Chapter 2

'The Town and the University' locates the institution in the unexpected and often unsavoury environment of a provincial market town and explores the byzantine institutional workings of the University.

2:      The Town and the University

 

 

 

The great achievement of the University of Cambridge between 1815 and 1914 was that it managed to reform itself, in many respects fundamentally and in almost all, unwillingly, while conveying the impression through its buildings and its rituals that it was both unchanging and timeless.1 Since in extreme manifestations, the University came close to being a spiritual concept, it is best to start with its physical location of the East Anglian market town of Cambridge. "Imagine the most irregular town that can be imagined, streets of the very crookedest kind, twisting about like those in a nightmare, and not infrequently bringing you back to the same point you started from," wrote Charles Bristed, an American student of the eighteen-forties. "Among these narrow, ugly, and dirty streets, are tumbled in ... as if it were at random ... some of the most beautiful academical buildings in the world."2 For much of the nineteenth century, the town of Cambridge barely exceeded its medieval limits, roughly the core area of the colleges today. The modern inner suburb of Chesterton was described in 1827 as a "beautiful romantic village about two miles from Cambridge". (Indeed, the villagers of Chesterton were still celebrating May Day according to the old calendar a century after it had been reformed in 1752.) When the concept of "resident member" was introduced to the governance of the University in 1856, the category was defined as those living within a mile and a half of Great St Mary's church. In the eighteen-seventies, the first college for women located itself at Girton in the confident belief that a distance of two miles from the town would secure it in a permanent state of purdah. Although the population of Cambridge, 11,000 in 1811, had doubled by 1831 and would double again by the twentieth century, there was always an undercurrent of academic opinion that assumed that the town existed solely to service the University.   In 1902, the Union debated a motion that "the University of Cambridge exercises a detrimental influence on the Town". Predictably it rejected the charge, although by just two votes –  but only 56 members bothered to take part. The town, in short, was taken for granted.3

The urban environment of Cambridge contributed little that was conducive to a scholarly lifestyle. In 1826, "a superior house fronts" in the centre of the town projected "a certain air of dilapidated dignity", but overall the streetscape was "mean", a reflection of the lack of "good building materials" in the locality. As the century progressed, the principal streets were rebuilt in mass-produced, railway-hauled brick and the town came to value its appearance: "not even Solomon in all his glory is arrayed like the window-boxes in Trinity Street", wrote an observer in May 1895. But if the architecture improved, nothing could be done about the climate. "It can certainly rain at Cambridge", grumbled Thackeray  in 1829. Everywhere in the town there was water, water running in ditches, water stagnant in open drains, water in droplets in the damp unhealthy air. Generations of students laughed at the joke about the undergraduate who was pulled from a gutter and then appealed for help in rescuing the man beneath him.4 Students were even drowned, especially in the days before street-lighting: in 1818 a young Scots aristocrat actually died of exposure after falling drunk into a ditch near St John's. Nor was sluggish drainage a mere physical hazard. Within a month of the founding of the Union in 1815, Cambridge was swept "by a fever of some kind", probably typhoid, and the University actually closed down for a term. At first, William Whewell at Trinity was not particularly bothered, reporting that there were "several men ill, but not one of my acquaintance; and besides, the disorder appears to be local, and has been confined to one or two of the smaller colleges". Jesus College was suffering because of "the stagnant and putrid waters in its neighbours", but Jesus was a quarter of a mile away and "not one man in Trinity or St John's" had fallen sick.5 His tone changed when the disease struck on his own staircase. The 1815 epidemic was not the last public health threat to Cambridge. In 1832, a Union business meeting resolved to contribute twenty guineas to the local Board of Health "in the event of the cholera morbus reaching the town".6 Even the country's intellectual elite was slow to grasp the notion of prevention as the key to public health.

                Of course, no contemporary British town was a sanitary paradise. The most that can be said is that they were probably more salubrious than their continental equivalents. A French Countess visiting Trinity in 1832 expressed surprise at the absence of people relieving themselves in the corners of the Great Court.7 Yet local customs were not much of an improvement. As late as the eighteen-nineties, a rectangular patch of grass in Trinity's Whewell's Court was known as "the billiard table" on account of six strategically placed pockets of shingle "for emptying pails" (and, no doubt, chamber pots).8 In a mock election campaign in 1892, Erskine Childers promised "a measure for the better housing of the denser population of Whewell's Court" which contained rooms for about one hundred undergraduates.9 And Whewell's Court was no medieval slum, but the personal project of, and ultimately memorial to, the poor boy from Lancaster who rose via the Presidency of the Union to become a terrifying Master of his college.

                Accustomed to fast-flowing Pennine streams, Whewell was struck when he arrived in Cambridge in 1812 by "the narrow dirty Cam".10 Southey had been even more explicit a few years earlier. "The Cam, a lazy stream, winds behind the town and through the college walks, collecting filth as it goes."11 It was unfair to attribute moral shortcomings to the Cam. The problem was the mismatch between a small river and a large, low-lying drainage basin. Cambridge, thirty miles from tidal water, is barely thirty feet above sea level. By contrast, Oxford, at twice the distance, is six times higher and cleansed by the longest river in England. Many Oxford-based companies and utilities use "Thames Valley" in their titles, but hardly anyone would call the saucer-shaped country to the south of Cambridge a "valley", let alone apply the word to the flat Fens to the north. In the eighteenth century, Oxford had given its river the poetic name of "Isis", but it was not until the end of the nineteenth that Cambridge began grudgingly to borrow the by-name of the Cam's headwaters, the Granta. To cap it all, the slow-moving Cam was more likely to freeze in winter than the free-flowing Thames, preventing vitally-needed coal from reaching both town and gown. The last such crisis actually occurred early in 1845, a few months before the arrival of the railway.

                As the nineteenth century progressed, the state of the Cam steadily worsened. One reason lay downstream in the Fens. An unexpected by-product of the large-scale drainage projects from the seventeenth century was the shrinkage of the peaty soils, followed by renewed flooding. By 1830, the solution had been found in the installation of steam-engines capable of pumping the water into the rivers and drainage canals that ran into them. For the people of the Fens, this was a brilliant solution, celebrated in verse on the engine house at Pymore:

 

These Fens have oft times been by Water drown'd,

Science a remedy in Water found.

The power of Steam she said shall be employ'd

The Destroyer by itself destroy'd.

 

Hence the Cam was "a sleepy river" as it flowed through Cambridge "on its way to to wriggle through the broad level of the Fens".12 The Cam is only twelve feet above sea level at Waterbeach, five miles north of Cambridge. The more effectively its lower reaches were employed to drain the Fens, the less capacity it could provide upstream.

                The problem was worsened by the insanitary irresponsibility of the growing local population who used the river as "a charnel-house for the carcasses of almost all the dead dogs, cats, sheep, and pigs that have died in Cambridge during the year".13 Everyone agreed that the state of the river was a scandal. The largest-ever expression of unanimity in a Union debate occurred in 1887, when all 171 members present agreed that the Cam was "a disgrace to the authorities and a serious danger to the health of the community".14 Above all, it is a tribute either to the propriety or the hardiness of the Victorians that so few of them mentioned the fact that the river stank of sewage.15 Indeed, it continued to do until the middle of the eighteen-nineties, when an expensive main drainage scheme at first did little more than redistribute the smell.16 Given the state of the Cam, the popularity of rowing in nineteenth-century Cambridge becomes all the harder to understand. Organised boat racing began near Midsummer Common, below the town sluice which presumably filtered some of the filth, although races later moved further downriver. The late-Victorian enthusiasm for male nude bathing located itself discreetly upriver, although not necessarily upwind, from the town. Punting through the colleges was virtually unknown before the installation of the sewerage scheme, even though it had long been popular on the Thames. If, for much of the nineteenth century, Cambridge University strikes us as intellectually stagnant, it must be remembered that even its location was a backwater.

