HL Deb 19 March 1868 vol 190 cc1872-7

presented a Petition from certain Members of the Senate of the University of Cambridge respecting the Maintenance of the religious Character of the Colleges. The right rev. Prelate said it appeared to him that the Petition was of so important a nature that he might be justified in troubling their Lordships with a few explanations, for the purpose of showing what was the object of the persons by whom it was signed. Their Lordships were aware that considerable excitement at present prevailed in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, with reference to proposals for extending, more widely than had hitherto been the practice, the benefits of both those great Establishments to persons not members of the Established Church; that, in each of the Universities persons who were not members of the Established Church were admitted as students; that all the ordinary prizes were open to them; that in Oxford they might take the degree of Bachelor of Arts, and in Cambridge the degree of Master of Arts, but that from the Government of either University, as members of the Senate or Convocation, they were excluded. Again, in none of the Colleges could persons not members of the Established Church become Fellows. The petition he had the honour to present was not very extensively signed. There were attached to it the names of thirty-five members of the Senate, and the comparative smallness of that number might probably be accounted for by the fact that the position maintained by the petitioners was one which was not calculated to satisfy the popular excitement on one side or the other of that controversy. No doubt in times of excitement like the present it was easy to obtain signatures upon either side. In the University of Oxford there prevailed at present a strong feeling among many persons that any change in the direction he had indicated might lead to the secularizing of the whole system of study; and in Cambridge there existed a large and influential body who were desirous of opening all the positions in the University, and also all the positions, including the Fellowships, in the Colleges, to persons other than those connected with the Established Church. Between these two extremes stood the petitioners whom he represented; and although, as he had already stated, their number was not great, he believed, that if he were to read their names, it would be allowed that they were persons whose opinion was entitled to much respect. There were among them Heads of Colleges, there were six Professors, there were six Head-Masters of large schools, and other gentlemen eminent from their position and from their personal character. But it was their misfortune that they were counselling a conciliatory course which could not be acceptable to either extreme party. Their Lordships were no doubt aware that a Memorial had been lately presented to the Archbishop of that province, signed by upwards of 700 members of Convocation of the University of Oxford, expressing the greatest alarm lest the University should be secularized—lest the worship of the Established Church, which had hitherto sanctified the whole life of the place, should be abolished, and lest it should be reduced to the condition of some foreign Universities, in which all religious distinctions were totally unknown. He need not say for himself that if he thought there were any reason to apprehend the adoption of such measures as these memorialists seemed to fear, he should be among the very first to protest against any change in the existing system. It would indeed be an evil day, in his judgment, for England if the peculiar religious character of the University of Oxford, of which he could speak more particularly, should be destroyed. He believed that, in that case, there would be much danger, as those memorialists appeared to apprehend, that many parents who desired that their children should be subjected to the same system of training to which they had been subjected themselves, and which had been the glory of the University for generations, would withdraw their sons from a place of education conducted upon that new principle. But he did not share the alarm felt by the memorialists, from the adoption of proposals confined to the single object of extending the honours and emoluments of the University properly so called to others than members of the Established Church. His opinion was that the Universities were more or less national institutions, and that, therefore, whatever was the characteristic of the nation with regard to religion, would also characterize more or less the Universities under such a system as that to which he was then referring. The Senate of the University of Cambridge and the Convocation of the University of Oxford were bodies a good deal larger than their Lordships' House, and he did not believe that the fact of admitting to either of them persons who were not members of the Established Church would make any more sensible difference in their general character than the presence of a few Peers who did not belong to the Church made in the composition of that House. Neither did he think that any danger would arise if they were to allow men eminent in the abstract sciences to teach those sciences, although they did not profess the doctrines of the Established Church. The memorialists apprehended, no doubt, and not without reason, that when a change of that kind took place, the question was no longer one between members of the Established Church and Nonconformists, but between those who professed the Christian religion and those who did not profess it; but still, upon the broadest survey of the matter, he confessed that, with