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The life and letters of the Reverend Adam Sedgwick (Volume 1) online

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efforts must next be directed against the Universities from
which the Church draws " its mischievous strength." As
even he, with all his presumption, could not affect a know-
ledge of Oxford, he confined his operations to Cambridge,
and in November, 1833, brought out A Letter to his Royal
Highness the Duke of Gloucester, Chancellor, on the present
corrupt state of the University of Cambridge.

With affected candour, Beverley begs to be allowed to
instruct the ." illustrious Prince " whom he is addressing on
certain important matters. "It is not to be supposed," he
says, "that you can be acquainted with the arcana of that
mother and nurse of arts and wickedness." He then passes
in review the morals, the religion, and the learning, of the
University. All the scandalous stories which he had heard
while in residence, or with which his correspondents 1 had
supplied him, are gathered together. His ignorance is only
equalled by his falsehood and his malignity. Silly tales,
such as no one but a freshman would credit for an instant,
are gravely set down as undisputed facts. Exceptional

1 The way in which his evidence was collected is shewn by the following notice
" To Correspondents," at the end of his Reply to Professor SedgwicKs Letter :
" I take the opportunity of thanking my correspondents whose letters are not
yet answered. Two letters received the first week in December may be of

" One correspondent, however, should remember that it is impossible to rely on
any anonymous information. As the Revelations of Verax might, if properly
authenticated, be useful, it is the more to be lamented that he withholds his name
and address. He may with confidence venture his name, which will never be

"The testimony from Emmanuel College is not forgotten. All communications
must be directed to the care of the Publisher, and the postage must be paid; for want
of attending to this established rule, some letters and notes have been refused
admission." Well might Sedgwick term him "the hucksterer of scandal, the
advertising broker of impurity." Four Letters, p. 37.


instances of folly and depravity are assumed to be the rule. 1833.
Rioting, drunkenness, gambling, immorality, extravagance, &* 4 8 -
are stated to be universal ; the Fellows are as bad as the
undergraduates ; religion is a farce ; even learning is a thing
of the past. Lastly for Beverley's real object in writing his
Letter is artfully concealed until near the end the Dissenters
are excluded from a place " which should not be styled a Uni-
versity, but a Particularity," by an iniquitous system of tests.
But, before it can be made fit for the education of their sons,
Reform must have reached the root of the whole mischief.
The only practicable course is " to confiscate all the Univer-
sity property, to declare it lapsed to the Crown, and to
remodel it de novo"

This farrago of blunders and misrepresentations had an
immense circulation. Three editions appeared before the end
of 1833, and the author's friends among the dissenters, who
had read his previous works with satisfaction, probably
accepted his accusations against the University as true.
Those who knew better were not slow in replying. Ten
pamphlets, most of them written by indignant undergra-
duates, appeared as rapidly as the editions of the libel.
Some of these take the letter to pieces, paragraph by para-
graph, and point out that the picture there drawn of Cam-
bridge is a gross caricature ; others hold the author up to
ridicule in satiric verse. One of the former says, with much
truth :

"You have wilfully and deliberately belied the Undergraduates
of Cambridge. You have taken particular exceptions and built
generalities upon them. You have gloated over the recollections of
your own College intemperance till the foul corruption has quickened
into life, and your imagination, drawing its stores from the scenes
of debauchery in which you once revelled, has presented as the
general portrait of Cambridge what forms the rare and disgraceful
exception 1 ."

1 A Letter to R. M. Beverley, Esq. , from an Undergraduate of the University
of Cambridge. 8vo. Cambridge and London 1833, p. 6. The writer is known to
have been William Forsyth, B. A. 1834, afterwards Fellow of Trinity College.


1834. Another, parodying Canning's Knife- Grinder, thus apos-

JEt. 49. trophises Beverley :

Silly Lie-grinder, what have you been doing?
Great is the scrape your pen has got you into,
Deep are our threats : your head has got a crack in't,
So have your brains, Sir.

