HL Deb 07 December 1852 vol 123 cc1060-1

My Lords, I beg to call your Lordships' attention to the Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the state of the University of Cambridge, and the respective studies and discipline there, and which report has been laid on the table of your Lordships' House. Your Lordships are no doubt aware of the charges which have been repeatedly preferred of late years against the two Universities, accusing them of negligence, supineness, and indifference to improvement —and not only indifference to improvement with regard to the discipline of those learned bodies, but an absolute disposition to oppose all improvement. With respect to these charges against the University of Cambridge, I wish to direct your Lordships' notice to a few passages which are contained in the Commissioners' Report. The Commissioners say— Before we conclude this Report, it is with unfeigned pleasure that we attempt another task; that we endeavour in a few words to indicate the points wherein the University has in modern times shown in the spirit of her administration her willingness to enlarge the cycle of her studies, and to modify her institutions so far as the rigid severity of her laws permitted. We have abundant proofs supplied by our evidence that the University has been liberal in the general administration of her funds, not husbanding them parsimoniously, but bestowing them to the very limits of her power upon objects of great academical importance. Nor should we fail to notice the vote of a committee to revise the statutes of the University, with a view to petitioning Tour Majesty for Your Royal sanction to an amended code of University laws. This committee was voted by the Senate some time before the issue of a Royal Commission had been by any one anticipated. That the University was ready to enlarge its cycle of studies, is proved by its instituting new triposes of the moral and natural sciences, and thus affording to most of the professors an extended field of usefulness. A like spirit has been shown by the colleges, which in several instances have, at a great cost, and no small sacrifice of personal interests, enlarged their buildings, and in all cases shown themselves careful guardians of their corporate property, by foregoing a part of the income of the existing body, with a view to the prospective benefit of the society. Many of the colleges also have sought wholesome modifications of their statutes, given up valueless or injurious privileges, and cone to the full extent of their powers in obtaining the removal of restrictions which prejudicially limited the free election to their fellowships and scholarships. All these were spontaneous acts, and in the right direction. We regard them as the marks of a wise and honourable spirit, and they have been in good part suggestive to ourselves of the reforms we have ventured to recommend. In another part of their Report the Commissioners observe as follows:— One happy circumstance in the position of the University is deserving of special comment. A great majority of the college fellowships have long been open to free competition; this has given to the University a high moral elevation, and contributed in a high degree to make her the honoured instrument of public good. The same condition marks the distribution of many valued University prizes. It is, we think, this fact which has called forth a high sentiment of honour, and an unbending sense of public duty on the part of the governing powers and examiners, whether of the colleges or of the University. That the rewards of competition be given to the most worthy is a principle now so deeply penetrating the moral life of Cambridge, that its violation seems almost beyond the region of thought. What above all other things gives us hope for the future good of Cambridge, is the manly, free, and truth-loving character of her sons, springing in part, at least, from her collegiate system, the character of her studies, and the uprightness of her administration, producing in return confidence and goodwill on the part of those committed to her care. In all her members she believes that she possesses a body of men, who, strong in their historical remembrances, cling to what is truly good, would seek for no needless change, and would admit of no change which had not the fair promise of scientific, moral, and religious benefit. My Lords, as one of the oldest members of the University of Cambridge— having been a member of the Synod of that body for nearly sixty years—having represented the University of Cambridge in successive Parliaments — and holding, at present, a high office in that learned society—I thought it my duty to read these passages from the Report of the Commissioners, as affording the best answer to the charges, so often reiterated, to which I have referred, and which, I am sure, can have risen only from entire ignorance of what is passing within the walls of the University, and of the exertions made by that learned body to improve and extend, as far as their limited authority admits, the benefits of that noble institution. I hope your Lordships will excuse me for this intrusion.