HC Deb 24 March 1834 vol 22 cc569-98
Mr. Spring Rice

rose to address the House upon the Petition of certain Members of the University of Cambridge, presented by him on Friday morning. The petition was entitled to the best, and if he might presume so to say, the most respectful consideration of the House, no less on account of the important subject to which it re- lated, than on account of the learning, high character, and moral worth of the individuals by whom it was signed. The petition had emanated from sixty-three resident members of the Senate of the University of Cambridge, and it prayed, that the advantages of degrees at the University might be extended to all classes of his Majesty's subjects, without any distinction whatever upon the ground of religious opinions. The petition in its prayer, was perfectly consonant to many of those which had already been presented to that House from the different Dissenting bodies of the country; but it was still more gratifying to learn, that the principle of opening the doors of the University to the Dissenters, was laid down and acknowledged by those who might be supposed to have an interest in their exclusion, than when this argument proceeded from the Dissenters themselves. It furnished, not only the best evidence of the justice of their claims, but it furnished, also, the cheering hope, that the prayer of the petition could not be refused. He might be allowed to remark, that it was of the greatest possible importance, that all concessions should thus be made, and that an amicable adjustment should thus be concluded between independent—for he would not say contending—parties; or, in other words, between the Dissenters themselves, and those who had the power of granting or of withholding the advantages which the Dissenters justly claimed. Was it not better and wiser, that those advantages should be freely and liberally conceded by the members of the University, than that they should be extorted from them by importunity and clamour? He thought, that when the right of the Dissenters to be admitted to the privilege of this University was urged by members of the University itself, it came with more force, and would be more gratifying, as well as more salutary in its effects, and more beneficial in eventual consequences, than when it was demanded by the Dissenters only, because in the latter case it proved, that the petitioning members of the Senate admitted the justice of the claims of the Dissenters. It was, however, only just, that he should state, that he was not entitled to present the petition which he held as the petition of the University of Cambridge: it could not be so designated. It was the petition of sixty-three of the resident members of the Senate. He stated that fact, not that it could deprive the petition of the weight which it deserved, for he should presently show, that although it came from only a portion of the members of the University, it was entitled to as much attention and respect, as the petitions which usually came from the general body. The petition, as he had already stated, was signed by sixty-three members of the University—one only of whom being a non-resident member. That gentleman was Professor Babbage, whom it was only necessary to name to the House, to give force to a document which spoke the opinions of men of literature and science. The number of resident members, of the University did not exceed, he believed, 180. No doubt, his right hon. friend (Mr. Goulburn) was better informed upon that point than he could pretend to be; but, as he understood, the resident number of members of the Senate did not amount to more than 180, and the number of members who had voted in the Senate on ordinary occasions, did not exceed 150. Thus, there were sixty-three resident members of the Senate, out of 150, whose names were attached to the petition, praying, that the Dissenters might be admitted to the benefit of academic degrees in the University. Nor did he rely upon their numbers, only; for he was prepared to show, that the petitioners were men, not only distinguished for their moral worth, but for great collegiate usefulness, and for having obtained high University honours. Besides the sixty-three petitioners, there were, he believed, ten or twelve members of the Senate, who fully concurred in the prayer of the petition, but who, from peculiar reasons, declined to sign it; and, therefore, the document might fairly be taken as the petition of more than one-half of the general body of the resident members accustomed to vote in the Senate. He considered, however, that on an occasion of this description, the mere number of signatures to the petition was, after all, of less importance, than the stations and characters of the individuals who had signed it. If he should have the misfortune of encountering the opposition of his right hon. friend, on the prayer of this petition, he was quite sure his right hon. friend would fully concur with him, in bearing his testimony to the academic attainments, high character, and moral worth of the petitioners. However his right hon. friend might differ from him as regarded the prayer and object of the petition, he was sure, at least, that his right hon. friend would agree with him, as to the high characters of those whose respectful prayer he recommended to the consideration of the House. It was hardly necessary to recapitulate the names of the persons whose signatures were attached to the petition, for they have already been stated elsewhere; but when he found among the subscribing professors, the names of Airy, Babbage, Sedgwick, Musgrave, Lee, and others, he was entitled to say, that no petition from the scientific world of Cambridge could be more respectably signed. When, in addition to these eminent and distinguished men, he found the names of eleven tutors, and, among the names those of Peacock and of Thirlwall, he was not, he thought, estimating too highly the importance due to a petition, emanating from men of the highest attainments in literature and science—all of whom were deeply pledged and deeply interested in the welfare of the University, and responsible for the due administration of its affairs. His right hon. friend could but agree, that men more respectable for their high attainments and their private worth could not be found in any country in Europe. They commenced their petition—as they were entitled to commence it—by declaring their honest and sincere attachment both to the Established Church and the University. They were entitled to express this attachment, because no individuals had exerted themselves with greater zeal and effect, in upholding the character both of the Church and the University. In proof of this, he would just mention that Professor Sedgwick, one of the petitioners, who was now so anxious to open the doors of the University to Dissenters, had, within the last year, made the most eloquent, the most triumphant, and unanswerable defence of the character, studies, and pursuits of our University. Nor did he think, that the Professor, in that admirable defence, had given a stronger proof of the honesty and purity of his attachments to the Church and the University, than in lending his name and authority to the subject of this petition. What became of the argument, then, which some persons might urge, that the interests of the University and the Established Church required that the exclusion of the Dissenters should be perpetuated? Here was an avowed and zealous champion of the Church, deeply interested in the welfare of the University, ready—nay, anxious to admit them. Looking at the origin of the disabilities of which the petitioners complained, let the House not suppose, that these exclusions were the work of our early Church, or that they were coeval with the Reformation. They did not originate in the days of Edward 6th or of Elizabeth. They were not the work of the Cranmers, the Ridleys, the Latimers, or of other founders of Protestantism—those who were at once the champions and the martyrs of the Church. No; the exclusion of the Dissenters from the honours and privileges of the University of Cambridge was reserved for later days—for a monarch who, in state affairs, laid down the doctrine of "kingcraft," and whose religious wisdom was exhibited at the conferences of Hampton Court—a monarch who added to the literature of his