HC Deb 08 May 1834 vol 23 cc761-7
Mr. Sheil

rose, to move for liberty to bring in a Bill to enable Roman Catholics to hold Professorships and Scholarships in Trinity College, Dublin. The question was not merely Irish, for it was connected with the principles on which the claims of the Dissenters were founded. He had originally given notice, that he should move for the admission of Roman Catholics to Lay Fellowships, but, as the Lay Fellows might become Senior, and as the College was governed by the Provost and seven Senior Fellows, he had relinquished his purpose. To such a proposition it might be objected, that Trinity College was an appurtenance of the Establishment—an outwork of the Church. He therefore should not press it, but confine his Motion to the Scholarships and such of the Professorships as were unconnected with the profession of any particular form of religion. He would first state the law as it stood, both under Acts of the Legislature and under Statutes of the University. The Act of Conformity required, that all Fellows and Professors should sign a declaration incompatible with Catholicism. Before 1793, Roman Catholics could not take degrees. That privilege was conferred by the Irish Act of the 23rd George 3rd. By the 7th Section of that Act it was enacted, that they might hold Professorships or Fellowships in any College to be thereafter founded in the University of Dublin, or be members of any Lay Body Corporate, except the College of the Holy Trinity. This clause was virtually adopted in the Act of 1829. Under these Statutes it was clear that no Roman Catholic could become a Fellow. From the Professorships and Scholarships Roman Catholics were excluded by resolutions adopted in the College itself. They must comply with forms at variance with their principles. The question was, whether these forms ought to be dispensed with? and it lay on him to show, that the admission of Roman Catholics to situations unconnected with the Church could not affect the character of the College as a Protestant establishment. First, he should consider the Professorships. The following were those to which he asked for eligibility:—the Regius Professorship of Civil and Canon Law was founded and endowed by Charles 2nd out of the revenues granted to the College by the Act of Settlement. The Regius Professorship of Feudal and English Law was founded in 1761: the office was held by the Solicitor-General for Ireland. The Regius Professorship of Medicine, of Greek, and of Astronomy; the latter was held by a gentleman of great abilities, Dr. Hamilton. He was elected when he was only 19. Had he been a Roman Catholic, his religion would have closed the observatory against him. There could be no sound reason why, to the Professorships of Na- tural Philosophy, Oratory, Mathematics, History, and Oriental Languages, Roman Catholics should not be admitted. In 1785 an Act of Parliament was passed to establish three Professorships—one of Astronomy, one of Chemistry, and one of Botany; and it was provided, "that the said Professorships should be open to Protestants of all nations." This was, at this moment, the law. Was it not a reproach to our Legislation that the natives of Ireland should be excluded from the literary and scientific offices in the only national establishment, and that every Protestant wanderer, no matter whence he might come, should be eligible to those situations? To alien Protestantism the Legislature gave welcome, while to its fellow-citizens and fellow-subjects, who differed on a mystery, it denied the rewards of genius, and the excitements to exertion. He would conclude his enumeration of the Professorships with a reference to those connected with foreign languages. The following was an extract from an official document relating to them. On the 29th of October 1776, the King directed a letter to the Lord-lieutenant:—"Whereas our right trusty and well-beloved Councillor, John Hutchinson, Provost of our College of the Holy Trinity, has introduced into the said College two Professors or teachers of modern languages, the one of whom teaches the French and German, the other the Spanish and Italian languages, now we have granted the yearly sum of 200l. payable out of our revenues in our kingdom of Ireland." In the year 1824, a remarkable incident occurred: a vacancy having taken place, some Italian refugees, men of great acquirements, and who had enjoyed considerable rank in their own country, became candidates for one of these Professorships, an abandonment of their religion was demanded, and the Irish public were shocked to see men who had sustained misfortune in an honourable cause, called upon to yield this inglorious compliance with an intolerant and degrading requisition. He was unable to see any sound objection to the abolition of the impediments which were thrown in the way of talents and erudition. If the Professorships had attached to them any function associated with the State religion, there might be reason for refusing his Motion; but they were totally unconnected with the Church, and unattended with the slightest political authority. The next point to which he should call the attention of the House was the exclusion of Roman Catholics from the Scholarships of the Universities. There were seventy scholars: they held the situation for five years only. There were, consequently, a certain number of vacancies in each year. These Scholarships were instituted for the benefit of the class of students whose fortunes were not ample; so much so, that no persons having above a certain income could hold them. The following account was given of Scholarships in "The Dublin University Calendar:"—'The Scholars are on the foundation, and have their commons free of expense, and their rooms for half the charge paid by the other pensioners. They are excepted from College charges or decrements, and receive an annual salary. They hold their Scholarships until they become, or might have become, Masters of Arts. The number of Scholars is seventy, and of these thirty are termed natives (Hibernici), and receive a higher salary from the College, than the rest; it has been maintained, that these places were not merely intended for those born in Ireland, but for such as spoke from infancy the Irish language.' He would ask, for what possible reason were Roman Catholics, who were allowed to take degrees, excluded from these advantages, except on the terms of a self-degrading conformity with the Established Church? Formerly the scholars had one political privilege, that of voting with the Fellows for a member for the University. That privilege might now be said to have become of little value, since the Masters of Arts had been invested with the franchise. Under the Reform Bill a Catholic could vote; his name, for example, was registered; and yet, if he were in Trinity