Tell me, Lie-grinder, how came you to write such
Lies against Cambridge ? Was it out of spite, or
Was it in hopes of sharing in the Uni-
versity plunder ? l

These well-intentioned answers no doubt afforded pleasant
reading to members of the University; but it might be doubted
whether any of them would reach the north of England,
or Beverley's native town, where he had now become, as it is
said, a popular dissenting minister. Sedgwick therefore wisely
determined to carry the war into the enemy's camp, and find-
ing that The Leeds Mercury had quoted some passages from
the Letter to the Diike of Gloucester with approbation, address-
ed a first letter to the editors 7 January, 1834, in which he
pointed out, with indignant severity, that Beverley knew "no
more of the University of Cambridge than might be learnt of
the glorious history of this country from the records of its
jail-deliveries or the calendar of Newgate." At the same time,
while he disposed satisfactorily of Beverley's general charges,
by quoting his own long experience, and the special know-
ledge gained when he was proctor, he damaged his case not a
little by asserting roundly that Cambridge had been free from
the vice of gambling for the past six years. This statement
drew the following remarks from Mr Conybeare :

" I cannot think that you have handled Beverley one whit too
roughly; his uniform scurrility admitted no other kind of answer,
and might have deceived that large portion of the public unac-
quainted with our Universities had not the fellow been gibbetted in
his true colours. And with regard to him you have certainly proved

1 An Anglo-Sapphic Ode, dedicated (with French leave), to Robert Mackintosh
(sic) Beverley, Esq., entitled The Friend of Veracity versus the Lie Grinder.
Not by a Can-ning, but a Can-tab. 8vo. Cambridge, 1833.


yourself a most correct herald, and blazoned him party per pale cox- ^34.
comb and knave, both proper. ^ t 49

" I have heard only one serious objection to what you have said,
namely as to your hypothesis of the non-gambling of the last six
years, and this you have qualified in your second letter. But I was
very sorry to find before that all the younger Cambridge men thought
you certainly at fault on this scent 1 ."

Sedgwick's first letter was of the nature of a preface ; what
was to come next is indicated in the following passage :

" I deny not the existence of immorality in the University, but I
do deny the charges of Mr Beverley; and I assert that they are
preposterously exaggerated, or impudently untrue. Before long I
will appeal to specific facts ; and out of what he has written I will
again and again convict him of shameful and deliberate falsehood.
Out of his own mouth I will utterly damage and destroy his
testimony, and turn him out of the courts of honour and common
sense, as a witness not to be believed. If I fail in doing this, I
deserve to be pointed at, and to become a byword among my equals,
and to be held up to scorn by honest men."

This programme was strictly adhered to. In three
further letters which appeared in The Leeds Mercury during
the first half of i834 2 , the wretched Beverley has full and
signal justice dealt out to him. He is hunted from one posi-
tion after another, and shewn, by the citation of irrefragable
testimony, to have been guilty of direct falsehoods, falsehoods
of implication, and falsehoods of ignorance. So severe is the
castigation, that, had he been less criminal, one would almost
pity him. But, if the Letter to the Duke of Gloucester be read
in conjunction with Sedgwick's masterly reply, it will be
acknowledged that his scornful mockery of his antagonist's
pretended religion, his exposure of his ignorance, and his
indignant denunciation of his profligacy while at Cambridge,
are more than justified 3 . When the work was done, Sedg-
wick described his feelings while doing it to Bishop Monk :

1 From Rev. W. D. Conybeare, 10 May, 1834. It should, however, be stated
that Mr Forsyth, in his Letter quoted above (p. 413), maintains that "the extent
of gambling that goes on here is incredibly small."

2 The second letter appeared in The Leeds Mercury for 8 February 1 834 ; the
third is dated 15 May ; the fourth, i June.

3 Beverley attempted to answer his redoubtable antagonist in the columns of
The Leeds Mercttry, but without success.


1834. " Our opponent I believe I have effectually silenced ; and

* 49- many years, must, I think, elapse before any party will dare
to bring forward Beverley as an implement of mischief. I had
a most revolting task to perform, such as no man can go through
without dirtying his own fingers. If you saw my letters, I
hope you remembered that I was not writing for gentlemen
or scholars, but for the instruction of a multitude of bitter
blackguards in the shape of Yorkshire dissenters 1 ."

The following letter is specially interesting as shewing
that all dissenters were not prepared to agree with their self-
constituted champion.

From Mr T. M. Ball.


