Story type: Essay
It was in winter, and in the wintry weather of the year 1803, that I first entered Oxford with a view to its vast means of education, or rather with a view to its vast advantages for study. A ludicrous story is told of a young candidate for clerical orders–that, being asked by the bishop’s chaplain if he had ever “been to Oxford,” as a colloquial expression for having had an academic education, he replied, “No: but he had twice been to Abingdon:” Abingdon being only seven miles distant. In the same sense I might say that once before I had been at Oxford: but that was as a transient visitor with Lord W—-, when we were both children. Now, on the contrary, I approached these venerable towers in the character of a student, and with the purpose of a long connection; personally interested in the constitution of the university, and obscurely anticipating that in this city, or at least during the period of my nominal attachment to this academic body, the remoter parts of my future life would unfold before me. All hearts were at this time occupied with the public interests of the country. The “sorrow of the time” was ripening to a second harvest. Napoleon had commenced his Vandal, or rather Hunnish War with Britain, in the spring of this year, about eight months before; and profound public interest it was, into which the very coldest hearts entered, that a little divided with me the else monopolizing awe attached to the solemn act of launching myself upon the world. That expression may seem too strong as applied to one who had already been for many months a houseless wanderer in Wales, and a solitary roamer in the streets of London. But in those situations, it must be remembered, I was an unknown, unacknowledged vagrant; and without money I could hardly run much risk, except of breaking my neck. The perils, the pains, the pleasures, or the obligations, of the world, scarcely exist in a proper sense for him who has no funds. Perfect weakness is often secure; it is by imperfect power, turned against its master, that men are snared and decoyed. Here in Oxford I should be called upon to commence a sort of establishment upon the splendid English scale; here I should share in many duties and responsibilities, and should become henceforth an object of notice to a large society. Now first becoming separately and individually answerable for my conduct, and no longer absorbed into the general unit of a family, I felt myself, for the first time, burthened with the anxieties of a man, and a member of the world.
Oxford, ancient mother! hoary with ancestral honors, time-honored, and, haply, it may be, time-shattered power–I owe thee nothing! Of thy vast riches I took not a shilling, though living amongst multitudes who owed to thee their daily bread. Not the less I owe thee justice; for that is a universal debt. And at this moment, when I see thee called to thy audit by unjust and malicious accusers–men with the hearts of inquisitors and the purposes of robbers–I feel towards thee something of filial reverence and duty. However, I mean not to speak as an advocate, but as a conscientious witness in the simplicity of truth; feeling neither hope nor fear of a personal nature, without fee, and without favor.
I have been assured from many quarters that the great body of the public are quite in the dark about the whole manner of living in our English universities; and that a considerable portion of that public, misled by the totally different constitution of universities in Scotland, Ireland, and generally on the continent, as well as by the different arrangements of collegiate life in those institutions, are in a state worse than ignorant (that is, more unfavorable to the truth)– starting, in fact, from prejudices, and absolute errors of fact, which operate most uncharitably upon their construction of those insulated statements, which are continually put forward by designing men. Hence, I can well believe that it will be an acceptable service, at this particular moment, when the very constitution of the two English universities is under the unfriendly revision of Parliament, when some roving commission may be annually looked for, under a contingency which I will not utter in words (for I reverence the doctrine of euphemismos), far worse than Cromwellian, that is, merely personal, and to winnow the existing corporation from disaffection to the state–a Henry the Eighth commission of sequestration, and levelled at the very integrity of the institution–under such prospects, I can well believe that a true account of Oxford as it is (which will be valid also for Cambridge) must be welcome both to friend and foe. And instead of giving this account didactically, or according to a logical classification of the various items in the survey, I will give it historically, or according to the order in which the most important facts of the case opened themselves before myself, under the accidents of my own personal inquiry. No situation could be better adapted than my own for eliciting information; for, whereas most young men come to the university under circumstances of absolute determination as to the choice of their particular college, and have, therefore, no cause for search or inquiry, I, on the contrary, came thither in solitary self- dependence, and in the loosest state of indetermination.
Though neither giving nor accepting invitations for the first two years of my residence, never but once had I reason to complain of a sneer, or indeed any allusion whatever to habits which might be understood to express poverty. Perhaps even then I had no reason to complain, for my own conduct in that instance was unwise; and the allusion, though a personality, and so far ill-bred, might be meant in real kindness. The case was this: I neglected my dress in one point habitually; that is, I wore clothes until they were threadbare–partly in the belief that my gown would conceal their main defects, but much more from carelessness and indisposition to spend upon a tailor what I had destined for a bookseller. At length, an official person, of some weight in the college, sent me a message on the subject through a friend. It was couched in these terms: That, let a man possess what talents or accomplishments he might, it was not possible for him to maintain his proper station, in the public respect, amongst so many servants and people, servile to external impressions, without some regard to the elegance of his dress.
A reproof so courteously prefaced I could not take offence at; and at that time I resolved to spend some cost upon decorating my person. But always it happened that some book, or set of books,–that passion being absolutely endless, and inexorable as the grave,–stepped between me and my intentions; until one day, upon arranging my toilet hastily before dinner, I suddenly made the discovery that I had no waistcoat (or vest, as it is now called, through conceit or provincialism), which was not torn or otherwise dilapidated; whereupon, buttoning up my coat to the throat, and drawing my gown as close about me as possible, I went into the public “hall” (so is called in Oxford the public eating-room) with no misgiving. However, I was detected; for a grave man, with a superlatively grave countenance, who happened on that day to sit next me, but whom I did not personally know, addressing his friend sitting opposite, begged to know if he had seen the last Gazette, because he understood that it contained an order in council laying an interdict upon the future use of waistcoats. His friend replied, with the same perfect gravity, that it was a great satisfaction to his mind that his majesty’s government should have issued so sensible an order; which he trusted would be soon followed up by an interdict on breeches, they being still more disagreeable to pay for. This said, without the movement on either side of a single muscle, the two gentlemen passed to other subjects; and I inferred, upon the whole, that, having detected my manoeuvre, they wished to put me on my guard in the only way open to them. At any rate, this was the sole personality, or equivocal allusion of any sort, which ever met my ear during the years that I asserted my right to be as poor as I chose. And, certainly, my censors were right, whatever were the temper in which they spoke, kind or unkind; for a little extra care in the use of clothes will always, under almost any extremity of poverty, pay for so much extra cost as is essential to neatness and decorum, if not even to elegance. They were right, and I was wrong, in a point which cannot be neglected with impunity.
But, to enter upon my own history, and my sketch of Oxford life.–Late on a winter’s night, in the latter half of December, 1803, when a snow- storm, and a heavy one, was already gathering in the air, a lazy Birmingham coach, moving at four and a half miles an hour, brought me through the long northern suburb of Oxford, to a shabby coach-inn, situated in the Corn Market. Business was out of the question at that hour. But the next day I assembled all the acquaintances I had in the university, or had to my own knowledge; and to them, in council assembled, propounded my first question: What college would they, in their superior state of information, recommend to my choice? This question leads to the first great characteristic of Oxford, as distinguished from most other universities. Before me at this moment lie several newspapers, reporting, at length, the installation in office (as Chancellor) of the Duke of Wellington. The original Oxford report, having occasion to mention the particular college from which the official procession moved, had said, no doubt, that the gates of University, the halls of University, etc., were at such a point of time thrown open. But most of the provincial editors, not at all comprehending that the reference was to an individual college, known by the name of University College, one of twenty-five such establishments in Oxford, had regularly corrected it into “gates of the University,” etc. Here is the first misconception of all strangers. And this feature of Oxford it is which has drawn such exclamations of astonishment from foreigners. Lipsius, for example, protested with fervor, on first seeing this vast establishment of Oxford, that one college of this university was greater in its power and splendor, that it glorified and illustrated the honors of literature more conspicuously by the pomps with which it invested the ministers and machinery of education, than any entire university of the continent.
What is a university almost everywhere else? It announces little more, as respects the academic buildings, than that here is to be found the place of rendezvous–the exchange, as it were, or, under a different figure, the palestra of the various parties connected with the prosecution of liberal studies. This is their “House of Call,” their general place of muster and parade. Here it is that the professors and the students converge, with the certainty of meeting each other. Here, in short, are the lecture-rooms in all the faculties. Well: thus far we see an arrangement of convenience–that is, of convenience for one of the parties, namely, the professors. To them it spares the disagreeable circumstances connected with a private reception of their students at their own rooms. But to the students it is a pure matter of indifference. In all this there is certainly no service done to the cause of good learning, which merits a state sanction, or the aid of national funds. Next, however, comes an academic library, sometimes a good one; and here commences a real use in giving a national station to such institutions, because their durable and monumental existence, liable to no flux or decay from individual caprice, or accidents of life, and their authentic station, as expressions of the national grandeur, point them out to the bequests of patriotic citizens. They fall also under the benefit of another principle–the conservative feeling of amateurship. Several great collections have been bequeathed to the British Museum, for instance–not chiefly as a national institution, and under feelings of nationality, but because, being such, it was also permanent; and thus the painful labors of collecting were guaranteed from perishing. Independently of all this, I, for my part, willingly behold the surplus of national funds dedicated to the consecration, as it were, of learning, by raising temples to its honor, even where they answer no purpose of direct use. Next, after the service of religion, I would have the service of learning externally embellished, recommended to the affections of men, and hallowed by the votive sculptures, as I may say, of that affection, gathering in amount from age to age. Magnificabo apostolatum meum is a language almost as becoming to the missionaries and ministers of knowledge, as to the ambassadors of religion. It is fit that by pompous architectural monuments, that a voice may forever be sounding audibly in human ears of homage to these powers, and that even alien feelings may be compelled into secret submission to their influence. Therefore, amongst the number of those who value such things, upon the scale of direct proximate utility, rank not me: that arithmetica officina is in my years abominable. But still I affirm that, in our analysis of an ordinary university, or “college” as it is provincially called, we have not yet arrived at any element of service rendered to knowledge or education, large enough to call for very extensive national aid. Honor has thus far been rendered to the good cause by a public attestation, and that is well: but no direct promotion has been given to that cause, no impulse communicated to its progress, such that it can be held out as a result commensurate to the name and pretensions of a university. As yet there is nothing accomplished which is beyond the strength of any little commercial town. And as to the library in particular, besides that in all essential departments it might be bought, to order, by one day’s common subscription of Liverpool or Glasgow merchants, students very rarely indeed have admission to its free use.
What other functions remain to a university? For those which I have mentioned of furnishing a point of rendezvous to the great body of professors and students, and a point of concentration to the different establishments of implements and machinery for elaborate researches [as, for instance, of books and MSS., in the first place; secondly, of maps, charts, and globes; and, thirdly, perhaps of the costly apparatus required for such studies as Sideral astronomy, galvanic chemistry or physiology, etc.]; all these are uses which cannot be regarded in a higher light than as conveniences merely incidental and collateral to the main views of the founders. There are, then, two much loftier and more commanding ends met by the idea and constitution of such institutions, and which first rise to a rank of dignity sufficient to occupy the views of a legislator, or to warrant a national interest. These ends are involved: 1st, in the practice of conferring degrees, that is, formal attestations and guarantees of competence to give advice, instruction, or aid, in the three great branches of liberal knowledge applicable to human life; 2d, in that appropriation of fixed funds to fixed professorships, by means of which the uninterrupted succession of public and authorized teachers is sustained in all the higher branches of knowledge, from generation to generation, and from century to century. By the latter result it is secured that the great well-heads of liberal knowledge and of severe science shall never grow dry. By the former it is secured that this unfailing fountain shall be continually applied to the production and to the tasting of fresh labors in endless succession for the public service, and thus, in effect, that the great national fountain shall not be a stagnant reservoir, but, by an endless derivation (to speak in a Roman metaphor!), applied to a system of national irrigation. These are the two great functions and qualifications of a collegiate incorporation: one providing to each separate generation its own separate rights of heirship to all the knowledge accumulated by its predecessors, and converting a mere casual life-annuity into an estate of inheritance–a mere fleeting agonisma into a ktema es ei; the other securing for this eternal dowry as wide a distribution as possible: the one function regarding the dimension of length in the endless series of ages through which it propagates its gifts; the other regarding the dimension of breadth in the large application throughout any one generation of these gifts to the public service. Here are grand functions, high purposes; but neither one nor the other demands any edifices of stone and marble; neither one nor the other presupposes any edifice at all built with human hands. A collegiate incorporation, the church militant of knowledge, in its everlasting struggle with darkness and error, is, in this respect, like the church of Christ–that is, it is always and essentially invisible to the fleshly eye. The pillars of this church are human champions; its weapons are great truths so shaped as to meet the shifting forms of error; its armories are piled and marshalled in human memories; its cohesion lies in human zeal, in discipline, in childlike docility; and all its triumphs, its pomps, and glories, must forever depend upon talent, upon the energies of the will, and upon the harmonious cooperation of its several divisions. Thus far, I say, there is no call made out for any intervention of the architect.