                The draining of the Fens had created a vast geometrical landscape, prompting one Cambridge don to wonder whether it was "fancy ... that sees in the scenery of Cambridgeshire something of affinity to the studies of mathematics and astronomy in which the University has conquered such wide fields?"17 Tennyson drew a less flattering connection, likening the "uninteresting" curriculum to the "disgustingly level" countryside.18 Nobody seems to have had a good word for the Cambridgeshire landscape. Thackeray thought it "ugly in the extreme", while to James Stephen, Professor of Modern History,  it was "a prodigy of ugliness, to which nature and art have each contributed their share".19 The poet John Moultrie called nearby Madingley, "sole village from the plague / of ugliness, in that drear land exempt".20   Madingley probably escaped censure because it is located on rising ground. The term is carefully chosen for, as Leslie Stephen put it, "what is facetiously called a hill in these parts" was no more than a "barely perceptible swelling in the ground which serves as a pedestal for a windmill".21 Perhaps the one redeeming feature of the Cambridge area was the glorious sunsets, especially after a shower of rain. Whewell described one in October 1849, the year that Professor Stephen was tramping the "unpleasant roads" planning his course of lectures: the "gloomy drizzle" gave place to "the most brilliant blue, wet sky that you can conceive, with tawny gold-edged clouds, looking as if they had been combed out of the wet rain-clouds".22 But Cambridgeshire owed its wonderful sunsets to the inconvenient fact that its dull, flat landscape left room for plenty of sky.

Although a massive over-simplification, it is helpful to think of the University as a federation of colleges. In 1815, there were sixteen of them, all bearing the heavy imprint of the distant past. Every college required its Fellows to be celibate (or, at least, unmarried), despite the fact that the rest of the Anglican world had come to terms with clerical wedlock 250 years earlier. The denunciation of celibacy in 1766 as "a Remnant of Popery: a Doctrine fit only to be taught & maintained in the court of the Whore of Babylon" (as the Pope was unflatteringly called) had been insufficient to bring about change.23 The sexual imperative did have the advantage of ensuring a steady  turnover among younger Fellows, many of whom left as soon as they could obtain a "college living" (a patronage appointment to a rural rectory). The preparation of the young clerical academic for pastoral work was not ideal. "After a few years spent in lecturing, he could become a country parson and try how far his knowledge of the Greek drama or the planetary theory would qualify him to edify the agricultural labourer."24 The other side of the coin was that effective power remained concentrated in the conservative hands of long-term bachelors. Significantly, when the ban on married Fellows finally disappeared in 1882, "you could not say that there was a general rush to the altar".25

                A seventeenth college, Downing, had been chartered in 1800, after a lawsuit aimed at blocking its founder's bequest that had dragged on for half a century.26  The establishment of the first college for over two centuries offered the opportunity for some cautious educational experiments, such as fellowships devoted to law and medicine, free from the requirement of ordination in the Church of England. Lacking both prestige and cash, Downing did not admit students until 1820, and found them difficult to attract. Bulwer Lytton, who certainly did not live frugally at Trinity Hall, remembered the early Downing undergraduates for their extravagance.27 This quality was shown by one of the first intake, Charles de Thierry, who "bought" the North Island of New Zealand from two visiting Maori chiefs. Even more remarkably, he attempted, unsuccessfully of course, to take possession of his fiefdom and ended his days as a music teacher in Auckland.28

                It is probably no accident that Downing was the last fully-fledged college to be added to the University for a century and a half, and that no serious attempt was made to establish new foundations of any kind for three-quarters of a century. Invited in 1843 to comment on a plan to establish a cut-price institution to train missionaries for the colonies, Whewell probably had Downing in mind when he warned of "the very serious expense of erecting a new college ... the formidable charges of purchase money of the ground" not to mention "building chapel, hall, and lodging-rooms" (the order is revealing) and paying salaries to teachers and administrators.29 Significantly, the mid-twentieth-century expansion of colleges - the twelve years from 1954 saw the biggest wave of new foundations at Cambridge since the decade of the Black Death - came at a time when the main burden of the academic payroll had been transferred to the University itself. The sluggish development (if not virtual failure) of Downing ensured not simply that the question of reform in Cambridge would remain largely in the hands of the colleges, but in the hands of colleges that were themselves mired in conservatism.

                Exasperated reformers were sometimes driven to conclude that "Henry VIII would have done a service to education if he had swept the colleges away with the monasteries".30 Yet only once did the Union make the effort to contemplate the notion of the University without colleges, in 1900 when it rejected by 88 votes to 16 the motion that "in the constitution of an ideal University, Colleges should have no place".31 Even then, the topic was probably chosen to accommodate a visiting debating team from Edinburgh, where a collegiate system had never been seriously attempted. The Student's Guide to the University of Cambridge (written for students, not by them) did not bother to describe how the University worked, since the subject was "difficult to understand" and "of no practical importance to the student".32 An undergraduate of 1902 recalled that he "was barely conscious of the existence of a Vice-Chancellor".33  For the ordinary undergraduate, it was his college that dominated daily life and academic studies.

                The Student's Guide divided the colleges into two categories, the two giants and the rest. In 1866, the two largest colleges, Trinity and St John's, contained about eight hundred students, while "taken together" the other fifteen collectively accounted for the rest, about one thousand.34  College rivalries were already ferocious in the early nineteenth century - Caius, for instance, was dismissed by a Johnian ecclesiastic  as "always a conceited and seldom a successful society" - and were reinforced by the culture of mindless institutional patriotism that transferred itself to Cambridge from the reinvigorated mid-Victorian public schools. F.M. Cornford in 1908 sardonically regarded "College Feeling" as the key element that distinguished Cambridge from a series of boarding houses, "for in a boarding-house hatred is concentrated, not upon rival establishments, but upon the other members of the same establishment".35 In contrast to more recent times, it was possible for undergraduates to move from one college to another, in pursuit either of better opportunities or lower standards. There was a well-trodden path from St John's to tiny Sidney Sussex (described in mid-century as "almost a colony of second-rate Johnians"),36 while a Master of Trinity dismissed Magdalene (the only college located beyond the town's principal bridge) as a "transpontine Institution for fallen undergraduates".37 Yet it is a measure of academic insularity that in a century which saw the mass outpouring of people to found whole new nations overseas, the technical Cambridge term for movement between colleges was "migration".

                In the early decades of the nineteenth century, inter-collegiate hostility was particularly directed against St John's, which had been dominant until about 1800. "Johnians" were nicknamed "pigs", for no obvious reason. In an orgy of unfunny humour, their college was known as the "Piggery", a dull Johnian could expect to be punningly dismissed as a "boar", and members of the college asked whether they had tried to make their ears into silk purses. When part of St John's was painted a garish red, wags dubbed the colour a pigment.38 Mercifully, St John's gradually ceased to be such a focus for jealous wit. In 1847 the college lost prestige by unsuccessfully opposing the candidature of the Prince Consort in the only contested election in modern times for the honorary post of Chancellor.  Student numbers began to fall, a trend which a caustic Trinity aristocrat attributed to the fact that the lower classes had decided to emigrate to Australia instead.  In the later part of the nineteenth century, St John's was hit especially hard by falling income during the agricultural depression, and other colleges drew level.39

                The eclipse of St John's left Trinity as the pre-eminent college. In 1899, the Union even debated a motion declaring that "the excessive size of Trinity College is disastrous to itself and prejudicial to the best interests of the University",40 but the claim was brushed aside by a flood of Trinity oratory, backed no doubt by a Trinity block vote. There were times in the nineteenth century when Trinity behaved more like a university within a university: in the eighteen-forties, Trinity had more students than Yale.41 By and large, the University as a whole benefited from Trinity's independence and initiative. A reforming Fellow of Christ's declared in 1850 that Cambridge owed a debt to its largest college for "keeping alive the flame of scholarship in the University".42

                It was not that Trinity was invariably a hotbed of radicalism. In early life, William Whewell was a fervent reformer, and once even took sardonic pleasure at the sight of a short-sighted senior fellow "trying to open a door on the side where the hinges were".43 As so often happens in the human lifespan, Whewell eventually reached a point where he had reformed if not the universe then at least the University to his own satisfaction, and he denounced his own juniors as "a set of school-boys" when they sought to go further.44 His successor as Master invoked sarcasm to crush dissent: "we are none of us infallible, not even the youngest".45 As an undergraduate, Bertrand Russell regarded H.M. Butler and the two most senior Fellows of Trinity "merely as figures as fun", but after securing his own fellowship, he came to regard them as "serious forces for evil".46 However, by virtue of its size, Trinity was almost the only college in Cambridge to contain enough reform-minded spirits not to be cowed and marginalised, as undoubtedly happened in the smaller societies. Two Fellows of Trinity were particularly important in bringing about the major reforms of the eighteen-sixties. Henry Sidgwick is celebrated in English intellectual history for courageously resigning his Fellowship in 1869 on grounds of religious doubt. Less well known is Coutts Trotter, who operated chiefly and very skilfully in the field of college politics. Like William Whewell in an earlier generation, both had been President of the Union.