10 February, 1834.

I am a dissenter. In common with thousands of all
creeds I read Beverley's Letter to the Duke of Gloucester. Of
Cambridge and its noble University I know but little, but by
common report. The picture drawn of its condition by the writer of
that Letter was indeed horrible, but I for one could not and would
[not] believe all he had written; it bore evidently the stamp of
malice, and hatred, and every unchristian feeling. You may suppose
then that it was with much pleasure I read, and I did every word of
your excellent, eloquent, and convincing reply copied into The
Times from a Leeds paper. I have also this morning read another
in the same Journal, and I write now for the purpose of expressing
my hopes that your promised Letters will appear, not in a country
paper, but as pamphlets, for I should, for one, wish to possess them,
and you may be sure that I am not the only person who feels this
desire. Although a dissenter I am no enemy of the Church, no
dishonest longer to grasp what is her's by right and law. Trusting
you will excuse this intrusion, which only a love of truth, and strong
admiration of your admirable replies prompts me to venture thus
addressing you, and claiming your attention, and ardently hoping
it is your intention to do as I have expressed my hope,

I am, with great respect,

Your obedient servant,


Early in January, 1834, while staying at Milton Park,
Sedgwick met with a severe accident, by which his right arm

1 To Bishop Monk, i November, 1834.


was disabled for several months. " The day after I arrived at 1834.
Milton," he says, " I started with a party of ten for Croyland &* 49-
Abbey, and in passing carelessly under one of the branching
trees, whether by the swerving of my horse, or by incautiously
raising my head too soon, it was caught among the extreme
branches, and I was pulled off my horse 1 ." The extent of the
injury was unsuspected at the time, and the patient was
treated for a severe sprain. On his return to Cambridge he
sent for the celebrated surgeon Mr Okes, "who saw the whole
extent of the mischief in an instant, and pointed out the
existence of a great transverse fault, throwing down the
metacarpal bones in such a way as to bring one of them to
the end of the radius, and thrust the thumb below the palm
of the hand." The bones were soon put into their right
places, while Sedgwick "howled loud enough to shake all
the windows in the Great Court;" but his recovery was slow,
and for several months any work that entailed legible writing
had to be done by one of his friends. Even the letters
against Beverley were dictated to either Romilly or Kemble 2 .
His efforts at lefthanded penmanship did not go beyond a
letter to a relative or an intimate friend, nor could it be said
of him, as of a celebrated Puritan divine,

"though of thy right hand bereft,
Right well thou writest with the hand that's left."

Such a condition was ill-suited to a man of his bodily and
mental activity, and he likened himself, no doubt most truth-
fully, to " a chained bull-dog."

Before long, in despite of his maimed condition, and the
advice of doctors to avoid excitement, he became the central
figure in an agitation which threw the University into confu-
sion for more than six months, having for its object the
abolition of tests on proceeding to degrees. For the moment
he and his friends were unsuccessful, and thirty-seven years

1 This and the following extracts describing the accident, are from a letter to
R. I. Murchison, 8 February, 1834.

2 John Mitchell Kemble, of Trinity College, B.A. 1830.

s. i. 27


1834. elapsed before tests were completely swept away. In the
JEt. 49. interval, whenever an occasion presented itself, Sedgwick
shewed unflagging interest in the cause, and one of the last
occasions on which he spoke in public was a meeting at
St John's College Lodge, to assist the movement which
resulted in the Test Act of 1871.

The movement of 1834, in which Sedgwick bore so promi-
nent a part, began with a petition, drawn up under the
following circumstances. In December, 1833, Professor Pryme
had offered Graces to the Senate suggesting the appointment
of a Syndicate to consider the abolition or modification of
subscription on proceeding to a degree. These were rejected
by the Caput. In February, 1834, Dr Cornwallis Hewett,
Downing Professor of Medicine, offered a similar Grace, with
special reference to the faculty of medicine. This also was
rejected by the Caput, on the veto of the Vice Chancellor, Dr
King, President of Queens' College. Finally, 12 March, 1834,
the Senate petitioned to be heard by counsel in respect of the
charter of the London University 1 . Thereupon several
members of the Senate met at Professor Hewett's rooms,
Sedgwick was called to the chair, and it was resolved to draw
up a petition to both Houses of Parliament not as coming
from the body at large, but as expressing the opinion of cer-
tain individuals, who, from the tactics of their opponents, had
no other mode of recording their opinions 2 . After expressing
their attachment to the Church, and the University, and their
conviction that "no system of civil or ecclesiastical polity was
ever so devised by the wisdom of man as not to require, from
time to time, some modification, from the change of external