Let me apply all this to Oxford. Among the four functions commonly recognized by the founders of universities, which are–1st, to find a set of halls or places of meeting; 2d, to find the implements and accessaries of study; 3d, to secure the succession of teachers and learners; 4th, to secure the profitable application of their attainments to the public service. Of these four, the two highest need no buildings; and the other two, which are mere collateral functions of convenience, need only a small one. Wherefore, then, and to what end, are the vast systems of building, the palaces and towers of Oxford? These are either altogether superfluous, mere badges of ostentation and luxurious wealth, or they point to some fifth function not so much as contemplated by other universities, and, at present, absolutely and chimerically beyond their means of attainment. Formerly we used to hear attacks upon the Oxford discipline as fitted to the true intellectual purposes of a modern education. Those attacks, weak and most uninstructed in facts, false as to all that they challenged, and puerile as to what implicitly they propounded for homage, are silent. But, of late, the battery has been pointed against the Oxford discipline in its moral aspects, as fitted for the government and restraint of young men, or even as at all contemplating any such control. The Beverleys would have us suppose, not only that the great body of the students are a licentious crew, acknowledging no discipline or restraints, but that the grave elders of the university, and those who wield the nominal authority of the place, passively resign the very shows of power, and connive at general excesses, even when they do not absolutely authorize them in their personal examples. Now, when such representations are made, to what standard of a just discipline is it that these writers would be understood as appealing? Is it to some ideal, or to some existing and known reality? Would they have England suppose that they are here comparing the actual Oxford with some possible hypothetic or imaginable Oxford,–with some ideal case, that is to say, about which great discussions would arise as to its feasibility,–or that they are comparing it with some known standard of discipline actually realized and sustained for generations, in Leipsic, suppose, or Edinburgh, or Leyden, or Salamanca? This is the question of questions, to which we may demand an answer; and, according to that answer, observe the dilemma into which these furciferous knaves must drop. If they are comparing Oxford simply with some ideal and better Oxford, in some ideal and better world, in that case all they have said–waiving its falsehoods of fact–is no more than a flourish of rhetoric, and the whole discussion may be referred to the shadowy combats of scholastic declamation-mongers–those mock gladiators, and umbratiles doctores. But if, on the other hand, they pretend to take their station upon the known basis of some existing institution,– if they will pretend that, in this impeachment of Oxford, they are proceeding upon a silent comparison with Edinburgh, Glasgow, Jena, Leipsic, Padua, etc.,–then are they self-exposed, as men not only without truth, but without shame. For now comes in, as a sudden revelation, and as a sort of deus ex machina, for the vindication of the truth, the simple answer to that question proposed above, Wherefore, and to what end, are the vast edifices of Oxford? A university, as universities are in general, needs not, I have shown, to be a visible body–a building raised with hands. Wherefore, then, is the visible Oxford? To what fifth end, refining upon the ordinary ends of such institutions, is the far-stretching system of Oxford hospitia, or monastic hotels, directed by their founders, or applied by their present possessors? Hearken, reader, to the answer:
These vast piles are applied to an end, absolutely indispensable to any even tolerable system of discipline, and yet absolutely unattainable upon any commensurate scale in any other university of Europe. They are applied to the personal settlement and domestication of the students within the gates and walls of that college to whose discipline they are amenable. Everywhere else the young men live where they please and as they please; necessarily distributed amongst the towns- people; in any case, therefore, liable to no control or supervision whatever; and in those cases where the university forms but a small part of a vast capital city, as it does in Paris, Edinburgh, Madrid, Vienna, Berlin, and Petersburg, liable to every mode of positive temptation and distraction, which besiege human life in high-viced and luxurious communities. Here, therefore, it is a mockery to talk of discipline; of a nonentity there can be no qualities; and we need not ask for the description of the discipline in situations where discipline there can be none. One slight anomaly I have heard of as varying pro tanto the uniform features of this picture. In Glasgow I have heard of an arrangement by which young academicians are placed in the family of a professor. Here, as members of a private household, and that household under the presiding eye of a conscientious, paternal, and judicious scholar, doubtless they would enjoy as absolute a shelter from peril and worldly contagion as parents could wish; but not more absolute, I affirm, than belongs, unavoidably, to the monastic seclusion of an Oxford college–the gates of which open to no egress after nine o’clock at night, nor after eleven to any ingress which is not regularly reported to a proper officer of the establishment. The two forms of restraint are, as respects the effectual amount of control, equal; and were they equally diffused, Glasgow and Oxford would, in this point, stand upon the same level of discipline. But it happens that the Glasgow case was a personal accident; personal, both as regarded him who volunteered the exercise of this control, and those who volunteered to appropriate its benefits; whereas the Oxford case belongs to the very system, is coextensive with the body of undergraduates, and, from the very arrangement of Oxford life, is liable to no decay or intermission.
Here, then, the reader apprehends the first great characteristic distinction of Oxford–that distinction which extorted the rapturous admiration of Lipsius as an exponent of enormous wealth, but which I now mention as applying, with ruinous effect, to the late calumnies upon Oxford, as an inseparable exponent of her meritorious discipline. She, most truly and severely an “Alma Mater” gathers all the juvenile part of her flock within her own fold, and beneath her own vigilant supervision. In Cambridge there is, so far, a laxer administration of this rule, that, when any college overflows, undergraduates are allowed to lodge at large in the town. But in Oxford this increase of peril and discretionary power is thrown by preference upon the senior graduates, who are seldom below the age of twenty-two or twenty-three; and the college accommodations are reserved, in almost their whole extent, for the most youthful part of the society. This extent is prodigious. Even in my time, upwards of two thousand persons were lodged within the colleges; none having fewer than two rooms, very many having three, and men of rank, or luxurious habits, having often large suites of rooms. But that was a time of war, which Oxford experience has shown to have operated most disproportionably as a drain upon the numbers disposable for liberal studies; and the total capacity of the university was far from being exhausted. There are now, I believe, between five and six thousand names upon the Oxford books; and more than four thousand, I understand, of constant residents. So that Oxford is well able to lodge, and on a very sumptuous scale, a small army of men; which expression of her great splendor I now mention (as I repeat) purely as applying to the question of her machinery for enforcing discipline. This part of her machinery, it will be seen, is unique, and absolutely peculiar to herself. Other universities, boasting no such enormous wealth, cannot be expected to act upon her system of seclusion. Certainly, I make it no reproach to other universities, that, not possessing the means of sequestering their young men from worldly communion, they must abide by the evils of a laxer discipline. It is their misfortune, and not their criminal neglect, which consents to so dismal a relaxation of academic habits. But let them not urge this misfortune in excuse at one time, and at another virtually disavow it. Never let them take up a stone to throw at Oxford, upon this element of a wise education; since in them, through that original vice in their constitution, the defect of all means for secluding and insulating their society, discipline is abolished by anticipation– being, in fact, an impossible thing; for the walls of the college are subservient to no purpose of life, but only to a purpose of convenience; they converge the students for the hour or two of what is called lecture; which over, each undergraduate again becomes sui juris, is again absorbed into the crowds of the world, resorts to whatsoever haunts he chooses, and finally closes his day at—-if, in any sense, at home–at a home which is not merely removed from the supervision and control, but altogether from the bare knowledge, of his academic superiors. How far this discipline is well administered in other points at Oxford, will appear from the rest of my account. But, thus far, at least, it must be conceded, that Oxford, by and through this one unexampled distinction–her vast disposable fund of accommodations for junior members within her own private cloisters– possesses an advantage which she could not forfeit, if she would, towards an effectual knowledge of each man’s daily habits, and a control over him which is all but absolute.
This knowledge and this control is much assisted and concentrated by the division of the university into separate colleges. Here comes another feature of the Oxford system. Elsewhere the university is a single college; and this college is the university. But in Oxford the university expresses, as it were, the army, and the colleges express the several brigades, or regiments.
To resume, therefore, my own thread of personal narration. On the next morning after my arrival in Oxford, I assembled a small council of friends to assist me in determining at which of the various separate societies I should enter, and whether as a “commoner,” or as a “gentleman commoner.” Under the first question was couched the following latitude of choice: I give the names of the colleges, and the numerical account of their numbers, as it stood in January, 1832; for this will express, as well as the list of that day, (which I do not accurately know), the proportions of importance amongst them.
1. University College ................. 207
2. Balliol " ................. 257
3. Merton " ................. 124
4. Exeter " ................. 299
5. Oriel " ................. 293
6. Queen's " ................. 351
7. New " ................. 157
8. Lincoln " ................. 141
9. All Souls' " ................. 98
10. Magdalene " ................. 165
11. Brazennose " ................. 418
12. Corpus Christi " ................. 127
13. Christ Church " ................. 949
14. Trinity " ................. 259
15. St. John's " ................. 218
16. Jesus " ................. 167
17. Wadham " ................. 217
18. Pembroke " ................. 189
19. Worcester " ................. 231
Then, besides these colleges, five Halls, as they are technically called, (the term Hall implying chiefly that they are societies not endowed, or not endowed with fellowships as the colleges are), namely:
1. St. Mary Hall. .............. 83
2. Magdalen " .............. 178
3. New Inn " .............. 10
4. St. Alban " .............. 41
5. St. Edmund " .............. 96
Such being the names, and general proportions on the scale of local importance, attached to the different communities, next comes the very natural question, What are the chief determining motives for guiding the selection amongst them? These I shall state. First of all, a man not otherwise interested in the several advantages of the colleges has, however, in all probability, some choice between a small society and a large one; and thus far a mere ocular inspection of the list will serve to fix his preference. For my part, supposing other things equal, I greatly preferred the most populous college, as being that in which any single member, who might have reasons for standing aloof from the general habits of expense, of intervisiting, etc., would have the best chance of escaping a jealous notice. However, amongst those “other things” which I presumed equal, one held a high place in my estimation, which a little inquiry showed to be very far from equal. All the colleges have chapels, but all have not organs; nor, amongst those which have, is the same large use made of the organ. Some preserve the full cathedral service; others do not. Christ Church, meantime, fulfilled all conditions: for the chapel here happens to be the cathedral of the diocese; the service, therefore, is full and ceremonial; the college, also, is far the most splendid, both in numbers, rank, wealth, and influence. Hither I resolved to go; and immediately I prepared to call on the head.
The “head,” as he is called generically, of an Oxford college (his specific appellation varies almost with every college– principal, provost, master, rector, warden, etc.), is a greater man than the uninitiated suppose. His situation is generally felt as conferring a degree of rank not much less than episcopal; and, in fact, the head of Brazennose at that time, who happened to be the Bishop of Bangor, was not held to rank much above his brothers in office. Such being the rank of heads generally, a fortiori, that of Christ Church was to be had in reverence; and this I knew. He is always, ex officio, dean of the diocese; and, in his quality of college head, he only, of all deans that ever were heard of, is uniformly considered a greater man than his own diocesan. But it happened that the present dean had even higher titles to consideration. Dr. Cyril Jackson had been tutor to the Prince of Wales (George IV.); he had repeatedly refused a bishopric; and that, perhaps, is entitled to place a man one degree above him who has accepted one. He was also supposed to have made a bishop, and afterwards, at least, it is certain that lie made his own brother a bishop. All things weighed, Dr. Cyril Jackson seemed so very great a personage that I now felt the value of my long intercourse with great Dons in giving me confidence to face a lion of this magnitude.
Those who know Oxford are aware of the peculiar feelings which have gathered about the name and pretensions of Christ Church; feelings of superiority and leadership in the members of that college, and often enough of defiance and jealousy on the part of other colleges. Hence it happens that you rarely find yourself in a shop, or other place of public resort, with a Christ-Church man, but he takes occasion, if young and frivolous, to talk loudly of the Dean, as an indirect expression of his own connection with this splendid college; the title of Dean being exclusively attached to the headship of Christ Church. The Dean, as may be supposed, partakes in this superior dignity of his “House;” he is officially brought into connection with all orders of the British aristocracy–often with royal personages; and with the younger branches of the aristocracy his office places him in a relation of authority and guardianship–exercised, however, through inferior ministry, and seldom by direct personal interference. The reader must understand that, with rare exceptions, all the princes and nobles of Great Britain, who choose to benefit by an academic education, resort either to Christ Church College in Oxford, or to Trinity College in Cambridge; these are the alternatives. Naturally enough, my young friends were somewhat startled at my determination to call upon so great a man; a letter, they fancied, would be a better mode of application. I, however, who did not adopt the doctrine that no man is a hero to his valet, was of opinion that very few men indeed are heroes to themselves. The cloud of external pomp, which invests them to the eyes of the attoniti cannot exist to their own; they do not, like Kehama, entering the eight gates of Padalon at once, meet and contemplate their own grandeurs; but, more or less, are conscious of acting a part. I did not, therefore, feel the tremor which was expected of a novice, on being ushered into so solemn a presence.
The Dean was sitting in a spacious library or study, elegantly, if not luxuriously furnished. Footmen, stationed as repeaters, as if at some fashionable rout, gave a momentary importance to my unimportant self, by the thundering tone of their annunciations. All the machinery of aristocratic life seemed indeed to intrench this great Don’s approaches; and I was really surprised that so very great a man should condescend to rise on my entrance. But I soon found that, if the Dean’s station and relation to the higher orders had made him lofty, those same relations had given a peculiar suavity to his manners. Here, indeed, as on other occasions, I noticed the essential misconception, as to the demeanor of men of rank, which prevails amongst those who have no personal access to their presence. In the fabulous pictures of novels (such novels as once abounded), and in newspaper reports of conversations, real or pretended, between the king and inferior persons, we often find the writer expressing his sense of aristocratic assumption, by making the king address people without their titles. The Duke of Wellington, for instance, or Lord Liverpool, figures usually, in such scenes, as “Wellington,” or “Arthur,” and as “Liverpool.” Now, as to the private talk of George IV. in such cases, I do not pretend to depose; but, speaking generally, I may say that the practice of the highest classes takes the very opposite course. Nowhere is a man so sure of his titles or official distinctions as amongst them; for, it is upon giving to every man the very extreme punctilio of his known or supposed claims, that they rely for the due observance of their own. Neglecting no form of courtesy suited to the case, they seek, in this way, to remind men unceasingly of what they expect; and the result is what I represent–that people in the highest stations, and such as bring them continually into contact with inferiors, are, of all people, the least addicted to insolence or defect of courtesy. Uniform suavity of manner is indeed rarely found, except in men of high rank. Doubtless this may arise upon a motive of self-interest, jealous of giving the least opening or invitation to the retorts of ill-temper or low breeding. But, whatever be its origin, such I believe to be the fact. In a very long conversation of a general nature upon the course of my studies, and the present direction of my reading, Dr. Cyril Jackson treated me just as he would have done his equal in station and in age. Coming, at length, to the particular purpose of my visit at this time to himself, he assumed a little more of his official stateliness. He condescended to say that it would have given him pleasure to reckon me amongst his flock; “But, sir,” he said, in a tone of some sharpness, “your guardians have acted improperly. It was their duty to have given me at least one year’s notice of their intention to place you at Christ Church. At present I have not a dog- kennel in my college untenanted.” Upon this, I observed that nothing remained for me to do but to apologize for having occupied so much of his time; that, for myself, I now first heard of this preliminary application; and that, as to my guardians, I was bound to acquit them of all oversight in this instance, they being no parties to my present scheme. The Dean expressed his astonishment at this statement. I, on my part, was just then making my parting bows, and had reached the door, when a gesture of the Dean’s, courteously waving me back to the sofa I had quitted, invited me to resume my explanations; and I had a conviction at the moment that the interview would have terminated in the Dean’s suspending his standing rule in my favor. But, just at that moment, the thundering heralds of the Dean’s hall announced some man of high rank: the sovereign of Christ Church seemed distressed for a moment; but then recollecting himself, bowed in a way to indicate that I was dismissed. And thus it happened that I did not become a member of Christ Church.
A few days passed in thoughtless indecision. At the end of that time, a trivial difficulty arose to settle my determination. I had brought about fifty guineas to Oxford; but the expenses of an Oxford inn, with almost daily entertainments to young friends, had made such inroads upon this sum, that, after allowing for the contingencies incident to a college initiation, enough would not remain to meet the usual demand for what is called “caution money.” This is a small sum, properly enough demanded of every student, when matriculated, as a pledge for meeting any loss from unsettled arrears, such as his sudden death or his unannounced departure might else continually be inflicting upon his college. By releasing the college, therefore, from all necessity for degrading vigilance or persecution, this demand does, in effect, operate beneficially to the feelings of all parties. In most colleges it amounts to twenty-five pounds: in one only it was considerably less. And this trifling consideration it was, concurring with a reputation at that time for relaxed discipline, which finally determined me in preferring W— College to all others. This college had the capital disadvantage, in my eyes, that its chapel possessed no organ, and no musical service. But any other choice would have driven me to an instant call for more money–a measure which, as too flagrantly in contradiction to the whole terms on which I had volunteered to undertake an Oxford life, I could not find nerves to face.