regard to the Convocation and the Senate of the Universities, and with regard to the teaching of the public Professors, who had no control over the discipline of the students, he saw no danger from the largest concession it would be possible to make. The question, however, assumed another character when they turned to the case of the Colleges. The Colleges were not, he apprehended, in any sense republics, which the Universities were; they were, more or less, in their essential nature, homes, in which young men were temporarily placed. He might illustrate that statement by the condition of the College to which he had the honour to belong. In that College there were in his time seventy members, having of course a common hall and a common place of daily worship, with a governing body consisting of twelve Fellows, of which number, as a general rule, only four were residents, the others being in London or elsewhere. Now, he confessed he could scarcely understand how the introduction of persons not professing—say the Christian religion—into that small body of four controlling the discipline of that more private establishment could fail altogether to alter and destroy its character. The present petitioners were placed in this position. They were anxious, in common with himself, that every possible facility should be given for opening their University; but they were also anxious that great care should be taken that the government of the Colleges should be reserved for members of the Established Church. It was true that there were other Colleges far larger than the one he had described. But the larger Colleges, which more or less resembled Universities, were few in number. The great Trinity College, Cambridge, could hardly be taken as representing the Colleges at either University. He had men- tioned one College which was presided over by twelve Fellows, only four being residents, and he believed there was another one in Cambridge in which there were only five Fellows. It appeared to him that when they descended from the republics of the Universities to the homes of the Colleges, the principle which would justify them in making the Universities as national as possible did not extend to the other. He believed that if the Colleges were thrown entirely open—that was to say, if all persons, whatever might be their religion, were allowed to become the governors of the Colleges—it would be impossible they could discharge those functions which, with great advantage to the Church and the nation, they had discharged for many years. The petitioners dwelt upon that point. They argued that, not only were the Colleges invested with extensive ecclesiastical patronage; but also that it had for a very long time indeed been their privilege to educate the clergy of the Established Church, and they were afraid that if the character of the Colleges in reference to religious matters were to be altered, that system must altogether cease. In a small body of four or five members, who were elected entirely from merit and by examination, there could be no possible security, in a country where diversity of faith existed, that a majority might not consist of persons who not only were not members of the Established Church, but who did not even profess the Christian religion. But if that were the case, it was obvious, he thought, that the Colleges must cease to be institutions in which clergymen of the Church of England were educated, and the result would be that in England, as in most Roman Catholic countries, the clergy would be obliged to take refuge for their education in distinctly ecclesiastical seminaries. He did not wish to say one word against seminaries of that description, established here and there throughout the country; but he believed that any education that could thus be given to the clergy would be of a very inferior character to that which they at present received at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The petitioners desired, and he entirely participated in that wish, that the clergy of the Established Church should always retain the character they had hitherto held in those liberal institutions, and that they should not in that respect resemble the ministers of some other creeds. They were extremely anxious that nothing should be done which would deprive the Colleges of the power of educating the clergy, and they were afraid that any measure calculated to produce such an effect, while it was devised for the purpose of advancing liberal opinions, might tend rather to diminish all true liberality of sentiment, by driving the clergy to seek a very narrow sort of education, under which they would lose their just influence over the people of this great country. For these reasons the petitioners were anxious that the government of the Colleges should still be reserved to the Established Church. It was true that not all the Fellows resided at their Colleges, and the suggestion had from time to time been made that some arrangements might be carried out whereby a certain number of the Fellowships should be given entirely as prizes, without admitting to any portion of the government of the corporation. Against any wise plan of that kind which might be devised the petitioners made no objection. The petitioners were men of various views and opinions, but there was one point upon which they all took their stand. They were anxious that the Universities should be thrown open as widely as possible; but that the Colleges should retain the distinctly religious character of their government, which had been their glory and their safeguard in past times.

Petition ordered to lie on the table.

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