HC Deb 21 April 1834 vol 22 cc1009-12
Mr. Goulburn

said, that, in presenting the Petition of 259 resident members of the University of Cambridge, he stood in a somewhat novel situation, in being called upon to present a petition, expressing what he believed to be the sentiments of that learned body, which he had the honour to represent, but proceeding from that body not in its corporate capacity. He deeply regretted the necessity which had given rise to the change which had taken place in the established practice of the University; and he should feel greater satisfaction if the petitions which emanated from the University were subscribed only in its corporate capacity, instead of conveying the private opinions of individual members of that body to that House. While, however, he regretted this departure from the rule which had been hitherto observed, he must admit, that the present petitioners had been guilty of a breach of that rule, and came before the House in their individual capacities, for the purpose of stating the opinions they entertained upon a matter deeply interesting to the prosperity of the University. Had they remained silent on this important occasion, they would have been guilty of a highly criminal neglect of moral and religious duty to the interests they were bound to protect, as well as of the duty they owed to that House. A short time had elapsed since a petition had been presented to both Houses of Parliament, signed by most respectable members of the University imploring the House to interfere, for the purpose of relieving certain individuals from a subscription which had been heretofore required from all persons taking degrees at the University, and which had the effect of confining them to the members of the Established Church. Great weight had been attached to the petition which had been presented on a former occasion by the right hon. Gentleman, the member for the town of Cambridge, as well as by other hon. Members, who, on that foundation, had rested legislative measures, which had already been proposed to Parliament, and would shortly come under discussion. Since, therefore, that House had received an expression of the opinion entertained by a certain part of the resident members of the University, and since the opinion of Parliament had been greatly influenced by the sentiments contained in that petition, it became incumbent on the large majority of the University who dissented from that opinion, and who considered that such an opinion would overturn the moral and religious discipline of the University, to state to the House the views they entertained on the subject. It became still more their duty, when it was recollected, that it had been stated to the House, that a member of the Caput possessed the power of putting a veto on any petition of which that individual member disapproved, and that such a power had been exercised. The petition he then held in his hand was, in every way, highly respectable, and was eminently entitled to the serious consideration of that House. It was signed, as he stated before, by 259 individuals belonging to the University, who had assembled at Cambridge on Wednesday last; and of that number there were 120 persons permanently resident at the University, and who were personally engaged in conducting the course of education there. He would, in one respect, imitate the course pursued by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Spring Rice), who had presented the former petition, and analyze the signatures of the petition he held in his hand. To that, then, were attached the signatures of no less than eleven Heads of Colleges; one, who had signed the previous petition, being wanted. All the Masters, also, of the three largest Colleges in the University,—of St. John's, Trinity, and Queen's,—had signed the present petition; only two had signed the petition opposed to it, and they belonged to the small Colleges. If the number of persons were compared who came under the management of the Heads of Colleges and others, who signed both petitions, the discrepancy in point of numbers would be found to be so great, that it would diminish, almost to nothing, the value of the testimony brought forward by the petition on the other side. With respect to the signatures of Professors, he had to mention, that to this petition were annexed the signatures of seven Professors; and among these seven were comprised all the Professors of Divinity in the University. In mentioning Professors, he begged to add, that Professor Scolefield, who was Regius Professor of Divinity, had not signed in person the present petition, because he was the only Professor of the eleven absent when it was signed. That Professor had been called away by an unfortunate calamity, and he had deputed a friend to sign the petition for him. With respect to persons engaged in tuition, since they had been alluded to on a former occasion, he would also now allude to them. The former petition was signed by eleven persons connected with tuition; the present was signed by thirty-one tutors of the University. As far as learning and attainments went, he felt confident it would be found, that the persons whose names were affixed to the present petition were perfectly, both in mathematical and classical knowledge, on a par with those entertaining different opinions, who had placed their names to the other petition. He would not trouble the House with an enumeration of names, but would simply add, that the number of wranglers' names attached to the present petition was sixty-nine; the number of the signatures of Smith's prize men was very great; and a number of persons, who had attained the highest classical honours, had also signed it. The hour of the day admonished him that he had no time to dwell further on the qualities, attainments, and number of persons who had signed the petition. The right hon. Gentleman proceeded to describe the contents of the petition, which deprecated, in strong terms, the abrogation of all religious tests as a criterion of sound knowledge; and declared, that to bestow degrees without such tests, would ruin the University as a place for religious education. The right hon. Gentleman maintained, that, by the statute of Elizabeth, it was required, that the Holy Communion should be administered on the first day of each term, and that all the scholars and sizars of the University were required to attend. When such a provision was established by Act of Parliament, it was impossible to believe, that the law intended Dissenters to be admitted into the Universities; for, if the law had so intended, it would never have made provisions for enforcing the receiving of the Sacrament, according to the forms of the Church of England, on all the students. He hoped that, on another occasion, he should have more time to enlarge upon the subject, and would then conclude by moving, that the petition be received.

It being three o'clock, the Speaker rose. The debate was adjourned.

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