At W—- College, therefore, I entered: and here arises the proper occasion for stating the true costs of an Oxford education. First comes the question of lodging. This item varies, as may be supposed; but my own case will place on record the two extremes of cost in one particular college, nowadays differing, I believe, from the general standard. The first rooms assigned me, being small and ill-lighted, as part of an old Gothic building, were charged at four guineas a year. These I soon exchanged for others a little better, and for them I paid six guineas. Finally, by privilege of seniority, I obtained a handsome set of well-proportioned rooms, in a modern section of the college, charged at ten guineas a year. This set was composed of three rooms; namely, an airy bedroom, a study, and a spacious room for receiving visitors. This range of accommodation is pretty general in Oxford, and, upon the whole, may be taken perhaps as representing the average amount of luxury in this respect, and at the average amount of cost. The furniture and the fittings up of these rooms cost me about twenty-five guineas; for the Oxford rule is, that if you take the rooms (which is at your own option), in that case, you third the furniture and the embellishments–that is, you succeed to the total cost diminished by one third. You pay, therefore, two guineas out of each three to your immediate predecessor. But, as he also may have succeeded to the furniture upon the same terms, whenever there happens to have been a rapid succession of occupants, the original cost to a remote predecessor is sometimes brought down, by this process of diminution, to a mere fraction of the true value; and yet no individual occupant can complain of any heavy loss. Whilst upon this subject, I may observe that, in the seventeenth century, in Milton’s time, for example (about 1624), and for more than sixty years after that era, the practice of chumship prevailed: every set of chambers was possessed by two cooccupants; they had generally the same bed-room, and a common study; and they were called chums. This practice, once all but universal, is now entirely extinct; and the extinction serves to mark the advance of the country, not so much in luxury as in refinement.
The next item which I shall notice is that which in college bills is expressed by the word Tutorage. This is the same in all colleges, I believe, namely, ten guineas per annum. And this head suggests an explanation which is most important to the reputation of Oxford, and fitted to clear up a very extensive delusion. Some years ago, a most elaborate statement was circulated of the number and costly endowment of the Oxford professorships. Some thirty or more there were, it was alleged, and five or six only which were not held as absolute sinecures. Now, this is a charge which I am not here meaning to discuss. Whether defensible or not, I do not now inquire. It is the practical interpretation and construction of this charge which I here wish to rectify. In most universities, except those of England, the professors are the body on whom devolves the whole duty and burthen of teaching; they compose the sole fountains of instruction; and if these fountains fail, the fair inference is, that the one great purpose of the institution is defeated. But this inference, valid for all other places, is not so for Oxford and Cambridge. And here, again, the difference arises out of the peculiar distribution of these bodies into separate and independent colleges. Each college takes upon itself the regular instruction of its separate inmates–of these and of no others; and for this office it appoints, after careful selection, trial, and probation, the best qualified amongst those of its senior members who choose to undertake a trust of such heavy responsibility. These officers are called Tutors; and they are connected by duties and by accountability, not with the university at all, but with their own private colleges. The professors, on the other hand, are public functionaries, not connected (as respects the exercise of their duties) with any college whatsoever–not even with their own–but altogether and exclusively with the whole university. Besides the public tutors appointed in each college, on the scale of one to each dozen or score of students, there are also tutors strictly private, who attend any students in search of special and extraordinary aid, on terms settled privately by themselves. Of these persons, or their existence, the college takes no cognizance; but between the two classes of tutors, the most studious young men–those who would be most likely to avail themselves of the lectures read by the professors–have their whole time pretty severely occupied: and the inference from all this is, not only that the course of Oxford education would suffer little if no professors at all existed, but also that, if the existing professors were ex abundanti to volunteer the most exemplary spirit of exertion, however much this spectacle of conscientious dealing might edify the university, it would contribute but little to the promotion of academic purposes. The establishment of professors is, in fact, a thing of ornament and pomp. Elsewhere, they are the working servants; but, in Oxford, the ministers corresponding to them bear another name,–they are called Tutors. These are the working agents in the Oxford system; and the professors, with salaries in many cases merely nominal, are persons sequestered, and properly sequestered, to the solitary cultivation and advancement of knowledge, which a different order of men is appointed to communicate.
Here let us pause for one moment, to notice another peculiarity in the Oxford system, upon the tendency of which I shall confidently make my appeal to the good sense of all unprejudiced readers. I have said that the tutors of Oxford correspond to the professors of other universities. But this correspondence, which is absolute and unquestionable as regards the point then at issue,–namely, where we are to look for that limb of the establishment on which rests the main teaching agency,–is liable to considerable qualification, when we examine the mode of their teaching. In both cases, this is conveyed by what is termed “lecturing;”–but what is the meaning of a lecture in Oxford and elsewhere? Elsewhere, it means a solemn dissertation, read, or sometimes histrionically declaimed, by the professor. In Oxford, it means an exercise performed orally by the students, occasionally assisted by the tutor, and subject, in its whole course, to his corrections, and what may be called his scholia, or collateral suggestions and improvements. Now, differ as men may as to other features of the Oxford, compared with the hostile system, here I conceive that there is no room for doubt or demur. An Oxford lecture imposes a real, bona fide task upon the student; it will not suffer him to fall asleep, either literally or in the energies of his understanding; it is a real drill, under the excitement, perhaps, of personal competition, and under the review of a superior scholar. But, in Germany, under the declamations of the professor, the young men are often literally sleeping; nor is it easy to see how the attention can be kept from wandering, on this plan, which subjects the auditor to no risk of sudden question or personal appeal. As to the prizes given for essays, etc., by the professors, these have the effect of drawing forth latent talent, but they can yield no criterion of the attention paid to the professor; not to say that the competition for these prizes is a matter of choice. Sometimes it is true that examinations take place; but the Oxford lecture is a daily examination; and, waiving that, what chance is there (I would ask) for searching examinations, for examinations conducted with the requisite auctoritas (or weight of influence derived from personal qualities), if–which may Heaven prevent!–the German tenure of professorships were substituted for our British one: that is, if for independent and liberal teachers were substituted poor mercenary haberdashers of knowledge–cap in hand to opulent students–servile to their caprices–and, at one blow, degrading the science they profess, the teacher, and the pupil? Yet I hear that such advice was given to a Royal Commission, sent to investigate one or more of the Scottish universities. In the German universities, every professor holds his situation, not in his good behavior, but on the capricious pleasure of the young men who resort to his market. He opens a shop, in fact: others, without limit, generally men of no credit or known respectability, are allowed to open rival shops; and the result is, sometimes, that the whole kennel of scoundrel professors ruin one another; each standing with his mouth open, to leap at any bone thrown amongst them, from the table of the “Burschen;” all hating, fighting, calumniating each other, until the land is sick of its base knowledge-mongers, and would vomit the loathsome crew, were any natural channel open to their instincts of abhorrence. The most important of the Scottish professorships–those which are fundamentally morticed to the moral institutions of the land–are upon the footing of Oxford tutorships, as regards emoluments; that is, they are not suffered to keep up a precarious mendicant existence, upon the alms of the students, or upon their fickle admirations. It is made imperative upon a candidate for admission into the ministry of the Scottish Kirk, that he shall show a certificate of attendance through a given number of seasons at given lectures.
The next item in the quarterly (or, technically, the term) bills of Oxford is for servants. This, in my college, and, I believe, in all others, amounted, nominally, to two guineas a year. That sum, however, was paid to a principal servant, whom, perhaps, you seldom or never saw; the actual attendance upon yourself being performed by one of his deputies; and to this deputy–who is, in effect, a factotum, combining in his single person all the functions of chambermaid, valet, waiter at meals, and porter or errand-boy–by the custom of the place and your own sense of propriety, you cannot but give something or other in the shape of perquisites. I was told, on entering, that half a guinea a quarter was the customary allowance,–the same sum, in fact, as was levied by the college for his principal; but I gave mine a guinea a quarter, thinking that little enough for the many services he performed; and others, who were richer than myself, I dare say, often gave much more. Yet, sometimes, it struck me, from the gratitude which his looks testified, on my punctual payment of this guinea,–for it was the only bill with regard to which I troubled myself to practise any severe punctuality,–that perhaps some thoughtless young man might give him less, or might even forget to give anything; and, at all events, I have reason to believe that half that sum would have contented him. These minutiae I record purposely; my immediate object being to give a rigorous statement of the real expenses incident to an English university education, partly as a guide to the calculations of parents, and partly as an answer to the somewhat libellous exaggerations which are current on this subject, in times like these, when even the truth itself, and received in a spirit of candor the most indulgent, may be all too little to defend these venerable seats of learning from the ruin which seems brooding over them. Yet, no! Abominable is the language of despair even in a desperate situation. And, therefore, Oxford, ancient mother! and thou, Cambridge, twin-light of England! be vigilant and erect, for the enemy stands at all your gates! Two centuries almost have passed since the boar was within your vineyards, laying waste and desolating your heritage. Yet that storm was not final, nor that eclipse total. May this also prove but a trial and a shadow of affliction! which affliction, may it prove to you, mighty incorporations, what, sometimes, it is to us, poor, frail homunculi–a process of purification, a solemn and oracular warning! And, when that cloud is overpast, then, rise, ancient powers, wiser and better–ready, like the lampudephoroi of old, to enter upon a second stadium, and to transmit the sacred torch through a second period of twice
[Footnote: Oxford may confessedly claim a duration of that extent; and the pretensions of Cambridge, in that respect, if less aspiring, are, however, as I believe, less accurately determined. ]
five hundred years. So prays a loyal alumnus, whose presumption, if any be, in taking upon himself a monitory tone, is privileged by zeal and filial anxiety.
To return, however, into the track from which I have digressed. The reader will understand that any student is at liberty to have private servants of his own, as many and of what denomination he pleases. This point, as many others of a merely personal bearing, when they happen to stand in no relation to public discipline, neither the university nor the particular college of the student feels summoned or even authorized to deal with. Neither, in fact, does any other university in Europe; and why, then, notice the case? Simply thus: if the Oxford discipline, in this particular chapter, has nothing special or peculiar about it, yet the case to which it applies has, and is almost exclusively found in our universities. On the continent it happens most rarely that a student has any funds disposable for luxuries so eminently such as grooms or footmen; but at Oxford and Cambridge the case occurs often enough to attract notice from the least vigilant eye. And thus we find set down to the credit account of other universities the non-existence of luxury in this or other modes, whilst, meantime, it is well known to the fair inquirer that each or all are indulgences, not at all or so much as in idea proscribed by the sumptuary edicts of those universities; but, simply, by the lower scale of their general revenues. And this lower scale, it will be said–how do you account for that? I answer, not so much by the general inferiority of continental Europe to Great Britain in diffusive wealth (though that argument goes for something, it being notorious that, whilst immoderate wealth, concentrated in a small number of hands, exists in various continental states upon a larger scale than with us, moderately large estates, on the other hand, are, with them, as one to two hundred, or even two hundred and fifty, in comparison of ours), but chiefly upon this fact, which is too much overlooked, that the foreign universities are not peopled from the wealthiest classes, which are the class either already noble, or wishing to become such. And why is that? Purely from the vicious constitution of society on the continent, where all the fountains of honor lie in the military profession or in the diplomatic. We English, haters and revilers of ourselves beyond all precedent, disparagers of our own eminent advantages beyond all sufferance of honor or good sense, and daily playing into the hands of foreign enemies, who hate us out of mere envy or shame, have amongst us some hundreds of writers who will die or suffer martyrdom upon this proposition–that aristocracy, and the spirit and prejudices of aristocracy, are more operative (more effectually and more extensively operative) amongst ourselves, than in any other known society of men. Now, I, who believe all errors to arise in some narrow, partial, or angular view of truth, am seldom disposed to meet any sincere affirmation by a blank, unmodified denial. Knowing, therefore, that some acute observers do really believe this doctrine as to the aristocratic forces, and the way in which they mould English society, I cannot but suppose that some symptoms do really exist of such a phenomenon; and the only remark I shall here make on the case is this, that, very often, where any force or influence reposes upon deep realities, and upon undisturbed foundations, there will be the least heard of loquacious and noisy expressions of its power; which expressions arise most, not where the current is most violent, but where (being possibly the weakest) it is most fretted with resistance.
In England, the very reason why the aristocratic feeling makes itself so sensibly felt and so distinctly an object of notice to the censorious observer is, because it maintains a troubled existence amongst counter and adverse influences, so many and so potent. This might be illustrated abundantly. But, as respects the particular question before me, it will be sufficient to say this: With us the profession and exercise of knowledge, as a means of livelihood, is honorable; on the continent it is not so. The knowledge, for instance, which is embodied in the three learned professions, does, with us, lead to distinction and civil importance; no man can pretend to deny this; nor, by consequence, that the professors personally take rank with the highest order of gentlemen. Are they not, I demand, everywhere with us on the same footing, in point of rank and consideration, as those who bear the king’s commission in the army and navy? Can this be affirmed of the continent, either generally, or, indeed, partially? I say, no. Let us take Germany, as an illustration. Many towns (for anything I know, all) present us with a regular bisection of the resident notables, or wealthier class, into two distinct (often hostile) coteries: one being composed of those who are “noble;” the other, of families equally well educated and accomplished, but not, in the continental sense, “noble.” The meaning and value of the word is so entirely misapprehended by the best English writers, being, in fact, derived from our own way of applying it, that it becomes important to ascertain its true value. A “nobility,” which is numerous enough to fill a separate ball-room in every sixth-rate town, it needs no argument to show, cannot be a nobility in any English sense. In fact, an edelmann or nobleman, in the German sense, is strictly what we mean by a born gentleman; with this one only difference, that, whereas, with us, the rank which denominates a man such passes off by shades so insensible, and almost infinite, into the ranks below, that it becomes impossible to assign it any strict demarkation or lines of separation; on the contrary, the continental noble points to certain fixed barriers, in the shape of privileges, which divide him, per saltum, from those who are below his own order. But were it not for this one legal benefit of accurate circumscription and slight favor, the continental noble, whether Baron of Germany, Count of France, or Prince of Sicily and of Russia, is simply on a level with the common landed esquire of Britain, and not on a level in very numerous cases.
