Chapter 3

'The Undergraduate World' is a portrait of student life in 19th-century Cambridge, and includes discussion of resistance to the admission of women.

3: The Undergraduate World

As a community of junior members, Cambridge was essentially an undergraduate university.1 True, there were always those who stayed in residence after taking the Bachelor of Arts degree, and young graduates played an important part in the Union throughout the nineteenth century. F.J.A. Hort and Henry Sidgwick were already junior Fellows of Trinity when they were elected to the Presidency in 1852 and 1861, while G.M. Trevelyan contributed to debates in 1898, during his fifth year in Cambridge. (The restriction of the Presidency to the first twelve terms of residence, which has underscored the relationship between the Union and the irresponsibility of gilded youth, was a development of the nineteen-twenties: Selwyn Lloyd, in 1927, was the last fifth-year incumbent.) However, Cambridge was slow to develop anything like a modern postgraduate student community. Most resident BAs were engaged in more of the same: reading for the additional Triposes that began to appear from the eighteen-fifties, and competing for prizes and college fellowships. "I don't like our Fellowship Examination system", wrote Sidgwick on the basis of his experience at Trinity, which did at least operate a formal competition. "[I]t keeps men reading away at the old things in a kind of restless, unprofitable way, and wasting the valuable time in which they might be preparing themselves for work in life".2 Fellowship examinations placed very little emphasis upon the candidate's potential for the advancement of learning. Not until 1894 did Cambridge adopt the category of "research student" (just in time to admit the physicist Ernest Rutherford from New Zealand). The University had long awarded higher doctorates, in Divinity and Law (to which Letters and Science were added in 1878)3 but these marked the apex of a scholarly career. Exceptions were few: "Silly Billy" was given an honorary doctorate at the age of 26 because he was a royal duke, and M.R. James was deemed to have earned one by the time he was 32 because he was a high-flying polymath. Otherwise, the notion of a doctorate as an apprenticeship ticket at the start of an academic career was alien to nineteenth-century Cambridge. When the PhD was grudgingly introduced in 1919, it was largely on the assumption that it would appeal mainly to Americans.

In 1815, it would have been difficult to generalise about Cambridge undergraduates as a single body. For instance, until 1851, students at King's formed a special sub-group, exercising the right to take their degrees "without the bore of the Senate-House examination"4 – an arrangement based, it seems, on a misunderstanding of a fifteenth-century charter. Noblemen also had the right to proceed to degrees without taking any examinations, although this privilege was curtailed in 1825.5

The standard model Cambridge undergraduate was the pensioner. To apply such a term to active young men may seem yet another example of perverse eccentricity but, in this case, Cambridge usage can be defended. "Pensioner" was derived from the Latin verb meaning "to pay", and was an entirely appropriate description of students who paid fees. The English language would have developed on more logical lines had it called people in receipt of regular payments "pensionees". Alongside the pensioners were the scholars, so called because they qualified (increasingly on merit, but sometimes by virtue of birth in a particular county or attendance at a particular school) for financial support from their college. Beyond college awards beckoned a tempting range of lusciously-funded and highly competitive University scholarships. For poorer students, however, the route into the University was generally not through scholarships but by enrolling as the cut-price version of the pensioner and becoming a sizar. Originally, sizars had been admitted on condition of undertaking menial tasks, such as waiting on their social superiors at table. Most of the more galling requirements had disappeared by the nineteenth century, but sizars still paid much reduced fees. "The Sizar must of course occupy a position of inferiority, as one avowedly poor in the company of richer men; but on the other hand, the very avowal of his poverty secures him from many temptations."6 St John's had a particularly generous record of supporting sizars, diverting to their support income from special bequests for which there were no eligible claimants. The Cornishman Leonard Courtney, a future Liberal Unionist MP, gained his Cambridge education in this way between 1851 and 1855. Although it became obvious that Courtney was going to graduate with high Honours, St John's delayed electing him a scholar of the college, even though a scholarship conveyed more prestige, simply because he would have been disadvantaged financially. After the expected First Class degree, Courtney's former schoolmaster suggested that he should "take part in the debates of the Union" as a preparation for a career at the Bar: as a sizar it would have been virtually out of the question for him to disgorge the necessary subscription.7

At the other end of the scale, in 1815 the de-luxe model Cambridge undergraduate was the Fellow-Commoner. Nicknamed "Empty Bottles" in tribute to their average mental capacity,8 Fellow-Commoners paid top-up fees which gave them the right to wear gorgeous academic gowns and to dine at High Table with the Fellows of their colleges. By no means all of them valued the opportunities for cultivated discourse that this latter privilege offered. Arthur Balfour recalled that in Trinity in the eighteen-sixties, when the system was approaching its demise, a casual observer "would have seen the upper end of the High Table wholly occupied by Masters of Arts in their black gowns, while undergraduates in blue and silver sat massed together below them", since "they preferred each other's company to that of their elders and betters".9 A former Trinity student was surprised to observe "several noblemen's sons sitting at the undergraduates' table" when he revisited the College in 1868, as the system sputtered to its end.10 The breed died out soon afterwards. In the earlier period, dress was even employed to differentiate sub-castes among the Empty Bottles: Cap Fellow-Commoners would strive to establish aristocratic descent in order to move up to the more coveted status of Hat Fellow-Commoners, who were exempt from the requirement of wearing academic headgear.11 Sensitive problems arose when the occasional continental aristocrat had to be placed within this strange hierarchy.12

The disappearance of the most extreme distinctions by the late nineteenth century does not in itself mean that a uniform undergraduate body emerged. The more seriously Cambridge came to take both intellectual and sporting pursuits, the more varied were the personalities attracted to the University. In any case, as in most modernising societies, the elimination of inherited rank was associated with the rise of acquired status in the student community. One expression of this set of values was the Granta's weekly series, "Those In Authority", which half-solemnly chronicled the lives and exploits of various twenty-something young men prominent in University clubs. The undergraduate world of 1900 was subtly riddled with hierarchy, some of it projected upwards from the prefect system of the public schools. Contemporary memoirs indicate that the President of the Union commanded huge prestige, although E.S. Montagu was thought to be taking matters a little far by flying a flag to show that he was in residence.13 However, in 1905, soon after his term of office, the Union began to collect and display photographs of ex-Presidents.

Undergraduates were in statu pupillari, their membership of the University making them subject to a code of discipline actively enforced on the streets of Cambridge by the University's own police force, the proctors. Even the geologist Adam Sedgwick, one of the most notable intellects of the nineteenth century, took his turn on patrol, accompanied by constables called bull-dogs, "taking cigars out of the mouths of dissolute young men".14 It was the responsibility of the proctors to ensure that undergraduates wore academic dress as they walked the streets after dark. On arriving in Cambridge by stage coach in 1828, Alfred Tennyson was deposited in Trumpington Street and promptly challenged by the proctor: "What are you doing without your cap and gown, sir, at this time of night?". The future poet laureate, as yet innocent of University regulations, belligerently replied: "I should like to know what business it can be of yours, sir."15 It was a remarkable example of institutional inertia that the proctors continued until 1965 to enforce the wearing of academic dress in the streets at night, imposing fines of six shillings and eightpence upon defaulters. The University's authority extended far into the civic life of the town, imposing its own licensing system on lodging houses from 1818, and even retaining the power to arrest and imprison suspected prostitutes (with the emphasis upon "suspected") until a national outcry in 1891 put an end to the "special jurisdiction". When astronomer J.C. Adams, who discovered the planet Neptune, took his turn as a proctor, a wit assured him that he would not be observing the constellation Virgo.16 It is hardly necessary to add that, while in theory all undergraduates were equal before the proctors, in practice the authority of the University was exercised with more discretion against its more aristocratic members. Viewed through a more recent historical experience of Student Power, it may seem difficult to appreciate that one of the reasons why the Cambridge Union won its battle for free speech was that its most prominent champions were young men co-opted into the University hierarchy on the basis of the automatic prestige of their birth.

It is difficult now to reconstruct the complicated patterns of authority within which the pre-1914 Cambridge undergraduate lived. In a curious way, the Victorian social pyramid bent back on itself in a kind of fourth dimension. The Student's Guide advised that lodging houses possessed one advantage over rooms in college: "the servant can be summoned at any time by pulling a bell-rope", whereas support staff in the colleges, "gyps" and bedmakers, "make their rounds at fixed hours".17 However, come ten o'clock at night (or even nine o'clock in some digs), lodging-house keepers were bound by the terms of their University licence to turn the key and lock their charges in for the night. No doubt the Granta was being in tongue-in-cheek when it included a Magdalene bedmaker among "Those in Authority" in 1904, in tribute to her completion of sixty years of service. Still, at the heart of student pupil status, there was an ambiguity in the composite relationships of masters and servants, in which the latter sometimes acted as gaolers to the former. In the eighteen-nineties, the Senior Porter at Trinity conducted himself with such regal bearing that undergraduates seriously believed him to be an illegitimate son of the Prince of Wales.18 Naturally, it became a matter of honour for adventurous undergraduates to evade the rules, but it is striking that the existence of the whole system of academic discipline was accepted with very little question. In 1873, the Union condemned the proctorial system, by 173 votes to 56 but, twenty years later, members roundly rejected a motion condemning the phrase in statu pupillari as "strong evidence of a system which is at once intolerant and intolerable", with only 58 members troubling to vote. In 1892, a far larger house had deplored "any attempt to abolish the Special Jurisdiction of the Vice-Chancellor" over the town of Cambridge by a massive 192 votes to 41. A motion calling for the abolition of the University's system of discipline was rejected in 1901 by 44 votes to 28.19 If Cambridge undergraduates voted consistently against self-government for Ireland, they showed themselves even more enthusiastic in kissing their own fetters.