country, a Treatise on Demonology, and who declared that the service of the Established Church was but a bad mass, and only required the lifting up of hands to make it rank Popery. It certainly was not from such a source that our Church could derive any great blessings: but, how did the exclusion work its way? Prior to the reign of James 1st there had been no exclusion whatever from a University degree, by reason of any religious test. In the year 1507, the Statutes of the Universities were consolidated by Queen Elizabeth; and this was a period, be it remembered, when test oaths were scattered so unsparingly, that even a test was imposed on all midwives, who were prohibited, under certain pains and penalties, from performing the ceremony of baptism with rose water, or any other confections. Yet, at this period, when oaths of office were so extended, no religious test whatever was imposed on Dissenters at the Universities, and there existed no legal impediment to prevent them from enjoying the benefits and privileges of the University. Among the documents in existence to prove the non-existence of any test, there was one which was conclusive. He referred to the Royal Letter written in 1613, and addressed to the University of Cambridge, which had been laid upon the Table of the House; it was in these words:—"Understanding by your private answer made unto our challenge, that there is no established decree or ordi- nance for the denial of degrees to such as refuse to subscribe," &c. Here was a distinct admission from the King himself, made on communication with the University, that no religious tests were at that period demanded. What, then, did his Majesty command? Having taken some dislike, as he stated, to a certain Mr. Burgesse, who had obtained a degree of Doctor of Physic, his Majesty proceeded to do—what? Not to introduce the present system—Oh no! he did not go quite so far; though, in effect, he acted upon the same principle. The letter went on to state:—"In signification of our dislike of the degree of Doctor of Physic, granted without subscription to Mr. Burgesse, who, on a humour of schism or faction apostatizing from his orders, hath taken himself to physic." And then the letter proceeded to direct that a grace should be passed, requiring subscription from Bachelors of Divinity, or Doctors of Law, Physic, or Divinity; and to ordain, that no persons whatsoever should be admitted who had not subscribed to the three articles of the 36th canon. The logic of the decree as applicable to Mr. Burgesse, does not seem to be very accurate. The royal mandate was not justified because it protected the Church from schism, but because it might save an apothecary from heterodoxy. The King did not shrink from the dangers which an heretical physician might entail upon the Church, but he seems to have been alarmed at the dangers which a latitudinarian physician, quitting the Church, might inflict on his patients. What connexion there could be between prescriptions and the Thirty-nine Articles, he could not perceive. It was important, however, to see how his Majesty followed up the spirit of his letter. He directed the University to pass a law or grace to carry that letter into immediate effect; and, accordingly, the University passed a grace, imposing religious tests upon Doctors of Medicine, and Doctors of Law and Divinity. Matters rested thus until the year 1616, when his Majesty visited the races of Newmarket for his amusement; and, thinking that he might blend business with pleasure, he deemed it a fitting occasion to revise the laws and regulations of the University of Cambridge; and he accordingly wrote a second letter to the heads of the University, in which he directed that religious tests should be taken by all per- sons qualified to take degrees in the schools, and ordered that no such degree, should be granted to any person who did not subscribe to the tests required. There was however, one material point connected with that letter, to which he wished particularly to draw the attention of the House. The King did not, in that letter, direct the University to pass a grace, adopting and confirming his instruction. Although he was bound to admit, that this letter was subsequently acted upon, yet it must be recollected that no law was passed by the University to give it effect. It was not very surprising, indeed, that the University should have acted under royal command, for in those days it was well known that his Majesty was in the habit of acting in a somewhat peremptory manner, even with the House of Commons, as its Journals demonstrate. The House of Commons, in those days, did not always display any vehement inclination to resist the King's authority; for although, when his Majesty sent a message to the House, desiring that a conference should forthwith take place with the House of Lords, the House refused to obey the royal mandate; yet, when the King sent a second message, desiring that a conference should take place between the Commons and the Judges of the land, and when there was thus a direct interference on the part of the Crown, with the privileges of the House, the consternation and the astonishment were so great, that none of the Members could, for some time, speak. At length a Member stood up to address the House; but all he ventured to state was, "That the King's command is like a thunderbolt, not to be withstood; or it is like the roaring of a lion, but how and in which manner we are to obey it, is the only question." Now, was it not clear, if to the Commons of England the order of his Majesty was so terrible, that it could only be compared to a thunderbolt, or the roaring of a lion, it was was not at all surprising that the doctors of Cambridge should give a reluctant consent to the orders of such a sovereign? In the year 1641—a period to which he was aware some of his hon. friends opposite would not attach much importance—in that year, 1641, the test was repealed altogether, and it continued a dead letter until the year 1660, when the test was again renewed. He was now merely stating, that which was a matter of history; he did not argue that the test was necessarily improper, because it was repealed in 1641. His argument was this: that the test was improperly imposed in the outset. He was not arguing, because it was set aside in 1641, that it ought to be set aside now; but he maintained, that the time had arrived, when the test of the University of Cambridge should be done away with, whether it was to be effected by legislative enactment, or by the timely concession of the University itself. In 1772, that which before was but an usurpation of the Crown, became, by a new Grace, University law; but in place of calling upon the candidates for certain degrees to subscribe to the three articles of the 36th canon, they were merely required to sign a declaration, to the effect that they were bonâ fide members of the Established Church. That Grace was now acted upon at Cambridge, where the law was, that no person shall proceed to take a degree, whether of Doctor or Bachelor of Divinity, Doctor of Law or Physic, without subscribing to the three articles of the 36th canon; and no Bachelor of Arts could take his degree without declaring that he was, bonâ fide, a member of the Established Church of England. It might be said, if he objected to these tests as invading religious liberty, that he had argued upon abstract principles against these tests; but he was enabled to prove, that, even at the period when these tests were first legally imposed, they worked most injuriously, as regarded the interests of the university itself, and that the ill effects of the test were felt as soon as the grace of 1772 had passed. He begged to draw the special attention of those Gentlemen, who considered that but little practical inconvenience was felt by the existence of the test, to an important case, which clearly illustrated his argument. It was, generally, a painful infliction on the House to be obliged to listen to an extract from a printed book, but he hoped that the importance of the case under discussion would plead his apology. The case was as follows: In the month of January, 1773, Mr. Thomas Blackburne, student of St. Peter's College, having passed the usual examination in his own society, and who, in the senate-house, had applied for the degree of Bachelor in