Such being the case, how paramount must be the spirit of aristocracy in continental society! Our haute noblesse–our genuine nobility, who are such in the general feeling of their compatriots–will do that which the phantom of nobility of the continent will not: the spurious nobles of Germany will not mix, on equal terms, with their untitled fellow-citizens, living in the same city and in the same style as themselves; they will not meet them in the same ball or concert- room. Our great territorial nobility, though sometimes forming exclusive circles (but not, however, upon any principle of high birth), do so daily. They mix as equal partakers in the same amusements of races, balls, musical assemblies, with the baronets (or elite of the gentry); with the landed esquires (or middle gentry); with the superior order of tradesmen (who, in Germany, are absolute ciphers, for political weight, or social consideration, but, with us, constitute the lower and broader stratum of the nobilitas,
[Footnote: It may be necessary to inform some readers that the word noble, by which so large a system of imposition and fraud, as to the composition of foreign society, has long been practised upon the credulity of the British, corresponds to our word gentlemanly (or, rather, to the vulgar word genteel, if that word were ever used legally, or extra gradum), not merely upon the argument of its virtual and operative value in the general estimate of men (that is, upon the argument that a count, baron, etc., does not, qua such, command any deeper feeling of respect or homage than a British esquire), but also upon the fact, that, originally, in all English registers, as, for instance, in the Oxford matriculation registers, all the upper gentry (knights, esquires, etc.) are technically designated by the word nobiles.–See Chambeilayuc, etc. ]
or gentry). The obscure baronage of Germany, it is undeniable, insist upon having “an atmosphere of their own;” whilst the Howards, the Stanleys, the Talbots, of England; the Hamiltons, the Douglases, the Gordons, of Scotland, are content to acknowledge a sympathy with the liberal part of their untitled countrymen, in that point which most searchingly tries the principle of aristocratic pride, namely, in their pleasures. To have the same pursuits of business with another, may be a result of accident or position; to have the same pleasures, being a matter of choice, argues a community of nature in the moral sensibilities, in that part of our constitution which differences one man from another in the capacities of greatness and elevation. As with their amusements, so with their graver employments; the same mutual repulsion continues to divide the two orders through life.
The nobles either live in gloomy seclusion upon their private funds, wherever the privilege of primogeniture has enabled them to do so; or, having no funds at all (the case of ninety-nine in one hundred), they go into the army; that profession, the profession of arms, being regarded as the only one compatible with an edelmann’s pretensions. Such was once the feeling in England; such is still the feeling on the continent. It is a prejudice naturally clinging to a semi-barbarous (because growing out of a barbarous) state, and, in its degree, clinging to every stage of imperfect civilization; and, were there no other argument, this would be a sufficient one, that England, under free institutions, has outrun the continent, in real civilization, by a century; a fact which is concealed by the forms of luxurious refinement in a few exclusive classes, too often usurping the name and honors of radical civilization.
From the super-appreciation of the military profession arises a corresponding contempt of all other professions whatsoever paid by fellow-citizens, and not by the king or the state. The clerical profession is in the most abject degradation throughout Southern Germany; and the reason why this forces itself less imperiously upon the public notice is, that, in rural situations, from the absence of a resident gentry (speaking generally), the pastor is brought into rare collision with those who style themselves noble; whilst, in towns, the clergy find people enough to countenance those who, being in the same circumstances as to comfort and liberal education, are also under the same ban of rejection from the “nobility,” or born gentry. The legal profession is equally degraded; even a barrister or advocate holds a place in the public esteem little differing from that of an Old Bailey attorney of the worst class. And this result is the less liable to modification from personal qualities, inasmuch as there is no great theatre (as with us) for individual display. Forensic eloquence is unknown in Germany, as it is too generally on the continent, from the defect of all popular or open judicatures. A similar defect of deliberative assemblies–such, at least, as represent any popular influences and debate with open doors–intercepts the very possibility of senatorial eloquence.
[Footnote: The subject is amusingly illustrated by an anecdote of Goethe, recorded by himself in his autobiography. Some physiognomist, or phrenologist, had found out, in Goethe’s structure of head, the sure promise of a great orator. “Strange infatuation of nature!” observes Goethe, on this assurance, “to endow me so richly and liberally for that particular destination which only the institutions of my country render impossible. Music for the deaf! Eloquence without an audience!” ]
That of the pulpit only remains. But even of this–whether it be from want of the excitement and contagious emulation from the other fields of oratory, or from the peculiar genius of Lutheranism–no models have yet arisen that could, for one moment, sustain a comparison with those of England or France. The highest names in this department would not, to a foreign ear, carry with them any of that significance or promise which surrounds the names of Jeremy Taylor or Barrow, Bossuet or Bourdaloue, to those even who have no personal acquaintance with their works. This absence of all fields for gathering public distinctions cooperates, in a very powerful way, with the contempt of the born gentry, to degrade these professions; and this double agency is, a third time, reinforced by those political arrangements which deny every form of state honor or conspicuous promotion to the very highest description of excellence, whether of the bar, the pulpit, or the civic council. Not “the fluent Murray,” or the accomplished Erskine, from the English bar–not Pericles or Demosthenes, from the fierce democracies of Greece–not Paul preaching at Athens–could snatch a wreath from public homage, nor a distinction from the state, nor found an influence, nor leave behind them an operative model, in Germany, as now constituted. Other walks of emolument are still more despised. Alfieri, a continental “noble,” that is, a born gentleman, speaks of bankers as we in England should of a Jewish usurer, or tricking money-changer. The liberal trades, such as those which minister to literature or the fine arts, which, with us, confer the station of gentleman upon those who exercise them, are, in the estimate of a continental “noble,” fitted to assign a certain rank or place in the train and equipage of a gentleman, but not to entitle their most eminent professors to sit down, except by sufferance, in his presence. And, upon this point, let not the reader derive his notions from the German books: the vast majority of German authors are not “noble;” and, of those who are, nine tenths are liberal in this respect, and speak the language of liberality, not by sympathy with their own order, or as representing their feelings, but in virtue of democratic or revolutionary politics.
Such as the rank is, and the public estimation of the leading professions, such is the natural condition of the universities which rear them. The “nobles” going generally into the army, or leading lives of indolence, the majority by far of those who resort to universities do so as a means of future livelihood. Few seek an academic life in Germany who have either money to throw away on superfluities and external show, or who have such a rank to support as might stimulate their pride to expenses beyond their means. Parsimony is, therefore, in these places, the governing law; and pleasure, not less fervently wooed than at Oxford or at Cambridge, putting off her robes of elegance and ceremony, descends to grossness, and not seldom to abject brutality.
The sum of my argument is–that, because, in comparison of the army, no other civil profession is, in itself, held of sufficient dignity; and not less, perhaps, because, under governments essentially unpopular, none of these professions has been so dignified artificially by the state, or so attached to any ulterior promotion, either through the state or in the state, as to meet the demands of aristocratic pride– none of them is cultivated as a means of distinction, but originally as a means of livelihood; that the universities, as the nurseries of these unhonored professions, share naturally in their degradation; and that, from this double depreciation of the place and its final objects, few or none resort thither who can be supposed to bring any extra funds for supporting a system of luxury; that the general temperance, or sobriety of demeanor, is far enough, however, from keeping pace with the absence of costly show; and that, for this absence even, we are to thank their poverty rather than their will. It is to the great honor, in my opinion, of our own country, that those often resort to her fountains who have no motive but that of disinterested reverence for knowledge; seeking, as all men perceive, neither emolument directly from university funds, nor knowledge as the means of emolument. Doubtless, it is neither dishonorable, nor, on a large scale, possible to be otherwise, that students should pursue their academic career chiefly as ministerial to their capital object of a future livelihood. But still I contend that it is for the interest of science and good letters that a considerable body of volunteers should gather about their banners, without pay or hopes of preferment. This takes place on a larger scale at Oxford and Cambridge than elsewhere; and it is but a trivial concession in return, on the part of the university, that she should allow, even if she had the right to withhold, the privilege of living within her walls as they would have lived at their fathers’ seats; with one only reserve, applied to all modes of expense that are, in themselves, immoral excesses, or occasions of scandal, or of a nature to interfere too much with the natural hours of study, or specially fitted to tempt others of narrower means to ruinous emulation.
Upon these principles, as it seems to me, the discipline of the university is founded. The keeping of hunters, for example, is unstatutable. Yet, on the other hand, it is felt to be inevitable that young men of high spirit, familiar with this amusement, will find means to pursue it in defiance of all the powers, however exerted, that can properly be lodged in the hands of academic officers. The range of the proctor’s jurisdiction is limited by positive law; and what should hinder a young man, bent upon his pleasure, from fixing the station of his hunter a few miles out of Oxford, and riding to cover on a hack, unamenable to any censure? For, surely, in this age, no man could propose so absurd a thing as a general interdiction of riding. How, in fact, does the university proceed? She discountenances the practice; and, if forced upon her notice, she visits it with censure, and that sort of punishment which lies within her means. But she takes no pains to search out a trespass, which, by the mere act of seeking to evade public display in the streets of the university, already tends to limit itself; and which, besides, from its costliness, can never become a prominent nuisance. This I mention as illustrating the spirit of her legislation; and, even in this case, the reader must carry along with him the peculiar distinction which I have pressed with regard to English universities, in the existence of a large volunteer order of students seeking only the liberalization, and not the profits, of academic life. In arguing upon their case, it is not the fair logic to say: These pursuits taint the decorum of the studious character; it is not fair to calculate how much is lost to the man of letters by such addiction to fox-hunting; but, on the contrary, what is gained to the fox-hunter, who would, at any rate, be such, by so considerable a homage paid to letters, and so inevitable a commerce with men of learning. Anything whatsoever attained in this direction, is probably so much more than would have been attained under a system of less toleration. Lucro ponamus, we say, of the very least success in such a case. But, in speaking of toleration as applied to acts or habits positively against the statutes, I limit my meaning to those which, in their own nature, are morally indifferent, and are discountenanced simply as indirectly injurious, or as peculiarly open to excess. Because, on graver offences (as gambling, etc.), the malicious impeachers of Oxford must well have known that no toleration whatsoever is practised or thought of. Once brought under the eye of the university in a clear case and on clear evidence, it would be punished in the most exemplary way open to a limited authority; by rustication, at least–that is, banishment for a certain number of terms, and consequent loss of these terms–supposing the utmost palliation of circumstances; and, in an aggravated case, or in a second offence, most certainly by final expulsion.
But it is no part of duty to serve the cause even of good morals by impure means; and it is as difficult beforehand to prevent the existence of vicious practices so long as men have, and ought to have, the means of seclusion liable to no violation, as it is afterwards difficult, without breach of honor, to obtain proof of their existence. Gambling has been known to exist in some dissenting institutions; and, in my opinion, with no blame to the presiding authorities. As to Oxford in particular, no such habit was generally prevalent in my time; it is not an English vice; nor did I ever hear of any great losses sustained in this way. But, were it otherwise, I must hold, that, considering the numbers, rank, and great opulence, of the students, such a habit would impeach the spirit and temper of the age rather than the vigilance or magisterial fidelity of the Oxford authorities. They are limited, like other magistrates, by honor and circumstances, in a thousand ways; and if a knot of students will choose to meet for purposes of gaming, they must always have it in their power to baffle every honorable or becoming attempt at detecting them. But upon this subject I shall make two statements, which may have some effect in moderating the uncharitable judgments upon Oxford discipline. The first respects the age of those who are the objects of this discipline; on which point a very grave error prevails. In the last Parliament, not once, but many times over, Lord Brougham and others assumed that the students of Oxford were chiefly boys; and this, not idly or casually, but pointedly, and with a view to an ulterior argument; for instance, by way of proving how little they were entitled to judge of those thirty- nine articles to which their assent was demanded. Now, this argued a very extraordinary ignorance; and the origin of the error showed the levity in which their legislation was conducted. These noble lords had drawn their ideas of a university exclusively from Glasgow. Here, it is well known, and I mention it neither for praise nor blame, that students are in the habit of coming at the early age of fourteen. These may allowably be styled boys. But, with regard to Oxford, eighteen is about the earliest age at which young men begin their residence: twenty and upwards is, therefore, the age of the majority; that is, twenty is the minimum of age for the vast majority; as there must always be more men of three years’ standing, than of two or of one. Apply this fact to the question of discipline: young men beyond twenty, generally,–that is to say, of the age which qualifies men for seats in the national council,–can hardly, with decency, either be called or treated as boys; and many things become impossible as applied to them, which might be of easy imposition upon an assemblage really childish. In mere justice, therefore, when speculating upon this whole subject of Oxford discipline, the reader must carry along with him, at every step, the recollection of that signal difference as to age, which I have now stated, between Oxonians and those students whom the hostile party contemplate in their arguments.
[Footnote: Whilst I am writing, a debate of the present Parliament, reported on Saturday, March 7, 1835, presents us with a determinate repetition of the error which I have been exposing; and, again, as in the last Parliament, this error is not inert, but is used for a hostile (apparently a malicious) purpose; nay, which is remarkable, it is the sole basis upon which the following argument reposes. Lord Radnor again assumes that the students of Oxford are “boys;” he is again supported in this misrepresentation by Lord Brougham; and again the misrepresentation is applied to a purpose of assault upon the English universities, but especially upon Oxford. And the nature of the assault does not allow any latitude in construing the word boys, nor any room for evasion as respects the total charge, except what goes the length of a total retraction. The charge is, that, in a requisition made at the very threshold of academic life, upon the under standing and the honor of the students, the university burdens their consciences to an extent, which, in after life, when reflection has enlightened them to the meaning of their engagements, proves either a snare to those who trifle with their engagements, or an insupportable burden to those who do not. For the inculpation of the party imposing such oaths, it is essential that the party taking them should be in a childish condition of the moral sense, and the sense of responsibility; whereas, amongst the Oxonian under-graduates, I will venture to say that the number is larger of those who rise above than of those who fall below twenty; and, as to sixteen (assumed as the representative age by Lord Radnor), in my time, I heard of only one student, amongst, perhaps, sixteen hundred, who was so young. I grieve to see that the learned prelate, who replied to the assailants, was so much taken by surprise; the defence might have been made triumphant. With regard to oaths incompatible with the spirit of modern manners, and yet formally unrepealed–that is a case of neglect and indolent oversight. But the gravamen of that reproach does not press exclusively upon Oxford; all the ancient institutions of Europe are tainted in the same way, more especially the monastic orders of the Romish church. ]
Meantime, to show that, even under every obstacle presented by this difference of age, the Oxford authorities do, nevertheless, administer their discipline with fidelity, with intrepidity, and with indifference as respects the high and the low, I shall select from a crowd of similar recollections two anecdotes, which are but trifles in themselves, and yet are not such to him who recognizes them as expressions of a uniform system of dealing.
