Page images

be awarded by such an Examination, but the names of those who had highly distinguished themselves might also be stated, as is now done in the case of certain University Scholarships. I believe that such a change would be acceptable to the University, and that the Colleges would readily take account of credit thus obtained in the bestowal of their Fellowships.

At the same time, a man who had obtained a high degree and wished to go into active life would not be constrained to spend a longer time at the University than is now requisite. Experience goes to show, that the cases in which the verdict of the Tripos would be amended would be very exceptional ones.

Possibly some strong foundations might be able to adopt the suggestion in question, either partially or altogether, without detriment. I do not pretend to determine for each particular College, but I should not admit any claim to reciprocity which might be set up. Two or three Fellowships a year might be disposed of in the University by an open Examination without doing any harm, but I conceive that there are fatal objections to such a mode of proceeding regarded as a general system.

Before entering upon these separately, I may mention that what first strikes people generally with regard to the proposed change is, that it is so utterly uncalled for.

If the existing state of things contained abuses, if we heard complaints of unfair dealing, if College interests were sacrificed and inferior men elected from personal feeling, we might be sure that in a body where discussion is so rife as it is here, a remedy would be loudly called for; but that the reverse is the case, is shown by the Report of the Royal Commissioners, based on a vast amount of evidence. They say:

“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 the University a high moral elevation, and contributed in a great degree to make her the honoured instrument of public good. This 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.”Report of Cambridge University Commissioners, p. 203.

As this refers to the existing system by which Fellowships are bestowed, and as there is no hint throughout the Report of any change being desirable in this respect, we may well feel astonished at the proposal of changes which would almost annihilate many of the Colleges, and strike at the root of many of the most healthful influences of the University.

That the proposed changes would necessarily destroy the efficiency of the smaller Colleges, appears to persons conversant with the matter so obvious as to have given rise to hints that such an effect was really intended, with a view to obtaining a ground for the ultimate suppression of these foundations. Such a suspicion is of course not only unfounded but altogether unworthy; although persons who are familiar with the causes which determine parents in the choice of a College, may see at once how the smaller foundations would be drained of their students, yet these effects would not be immediately apparent to those who had no practical knowledge of the subject.

I shall not then enter on the question of the relative merits of Colleges of different sizes, or of the good derived both by students and teachers from the esprit de corps and competition which spring from the co-existence of many independent foundations, but I shall assume that all would deprecate any injury to establishments which have always obtained their full share of University distinctions, and which hold a particularly strong position on that ground at the present time.

In order to judge of the effects of these changes on the numbers of our students, we must consider how it is that the present distribution of them among the Colleges is effected.

The first thing to be observed is that the very large proportion of parents, who feel unable to enter into the respective merits or advantages of the different Colleges, and who on asking the advice of all their friends, find that each recommends his own College, generally conclude, not unwisely, that they cannot do wrong by sending their sons to the College which is most generally known. Hence a College which, in virtue of its preponderating size, occupies the largest space in the public mind has this great advantage to start with, that all students resort thither who have no particular reason for going anywhere else ; and thus that other Colleges are put in the position of having to show cause why any student should come to them, the presumption being that they should all go to the largest. Besides this a large College has, in the magnificence of its establishment, in the éclat of its name, in its ever increasing connexion, in the value which many parents attach to opportunities for forming a good acquaintance, which they suppose to be found most freely in the largest sphere—in all these respects it has a preponderance of attractions for students in virtue of its size, which (supposing educational advantages to be the same and putting emoluments out of the question) is quite overwhelming. A small College then, to be able to maintain itself, must have the means of setting before a sufficiently numerous class of parents inducements peculiarly falling in with their views for their sons. It must, so to say, apply to each a special force sufficient to turn him out of the main stream. The Tutor of a small College can nearly always trace the motives which have brought him each individual pupil; parents indeed often explain them to him, and they are now and then found to have been influenced by some strange trifle or misapprehension. These sources of attraction form the capital which the administrators of the College have to deal with.

