John Henry Newman.

On the scope & nature of university education online

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one point to another. It is the Ter/oaywi/os of the
Peripatetic, and has the "nil admirari" of the Stoic

Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas,
Atque metus omnes, et inexorabile fa f um
Subjecit pedibus, strepitumque Acherontis avari

There are men who, when in difficulties, originate

at the moment vast ideas or dazzling projects ; who,



under the influence of excitement, are able to cast a
light, almost as if from inspiration, on a subject or
course of action which comes before them ; who have
a sudden presence of mind equal to any emergency,
rising with the occasion, and an undaunted magnani-
mous bearing, and an energy and keenness which is but
made intense by opposition. This is genius, this is
heroism ; it is the exhibition of a natural gift, which
no culture can teach, at which no Institution can aim ;
here, on the contrary, we are concerned, not with mere
nature, but with training and teaching. That perfec-
tion of the Intellect, which is the result of Education,
and its beau ideal \ to be imparted to individuals in their
respective measures, is the clear, calm, accurate vision
and comprehenvsion of all things, as far as the finite mind
can embrace them, each in its place, and with its own
characteristics upon it. It is almost prophetic from
its knowledge of history ; it is almost heart-searching
from its knowledge of human nature ; it has almost
supernatural charity from its freedom from littleness
and prejudice ; it has almost the repose of faith, be-
cause nothing can startle it; it has almost the beauty
and harmony of heavenly contemplation, so intimate is
it with the eternal order of things and the music of the

And now, if I may take for granted that the true
and adequate end of intellectual training and of a Uni-
versity is not Learning or Acquirement, but rather, is
Thought or Reason exercised upon Knowledge, or
what may be called Philosophy, I shall be in a position
to explain the various mistakes which at ihe present
day beset the subject of University Education.

I say then, if we would improve the intellect, first
of all, we must ascend: we cannot gain real knowledge


on a level ; we must generalise, we must reduce to
method, we must have a grasp of principles, and group
and shape our acquisitions by them. It matters not
whether our field of operation be wide or limited ; in
every case, to command it, is to mount above it.
Who has not felt the irritation of mind and impatience
created by a deep, rich country, visited for the first
time, with winding lanes, and high hedges, and green
steeps, and tangled woods, and everything smiling
indeed, but in a maze ? The same feeling comes upon
us in a strange city, when we have no map of its streets.
Hence you hear of practised travellers, when they first
come into a place, mounting some high hill or church
tower, by way of reconnoitring its neighbourhood.
In like manner you must be above your knowledge,
gentlemen, not under it, or it will oppress you ; and
the more you have of it the greater will be the load.
The learning of a Salmasius or a Burman, unless you
are its master, will be your tyrant. " Imperat aut
servit ; " if you can wield it with a strong arm, it is a
great weapon ; otherwise,

Vis consili expers
Mole ruit sua.

/ You will be overwhelmed, like Tarpeia, by the heavy
' wealth which you have exacted from tributary

Instances abound; there are authors who are as
pointless as they are inexhaustible in their literary re-
A sources. They measure knowledge by bulk, as it lies
/ in the rude block, without symmetry, without design.

How many commentators are there on the Classics, how
many on Holy Scripture, from whom we rise up, won-
dering at the learning which has passed before us, and