1 It is difficult to understand why this demand should have given so much
offence, but Sedgwick himself enumerates it among the reasons for the action of
the petitioners in his letter to The Times, dated 8 April, 1834. The University had
merely prayed to be heard by Counsel in support of the insertion of a clause in
the Charter, " declaring that nothing in the terms of the Charter should be
construed as giving a right to confer any Academical distinctions designated by
the same titles, or accompanied with the same privileges, as the degrees now
conferred by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge."

2 Sedgwick's Letter to The Times, ut supra.


circumstances, or the progress of opinion," the petitioners make 1834.
the following statement : &* 49

" In conformity with these sentiments, they would further suggest
to your honourable house that no corporate body like the University
of Cambridge can exist in a free country in honour or in safety unless
its benefits be communicated to all classes as widely as is compatible
with the Christian principles of its foundation.

Among the changes which they think might be at once adopted
with advantage and safety, they would suggest the expediency of
abrogating by legislative enactment every religious test exacted from
members of the University before they proceed to degrees, whether
of bachelor, master, or doctor, in Arts, Law, and Physic. In praying
for the abolition of these restrictions, they rejoice in being able to
assure your honourable house that they are only asking for a restitu-
tion of their ancient academic laws and laudable customs. These
restrictions were imposed on the University in the reign of King
James I, most of them in a manner informal and unprecedented,
and grievously against the wishes of many of the then members of
the Senate, during times of bitter party animosities, and during the
prevalence of dogmas, both in Church and State, which are at vari-
ance with the present spirit of English Law, and with the true
principles of Christian toleration."

As it was thought desirable to get the petition presented
before the Easter recess, time was precious. Accordingly, it
was not circulated publicly, but lay for signature at the rooms
of Mr Thomas Musgrave 1 in Trinity College, from Friday
14 March, to Monday 17 March, while those interested in its
success solicited support by private canvass. It received the
signatures of sixty-two resident members of the Senate.
Among them were two Masters of Colleges, Dr Davy of
Gonville and Caius, and Dr Lamb of Corpus Christi ; nine
Professors, Hewett, Lee, Cumming, Clark, Babbage, Sedgwick,
Airy, Musgrave, Henslow ; several Tutors of Colleges, and
distinguished Masters of Arts. Some of these were either
conservatives, or very moderate liberals. It was presented to
the House of Lords (21 March) by Earl Grey, at Sedgwick's
personal instance; and to the House of Commons (24 March)

1 Fellow of Trinity College, B.A. 1810. He was Lord Almoner's Reader in
Arabic from 1821 1837, when he was made Dean of Bristol. He became Bishop
of Hereford a few months afterwards, and Archbishop of York in 1847.



1834. by Mr Spring Rice, member for the town of Cambridge. By
Et- 49- both houses it was received with respect, and became the
subject of animated debate.

As might have been expected, it was succeeded, after about
ten days, by a Declaration, signed by 101 residents. "We do
not admit," said this laconic document, "that 'the abolition
of the existing 'restrictions' would be, as alleged, c a restitu-
tion' of the 'ancient laws and laudable customs' of the Univer-
sity: neither do we acknowledge that any of 'these restrictions
were imposed in a manner informal and unprecedented'."
As these words directly controverted the statements of the
petition, Sedgwick, as " chairman of a party of the resident
members of the Senate who agreed to the words of the
petition lately presented in parliament," addressed a long
letter to The Times (8 April) in vindication of himself and his
friends, which may be taken as an official statement of their
position. It deals chiefly with the historical question, and it
is only towards the end. that he gives a short account of the
motives by which the petitioners had been actuated, and the
circumstances under which the document had been drawn