The continued maintenance of this system of social discipline is all the more remarkable given the overall growth of the student population in the century after 1815. In round terms, Cambridge contained about one thousand undergraduates around 1820, two thousand by the middle of the eighteen-sixties, rising to three thousand by 1889. The Boer War was probably responsible for a slight dip in 1900, but numbers climbed again, touching 3,700 in 1909.20 Then as now, the standard undergraduate course lasted for three years. George Stephen, who graduated in 1814, recalled that "the first year at Cambridge was delightful - the second, wearisome - the third, detestable". However, the student population fluctuated throughout the academic year. Until 1881, Tripos (Honours degree) examinations were held in January, after ten terms of residence. Consequently most freshmen arrived in October, but others made their first appearance later in the year: Tennyson's misunderstanding with the proctors occurred in February. Undergraduates also came and went more or less as they chose. Although Parnell was notionally a Cambridge undergraduate for four years between 1865 and 1869, in fact he was absent for six of his possible twelve terms, a fact that throws into some doubt all those biographies that portray him as an idle and directionless young man incapable of making friends among the English.21

The growth of the University is best charted through matriculations, the number of new students admitted to the University in each academic year. New entrants to the University hovered just below the 300 mark between 1814 and 1817, but then climbed steeply, to pass 400 in 1819. In the eighteen-twenties, four colleges – Corpus, Jesus, St John's and Trinity – responded to the pressure of numbers with new buildings, and in three of them the still-surviving name "New Court" bears witness to the fact that this was the first construction boom that the University had seen since the seventeenth century. Thereafter, matriculations remained steady, not to say stagnant, at around 400 each year until the middle of the eighteen-sixties, when there was another steep climb. William Whewell was pressing Trinity into building again by 1859, and other colleges soon followed. The Union's permanent home in Round Church Street belongs to this period, its members (who chose their architect by ballot) having the doubtful honour of being the first to bring Alfred Waterhouse to Cambridge. He quickly left his heavy mark elsewhere, most notably upon Caius and Pembroke. Matriculations broke the 600 mark in 1869, passed 700 in 1877 and were above 900 by 1884. The Union again responded to pressure of numbers by adding a new wing to its building in 1886. In 1887 and 1890, the University actually gained slightly over a thousand new students, but numbers stabilised again before a final burst from 1907 onwards pushed matriculations close to 1200 a year.22

The increase in student numbers in the eighteen-twenties probably helps to explain the rise of organised sports: a Cambridge University cricket club was founded in 1820, and the inter-college rowing competition (the "Bumps") began in 1827, with five Colleges now large enough to provide teams, Trinity typically entering three.23 The surge was part of a wider interest in higher education. University College, London began in 1826 and its Anglican rival, King's, started to take shape in 1829. They were followed by the miniature northern Oxbridge at Durham in 1832, founded "to supply a cheaper place of education for North-Country clergymen than the two old Universities".24 At the same time, St David's College Lampeter opened to train clergy for Wales on a small scale, while in Scotland the forerunners of Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt Universities started life as technical institutes. Other rivals were mooted. In 1826 Earl Fitzwilliam pledged £50,000 to a project to establish a university in York as a response "to the overflow of students" at Oxford and Cambridge.25 If Cambridge suddenly grew, it was partly in self-defence.

Yet thereafter, although the population of England and Wales rose from twelve million in 1820 to twenty million by 1860, the numbers annually entering Cambridge remained the same for more than three decades. The Union debate on Catholic Emancipation in 1829 set a record for numbers voting that was not broken until 1866 (although there is good reason to think that the 1829 division was packed). Matriculations at Oxford were also static, and at identical levels. As late as 1860, the University of London (a project to which the Cambridge Union showed a marked absence of goodwill)26 was still producing fewer than one hundred graduates a year.27 Twenty years after the founding of Durham University, a friendly Cambridge commentator could write that "it answers its purpose pretty well" but "one seldom hears much about it".28 Owens College, the forerunner of the University of Manchester, did not open its doors until 1851, and the beginnings of the great provincial universities in Newcastle, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Sheffield and Liverpool all belong to the decade after 1871. One of the most dynamic periods of British history, between 1820 and 1870, was marked by a declining rate of participation in higher education, at least so far as English students were concerned.

Except for medicine at the Scottish universities – a field in which for much of the nineteenth century, Cambridge barely attempted to compete – there was little in the way of higher education elsewhere in the island group to tempt an English student. In Ireland, the University of Dublin was the "sleeping sister", while Queen's College Galway only just escaped closure in 1873.29 There was a Presbyterian atmosphere about Queen's College Belfast which probably made it as unattractive to students from England as it proved to be to the Catholic hierarchy.30 Queen's College Cork opened in 1849 with 115 students. In its early years, the College shared its entrance with the local prison, and classes had to be abandoned on days appointed for public hangings. Student numbers at Cork hit 280 in 1878 before falling away to 106 in 1896. "Where Finbarr taught," said its motto in an appeal to a local saint, "let Munster learn." In a famously patronising comment, Macaulay praised its buildings as worthy to stand in the High Street of Oxford, but nobody expected Cork to poach students from the two English universities.31

The Union was a subscription society and it never accounted for a majority of Cambridge undergraduates. At the time of the construction of the new building in 1866, there were hopes of increasing membership to at least fifty percent of the student population.32 However, as late as 1884, little more than twenty percent of the new intake to the University joined the Union. Enlargement of the building in 1886 made the Society more attractive, but even so, by the first decade of the twentieth century, it was recruiting just 35 percent of each freshman year.33 Even though it attracted only a minority of the total student population, the increasing membership still tended to shift the Union's primary focus away from debating towards a more general function as a club and social centre. Of the 300 members joining annually by the eighteen-nineties, only a handful could realistically expect to make their mark as orators. Oddly enough, as will be discussed in Chapter Seven, the increased size of the student population produced an unexpectedly inverse effect on the style of speaking in debates: the declamations of the earlier period were replaced, as audiences became larger, with a more conversational style of (sometimes) common-sense exposition.

While the Cambridge population probably represented an effective cross-section of the country's elite, it could hardly be claimed as a significant numerical sample. In 1860, about one eighteen-year old English male in every five hundred enrolled at Cambridge. Although the doors widened in the decades that followed, by Edwardian times the ratio was still no more than one in three hundred. In one important respect, however, the sample probably became slightly more representative. The removal of the Anglican monopoly over the BA degree in 1856 evidently did not create an immediate Nonconformist rush to Cambridge: in 1858 and 1859, matriculations actually dipped below 400 for the first time since 1823. However, the formal ending in 1871 of the Anglican monopoly over all degrees except those in Divinity was part of a changing climate that made the University more welcoming to Protestants who were not part of the Church of England, although much less so to Catholics. Hard statistics are lacking, but the change does seem to have been reflected in the division of political opinion in Union debates during the later period.

The rapid growth of student numbers after 1870 can still be seen in the brick and stone of Cambridge. Essentially, the colleges expanded so that they continued to dominate the landscape of a growing University. Emmanuel abandoned plans to merge with Christ's; St Catharine's escaped the embrace of King's. Nothing came of the suggestion made by Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, a former President of the Union, that Sidney Sussex should be closed down.34 Yet the architecture obscures one of the might-have-beens of late-Victorian Cambridge, the possibility that the University might have swamped its federal components by direct admission of undergraduates independently of the colleges. The idea of creating a cut-price category of non-collegiate students had been discussed for two decades before it was reluctantly accepted in 1869.35 Reformers sought to emulate the come-all-ye admissions policies of the Scottish universities which sought the widest possible basis of entry (per capita of population, Scotland had almost six times as many university places as England) but allowed students to proceed towards graduation at their own pace – an element of flexibility not offered in Cambridge. Undergraduates admitted directly to the University and living in lodgings around the town would save money by avoiding college charges and the accompanying temptations to fast living. Moreover, advocates of change could piously argue, the plan was a return to medieval practice, to the way Cambridge had operated before the colleges had sprung up and decentralised admissions. In Cambridge, it is always helpful to quote precedent, and the more antique, the better.

Thus from 1869 there was a faint possibility that Cambridge might have evolved into something like a giant American state university, with the colleges declining into exotic fraternity houses. Such a development would probably have emphasised the potential role of the Union as a central focus for student life in a radically changed university. But the experiment made only a muted impact upon Cambridge. Part of the answer for this was the town itself. The 1881 census showed that its population ranked about sixtieth among British towns and cities: Cambridge was simply not large enough for a programme that relied on the availability of lodgings in private houses. In addition, the non-collegiate experiment had to compete on two fronts, without the University and within. London University was by now well established, and the seeds were being sown that would grow into major provincial universities, all of which set their faces against any form of sectarian privilege from the outset. The intending student seeking higher education that was secular, innovative and relatively cheap had the luxury of an increasing range of choice. Inside Cambridge, the colleges also fought the challenge. Although the agricultural depression hit their income from endowments, many colleges managed to scrape together the cash for new buildings: indeed, increased income from student fees was an attractive alternative to decreasing rents from farms. Moreover, colleges could offer the intangible advantages of prestige and sociability not available to the isolated "Non-Colls". They were indeed more expensive, but they could – and some aggressively did – offer compensations such as scholarships and better access to career opportunities in the Church of England. Non-collegiate students were never especially numerous, and the ambitious among them defected to mainstream colleges as soon as they had displayed academic or sporting qualities that would make them a marketable human commodity. The first two Non-Colls to become President of the Union were both snapped up by mainstream colleges: A.G. Tweedie in 1877 by Caius and J.H.B. Masterman in 1893 by St John's. Of 203 undergraduates admitted through this route by 1876, 103 had moved to colleges, and a third of the others left without taking a degree.36 Twenty years later, Gladstone responded to a request for a message of goodwill by hailing the Non-Colls as "a standing reserve established in favour of the Colleges", whose depredations were "a perpetual drain upon its best ingredients".37 The impact of the great statesman's good wishes on morale is not recorded.