The principal among them are:

(1) The emoluments. The value of which, as an attractive power, depends very much on their being so applied as to offer

, some advantage not found to the same extent elsewhere.

(2) The College connexion. This consists of members and late members of the College, who may be supposed to have a preference for it, who recommend it and send their relatives.

The assistance of the personal friends of those who are engaged in College work, also comes under this head. Formerly there were many families or districts, the young men from which usually resorted to particular Colleges; but this I think is yielding with Colleges, as with schools, to the centralising tendency of the day.

(3) Special Professional connexion. Such as that of Caius with medicine, Trinity Hall with law, and Downing with both of these professions.

Although it might be supposed that the nature of the instruction offered by the several Colleges would be a main point in deciding the choice of parents, this in reality is by no means the case.

A College might engage the ablest lecturers in the whole University without thereby obtaining any material increase of numbers. Indeed, we frequently find that Colleges which carry off the highest University distinctions reap no benefit from such success in the way of an accession of students.

This is partly because parents are not aware of the amount of assistance rendered in College. Even if they should have been at the University themselves they would have no idea of the variety of lectures, some of them of a kind formerly unknown, as composition lectures, &c. and of the frequent Lecture-room Examinations which have been introduced of late. They have also no means of comparing the efficiency of Colleges in this respect. Partly too this arises from their knowing that the assistance of a private tutor can always be obtained. But the fact is, that it is the social influence of this place on the students which parents best appreciate, and about which they are most anxious.

The good repute of a College rests mainly on the general character and tone of its men; this is no doubt somewhat affected by the teaching, but only indirectly so; the general discipline of the place has much more to do with it, and it depends on the class from which most of the men are taken, on the personal influence of the authorities, and on the confidence subsisting between them and the Undergraduates.

The estimation in which a College is held no doubt affects its numbers very greatly; this good repute acts by allowing the other sources of attraction, the emoluments, personal connexion, &c. to exert their full effect; whereas if the College had a character for idleness or extravagance, parents would forego the pecuniary prospects, and would not listen to the recommendations of members of the College; indeed the latter would cease to make such recommendations :-while, on the other hand, when a College is said to be flourishing, its old members and the Undergraduates as well are pleased to spread its repute. It is only rarely that the good character of a College avails of itself, without the aid of one of the more powerful motives above named, to divert students from the

main stream. A College cannot proclaim the excellence of its internal condition, and the means of information which the public have on such points are very limited. Moreover, even if the attention of parents is called to a College on these grounds, they are apt to conclude, and with reason, that in the great variety of sets of men to be found in one very large College, there must be some at least as desirable as any that can be found elsewhere.

Now and then of course we find parents who understand the University, and who make up their mind according to the character and attainments of their son as to whether he will be most benefited by the more public education and the wider competition of a large College, or the smaller lecture-classes and the closer personal supervision of a small one,—but such cases must be regarded as exceptional ones.

Hence the three heads above mentioned comprise, I think, the main items which constitute what we may call the capital of a College, and they are, as I have shown, not independent; but a loss of emoluments, or of the control over the disposition of them, which is the same thing, will, by causing the loss of the abler men, cripple the action of the remaining resources, and thus the downward movement of the College will be accelerated in a compound manner.

I certainly consider that the Fellowships of a College are to be regarded in the first instance as the means whereby that particular College is to be made an efficient place of education ; for such efficiency a certain number of able students is the first requisite, and this can only be supplied by each College having its own rewards.

All endowed schools depend for their prosperity on their Exhibitions, which are to them exactly what our Fellowships are to us, viz. the means whereby that particular institution is kept up in numbers and emulation; and what is proposed for us is exactly parallel to the Exhibitions of all schools being thrown open to the competition of scholars from all, the result of which would be the annihilation of many schools, and that without any fault of their administration, and I believe to the disadvantage of the public.

I shall now proceed to show how the suggestions of the Commissioners would destroy all those causes which have hitherto

« PreviousContinue »