It helped that Trinity was wealthy enough to back new initiatives. The first serious scheme to tax the colleges for the benefit of the University, drawn up in 1880, proposed that Trinity should contribute £229 out of every £1000 raised ¾ more than 32 times the amount required from impoverished Magdalene. As early as 1868, the college of Isaac Newton reserved a fellowship for the teaching of the Cinderella subject of Natural Science.  (Half a century later, one of the senior fellows regarded as evil by Bertrand Russell continued to express his resentment at the innovation by referring to scientists as "naturals", the Shakespearian word for a fool.47) Wealth went hand-in-hand with self-confidence: from 1836 Trinity insisted that candidates for admission actually pass an entrance examination. Not surprisingly, members of Trinity thought themselves a cut above the rest of the University. Henry Campbell-Bannerman gave ironic expression to this sentiment shortly before his death in 1908:

 

When he and his Trinity friends walked about Cambridge, they were of course aware that there were other oldish buildings somewhat resembling their own and saw other men walking about clad in garments of a similar description, but as to who they were and what were their occupations and who tenanted those other buildings they were quite indifferent and had no desire to know.48

 

An undergraduate satire of 1914 imagined the President of the Union, Gordon Butler, describing his Committee as "good fellows in their way, but not Trinity men".  His father, H.M. Butler, was suspected of believing that God was a former student of the college.49

                Social relations were broader but probably less intense in the two largest colleges. "On the one hand, they bring a much larger number of men together; on the other hand, they do not bring them so close together."50 Arthur Benson, a former Eton schoolmaster, thought they had "no real college spirit", because "the different schools which supply a big college form each its own set there". An undergraduate from a major public school "falls into his respective set, lives under the traditions and in the gossip of his old school, and gets to know hardly any one from other schools". The rest were excluded "and really get very little good out of the place".51 For some, like Arthur Balfour, Trinity was large enough to absorb their social energies and ambitions, but others used the college as a springboard to achieve prominence in the University at large. F.W. Lawrence recalled that when he stood for office in the Union, he benefited from both college and old school support: "I probably got the votes of most of the Trinity men and also those of old Etonians from all over the University."52 He later married the suffragette Emmeline Pethick, hyphenated her surname with his own and moved to the Left, despite the fact that he had opposed socialism in Union debates. An idealist, he was something of an exotic figure in the Labour Party, but evidently he had nothing to learn about the politics of the block vote.

                One reminiscence of late-Victorian Cambridge reckoned that few undergraduates "were habitués of more than three or four colleges at most" and that some "had never entered half the colleges".53 The Union acted as an important solvent, as Lord Powys, told its members in 1866: "it serves to keep alive the great catholic idea of a University amidst the independence and isolation of the several colleges". With a nod to the recently terminated American Civil War, he added that "it prevents your states rights making you unmindful of your federal obligations".54 College micro-cultures dictated different intensities of relationship with the Union. Trinity was large enough both to dominate for long periods and to sustain an internal life of its own: H.M. Butler hoped to make its own debating society, the Magpie and Stump, into a serious-minded counterweight if not an outright alternative to the Union.55   The fact that it was a Master of St John's who had been the Vice-Chancellor who tried to close down the Union in 1817 probably coloured the relationship until Wood's death in 1839. In that period, only four Johnians were elected to the Presidency, as against 22 from Trinity. Nine other Johnians held the lesser offices of Secretary or Treasurer without proceeding to the chair, which suggests that they may have been warned off taking too prominent a role. Later, however, it was St John's that in 1864 sold the Union the site for its permanent home in Round Church Street. In the eighteen-eighties, W.E. Heitland, as a tutor at St John's, allowed Alfred Mond to give time to Union debates that he should have devoted to his studies.56 Mond's Cambridge enthusiasm for Irish Home Rule transferred to a more general sympathy for small nations: when he became MP for Swansea in 1910, opponents mocked both his opinions and his German accent by attributing to him the slogan "Vales for the Velsh". Unfortunately, his investment of time in debates was at the cost of academic achievement: the future founder of ICI failed the Natural Sciences Tripos and had to retreat to Edinburgh to learn his chemistry.  By the eighteen-nineties, St John's was said to be "'running' the Union".57

                In the smaller colleges, personal influence could be even stronger. John Perkins, tutor at Downing, was an enthusiast for the Union. During his twenty-five years in office, this struggling college produced no fewer than eight Presidents of the Union. The Downing dynasty came to an end in 1887 when Perkins took charge of the college's finances and switched his energies to discouraging tenants on its farms from shooting foxes.58 The reverse process seems to have been at work in Magdalene, which produced five Presidents between 1829 and 1853, but no more until the future archbishop, Michael Ramsey, in 1926. The gap largely coincides with the reign of the Honourable and Reverend Latimer Neville who, as a recent historian has unkindly remarked, "slumbered" in the Master's Lodge for half a century after Magdalene's hereditary Visitor, who happened to be his father, had discerned academic qualities undetected by the Tripos examiners and appointed him to head the college in 1853.59 Peer pressure might also be a factor in a small college. As a freshman at King's, Oscar Browning "was solemnly warned that if I continued to speak at the Union I should be sent to Coventry. I did continue to speak, and the penalty was inflicted".60 While in later life Browning became an unctuous and unappetising character, there is no reason to think that his ostracism was the product of personal unpopularity, since he not only became President of the Union but was also elected to the select society of the Apostles. King's in 1856, still virtually a preserve of Eton and smarting under imposed reforms, was probably a special case in its hostility to the outside world. Trinity Hall, although one of the smallest colleges, produced a steady trickle of Presidents, probably because of its tradition of training lawyers. Elsewhere, the dynamics of the relationship with the Union are probably impossible to discover. Pembroke produced its first President in 1824, its second more than seventy years later and then  five more by 1914. It would be an over-simplification to claim that students who could afford the subscription became members of the Union and those who could not did not join. College culture played a role as well.

Just as the physical location of Cambridge as a dank country town helped to shape a conservative academic community, so the physical dominance of the colleges made it difficult to locate the University as an institution. With the exception of its handsome Senate House, the University in 1815 was almost as invisible a presence as the Holy Spirit that it was intended to serve. In many respects, the Senate House was an improbable symbol of an English and a Protestant university, not least in having been designed on the model of a pagan temple by James Gibbs, who was both a Scotsman and a Catholic. It was in any case used principally for the transaction of formal business and the conduct of examinations. It was inconvenient for the latter purpose, not least because for much of the nineteenth century, major examinations were held in the middle of winter: "as temples had no chimneys, and as a stove or fire of any kind might disfigure the building, we are obliged to take the weather as it happens to be," Whewell complained after spending a frozen ten-hour day as an examiner in 1820.61

The University also occupied an adjoining huddle of medieval buildings, the Old Schools. These were inadequate for the housing of any kind of secretariat, even after the acquisition of adjoining and equally ancient buildings from King's in 1829, although this purchase made possible the construction of a separate University Library building a decade later. In 1899, a senior official sought to add administrative offices to the University's want list since "we practically have none at present".62 Hence the frequently invoked metaphor of Cambridge as a federation, which enabled Bristed to explain to his American readers in 1852 that the relationship between the University and the Colleges resembled that of "our Federal Government in relation to the separate States".63 Indeed, when in 1836 Britain's first explicitly federal university was created by the shot-gun merger of two colleges in London, one Utilitarian and the other Anglican, the resulting University of London was explicitly described as "a Board of Examiners ... to perform all the functions of the Examiners in the Senate House in Cambridge".64 London University's principal office block is called the Senate House to this day.