Far from swamping the existing structure, the Non-Colls were quickly compelled to emulate it, forming a shadow college of their own. This came about partly because colleges formed an essential part both of University teaching and the structure of discipline. A non-college could not be headed by a Master, but significantly the official appointed to supervise non-collegiate students was styled the "Censor", after the functionary who had regulated morals in ancient Rome. In 1874, a meeting place for Non-Colls was established at a house in Trumpington Street, close to the Fitzwilliam Museum. In 1892, this became known as Fitzwilliam Hall, and later Fitzwilliam House. Unusually for Cambridge, the name was adopted without any corresponding benefaction or patronage, probably because it bestowed a comfortably aristocratic and medieval aura. Organisation along sub-collegiate lines was also a form of social self-defence: the Union had twice in 1868 voted its disapproval of the non-collegiate experiment.38

Alongside the Fitzwilliam scheme, there were three specific attempts to create bargain-basement sub-colleges, recognised by the University as "hostels" – in the often quoted analogy of the American federal system, a form of territorial status short of statehood. The first of these, Selwyn College, proved unexpectedly controversial, largely because it was intended as an Anglican foundation and was thus seen as a clerical riposte to the opening of the University at large to Nonconformists. Unusually, the Selwyn project provoked no fewer than three Union debates between its initial proposal in 1878 (which was condemned by 64 votes to 34) and its opening in 1882, when it was grudgingly accepted by 86 votes to 74, after the rejection of an amendment insisting that it "should be compelled to take the name of Selwyn Hostel".39 Like Alaska and Hawaii, and at about the same speed, Selwyn and Fitzwilliam eventually progressed to full statehood, formally becoming colleges of Cambridge University in 1957 and 1966 respectively.

Two other hostels were less successful. Cavendish College combined economy – it was famous for its exceptionally narrow beds – with the experiment of opening the University to boys in their mid-teens. An over-ambitious project, Cavendish ran up considerable debts, partly in the construction of a building likened to a fever hospital on a site even more remote from downtown Cambridge than its inconveniently remote railway station. A sardonic reporter described the arrival of nine freshmen at Cavendish in 1889 as "alarmingly rapid growth". In reality, the project was going nowhere and it closed in 1892.40 A commercial venture, Ayerst's Hostel, collapsed four years later. Homerton, a teacher-training college, took over the Cavendish buildings, while Ayerst's premises, although not its hostel status, were acquired by St Edmund's House, Cambridge's first post-Reformation Catholic institution.

Overall, non-collegiate students made only a marginal contribution to the Union. As a subscription society, it offered an obvious area for economy in the eyes of students who had opted for a cheaper form of education, especially after 1874 when Non-Colls acquired a social centre of their own. None the less, at various times in the eighteen-seventies and -eighties, clusters of them contributed regularly to Union debates, in some years outnumbering speakers from most of the mainstream colleges. However, this new breed of student did not bring a wholly new voice to Union debates. The one and only Cavendish speaker made his maiden speech in defence of the House of Lords, while the first two contributions from Selwyn opposed a motion that Ireland should be governed by the Irish. The case of J.H.B. Masterman is revealing. His home address, Rotherfield Hall, Sussex, does not suggest social deprivation. The problem for the Masterman family lay in the need to put six sons through Cambridge within little more than decade: even for a country gentleman, the expense was daunting. Three of the Masterman brothers became President of the Union, one of them continuing to a place in Asquith's cabinet.

The non-collegiate experiment was a characteristic example of the way in which the undergraduate world of Cambridge was modified in the half-century before 1914. Changes that seemed radical in principle often turned out to have only a blunted impact on the ethos a and operation of the University. By 1870, Cambridge had undergone a major overhaul, and the outlines of the modern University were apparent. Yet in one wholly new area of challenge, the admission of women, and two continuing areas of resistance, the role of classics in the curriculum and the dominance of the Anglican Church, Cambridge succeeded in disguising and blocking change. In a modern academic community, organised student opinion would be insistent and uncompromising in its demand for reform. The Cambridge Union was more likely to be found in the last ditch of opposition.

The first British census, in 1801, had recorded the University of Cambridge as having a population of 803 males and 8 females, the latter being wives of heads of houses, the only college dignitaries then allowed to marry.41 Otherwise, for much of the nineteenth century, Cambridge was a bastion of masculinity. "We ... rigidly exclude the female sex," wrote Leslie Stephen from Trinity Hall in 1865, "so that I have not spoken to a lady for three weeks."42 So fixed is the modern assumption that everyone should be engaged in continuous sexual self-expression that it is difficult to come to terms with the asexuality of Cambridge in an earlier epoch. True, it was not overheated imagination that caused the proctors to scour the streets for loose women. In the early nineteenth century, the artisan suburb of Barnwell was nicknamed "New Zealand", apparently because it provided sexual delights rivalling those of Polynesia.43 Yet celibacy was the predominant characteristic of student life. "As for women," wrote Wilson Harris of the Edwardian years, "most of us, while undergraduates, did not take much serious or sustained interest in them".44 A character in E.F. Benson's Cambridge novel set in the same era remarked that although he was twenty, "I've never kissed a girl yet, let alone the other thing"45 – although this record of abstinence perhaps reflected E.F. Benson's own priorities. G.E. Moore's uninformed theorising about copulation confirms that Cambridge students were ill-equipped to respond to the invasion of their world by the opposite sex. Lacking the experience that might enable them to appreciate women as normal people, they fell back on the twin images of the angelic and the threatening.

Two colleges catering for women students emerged soon after 1870. Neither Girton nor Newnham was officially part of the University, the former having started life in 1869 at Hitchin, a strategic location that gave it a choice of potential university affiliations, being as close to London as to Cambridge. The development of two institutions incidentally permitted women students to replicate the essential Cambridge experience of inter-college rivalry on the hockey field: an unusually boisterous dance at Girton in 1919 was excused on the grounds that "we do not win the Newnham match every day!".46 However, Girton and Newnham were the product not so much of a double tide of female emancipation as of a deep split in tactics. Emily Davies, the founder of Girton, wanted women to batter their way into the existing male world on their merits, whereas for the group around Henry Sidgwick, the Newnham project was part of a wider agenda of educational subversion. The difference can be seen in architectural terms: Girton, in its secluded village, built a chapel; Newnham, just across the Backs, was defiantly secular. Girton, it was said, wore stays [corsets]; Newnham did not.47 The two projects did not always enjoy smooth co-existence: on one occasion Sidgwick noted the reception of a letter from Miss Davies which "mentioned affably that I was the serpent that was eating out her vitals".48 In fairness, it must be said that Sidgwick and his allies, operating inside the University, did their best to frustrate Miss Davies and her plans, and the absence of charity was by no means one-sided. Charles Kingsley, Professor of History, described Emily Davies as "a bad woman", adding: "She would have been a better woman if she had married and had children."49

Although Sidgwick was a former President of the Union, and Emily Davies was sister of another, undergraduate debaters of the eighteen-sixties were not in the vanguard of support for the higher education of women. Motions calling for their admission to university degrees and professional diplomas were defeated by 59 votes to 19 in 1863 and 67 votes to 21 in 1867, the minority consistent at 24 percent.50 In 1868 an attempt to express "admiration" for "the efforts of Women to establish for themselves Colleges, on the principles of those existing for Men" was rejected by 33 votes to 19. However, the following year the Union undertook by 78 votes to 26 to watch "with interest and sympathy the career of the Ladies' College at Hitchin", after rejecting an amendment to substitute "amusement". Thereafter the Union did not turn its attention to Newnham and Girton until 1893 when the Ulsterman MacBride, never one to pull his punches, proposed that they were "useless and dangerous and ought to be abolished". The motion was not altogether serious, but in any case it was defeated by 145 votes to 86.51

Official Cambridge attempted to absorb the women, as it was absorbing the Non-Colls, by simultaneously accommodating and ignoring them. Unfortunately, compromises that satisfied senior members had the capacity to alarm their juniors, who were more likely to view women as direct competitors. Three major landmarks in the decade after 1881 saw undergraduate opinion, at least as reflected in Union debates, hardening into defensive masculinity. In 1881, women were permitted to sit Tripos examinations on a "let's-pretend" basis. The real results, for the men, were announced first. Until 1909 candidates in classics and mathematics were not simply grouped into degree classes, but placed in order of merit within them as well. Then a separate list was read out to report where the women would have been ranked, had they been taking the examination as anything other than a courtesy. Unfortunately for the male sense of enlightened compromise, the women failed to enter into the dilettante spirit of the exercise. Some began to appear alongside, although of course not actually within, the First Class. Worse still, in 1887 Miss Ramsay of Girton out-performed all the official candidates in the Classics Tripos, while in 1890 Miss Fawcett of Newnham simultaneously outranked all the male mathematicians.52 "Newnham celebrated Miss Fawcett's victory … by unlimited cocoa on Saturday night", reported an unregenerate chauvinist. Miss Ramsay's future was quickly settled. The recently returned Master of Trinity, H.M. Butler, was a widower tackling a job in which it was generally thought that possession of a wife was an essential qualification. Within a year, he had persuaded the brilliant young Girtonian to become his bride.53 It is something of a challenge to our notions of Victorian prudery to reflect that a very senior academic in his mid-fifties was able to woo a first-year postgraduate (as Miss Ramsay would have been had she been awarded her degree) without being accused of harassment. The marriage was a success. Butler survived to his eighties, increasingly reminding one irritated observer of William Blake's conception of the Almighty.54 Cynics attributed his longevity and rude health to his wife's conversion to Christian Science and her consequent refusal to allow medical practitioners to come near him.55 Two sons of the marriage became Presidents of the Union.