Arts, was rejected. His testimonials and qualifications were as follow:—at the close of the examination, in his own college, the master signed a paper, importing that Mr. Blackburne, with two other persons; had resided for the major part of such a number of terms as the statute requires. A grace for his degree was then passed in College, which implies an approbation of his moral conduct and proficiency in learning. He appears in the senate-house at the customary hours of examination; and, as he was a youth who had greatly distinguished himself in all the previous exercises, is particularly noticed during the time of trial. He passes through that trial with applause; and, in the judgment of the moderators, and all the examiners, is declared worthy of all the honours which the University is wont to bestow upon approved merit. At the close of this examination, when nothing now retrained but what is too frequently regarded as a mere form and ceremony, the conscientious young man hints to the master and tutor of his college, his objections to the declaration required by the grace of 1771, and delivers into their hands the following declaration:— I, Thomas Blackburne, do hereby declare my full persuasion of the truth of the Christian religion, as exhibited in the Scriptures; that I have hitherto communicated with the Established Church, and have no present intention of communicating with any other. This "supplicat," or petition for his degree, is next presented to the caput; the subscription book is called for, and his name not appearing in its place, the Vice-Chancellor refuses to read his "supplicat," and he is consequently refused his degree. Was not that example worth all the arguments which could be produced, to show the injustice and cruelty of the so-called "graces." If it were not enough, he could produce many others. Only a few years after this affair of Mr. Blackburne's, a declaration, nearly to the same effect as his, and grounded nearly on the same objections, was signed by many of the under-graduates of the University. These young gentlemen stated, that really they were so occupied with their studies, that they had not sufficient leisure to examine maturely the articles to which they were called upon to subscribe; and they entreated the University, under such circumstances, to consider, that to make them sign a declaration that they were members of a particular faith, was but laying a snare for their consciences; and, therefore, to excuse them from doing so, these under-graduates subsequently petitioned the University for a modification of the law; but the resident senate rejected their prayer. But if the arguments for the abolition of this unjust law had weight at that period, how did they stand now? At that period exclusion was a general principle in our laws. But was he now to be told, that, after repealing the Test and Corporation Acts, this invidious test could still be allowed to remain at the Universities as a barrier against all who were not of the Established Church? The thing was preposterous in principle, and indefensible in practice. It could not be maintained; and if he was called upon to argue this case, he felt that he must almost tight with a shadow. It was not for him to argue that no inconveniences would result from the abolition of those distinctions. The onus lay on the other side. It rested with those who argued in favour of restrictions, to show the dangers that were likely to arise if those restrictions were removed. He hoped it would be understood, that he was confining himself to this petition from the University of Cambridge. He was not arguing the case as regarded the University of Oxford. He was not, from personal experience, acquainted with the practice of that University, but he must say, from all that he had heard and understood, the University of Oxford had at least acted with something like logical consistency. They said, "We hold ourselves a part of the Established Church, and into that Church no Dissenters can enter." But what said the Petitioners from the University of Cambridge to the Dissenters? "We have found you, by experience, as good members of our colleges as ourselves; you are as amenable to college rules and discipline as any of the members who belong to the Established Church." But then, said the University to the Dissenters: "You may go through our studies to a certain extent; but beyond that limit you shall not pass." That exclusion was wrong in principle; let the House only see how it worked; let them look to the practical effect of this exclusion. The University could only exclude Dissenters from degrees, and thereby they protected, not the orthodoxy of the colleges through which these Dissenters had already passed, but the orthodoxy of the Bar and of the College of Physicians! They subjected the Dissenters to a disqualification which could not be of any public benefit to Cambridge. Did the case rest merely upon reasoning?—did it depend upon general principles only?—or had they no experience to justify the admission of Dissenters to University honours and degrees? In his mind, one of the most powerful arguments in favour of the admission of Dissenters to the Universities, was the illustration referred to by the learned member for Dublin, with regard to the admission of Dissenters to the University of that city. If the experiment of admitting Dissenters into Prinity College, Dublin, had been tried without any danger to the Established Church;—if this experiment had been successfully made in a country where civil and religious discord prevailed, and where party-spirit ran high—by what process of reasoning could the Dissenters be justly excluded froth the Universities of another and a more favoured country, where, undoubtedly, and fortunately, more moderate opinions prevailed? Under the ancient Statutes of Elizabeth, Protestant Dissenters were admitted into the University of Dublin, as in Cambridge, without any religious tests, long before the Act of 1793. In that year, however, an Act was introduced for the purpose of admitting Roman Catholics. That Statute was the Act of Mr. Pitt; it was introduced on the authority of the Government of the day, and, by the provisions of that Act, Roman Catholics were admitted to all the honours of the University, and were only excluded from the offices of Provost and Fellow. This Act, passed by a Parliament of which the Provost was a Member, and to which the Representatives of the College were acquiescing parties, met with no opposition; on the contrary, as far as the University was concerned, there was but one objection. He entreated that the consideration of the House might be directed to the nature of that objection, and to the character of the party by whom it was raised. This objection referred not to the admission of Catholics to degrees, but to the exclusion of the Roman Catholics from the offices of Provost and Fellow; and it was contended by the party who urged it, that no Roman Catholic should, in future, be excluded from those offices. By whom was that Amendment proposed? Why, by John Claudius Beresford; a man, he need hardly say, not peculiarly friendly to the claims of the Roman Catholics. It was true that the Act itself was opposed; and he would read to the House an extract from the Speech in which that opposition was expressed:—It was this, 'God 'forbid that I should ever see the pious 'intentions of the royal founders of the 'Universities frustrated by any perversion 'of the privileges or revenues thereof to 'support or encourage Popery, or those 'hallowed walls made the residence of 'superstition and tyranny. If, however, 'it be determined to open the Universities 'to Catholics, let the British Minister 'first procure an Act of Parliament to open 'the English Universities, and then the 'bitter potion may be more readily swallowed 'by the infatuated and betrayed Protestants of Ireland.' If the name of "Dissenter" was substituted for "Roman Catholic," and the term "Atheism" for "superstition," and "treason" for "tyranny," they might read in that speech, so altered, some of the arguments which were now urged against the claims of the Dissenters. Such was the only argument made use of;—and by whom? By no other person than Dr. Duigenan. It was, therefore, the torn and worn-out mantle which had dropped from the shoulders of that character, once distinguished