                Leslie Stephen pushed the metaphor too far when he claimed that in the first half of the nineteenth century, Oxford and Cambridge were "not universities at all but federated groups of colleges".65 As in the United States, the central government had the long-term potential to outstrip the component parts. While in comparison with the colleges, the University might have seemed physically insignificant in the early nineteenth century, its responsibilities were by no means unimportant. Most notably it was the University that conferred degrees and operated the examinations that led to them. Moreover, the apparent dominance of the colleges in 1815 was a by-product of a very narrow degree curriculum confined to classics and mathematics. Two fixed disciplines based upon a handful of set texts could be taught by small numbers of college Fellows recycling what they had ingested themselves perhaps decades earlier. College teaching had its limitations, and undergraduates ambitious of graduating with high honours regularly went outside to seek out specialist coaches. (This process, which added greatly to the cost of a Cambridge education, was regarded by reformers as a blot on the University. Ironically, it also assisted impecunious but able students to qualify for a degree and then pay off their debts from the fees gained by teaching their successors.) In short, even under the old curriculum, the dominance of the colleges was not as secure as it sometimes seemed. As reform slowly made headway in the second half of the nineteenth century, a broader range of degree subjects strengthened the hand of the University as individual colleges found it impossible to keep up with the provision of new teaching.

                The most notable example was the rise of science. In the first half of the nineteenth century, "night descended on science study at Cambridge"66 and the dawn came but slowly. A Natural Sciences Tripos was established in 1851, but at first it was only open to those who had already graduated, that is to those who had won their spurs in mathematics and classics. Consequently, in its early years there were usually more examiners than candidates. Natural Sciences became a fully independent degree subject in 1861, when just three students proceeded to the BA Honours; the numbers had risen to 194 by 1910.67  No university is on oath when fund-raising, and the claim made in 1899 that half the published scientific research in the United Kingdom owed its origins, directly or indirectly, to Cambridge must be regarded as indicative rather than precisely accurate.68 Not only did the University support science, its great success story of the late nineteenth-century, but science in return strengthened the position of the University against the colleges. Most of them could not afford to provide expensive laboratories and experimental equipment: tiny Sidney Sussex heroically tried, but even mighty Trinity abandoned the attempt.69 In large measure, science teaching had to be a University and not a college activity, with the necessary funding either pooled or begged from outside. As the first public appeal for cash put it in 1899, "it is to the University, and the University alone, as distinguished from the Colleges of Cambridge, that we must look for expansion and effort in this direction".70

                To a remarkable extent, until the very beginning of the twentieth century, the physical planning of Cambridge University remained dominated by medieval piety. Five of the older colleges had inherited monastic buildings or their ruined sites, while the Augustinian Friary in Benet Street eventually became the University's Botanic Garden. The gardens were relocated to a site on the southern outskirts between 1844 and 1852, and the Austin Friars site became the New Museums, an unplanned jumble of laboratories and science departments. By 1900, several quarts of unattractive construction had been squeezed into this pint-pot site. Luckily, it was the slow development of Downing ¾ for in Cambridge, a hundred years was but a day ¾ that proved fortuitous both for Cambridge science and for the physical manifestation of the University. A century after its foundation, the college was still only "an unfortunate torso"71 within its magnificent precinct. In 1902, the University bought an adjoining block of land from Downing in order to extend the facilities of the New Museums site. Thus Cambridge was able to avoid the physical separation of old and new studies that was to occur in Edinburgh, where lack of space in the central area forced the development of a distinct suburban campus for its Science Faculty. None the less, Cambridge quickly faced the challenge of two cultures, at least in University politics. In Cornford's typology of academic parties, the scientists were the Adullamites, cave-dwelling conspirators, "not refined, like classical men" but "dangerous, because they know what they want; and that is, all the money there is going".72 If the most obvious physical manifestation of the University in 1815 had been the ceremonial Senate House, by 1914 it was the science precinct of the New Museums and its growing overspill, the Downing site.

                The other potential weapon in the University's locker was its professorships. In 1815, Cambridge already possessed Chairs in subjects that could not be easily integrated into a curriculum dominated by classics and mathematics. During the first half of the nineteenth century, most of them made little impact: "if all the professorships had been abolished, no difference would have been perceived by the ordinary student".73 Index references in Winstanley's Early Victorian Cambridge summarise the problem: "Professors, neglect of duty by... decline in attendance at their lectures .... insufficiency of their stipends ... absenteeism of ...". An extreme example in 1815 was Richard Watson, Professor of Divinity, who solved the competing claims of his Cambridge Chair and his Welsh bishopric by residing in the "delightful country" of the Lake District. The "Right Reverend time server" admitted that he had been absent from Cambridge "above twenty years" but defended himself by claiming that he had "set a spirited example of husbandry" by planting larch trees on the slopes of Windermere, an activity not normally associated with the study of theology. Watson also insisted that he had "honourably provided" for his family. The adverb may be queried, since his "intention of retiring, in great measure, from public life", upon which he had resolved in 1789, had not been accompanied by resignation from either his bishopric or his Chair. We may perhaps feel some sympathy in regard to the former, since Llandaff was a notoriously poor diocese: an earlier Cambridge don, on being exiled there, had sardonically referred to himself as the Bishop of Aff, because the land had all gone. The richly endowed Regius Chair of Divinity, on the other hand, was capable of financing whole forests of larch trees.74

                With an absentee pluralist such as Watson as the benchmark, Cambridge professorships could only become more effective as the nineteenth century progressed. William Smyth delivered identical lectures in the Chair of History for three decades until he finally published them in 1840 and retreated into silence. His account of the French Revolution "always drew an audience, because it was known from previous experience that in the course of it he would burst into tears upon mentioning the melancholy fate of Marie Antoinette".75 His successor, James Stephen, supplied competent scholarship, in the face of some narrow controversy over the orthodoxy of his religious beliefs. In the eighteen-sixties, Charles Kingsley tried with surprising  success to make the Chair of Modern History into a springboard for moral education:

 

again and again, as the audience dispersed, a hearer has said, "Kingsley is right – I'll turn over a new leaf, so help me God." And many a lad did it too.76

 

His successor, J.R. Seeley, apologised for "a somewhat exaggerated view" of his role, but aimed to oust the Union from control of political education in the University.77 Undoubtedly there remained some professors who did not give Cambridge their undivided time: C.V. Stanford, appointed to the Chair of Music in 1887, spent much of his time at the Royal College in London and in later years was unkindly said to have delivered his Cambridge lectures at the railway station.78  Stanford claimed that it was an unavoidable absence from Cambridge that compelled him in 1887 to launch a fiery attack on the officers of the Union for alleged partiality to the cause of Irish Home Rule. Arthur Quiller-Couch, Professor of English Literature from 1912, simultaneously held office as mayor of the Cornish town of Fowey. Yet even if half-timers, these dynamic personalities were not absentees, and they can be counterbalanced by the physicists, Clerk Maxwell, Lord Rayleigh and J.J. Thomson, who made the Cavendish Laboratories into an international centre for scientific research.

In institutional terms, the importance of the University, in comparison with the colleges, grew throughout the nineteenth century. Consequently, it is important to be more specific in identifying exactly who is meant in allusions to "the University". The term may variously refer to the executive officers who spoke on its behalf, to the senior members who embodied its collective values and with glacial slowness shaped its response to new challenges, to the shifting and endlessly renewing population of junior members, ranging from the serious to the raucous, and to various combinations of all three. At the head of the University's institutional structure was the Chancellor, the one official who was expected to be an absentee and encouraged to be a cipher. The role of the Chancellor was to protect the University's interests in high places and radiate slightly distant aristocratic lustre upon its activities. In 1815 the post was held by William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester, whose popularity rested mainly upon the fact that he was George III's nephew rather than one of the king's unsavoury sons. Although the University had bestowed a Doctorate of Laws upon him when he was just twenty years of age, the Dictionary of National Biography is more realistic in its tactful observation that the Duke's "intellectual powers were by no means of a high order". Indeed, given the shuddering memories in Cambridge of the hyperactive political control exercised by one of his eighteenth-century predecessors, the Duke of Newcastle, a ruthless Whig party boss, it is likely that "Silly Billy's" limited attainments were seen as an asset. However, even if he did not get in the way, the Duke was not much use in a crisis. In 1834, when Dissenters petitioned the House of Lords for the right to take Cambridge degrees, its Chancellor "did a wise thing": realising that he lacked the ability to defend the University's position, he simply stayed away from the debate.79  When Union partisans petitioned him against the suppression of debates in 1817, they would have known that they were engaging in a publicity exercise and not a serious request for his intervention.