A great whig lord (Earl C—-) happened (it may be ten years ago) to present himself one day at Trinity (the leading college of Cambridge), for the purpose of introducing Lord F—-ch, his son, as a future member of that splendid society. Possibly it mortified his aristocratic feelings to hear the head of the college, even whilst welcoming the young nobleman in courteous terms, yet suggesting, with some solemnity, that, before taking any final resolution in the matter, his lordship would do well to consider whether he were fully prepared to submit himself to college discipline; for that, otherwise, it became his own duty frankly to declare that the college would not look upon his accession to their society as any advantage. This language arose out of some recent experience of refractory and turbulent conduct upon the part of various young men of rank; but it is very possible that the noble earl, in his surprise at a salutation so uncourtly, might regard it, in a tory mouth, as having some lurking reference to his own whig politics. If so, he must have been still more surprised to hear of another case, which would meet him before he left Cambridge, and which involved some frank dealing as well as frank speaking, when a privilege of exception might have been presumed, if tory politics, or services the most memorable, could ever create such a privilege. The Duke of W– –had two sons at Oxford. The affair is now long past; and it cannot injure either of them to say, that one of the brothers trespassed against the college discipline, in some way, which compelled (or was thought to compel) the presiding authorities into a solemn notice of his conduct. Expulsion appeared to be the appropriate penalty of his offences: but, at this point, a just hesitation arose. Not in any servile spirit, but under a proper feeling of consideration for so eminent a public benefactor as this young nobleman’s father, the rulers paused–and at length signified to him that he was at liberty to withdraw himself privately from the college, but also, and at the same time, from the university. He did so; and his brother, conceiving him to have been harshly treated, withdrew also; and both transferred themselves to Cambridge. That could not be prevented: but there they were received with marked reserve. One was not received, I believe, in a technical sense; and the other was received conditionally; and such restrictions were imposed upon his future conduct as served most amply, and in a case of great notoriety, to vindicate the claims of discipline, and, in an extreme case, a case so eminently an extreme one that none like it is ever likely to recur, to proclaim the footing upon which the very highest rank is received at the English universities. Is that footing peculiar to them? I willingly believe that it is not; and, with respect to Edinburgh and Glasgow, I am persuaded that their weight of dignity is quite sufficient, and would be exerted to secure the same subordination from men of rank, if circumstances should ever bring as large a number of that class within their gates, and if their discipline were equally applicable to the habits of students not domiciled within their walls. But, as to the smaller institutions for education within the pale of dissent, I feel warranted in asserting, from the spirit of the anecdotes which have reached me, that they have not the auctoritas requisite for adequately maintaining their dignity.
So much for the aristocracy of our English universities: their glory is, and the happiest application of their vast influence, that they have the power to be republican, as respects their internal condition. Literature, by substituting a different standard of rank, tends to republican equality; and, as one instance of this, properly belonging to the chapter of servants, which originally led to this discussion, it ought to be known that the class of “servitors,” once a large body in Oxford, have gradually become practically extinct under the growing liberality of the age. They carried in their academic dress a mark of their inferiority; they waited at dinner on those of higher rank, and performed other menial services, humiliating to themselves, and latterly felt as no less humiliating to the general name and interests of learning. The better taste, or rather the relaxing pressure of aristocratic prejudice, arising from the vast diffusion of trade and the higher branches of mechanic art, have gradually caused these functions of the order (even where the law would not permit the extinction of the order) to become obsolete. In my time, I was acquainted with two servitors: but one of them was rapidly pushed forward into a higher station; and the other complained of no degradation, beyond the grievous one of exposing himself to the notice of young women in the streets, with an untasselled cap; but this he contrived to evade, by generally going abroad without his academic dress. The servitors of Oxford are the sizars of Cambridge; and I believe the same changes
[Footnote: These changes have been accomplished, according to my imperfect knowledge of the case, in two ways: first, by dispensing with the services whenever that could be done; and, secondly, by a wise discontinuance of the order itself in those colleges which were left to their own choice in this matter. ]
have taken place in both.
One only account with the college remains to be noticed; but this is the main one. It is expressed in the bills by the word battels, derived from the old monkish word patella (or batella), a plate; and it comprehends whatsoever is furnished for dinner and for supper, including malt liquor, but not wine, as well as the materials for breakfast, or for any casual refreshment to country visitors, excepting only groceries. These, together with coals and fagots, candles, wine, fruit, and other more trifling extras, which are matters of personal choice, form so many private accounts against your name, and are usually furnished by tradesmen living near to the college, and sending their servants daily to receive orders. Supper, as a meal not universally taken, in many colleges is served privately in the student’s own room; though some colleges still retain the ancient custom of a public supper. But dinner is, in all colleges, a public meal, taken in the refectory or “hall” of the society; which, with the chapel and library, compose the essential public suite belonging to every college alike. No absence is allowed, except to the sick, or to those who have formally applied for permission to give a dinner- party. A fine is imposed on all other cases of absence. Wine is not generally allowed in the public hall, except to the “high table,” that is, the table at which the fellows and some other privileged persons are entitled to dine. The head of the college rarely dines in public. The other tables, and, after dinner, the high table, usually adjourn to their wine, either upon invitations to private parties, or to what are called the “common rooms” of the several orders–graduates and undergraduates, etc. The dinners are always plain, and without pretensions–those, I mean, in the public hall; indeed, nothing can be plainer in most colleges–a simple choice between two or three sorts of animal food, and the common vegetables. No fish, even as a regular part of the fare; no soups, no game; nor, except on some very rare festivity, did I ever see a variation from this plain fare at Oxford. This, indeed, is proved sufficiently by the average amount of the battels. Many men “battel” at the rate of a guinea a week: I did so for years: that is, at the rate of three shillings a day for everything connected with meals, excepting only tea, sugar, milk, and wine. It is true that wealthier men, more expensive men, and more careless men, often “battelled” much higher; but, if they persisted in this excess, they incurred censures, more and more urgent, from the head of the college.
Now, let us sum up; premising that the extreme duration of residence in any college at Oxford amounts to something under thirty weeks. It is possible to keep “short terms,” as the phrase is, by a residence of thirteen weeks, or ninety-one days; but, as this abridged residence is not allowed, except in here and there a college, I shall assume–as something beyond the strict maximum of residence–thirty weeks as my basis. The account will then stand thus:
1. Rooms,....................... (pounds)10 10 0
2. Tutorage,……………………… 10 10 0
3. Servants (subject to the explanations
say…………………………… 5 5 0
4. Battels (allowing one shilling a day
beyond what I and others spent in
much dearer times; that is, allowing
twenty-eight shillings weekly), for
thirty weeks,………………….. 40 4 0
(pounds)66 9 0
This will be a liberal calculation for the college bill. What remains? 1. Candles, which the reader will best calculate upon the standard of his own general usage in this particular. 2. Coals, which are remarkably dear at Oxford–dearer, perhaps, than anywhere else in the island; say, three times as dear as at Edinburgh. 3. Groceries. 4. Wine. 5. Washing. This last article was, in my time, regulated by the college, as there were certain privileged washer-women, between whom and the students it was but fair that some proper authority should interfere to prevent extortion, in return for the monopoly granted. Six guineas was the regulated sum; but this paid for everything,–table- linen, etc., as well as for wearing apparel; and it was understood to cover the whole twenty-eight or thirty weeks. However, it was open to every man to make his own arrangements, by insisting on a separate charge for each separate article. All other expenses of a merely personal nature, such as postage, public amusements, books, clothes, etc., as they have no special connection with Oxford, but would, probably, be balanced by corresponding, if not the very same, expenses in any other place or situation, I do not calculate. What I have specified are the expenses which would accrue to a student in consequence of leaving his father’s house. The rest would, in these days, be the same, perhaps, everywhere. How much, then, shall we assume as the total charge on account of Oxford? Candles, considering the quantity of long days amongst the thirty weeks, may be had for one shilling and sixpence a week; for few students–unless they have lived in India, after which a physical change occurs in the sensibility of the nostrils–are finical enough to burn wax-lights. This will amount to two pounds, five shillings. Coals, say sixpence a day; for threepence a day will amply feed one grate in Edinburgh; and there are many weeks in the thirty which will demand no fire at all. Groceries and wine, which are all that remain, I cannot calculate. But suppose we allow for the first a shilling a day, which will be exactly ten guineas for thirty weeks; and for the second, nothing at all. Then the extras, in addition to the college bills, will stand thus:
Washing for thirty weeks, at the
privileged rate, ................. (pounds)6 6 0
Candles, ………………………….. 2 5 0
Fire, …………………………….. 5 5 0
Groceries, ………………………… 10 10 0
Total, ….. (pounds)24 6 0
The college bills, therefore, will be sixty-six pounds, nine shillings; the extras, not furnished by the college, will be about twenty-four pounds, six shillings,–making a total amount of ninety pounds, fifteen shillings. And for this sum, annually, a man may defray every expense incident to an Oxford life, through a period of weeks (namely, thirty) something more than he will be permitted to reside. It is true, that, for the first year, there will be, in addition to this, his outfit: and for every year there will be his journeys. There will also be twenty-two weeks uncovered by this estimate; but for these it is not my business to provide, who deal only with Oxford.
That this estimate is true, I know too feelingly. Would that it were not! would that it were false! Were it so, I might the better justify to myself that commerce with fraudulent Jews which led me so early to commence the dilapidation of my small fortune. It is true; and true for a period (1804-8) far dearer than this. And to any man who questions its accuracy I address this particular request–that he will lay his hand upon the special item which he disputes. I anticipate that he will answer thus: “I dispute none: it is not by positive things that your estimate errs, but by negations. It is the absence of all allowance for indispensable items that vitiates the calculation.” Very well: but to this, as to other things, we may apply the words of Dr. Johnson–“Sir, the reason I drink no wine, is because I can practise abstinence, but not temperance.” Yes: in all things, abstinence is easier than temperance; for a little enjoyment has invariably the effect of awaking the sense of enjoyment, irritating it, and setting it on edge. I, therefore, recollecting my own case, have allowed for no wine-parties. Let our friend, the abstraction we are speaking of, give breakfast-parties, if he chooses to give any; and certainly to give none at all, unless he were dedicated to study, would seem very churlish. Nobody can be less a friend than myself to monkish and ascetic seclusion, unless it were for twenty-three hours out of the twenty-four.
But, however this be settled, let no mistake be made; nor let that be charged against the system which is due to the habits of individuals. Early in the last century, Dr. Newton, the head of a college in Oxford, wrote a large book against the Oxford system, as ruinously expensive. But then, as now, the real expense was due to no cause over which the colleges could exercise any effectual control. It is due exclusively to the habits of social intercourse amongst the young men; from which he may abstain who chooses. But, for any academic authorities to interfere by sumptuary laws with the private expenditure of grown men, many of them, in a legal sense, of age, and all near it, must appear romantic and extravagant, for this (or, indeed, any) stage of society. A tutor being required, about 1810, to fix the amount of allowance for a young man of small fortune, nearly related to myself, pronounced three hundred and twenty pounds little enough. He had this allowance, and was ruined in consequence of the credit which it procured for him, and the society it connected him with. The majority have two hundred pounds a year: but my estimate stands good, for all that.
Having stated, generally, the expenses of the Oxford system, I am bound, in candor, to mention one variety in the mode of carrying this system into effect, open to every man’s adoption, which confers certain privileges, but, at the same time (by what exact mode, I know not), considerably increases the cost, and in that degree disturbs my calculation. The great body of undergraduates, or students, are divided into two classes–Commoners, and Gentlemen Commoners. Perhaps nineteen out of twenty belong to the former class; and it is for that class, as having been my own, that I have made my estimate. The other class of Gentlemen Commoners (who, at Cambridge, bear the name of Fellow Commoners) wear a peculiar dress, and have some privileges which naturally imply some corresponding increase of cost; but why this increase should go to the extent of doubling the total expense, as it is generally thought to do, or how it can go to that extent, I am unable to explain. The differences which attach to the rank of “Gentlemen Commoners” are these: At his entrance he pays double “caution money;” that is, whilst Commoners in general pay about twenty-five guineas, he pays fifty; but this can occur only once; and, besides, in strict point of right, this sum is only a deposit, and is liable to be withdrawn on leaving the university, though it is commonly enough finally presented to the college in the shape of plate. The next difference is, that, by comparison with the Commoner, he wears a much more costly dress. The Commoner’s gown is made of what is called prince’s stuff; and, together with the cap, costs about five guineas. But the Gentleman Commoner has two gowns–an undress for the morning, and a full dress-gown for the evening; both are made of silk, and the latter is very elaborately ornamented. The cap also is more costly, being covered with velvet instead of cloth. At Cambridge, again, the tassel is made of gold fringe or bullion, which, in Oxford, is peculiar to the caps of noblemen; and there are many other varieties in that university, where the dress for “pensioners” (that is, the Oxford “Commoners”) is specially varied in almost every college; the object being, perhaps, to give a ready means to the academic officers for ascertaining, at a glance, not merely the general fact that such or such a delinquent is a gownsman (which is all that can be ascertained at Oxford), but also the particular college to which he belongs. Allowance being made for these two items of “dress” and “caution- money,” both of which apply only to the original outfit, I know of no others in which the expenditure of a Gentleman Commoner ought to exceed, or could with propriety exceed, those of a Commoner. He has, indeed, a privilege as regards the choice of rooms; he chooses first, and probably chooses those rooms which, being best, are dearest; that is, they are on a level with the best; but usually there are many sets almost equally good; and of these the majority will be occupied by Commoners. So far, there is little opening for a difference. More often, again, it will happen that a man of this aristocratic class keeps a private servant; yet this happens also to Commoners, and is, besides, no properly college expense. Tutorage is charged double to a Gentleman Commoner–namely, twenty guineas a year: this is done upon a fiction (as it sometimes turns out) of separate attention, or aid given in a private way to his scholastic pursuits. Finally, there arises naturally another and peculiar source of expense to the “Gentleman Commoner,” from a fact implied in his Cambridge designation of “Fellow Commoner,” commensalis–namely, that he associates at meals with the “fellows” and other authorities of the college. Yet this again expresses rather the particular shape which his expenditure assumes than any absolute increase in its amount. He subscribes to a regular mess, and pays, therefore, whether present or not; but so, in a partial sense, does the Commoner, by his forfeits for “absent commons.” He subscribes also to a regular fund for wine; and, therefore, he does not enjoy that immunity from wine-drinking which is open to the Commoner. Yet, again, as the Commoner does but rarely avail himself of this immunity, as he drinks no less wine than the Gentleman Commoner, and, generally speaking, wine not worse in quality, it is difficult to see any ground for a regular assumption of higher expenditure in the one class than the other. However, the universal impression favors that assumption. All people believe that the rank of Gentleman Commoner imposes an expensive burden, though few people ever ask why. As a matter of fact, I believe it to be true that Gentlemen Commoners spend more by a third, or a half, than any equal number of Commoners, taken without selection. And the reason is obvious: those who become Gentlemen Commoners are usually determined to that course by the accident of having very large funds; they are eldest sons, or only sons, or men already in possession of estates, or else (which is as common a case as all the rest put together) they are the heirs of newly-acquired wealth–sons of the nouveaux riches–a class which often requires a generation or two to rub off the insolence of a too conscious superiority. I have called them an “aristocratic” class; but, in strictness, they are not such; they form a privileged class, indeed, but their privileges are f
ew and trifling, not to add that these very privileges are connected with one or two burdens, more than outweighing them in the estimate of many; and, upon the whole, the chief distinction they enjoy is that of advertising themselves to the public as men of great wealth, or great expectations; and, therefore, as subjects peculiarly adapted to fraudulent attempts. Accordingly, it is not found that the sons of the nobility are much inclined to enter this order: these, if they happen to be the eldest sons of earls, or of any peers above the rank of viscount, so as to enjoy a title themselves by the courtesy of England, have special privileges in both universities as to length of residence, degrees, etc. and their rank is ascertained by a special dress. These privileges it is not usual to forego; though sometimes that happens, as, in my time, in the instance of Lord George Grenville (now Lord Nugent); he neither entered at the aristocratic college (Christ Church), nor wore the dress of a nobleman. Generally, however, an elder son appears in his true character of nobleman; but the younger sons rarely enter the class of Gentlemen Commoners. They enter either as “Commoners,” or under some of those various designations (“scholars,” “demies,” “students,” “junior fellows”) which imply that they stand upon the foundation of the college to which they belong, and are aspirants for academic emoluments.