wondering why it passed ! How many writers are
there of Ecclesiastical History, such as Mosheim or
Du Pin, who, breaking up their subject into details,
destroy its life, and defraud us of the whole by their
anxiety about the parts ! The sermons, again, of the
English Divines in the seventeenth century, how often
are they mere repertories of miscellaneous and officious
learning ! Of course Catholics also may read v/ithout
thinking ; and in their case, equally as with Protes-
tants, it holds good, that that knowledge of theirs is
unworthy of the name, knowledge which they have not"
thought through, and thought out. Such readers are
only possessed by their knowledge, not possessed of it ;
nay, in matter of fact they are often even carried away
by it, without any volition of their own. Recollect,
the Memory can tyrannise as well as the Imagination.
Derangement, I believe, has been considered as a loss
of control over the sequence of ideas. The mind, once\
set in motion, is henceforth deprived of the power of
initiation, and becomes the victim of a train of associa- \
tions, one thought suggesting another, in the way of cause \
and effect, as if by a mechanical process, or some physical
necessity. No one, who has had experience of men of
studious habits, but must recognise the existence of a
parallel phenomenon in the case of those who have
over- stimulated the Memory. In such persons Reason
acts almost as feebly and as impotently as in the mad-
man ; once fairly started on any subject whatever, they
have no power of self-control ; they passively endure
the succession of impulses which are evolved out of the
original exciting cause ; they are passed on from one
idea to another and go steadily forward, plodding along
one line of thought in spite of the amplest concessions
of the hearer, or wandering from it in endless digres-



sion in spite of his remonstrances. Now, if, as is very
certain, no one would envy the madman the glow and
originality of his conceptions, why must we extol the
cultivation of that intellect, which is the prey, not in-
deed of barren fancies but of barren facts, of random
intrusions from without, though not of morbid imagina-
tions from within ? And in thus speaking, I am not
denying that a strong and ready memory is in itself a
real treasure ; I am not disparaging a well -stored mind,
though it be nothing besides, provided it be sober, any
more than I would despise a bookseller's shop : it is
of great value to others, even when not so to the owner.
Nor am I banishing, far from it, the possessors of deep
and multifarious learning from my ideal University ;
they adore it in the eyes of men ; I do but say that
they constitute no type of the results at which it aims ;
that it is no great gain to the intellect to have enlarged
the memory at the expense of faculties which are in-
disputably higher.

Nor indeed am I supposing that there is any great
danger, at least in this day, of over-education ; the
danger is on the other side. I will tell you, gentlemen,
what has been the practical error of the last twenty
years not to load the memory of the student with a
mass of undigested knowledge, but to attempt so much
that nothing has been really effected, to teach so many
things, that nothing has properly been learned at all~
It has been the error of distracting and enfeebling the \
mind by an unmeaning profusion of subjects ; of im- I
plying that a smattering in a dozen branches of study /
was not shallowness, which it really is, but enlargement;/
of considering an acquaintance with the learned names
of things and persons, and the possession of clever
duodecimos, and attendance on eloquent lecturers, and


membership with scientific institutions, and the sight of
the experiments of a platform and the specimens of a
museum, that all this was not dissipation of mind, but
progress. All things now are to be learned at once,
not first one thing, then another, not one well but many
badly. Learning is to be without exertion, without
attention, without toil ; without grounding, without ad-
vance, without finishing. There is to be nothing
Individual in it ; and this, forsooth, is the wonder of
the age. What the steam-engine does with matter, the
printing-press is to do with mind ; it is to act mechani-
cally, and the population is to be passively, almost
\ unconsciously enlightened, by the mere multiplication
and dissemination of volumes. Whether it be the
schoolboy, or the schoolgirl, or the youth at college,
or the mechanic in the town, or the politician in the
senate, all have been the victims in one way or other
of this most preposterous and pernicious of delusions.
Wise men have lifted up their voices in vain ; and at
length, lest their own institutions should be outshone
and should disappear in the folly of the hour, they have
been obliged, as far as was conscientiously possible, to
humour a spirit which they could not withstand, and
make temporising concessions at which they could not
but inwardly smile.

Now I must guard, gentlemen, against any pos-
sible misconception of my meaning. Let me frankly
declare then, that I have no fear at all of the education
of the people : the more education they have the
better, so that it is really education. Next, as to the
cheap publication of scientific and literary works,
which is now in vogue, I consider it a great ad-
vantage, v convenience, and gain ; that is, to those to
whom education has given a capacity for using them.