in the annals of Irish bigotry, which clothed and covered those who now opposed the just claims of the Dissenters. He had little more to say on this subject; but he could not conclude without explaining the motives which induced the petitioners to submit their views to the consideration of that House. They followed this course, because, under the present constitution of the University of Cambridge, this question could not be discussed or considered within the walls of the University; and, therefore, it was, that the honourable and respected individuals who had signed the petition, could not be fairly charged with having passed over the legitimate and academic mode of attaining their object; on the contrary, they had been compelled, by the constitution of the University, to appeal to Parliament itself. He admitted, that if within the walls of the University this question could have been considered with hopes of ultimate, if not immediate, success;—if the great principles at issue could have received that calm and temperate discussion which would satisfy the minds of reasonable men, so as to persuade them that, however retarded at the outset, truth must, in the end, prove successful;—if the petitioners could entertain such expectations, and they neglected to submit their complaints to the investigation of the authorities of the University, they might, perhaps, be reproached with forgetting that respect which was due to their associates, and the heads of colleges. To those gentlemen who were familiar with the practice of this University, the reasons must be obvious why the petitioners had not adopted the course thus suggested. But as many hon. Members were altogether unconnected with the University, and consequently were ignorant of the principles by which its proceedings were regulated, it might be necessary to advert to the peculiar circumstances which induced the petitioners to lay their petition before the House. There was, at the University, an authority called the "caput," composed of the Vice-Chancellor, the Heads of Faculties, and two Masters of Arts, to whom all propositions whatever must be submitted before they could even be discussed in the Senate; and the veto of any one member of the caput prevented any question proposed from being considered or discussed by the senate. Mr. Hume, in his "Essay on the Peculiar Customs of Certain Nations," had alluded to the liberum veto of the Polish Diet, as inconsistent with the functins of any deliberative assembly; and yet such a liberum veto existed in the caput of Cambridge, and was used and extended in later times to prevent any proposition which was objected to from coming under the consideration of the Senate. If he were asked why the caput was not tried, he need only state, that his hon. friend (Mr. Pryme), one of the distinguished members of the University, and one who had uniformly directed his attention to its interests, proposed to the caput that a committee, or syndicate, should be appointed for the purpose of inquiring whether religious tests could or could not be dispensed with; and the proposal was at once negatived by the caput. Dr. Hewitt, also a member of the caput, acknowledging, for argument's sake to his colleagues, that religious tests might have something to do with other things, but denying that they should at all interfere with the grant of a medical degree—proposed that these tests should be dispensed with in regard to degrees in the profession to which he belonged. Both these very moderate and just demands were rejected. It was, therefore, very doubtful whether, without legislative interference, the University of Cambridge was ever likely to release the Dissenters from the disabilities under which they laboured at the University. But they were met by the objection, that Parliament had no right to interfere in the concerns of this University. Had not Parliament already interfered;—aye, and to a far greater extent than was now proposed by the individuals who had signed this petition? Were there not upon the Statute-book interferences infinitely stronger then those which they were now called upon to discuss? He asked the House to recollect, in reference to this part of the question, the Statute of Elizabeth, by which Parliament proportioned the corn rents; and which was framed not merely with the view of protecting the property of the University, but which was passed to regulate the appropriation of the revenues oh the several Colleges; and which stated how much ought to be given for the commons of Colleges, and how much for other uses. Therefore, if the House were referred back to ancient usages—to the wisdom of our ancestors—on historical grounds, it could not be doubted that Parliament had the full power of interfering by a legislative enactment with the practice or regulations of this University. There was likewise the Irish Act of 1793, which was passed, not at the request of or by the consent of the College of Dublin, but by the Irish Parliament on its own authority, and on general grounds of policy and expediency; and which removed the disabilities under which one great class of the King's subjects laboured, in consequence of their religious belief. He begged further to call the attention of the House to another fact: in the year 1771, when it was proposed to excuse persons applying for a Bachelor of Arts degree from subscribing to the tests, the Caput declared, that it had no power to make so material a change, or undertake so great a measure, without a solemn decision of the legislature. He had no positive authority for that statement, farther than that which was derived from contemporaneous writings, and uncontradicted controversies of the day. Now, however, the cry was raised,—"Parliament has no right to interfere—it cannot infringe on the privileges of the Universities:" and those who maintained the cause of the Dissenters were declared to be poachers on the University manors; and were warned off as trespassers after notice. These two statements were not both defensible. Parliament could not be at once the proper tribunal to appeal to, and an authority which had no right to inter- fere. If the House were directed by the principles which governed former Parliaments, the Parliament had the right, if it chose to exert it, to remove those exclusions to which the Dissenters of this kingdom were subject; and the example of the northern part of the island proved that it could be done without danger or inconvenience. Surrounded by gentlemen from Scotland, he asked them whether the Universities of that country imposed any religious test whatever? They had, he believed, no exclusive tests of any description. Were the honourable Members from Scotland, however, less influenced by religious principle, than the English and the Irish? Or were they not, on the contrary, as strenuously prepared to resist as fervently, any encroachment upon the confession of Westminster, as the members of the Church of England would be to oppose the abolition of any one of the Thirty-nine Articles? Had the members of the Scotch Universities found any inconveniences, either in respect to discipline, or on the ground of religion, result from their admission of all persuasions of Christianity? They had, therefore, the examples of Scotland and of Ireland: at the Universities of both countries there were no religious tests required; and could it be said, that the University of Cambridge ought any longer to exercise a privilege founded upon a system of exclusion, so unjust and harassing? It had been said, with regard to the civil grievances under which the Dissenters laboured, that some regulations should be adopted with respect to admissions to the professions of law and physic, rather than to alter the constitution of the Universities; and it was maintained that the University was a Corporation which could not be fairly interfered with. He really thought it was now rather too late to introduce any argument of that description. Let it be stated, that the cause of the Dissenters was either just or unjust, reasonable or unreasonable, and he was prepared to argue the case; but it could not surely be urged that if the claim were reasonable, it ought not to be granted, because it interfered with a Corporation? It could not be stated, that though a measure was right, and would, it carried into execution, be generally