Upon the whole, I am disposed to regard this order of Gentlemen Commoners as a standing temptation held out by authority to expensive habits, and a very unbecoming proclamation of honor paid to the aristocracy of wealth. And I know that many thoughtful men regard it in the same light with myself, and regret deeply that any such distribution of ranks should be authorized, as a stain upon the simplicity and general manliness of the English academic laws. It is an open profession of homage and indulgence to wealth, as wealth– to wealth disconnected from everything that might ally it to the ancestral honors and heraldries of the land. It is also an invitation, or rather a challenge, to profuse expenditure. Regularly, and by law, a Gentleman Commoner is liable to little heavier burdens than a Commoner; but, to meet the expectations of those around him, and to act up to the part he has assumed, he must spend more, and he must be more careless in controlling his expenditure, than a moderate and prudent Commoner. In every light, therefore, I condemn the institution, and give it up to the censures of the judicious. So much in candor I concede. But, to show equal candor on the other side, it must be remembered that this institution descends to us from ancient times, when wealth was not so often divided from territorial or civic honors, conferring a real precedency.
There was one reason why I sought solitude at that early age, and sought it in a morbid excess, which must naturally have conferred upon my character some degree of that interest which belongs to all extremes. My eye had been couched into a secondary power of vision, by misery, by solitude, by sympathy with life in all its modes, by experience too early won, and by the sense of danger critically escaped. Suppose the case of a man suspended by some colossal arm over an unfathomed abyss,–suspended, but finally and slowly withdrawn,–it is probable that he would not smile for years. That was my case: for I have not mentioned, in the “Opium Confessions,” a thousandth part of the sufferings I underwent in London and in Wales; partly because the misery was too monotonous, and, in that respect, unfitted for description; but, still more, because there is a mysterious sensibility connected with real suffering which recoils from circumstantial rehearsal or delincation, as from violation offered to something sacred, and which is, or should be, dedicated to privacy. Grief does not parade its pangs, nor the anguish of despairing hunger willingly count again its groans or its humiliations. Hence it was that Ledyard, the traveller, speaking of his Russian experiences, used to say that some of his miseries were such, that he never would reveal them. Besides all which, I really was not at liberty to speak, without many reserves, on this chapter of my life, at a period (1821) not twenty years removed from the actual occurrences, unless I desired to court the risk of crossing at every step the existing law of libel, so full of snares and man-traps, to the careless equally with the conscientious writer. This is a consideration which some of my critics have lost sight of in a degree which surprises me. One, for example, puts it to his readers whether any house such as I describe as the abode of my money-lending friend could exist “in Oxford-street;” and, at the same time, he states, as circumstances drawn from my description, but, in fact, pure coinages of his own, certain romantic impossibilities, which, doubtless, could as little attach to a house in Oxford-street as they could to a house in any other quarter of London. Meantime, I had sufficiently indicated that, whatsoever street was concerned in that affair, Oxford-street was not; and it is remarkable enough, as illustrating this amiable reviewer’s veracity, that no one street in London was absolutely excluded but one; and that one, Oxford-street. For I happened to mention that, on such a day (my birth-day), I had turned aside from Oxford-street to look at the house in question. I will now add that this house was in Greek-street: so much it may be safe to say. But every candid reader will see that both prudential restraints, and also disinterested regard to the feelings of possibly amiable descendants from a vicious man, would operate with any thoughtful writer, in such a case, to impose reserve upon his pen. Had my guardians, had my money-lending friend of Jewry, and others concerned in my memoirs, been so many shadows, bodiless abstractions, and without earthly connections, I might readily have given my own names to my own creations, and have treated them as unceremoniously as I pleased. Not so under the real circumstances of the case. My chief guardian, for instance, though obstinate to a degree which risked the happiness and the life of his ward, was an upright man otherwise; and his children are entitled to value his memory.
Again, my Greek-street trapexites, the “foenerator Alpheus,” who delighted to reap where he had not sown, and too often (I fear) allowed himself in practices which not impossibly have long since been found to qualify him for distant climates and “Botanic” regions,–even he, though I might truly describe him as a mere highwayman, whenever he happened to be aware that I had received a friendly loan, yet, like other highwaymen of repute, and “gentle thieves,” was not inexorable to the petitions of his victim: he would sometimes toss back what was required for some instant necessity of the road; and at his breakfast-table it was, after all, as elsewhere recorded, that I contrived to support life; barely, indeed, and most slenderly, but still with the final result of escaping absolute starvation. With that recollection before me, I could not allow myself to probe his frailties too severely, had it even been certainly safe to do so. But enough; the reader will understand that a year spent either in the valleys of Wales, or upon the streets of London, a wanderer, too often houseless in both situations, might naturally have peopled the mind of one constitutionally disposed to solemn contemplations with memorials of human sorrow and strife too profound to pass away for years.
Thus, then, it was–past experience of a very peculiar kind, the agitations of many lives crowded into the compass of a year or two, in combination with a peculiar structure of mind–offered one explanation of the very remarkable and unsocial habits which I adopted at college; but there was another not less powerful, and not less unusual. In stating this, I shall seem, to some persons, covertly designing an affront to Oxford. But that is far from my intention. It is noways peculiar to Oxford, but will, doubtless, be found in every university throughout the world, that the younger part of the members–the undergraduates, I mean, generally, whose chief business must have lain amongst the great writers of Greece and Rome–cannot have found leisure to cultivate extensively their own domestic literature. Not so much that time will have been wanting; but that the whole energy of the mind, and the main course of the subsidiary studies and researches, will naturally have been directed to those difficult languages amongst which lie their daily tasks. I make it no subject of complaint or scorn, therefore, but simply state it as a fact, that few or none of the Oxford undergraduates, with whom parity of standing threw me into collision at my first outset, knew anything at all of English literature. The Spectator seemed to me the only English book of a classical rank which they had read; and even this less for its inimitable delicacy, humor, and refined pleasantry in dealing with manners and characters, than for its insipid and meagre essays, ethical or critical. This was no fault of theirs: they had been sent to the book chiefly as a subject for Latin translations, or of other exercises; and, in such a view, the vague generalities of superficial morality were more useful and more manageable than sketches of manner or character, steeped in national peculiarities. To translate the terms of whig politics into classical Latin, would be as difficult as it might be for a whig himself to give a consistent account of those politics from the year 1688. Natural, however, and excusable, as this ignorance might be, to myself it was intolerable and incomprehensible. Already, at fifteen, I had made myself familiar with the great English poets. About sixteen, or not long after, my interest in the story of Chatterton had carried me over the whole ground of the Rowley controversy; and that controversy, by a necessary consequence, had so familiarized me with the “Black Letter,” that I had begun to find an unaffected pleasure in the ancient English metrical romances; and in Chaucer, though acquainted as yet only with part of his works, I had perceived and had felt profoundly those divine qualities, which, even at this day, are so languidly acknowledged by his unjust countrymen. With this knowledge, and this enthusiastic knowledge of the elder poets–of those most remote from easy access–I could not well be a stranger in other walks of our literature, more on a level with the general taste, and nearer to modern diction, and, therefore, more extensively multiplied by the press.
Yet, after all–as one proof how much more commanding is that part of a literature which speaks to the elementary affections of men, than that which is founded on the mutable aspects of manners–it is a fact that, even in our elaborate system of society, where an undue value is unavoidably given to the whole science of social intercourse, and a continual irritation applied to the sensibilities which point in that direction; still, under all these advantages, Pope himself is less read, less quoted, less thought of, than the elder and graver section of our literature. It is a great calamity for an author such as Pope, that, generally speaking, it requires so much experience of life to enjoy his peculiar felicities as must argue an age likely to have impaired the general capacity for enjoyment. For my part, I had myself a very slender acquaintance with this chapter of our literature; and what little I had was generally, at that period of my life, as, with most men, it continues to be to the end of life, a reflex knowledge, acquired through those pleasant miscellanies, half gossip, half criticism–such as Warton’s Essay on Pope, Boswell’s Johnson, Mathias’ Pursuits of Literature, and many scores beside of the same indeterminate class; a class, however, which do a real service to literature, by diffusing an indirect knowledge of fine writers in their most effective passages, where else, in a direct shape, it would often never extend.
In some parts, then, having even a profound knowledge of our literature, in all parts having some, I felt it to be impossible that I should familiarly associate with those who had none at all; not so much as a mere historical knowledge of the literature in its capital names and their chronological succession. Do I mention this in disparagement of Oxford? By no means. Among the undergraduates of higher standing, and occasionally, perhaps, of my own, I have since learned that many might have been found eminently accomplished in this particular. But seniors do not seek after juniors; they must be sought; and, with my previous bias to solitude, a bias equally composed of impulses and motives, I had no disposition to take trouble in seeking any man for any purpose.
But, on this subject, a fact still remains to be told, of which I am justly proud; and it will serve, beyond anything else that I can say, to measure the degree of my intellectual development. On coming to Oxford, I had taken up one position in advance of my age by full thirty years: that appreciation of Wordsworth, which it has taken full thirty years to establish amongst the public, I had already made, and had made operative to my own intellectual culture in the same year when I clandestinely quitted school. Already, in 1802, I had addressed a letter of fervent admiration to Mr. Wordsworth. I did not send it until the spring of 1803; and, from misdirection, it did not come into his hands for some months. But I had an answer from Mr. Wordsworth before I was eighteen; and that my letter was thought to express the homage of an enlightened admirer, may be inferred from the fact that his answer was long and full. On this anecdote I do not mean to dwell; but I cannot allow the reader to overlook the circumstances of the case. At this day, it is true, no journal can be taken up which does not habitually speak of Mr. Wordsworth as of a great if not the great poet of the age. Mr. Bulwer, living in the intensest pressure of the world, and, though recoiling continually from the judgments of the world, yet never in any violent degree, ascribes to Mr. Wordsworth (in his England and the English, p. 308) “an influence of a more noble and purely intellectual character, than any writer of our age or nation has exercised.” Such is the opinion held of this great poet in 1835; but what were those of 1805-15,–nay, of 1825? For twenty years after the date of that letter to Mr. Wordsworth above referred to, language was exhausted, ingenuity was put on the rack, in the search after images and expressions vile enough–insolent enough–to convey the unutterable contempt avowed for all that he had written, by the fashionable critics. One critic–who still, I believe, edits a rather popular journal, and who belongs to that class, feeble, fluttering, ingenious, who make it their highest ambition not to lead, but, with a slave’s adulation, to obey and to follow all the caprices of the public mind–described Mr. Wordsworth as resembling, in the quality of his mind, an old nurse babbling in her paralytic dotage to sucking babies. If this insult was peculiarly felt by Mr. Wordsworth, it was on a consideration of the unusual imbecility of him who offered it, and not because in itself it was baser or more insolent than the language held by the majority of journalists who then echoed the public voice. Blackwood’s Magazine (1817) first accustomed the public ear to the language of admiration coupled with the name of Wordsworth. This began with Professor Wilson; and well I remember–nay, the proofs are still easy to hunt up–that, for eight or ten years, this singularity of opinion, having no countenance from other journals, was treated as a whim, a paradox, a bold extravagance, of the Blackwood critics. Mr. Wordsworth’s neighbors in Westmoreland, who had (generally speaking) a profound contempt for him, used to rebut the testimony of Blackwood by one constant reply–“Ay, Blackwood praises Wordsworth, but who else praises him?” In short, up to 1820, the name of Wordsworth was trampled under foot; from 1820 to 1830, it was militant; from 1830 to 1835, it has been triumphant. In 1803, when I entered at Oxford, that name was absolutely unknown; and the finger of scorn, pointed at it in 1802 by the first or second number of the Edinburgh Review, failed to reach its mark from absolute defect of knowledge in the public mind. Some fifty beside myself knew who was meant by “that poet who had cautioned his friend against growing double,” etc.; to all others it was a profound secret.
These things must be known and understood properly to value the prophetic eye and the intrepidity of two persons, like Professor Wilson and myself, who, in 1802-3, attached themselves to a banner not yet raised and planted; who outran, in fact, their contemporaries by one entire generation; and did that about 1802 which the rest of the world are doing in chorus about 1832.
Professor Wilson’s period at Oxford exactly coincided with my own; yet, in that large world, we never met. I know, therefore, but little of his policy in regard to such opinions or feelings as tended to dissociate him from the mass of his coevals. This only I know, that he lived as it were in public; and must, therefore, I presume, have practised a studied reserve as to his deepest admirations; and, perhaps, at that day (1803-8) the occasions would be rare in which much dissimulation would be needed. Until Lord Byron had begun to pilfer from Wordsworth and to abuse him, allusions to Wordsworth were not frequent in conversation; and it was chiefly on occasion of some question arising about poetry in general, or about the poets of the day, that it became difficult to dissemble. For my part, hating the necessity for dissimulation as much as the dissimulation itself, I drew from this peculiarity also of my own mind a fresh reinforcement of my other motives for sequestering myself; and, for the first two years of my residence in Oxford, I compute that I did not utter one hundred words.
