy of the soul according to virtue,” to add, “besides this, throughout the greater part of life,—for, as neither one swallow, nor one day, makes a spring, so neither does one day, nor a short time, make a man blessed and happy.” Here then is one condition, which in some sense may be said to fall under the notion of “integrity;” but, whether this be so or not, a second condition, which he proceeds to mention, seems altogether to answer to it. After repeating that “happiness is the best and most noble and most delightful of energies according to virtue,” he adds: “at the same time it seems to stand in need of external goods, for it is impossible, or at least not easy, to perform praiseworthy actions without external means, for many things are performed, as it were by instruments, by friends, and wealth, and political power. But men deprived of some things, as of noble birth, fine progeny, a fine form, have a flaw in their happiness; for he is not altogether capable of happiness, who is deformed in his body, or of mean birth, or deserted and childless; and still less so, perhaps, if he have vicious children, or if they were dear and dutiful, and have died. Therefore it seems to demand such prosperity as this; whence some arrange good fortune in the same class with happiness; but others virtue.”

This then is how we may settle the dispute which my Epicurean introduced, and which has been carried on at intervals in the British Universities for the last fifty years. It began in the pages of the Edinburgh Review, which at that time might in some sense be called the organ of the University of Edinburgh. Twenty years later, if my memory does not play me false, it was renewed in the same quarter; then it was taken up at Cambridge, and lately it was going on briskly between some of the most able members of the University of Oxford. Now what has been the point of dispute between the combatants? This,—whether a University should be conducted on the system of Professors, or on the system of Colleges and College Tutors. By a College was understood something more than the Museum of Alexandria, or such corporations among ourselves, as are established for Medicine, Surgery, Engineering, or Agriculture. It was taken to mean a place of residence for the University student, who would there find himself under the guidance and instruction of Superiors and Tutors, bound to attend to his personal interests, moral and intellectual. The party of the North and of progress have ever advocated the Professorial system, as it has been called, and have pointed in their own behalf to the practice of the middle ages and of modern Germany and France; the party of the South and of prescription have ever stood up for the Tutorial or collegiate system, and have pointed to Protestant Oxford and Cambridge, where it has almost or altogether superseded the Professorial. Now I have on former occasions said enough to show that I am for both views at once, and think neither of them complete without the other. I admire the Professor, I venerate the College. The Professorial system fulfils the strict idea of a University, and is sufficient for its being, but it is not sufficient for its well-being. Colleges constitute the integrity of a University.

This view harmonizes with what I said in a former Chapter, about Influence and Law; for though Professors may be and have been utterly without personal weight and persuasiveness, and Colleges utterly forgetful of moral and religious discipline, still, taking a broad view of history, we shall find that Colleges are to be accounted the maintainers of order, and Universities the centres of movement. It coincides, too, with what I have lately said in a Treatise on University Education, in which a Studium Generale is considered first in its own nature, then as it exists within the pale of Catholicism. “It is,” I there say, “a place of teaching universal knowledge. Such is a University in its essence and independently of its relation to the Church. But, practically speaking, it cannot fulfil its object duly without the Church’s assistance, or the Church is necessary for its integrity; not that its main characters are changed by this incorporation; it still has the office of intellectual education; but the Church steadies it in the performance of that office.” I say this passage coincides with the statements I have been making, because Colleges are the direct and special instruments, which the Church uses in a University, for the attainment of her sacred objects,—as other passages of the same Volume incidentally teach.

Let us then bring the real state of the case before our minds. A University is “a school of knowledge of every kind, consisting of teachers and learners from every quarter.” Two or three learned men, with little or no means, make their way to some great city. They come with introductions to the Bishop, if there is no University there yet, and receive his sanction, or they get the necessary leave, and then on their own responsibility they open a school. They may, or they may not be priests; but, any how, they are men of correct principles, in earnest, set on their work, and not careful of their own case and interest. They do not mind where they lodge, or how they live, and their learning, zeal, and eloquence soon bring hearers to them, not only natives, but strangers to the place, travelling thither from considerable distances, on the report of the teachers who have there congregated. If the professors have but scanty means, the pupils have not more abundant; and, in spite of their thirst for knowledge, whatever it may be, they cannot have the staidness and gravity of character, or the self-command, which years and experience have given to their teachers. They have difficulty in finding food or lodging, and are thrown upon shifts, and upon the world, for both the one and the other.

