« PředchozíPokračovat »
venerable bodies, the English Universities. It is certain that we regarded this part of our task with considerable apprehension, when we recollected the uncompromising roughness with which they repaid the rousing visitations of the Edinburgh Review, and the Education Committee, though we had no intention of imitating the conduct of either of these parties, who disturbed the Academic slumbers most unceremoniously, after the manner of antiquity, λαξ σοδι κινήσαντες. On both these occasions, the assailed, when thoroughly kicked and shaken into action, exerted a degree of ponderous strength, which was very nearly a match for the restless activity of their opponents—both sides claim the victory, and the public has as yet awarded it to neither. There certainly never were more violent controversies than those to which we have alluded, and we believe none, not even the Bangorian, more utterly barren of general utility. Principles very soon gave way to invectives, and argument to sarcasm ; and the one thing, elicited by the collision of intellects, was this interesting fact, that the waspish petulance of a reviewer can only be equalled by the substantial pugnacity of a tutor. As we have not the slightest wish to see this sterling quality exercised upon ourselves, we should have endeavoured, when the time for our admonition arrived, to have conveyed our hints and insinuation, (accusation we should not have dared to attempt) in the most gentle and peaceable form. The feelings of these formidable bodies would have been, we hoped, more like “ such stuff as dreams are made of,” than the “ sober certainty of waking” wrath which they had displayed on former occasions. They might even have considered the quiet apparition of our respectful remonstrance, as an “ napě92ov," and recollected with classic pleasure, that it was by such means that the gods instructed their favourites. Such were our intentions--but pleasing as were the hopes which they excited, we are not sorry to exchange them for the absolute security which we draw from the five pamphlets before Three of them, to which for various reasons we shall first direct our attention, are the offspring of the energies of Cambridge; the remaining two give a still
more decisive proof of Oxonian vitality. In each case the antagonists belong to the same university, and in each case (but particularly in the former,) the subject of their controversy is intimately connected with the whole system of their respective places of education. These wars, therefore, are essentially civil; and, as we now merely offer to mediate between the contending parties, we cannot, we think, fail to escape the active hostility of either.
Before we come to the consideration of the pamphlets themselves, it may be desirable to inquire by what means the progress of the universities to their present improved state has been effected-by what force the recussive impulses which they have received have been communicated, and in what respects they have generated, and in what followed, the spirit of the times. It is now universally allowed, even by those staunch admirers of academic antiquity, who sigh over the emancipation of servitors, that the method of education pursued in both universities a century ago was worse than disgraceful. In those happy days when wealth and ignorance obtained a degree without examination, and poverty and industry without honour, when there was not a single real test of intellectual improvement, and the few nominal honours which actually existed were capriciously conferred upon the favourites of the day, many men of the greatest talents, some, whose names will always command the veneration of the world, passed through both universities. Can we believe that their enlightened minds did not abhor the wretched trammels in which they had themselves moved, and ardently wish to obtain freedom for their successors? Yet, they were deterred even from making the attempt, by the overwhelming majority of dulness by which they were surrounded. The greater part of the fellowships were filled by the placid votaries of the can, and we have no doubt that the besotting influence of tobacco, that “ filthy concomitant of claret,” was powerful in disposing the minds of all against improvement. The antiquity of these establishments, the magnificence and even sublimity of their buildings, and above all the solid advantages of their ample endowments, preserved to them a considerable repu
tation ; but the improvements which were taking place in every department of literature and philosophy produced no corresponding alteration in the rusty machinery with which they pretended to act upon the mind-even the discoveries of those of their own sons, who had grown great in spite of the insufficient and unwholesome nutriment with which they had been supplied, were rejected with scorn, or received with coldness.
