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MY DEAR FRERE,
The pamphlet you have sent me on the pending questions of University Reform suggests some very cogent arguments on the side of the Commissioners, and reads in curious contrast with the rather meagre debate on the same subjects, as reported in the newspapers, which took place in the Schools, on the 26th ult.
The habit of meeting for oral discussion on matters of University interest will no doubt eventually supersede our ancient custom of putting our thoughts in print; but popular eloquence has not yet, as it seems to me, been sufficiently cultivated by the “Governing Body," to exhaust the topics in debate among us, and I may be allowed perhaps, at this distance, to feel a little nervous at the idea of our real views being supposed to be fully represented by the abortive oratory of your Academic tribune. Pars tollere vocem Exiguam; inceptus clamor frustratur hiantes. This is the more alarming as even the newspapers, as far as I have observed, seem content to draw upon the arguments supplied in your perfunctory discussion. Somewhat ludicrous, I must say, is the effect to the distant reader of the Master of Trinity's denunciation of the Secretary's discourtesy being accepted, apparently, on all sides as an adequate exposition of the case of the Colleges against the Commissioners, and before the world. I shall therefore venture from my retreat, and lay before you the view I take of one at least of the points at issue. Though not now a member of the Governing body of the University, I have had a fair experience of the working of its institutions. As a private member of the Senate I have some stake in its credit and usefulness; and I may plead, perhaps, the Jus trium liberorum, as my claim to feel a dearer interest in its future than any fellow or tutor of you all.
On the subjects of “ Limitation of Tenure” and “Contribution of the Colleges to the University,” I will say nothing. These questions have been discussed in various ways, and I do not suppose that I could add any substantial argument in favour of either the one or the other which has not already been laid before you. Some considerable modification of tenure seems clearly impending, and perpetuity will hardly be found compatible with a great extension of the lay element. To myself personally it is a satisfaction to find that the Master of Trinity, who warmly resented my advocacy some years ago of College Contribution, now avows himself a convert to its justice and expediency.
But the arguments which have been used both at your meeting, and since, as far as I have observed, in the public press, on the question of opening the College Fellowships to University competition, seem to me so slender and fallacious, that upon that point alone I propose to ask your attention for a few minutes. Nothing but the assurance of a triumphant majority at his back could have allowed any one to make a cheval de bataille of the alleged failure of the experiment at Downing. You had yourself pointed out that at Downing there is no reciprocity; that the Students of that truly liberal
College enjoy no admission to Fellowships elsewhere, while they surrender their own to general competition; to which it may be added that at Downing there are no Scholarships or Exhibitions. These surely are reasons enough to account for its lack of students. It may be worth while to set down, on the other hand, though certainly I lay no great stress on the fact, that while Clare College seems to have recently given as many as eight of its Fellowships to strangers, the number of its pensioners, which in 1846 was 40, in 1856, the latest calendar I have before me, was 44.
But to allege single instances of this kind on either side is mere trifling. The gist of the question lies, no doubt, in the relation we hold the Colleges to bear to the University. If our Colleges are to be considered no less independent and self-sufficing than those which, scattered up and down the country, go to form the University of London, or the Queen's in Ireland, then indeed let them be left to manage their own affairs as exclusively or as liberally as they please. But if their local position, as well as old associations, may be supposed to make them bona fide members of the body to which they nominally belong, then I maintain that the interests of the Corporate University must be taken fairly into account, in any revision of their constitution, and no single College should be allowed to retain any privilege which is plainly injurious to the whole. That these interests do in fact suffer under the present restrictive and partial system of competition for Fellowships may be clearly shown in a small compass.
Let me remind you of circumstances which indeed we all know, though some of us may not have fairly looked them in the face, to shew how the interest, that is, the character of the University in the due discharge of her functions, as the Alma Mater of her children, the encourager of their diligence, the rewarder of their desert, suffers under our existing practice.
I open the Calendar almost at random, at the Tripos List for the year 1837. There I find a Trinity man sixth Wrangler and first of the second class. Though not personally acquainted with him, I believe I may say that he was a candidate for a Fellowship in his own College, and a very
meritorious one. He was unsuccessful however, being beaten by four or five men, who appear to have taken Degrees still more distinguished and were no doubt his superiors. But in the same year I find that the 10th Wrangler, being first of his year at Magdalene, obtained a Fellowship there; the 11th Wrangler, being first at Corpus; the 13th, being first at Queens'; the 17th, being first at Pembroke; the 20th, being first at Jesus; the 21st, being first at Clare; passing over some other instances, the 44th, being first, and the 50th, being second, at Christ's; and, lastly, the 51st, being first at Trinity Hall, with no Classical Honour in any case,-got Fellowships each in his respective College. This, as you well know, is only a single instance of what occurs, in a greater or less degree, every year among you. If 24 be the annual average of vacancies throughout the University, the first-rate men, some eight or ten perhaps in the year, may be pretty certain of succeeding to one at whatever College they are, but the other fourteen or sixteen Fellowships will be distributed almost at random among the second-rates and third-rates. Our fathers, I have heard, like the ancient Romans, erected a statue of Victory in the Senate-house : you ought to raise there an altar to the Genius of Men's Luck.
Such being the obvious injustice to individuals, not as