Now, it must be an extraordinary devotion to science which can save them from the consequences of a trial such as this. They lodge in garrets or cellars, or they share a room with others; they mix with the inhabitants of the place, who, if not worse, at least will not be better than the run of mankind. A man must either be a saint or an enthusiast to be affected in no degree by the disadvantages of such a mode of living. There are few people whose minds are not unsettled on being thrown out of habits of regularity; few who do not suffer, when withdrawn from the eye of those who know them, or from the scrutiny of public opinion. How often does a religious community complain, on finding themselves in a new home, of the serious inconvenience, in a spiritual point of view, which attaches to the mere circumstance that they have not an habitation suited to the rule which they are bound to observe! Without elbow room, without order, without tranquillity, they grieve to find that recollection and devotion have not fair play. What, then, will be the case with a number of youths of unformed minds, so little weaned from the world that their very studies are perhaps the result of their ambition, and who are under no definite obligation to be better than their neighbours, only bound by that general Christian profession, which those neighbours share with them? The excitement of novelty or emulation does not last long; and then the mind is commonly left a prey to its enemies, even when there is no disarrangement of daily life such as I have been describing. It is not to be expected that the Professor, whom they attend, necessitous himself, can exercise a control over such a set of pupils, even if he has any jurisdiction, or can bring his personal influence to bear upon any great number of them; or that he can see them beyond the hours in which the schools are open, or, indeed, can do much more than deliver lectures in their presence. It is certain then, that, in proportion to the popularity, whether of the Professor or the place itself, granting there will be numerous exceptions to the contrary, a mob of lawless youths will gradually be formed, after the pattern of the rioters whom Eunapius encountered and St. Basil escaped, at Athens. Nor will the state of things be substantially different, even if we suppose that, instead of the indigence I have described, the frequenters of the schools have a competency for their maintenance; much less, if they have superfluity of means.

To these disorders, which are of certain occurrence, others may easily be added. A popular Professor will be carried away by his success, and, in proportion as his learning is profound, his talents ready, and his elocution attractive, will be in danger of falling into some extravagance of doctrine, or even of being betrayed into heresy. The teacher has his own perils, as well as the taught; there are in his path such enemies as the pride of intellect, the aberrations of reasoning, and the intoxication of applause. The very advantages of his position are his temptation. I have spoken in a former Chapter of the superiority of oral instruction to books, in the communication of knowledge; the following passage from an able controversialist of the day, which is intended to illustrate that superiority, incidentally suggests to us also, that, first, the speaker may suffer from the popularity of his gift, and, then, the hearer from its fascination.

“While the type,” he says, “is so admirable a contrivance for perpetuating knowledge, it is certainly more expensive, and in some points of view less effective as a means of communication, than the lecture. The type is a poor substitute for the human voice. It has no means of arousing, moderating, and adjusting the attention. It has no emphasis except Italics, and this meagre notation cannot finely graduate itself to the need of the occasion. It cannot in this way mark the heed which should be specially and chiefly given to peculiar passages or words. It has no variety of manner and intonation, to show by their changes how the words are to be accepted, or what comparative importance is to be attached to them. It has no natural music to take the ear, like the human voice; it carries with it no human eye to range, and to rivet the student when on the verge of truancy, and to command his intellectual activity by an appeal to the courtesies of life. Half the symbolism of a living language is thus lost, when it is committed to paper; and that symbolism is the very means by which the forces of the hearer’s mind can be best economized or most pleasantly excited. The lecture, on the other hand, as delivered, possesses all these instruments to win, and hold, and harmonize attention; and above all, it imparts to the whole teaching a human character, which the printed book can never supply. The Professor is the science or subject, vitalized and humanized in the student’s presence. He sees him kindle into his subject; he sees reflected and exhibited in him, his manner, and his earnestness, the general power of the science to engage, delight, and absorb a human intelligence. His natural sympathy and admiration attract or impel his tastes and feelings and wishes for the moment into the same currents of feeling, and his mind is naturally and rapidly and insensibly strung and attuned to the strain of truth which is offered to him.”

It needs not this elegant panegyric of an Oxford Professor to inform us of the influence which eloquence can exert over an audience; I quote it rather for its able analysis of that influence. I quote it, because it forcibly suggests to the mind how fitted the talent is, first to exalt the possessor in his own eyes, and then through him to mislead his hearers. I will cap it, if I may use the expression, with the following histories or legends of the thirteenth century;—“Simon of Tournay, a famous Parisian doctor, one day proved in a lecture by such powerful arguments, the divinity of Christianity, that his school burst out into admiration of his ability. On this he cried out, ‘Ha, good Jesus; I could, if I chose, refute Thee quite as well.’ ” The story goes on to say that he was instantly struck dumb. A disciple of Silo, a professor of theology, died; after a while he returned to his master from the grave, invested in a cope of fire, inscribed all over with philosophical theses. A drop of his sweat fell upon the professor’s hand, and burned it through. This cope lay on him as a punishment for intellectual pride.”