beneficial, yet that it must not be effected, because it might trench upon the supposed privileges of an institution. Such arguments, appeared to him, exceedingly weak and unsubstantial, and most contradictory, when the House was called on in the same breath not to interfere with one Corporation because it was a University, and was invited to interfere with another Corporation because it was called the College of Physicians. He was sure his right hon. friend (Mr. Goulburn) would not speak with unkindness or disregard of the religious or conscientious scruples of the Dissenters. Whatever faults his right hon. friend might impute to them, he was convinced, that the want of sincerity, and earnestness in religious opinions was not one which could be fairly urged against them. Of one thing he was sure, that his right hon. friend, amongst the various grounds upon which he might rest his objections to the petition, would not express any belief that among the Dissenters could he discovered a sect of Atheists. However his right hon. friend might lament their differences on ecclesiastical points, he could not but feel, that these differences, coupled, as they often were, with great temporal sacrifices, were the result of sincere and honest conviction on their part. He was sure, too, that his right hon. friend would not state what he had seen in print in reference to the petition,—namely, that there were not attached to it the signatures of the eightieth part of the members of the University; his right hon. friend would not confound the under-graduates with the members of the Senate. If they did not grant the petitioners their prayer—if they did not allow the Dissenters to enjoy that privilege to which they were entitled, and the concession of which would only be a recurrence to the old principles of the constitution of the University of Cambridge—if they did not remove the disabilities of which the Dissenters now complained—how could they be prepared to meet those difficulties which such an obstinate course of policy must inevitably occasion? Would it not be the grossest of all acts of injustice, if they both refused the admission to the Dissenters within the present Universities, and refused them the means to establish Universities of their own? Were they not bound to remove all the difficulties which stood in the way of the Dissenters' founding Universities for themselves? They must, and would have education. It was not in the power of the senate of the University—it was not in the power of the caput—it was not in the power of the House, if it were so disposed—to deprive the Dissenters of the means of education, and of acquiring knowledge. When the mind was intent upon that object, they might try every means to check its expansion—then might follow the example once set in Ireland—they might prohibit home-education, and render penal all foreign education—they might use every effort to exclude the hallowed light of knowledge from the mind;—but, despite all such exertions, there was a Power (and they ought to be grateful to Providence that it was so)—there was a Power above them which proclaimed that, for "the heart of man to be without knowledge, it is not good." If they excluded the Dissenters from the national Universities, they must not only tolerate, but encourage the formation of institutions for the education of the Dissenters. What would be the consequence? Had they not read an instructive lesson on this subject in the history of Ireland? Instead of imbibing those principles of tolerance, and those feelings of Christian charity which a joint system of education would necessarily produce, the Dissenters would, if their reasonable requests were not complied with, be justified in forming themselves into distinct classes, and a spirit of hostility would be engendered, by the influence of which they would become more and more estranged from the doctrines and the authority of the Established Church. He owned, that he was not so fearful for the integrity or permanency of the Church, of which he was a sincere member, as to suppose that the tendency of the admission of the Dissenters into the Universities, would be to seduce the members of the Established Church from their faith and opinions; on the contrary, as one most anxious for the stability of the Church, he affirmed, that such a measure, as far as he could form an opinion on the subject, would have a tendency in the opposite direction. He did not advance that supposition as an argument in favour of the petition—he did not rest his recommendations of the claims of the Dissenters on the ground of proselytism; but he could not help expressing his conviction, that the prevalence of the doctrines of the Church, and the stability of the Church, would be increased and confirmed by the adoption of that combined system or University education, which the respectable and intelligent petitioners had called upon this House to sanction. He ought to apologize to the House for having trespassed so long upon its attention; but the importance of the subject, and the high honour conferred upon him in having had this petition intrusted to his charge—an honour, coming as it did, from the University to which he belonged—which he could not overstate;—had induced him to dwell upon the subject at such length. To the advocates for an adherence to the practices of ancient institutions, he would say, "Seek your model during the best period of our Church history;—take your principles from the reign of Edward and of Elizabeth, rather than from that of James 1st, and regulate the establishments of the University by the rules laid down and acted on at Cambridge in better times." To those solicitous for the advancement of literature and science, but who wisely connected with literature and science the great interests of religion and morality, he would say, "Look at the names attached to this petition—the names of men eminent for piety, distinguished in every branch of human learning,—and then ask yourselves how can you justify any hostility to the claims of the Dissenters, when those claims come recommended to your notice by this petition." On what reasonable grounds did they venture to differ from those great and eminent men? To those whose peculiar anxiety was for the preservation of order and of sound collegiate discipline, he would merely say, "Cast your eyes over the list of the College tutors subscribed to this petition, and you will find that those of the greatest experience and authority are favourable to it." In whatever light the question was regarded, it must be considered one of the highest importance—an importance which was, if possible, augmented to a still greater extent, by the fact that this petition in favour of the claims of the Dissenters, was signed not merely by members of the Established Church, but by those who were connected with its ministry; and if, with this fact before them, there should be any of the Dissenters so unjust or unwise as to raise an outcry against the Established Church, it could be shown them, not only that they injured their best means of final success, but they would prove their ingratitude to the sixty-three members of the Established Church, who had prayed the Legislature that the monopoly which they themselves enjoyed should cease, and justice be done to the Dissenters. Sooner or later the subject must be discussed with a view practically to remove the grievances of which the Dissenters complained; and in the mean time he would entreat the House to prepare their minds for a calm, deliberate, and dispassionate view of the subject, by taking the petition into their serious consideration.