Miss Ramsay's good fortune was a happy story, but it did not solve the problem of brilliant women who passed Honours examinations without receiving a Cambridge degree. They could not all marry the Master of Trinity.56 It became apparent, at least to some, that if women could triumph in the unfeminine endurance test of Tripos examinations, it was illogical to refuse them the unladylike outcome of taking a degree. Indeed, for women who defied convention and wished to earn their own living, the refusal of the degree was an unfair handicap.

This common-sense view did not find universal favour among members of the Union. Their shifting attitudes towards feminist issues form a useful counterpart to analysis of opinion on the Irish question. Tables Nine and Ten compare Cambridge Union debates on the extension of the franchise to women with divisions on the same issue in the House of Commons. Comparison is possible since this was one of the few issues on which MPs were usually given a free vote, beyond the constraints of whips and party loyalties. The comparison indicates that there was more resistance in the Cambridge Union to a recognition of women's rights than there was at Westminster, with levels of opposition among undergraduates tending to conform to those of Conservative MPs - despite the fact that thirty to forty percent of any Cambridge Union audience identified with the Liberals. Young men, it would seem, felt more threatened by assertive females than did their elders. Furthermore, attitudes towards women see-sawed, from cautious endorsement of the abstract principle of female higher education, through reluctance to abandon the male bastion of Cambridge to outright gusts of chauvinist resistance when the challenge from women became too frightening. By the time the issue of women's degrees reached crisis point in 1897, male undergraduate opinion had hardened into outright, even frenzied rejection. By contrast, throughout the last two decades of the century, the Union was steadily opposed to Home Rule, but both the intensity and the proportionate size of that opposition tended to decline. By 1897 Ireland had ceased to be viewed as a major threat.

Initially, Union debates show a student body responding with cautious ambivalence to the demands of women. In 1877 and 1879, the Union supported two motions in favour of the higher education of women, although neither referred specifically to Cambridge. The divisions, of 73 votes to 36 and 85 votes to 58, suggest a consistent measure of approval (67 and 59 percent). Significant, however, was the failure of an amendment in the debate of May 1879 that sought to toughen up support for the higher education of women "especially as preparing the way for the removal of their political and professional disabilities". This was rejected by 75 votes to 33: only half the men sympathetic to the principle of higher education for women were prepared to see it as a vehicle for more general emancipation. Earlier, in 1876, a motion stating that it was "desirable that women should be admitted to the study and practice of medicine" had been rejected by 73 votes to 53.57 Medicine was no occupation for ladies.

Ambivalent attitudes continued into the eighteen-eighties. In May 1880 and May 1887, the Union actually voted in favour of the admission of women to Cambridge degrees, again by narrow but consistent majorities of 54 and 52 percent (109 votes to 92; 71 votes to 65). In both cases, this cautious endorsement proved to be a false dawn as the pace of feminisation, in the form of admission to examinations and the success of Miss Ramsay, moved too rapidly for the young male ego. In March 1881 there was a violent spasm of rejection after the University formally agreed to allow women to sit Tripos examinations, regularising previous ad hoc arrangements dependent upon the goodwill of individual boards of examiners. A motion that not only approved the opening of examinations to women but bluntly hoped that "it is only a step towards granting them degrees" was rejected in a well-attended debate by 166 votes to 102. The 62 percent majority of March 1881 recalled the 69 percent opposition to general emancipation in May 1879.58

The sense of threat can also be seen in the debate of February 1888, which revealed a complete shift of attitudes in the nine months since the narrow acceptance of a motion disapproving "of the continued refusal of Degrees to properly qualified women students".59 In the interval, Miss Ramsay had shown herself much too well qualified in the Classics Tripos, and young men responded by pulling up the drawbridge. Moreover, the 1888 motion spoke of admitting women not simply to degrees but to "academical rank" or, in other words, a role in the running of Cambridge. It was soundly rejected by 135 votes to 55. For the next decade, the swing away from the women's cause was continuous. A carefully worded motion specifying nothing more than the BA degree was narrowly rejected by 102 votes to 90 in 1889, and a more sweeping proposition thrown out by 59 votes to 35 in 1891.60 The triumph of Miss Fawcett in the Mathematics Tripos probably accounts for the sharp fall in sympathy between the two debates. One speaker who supported the women's cause in both debates was Lord Corry, son of the Earl of Belmore, of Castle Coole in Fermanagh: the Irish ascendancy was not always a voice for reaction at Cambridge. More generally, the Union condemned "the granting of any further 'rights' to women" by 74 votes to 52 in 1889, viewed "with dismay the advance of feminine despotism" in 1891 by 85 votes to 57 and condemned all moves towards female suffrage in 1894 by 62 votes to 25.61 The 37 percent minority of 1891 was replicated in 1896, when a division of 157 against 87 again dismissed the argument for women's degrees, despite the advocacy of F.W. Lawrence, better known as the future champion of the suffragettes, Lord Pethick-Lawrence.62

The admission of women to the Bachelor of Arts degree was not as straightforward as it might now seem. The BA led straight to the MA, which conferred full membership of the University, the "academical rank" that carried with it the right to participate in its government. Furthermore, Cambridge MAs formed a parliamentary constituency, and in the eighteen-nineties only visionaries thought that women should have the right to elect MPs. (The Union rejected women's suffrage on 28 of the 31 occasions that it debated the idea between 1866 and 1914. The exceptions were majorities of 3 in a division of 225 in 1908, of 4 out of 394 in 1911, and a single vote among 145 members in the very last peacetime debates in June 1914, all three interspersed with unambiguously anti-feminist majorities.) In short, the question of women's degrees was – as Sidgwick had foreseen – part of a wider issue of the role of women in society.

In 1897, the University came up with a proposal worthy of its origins as a school of medieval theology. Women were to be given the title of the BA degree, but not the degree itself, thereby stamping the product but avoiding the complications of full membership of the University. The response to this mild, almost craven, compromise was a massive explosion of masculine anger: the proposal was rejected by almost three-to-one in a vote by over 2,300 MAs.63 An unofficial referendum, plus petitions and counter-petitions, among undergraduates also attracted mass participation and produced an even more remarkable rejection by more than seven-to-one. One measure of the sense of crisis was the decision to throw open the Union debate to all resident junior members of the University. Hundreds had to be turned away, and at one point it was feared that the gallery of the debating chamber was about to collapse. The President of the University Boat Club was so unfamiliar with Union procedure that he began his remarks, "Ladies and Gentlemen" but despite his unpolished oratory, the motion was passed by 1083 votes to 138.64 If hardly the most glorious moment in the history of the Cambridge Union, the vote – when compared with the 157-89 rejection of women's degrees the previous year in a debate confined to members only – did at least suggest that Union activists were marginally less reactionary than the student body as a whole.

The episode now seems so bizarre that it is worth pointing out that there were indeed arguments against the proposal, even if they do not strike us as especially good ones. Some felt that "women are not undeveloped men".65 After centuries in which the two sexes had operated in separate spheres, it was not immediately obvious that the higher education of women should take the same form as that of men, a view to which some later feminists might feel sympathy if from a wholly different starting point. An ex-President of the Union stated as fact that women did better than men in the study of history and languages, but were "far behind" in classics, mathematics and natural sciences. The implication – which has lingered until recent times – was that the female mind flourishes in a riot of creativity but cannot cope with subjects that require intellectual rigour: "women's talents are different to men's".66 The Granta's cartoonist was less subtle, portraying Cambridge as a seminary for young ladies: "Cooking & Plain Sewing Extra".67 Others saw that admission to degrees would entail the breaking of all barriers, "an inevitable step towards a mixed University", a term that became a coded reference to "a matrimonial agency".68 Cambridge was surely too important for such a reckless experiment, while "any man of sense would see that a large number of subjects do not lend themselves to treatment in mixed classes".69 Rowing men saw the degree as only one part of a Cambridge education - for some of them perhaps not even that - and feared the loss of sporting types to Oxford. "What we should gain in women, we should lose in men."70 Strangely enough, when Oxford subsequently decided that it did not wish to be the home of this particular lost cause, the rowing men did not noticeably swing to the female cause.