We know, from the vivid delineation of Gibbon, what in 1751 was the lazy luxury of Magdalen College, Oxford; and, though it would be unfair to assume that hideous picture as a likeness of any other than the original, we may be allowed to quote it as a specimen of abuses which still existed in the university of Hooker and Chillingworth. About twenty years afterwards, a grace was passed by the University of Cambridge, of which the following is the preamble : “ Cum plurimis in ore sit, literas humaniores, atque ipsa matheseos et philosophiæ naturalis elementa penè inculta jacere, juvenum animis vel socordiâ torpentibus, vel in quæcunque sublimia, quæcunque recondita, impetu quodam fervido ruentibus &c.," Resolutions, whose object was reform, founded upon expressions like these, were ultimately rejected ; and the inveteracy of dogmatical pride and alarmed indolence proved once again more powerful than shame and duty. Yet at this very time, with we believe one exception, there were no college examinations; the noblemen and fellow-commoners were allowed to graduate without even that atom of knowledge which was required from the ignorant of lower rank or humbler fortune; and, that extraordinary bétise was still endured, by which, during the examination for degrees, any master of arts was permitted to select a pet candidate for honours, question him privately, and report his isolated case to the moderators, without any reference to the comparative merit of his opponents. Of course, the consequence of this was a strong annual canvass for examining friends. About this time, however, these monopolists of English education began to perceive that abuses could not always be defended by the statutes of a semi-barbarous age, and that it was necessary at length to concede something to the im
portunate demands of reason and justice. The institution of prizes by individuals, the annual examinations in the different colleges, and the enlarged and purified system under which honours are now distributed to the candidates for degrees, have become the subjects of eternal praise and self-congratulation ; and, while each university claims for herself a proud'pre-eminence in that branch of knowledge to which she has peculiarly devoted herself, she is willing to allow the next place to that in which her sister excels, and to devote to it nearly all the remainder of her attention.
It appears then, from this imperfect sketch, the outlines of which our readers may easily fill up, that our learned communities have ever been“ in the rearward of intellectual fashion ;" and, that their painful progress to that middle point of excellence which they appear to have attained, has been retarded by pride and supineness, as well as by the imperceptible, though powerful, repulsive forces of wealth and security. It is our opinion, though we venture it with the greatest deference, as we are really apprehensive that it will be considered by most tutors as an insult, that they will be gradually urged by the spirit of improvement (σκηριπτόμενοι χερσίν τε ποσίν τε) considerably farther towards the summit of perfection. Supposing them to have at last attained the best method of communicating a general proficiency within the limits to which they are at present confined, will they or ought they to rest contented * ? 6. It is not seemly," says one of their loudest champions, “ that the venerable establishments for English education should be called upon to stand an inquiry, not whether they answer the purposes of their institution, but whether those purposes might not be advantageously changed !" It appears to us, however, that these are equally legitimate subjects of inquiry, but that the second is of infinitely more importance. It is mere bigotry to say, · that because we teach one science well, we cannot do better by teaching as well another science of greater importance. We are far from wishing our universities to start up in sudden and inconsiderate rivalry of those on the Continent,
* Quarterly Review, Vol. xix., page 569.
which aim at universality of knowledge, and daily pour forth lectures upon every assignable topic, σερί Αθηνών, σερί φακής, σερί σου, σερί εμού, σερί απάντων πραγμάτων. But we sincerely hope that they may gradually extend their attention to subjects, from which they now turn away with complacent ignorance.
Before we venture an opinion upon the literary and argumentative powers of the solemn controversialists of Camus, it will be as well to mention the circumstances which called those powers into action. About two years ago, some of the most distinguished members of this learned body seem accidentally to have discovered that as a majority of their students were intended for the Church, and all for the religion of Christ, it was really desirable, that amongst the numerous requisites for the high honour of a degree, a trifting knowledge of the Seriptures, and of the principal doctrines which orthodoxy has drawn from them, should be included. But these daring reformers went still farther, and ventured to assert that they could point out another slight inconsistency in their admirable institutions. It was strange, they said, that the same university which required from its members on their admission a testimony of proficiency in the languages of Greece and Rome, should, at the end of three years, dismiss them with a degree, the outward and visible sign of her approbation, without testifying any curiosity to know whether they had added to their treasures of ancient lore, or even whether they had preserved their principal undiminished. Of course, these wild notions were contemptuously rebutted by the conclusive arguments, which, one of our pamphleteers informs us, were actually used" that theory is worse than futile when contradicted by practice—and that the present system (that which we have been describing) had made Cambridge the admiration of the country and of Europe.” Such was the oscitancy, (for we must really speak plainly), of a majority of the senate, that they were in the first instance gulled by this wretched appeal to their vanity, and threw out a scheme for remedying both these inconceivably disgraceful anomalies, proposed to them by the vice-chancellor himself.