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that being connected with the learned body in whose name the petition had been presented, be felt that it was not requisite to solicit the indulgence of the House whilst he entered into the subject of the petition, and whilst he endeavoured to state fairly and candidly what was the origin of the petition itself, what was the real object of it, and what were the sentiments which he entertained upon the views of the petitioners. Although his right hon. friend had expressed an opinion, that his petition would not meet with a favourable reception, he must have done so inadvertently. His right hon. friend surely could not have meant to do such an injustice to the House as to state that a petition upon a most important subject, signed by sixty-two respectable and even eminent individuals, and couched in language perfectly decorous and respectful, could be presented in its proper manner, and be opposed by any Member of the House. As far as he (Mr. Goulburn) was concerned, he could only say, that such an idea had never entered into his contemplation. He would, at once say, that he entirely agreed with his right hon. friend, that the petition which he had been intrusted to present was signed by Gentlemen in every respect as unexceptionable as any in the University of Cambridge. He agreed with him, that amongst the signatures were to be found the names of men distinguished in every branch of scientific and literary attainment; of men whose characters were not to be raised by any observations made in that House, because they were already eminent by their acquirements, and by their great and successful exertions in the cause of science, and by their general endeavours to advance the interests of all that came within their sphere. He might add, that he was proud to number some of them amongst his personal friends; but though he respected them much, he must canvass, their opinions freely. His right hon. friend had told the House, that this petition was very numerously signed by resident members of the University. His right hon. friend had told them, that the petition had been signed by two heads of colleges, by ten professors, and by eleven Gentlemen connected with the University. He admitted, that it was signed by two out of seventeen heads of Colleges, by ten out of twenty-five Professors; and it was signed by eleven out of seventy-four gentlemen who were engaged in tuition in the different Colleges. The House, therefore, would see that out of 116 persons composing the classes referred to, the petition had been signed by twenty-three. Let not the House think that he said this to undervalue the Gentlemen who signed the petition; quite to the contrary; but when the right hon. Gentleman told the House, that it was bound to give implicit deference to the opinion expressed in the petition on account of the numbers, rank, and situation of those who signed it, it was incumbent upon the House to bear in mind the greater number of those whose signatures had been denied to it. Those signatures had not been denied to the petition for want of solicitations, but purely out of difference of opinion formed after the most careful examination and most attentive consideration of the subject. He meant to cast no slight on those who had signed the petition, when he said, that amongst those who had refused to sign it, were many who would not be ashamed to stand in comparison with them in point science and importance. No man could be more respectable than Mr. Peacock; but he himself would be the first to allow that there were others in the College of which he was an ornament, men of the greatest respectability, whose names were not appended to the petition. This petition certainly came to the House recommended by the high respectability and attainments or the names appended to it; but still it did not come with the weight which the House had been accustomed to give to the petitions of the University itself, for it was, in fact, signed but by a minority, a small minority, of those classes to which the right hon. Gentleman had particularly adverted; a small minority of resident members, and a still smaller minority of the whole body corporate. But it was more important that the House should refer to the prayer of the petition itself, than that he should enter into any further discussion as to the persons by whom it was signed. It seemed to him that the prayer of the petition in some instances had been misunderstood. The Noble Lord, the Chancellor of the I Exchequer, who had first intimated that such a petition was ready for presentation. had represented it as a petition which prayed the House to accede to the prayer of the Dissenters. Now, those who signed the petition, so far from going to the length of acceding in the claims which had been preferred in the petitions of the Dissenters, had taken a course at utter variance to them. They had, at the very threshold of the discussion, announced that they were amongst those who would not consent to accede to the claims of the Dissenters, but would give them the most determined resistance and opposition. The petitioners had told the House, that they most distinctly disclaimed all intention of interfering directly or indirectly with the private statutes and regulations of individual Colleges. What were the claims which the Dissenters set up? They unanimously claimed to be admitted to all the full privileges, benefits, and advantages and emoluments of the University. They claimed with respect to these to stand on the same footing as members of the Church of England, and as these benefits included the endowments of Professorships and Fellowships, the protection which the petitioners would still give to the private statutes of the Colleges, was a decided bar to the claims advanced by the Dissenters. Let it not be thought, then, that the Gentlemen who had signed the present petition were advocates for the claims which had been urged by the Dissenters. If the Dissenters should urge their claims to participate in the emoluments, honours, and privileges or the University, he believed that the petitioners would be as firm in opposing those claims as any members of the University whatever. The real prayer of the present petition was, not what the Dissenters demanded, but that they should be admitted to take the degrees of Bachelors, Masters, or Doctors in Arts, Law, and Physic; and he begged the House to remember the limited extent to which the petition carried these concessions. He particularly begged the House to do so, because the right hon. Gentleman had stated, not intentionally, he was sure, but inadvertently, that the petitioners had recommended that the Dissenters should be admitted to all the degrees of the Senate; but this was not the petition which was strictly confined to arts, law, and physic. He however had no hesitation in saying, that it appeared to him, that, even to this limited petition the great body of the University was most decidedly opposed. He was not one who was bigoted to the principle of resistance to the just claims of the Dissenters, nor was he for excluding them from the advantages which the Churchmen could with safety to their own consciences allow them; but he was opposed to the present petition upon the principle, that the Universities of the country were places for the education, not only of Members of the Church, but for the education of all those who came to them for any instruction in the doctrine of the Church. If it were impracticable, consistently with the discipline of the University, to grant the concessions which it was the desire of the petitioners to make, it would be perfectly a waste of time to enter now into a discussion of general principles, which it would be impossible to carry into effect. His right hon. friend had justly stated, that the University of Cambridge was at the present moment open to the education of Dissenters from the Church of England. There was no bar whatever in the University of Cambridge to the Dissenters having every advantage which the education there could possibly confer on them—to their having access to every branch of knowledge, to their having their education superintended by the most distinguished characters which the country could afford—there was no bar to their haying every assistance in the prosecution of their studies, and to their reaping those mathematical distinctions which sent a man forth with the stamp of abilities and the reputation of knowledge, and which proclaimed him to the world as a man distinguished by his attainments. The acquisition of such honours gave weight to men in their subsequent struggles through life. The letters A.B. or M.D. added to their names were of comparatively little value, and did not make them known as men of superior acquirements. The system followed at Cambridge University gave the Dissenters every advantage which it afforded to the members of the Church of England. That University was a Church of England Establishment, with all the toleration and liberality which had ever distinguished that Church, and