The movement to admit women to universities was part of the late-Victorian boom in higher education. Unfortunately, one feature of rapid expansion was that resources did not keep abreast of numbers. In this, at least, the modern academic can empathise. "University Lecture Rooms and Laboratories are crowded enough in all conscience".71 Even the Union's most prominent supporter of Home Rule for Ireland, Thomas McDonnell, was persuaded by the argument that there was "no room" in Cambridge for any more women, although he did not explain why this constraint ruled out a simple act of justice for those who were already there. "Girton and Newnham are full. Where could they go?" A heckler helpfully nominated Downing.72

Even accepting that there were practical obstacles to any large-scale influx of women into Cambridge, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the core opposition to the proposal rested upon threatened masculinity. Essentially, the difficulty experienced by Cambridge men in accommodating the arrival of Cambridge women lay in their own inability to reconcile, or break free from, two wholly different perceptions of females, one seeing them as angels and the other fearing them as harpies. The elevation of women above the sordid level of ordinary life made possible the superficial pun that in perfection there could be no degree.73 The architecture of the Cambridge Union captured this notion, permitting "ladies" to view debates from the gallery, so constituting an "upper house".74 Indeed, the first occasion on which the Union had discussed any issue relating to women was a motion in 1837 declaring that their presence as spectators at parliamentary debates would raise the tone of the House of Commons.75 The restrictive use of the term "ladies" can be seen in contrast to a statement from an internal Union report of 1892, which declared that "a small increase in the staff of women" had improved the efficiency of "the work of daily cleaning".76 Ladies were ethereal creatures, located not simply above the debaters but above the issues debated. Thus their presence in large numbers in 1897 at a debate on the report of the Irish Financial Commission was sufficiently unexpected to be remarked upon by (male) student journalists. "We were surprised to see more than 120 ladies assemble in the gallery to listen to a debate of so technical a nature," remarked the puzzled Cambridge Review.77 This was, after all, the decade of The Importance of Being Earnest, in which Miss Prism advises little Cecily to omit the Fall of the Rupee from her study of economics because the episode was "somewhat too sensational".

When women did not conform to the angelic ideal, they became a terrifying threat. "The harpies are upon us" – so ran the opening words of the Granta's call to resistance in 1897.78 Two comments by ex-Presidents in the Union debate of that year are revealing. One revealed a profound insecurity in rejecting the argument that it was inconsistent to allow women to take examinations but not receive degrees: "If I give a beggar my coat, he has no right to demand my trousers." Another made macho reference to the divisions in student opinion revealed by the rival petitions. "Our opponents say we are animals. I would rather represent 2000 animals than 300 vegetables."79

It is only fair to note that a succeeding student generation quickly came to repent these excesses. The Union approved the granting of Cambridge degrees for women narrowly (by 131 votes to 121) in 1905 and emphatically (by 147 votes to 55) in 1909. However, the change of heart did not extend to a wish to invite women into participation in Union debates.80 At the inauguration of the Union's new wing in 1886, there had been some jocular allusions to the likelihood that women might soon be admitted to membership.81 Miss Ramsay probably set that possibility back by a quarter of a century. Even then, a proposal to open Union membership to members of Girton and Newnham was rejected in 1912 by a two-to-one majority (127 votes to 63). "The shy man would be driven out of the Union by the change", warned a future Cambridge don, while an ex-President called upon members "to resist the evil encroachment of the feminist movement, which would have the effect of unsexing women".82 As late as 1935, it was considered witty to argue that the sort of women who would wish to join the Union would not be the sort of women the Union would want, an attitude redolent of Groucho Marx if less likely to amuse posterity.83

The rest of the story may be told quickly, even if it does not report any rapid process of change. In 1921, in the last great festival of the backwoodsmen, women were once again refused full membership of Cambridge University, but on this occasion the mystical compromise of 1897 was allowed to slip through. The titular degree fell short of the real BA (Cantab.) and was susceptible to indelicate abbreviation, but it was a belated victory of a kind.84 Full and unvarnished degrees were eventually conceded in 1948. The Union was less precipitate, and did not get around to admitting women to membership until 1963. The first woman President was elected in 1967. In 1991, she received a peerage as Baroness Mallalieu and became prominent as a defender of fox-hunting. The first female ex-President to enter parliament was elected for a marginal seat in 1974, almost a century and a half after Gladstone had used the Oxford Union as the launch-pad for his political career. In 1996, she too went to the Lords as Baroness Hayman, and the following year became a junior minister in the Blair Labour government. Thus the Cambridge Union just managed to make its mark on the political history of women in twentieth-century Britain.

There is, of course, no way of knowing whether Cambridge Union attitudes to Ireland would have been altered had women contributed to debates. What does seem clear is that young Cambridge males were indulging in large-scale denial of the obvious presence of women around them. In some respects, they showed more openness towards the claims of distant Ireland.

By 1870, the dominance of mathematics and classics in the Cambridge curriculum that had marked the first half of the nineteenth century was being challenged by a range of newer subjects. Tripos (Honours degree) examinations in moral sciences (philosophy) and natural sciences began in 1851. Law followed in 1858, history in 1875, medieval and modern languages in 1886, mechanical sciences (the engagingly primitive Cambridge term for engineering) in 1894 and economics in 1905. Arthur Balfour was one student who was glad that his undergraduate career did not begin until 1865. "At Cambridge, till within a comparatively short time of my going there, academic honours could scarcely be reached except by the well-worn road of classical learning and advanced mathematics." He flourished in the study of philosophy: "neither in classics nor in mathematics could I hope to do more than admire other people's work ignorantly and from afar."85

Despite the broadening of degree studies, mathematics and classics retained their prestige, the latter still entrenched with insidious privilege in the curriculum. Essentially, the indictment of their earlier dominance had been twofold: concentration upon just two disciplines had created a culture that was both restrictive and aridly competitive. Leslie Stephen had parodied the narrowness of the University's approach to study during the first half of the nineteenth century:

Cambridge virtually said to its pupils, "Is this a treatise upon geometry or algebra? No. Is it, then, a treatise upon Greek or Latin grammar, or on the grammatical construction of classical authors? No. Then commit it to the flames, for it contains nothing worthy of your study."86

Successful candidates in these two prestige subjects continued to be arranged, not simply in degree classes, but in strict order of merit until 1909, eighty years after a critic had complained that Tripos examinations were discussed in "the slang of the race-course". "The love of excelling, not the love of excellence, is made the basis of our studies".87

At its best, mathematics was a stimulating discipline. It was reported of Parnell, who does not seem to have been overly bookish, that "when he had been given the ordinary solution of a problem, would generally set about to find whether it could not be solved equally well by some other method".88 A President of the Union of the eighteen-nineties was even more enthusiastic. Through mathematics, F.W.Lawrence encountered "beauty, order, and harmony", indeed a sense of communion with God.89 In more prosaic spirit, in 1901 the Union rejected by 59 votes to 42 a motion declaring mathematics "inadequate" as a mental training.90

The rationale for the study of classics was less clear-cut, and indeed placed a Christian and conservative university in the curious position of basing its education upon pagan and republican Greece and Rome. It was contended that the study of languages with systems of grammar and meanings of concepts so different from the modern world was an essential foundation for the writing of good English. "The old-fashioned test of an English sentence – will it translate? – still stands after we have lost the trick of translation", as Evelyn Waugh was to put it.91 For all its high-minded veneration of the ancient world, Cambridge Latin could be racy and even mildly indecent. One don chortled for sixty years over a blunder in translation made by a fellow undergraduate, who confused "merx" (merchandise) with "meretrix" (prostitute), while another was delighted with the suggestion that the highly inconvenient fashion accessory, the ladies' bustle, might be translated as "superbum".92

By the end of the nineteenth century, champions of the new degree subjects were starting to assert parity of esteem with the old. E.W. MacBride, the scientist from Belfast, even had the hardihood to ask the Union to support the abolition of the Classics Tripos in 1891. He "succeeded in thoroughly annoying his opponents" but was defeated by 102 votes to 25.93 MacBride's motion was a piece of philistine aggression: classics was as valid a discipline of study as physics and chemistry. The reason for hostility lay in its privileged status: even after the shake-up of the curriculum, permission to proceed to any Tripos examination continued to depend upon a basic knowledge not only of Latin but of Greek as well. Greek had become compulsory with the creation in 1822 of the Previous Examination (or "Little-Go"). Originally conceived as a retrospective entrance test, the Little-Go became a hurdle that every undergraduate had to surmount before proceeding to more specialist study. The case for compulsory Latin as a foundation for a general education was respectable, and could even be pleaded as an essential qualification for scientists: not only was Latin the linguistic expression of logical thought, but it was useful in the study of botany. The case for a second classical language was much less impressive, since a knowledge of Greek mainly duplicated the advantages gained from studying Latin. It took six assaults over 48 years before Greek, still resisting, finally fell on its sword in 1920.