Indeed, it is a measure of the resistance of Cambridge to internal reform that later Chancellors felt called upon to play a positive role in bringing about change. Prince Albert was a valuable intermediary between dons and politicians at the time of the first  Royal Commission into higher education at Oxbridge, in 1851, an initiative that Cambridge conservatives compared to the worst assaults on civil rights in the blackest days of English history. Albert's successor, the seventh Duke of Devonshire, was a rare example of an aristocrat who bothered to exert himself in the examination hall, achieving a double First in mathematics and classics. He funded the development of scientific research: the Cavendish laboratories commemorate the Devonshire family name. He was followed in office by the equally generous eighth Duke, better known as the Lord Hartington of late-Victorian politics. The process that transformed Cambridge "from a rather indifferent academy into a great University"80 was supported by the profits of the aristocratic entrepreneurship that developed industrial Barrow and seaside Eastbourne on the Devonshire estates. Hartington was a wooden performer in public. Commissioned to perform the opening ceremony for a new building in 1889, he was congratulated by a reporter for having "successfully repeated what he had been told to say". It was the aloof Harty-Tarty who summoned an informal meeting of leading University figures in 1903 to break the news that public opinion regarded them as "devoted to bygone ideals" and out of touch with contemporary education.81

                The resident head of the University was the Vice-Chancellor, chosen in rotation from among the Masters of the various colleges, who were collectively known by the neutral term, "Heads of Houses". (Two colleges did not use the term "Master", while in a further riot of anarchic eccentricity, several did not formally call themselves colleges at all.)82 By convention, the vice-chancellorship was held for one year and was bestowed upon the most senior Head who had not previously held the office. It would have been hard to have devised a system that more effectively combined administrative discontinuity with strategic conservatism. Because most Masters reigned over their Colleges for decades, and had long since served as Vice-Chancellor, the most senior Head who had never held the office was often the most junior Master of all. Since Masterships were by no means sinecures, the custom meant that a relative newcomer was required to cope with two demanding new jobs in short order. A quarter of a century after his installation as Master of Trinity in 1820, Christopher Wordsworth looked back in horror at the thought that he had been "at all in a fit condition to undertake two such offices at once".83 If his compromise solution to permit the Union to resume its debates but not to discuss current events seems bizarre, we need to remember that this was just one of the many issues he was required to tackle. Moreover, the absence of an effective University secretariat meant that the Vice-Chancellor had to be his own chief clerk. In addition to chairing committees, licensing lodgings, presiding over examinations, adjudicating prizes and dealing with problems of discipline – some of which involved questions of policy – he was also responsible for "ordering and superintending every repair, making every payment, and keeping, verifying, and balancing the entire account of receipt and expenditure during his year in office".84 Almost the only benefit in imposing this demanding office upon a relative junior was that a young man's digestion was more likely to survive the punishing round of official entertaining that was integral to the post.85

                In the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that in nineteenth-century Cambridge, a reforming Vice-Chancellor was virtually a contradiction in terms, for the incumbent usually lacked both the seniority and the time to pursue a serious agenda for change. An energetic Vice-Chancellor, like James Wood in 1816-17, might make a point of upholding the University's privileges, or he might pursue some crusade of his own. William Whewell, for instance, took a unilateral decision in 1855 to re-organise the art collections in the Fitzwilliam Museum in order to remove all hint of nudity from the main tourist route through the picture gallery.86 Even that controversial initiative can be explained partly as an unbalanced response to bereavement – his wife had recently died, accentuating the grip of his Victorian belief in female purity – and by the fact that Whewell was holding office for a second time, and so knew his way around the rituals of administration.

Unusually, Whewell had in fact enjoyed his first stint as Vice-Chancellor, back in 1843, partly because he was a demonically efficient administrator, but also because he had reconciled himself to abandoning serious scholarly work during his year of office. Even so, he quickly came to terms with the limits of his power. "I have tried to suppress pigeon-shooting in the outskirts of the town, uproar in the Senate-house galleries, and dinners at taverns", he wrote. As for reform, anything that could be done "must in the University be done with great caution, and must be of a nature as to take effect slowly".87 If that was the conclusion of an energetic and self-confident reformer, it is no wonder that the average inexperienced and overworked Vice-Chancellor relied upon the advice of his predecessors, who were unlikely to embrace radical departures from their own record. An opportunity for consultation occurred each Sunday when the Heads of Houses gathered in Great St Mary's, the University church, sitting together in a reserved section, nicknamed Golgotha, the place of skulls, "a name which the appearance of its occupants renders particularly fitting".88

The informal cabinet of the Heads of the Houses was not the only check upon the powers of the Vice-Chancellor. Proposals for change had to be accepted by a wider constituency of senior members in the University Senate (and, until 1856, by a steering committee called the Caput which resembled the United Nations Security Council, in that any single member could veto a proposal before it was brought to a vote). Unlike the Union, which did at least combine the processes of debating and voting, the Senate usually separated the discussion of an issue from any proposal to take action. Special meetings, called Congregations, were held to consider elegantly worded Latin propositions, called Graces. These were often challenged, leading to a division between Placets, those pleased with the proposal, and Non-Placets, those displeased. As a result, the Congregations might be dominated by voters with little knowledge of the arguments behind a proposal for change.

                This shortcoming was compounded by another peculiar feature of the University's constitution, that membership of the Senate was open to all Masters of Arts. Moreover, the MA was obtained not by higher study and further examination but by the simple process of buying the degree four years after graduating as a Bachelor of Arts. Thereafter, subject only to payment of a registration fee, any graduate of the University could retain the right to a say in ultimate policy-making and, with it, a powerful sense of belonging. "It is a trivial matter...", wrote one MA on a visit to Cambridge in 1863, "walking through streets and college grounds in one's Master's gown; but there is a powerful charm in the symbolism of the thing: it is a visible sign of membership, of being at home."89 The doggedness with which Cambridge conservatives resisted the admission of Dissenters to all degrees is partly explained by the fact that to have let them in would have been tantamount to abandoning the Anglican purity of university government. Since Masters of Arts of the University of Cambridge enjoyed the privilege of a second vote at parliamentary elections (and continued to do so until 1949), very many of them made a point of maintaining their formal connection: for instance, there was an exceptionally high turn-out of non-residents at the general election of 1826, when Palmerston was challenged in his University seat for supporting Catholic Emancipation.90

Modern universities, which regard good alumni relations as a prerequisite for successful fund-raising, might be tempted to admire a constitution that gave graduates such an influential role in the running of the institution. By turning every graduate into an ambassador, Cambridge gave itself a lifeline to the outer world: "the more the University extended its knowledge of its work by keeping up its connection with non-resident members," one of them argued in 1878, "the more it would extend its influence throughout the country".91 The theory was fine, but all too often the process operated in reverse, the graduate vote freezing the University in an ice-block of nostalgia. "The non-residents ... loved the University, they loved their colleges."92 Love is blind and sees no faults. Worse still, by far the largest single category of Cambridge graduates were Anglican clergy, who had plenty of time to come and vote and were motivated by nostalgia coupled with ferocious antipathy to change, Dissenters and ambitious women. A polemical Nonconformist in 1837 described "the lean curate in his dirty white handkerchief, and with a cadaverous face" and "the rubicund shovel-hatted long-gaitered incumbent from his fat benefice", arriving in horse-drawn vehicles straight out of the Old Testament which "vomited their clerical freight" in front of the Senate House.93  Advances in technology made the problem even worse.

