The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

XIV. Education

§ 28. Newman

The principle of undenominational education embodied in the university of London was extended to Ireland in 1849 by the foundation of Queen’s colleges at Belfast, Cork and Galway and their incorporation as Queen’s university in the next year, notwithstanding the protests of Daniel O’Connell, the Irish Roman catholic bishops and Pius IX. The hierarchy determined to establish a catholic university in Dublin and to place John Henry Newman at its head; the university was canonically founded in 1854, Newman being its first rector. He had acted in that capacity previous to the formal opening, and, during 1852, he delivered those addresses on the scope and nature of higher education which were published under the title, The Idea of a University. These discourses deliberately traversed those conceptions of knowledge and of instruction which, first rendered powerful by Brougham and the utilitarians, had become very popular doctrines in the mid-century. In opposition to the demand that universities should place research and the advancement of knowledge in the forefront of their activities, Newman asserted that the chief business of a university is to teach and in particular to illuminate the intelligence and to inculcate habits of accurate, thorough and systematic thinking. Notwithstanding its many acknowledged benefits, the diffusion of useful knowledge tended to support false, illiberal notions of what constituted instruction, to tolerate smattering and to prepare and make current “nutshell views for the breakfast table.” While the prevailing idea was to separate theology and religious teaching from all educational institutions, Newman asserted that, as all knowledge, fundamentally, is one, the knowledge of God cannot be divorced from other forms of knowledge without causing general injury to knowledge as a whole. The elimination of theology meant that some other branch of knowledge would usurp the vacant place to its own detriment. At a time when reformers regarded professors’ lectures and examinations as the most efficient mode of university education, Newman ventured upon an outspoken justification of the practice of the ancient universities and public schools, the enforcement of college residence and tutorial supervision. The moving passage in which he reverts to his Oriel days is well known; so, too, is the taunt directed at the Baconian philosophy, “a method whereby bodily discomforts and temporal wants are to be most effectually removed from the greatest number.” Science and literature must both occupy a great place in university education. But the former ignores sin, and the latter knows it only too well. “It is a contradiction in terms to attempt a sinless literature of a sinful man”—a home-thrust at the sixteenth-century compromise known as pietas litterata. Therefore, the church must fashion and mould the university’s organisation, watch over its teaching, knit its pupils together and superintend its action. The suppressed premiss in this argument (an infallible church) fails to conceal the prosaic fact that the moulding and fashioning must be committed, not to an abstract entity, but to the hands of possibly very fallible and always concrete ecclesiastics.