I remember distinctly the first (which happened also to be the last) conversation that I ever held with my tutor. It consisted of three sentences, two of which fell to his share, one to mine. On a fine morning, he met me in the Quadrangle, and, having then no guess of the nature of my pretensions, he determined (I suppose) to probe them. Accordingly, he asked me, “What I had been lately reading?” Now, the fact was, that I, at that time immersed in metaphysics, had really been reading and studying very closely the Parmenides, of which obscure work some Oxford men, early in the last century, published a separate edition. Yet, so profound was the benignity of my nature, that, in those days, I could not bear to witness, far less to cause, the least pain or mortification to any human being. I recoiled, indeed, from the society of most men, but not with any feelings of dislike. On the contrary, in order that I might like all men, I wished to associate with none. Now, then, to have mentioned the Parmenides to one who, fifty thousand to one, was a perfect stranger to its whole drift and purpose, looked too mechant, too like a trick of malice, in an age when such reading was so very unusual. I felt that it would be taken for an express stratagem for stopping my tutor’s mouth. All this passing rapidly through my mind, I replied, without hesitation, that I had been reading Paley. My tutor’s rejoinder I have never forgotten: “Ah! an excellent author; excellent for his matter; only you must be on your guard as to his style; he is very vicious there.” Such was the colloquy; we bowed, parted, and never more (I apprehend) exchanged one word. Now, trivial and trite as this comment on Paley may appear to the reader, it struck me forcibly that more falsehood, or more absolute falsehood, or more direct inversion of the truth, could not, by any artifice of ingenuity, have been crowded into one short sentence. Paley, as a philosopher, is a jest, the disgrace of the age; and, as regards the two universities, and the enormous responsibility they undertake for the books which they sanction by their official examinations for degrees, the name of Paley is their great opprobrium. But, on the other hand, for style, Paley is a master. Homely, racy, vernacular English, the rustic vigor of a style which intentionally foregoes the graces of polish on the one hand, and of scholastic precision on the other–that quality of merit has never been attained in a degree so eminent. This first interchange of thought upon a topic of literature did not tend to slacken my previous disposition to retreat into solitude; a solitude, however, which at no time was tainted with either the moroseness or the pride of a cynic.
Neither must the reader suppose that, even in that day, I belonged to the party who disparage the classical writers, or the classical training of the great English schools. The Greek drama I loved and revered. But, to deal frankly, because it is a subject which I shall hereafter bring before the public, I made great distinctions. I was not that indiscriminate admirer of Greek and Roman literature, which those too generally are who admire it at all. This protesting spirit, against a false and blind idolatry, was with me, at that time, a matter of enthusiasm–almost of bigotry. I was a bigot against bigots. Let us take the Greek oratory, for example:–What section of the Greek literature is more fanatically exalted, and studiously in depreciation of our own? Let us judge of the sincerity at the base of these hollow affectations, by the downright facts and the producible records. To admire, in any sense which can give weight and value to your admiration, presupposes, I presume, some acquaintance with its object. As the earliest title to an opinion, one way or other, of the Greek eloquence, we ought to have studied some of its most distinguished artists; or, say one, at least; and this one, we may be sure, will be, as it ought to be, Demosthenes. Now, it is a fact, that all the copies of Demosthenes sold within the last hundred years would not meet the demand of one considerable town, were that orator a subject of study amongst even classical scholars. I doubt whether, at this day, there exist twenty men in Europe who can be said to have even once read Demosthenes; and, therefore, it was that, when Mr. Mitford, in his “History of Greece,” took a new view of this orator’s political administration–a view which lowered his character for integrity–he found an unresisting acceder to his doctrines in a public having no previous opinion upon the subject, and, therefore, open to any casual impression of malice or rash judgment. Had there been any acquaintance with the large remains which we still possess of this famous orator, no such wrong could have been done. I, from my childhood, had been a reader, nay, a student of Demosthenes; and, simply, for this reason, that, having meditated profoundly on the true laws and philosophy of diction, and of what is vaguely denominated style, and finding nothing of any value in modern writers upon this subject, and not much as regards the grounds and ultimate principles even in the ancient rhetoricians, I have been reduced to collect my opinions from the great artists and practitioners, rather than from the theorists; and, among those artists, in the most plastic of languages, I hold Demosthenes to have been the greatest.
The Greek is, beyond comparison, the most plastic of languages. It was a material which bent to the purposes of him who used it beyond the material of other languages; it was an instrument for a larger compass of modulations; and it happens that the peculiar theme of an orator imposes the very largest which is consistent with a prose diction. One step further in passion, and the orator would become a poet. An orator can exhaust the capacities of a language–an historian, never. Moreover, the age of Demosthenes was, in my judgment, the age of highest development for arts dependent upon social refinement. That generation had fixed and ascertained the use of words; whereas, the previous generation of Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, etc., was a transitional period: the language was still moving, and tending to a meridian not yet attained; and the public eye had been directed consciously upon language, as in and for itself an organ of intellectual delight, for too short a time, to have mastered the whole art of managing its resources. All these were reasons for studying Demosthenes, as the one great model and standard of Attic prose; and, studied him I had, more than any other prose writer whatever. Paripassu, I had become sensible that others had not studied him. One monotonous song of applause I found raised on every side; something about being “like a torrent, that carries everything before it.” This original image is all we get in the shape of criticism; and never any attempt even at illustrating what is greatest in him, or characterizing what is most peculiar. The same persons who discovered that Lord Brougham was the modern Bacon have also complimented him with the title of the English Demosthenes. Upon this hint, Lord Brougham, in his address to the Glasgow students, has deluged the great Athenian with wordy admiration. There is an obvious prudence in lodging your praise upon an object from which you count upon a rebound to yourself. But here, as everywhere else, you look in vain for any marks or indications of a personal and direct acquaintance with the original orations. The praise is built rather upon the popular idea of Demosthenes, than upon the real Demosthenes. And not only so, but even upon style itself, and upon the art of composition in abstracto, Lord Brougham does not seem to have formed any clear conceptions–principles he has none. Now, it is useless to judge of an artist until you have some principles on the art. The two capital secrets in the art of prose composition are these: 1st, The philosophy of transition and connection, or the art by which one step in an evolution of thought is made to arise out of another: all fluent and effective composition depends on the connections; –2dly, The way in which sentences are made to modify each other; for, the most powerful effects in written eloquence arise out of this reverberation, as it were, from each other in a rapid succession of sentences; and, because some limitation is necessary to the length and complexity of sentences, in order to make this interdependency felt, hence it is that the Germans have no eloquence. The construction of German prose tends to such immoderate length of sentences, that no effect of intermodification can ever be apparent. Each sentence, stuffed with innumerable clauses of restriction, and other parenthetical circumstances, becomes a separate section–an independent whole. But, without insisting on Lord Brougham’s oversights, or errors of defect, I will digress a moment to one positive caution of his, which will measure the value of his philosophy on this subject. He lays it down for a rule of indefinite application, that the Saxon part of our English idiom is to be favored at the expense of that part which has so happily coalesced with the language from the Latin or Greek. This fancy, often patronized by other writers, and even acted upon, resembles that restraint which some metrical writers have imposed upon themselves–of writing a long copy of verses, from which some particular letter, or from each line of which some different letter, should be carefully excluded. What followed? Was the reader sensible, in the practical effect upon his ear, of any beauty attained? By no means; all the difference, sensibly perceived, lay in the occasional constraints and affectations to which the writer had been driven by his self-imposed necessities. The same chimera exists in Germany; and so much further is it carried, that one great puritan in this heresy (Wolf) has published a vast dictionary, the rival of Adelung’s, for the purpose of expelling every word of foreign origin and composition out of the language, by assigning some equivalent term spun out from pure native Teutonic materials. Bayonet, for example, is patriotically rejected, because a word may be readily compounded tantamount to musket-dirk; and this sort of composition thrives showily in the German, as a language running into composition with a fusibility only surpassed by the Greek.
But what good purpose is attained by such caprices? In three sentences the sum of the philosophy may be stated. It has been computed (see Duclos) that the Italian opera has not above six hundred words in its whole vocabulary: so narrow is the range of its emotions, and so little are these emotions disposed to expand themselves into any variety of thinking. The same remark applies to that class of simple, household, homely passion, which belongs to the early ballad poetry. Their passion is of a quality more venerable, it is true, and deeper than that of the opera, because more permanent and coextensive with human life; but it is not much wider in its sphere, nor more apt to coalesce with contemplative or philosophic thinking. Pass from these narrow fields of the intellect, where the relations of the objects are so few and simple, and the whole prospect so bounded, to the immeasurable and sea-like arena upon which Shakspeare careers–co- infinite with life itself–yes, and with something more than life. Here is the other pole, the opposite extreme. And what is the choice of diction? What is the lexis? Is it Saxon exclusively, or is it Saxon by preference? So far from that, the Latinity is intense–not, indeed, in his construction, but in his choice of words; and so continually are these Latin words used, with a critical respect to their earliest (and, where that happens to have existed, to their unfigurative) meaning, that, upon this one argument I would rely for upsetting the else impregnable thesis of Dr. Farmer as to Shakspeare’s learning. Nay, I will affirm that, out of this regard to the Latin acceptation of Latin words, may be absolutely explained the Shakspearian meaning of certain words, which has hitherto baffled all his critics. For instance, the word modern, of which Dr. Johnson professes himself unable to explain the rationale or principle regulating its Shakspearian use, though he felt its value, it is to be deduced thus: First of all, change the pronunciation a little, by substituting for the short o, as we pronounce it in modern, the long o, as heard in modish, and you will then, perhaps, perceive the process of analogy by which it passed into the Shakspearian use. The matter or substance of a thing is, usually, so much more important than its fashion or manner, that we have hence adopted, as one way for expressing what is important as opposed to what is trivial, the word material. Now, by parity of reason, we are entitled to invert this order, and to express what is unimportant by some word indicating the mere fashion or external manner of an object as opposed to its substance. This is effected by the word modal or modern, as the adjective from modus, a fashion or manner; and in that sense Shakspeare employs the word. Thus, Cleopatra, undervaluing to Caesar’s agent the bijouterie which she has kept back from inventory, and which her treacherous steward had betrayed, describes them as mere trifles
“Such gifts as we greet modern friends withal;”
where all commentators have felt that modern must form the position, mean, slight, arid inconsiderable, though perplexed to say how it came by such a meaning. A modern friend is, in the Shakspearian sense, with relation to a real and serviceable friend, that which the fashion of a thing is, by comparison with its substance. But a still better illustration may be taken from a common line, quoted every day, and ludicrously misinterpreted. In the famous picture of life–“All the world’s a stage”–the justice of the piece is described as
“Full of wise saws and modern instances;”
which (horrendum dictu!) has been explained, and, I verily believe, is generally understood to mean, full of wise sayings and modern illustrations. The true meaning is–full of proverbial maxims of conduct and of trivial arguments; that is, of petty distinctions, or verbal disputes, such as never touch the point at issue. The word modern I have already deduced; the word instances is equally Latin, and equally used by Shakspeare in its Latin sense. It is originally the word instantia, which, by the monkish and scholastic writers, is uniformly used in the sense of an argument, and originally of an argument urged in objection to some previous argument.
[Footnote: I cannot for a moment believe that the original and most eloquent critic in Blackwood is himself the dupe of an argument, which he has alleged against this passage, under too open a hatred of Shakspeare, as though it involved a contradiction to common sense, by representing all human beings of such an age as school-boys, all of such another age as soldiers, of such another as magistrates, etc. Evidently the logic of the famous passage is this that whereas every age has its peculiar and appropriate temper, that profession or employment is selected for the exemplification which seems best fitted, in each case, to embody the characteristic or predominating quality. Thus, because impetuosity, self-esteem, and animal or irreflective courage, are qualities most intense in youth, next it is considered in what profession those qualities find their most unlimited range; and because that is obviously the military profession, therefore it is that the soldier is selected as the representative of young men. For the same reason, as best embodying the peculiar temper of garrulous old age, the magistrate comes forward as supporting the part of that age. Not that old men are not also soldiers; but that the military profession, so far from strengthening, moderates and tempers the characteristic temper of old age. ]
I affirm, therefore, that Lord Brougham’s counsel to the Glasgow students is not only bad counsel,–and bad counsel for the result, as well as for the grounds, which are either capricious or nugatory,–but also that, in the exact proportion in which the range of thought expands, it is an impossible counsel, an impracticable counsel–a counsel having for its purpose to embarrass and lay the mind in fetters, where even its utmost freedom and its largest resources will be found all too little for the growing necessities of the intellect. “Long-tailed words in osity and ation!” What does that describe? Exactly the Latin part of our language. Now, those very terminations speak for themselves:–All high abstractions end in ation; that is, they are Latin; and, just in proportion as the abstracting power extends and widens, do the circles of thought widen, and the horizon or boundary (contradicting its own Grecian name) melts into the infinite. On this account it was that Coleridge (Biographia Literaria) remarks on Wordsworth’s philosophical poetry, that, in proportion as it goes into the profound of passion and of thought, do the words increase which are vulgarly called “dictionary words.” Now, these words, these “dictionary” words, what are they? Simply words of Latin or Greek origin: no other words, no Saxon words, are ever called by illiterate persons dictionary words. And these dictionary words are indispensable to a writer, not only in the proportion by which he transcends other writers as to extent and as to subtility of thinking, but also as to elevation and sublimity. Milton was not an extensive or discursive thinker, as Shakspeare was; for the motions of his mind were slow, solemn, sequacious, like those of the planets; not agile and assimilative; not attracting all things within its own sphere; not multiform: repulsion was the law of his intellect–he moved in solitary grandeur. Yet, merely from this quality of grandeur, unapproachable grandeur, his intellect demanded a larger infusion of Latinity into his diction.
For the same reason (and, without such aids, he would have had no proper element in which to move his wings) he enriched his diction with Hellenisms and with Hebraisms;
[Footnote: The diction of Milton is a case absolutely unique in literature: of many writers it has been said, but of him only with truth, that he created a peculiar language. The value must be tried by the result, not by inferences from a priori principles; such inferences might lead us to anticipate an unfortunate result; whereas, in fact, the diction of Milton is such that no other could have supported his majestic style of thinking. The final result is a transcendant answer to all adverse criticism; but still it is to be lamented that no man properly qualified has undertaken the examination of the Miltonic diction as a separate problem. Listen to a popular author of this day (Mr. Bulwer). He, speaking on this subject, asserts (England and the English, p. 329), that, “There is scarcely an English idiom which Milton has not violated, or a foreign one which he has not borrowed.” Now, in answer to this extravagant assertion, I will venture to say that the two following are the sole cases of questionable idiom throughout Milton:–1st, “Yet virgin of Proserpine from Jove;” and, in this case, the same thing might be urged in apology which Aristotle urges in another argument, namely, that anonymon to pathos, the case is unprovided with any suitable expression. How would it be possible to convey in good English the circumstances here indicated– namely, that Ceres was yet in those days of maiden innocence, when she had borne no daughter to Jove? Second, I will cite a case which, so far as I remember, has been noticed by no commentator; and, probably, because they have failed to understand it. The case occurs in the “Paradise Regained;” but where I do not at this moment remember. “Will they transact with God?” This is the passage; and a most flagrant instance it offers of pure Latinism. Transigere, in the language of the civil law, means to make a compromise; and the word transact is here used in that sense–a sense utterly unknown to the English language. This is the worst case in Milton; and I do not know that it has been ever noticed. Yet even here it may be doubted whether Milton is not defensible; asking if they proposed to terminate their difference with God after the fashion in use amongst courts of law, he points properly enough to these worldly settlements by the technical term which designated them. Thus, might a divine say: Will he arrest the judgments of God by a demurrer? Thus, again, Hamlet apostrophizes the lawyer’s skull by the technical terms used in actions for assault, etc. Besides, what proper term is there in English for expressing a compromise? Edmund Burke, and other much older authors, express the idea by the word temperament; but that word, though a good one, was at one time considered an exotic term–equally a Gallicism and a Latinism. ]
but never, as could be easy to show, without a full justification in the result. Two things may be asserted of all his exotic idioms–1st, That they express what could not have been expressed by any native idiom; 2d, That they harmonize with the English language, and give a coloring of the antique, but not any sense of strangeness to the diction. Thus, in the double negative, “Nor did they not perceive,” etc., which is classed as a Hebraism–if any man fancy that it expresses no more than the simple affirmative, he shows that he does not understand its force; and, at the same time, it is a form of thought so natural and universal, that I have heard English people, under corresponding circumstances, spontaneously fall into it. In short, whether a man differ from others by greater profundity or by greater sublimity, and whether he write as a poet or as a philosopher, in any case, he feels, in due proportion to the necessities of his intellect, an increasing dependence upon the Latin section of the English language; and the true reason why Lord Brougham failed to perceive this, or found the Saxon equal to his wants, is one which I shall not scruple to assign, inasmuch as it does not reflect personally on Lord Brougham, or, at least, on him exclusively, but on the whole body to which he belongs. That thing which he and they call by the pompous name of statesmanship, but which is, in fact, statescraft— the art of political intrigue–deals (like the opera) with ideas so few in number, and so little adapted to associate themselves with other ideas, that, possibly, in the one case equally as in the other, six hundred words are sufficient to meet all their demands.