Historians of the nineteenth century conventionally associate the growth of railways with the spread of liberal ideas. This was not wholly the case in Cambridge. When the railway reached Cambridge in 1845, the University succeeded in keeping the station at an inconvenient distance from the colleges. In 1851 an unusually reactionary Vice-Chancellor, George Corrie, complained that Sunday excursion trains were "as distasteful to the authorities of the University as they must be offensive to Almighty God".94   (Corrie's objection was that low fares were "likely to tempt persons who, having no regard for Sunday themselves, would inflict their presence on this University on that day of rest". Stripped of his Sabbatarian prejudices, Corrie might well be regarded as the first prophet to warn against the tourist pollution that threatens the Cambridge of today.) As the University grew, so the railway station became an ever more irritating bottleneck, as when hundreds of undergraduates returned for the summer term of 1890 to be "welcomed by two porters and nearly as many hansoms". Unluckily for Victorian Cambridge, even an inconvenient railway service made its open Senate even more accessible to rock-headed conservatives. Within twenty years, five branch lines converged on the town, and three more upon nearby Ely. "The district around Cambridge is generally supplied with parsons from the University, who can be brought up when the Church is in danger", reported Leslie Stephen after the Senate voted in 1866 to refuse a benefaction for a lectureship in that most subversive of subjects, the history of the United States. To study American history might be to discover that a country could flourish without State intervention in matters of belief and "when the Church is having its foundations sapped ... it would be easier to argue with a herd of swine than British parsons". Progressives shuddered whenever they saw the Senate House full of rustic clerics in "ancient and shiny silk gowns, elaborate white ties and shabby hats", knowing that the intruders had travelled not simply back to Cambridge but back in time to engage in a nostalgic protest against the modern world before hurrying off to old haunts to enquire about the fortunes of the college boat.95 Non-resident voters helped to keep compulsory Greek in the curriculum right down to 1914, defending the language of the New Testament and the eternal integrity of their own education against those who timidly suggested that the growing horde of scientists might usefully study French or German. Clerical MAs were prominent in the massive explosion of male chauvinism that rejected any move towards the admission of women to Cambridge degrees in 1897. When the same issue was fought out again in 1921, it was a Suffolk vicar who incited a mob of male undergraduates to sack the feminist stronghold of Newnham College.96

                It was not even that incursions of non-residents necessarily tipped the balance, for on several notable occasions their influx simply reinforced the conservatism of the local academic community. Their significance probably lay in the fact of their very existence. Like the House of Lords in national politics, they were out there, ready to be summoned by the jungle drums, as in the characteristic form of a letter from the Master of Sidney to the Morning Post in 1878 warning that "the revolutionary party" had seized control of the University and rallying the MAs to defend "such rights as yet to remain to them".97 It was disheartening to reformers to contemplate the irrational tide ready to sweep aside as irresponsible radicalism any "scheme unanimously agreed upon by experts after a two years' exhaustive consideration of thirty-five or more alternative proposals".98 A.C. Benson, author of the words of Land of Hope and Glory, was hardly a dangerous radical, but even he grumbled in 1906 at the educational shortcomings of a Cambridge that was still only partly reformed:

 

If the more liberal residents try to get rid of the intolerable tyranny of compulsory classics, a band of earnest, conventional people streams up from the country and outvotes them ...obviously believing, that education is in danger.

 

As a result, "the intellectual education of the average Englishman is sacrificed to an antiquated humanist system, administered by unimaginative and pedantic people".99 When an Edwardian visitor enquired how the University was governed, it is not surprising that he received the answer, "Very badly".100

                Is the indictment of a blinkered and conservative Cambridge a fair one? In 1904, defenders of compulsory Greek argued that its abolition would have "disastrous effects not only on the University, but on the higher intellectual life of the country".101 Our response is to laugh, but since few of us can read Greek, we ought to declare a personal interest in the controversy. No doubt the advantages of studying Greek duplicated the advantages of studying Latin, and its study took up time which would have been better used in mastering German, the language of most new ideas in nineteenth-century Europe. None the less, there might still be something in Whewell's view that a mathematician who knew no Greek was "a mere mathematician; and such a one is not an educated man".102 Leslie Stephen mocked those who opposed the introduction of new subjects into the Cambridge curriculum. "To teach a youth philosophy would be to train him in talking humbug; and history or the physical sciences meant mere cramming with facts."103 This makes fine polemic, but candour requires us to admit that the criticism has sometimes proved true, and perhaps more often than merely sometimes. Those of us who fear for the ability of twenty-first century students to express themselves in the English language should hesitate before condemning those who defended educational standards in an earlier age.

                It is easy, too, to mock the ragbag curriculum of the Cambridge pass degree. In 1822, William Paley's Evidences of Christianity was introduced as a compulsory text. Enterprising publishers quickly spotted a market for a crib, and ninety years later undergraduates were still handing over three shillings and sixpence for "a potted Paley"104  which they mechanically ingested for examinations, even though theological debate had moved far beyond Paley's simplistic attempts to defend Holy Writ by rational argument. Yet, stripped of the clerical cobwebs, the inclusion of Paley can be seen as an attempt to create what modern higher education jargon calls a "transferable skill". Even in Edwardian times, the major career path for pass degree graduates led to ordination in the Church of England. Exposure to Paley, even potted Paley, was at least a step towards preparing them for the Anglican pastiche of the real world. The Cambridge pass degree can be condemned as a jumble of unrelated bits and pieces, but it can also be seen as a precursor of the interdisciplinarity that is the modern hallmark of a true and rounded education. Was it any more absurd to require Cambridge pass degree students to mug up their Paley than it was, in Malcolm Bradbury's fictional University of Watermouth, to insist that nobody could graduate without a credit in Sociology? And if we condemn Cambridge for a moribund century of pumping out potted Paley, we should at least recall that Charles Darwin regarded the mental training involved in studying the Evidences of Christianity as the most useful part of his Cambridge experience, even if this was not saying very much.  The damning charge against the University's reliance upon a single textbook was that it was an exercise in mere rote learning and not a training in independent thought. J.M. Kemble found this out the hard way when he decided to "crumple up" Paley's arguments in an examination, and was failed for his pains.105

It may be that the real indictment of nineteenth-century Cambridge is not that it resisted change, but rather than it carried through extensive and radical reform in a manner that perversely encouraged its own products to believe that they could ignore inconvenient modernity. The allegation is worth formulating, simply to highlight the fact that it provides its own defence. It is unlikely that Cambridge would be a world-ranking university today if it had not re-invented itself so effectively in the second half of the nineteenth century. That process of renewal would have been impossible without the heavy camouflage of continuing tradition. Frontal assaults by Royal Commissions and Select Committees were necessary triggers to the process of reform, but the detailed work had to be carried out by sappers within the walls. As Cambridge faced its last great upheaval of change in 1882, a moderate conservative warned reformers against creating an institution "more immediately suited to the needs of the moment, but dissociated from the memories of the past, and so deprived ... of the guarantee of stability ... which a connection with those memories would secure".106 The price of achieving substantive change was the continued toleration of much that was nonsensical but reassuring.

                The overall result was that as a community of senior members, the University of Cambridge often seemed to be bounded neither by place nor time. This in turn subtly affected the world view of the junior members, and is an essential context for analysing Union debates. By the late twentieth century, change had become so constant that those who wished to stand still were expected to make a special case. In nineteenth-century Cambridge the pattern was precisely reversed. Opposing structural reform of the University in 1878, the articulate reactionary E.H. Perowne warned that "if safeguards against change were removed", Cambridge would fall victim to "the disease of incessant restlessness".107 There was no suggestion in this of any obligation to respond to the needs of the times. Indeed, the reverse was the case, for the every ritual of the place spoke complacently of a closed world exempt from any need to change. A.C. Benson caught the atmosphere of a small college gathering for formal dinner: "the lighted windows of the Hall gleam with the ancient armorial glass, from staircase after staircase come troops of alert, gowned figures, while overhead, above all the pleasant stir and murmur of life, hang in the dark sky the unchanging stars".108 Almost a century later, that remains an evocative cameo of Magdalene at twenty-five past seven on a winter's night. It was not surprising that for many Cambridge men, the practices of the University should seem as fixed as the stars in the sky.