However, even in the early twentieth century, as the University was becoming a more serious place, over half the undergraduate population did not sit for Honours in any subject, and around one fifth left without taking a degree of any kind.94 The Master of Magdalene, who was well placed to comment, stated in 1914 that many of the last category "had come up to have a good time, and did not care to read or work hard".95 In their defence, it has to be said that the Pass degree was stale and unstimulating. The sterile dominance of the classical culture can be seen even in the fact that Pass degree candidates were long known as "Poll Men", from the Greek hoi polloi, the rabble. The Student's Guide claimed that "those persons are not always to be believed who say that they got no good at Cambridge, that they only forgot what they had learnt", bravely adding that it was "possible that they learnt something without being conscious of it".96 One of the sternest critics of this vacuous nonsense was A.C. Benson, a Fellow of Magdalene and himself a former classics master at Eton. "The defenders of the classical system say that it fortifies the mind and makes it a strong and vigorous instrument", he wrote in 1906. "Where is the proof of it?" The evidence pointed in the other direction: it was "difficult to imagine a condition of greater vacuity than that in which a man leaves the University after taking a pass degree" thanks to its "contemptible, smattering" content.97

King's led the way in discouraging any undergraduates who did not propose to aim for Honours. The Union was less demanding. In 1878, a motion calling for the abolition of the pass degrees was thrown out by a massive 84 votes to 6. On the positive side, in 1880, a motion in favour of the creation of an Honours degree in modern languages was passed by 62 votes to 15. However, by and large there was little undergraduate interest in, or enthusiasm for, major syllabus reform. Some of the new degree subjects made only a muted impact. In the eighteen-eighties, Cambridge was "dimly conscious" of the existence of a School of Modern Languages and "at irregular intervals", there were "spasms of anxiety to find out whether the existence is more than nominal". However, "the fit is of short duration, and is followed by no malignant after-effects". 98

The conservatism of the University (and especially of its easily mobilised parsonic reserve) in the defence of compulsory Greek was characteristic. More surprising was the lack of enthusiasm for change shown in Union debates, since one of arguments of the reformers was that most students went through the motions of mastering Greek and derived no real benefit from the experience. It was one thing for Sir Richard Jebb to claim that Greek "was the most perfect vehicle for expression which the world has known".99 He was, after all, Professor of Greek. Members of the Union might not have been very good at Greek, but they rallied to its defence. A 61 percent vote in its favour out of a division of 94 students in 1877 was startlingly similar to the 59 percent majority when 157 members took part in a similar debate in 1904. A larger turn-out the following year saw the support for Greek slip to 55 percent in a division of 267. This was three times the turn-out on the same issue in 1913, when Greek gained a 54 percent victory.100 Remarkably, the Cambridge Union came to terms with Irish Home Rule more rapidly than it felt able to abandon a classical language which few of its members really understood.

Despite the rebuke of Monckton Milnes in 1866 that political debates were squeezing out literature, the Union provided opportunities for intellectual discussion of subjects that were long absent from the formal programme of the University. Although a debate in 1892 disapproved, by 36 votes to 29, of the idea of an Honours degree in English,101 the Union was probably the largest and most long-lasting forum for the discussion of literature in nineteenth-century Cambridge. The future Professor of Ecclesiastical History, F.J.A. Hort, proposed in 1849 that Macaulay's History of England was "utterly wanting in the most essential characteristics of a great history". Hort was sharing the benefits of the new course in moral sciences, but as there were only four students enrolled for the degree, in this case the Union was performing a wider educational function. His motion triggered a lively debate, leading to the conclusion that members did not like Macaulay's political opinions but regarded his book as one "the master-pieces of English Historical Literature".102 Later in the century, literary debates became rarer and even pedestrian. In 1888, the Union listened to Ignatius Donnelly expound his theory that Francis Bacon wrote the plays of Shakespeare, and disagreed with him by 131 votes to 101.103 However, although when literary issues went out of fashion as subjects for formal debate, they erupted from time to time in business meetings as members argued about purchases for the Society's Library. In the early decades, the Union took its role so seriously that even the acquisition by its Library of material as frivolous as the novels of Walter Scott was a matter for controversy.104 Later, there were campaigns to block the purchase of the poems of Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde had to be referred to a referendum of all members, and Zola was contested through a series of business meetings, novel by novel.105

The broadening of the University degree syllabus in the nineteenth century was thus undercut by the continued entrenchment of both ancient languages as essential preconditions for study. This in turn perpetuated the narrow range of schools which could most effectively prepare candidates for entry to Cambridge and so added considerably to the obstacles faced by those from outside the social elite. Occasionally a day school, such as King Edward's Birmingham in the eighteen-forties, would mount a challenge through the excellence of its classical teaching, but in practice the emphasis upon Greek and Latin was a form of restrictive practice to ensure that the top prizes at Cambridge continued to be dominated by former pupils of the public schools. "Take them away," wrote Bristed in 1852, "and you would take away four of the first five men in every classical Tripos."106 One of the founders of Cheltenham explained in 1841 that a public school education "appeared to be to a certain extent necessary to future success" at the universities, since "honours were almost invariably carried away by those who had been educated at our great public schools".107 The cumulative result of all this was the creation of a vast constituency, stretching from the youngest freshman to the oldest country parson, ready to spring to the defence of an educational ritual in which they had themselves invested so heavily.

The reforms of 1856 and 1871 opened first the BA and then almost all other degrees of Cambridge University to non-members of the Church of England. However, for the average undergraduate, the downfall of Anglican supremacy was masked by the fact that the University was an invisible entity obscured by the concrete presence of the colleges. The colleges, too, were forced to concede the outworks of Anglican privilege: Fellows were no longer required to take Holy Orders, and the Royal Commission of 1881 even removed religious tests for Masterships. The Master of Corpus ingenuously protested that such a change would be contrary "to the intention of the pious founder and benefactors of the college", conveniently overlooking the complication that most of those worthies lived in the Middle Ages and would have regarded the Church of England as schismatic and heretical.108

Out-argued and out-gunned, the conservatives in their colleges fell back on the citadel of Anglican identity, compulsory chapel. A recent historian estimates that it took the First World War to eradicate this deeply entrenched aspect of Cambridge culture, especially in the smaller colleges where social control over the young was at its most rigid.109 For instance, at Magdalene in Parnell's time, undergraduates were expected to attend chapel twice on Sundays in addition to their weekday obligations. Like most of his contemporaries, Parnell paid a steady trickle of fines for missing chapel services.110 Whether he rejected the system as a whole, we cannot tell. Certainly the first elected office he held after leaving Cambridge was his membership of the Synod of the Church of Ireland. In larger colleges, and especially in Trinity, there is plenty of evidence that compulsory chapel produced a mutinous and irreverent congregation, punctuated occasionally by more organised protests. The best known of these took the form of a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Undergraduates, which in 1838 issued spurious class lists, arranging the Fellows of Trinity in order of their own attendance. An undergraduate from New South Wales was expelled after being caught distributing this "blasphemous anti-Chapel" publication, a disapproving Fellow noting that it was "comical enough that the youth came from Botany Bay". By coincidence, the SPCU awarded its prize for the most diligent chapel attendance to a Trinity tutor, Charles Perry, who nine years later became first bishop of Melbourne.111

Cambridge attitudes (but not those of Magdalene) seem to have shifted in the period between 1864 and 1872. The Union debated compulsory chapel attendance on five occasions, moving from initial approval of the institution by 108 votes to 83 to condemnation in 1868 by 92 votes to 42, a shift in attitudes which paralleled the sudden drop in enthusiasm for the Irish Church.112 As late as 1862, Trinity was still upholding the principle that all members of the college should attend a common act of worship, whatever their own beliefs. That year, the issue arose with the proposed admission of a Hindu, but assurances were given that he "would be regular ... in his attendance at chapel".113 Henry Sidgwick's well-publicised resignation from his Fellowship in 1869 on grounds of religious doubt was probably an indirect blow to the institution, not least because Trinity was at pains to find a means to hold on to this self-proclaimed agnostic. By the eighteen-nineties, non-attendance in Trinity led to a civil interview with the Dean but "no punishment was ever inflicted".114 None the less, when F.M. Cornford tried to secure formal abolition of the practice in 1904, he was almost contemptuously out-manoeuvred by its defenders. The experience helped spur Cornford into writing his Microcosmographia Academica, still a biting and illuminating guide to the politics of conservatism. "There must be some rules", Cornford wrote in mocking parody of the defence of compulsory chapel, and "the object of rules is to relieve the younger men of the burdensome feeling of moral or religious obligation". Chapel attendance reminded students of their ecclesiastical duties while simultaneously inoculating them against undue religious enthusiasm.115 It also got them out of bed in the morning.

Gradually, some colleges became a little more flexible towards chapel attendance, prepared to excuse Nonconformists on grounds of conscience. In 1886, Wilfrid Blunt met a King's undergraduate who had been excused chapel after converting to Buddhism, although his notion of practising his new faith seemed centred on the consumption of near-fatal amounts of hashish.116 In 1908, Hugh Dalton secured exemption as an agnostic, but the college made him wait until his twenty-first birthday before conceding the privilege. Dalton celebrated by appearing outside King's College Chapel on his first Sunday morning of freedom, clad in pyjamas and dressing gown, and compounding his offence by cavorting on the grass, sacred space from which undergraduates were barred. But King's was a notoriously eccentric place and no notice was taken of Dalton's triumphalism.117

Overall, exceptions to the rule of chapel attendance were marginal, exotic and seemed to have been confined to the larger and more forward-looking colleges. The Anglican monopoly over Cambridge had been broken in 1871 but, forty years later, its spell was still sufficiently self-assertive to force undergraduates out of bed in the morning. Some Nonconformists secured exemption, but for others social pressure to attend Anglican worship probably gave no great theological offence. It was notorious that upwardly-mobile Dissenting families usually conformed to the Church of England after a couple of generations anyway: one of their spokesmen had assured Anglicans in 1864 that they would "capture nine out of ten of those who enter the University as Nonconformists".118 Of course, the prevailing atmosphere of Anglicanism was far less welcoming to Catholics, as Chapter Four will discuss.

