+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

age of the world, such as it was with the
ancients. Since that age, in respect to us
indeed, is ancient and greater; but in respect
to the world itself, was new and lesser. And
in reality, as we look for a greater acquaintance
with human affairs, and a more mature judgment,
from an old than from a young man, on
account of his experience, and the variety and
abundance of the things which he has seen,
and heard, and considered, just so it is fit
also that much greater things be expected
from our age (if it knew its strength, and
would endeavour and apply) than from the
old times; as being a more advanced age of
the world, and enlarged and accumulate with
numberless experiences and observations.'

Have these pregnant sentences lost their
meaning in the two centuries and a half that
have since rolled away? Let us take the
wealthiest and most distinguished seminary
of learning now existing in England, and

At the commencement of the present century,
when the Novum Organum had been written
nearly two hundred years, the examinations
at the University of Oxford, so far as they
were scientific at all, and not restricted to
learned languages, turned entirely on the
scholastic logic which the Novum Organum
had shown to be a foul obstruction to
knowledge. The new and true logic, as explained
by Bacon, was never mentioned in the venerable
place; and the new discoveries of the
laws of nature to which it had led, formed no
part of the general course of study, or of the
subjects of public examination. It was quite
possible for an Oxford man to have brought
away a distinguished degree in the sciences,
without knowing the truths of universal
gravitation, or of the celestial motions, or of the
planetary forces, or of any one of the provisions
made by nature for the stability of the system
we inhabit; and the very highest Oxford
degree in the non-scientific departments, did
not imply, any more than it does even yet, the
remotest knowledge of modern languages or
literature, of modern history or philosophy,
of whether it might not have been Cromwell
who discovered America, or Columbus who
fought at Marston Moor. For any interest
that the students at Oxford University were
required to take in such matters, the past
three hundred years might never have
existed, or have been utterly annihilated, and
all their wondrous burden of experiences
melted into air.

It was not till after the nineteenth century
had begun, that some sense of what had been
going on in the world outside crept into the
cloisters at Oxford. Statutes were then
passed to recognise the Newtonian improvements
in philosophy, and recommending,
though not necessitating, their adoption into
the course for honours. Honours nevertheless
continued to be taken without them;
and it is notorious that the soil has been
ungenial to their growth, and that they
never have flourished in it. Oxford, in effect,
continued up to this day no other than it
was four centuries ago. Apart from the
doubtful discipline of life and manners attainable
within its walls, it is still no more than
a huge theological school, where the lay
youth of England are admitted to participate
in such meagre allowance of intellectual
training as the clergy think safe for
themselves; where Manchester and Birmingham
are ignored; where the Greek and Latin
authors continue in the same esteem as when
they actually contained whatever existed of
learning left upon the earth, and no education
could proceed without them; and from which
there issue into the world yearly reinforcements
of the upper classes of society, less able
to cope with the wants and duties that
surround them, and less acquainted with the
laws and operations by which the present is
to be guided into the future, than any self-
taught merchant's clerk at Liverpool, or any
sharp engineer's lad at the railway in Euston

Now, what has been the answer from
Oxford when reproaches of this kind have
been addressed to it? What was its answer
when ridiculed, forty years ago, for teaching
what rational men had been laughing at for
more than a century? It amounted to this
that so intimately had the original statutes
of the University interwoven the Aristotelian
methods with the whole course of its studies
and exercises, and so sacredly were its officers
bound to see to the enforcement of those
statutes, that the last stronghold from which
any such learning could be dislodged was the
University, to which its mere forms and practices
unhappily continued to be essential,
even long after every vestige of reality had
vanished out of them. In other words it was
confessed that Oxford had been so constructed as
a place of study, that the rules and statutes
which should have been framed for the reception
of truth, in whatever quarter it might
appear, had turned out to be only available
for the retention and perpetuation of error;
and that Education, whose express province
everywhere else was to absorb and make
profit of every new acquisition, was miserably
bound, on this spot only, to reject them all.
Precisely the same arguments have very lately
been repeated. When the great 'whip' of
the country parsons brought up a majority
against the Modern History statute twelve
months ago, this was the plea on which
bigotry rallied her forces; and when more
recently the statute was again proposed, the
same plea would have secured it the same
reception, if the old flock of reverend Thwack-
'ums had not meanwhile tired of the expense
and trouble of being dragged in a drove from
their parsonages to the Senate House, to bleat
forth ignorant non placets.

As it was, the History statute was passed
with its notable limitation against the events
of the last sixty years. The Oxford scholar