College to-morrow, he could not become a candidate for a Scholarship. It might be said, that the Scholars were members of the Corporation. What power had they in it? Not the slightest. They could not, if they were all to unite, effect any one decision of the Board. In what way was it possible that, if every one of them was a Roman Catholic, they should prejudice the interests of the Established Church? It might be said, that Protestantism ought to take its stand on the Emancipation Bill. Apply this argument, and the Roman Catholics must be denied their degrees in the English Universities. Flow preposterous was it to allow a Roman Catholic of fortune to enter Trinity College, to obtain pensions and distinctions and degrees, and to deny to those of smaller means the opportunities of advancement which a Scholarship afforded! It was to a young man of moderate income a great object to acquire a Scholarship. How painful it must be to many individuals to be compelled to call on their parents to subtract from their comforts the sum sufficient to support them in the University; and how it must delight the hearts of the affectionate and good, to be placed in that station of independence which might enable them to relieve their families from the burthen incidental to their education! How many a mother, with a family of orphans, had toiled and pinched herself in order to supply a pittance for the instruction of her child; and how much privation it would have saved, and how much pain it would have prevented, had these means been afforded to Roman Catholics of extricating a parent from the necessity of contribution! The distinction made by the exclusion of Roman Catholics was odious. It was one of the badges of ascendancy left on the classes who ought peculiarly to be relieved from it. From the forehead of the rich the stigma had been removed. Let it not then be left on the forehead of the humble student toiling not only for distinction, but for bread. He might be told that many Roman Catholics had been induced to change their religion by the allurements of a Scholarship. The "fishers of men" ought not to use such base baits as these. One of his chief objections to the present system was, that it created in the University a means of despicable and most degrading proselytism, which, instead of raising the interest of the Church, corrupted the morals of the College. So unworthy a temptation ought not to be held out. Take a poor lad, and see how far he was improved by such a progress as that. He left home with his knapsack of literature on his back—became a sizer—distinguished himself—the period when he was eligible to a scholarship arrived—he shrunk at first from the desertion of his creed, although weaned a little by three years of College life from its exercises, and not dedicated to devotion, still the recollection of that form of prayer in which he was instructed, by maternal fondness, and the memory of his home, associated with his early piety, came upon him. But he saw in a scholarship the means of present competence and the avenue to future independence. He hesitated—encompassed by men who scoffed at other creeds besides his, and whispered in his ear what it was needless to repeat; he began, at last, to think that his scruples were but folly, and his principles but prejudice; and throwing off his Christianity and his Catholicity together, he put on remorse and shame, and became a jeering and sardonic renegade. Did the Church gain anything by such a neophyte in Protestantism as that? Did the Legislature, while it plucked up the religion of his heart by the roots, cast the seeds of legal orthodoxy in his mind? It made an apostate, and profaned the steps of the altar with his false and mercenary genuflection. Away with a system of Proselytism like that! Away with this propaganda, not of Protestantism, but of scepticism! for, rest assured, that, in seducing a Roman Catholic, by mercenary motives, from his religion, they did but teach him to deride and scoff at their own. The House—the Government—would be ittle disposed to maintain, that the interests of the Church were advanced by such expedients. He would call on the Government to act in conformity with the principles laid down when the Education Commission was established. The Government had chased the spirit of Proselytism from the inferior departments of education, and from the only national establishment connected with literature and science, it ought to be contumeliously driven. There were eight millions of people in Ireland. It was not from five or six hundred thousand that a supply of genius should be drawn. Search for it wherever it could be found. Let the career of letters be thrown open to all classes of the community. From the Bar, and from the Senate, fanaticism had been put to flight. It was not to the groves of the Academy, that it should be permitted to retreat. He moved for leave to bring in "a Bill for the admission of Roman Catholics and other Dissenters to Scholarships and certain Professorships, as are unconnected with religious instruction, in the University of Dublin."

Mr. Lefroy

rose to oppose the Motion. Any one could easily see, that that small beginning was but the first step to the subversion of the Irish University, and, through the subversion of that nursery of the Irish Church, to the total extinction of the Protestant religion in Ireland. That was no slight alteration, as the hon. Gentleman insidiously intimated, but one of great and lasting importance; one that would eventually involve the constitution of the University in destruction. He hoped to convince the Government, since the hon. Member directed his appeal to that quarter, that there was no one principle of justice or national good on which they could stand in introducing any legislative innovation on this subject. First, the hon. Member would open scholarships to all persons of all religious persuasions, or of none. But he well knew that by the constitution of the University, which in the spirit and letter of its Charter was founded, endowed, and upheld for the culture and support of true religion, all its offices were exclusively confined to Protestants. If, indeed, the Irish people stood with respect to the University in the same situation as the English Dissenters did to the English Universities, then there might be some foundation for an appeal to Parliament. But when the Dissenters of all classes were not only allowed the privileges of admission and instruction but even of degrees in the Irish University—when the University was found to answer all the provisions of national education without murmur or public remonstrance from the people—when it was on every side allowed that—

Colonel Perceval moved, that the House be counted; and a sufficient number of Members not being in attendance, the House adjourned.