it was willing to extend to every man, whatever might be his faith, all the benefits which could be derived from its institutions, Consistently with the safety of the original principles upon which it was founded. The University permitted Dissenters to come within its walls to accept of its education; but it also attached to this privilege the condition that they conformed to the existing system of discipline, which was based on the doctrines and principles of the Church of England. Of that they could have no reason to complain, because they came voluntarily to an establishment with a full knowledge of its principles, and of the terms on which its advantages were to be obtained. If it should be determined, that the Dissenters were not only to have their present advantages, but that they were to be admitted to take degrees, and by taking degrees to become a portion of the governing body of the University, such a change could only be effected by the forcible interference of Parliament, for that change never would be effected by any act of the University itself. Such a change would alter the whole character of the institution. Such a change would proclaim that the institution had not been formed by members of the Established Church; that it was not intended to direct the education of the members of that Church; that it was not confined to the provisions of its members, whether lay or ecclesiastical; but it would proclaim, that it was an establishment formed for general education. Yes, he said, for general education, without any reference whatever to religion, in all, all had a right to participate. When once the House had laid down that. principle, he would beg leave to ask any man—and he appealed to the hon. Gentleman opposite as one conversant with the education pursued there, (Mr. Pryme), if the object of the petition were to be gained, how would it be possible to carry on the education of the University? Would they, when the change was made, continue to educate on the present system, or adapt the system to the change which would take place in the governing body of the University? At present the University was a seminary of sound learning and of religious distinctions. Yes, a seminary of religious distinctions; and most unfortunate would it be if the character of the University were, in this respect, to be in the least degree altered—woeful would it be if the body to which was intrusted the education of so large a portion of the youth of the country were ever to set the example of separating education from religion—woeful would it be, if it were to confine instruction exclusively to the propagation of what was vulgarly called knowledge, which was knowledge without religion, and was not the sound instruction which the University now dispensed. If it taught science and excluded that which alone was a saving religion—which fitted a man for the ultimate object of his being—if it were to frame the course of study with a view to meet every varying doctrine which fanaticism or superstition from time to time might originate, not only of every Christian sect, but of the Unitarians and all others which could not come within the line of Christianity;—if it were to forsake the rules of the Church,—how could any man answer for any one principle which might be taught? The experiment had already been tried in this country of setting on foot a liberal University, a University of which the object was to admit all persons indiscriminately, without reference to the religions tenets of those who were willing to share in the education of the place. What had been the effect? Why this liberal University, as it was called, had been obliged to exclude religions instruction altogether. Did the House mean then to adopt the prayer of the petition, and with it to adopt the course of this liberal University? Would the House, he asked, thus take upon itself to unchristianize the country? At the present moment the University of Cambridge was labouring most anxiously to get rid of that objection which had been made against its system in the year 1777. His right hon. friend had told the House the story of a young man in 1777 who had been so ardent in the study of the abstract sciences that he had not had time to inform himself as to the religious doctrines to which he was called upon to subscribe before he could take his degree. He admitted, that the system which had been pursued showed a really enormous defect; but the University, from that time to the present had been constantly improving in its course of studies. It no longer required a subscription to that which no man had an opportunity to study. At the moment at which he had the honour of addressing the House, all who were called upon to study any branch of knowledge had to share in the study of the doctrine of the Established Church, and to attend with regularity to its rites and ceremonies. Would the House wish the University to abandon this? If they meant to do this, he could tell them, that those who had signed the present petition meant nothing of the sort. The petitioners were members of the Established Church; and he could only express his regret that they had not told the House how they intended to conduct the education of the University, if their plans were pursued. Was the House prepared to abandon the religious instruction of the Universities, and make them the seats exclusively of profane learning? He, at least, would protest against such a doctrine as a Member of that House. He protested against it as a Representative of the University; he protested against it as a member of society; and, above all, he protested against it as a father, for never would he intrust a son, at a time of life peculiarly sensitive to impressions, to be educated at any institution which did not accompany the scientific studies with instruction in the principles and doctrines of religion. In that University, where general principles of indiscriminate admission were adopted,—in that University where prevailed that indiscriminate system of education, without any reference to religious principles whatever,—what, he asked, had been the consequences? In order to get over all difficulties, the students were made to reside, not in the University itself, but under their parental roof, where the deficiency could be supplied. It was not thus at the University of which he had the honour to be a member. There the students were separated from their family connections; they were separated from all who had previously the charge of their religious education, and they were left, at the most critical period of their lives, without parental instruction in any sound principles to guide them in the most critical period of their lives. Was not the University bound to supply this want, and to afford the religious instruction to the youth? Could it be supposed that the harmony of the University would be increased. Was it to be supposed that the consciences of men would be much relieved, by avoiding all religious instruction as the consequence of discarding all religious distinctions? Did the House suppose that, if it admitted Dissenters into the University, and told them that they were to become a part of the governing body, but that they should attend the worship of a religion in which they did not believe, that this would increase the harmony of the general body? If they were to tell the student, "Of whatever faith von may be, yon must attend the worship of a religion you do not believe; you must be instructed by men best calculated to instruct you in the doctrines of the Church of England; you shall have the canons expounded, and the Scriptures explained according to the Church of England; the religion of this Church shall be explained, to you; you must not be absent from lectures;"—was this, he asked, likely to benefit the conscientious scruples of men admitted indiscriminately to the University, or was it calculated to promote harmony within its walls? His right hon. friend had referred to the case of Ireland, and yet he was well aware of the disputes that had arisen in that country, as to whether the Roman Catholics could conscientiously attend with Protestants to hear the Gospel read according to the Douay version. Notwithstanding this, his right hon. friend proposed that all sects should read indiscriminately at the University, but, he asked, how were they to