I have used my privilege of discursiveness to step aside from Demosthenes to another subject, no otherwise connected with the Attic orator than, first, by the common reference of both subjects to rhetoric; but, secondly, by the accident of having been jointly discussed by Lord Brougham in a paper, which (though now forgotten) obtained, at the moment, most undue celebrity. For it is one of the infirmities of the public mind with us, that whatever is said or done by a public man, any opinion given by a member of Parliament, however much out of his own proper jurisdiction and range of inquiry, commands an attention not conceded even to those who speak under the known privilege of professional knowledge. Thus, Cowper was not discovered to be a poet worthy of any general notice, until Charles Fox, a most slender critic, had vouchsafed to quote a few lines, and that, not so much with a view to the poetry, as to its party application. But now, returning to Demosthenes, I affirm that his case is the case of nearly all the classical writers,–at least, of all the prose writers. It is, I admit, an extreme one; that is, it is the general case in a more intense degree. Raised almost to divine honors, never mentioned but with affected rapture, the classics of Greece and Rome are seldom read, most of them never; are they, indeed, the closet companions of any man? Surely it is time that these follies were at an end; that our practice were made to square a little better with our professions; and that our pleasures were sincerely drawn from those sources in which we pretend that they lie.
The Greek language, mastered in any eminent degree, is the very rarest of all accomplishments, and precisely because it is unspeakably the most difficult. Let not the reader dupe himself by popular cant. To be an accomplished Grecian, demands a very peculiar quality of talent; and it is almost inevitable that one who is such should be vain of a distinction which represents so much labor and difficulty overcome. For myself, having, as a school-boy, attained to a very unusual mastery over this language, and (though as yet little familiar with the elaborate science of Greek metre) moving through all the obstacles and resistances of a Greek book with the same celerity and ease as through those of the French and Latin, I had, in vanquishing the difficulties of the language, lost the main stimulus to its cultivation. Still, I read Greek daily; but any slight vanity which I might connect with a power so rarely attained, and which, under ordinary circumstances, so readily transmutes itself into a disproportionate admiration of the author, in me was absolutely swallowed up in the tremendous hold taken of my entire sensibilities at this time by our own literature. With what fury would I often exclaim: He who loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how shall he love God whom he hath not seen? You, Mr. A, L, M, O, you who care not for Milton, and value not the dark sublimities which rest ultimately (as we all feel) upon dread realities, how can you seriously thrill in sympathy with the spurious and fanciful sublimities of the classical poetry–with the nod of the Olympian Jove, or the seven-league strides of Neptune? Flying Childers had the most prodigious stride of any horse on record; and at Newmarket that is justly held to be a great merit; but it is hardly a qualification for a Pantheon. The parting of Hector and Andromache–that is tender, doubtless; but how many passages of far deeper, far diviner tenderness, are to be found in Chaucer! Yet in these cases we give our antagonist the benefit of an appeal to what is really best and most effective in the ancient literature. For, if we should go to Pindar, and some other great names, what a revelation of hypocrisy as respects the fade enthusiasts for the Greek poetry!
Still, in the Greek tragedy, however otherwise embittered against ancient literature by the dismal affectations current in the scenical poetry, at least I felt the presence of a great and original power. It might be a power inferior, upon the whole, to that which presides in the English tragedy; I believed that it was; but it was equally genuine, and appealed equally to real and deep sensibilities in our nature. Yet, also, I felt that the two powers at work in the two forms of the drama were essentially different; and without having read a line of German at that time, or knowing of any such controversy, I began to meditate on the elementary grounds of difference between the Pagan and the Christian forms of poetry. The dispute has since been carried on extensively in France, not less than in Germany, as between the classical and the romantic. But I will venture to assert that not one step in advance has been made, up to this day. The shape into which I threw the question it may be well to state; because I am persuaded that out of that one idea, properly pursued, might be evolved the whole separate characteristics of the Christian and the antique: Why is it, I asked, that the Christian idea of sin is an idea utterly unknown to the Pagan mind? The Greeks and Romans had a clear conception of a moral ideal, as we have; but this they estimated by a reference to the will; and they called it virtue, and the antithesis they called vice. The lachete or relaxed energy of the will, by which it yielded to the seductions of sensual pleasure, that was vice; and the braced-up tone by which it resisted these seductions was virtue. But the idea of holiness, and the antithetic idea of sin, as a violation of this awful and unimaginable sanctity, was so utterly undeveloped in the Pagan mind, that no word exists in classical Greek or classical Latin which approaches either pole of this synthesis; neither the idea of holiness, nor of its correlate, sin, could be so expressed in Latin as at once to satisfy Cicero and a scientific Christian. Again (but this was some years after), I found Schiller and Goethe applauding the better taste of the ancients, in symbolizing the idea of death by a beautiful youth, with a torch inverted, etc., as compared with the Christian types of a skeleton and hour-glasses, etc. And much surprised I was to hear Mr. Coleridge approving of this German sentiment. Yet, here again I felt the peculiar genius of Christianity was covertly at work moving upon a different road, and under opposite ideas, to a just result, in which the harsh and austere expression yet pointed to a dark reality, whilst the beautiful Greek adumbration was, in fact, a veil and a disguise. The corruptions and the other “dishonors” of the grave, and whatsoever composes the sting of death in the Christian view, is traced up to sin as its ultimate cause. Hence, besides the expression of Christian humility, in thus nakedly exhibiting the wrecks and ruins made by sin, there is also a latent profession indicated of Christian hope. For the Christian contemplates steadfastly, though with trembling awe, the lowest point of his descent; since, for him, that point, the last of his fall, is also the first of his reascent, and serves, besides, as an exponent of its infinity; the infinite depth becoming, in the rebound, a measure of the infinite reascent. Whereas, on the contrary, with the gloomy uncertainties of a Pagan on the question of his final restoration, and also (which must not be overlooked) with his utter perplexity as to the nature of his restoration, if any were by accident in reserve, whether in a condition tending downwards or upwards, it was the natural resource to consult the general feeling of anxiety and distrust, by throwing a thick curtain and a veil of beauty over the whole too painful subject. To place the horrors in high relief, could here have answered no purpose but that of wanton cruelty; whereas, with the Christian hopes, the very saddest memorials of the havocs made by death are antagonist prefigurations of great victories in the rear.
These speculations, at that time, I pursued earnestly; and I then believed myself, as I yet do, to have ascertained the two great and opposite laws under which the Grecian and the English tragedy has each separately developed itself. Whether wrong or right in that belief, sure I am that those in Germany who have treated the case of classical and romantic are not entitled to credit for any discovery at all. The Schlegels, who were the hollowest of men, the windiest and wordiest (at least, Frederic was so), pointed to the distinction; barely indicated it; and that was already some service done, because a presumption arose that the antique and the modern literatures, having clearly some essential differences, might, perhaps, rest on foundations originally distinct, and obey different laws. And hence it occurred that many disputes, as about the unities, etc., might originate in a confusion of these laws. This checks the presumption of the shallow criticism, and points to deeper investigations. Beyond this, neither the German nor the French disputers on the subject have talked to any profitable purpose.
I have mentioned Paley as accidentally connected with my debut in literary conversation; and I have taken occasion to say how much I admired his style and its unstudied graces, how profoundly I despised his philosophy. I shall here say a word or two more on that subject. As respects his style, though secretly despising the opinion avowed by my tutor (which was, however, a natural opinion for a stiff lover of the artificial and the pompous), I would just as unwillingly be supposed to adopt the extravagant opinions, in the other extreme, of Dr. Parr and Mr. Coleridge. These two gentlemen, who privately hated Paley, and, perhaps, traduced him, have hung like bees over one particular paragraph in his Evidences, as though it were a flower transplanted from Hymettus. Dr. Parr pronounced it the finest sentence in the English language. It is a period (that is, a cluster of sentences) moderately well, but not too well constructed, as the German nurses are accustomed to say. Its felicity depends on a trick easily imitated–on a balance happily placed (namely, “in which the wisest of mankind would rejoice to find an answer to their doubts, and rest to their inquiries”). As a bravura, or tour de force, in the dazzling fence of rhetoric, it is surpassed by many hundreds of passages which might be produced from rhetoricians; or, to confine myself to Paley’s contemporaries, it is very far surpassed by a particular passage in Burke’s letter upon the Duke of Bedford’s base attack upon him in the House of Lords; which passage I shall elsewhere produce, because I happen to know, on the authority of Burke’s executors, that Burke himself considered it the finest period which he had ever written. At present, I will only make one remark, namely, that it is always injudicious, in the highest degree, to cite for admiration that which is not a representative specimen of the author’s manner. In reading Lucian, I once stumbled on a passage of German pathos, and of German effect. Would it have been wise, or would it have been intellectually just, to quote this as the text of an eulogium on Lucian? What false criticism it would have suggested to every reader! what false anticipations! To quote a formal and periodic pile of sentences, was to give the feeling that Paley was what the regular rhetorical artists designate as a periodic writer, when, in fact, no one conceivable character of style more pointedly contradicted the true description of his merits.
But, leaving the style of Paley, I must confess that I agree with Mr. Bulwer (England and the English) in thinking it shocking and almost damnatory to an English university, the great well-heads of creeds, moral and evangelical, that authors such in respect of doctrine as Paley and Locke should hold that high and influential station as teachers, or rather oracles of truth, which has been conceded to them. As to Locke, I, when a boy, had made a discovery of one blunder full of laughter and of fun, which, had it been published and explained in Locke’s lifetime, would have tainted his whole philosophy with suspicion. It relates to the Aristotelian doctrine of syllogism, which Locke undertook to ridicule. Now, a flaw, a hideous flaw, in the soi-disant detecter of flaws, a ridicule in the exposer of the ridiculous–that is fatal; and I am surprised that Lee, who wrote a folio against Locke in his lifetime, and other examiners, should have failed in detecting this. I shall expose it elsewhere; and, perhaps, one or two other exposures of the same kind will give an impetus to the descent of this falling philosophy. With respect to Paley, and the naked prudentialism of his system, it is true that in a longish note Paley disclaims that consequence. But to this we may reply, with Cicero, Non quoero quid neget Epicurus, sed quid congruenter neget. Meantime, waiving all this as too notorious, and too frequently denounced, I wish to recur to this trite subject, by way of stating an objection made to the Paleyan morality in my seventeenth year, and which I have never since seen reason to withdraw. It is this:–I affirm that the whole work, from first to last, proceeds upon that sort of error which the logicians call ignoratio elenchi, that is, ignorance of the very question concerned–of the point at issue. For, mark, in the very vestibule of ethics, two questions arise–two different and disconnected questions, A and B; and Paley has answered the wrong one. Thinking that he was answering A, and meaning to answer A, he has, in fact, answered B. One question arises thus: Justice is a virtue; temperance is a virtue; and so forth. Now, what is the common principle which ranks these several species under the same genus? What, in the language of logicians, is the common differential principle which determines these various aspects of moral obligation to a common genius? Another question, and a more interesting question to men in general, is this,–What is the motive to virtue? By what impulse, law, or motive, am I impelled to be virtuous rather than vicious? Whence is the motive derived which should impel me to one line of conduct in preference to the other? This, which is a practical question, and, therefore, more interesting than the other, which is a pure question of speculation, was that which Paley believed himself to be answering. And his answer was,–That utility, a perception of the resulting benefit, was the true determining motive. Meantime, it was objected that often the most obvious results from a virtuous action were far otherwise than beneficial. Upon which, Paley, in the long note referred to above, distinguished thus: That whereas actions have many results, some proximate, some remote, just as a stone thrown into the water produces many concentric circles, be it known that he, Dr. Paley, in what he says of utility, contemplates only the final result, the very outermost circle; inasmuch as he acknowledges a possibility that the first, second, third, including the penultimate circle, may all happen to clash with utility; but then, says he, the outermost circle of all will never fail to coincide with the absolute maximum of utility. Hence, in the first place, it appears that you cannot apply this test of utility in a practical sense; you cannot say, This is useful, ergo, it is virtuous; but, in the inverse order, you must say, This is virtuous, ergo, it is useful. You do not rely on its usefulness to satisfy yourself of its being virtuous; but, on the contrary, you rely on its virtuousness, previously ascertained, in order to satisfy yourself of its usefulness. And thus the whole practical value of this test disappears, though in that view it was first introduced; and a vicious circle arises in the argument; as you must have ascertained the virtuousness of an act, in order to apply the test of its being virtuous. But, secondly, it now comes out that Paley was answering a very diff
erent question from that which he supposed himself answering. Not any practical question as to the motive or impelling force in being virtuous, rather than vicious,–that is, to the sanctions of virtue,–but a purely speculative question, as to the issue of virtue, or the common vinculum amongst the several modes or species of virtue (justice, temperance, etc.)–this was the real question which he was answering. I have often remarked that the largest and most subtle source of error in philosophic speculations has been the confounding of the two great principles so much insisted on by the Leibnitzians, namely, the ratio cognoscendi and the ratio essendi. Paley believed himself to be assigning–it was his full purpose to assign–the ratio cognoscendi; but, instead of that, unconsciously and surreptitiously, he has actually assigned the ratio essendi; and, after all, a false and imaginary ratio essendi.