Further, I consider such innocent recreations as
science and literature are able to furnish will be a
very fit occupation of the thoughts and the leisure
of young persons, and may be made the means of
keeping them from bad employments and bad com-
panions; /Moreover, as to that superficial acquaintance
with chemistry, and geology, and astronomy, and
political economy, and modern history, and biography,
and other branches of knowledge, which periodical
literature and occasional lectures and scientific institu-
tions diffuse through the community, I think it a
graceful accomplishment, and a suitable, nay, in this
day a necessary accomplishment, in the case of edu-
cated men. Ncr, lastly, am I disparaging or discourag-
ing the thorough acquisition of any one of these
studies, or denying that, as far as it goes, such
thorough acquisition is a real education of the mindJ
All I say is, call things by their right names, and do
not confuse together ideas which are essentially dif-
ferent. A thorough knowledge of one science and
a superficial acquaintance with many, are not the same
thing ; a smattering of a hundred things or a memory
for detail, is not a philosophical or comprehensive
view. Recreations are not education ; accomplish-
ments are not education. Do not say, the people
must be educated, when, after all, you only mean
amused, refreshed, soothed, put into good spirits and
good humour, or kept from vicious excesses. I do not
say that such amusements, such occupations of mind,
are not a great gain ; but they are not education.
You may as well call drawing and fencing education,
as a general knowledge of botany or conchology.
Stuffing birds or playing stringed instruments is an
elegant pastime, and a resource to the idle, but it is


not education ; it does not form or cultivate the
intellect. Education is a high word; it is the pre-
paration for knowledge, and it is the imparting of
knowledge in proportion to that preparation. We
require intellectual eyes to know withal, as bodily
eyes for sight. We need both objects and organs
intellectual ; we cannot gain them without setting
about it ; we cannot gain them in our sleep or by
haphazard. The best telescope does not dispense
with eyes ; the printing-press or the lecture room will
assist us greatly, but we must be true to ourselves,
we must be parties in the work. A University is,
according to the usual designation, an Alma Mater,
knowing her children one by one, not a foundry, or
a mint, or a treadmill.

I protest to you, gentlemen, that if I had to choose
between a so-called University which dispensed with
residence and tutorial superintendence, and gave its
degrees to any person who passed an examination in
a wide range of subjects, and a University which had
no professors or examinations at all, but merely brought
a number of young men together for three or four
years, and then sent them away as the University of
Oxford is said to have done some sixty years since,
if I were asked which of these two methods was the
better discipline of the intellect mind, I do not say
which is morally the better, for it is plain that com-
pulsory study must be a good and idleness an intoler-
able mischief but if I must determine which of the
two courses was the more successful in training,
moulding, enlarging the mind, which sent out men
the more fitted for their secular duties, which produced
better public men, men of the world, men whose names
would descend to posterity, I have no hesitation in


giving the preference to that University which did
nothing, over that which exacted of its members an
acquaintance with every science under the sun. And,
paradox as this may seem, still if results be the test
of systems, the influence of the public schools and
colleges of England, in the course of the last century,
at least will bear out one side of the contrast as I have
drawn it. What would come, on the other hand, of
the ideal systems of education which have fascinated
the imagination of this age, could they ever take effect,
and whether they would not produce a generation
frivolous, narrow-minded, and resourceless, intellec-
tually considered, is a fair subject for debate ; but so
far is certain, that the Universities and scholastic
establishments to which I refer, and which did little
more than bring together first boys and then youths
in large numbers, these institutions, with miserable
deformities on the side of morals, with a hollow pro-
fession of Christianity, and a heathen code of ethics
I say, at least they can boast of a succession of
heroes and statesmen, of literary men and philosophers,
of men conspicuous for great natural virtues, for habits
of business, for knowledge of life, for practical judg-
ment, for cultivated tastes, for accomplishments, who
have made England what it is able to subdue the
earth, able to domineer over Catholics.