read? Were they to read according to the established version, and were they not to have the instructions of a master to point out the fallacies of the Church of Rome, or of any other Church to which some of the parties might belong? Were members of different sects to have these errors exposed to them, with all the weight of age, over the young mind; with all the weight which Church of England men would have the power to enforce? When he was told, that the University was to adopt the system proposed in the petition, he was bound to confess, that he did not see his way clear; and he wanted to hear from some of the Gentlemen who were anxious to be admitted to the privileges of the University, and to form a part of the governing body of that great institution, while they did not profess its creed, how they proposed afterwards to carry on the discipline of the University without involving themselves in difficulties ten times greater than any which existed at present, and without creating dissensions, which, at the present moment, were unknown. Having stated the substance of the principal difficulties which stood in the way, he wished to say a word with respect to the disadvantages under which Gentlemen might labour in the world in consequence of the tests or disqualifications which existed at the Universities. These disadvantages, he took it, related to the two professions of law and medicine. The Gentleman who had taken a degree at the University was entitled to the advantage of two years of time, if he entered into the profession of an attorney or barrister, or on becoming a licentiate of the College of Physicians. Other persons were not allowed these abbreviated terms, and, he believed, that this was the extent of the disqualification of which the Dissenters had to complain. He must be allowed to state, that these disqualifications resulted from the acts of the professional bodies, of the members of the Inns of Court and or the College or Physicians, and were totally distinct from, and independent of, the Universities. The profession of attorneys was to give an additional advantage to educated men, and had pronounced that two years less attention to professional studies would be required of all gentlemen who had studied at one of the Universities. The Benchers of the Inns of Court and the College of Physicians had done the same. The taking of a degree was the test of an advancement in education which these learned professions required. If any difficulty existed on this score, it might be remedied by a mere announcement that a certain residence at the University, with a testimony of studies, should be deemed a qualification by the two learned professions. If either of these bodies were to admit only so small a change in their respective regulations as to make a residence at the University an evidence of qualification, instead of a degree, they might ransack the world, and not be able to find a single evil of which the Dissenters could complain in the Statutes of the Universities. Notwithstanding this, the House was called upon to change the system of those bodies—a system which could not be changed without overthrowing the whole education of the Established Church. If they looked to the probable result, it would not benefit the Dissenters, but it would injure the Universities. The small minority which had signed the petition, complained too that single member of the governing body had the power to negative any proposition; but, he would ask, if this were not the case, would not the governing body be perpetually agitated by religions disputes? Would not Gentlemen bring forward Motions for Graces, and perpetually disturb the University on the subject of shades of difference in religion. He would not advert to the time at which the University regulations with respect to the subscription to articles were adopted, for this he deemed altogether unnecessary. He supposed, that his right hon. friend had not urged this topic with any view to throw a doubt upon the legality of the proceedings of the University; for, if his right hon. friend doubted the legality, he knew of other and better means than those he had pursued to bring the question to issue. If, in the year 1834, they were to discover a certain flaw in an instrument, because, in 1613, the then King, going to Newmarket for amusement, thought fit to send a missive to the University, this would establish a doctrine which would go far to invalidate the security and tenure of all property. He was sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to give weight to the present petition from this circumstance. He knew no title to property or to privileges, or to any species of honour which might not be invalidated, and overthrown, if men were to go back two centuries and a-half, in order to scrutinize the forms, motives, or reasons which led to the adoption or the grant of the matter inquired into. He would not trespass upon that House with any discussion upon the constitution of that learned body of which he was proud to say he had the honour of being a member. It was exceedingly desirable, in his view, to prevent perpetual agitation in the University, and the veto of the Caput had that effect. If any man had good reason to complain of the Caput, it was the individual who was then addressing them. He would take upon himself to say, that many occasions had occurred on which the constitution of that body had given to the public an impression that the University was acquiescent on particular public questions, when, but for the veto enjoyed by one member of the Caput, the members of the University would have petitioned the House in favour of the views which he advocated. He had said nothing, he hoped, to intimate that the present petitioners had been actuated by any other motive than that of a desire to submit to Parliament the views they took of the question. In giving to those who were opposed to him full credit for sincerity, he hoped the House would not give to the petition a greater weight than was its due. The numbers of those who had signed it, compared to the numbers who had not—of men no less eminent or sincere—would, he trusted, have its due weight with that House, and obtain for the petition only that credit which was due to a small, but respectable minority of the members of the University.

Mr. Pryme

said, that having been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, he felt himself called upon to offer a few observations to the House upon the present occasion. In the first place, he begged to state, that religious instruction was at the present period much more extended in the University of Cambridge than formerly, but it was confined to instruction of a general rather than a controversial character. To the course of examination on religious topics now pursued, no man, whatever might be his tenets, could object, for it was so general as almost to be interesting as matter of history. All matters of controversy were carefully abstained from under the present system; which had been adopted about fifteen years ago. At that period a revision of the course took place, and several plans were submitted for adoption, and amongst others was a course in which Bishop Jewell's Apology for the Church of England was included, but was considered as being of too controversial a character; but after some years it was adopted partially, the books which had a controversial tendency being struck out of the course of examination. He could not conceive that any Dissenter could object to go through an inquiry into points of faith, or to receive instruction in the Gospels from which he professed to take his doctrine; so that religious education would not necessarily be neglected by the change which the petitioners proposed. It could not be denied, that it was most unjust, after allowing the Dissenters to study and go through the usual course of instruction, to deny them the certificate which their attainments entitled them to. It was absurd to suppose that any change could be effected in the Constitution of the University by admitting Dissenters to places in the Senate.

The Speaker

intimated, that the approach of the hour at which, pursuant to the Resolution of the House, he should leave the Chair, made it necessary to adjourn the debate.

The right hon. Gentleman left the Chair, and the debate stood adjourned.

Back to