The Union was part of the blind acceptance of a comfortable world. Although many of the key Cambridge reformers – Whewell, Thirlwall, Sidgwick, Trotter and Maitland among them – were Union veterans, its members only occasionally became excited by University affairs and certainly claimed no special right to contribute to decision-making. Debates on purely academic issues rarely attracted large audiences. A motion calling for radical reform of the Senate as the University's governing body was rejected in October 1900 by 60 votes to 49, a thin enough turn-out for the autumn term, with barely half as many members voting as in the two previous debates, on the Khaki election and Joseph Chamberlain's policy in South Africa. On the whole, undergraduates accepted that by enrolling at Cambridge they had sacrificed any right to be treated as adults (and most of course were not, since the age of majority was 21). It sometimes seemed that the University of Cambridge was a seamless web of complacency that united the oldest Master of Arts, ignoring the modern world in his country rectory, with the youngest freshman, denouncing all forms of change at the Union despatch box. "A University gave a man all through his life the sense that he belonged to a great community", declared Arthur Balfour in 1897.109 Chapter Three explores how three of the major challenges to the old Cambridge impinged upon the undergraduate world.

 

 

ENDNOTES TO CHAPTER TWO:

 

THE TOWN AND THE UNIVERSITY

 

Abbreviations are listed at the close of the Preface.

 

1. The principal histories of the University for this period are the volumes of the official history by Searby and Brooke, two older and more detailed studies by Winstanley (EVC and LVC), and more recent general overviews by L-G and Johnson.

2. Bristed, pp. 1-2.

3. Alma Mater, i, p. 185n; Rom3, p. 104 (13 May 1852). The calendar had been reformed excatly a century earlier, in September 1752. Gwen Raverat, Period Piece: A Cambridge Childhood (160 ed.), p. 47. As a child, Gwen Raverat, who was born in 1885, believed that the 23rd Psalm ("on pastures green … the quiet waters by") was set on Sheep's Green, a quarter of a mile from the centre of the town. (p. 42).

4. Merivale, p. 57; Oxf. Mag., 24 May 1895, p. 389; Thackeray, p. 59; R.J. White, Cambridge Life (1960 p. and L. & H. Fowler, comps, Cambridge Commemorated: An Anthology of University Life (1984), p. 179. A guide book of 1861 admitted that the appearance of Cambridge was "generally disappointing, and below what might be anticipated, but it is rapidly improving". Quoted, Rom3, p. xii.  According to Alec Clifton-Taylor, "Cambridgeshire must be regarded as among the least fortunate of English counties" from the point of view of available building materials. N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire (1970 ed.), p. 289.

5. Whewell, pp. 15-16.                       

6. MB7, 21 Feb. 1832, fo. 68.                        

7. Rom1,p. 4.  

8. Pethick-Lawrence, Fate Has Been Kind, p. 32.

9.  Ferguson, Magpie and Stump, pp. 28-9.

10. Whewell, p. 9

11. R.Southey, Letters from England (1807, ed. J. Simmons, 1984), p. 271.

12. Pevsner, Cambridgeshire, p. 451; Leslie Stephen in National Review, 42, 1903-4, p. 131.

13. "Cave Canem" in Cambridge Chronicle, 30 June 1866

14. 15/11/87.

15. A robust exception was Gwen Raverat, Period Piece, p. 34.Thomas Carlyle's The Life of John Sterling (1851, various editions, ch. 4) transmits alarm at the story of the sickly young man wading into the river to fill buckets at the end of a chain of fire-fighters, but Carlyle did not explain that the river was a sewer.  According to Raverat, a Cambridge story had Queen Victoria asking Whewell why there were so many piece of paper floating in the Cam. With great presence of mind, he assured her that they were notices banning bathing.

16. Sidgwick, p. 554. For some colleges, such as Magdalene, the cost of the sewerage scheme was major burden. Ronald Hyam in  P. Cunich, et al., A History of Magdalene College Cambridge 1428-1988 (1994), p. 224. For recreation on the Cam, Searby, pp. 678-80. An illustration of 1793 seems to show punting on the Cam at King's, White, Cambridge Life, facing p. 112.

17. A Gray, Cambridge and its Story (1912), p. 8.

18. H. Tennyson, Tennyson, p. 29.

19. Thackeray, p. 59; C.E. Stephen, The Right Honourable Sir James Stephen: Letters with Biographical Notes (1906), p. 141. But Thackeray thought Coton attractive and "there are a number of quaint old buildings, and pretty bits scattered about" (pp. 44, 59).

20. Moultrie, p, 419. The countryside had other attractions. Moultrie and his friend Derwent Coleridge enjoyed "Our mid-day luncheon in the village inn/ Served haply by the fair domestic hands/ Of her, the maid of Quy -- that saint whose shrine/ by many a Cantabrigian pilgrimage/ (By none more zealous or more pure than ours)/ Was, in those days, frequented!" (p. 420).

21. Maitland, Leslie Stephen, p. 191.

22. Whewell, p. 367.                           

23. Searby, p. 102.

24. Leslie Stephen, National Review, 42, 1903-4, p. 135.

25. M.R. James in G.M. Trevelyan, ed., Fifty Years: Memories and Contrasts (1932), p. 94.

26. EVC, pp. 1-7; VCH, pp. 487-8.               

27. Lytton, i, p. 228.

28. For C.H. de Thierry, see Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, i: 1769-1869 (1990), p. 533. Recent scholarship has scaled down his North Island purchase. De Thierry claimed 40,000 acres and was eventually awarded 800.

29. Whewell, p. 297.

30. Leslie Stephen in National Review, 42, 1903-4, p. 136.

31. 13/2/00.                                        

32. Student's Guide, p. 44.

33. Harris in Cradock, p. 82.               

34. Student's Guide, p. 96.

35. Merivale, p. 67; Cornford in Johnson, p. 108.

36. Bristed, p. 100.

37. C.V. Stanford, Pages from an Unwritten Diary (1914), p. 126. The Trinity-Magdalene link was in fact even narrower. By the eighteen-fifties, Trinity supported two rowing clubs,  First and Third (Second Trinity having disappeared at an early stage). It was the academically challenged members of Third Trinity who made the transpontine migration. A notable refugee was Jack Hall, who transferred in 1855 and "contested the captaincy with a genuine Magdalene man and was elected" in 1856. He was "compelled to remain an undergraduate for seven years owing to difficulties with his examiners" but used his adopted college as a platform for his rowing activities. Meanwhile, "the mere fact that the boat representing Magdalene was really a Third Trinity boat tended to make the rest of the College lose interest".  The Magdalene Boat Club 1828-1928 (1930), pp. 15-16. Jesus was another small college where incomers from Trinity seem to have been regarded with some reserve. One refugee was said to have been greeted at his first appearance in chapel with a hymn that began: "Ashamed of  Jesus! Can it be? A mortal man ashamed of thee!".  (The lines represent a loose conflation of a hymn by the eighteenth-century Presbyterian minister, Joseph Grigg.) B. and P. Russell, eds, The Amberley Papers: Bertrand Russell's Family Background (2 vols, 1937), i, p. 227. Except for the recruitment of non-collegiate students, inter-college migration largely disappeared in the later nineteenth century as overall academic standards improved.

38. Rom1, pp. 86, 227; Rom2, p. 196. "I thank my Fortune daily I was not a Johnian," rejoiced Thackeray. "It is the lowest, most childish, piggish punning place." Thackeray, p. 107.

39. Rom3, p. 391 (27 Sept. 1861).                 

40. 21/11/99.

41. Bristed, p. 331.                             

42. A.F. Wratislaw in EVC, p. 151.

43. Whewell, p. 92.                             

44. Whewell, p. 497.

45. DNB, "Thompson, William Hepworth".

46. Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, i, p. 67. Russell's view of Trinity Fellows was coloured by their hostility to his pacifist stand in the First World War.

47. LVC, ppp. 318, 206n.

48. Spender, Campbell-Bannerman, ii, p. 343.

49. Mandragora (1914), pp. 38-42; T. Thornely, Cambridge Memories: (The Lighter Side of Long Ago) (1936), pp. 115-16.

50. Student's Guide, p. 99.

51. A.C. Benson, From a College Window (1906), pp. 6-7. Walter Besant, a Christ's undergraduate in the eighteen-fifties, was "strongly of opinion that a very large college, such as Trinity, Cambridge, does not offer anything like the social and educational advantages of a small college". Autobiography of Walter Besant (1902), p. 79.

52. Pethick-Lawrence, Fate Has Been Kind, p. 34.

53. M.R. James in Trevelyan, ed., Fifty Years, p. 95.

54. Inaug., p. 2.

55. J.R.M. Butler, Henry Montagu Butler, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1886-1918: A Memoir (1925), p. 114. I owe this reference to Ronald Hyam.