By this time the excitement in the University had become
very great. As the number of resident members of the Senate
did not exceed one hundred and eighty, sixty-two of whom
had signed the Petition, and one hundred and one the Declara-
tion, nearly every resident was directly interested in the
question. The promoters of the Declaration, elated at their
success, gave notice of a Grace at the next congregation
(16 April), to affix the University seal to a petition to
both Houses of Parliament praying for the maintenance
of existing tests. Non-residents came up in considerable
numbers, but only to find that Dr Hewett had availed
himself of his right of veto as a member of the Caput, and
thrown out the Grace. This manoeuvre, however, could
scarcely be called successful, for the petition was imme-
diately deposited in the hall of Queens' College, and before


long received two hundred and eighty signatures. On the 1834.
following day it was taken to London by the Vice &* 49-
Chancellor, and within a week presented to the House of
Lords by the Chancellor, and to the House of Commons by
Mr Goulburn.

Professor Hewett's action was eloquently defended by
Sedgwick in a letter to The Cambridge Chronicle (16 April),
the publication of which, taken in conjunction with his previous
letter to The Times, and his Seventeen Reasons for adopting
the prayer of the Petition signed by sixty -two Resident Members
of the Senate, involved him in further controversy, notably
with a correspondent of The Cambridge Chronicle who signed
himself A Member of tJie Senate, a designation which concealed
his old antagonist, Dr French. From these ephemeral publi-
cations we will pass on to a letter written to Bishop Blomfield,
as containing a dispassionate statement of the whole question
from the point of view of himself and the petitioners 1 .

TRINITY COLLEGE, April 27, 1834.
My Lord,

I have this moment, under your Lordship's frank,
received a copy of your speech delivered in the House of
Peers on April 2ist 2 , and sit down at my breakfast table to
reply to one or two paragraphs in which you seem to misap-
prehend the wishes of the sixty-two petitioners who first
moved the question. In my present condition I am com-
pelled to write with my left hand, and have consequently a
mechanical difficulty in expressing myself. I must be as
plain and short as I can...

Your Lordship's speech seems constructed on the supposi-
tion that Dissenters, under the contemplated Act, would have

1 This letter is printed from a copy taken by the Rev. J. Romilly, and
preserved by him in the Registry of the University. A few paragraphs, not
specially important, have been omitted.

2 Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, Ser. 3. xxii. 994. The occasion was the
presentation of the petition signed 16 April against any removal of tests.


i8 34 . the right of admission. What Mr Wood's 1 intentions were I
Et - 49- know not I wish heartily the getting up of the Bill had not
been with a Dissenter but our intentions were to give no
such right, and I have in two letters written some time since,
pressed this very strongly on Lord Grey.... We wish no man
to be forced on the University ; and if Mr Wood adopts the
suggestions sent up last night and agreed to at my rooms,
the Bill will not touch the rights of the admitting officers in
the several colleges. A man is not to come up as a Dissenter;
he is not to be considered as such by any official college act ;
he must conform to discipline, and we give him a degree
without exacting subscription. A moderate, well-informed
Dissenter will come up under such a system (this is not
conjecture but fact) and he will take a degree. A bigot a
man who would haggle about organs and surplices will and
must keep away, and we do not want him. A right to a
degree without signing a test does not do away with the
necessity of discipline, or of conforming to college rules ; nor
does it give (as far as our wishes are concerned) any right of
admission which is not sanctioned by the voluntary acts of
the admitting officers. If Dissenters were to come up as such,
and allowed to force themselves on the several colleges, I
should then agree with every syllable in the speech I have
before me. But we look to no such result ; and if it come at
all it will come as a future consequence of the exclusive policy
which is now maintained. The Universities cannot maintain
their old position and continue Universities. This your
Lordship seems in part to admit, as you contemplate the
lopping off of the Medical Faculty. I may be mistaken, but
I cannot bear the thoughts of this, and I think the policy that
suggests the possibility of it perfectly suicidal.

1 Mr G. W. Wood obtained leave (17 April) to bring in a Bill to grant to His
Majesty's subjects generally the rights of admission to the English Universities,
and of equal eligibility to degrees therein, notwithstanding their diversities in
religious opinion degrees in Divinity alone excepted. It passed the House of

Online LibraryJohn Willis ClarkThe life and letters of the Reverend Adam Sedgwick (Volume 1) → online text (page 37 of 48)