It is tempting to illustrate the changing nature of Cambridge in the century after 1815 by contrasting two Union personalities, eighty years apart, who came from the Lancashire town of Ulverston, on the southern fringe of the Lake District. Thomas Sunderland came to Cambridge in 1825 from Rugby School. The son of the prosperous "squarson" Rector of Ulverston, Sunderland was a formidable orator but a slightly unhinged personality whose opinions boxed the political compass from the Jacobite to Jacobin. Thackeray enjoyed his speeches but thought Sunderland "too fond of treating us with draughts of Tom Paine".119 As was not uncommon in the days before the office acquired a special glamour, he declined the Presidency in 1827. Norman Birkett attended a local school in Barrow and worked in his father's shop before coming to Cambridge in 1907. The family were Wesleyans, and young Birkett intended his university education to be the prelude to the Methodist ministry. He was active as a lay preacher during his undergraduate years, but eventually opted for a brilliant career at the Bar. While sitting the entrance examination at Emmanuel, Birkett was asked if he had any ambition at Cambridge. He replied: "To be President of the Union."120

The eighty years from the Anglican and public-school Sunderland to the Methodist and shop-keeping Birkett is a measure of the denominational change in nineteenth-century Cambridge, but it may flatter the extent to which the University had opened its doors socially. Birkett's father was no mere tradesman, but the leading shopkeeper in Ulverston. At his death in 1913, he left an impressive estate of £15,000. His son had to economise to meet the additional expenses of hospitality that fell upon him as President of the Union, but he was never seriously short of cash:

We thought it a natural thing that there should always be plenty of coal for our fires, plenty of food for our tables ... that we could go abroad in the vacation ... that tobacco and wine should be within reach of modest incomes, that an occasional Norfolk jacket and flannels should not create a minor financial crisis.121

The recollection came from Birkett. The sentiment would have been appropriate to Sunderland.

If the changes in gender, curriculum and religion achieved by Cambridge in the nineteenth century were less than total, and were obscured by rituals of continuity, they were at least more substantial than any alteration in the social composition of the University. Cambridge had always found the means for the occasional poor boy to secure an education. The two protagonists in the legendary confrontation that put an end to Union debates in 1817 were both from Lancashire: the father of the Vice-Chancellor, James Wood, had been a weaver; Whewell, the defiant President, was the son of a carpenter. Their success did not encourage them to challenge the system. Wood died in 1839 leaving over £50,000 – making him a millionaire in today's terms. Thackeray portrayed Whewell as Dr Crump. "He does not disguise his own origin, but brags of it with considerable self-gratulation. ... The argument being, that this is a capital world for beggars, because he, being a beggar, has managed to get on horseback."122 Thackeray's sneer was close to the mark: we cannot believe that every Wood and every Whewell was plucked from obscurity to academic triumph at Cambridge. In reality, even those two careers owed a good deal to luck. Wood was not simply the son of a weaver, but the son of a weaver who enjoyed teaching algebra; Whewell happened to live close to an endowed grammar school with scholarships to Cambridge, but even he had to rely on a public subscription to finance his education. Whewell's own contribution to the development of the University unwittingly helped to narrow its social range by increasing its intellectual demands, while standing firm on the requirement of not one, but two, classical languages. Cambridge did not notably widen its social intake in the century after 1815. If anything, it may even have become more restricted.

Few working class families could afford to support a teenage boy at school to the age of eighteen, not to mention the negative cost of the loss of his earning power.123 In the circumstances, estimates of the minimum cost of a Cambridge education become almost irrelevant. In 1866, the Student's Guide put the lowest estimate, for a sizar, at £115 a year. Others thought the minimum annual cost at between £125 and £150.124 The average weekly wage for a farm labourer in England and Wales was about fourteen shillings (£0.70). Assuming full-time, year-round employment (which was unlikely), "Hodge" might accumulate an annual income of about £36. By this point, the calculations have become fantastic: by saving ten percent of his income for one hundred years, he might put a son through Cambridge. Most farm workers lived on or below the poverty line. Even the aristocrats of labour, the engine drivers, earned at most around £90 a year. Four years' gross income equalled the cost of three years' study at Cambridge.

In the vocabulary of Victorian Cambridge, a poor student was someone from the same social background as the majority of undergraduates, who happened to have less money. E.W. Benson was the grandson of an army officer who – according to family legend – had squandered his fortune through high living as a hanger-on to Silly Billy, the Duke of Gloucester. His father was never successful as a manufacturer in Birmingham, and it was his widow who struggled to send the future Archbishop through Cambridge in 1848. He managed "to get through his first year upon something over £90" but in later life "spoke feelingly of the miseries he endured through living with a large circle of more or less wealthy friends".125 Poverty was a highly relative concept viewed through the prism of a very narrow social band. "The working-class boy at Cambridge before the twentieth century is as rare as a needle in a haystack."126 Benson was unusual, and probably unwise, in joining the Union. In mid-century, a three-year "Life" subscription cost £6.6 shillings, around two percent of the total basic cost of a Cambridge education, and an obvious area of economy for the impecunious.

Social change came slowly. In 1890, the new County Councils were given the power to make grants to needy students. Between 1896 and 1899, 26 male undergraduates at Cambridge were so assisted, about one percent of the total. Their fathers included a bootmaker, a bridle cutter, a tailor and a wharf foreman – but others were more middle-class, and two of the young men were doctors' sons who had attended Shrewsbury.127 Wilson Harris believed that when he came to Cambridge in 1902, "hardly one undergraduate was being educated at no cost to his parents".128 If there were exceptions, they demonstrated only that it was not the sons of weavers and carpenters who benefited from Cambridge's curious combination of a progressive emphasis upon merit with a conservative attitude to the curriculum. In the eighteen-nineties, it was widely believed that the six brilliant Llewelyn Davies brothers had all won scholarships large enough to put them through school and university at no cost to their father.129 In 1907, it was said of the President of the Union, Edward Selwyn, that "the income he derives from his scholarships would just fail to liquidate the National Debt".130 For John Llewelyn Davies, a noted theologian and former President of the Union, it was no doubt a relief to be spared the cost of educating his offspring from the stipend of an Anglican living in Westmorland. The Etonian Edward Selwyn was also a clergyman's son. Scholarships smoothed their passage through Cambridge, but they were not necessary to make Cambridge possible.

Nor can it said that Cambridge rushed to widen the chink in its door. In May 1911, the Union decided by 55 votes to 47 that it "would welcome facilities for the introduction of working men into the privileges of the University". The tone of the motion alone falls short of an endorsement of social revolution. As late as March 1914, the Union "decided, not unnaturally, that the older Universities were adequately fulfilling their duties to the Nation".131 Dons were even less radical than undergraduates. "I utterly abominate the idea of swamping us with poor beggarly students who ought to be tinkers & tailors", grumbled Joseph Romilly of Trinity - who always voted Liberal - in 1853. Sixty years later, Arthur Benson complained of an undergraduate who had "an accent like a slum" and wondered: "is it any use such a man coming here?". The objectionable student hailed not from one of Britain's industrial cities, but from the bucolic Norfolk town of King's Lynn.132 It was a short step to the snobbish exclusionism that drew an Archbishop's rebuke upon the Dean of St Paul's in 1921. W.R. Inge, a product of Eton and former Cambridge professor, protested against the intrusion of the lower orders into the educational preserves of their betters:

In the past the public school man has been exposed only to the natural competition of his own class, recruited [i.e. added to] very sparingly from below. But now our sons have to meet the artificial competition deliberately created by the Government, who are educating the children of the working man, at our expense, in order that they may take the bread out of our children's mouths.133

Archbishop Davidson replied that the Church of England was "whole-heartedly in favour of all such facilities being placed within the reach of those who can use them" and that it would "continue to do its best to throw open as widely as possible our country's educational doors".134 This was a wholly bizarre interpretation of the clerical role in Cambridge for the previous hundred years, and was perhaps motivated in part by a shrewd appreciation of the disparity between falling clerical incomes and the continuing social aspirations of the clergy. The old culture of classics and privilege would die hard. Even in the changing circumstances of the nineteen-twenties, as Fellows of St John's scraped together funding to support the son of an engine driver, one of them punned that the young man might have to come up in loco parentis.135 It was a very English joke, but Cambridge was a very English university.


Abbreviations are listed at the close of the Preface.

1. Brooke, p. 287n challenges the notion that "student" was not traditionally a Cambridge term.The mid-Victorian founding of the Student's Guide suggests that emphasis upon the term "undergraduate" was a device to arrogate special status to the Oxbridge experience in the face of the rise of newer universities in the later nineteenth century. The term was unexceptional in 1823, but frowned upon by 1901: cf. Whewell, p. 84 and Fowler, comp., Cambridge Commemorated, p. 266.

2. Sidgwick, pp. 46-7 (letter of 18 Feb. 1860).

3. L-G, pp. 161, 191.

4. Alma Mater, ii, p. 198.

5. Gunning, ii, p. 349. Some privileges could still be claimed on the basis of royal lineage. Rom3, pp. 5, 325.

6. Searby, p. 71; Student's Guide, p. 48. "The sizars at Cambridge do not live luxuriously", wrote Whewell -- an ex-sizar himself -- in 1843; "many of them live as frugally and simply as can be desired." Whewell, p. 298. Of undergraduates admitted to the University in November 1851, 390 were pensioners and 43 sizars. In 1856, the numbers were 376 pensioners and 35 sizars (of whom 28 were at Trinity and St John's). Thus by mid-century, sizars accounted for around ten percent of undergraduate numbers. Rom3, pp. 95, 261.