56. Miller, Portrait of a College, p. 100. K.O. Morgan, Wales 1880-1980: Rebirth of a Nation (1982 ed.), p. 139.

57. Oxf. Mag., 16 March 1892, pp. 250-1.     

58. VCH, p. 489.

59. Tense adapted from Brooke, p. 44. Rom3, p. 133 reveals that that there was opposition to the appointment among the Fellows of Magdalene. But Latimer Neville was one of a minority of eight Heads of Houses to attend the banquet that inaugurated the Union extension in 1886. In 1915, his successor, S.A. Donaldson, became the first Head of House to speak in a Union debate when he urged support for wartime temperance legislation.

60. Oscar Browning, Memories of Sixty Years at Eton, Cambridge and Elsewhere (1910), p. 30. "A few men belonged to the Union," Walter Besant recalled of Christ's in 1855, "but not many." Autobiography of Walter Besant, p. 89.

61. Whewell, p. 61.                             

62. Johnson, p. 55.

63. Bristed, p. 10.

64. N. Harte, The University of London (1986), p. 73.

65. Leslie Stephen, National Review, 42, 1903-4, p. 134.

66. A. Gray, Cambridge and its Story, p. 318.  "As regards science, their contempt was as colossal as their ignorance," wrote Besant of the Fellows of Christ's in the eighteen-fifties. Autobiography of Walter Besant, p. 81. A century later, it was a Fellow of Christs', C.P. Snow, who coined the term "The Two Cultures" to describe the gulf between science and the humanities. However, in the first half of the nineteenth century, disciplines were not simply compartmentalised to the exclusion of the sciences. Rather, perceptions of science had to shoe-horned into a universal system of understanding centred upon revealed religion. M.M. Garland, Cambridge Before Darwin: The Ideal of a Liberal Education 1800-1860 (1980), esp. pp. 90-112,

67. A. Gray, Cambridge and its Story, p. 318 and cf. Johnson, p. 39.

68. Johnson, p. 54.

69. C.W. Scott-Giles, Sidney Sussex College: A Short History (1975), p. 103. On the strength of Sidney's capacity to offer training in chemistry, college mythology has toyed with the possibility that T.S. Holmes, who matriculated in 1871, was the original of Sherlock Holmes. One can only  sympathise.

70. Johnson, p. 53. Cambridge had considered an alumni appeal as early as 1890. Oxf. Mag., 22 Oct. 1890, pp. 31-2. It was not that the university was wealthy in comparison with the colleges, but rather that centralisation was required for efficiency. In a parliamentary debate on Cambridge in 1876, a former President of the Union, Spencer Walpole, had reported that the University's annual income from property (i.e. in the modern sense, its endowment income) was £24,000, while the combined income of the colleges from the same source was £264,000.  Another ex-President, Charles Dilke, described this as "a flea-bite". Parliamentary Debates, 230, 6 July 1876, cols 1052, 1058.

71. Gray, Cambridge and its Story, p. 126.

72. Cornford in Johnson, p. 95. Johnson, pp. 40-1 for maps showing the development of the New Museums and Downing Sites, and cf. VCH, facing p. 274.

73. Leslie Stephen in National Review, 42, 1903-4, p. 136.

74. Searby, pp. 420, 289.

75. Leslie Stephen in National Review, 42, 1903-4, p. 136. But Smyth had abandoned lecturing some years before Stephen's time. Rom1, pp, 41-2 suggests that he was a better performer than legend allowed, as does his memorial tablet in Norwich Cathedral.

76. Corrie, p. 277; F.E. Kingsley, Charles Kingsley: His Letters and Memories of His Life (1904 ed.). p. 240. 

77. Seeley, Lectures and Essays, p. 290. As late as the eighteen-seventies, professorships were still often regarded as irrelevancies. Dilke poked fun at them in the parliamentary debate of 1876, reporting that one resident don "wished to see a Chair of critical journalism founded to expose the errors of the daily Press". Parliamentary Debates, 230, 6 July, col. 1059. Academic prejudice against media studies evidently has a long history.

78. Brooke, p. 458; Howarth, p. 118.

79. H. Reeve, ed., The Greville Memoirs: A Journal of the Reigns of George IV and William IV (3 vols, 1875), iii, p. 73.

80. Johnson, p. 9.

81. Oxf. Mag., 20 Nov. 1889, p. 102; Johnson, p. 64.

82. Queens' has a President; King's a Provost. Catharine Hall, Clare Hall and Pembroke Hall each adopted the title "College" during the nineteenth century, leaving only Trinity Hall to use the older form to distinguish itself from Trinity College. Unlike Oxford, Cambridge made no distinction of status between Colleges and Halls. (The name "Clare Hall" was revived in 1966 for a graduate society.) St Benet's College became more formally known as Corpus Christi, while St Peter's College settled down in Cambridge parlance to Peterhouse. Perhaps the most eccentric Cambridge nomenclature is that of Jesus College. Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St John the Evangelist and the Glorious Virgin St Radegund, it apparently borrowed its popular name from a monastery in Rotherham.

83. EVC, p. 58.          

84. D.A. Winstanley, Unreformed Cambridge (1935), p. 16.

85. A.C. Benson, Memories and Friends (1924), p. 274.

86. EVC, pp. 139-47.                         

87. Whewell, p. 288.

88. Westminster Review, 35, 1841, p. 468.

89. D. Hudson, Munby: Man of Two Worlds (1972), p. 15.

90. Palmerston's supporters insisted that all electors take the oath against bribery, implying that opponents had been paid to come and vote. K. Bourne, Palmerston: The Early Years 1784-1841 (1982), pp. 245-7.

91. LVC, p. 306.                                

92. LVC, pp. 306-7.

93. British and Foreign Review, 5, 1837, p. 201.

94. Corrie, pp. 271-2 and cf. A. Gray and F. Brittain, A History of Jesus College Cambridge (1988 ed.), p. 165 and White, Cambridge Life, p. 34; Oxf. Mag., 30 April 1890, p. 281.

95. Maitland, Leslie Stephen, p. 176. Cf Ged Martin, "The Cambridge American Lectureship of 1866", Journal of American Studies, 7, 1973, pp. 17-29.

96. Howarth, p. 42. The mob destroyed Newnham's Memorial Gates. A similar victory demonstration in 1897 had been foiled in the attempt to burn an effigy of a woman graduate in the Newnham grounds.

97. LVC, p. 306.                                

98. Cornford in Johnson, p. 107.

99. Benson, From a College Window, p. 160.

100. Johnson, p. 18.                            

101. Cox, M.R. James, p. 101.

102. Whewell, p. 264. Thackeray (p. 58) attempted to think in Greek. In 1891, it was reported that "[t]he rowing coaches went solid for compulsory Greek". Oxf. Mag., 4 Nov. 1891, p. 52.

103. Leslie Stephen, National Review, 42, 1903-4, p. 134.

104. Harris, Life So Far, p. 44.

105. Merivale, p. 59. According to Merivale, the examination on Paley was "merely … an exercise of memory" (p. 62).  Cambridge became increasingly uneasy about its reliance upon Paley: Garland, Cambridge Before Darwin, pp. 62-79. A.G.L Haigh has pointed to increasing reluctance among the ablest Cambridge graduates to take orders in the Church of England from the eighteen-sixties. However, as late as 1903-7, one quarter of candidates for the Pass degree became clergyman. There was therefore some justification for retaining the undemanding Paley in the curriculum. A.G.L. Haigh, "The Church, the Universities and Learning in Later Victorian England", Historical Journal, 29, 1986, pp. 187-201; VCH, p. 288.

106. LVC, p. 358.                              

107. LVC, p. 294.

108. A.C. Benson, From a College Window, p. 38.

109. J.R. Honey, Tom Brown's Universe (1977), pp. 116-17. "If I may judge from myself", wrote Walter Besant, "the effect of Cambridge upon the youth of the time was wholly and unreservedly beneficial." Autobiography of Walter Besant, p. 98. As the late Eric Morecambe used to say, there is no answer to that.

Copyright © 2021 Ged Martin. All Rights Reserved.
Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU General Public License.