Page images
PDF
EPUB

when you can,

he has gained from the teaching of the Scriptures. I am obliged to write more shortly than I could wish ; let me hear from

you

when you can, and see you and be sure that, whether my judgments be right or wrong, you have no friend who more earnestly would wish to assist you in that only narrow road to life eternal, which I feel sure that you by God's grace are now treading.

[blocks in formation]

Rugby, April 30, 1837. venture to address you, and I trust to your forgiveness for so doing, on a subject on which we have a common interest, the new University of London ; and I am the more induced to address you particularly, as I understand that you are disposed to take an active part in the arrangements to be made; as you have had practical experience in education ; and as you are one of the few members of our profession who happen to belong to the University. I imagine, also, that the particular department with which I am likely to be concerned, will be that in which you too will be most interested, the Examination for Degrees in Arts. And I find that a committee was to be appointed yesterday, to draw up something of a plan on this subject. I hope to be in town very shortly, but my visit must necessarily be very brief, and I feel that I should much further my views, if I could explain them to your Lordship beforehand, and above all, if, as I hope, I shall be so happy as to find that you agree with them.

I need not say that I cordially agree with the principle of the University that it recognises no sectarian distinctions. But while I fully allow this, I also find it expressly declared in our charter, that we are founded for the advancement of “Religion and Morality.” And this seems to lead to the exact conclusion which I most earnestly approve of, that we are to be a Christian University, but not a Romanistone, nor a Protestant, neither exclusively Church of England, nor exclusively dissenting. “Religion,” in the king's mouth, can mean only Christianity ; in fact, no Christian can use it in any other sense without manifest inconsistency.-Again, must it not follow that if we enter at all upon moral science, whether it be Moral Philosophy or History, we must be supposed to have some definite notions of moral truth. Now those notions are not, I suppose, to be the notions of each individual Examiner; we must refer to some standard. I suppose that a man could hardly get a degree in physical science if he made Aristotle's Physics his standard of truth in those matters. Now there are many views of moral truth, quite as false as those of Aristotle on physical science; but what are we to take for our standard of truth? We must, it seems to me, have some standard, in whatever we profess to examine, and what can that standard be to any Christian, except what he believes to be God's revealed will ? It seems to me that we cannot recognise any other standard of moral truth without directly renouncing Christ as our Master.-Further, Mr. Lieber, who wrote a little book of his Reminiscences of Niebuhr, who is now engaged in one of the American colleges in Carolina, and has published some exceedingly good papers on the system there pursued, lays it down as a matter of common sense, that,---without entering into the religious question,a knowledge of the Christian Scriptures must form a part of the merely intellectual education of all persons in Christian countries. He says, I think most truly, that Christianity has so coloured all our institutions, and all our literature, and has in so many points modified or even dictated our laws, that no one can be considered as an educated man who is not acquainted with its authoritative documents. He considers that a liberal education without the Scriptures, must be, in any Christian country, a contradiction in terms.

My conclusion is, that we are bound in some way or other to recognise this truth. We may, indeed, give Degrees in Law and in Medicine, without acknowledging it; so we may also in physical science; so we may also in pure science and philology. None of these things, nor all of them together, constitute education. But if we profess to give Degrees in Arts, we are understood, I think, as giving our testimony that a man has received a liberal education. And the same result follows from our examining on any moral subject, such as History or Moral Philosophy; because it is precisely moral knowledge, and moral knowledge only, which properly constitutes education.

The University of Bonn,--the only one of the Prussian universities with the system of which I happen to be acquainted,-is open, as you know, to Catholics and Protestants equally. But both have their Professors and their regular courses of religious instruction. Now as we do not teach at present, but only examine, and as we confer no Degrees in Theology, our difficulty will be of a far simpler kind. It may be met, I think, perfectly easily in two or three different manners. I suppose that, for any

of the reasons stated above, our Bachelor of Arts' Degree must imply a knowledge of the Christian Scriptures. But then, as we are not to be sectarian, neither you and I on the one hand, nor any of our Dissenting colleagues on the other, have any right to put their own construction on this term, “knowledge of the Scriptures.” I think that an Unitarian knows them very ill, and he would think the same of us. But we agree in attaching an equal value to a “knowledge of the Scriptures,” each of us interpreting the phrase in his own way.

I would propose, then, two or three modes of ascertaining every candidate's knowledge of the Scriptures, in his own meaning of the term. First, in imitation of the University of Bonn, there might be members of the Senate of different denominations of Christians to examine the members of their own communions. Practically, this would involve no great multitude; I doubt if it would re

quire more than three divisions, our own Church, Roman Catholics, and Unitarians. I doubt if the orthodox Dissenters, as they are called, would have any objection to be examined by you or me in such books of the New Testament as they themselves chose to bring up, when they were required to subscribe to no Articles or Liturgy, and were examined as persons whose opinions on their own peculiar points of difference were not tolerated merely, but solemnly recognised; so that there would be neither any suspicion of compromise on their part, nor of attempts at proselytism on ours.

Secondly, we might even do less than this, and merely require from every candidate for a Degree in Arts, a certificate, signed by two ministers of his own persuasion, that he was competently instructed in Christian knowledge as understood by the members of their communion. This is no more than every young person in our own Church now gets, previously to his Confirmation. I think this would be a very inferior plan to the former, inasmuch as the certificates might in some cases be worth very little; but still it completely saves the principle recognised in our Charter, and indispensable, I think, to every plan of education, or for the ascertaining of the sufficiency of any one's education in a Christian country, --that Christian knowledge is a necessary part of the formation and cultivation of the mind of every one.

Thirdly, we might, I am sure, do what were best of all, and which might produce benefits in the course of time, more than can be told. All Protestants acknowledge the Scriptures as their common authority, and all desire their children to study them. Let every candidate for a Degree bring up at his own choice some one Gospel, and some one Epistle in the Greek Testament. Let him declare, on coming before us, to what communion he belongs. We know what are the peculiar views entertained by him as such, and we would respect them most religiously. But on all common ground we might examine him thoroughly,

and how infinite would be the good of thus proving, by actual experience, how much more our common ground is, than our peculiar ground. I am perfectly ready to examine to-morrow in any Unitarian school in England, in presence of parents and masters.

I will not put a question that should offend, and yet I will give such an examination as should bring out, or prove the absence of what you and I should agree in considering to be Christian knowledge of the highest value. I speak as one who has been used to examine young men in the Scriptures for twenty years nearly, and I pledge myself to the perfect easiness of doing this. Our Examinations, in fact, will carry their own security with them, if our characters would not; they will be public, and we should not and could not venture to proselytize, even if we wished it. But the very circumstance of our having joined the London University at the risk of much odium from a large part of our profession, would be a warrant for our entering into the spirit of the Charter with perfect sincerity. I have no sufficient apology to offer for this long intrusion upon your patience, but my overwhelming sense of the importance of the subject. It depends wholly, as I think, on our decision on this point, whether our success will be a blessing or a curse to the country. A Christian, and yet not sectarian University, would be a blessing of no common magnitude. An University that conceived of education as not involving in it the principles of moral truth, would be an evil, I think, no less enormous.

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

(In answer to questions about Thucydides.)

Rugby, May 25, 1837. My experience about Thucydides has told me that the knowledge required to illustrate him may be taken at any thing you please, from Mitford up to omne scibile. I suppose that the most direct illustrations are

« PreviousContinue »