Considerations such as this, are sufficiently suggestive of the dangers of the Professorial system; it is obvious, however, to mention one additional evil. We are supposing a vast influx and congregation of young men, their own masters, in a strange city, from countries various, of different traditions, politics, and manners, and which have often been at war with each other. And they have come to attend lecturers, whom they are to choose out of a number of able men, themselves of various countries and characters too. Some of these professors are their own countrymen respectively, others are not; and all of them are more or less in rivalry one with another, so far as their department of teaching is the same. They will have their respective gatherings, their respective hostilities; many will puff them, many run them down; their countrymen, for the sake of “la belle France,” or “merry England,” will range themselves on their side, and fight in their behalf. Squabbles, conflicts, feuds, will be the consequence; the peace of the University will be broken, the houses will be besieged, the streets will be impassable. Accustomed to brawls with each other, they are not likely to be peaceable with any third party; they will find themselves a match for the authority of Chancellor and Rector; nor will they scruple at compromising themselves with the law, or even with the government; may, with the Church, if her authorities come in their way; with the townspeople of course—a sort of ready-made opponent. The bells of St. Mary’s and St. Martin’s will ring; out will rush from their quarters the academic youth; and the smart blackguard of the city, and the stout peasant from the neighbourhood, will answer to the challenge. The worse organized is a country, the greater of course will be the disorder; intolerable of course in the middle ages; in times such as these, the magistracy or police would to a very considerable extent keep under such manifestations; yet, in Germany, we are told that at least duels and party skirmishes are not uncommon, and even within the very home and citadel of Order, town-and-gown rows are not yet matters of history in the English Universities.

Now, I have said quite enough for the purpose of showing that, taking human nature as it is, the thirst of knowledge and the opportunity of quenching it, though these be the real life of a great school of philosophy and science, will not be sufficient in fact for its establishment; that they will not work to their ultimate end, which is the attainment and propagation of truth, unless surrounded by influences of a different sort, which have no pretension indeed to be the essence of a University, but are conservative of that essence. The Church does not think much of any “wisdom,” which is not “desursum,” that is revealed; nor unless, as the Apostle proceeds, it is “primum quidem pudica, deinde pacifica.” These may be called the three vital principles of the Christian student, faith, chastity, love; because their contraries, viz., unbelief or heresy, impurity, and enmity, are just the three great sins against God, ourselves, and our neighbour, which are the death of the soul;—now, these are also just the three imputations which I have been bringing against the incidental action of what may be called the Professorial system.

And lastly, obvious as are the deficiencies of that system, as obvious surely is its remedy, as far as human nature admits of one. I have been saying that regularity, rule, respect for others, the eye of friends and acquaintances, the absence from temptation, external restraints generally, are of first importance in protecting us against ourselves. When a boy leaves his home, when a peasant leaves his country, his faith and morals are in great danger, “both because he is in the world, and also because he is among strangers. The remedy, then, of the perils which a University presents to the student, is to create within it homes, “altera Trojæ Pergama,” such as those, or better than those, which he has left behind. Small communities must be set up within its precincts, where his better thoughts will find countenance, and his good resolutions support; where his waywardness will be restrained, his heedlessness forewarned, and his prospective deviations anticipated. Here, too, his diligence will be steadily stimulated; he will be kept up to his aim; his progress will be ascertained, and his week’s work, like a labourer’s, measured. It is not easy for a young man to determine for himself whether he has mastered what he has been taught; a careful catechetical training, and a jealous scrutiny into his power of expressing himself and of turning his knowledge to account, will be necessary, if he is really to profit from the able Professors whom he is attending; and all this he will gain from the College Tutor.

Moreover, it has always been considered the wisdom of lawgivers and founders, to find a safe outlet for natural impulses and sentiments, which are sure to be found in their subjects, and which are hurtful only in excess; and to direct, and moderate, and variously influence what they cannot extinguish. The story is familiarly told, when a politician was advocating violently repressive measures upon some national crisis, of a dissentient friend who was present, proceeding to fasten down the lid of the kettle, which was hissing on his fire, and to stop up its spout. Here, in like manner, the subdivision of the members of a University, while it breaks up the larger combination of parties, and makes them more manageable, answers also the purposes of providing a safe channel for national, or provincial, or political feeling, and for a rivalry which is wholesome when it is not inordinate. These small societies, pitted, as it were, one against another, give scope to the exertion of an honourable emulation; and this, while it is a stimulus on the literary exertions of their respective members, is changed from a personal and selfish feeling, into a desire for the reputation of the body. Patriotic sentiment, too, here finds its home; one college has a preponderance of members from one race or district, another from another; the “Nations” no longer fight on the academic scene, like the elements in chaos; they are submitted to a salutary organization; and the love of country, without being less intense, becomes purer, and more civilized, and more religious.

My object at present is not to prove what I have been saying, either by argument or from history, but to suggest views to the reader which he will pursue for himself. It may be said that small bodies may fall into a state of decay or irregularity, as well as large. It is true; but that is not the question; but whether in themselves smaller bodies of students are not easier to manage on the long run, than large ones. I should not like to do either, but, if I must choose between the two, I would rather drive four-in-hand, than the fifty wild cows which were harnessed to the travelling wagon of the Tartars.

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