How is this to be explained ? I suppose as follows:
When a multitude of young persons, keen, open-hearted,
sympathetic, and observant, as young persons are, come
together and freely mix with each other, they are sure
to learn one from another, even if there be no one to
teach them; the conversation of all is a series of lectures
to each, and they gain for themselves new ideas and
views, fresh matter of thought, and distinct principles



for judging and acting, day by day. An infant has to
learn the meaning of the information which its senses
convey to it, and this seems to be its employment. It
fancies all that the eye presents to it to be close to it,
till it actually learns the contrary, and thus by practice
does it ascertain the relations and uses of those first
elements of knowledge which are necessary for its
animal existence. A parallel teaching is necessary for
our social being, and it is secured by a large school or
a college ; and this effect may be fairly called in its
own department an enlargement of mind. It is seeing
the world on a small field with little trouble ; for the
pupils or students come from very different places, and
with widely different notions, and there is much to
generalise, much to adjust, much to eliminate, there
are inter-relations to be defined, and conventional rules
to be established, in the process, by which the whole
assemblage is moulded together, and gains one tone
and one character. Let it be clearly understood, I
repeat it, that I am not taking into account moral OF
religious considerations ; I am but saying that that
youthful community will constitute a whole, it will
embody a specific idea, it will represent a doctrine, it
will administer a code of conduct, and it will furnish
principles of thought and action. It will give birth to
a living teaching, which in course of time will take the
shape of a self-perpetuating tradition, or a genius loci,
as it is sometimes called ; which haunts the home
where it has been born, and which imbues and forms,
more or less, and one by one, every individual who is
successively brought under its shadow. Thus it is
that, independent of direct instruction on the part of
Superiors, there is a sort of self- education in the
academic institutions of Protestant England ; a charac-


teristic tone of thought, a recognised standard of
judgment is found in them, which, as developed in
the individual who is submitted to it, becomes a two-
fold source of strength to him, both from the distinct
stamp it impresses on his mind, and from the bond of
union which it creates between him and others
effects which are shared by the authorities of the
place, for they themselves have been educated in it,
and at all times are exposed to the influence of its
moral atmosphere. Here then is a real teaching,
whatever be its standards and principles, true or false ;
and it at least tends towards cultivation of the intellect ;
it at least recognises that knowledge is something more
than a sort of passive reception of scraps and details ;
it is a something, and it does a something, which never
will issue from the most strenuous efforts of a set of
teachers, with no mutual sympathies and no inter-
communion, of a set of examiners with no opinions
which they dare profess, and with no common prin-
ciples, who are teaching or questioning a set of youths
who do not know them, and do not know each other,
on a large number of subjects, different in kind, and
connected by no wide philosophy, three times a week,
or three times a year, or once in three years, in chill
lecture-rooms or on a pompous anniversary.

Nay, self-education in any shape, in the most re-

i stricted sense, is preferable to a system of teaching
which, professing so much, really does so little for the

I mind. Shut your College gates against the votary of
knowledge, throw him back upon the searchings and
the efforts of his own mind; he will gain by being
spared an entrance into your Babel. Few indeed
there are who can dispense with the stimulus and
support of instructors, or will do anything at all, if


left to themselves. And fewer still (though such
great minds are to be found) who will not, from such
unassisted attempts, contract a self-reliance and a self-
esteem, which are not only moral evils, but serious
hindrances to the attainment of truth. And next to
none, perhaps, or none, who will not be reminded from
time to time of the disadvantage under which they lie,
by their imperfect grounding, by the breaks, defi-
ciencies, and irregularities of their knowledge, by the
eccentricity of opinion and the confusion of principle
which they exhibit. They will be too often ignorant
of what every one knows and takes for granted, of
that multitude of small truths which fall upon the
mind like dust, impalpable and ever accumulating ;
they may be unable to converse, they may argue
perversely, they may pride themselves on their worst
paradoxes or their grossest truisms, they may be full of
their own mode of viewing things, unwilling to be put
out of their way, slow to enter into the minds of others ;
but, with these and whatever other liabilities upon
their heads, Ithey are likely to have more thought, more
mind, more philosophy, more true enlargement, than
those earnest but ill-used persons who are forced to,
load their minds with a score of subjects against an
examination, who have too much on their hands to
indulge themselves in thinking or investigation, who
devour premiss and conclusion together with indiscri-
minate greediness, who hold whole sciences on faith,
and commit demonstrations to memory, and who too
often, as might be expected, when their period of
education is passed, throw up all they have learned in
disgust, having gained nothing really by their anxious
labours, except perhaps the habit of application.

Yet such is the better specimen of the fruit of that


ambitious system which has of late years been making
way among us : for its result on ordinary minds, and
on the common run of students, is less satisfactory still ;
they leave their place of education simply dissipated
and relaxed by the multiplicity of subjects, which they
have never really mastered, and so shallow as not even
to know their shallowness. How much better, I say,
is it for the active and thoughtful intellect, where such
is to be found, to eschew the College and the Uni-
versity altogether, than to submit to a drudgery so
ignoble, a mockery so contumelious ! How much
more profitable for the independent mind, after the
mere rudiments of education, to range through a library
at random, taking down books as they meet him, and
pursuing the trains of thought which his mother wit
suggests ! How much healthier to wander into the
fields, and there with the exiled Prince to find
" tongues in the trees, books in the running brooks ! "
How much more genuine an education is that of the
poor boy in the Poem l a Poem, whether in concep-
tion or in execution, one of the most touching in our
language who,, not in the wide world, but ranging
day by day around his widowed mother's home, '* a
dexterous gleaner " in a narrow field, and with only-
such slender outfit

" as the village school and books a few

1 Crabbe's Tales of the Hall. This Poem, let me say, I
read on its first publication, above thirty years ago, with
extreme delight, and have never lost my love of it ; and on
taking it up lately found I was even more touched by
it than heretofore. A work which can please in youth
and age seems to fulfil (in logical language) the accidental
definition of a Classic.



contrived from the beach, and the quay, and the fisher's
boat, and the inn's fireside, and the tradesman's shop,
and the shepherd's walk, and the smuggler's hut, and
the mossy moor, and the screaming gulls, and the rest-
less waves, to fashion for himself a philosophy and a
poetry of his own !

But in a large subject I am exceeding my necessary
limits. Gentlemen, I must conclude abruptly ; and
postpone any summing up of my argument, should
that be necessary, to another day.




HAVE been insisting, in my two preceding
Discourses, first, on the cultivation of the in-
tellect, as^n^jeod which may reasonably be
be pursued for Jte^fiSOLflakfi ; and next, on the nature
of that cultivation, or what that cultivation consists in.
Truth of whatever kind is the proper object of the
intellect ; its cultivation then lies in fitting it to appre-
hend and contemplate truth. Now the intellect in its
present state, with exceptions which need not here
be specified, does not discern truth intuitively, or as a
whole. We know, not by a direct and simple vision,
not at a glance, but, as it were, by piecemeal and
accumulation, by a mental process, by going round an
object, by the comparison, the combination, the mutual
correction, the continual adaptation, of many partial
notions, by the joint application and concentration upon
it of many faculties and exercises of mind. Such a
union and concert of the intellectual powers, such
an enlargement and development, such a comprehen-
siveness, is necessarily a matter of training. And
again, such a training is a matter of rule ; it is not
mere application, however exemplary, which intro-
duces the mind to truth, nor the reading many books,
nor the getting up many subjects, nor the witnessing


many experiments, nor the attending many lectures.
All this is short of enough ; a man may have done
it all, yet be lingering in the vestibule of knowledge :
he may not realise what his mouth utters ; he may
not see with his mental eye what confronts him ; he
may have no grasp of things as they are ; or at least
he may have no power at all of advancing one step
forward of himself, in consequence of what he has
already acquired, no power of discriminating between
truth and falsehood, of sifting out the grains of truth
from the mass, of arranging things according to their
real value, and, if I may use the phrase, of building

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Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanOn the scope & nature of university education → online text (page 13 of 22)