7. G.P. Gooch, Life of Lord Courtney (1920), pp. 20-28.


8. Alma Mater, i, p. 61 and cf. Searby, p. 69.


9. A. Balfour, Chapters of Autobiography (ed. E. Dugdale, 1930), pp. 26-7.

10. Hudson, Munby, p. 270. Numbers had been in decline for some years. Romilly wrote that "the race of Fellow Commoner is nearly extinguished" when only five were admitted to the University in 1852. Rom3, p. 120.

11. Milnes, i, pp. 53-4.

12. Rom2, p. 113.

13. Rice, ed., The Granta, p. 33.

14. Whewell, p. 115 (1827). Almost a century later, as an undergraduate at Trinity, the Duke of York (and future king George VI) was "progged" and fined the standard six shillings and eightpence for smoking in academical dress. He described the cigarette as "one of the most expensive I have ever sampled". The confession came in a contribution to the (delayed) centenary celebrations of the Cambridge Union in 1921, an ordeal for a young man who suffered from a speech impediment. A survivor of the battle of Jutland, he told J.R.M. Butler that the speech was "the most frightening occasion of his life". J.W. Wheeler-Bennett, King George VI: His Life and Reign (1958), pp. 132-3. Neither the Cambridge Review nor the Granta reported the Duke's speech.

15. H. Tennyson, Tennyson, p. 28.


16. LVC, pp. 94-143; Rom3, p. 199.

17. Student's Guide, p. 8.

18. Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, i, p. 67.

19. 24/4 /83; 26/ 1/92; 6/3/93; 19/2 /01.

20. Statistics compiled by J. A.Venn are given in J.R. Tanner, ed., The Historical Register of the University of Cambridge ... to 1910 (1917), p. 990 and ... Supplement 1907-1920 (1922), p. 198. Graph in L-G, p. 181. Cf. Searby, p. 61; Brooke, pp. 593-5.

21. G. Stephen, The Jesuit at Cambridge (2 vols, 1847), i, pp. 113-14. For Parnell and Magdalene, see Chapter 1, note 4. R.B. O'Brien, The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell 1846-1891 (2 vols, 1891) relied for Parnell's Cambridge experience on an account by a Fellow of Magdalene, Wilfred Gill, who has not been in residence at the time (i, pp. 40-3). On 17 Nov. 1866, the Cambridge Chronicle reported the admission of 517 new students and a total undergraduate population of 2039. The mutiplier of almost four to one cannot be entirely accounted for by tenth-term "questionists" returning for part of the fourth year for Honours examinations. However, it does point to the inefficient use of student accommodation caused by the ten-term Tripos requirement.

22. Pevsner, Cambridgeshire, pp. 35-6 and passim for the link between matriculations and construction.

23. Searby, pp. 65-7.

24. Bristed, p. 278.

25. The Times, 26 Jan. 1825. "In consequence of the overflow of students at both our Universities, it is in contemplation to found a third University in the neighbourhood of York, towards which the venerable and excellent Earl Fitzwilliam has promised to subscribe £50,000."

26. The Union resolved by 54 votes to 10 in May 1826 that "a University in London" should not "possess any exclusive privileges or endowments", and in May 1834 opposed the grant of a charter by 26 votes to 9. A motion to present the collected works of Newton "to the London University" was rejected in a business meeting on 27 May 1827. MB 4, fo. 43.

27. Bristed, p. 271.

28. L. Stone, "The Size and Composition of the Oxford Student Body 1580-1910", in Stone, ed., The University in Society (2 vols, 1975), i, pp. 5-6; R. Anderson, "Universities and Elites in Modern Britain", History of Universities, 10, 1991, pp. 225-50.

29. T.W. Moody, "The Irish Universities Question in the Nineteenth Century", History, 43, 1958, pp.90-109.

30. T.W. Moody and J.C Beckett, Queen's Belfast 1845-1949: The History of the University (2 vols, 1959.

31. J.A. Murphy, The College: A History of Queen's/University College Cork 1845-1995 (1995), pp. 109, 151, 63-4.

32. VPR, E 1865

33. In 1884, before the extension, there were 203 new members and 973 matriculations to the University (21%), in 1905 381 against 1067 (36%) and in 1911 406 out of 1156 (35%).

34. Brooke, pp. 44, 51-2, 86-7; LVC, p. 272; G.P. Browne, The Recollections of a Bishop (1915), pp. 229-30 for the plans to merge King's and St Catharine's. For Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice's proposal to close Sidney (along with All Souls, Oxford), Parliamentary Debates, 230, 6 July 1876, col. 1893.

35. VCH, pp. 497-8 and W.W. Grave, Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1869-1969 (1983).

36. Grave, Fitzwilliam College, pp. 67-8.

37. Grave, Fitzwilliam College, p. 149.

38. Support fell from 38 percent (55-21 in May 1868) to 29 percent (93-38 in November).

39. Johnson, pp. 25-7; Brooke, pp. 92-5. Union debates 5/11/78; 16/8/81 (19-11 against); 6/6/82 (amendment rejected, 69-44).

40. Brooke, pp. 91-2; Honey, Tom Brown's Universe, pp. 75-8, quoting Pall Mall Gazette, 20 Sept. 1887 at p. 80; P. Searby, "A Failure at Cambridge: Cavendish College 1877-1892", Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, 72, 1982-3, pp. 106-20; Oxf. Mag., 20 Nov. 1889, p.102. Honey, p. 356, points out that Cavendish was only about one-third cheaper than the regular colleges.

41. Gunning, ii, p. 170.

42. Maitland, Leslie Stephen, p. 156. The writer John Cowper Powys received a "frightful" shock as an undergraduate at Corpus in the early eighteen-nineties when a fellow student informed him "with lurid realism of the hemorrhages [sic] that women have to suffer from the revolutions of the moon". Unofficial sex education at Corpus sounds to have been only marginally accurate in its understanding of the causes of menstruation. J.C. Powys, Autobiography (1934), p. 191.

43. O. Teichman, The Cambridge Undergraduate 100 Years Ago (1926), p. 36.

44. Hugh Dalton, Call Back Yesterday: Memoirs 1887-1931 (1953), p. 37.

45. E.F. Benson, David of King's (1924), p. 175.

46. Howarth, p. 44. See more generally R. McWilliams Tullberg, Women at Cambridge (1988 ed.) and her "Women and Degrees at Cambridge" in M. Vicinus, ed., A Widening Sphere: Changing Roles of Victorian Women (1980 ed.), p. 295. For summaries, L-G, pp. 175-8 and Brooke, pp. 301-30.

47. L. & H. Fowler, comps, Cambridge Commemorated, p. 239.

48. Sidgwick, p. 247.

49. McWilliams Tullberg, "Women and Degrees", p. 295. Kingsley attributed this verdict on the beneficial effects of child-bearing to his wife.

50. 18/12/63; 28/5/67.

51. 2/6/68; 7/12/69; 24/1/93. The 1893 motion was debated again in 1915, probably as an attempt at light-heartedness in wartime. It was again rejected, by an almost identical percentage, 68 votes to 43 (the anti-feminist 37 percent of 1893 rtising to 39 percent in 1915). CR, 15 May 1915, p. 293.

52. Brooke, pp. 301-30; Oxf. Mag., 11 June 1891, p. 281.

53. J.R.M. Butler, H.M. Butler, pp.29-31. The Master of Trinity insisted that it was "her goodness, not her Greek and Latin, which have stolen my heart".

54. D. Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise: A.C. Benson The Diarist (1980), p. 120.

55. Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, i, p. 66.

56. Another Trinity offered a partial solution. Cambridge women were able to trade their notional qualifications for Dublin degrees.

57. 30/1/77; 13/5/79; 28/11/76.

58. 25/5/80; 24/8/87; 29/3/81.

59. 7/2/88.

60. 12/11/89: That this House would welcome the admission of Women (who keep terms and pass qualifying examinations) to the Bachelor Degrees"; 8/12/91: "That the time has come for women to be admitted to degrees". Support fell from 47 to 37 percent.

61. 12/2/89; 17/2/91; 30/1/94. But "the gradual extension to Women of the Parliamentary Franchise" was rejected on 7/6/92 by only 32 votes to 28.

62. 11/5/96.

63. Brooke, pp. 324-7; Johnson, pp. 33-8. It was claimed that there had been no such mass protest among undergraduates since 1771 when there had been a petition against subscription to the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England, Gr., 8 May 1897, p. 300. But there had been attempts to circulate petitions for and against Catholic Emancipation in 1829.

64. Gr, 15 May 1897, pp. 311-12; 317, 322-4.

65. Gr, 24 April 1897, p. 264. G.P. Browne of St Catharine's, who drafted the compromise proposal, thought it would be in "the best interests of the higher education of women … that it should be left to expand independently of the higher education of men". Browne, Recollections of a Bishop, pp. 309-10. It was an attitude not confined to Cambridge. The Principal of Edinburgh University condemned the idea of integrating women into male universities as "mistaken … though undoubtedly women should have facilities for a University education, it should probably be one cast on different lines the present University system for men". A. Grant, The Story of the University of Edinburgh During its First Three Hundred Years (2 vols, 1884), ii, p. 159.

66. J.P. Thompson in Gr, 15 May 1897, pp. 322-4. Thompson had recently entered the Indian Civil Service.

67. Gr, 15 May 1897, p. 315.

68. Gr, 15 May 1897, pp. 322-4.

69. Gr, 24 April 1897, p. 264.

70. Gr, 15 May 1897, pp. 322-4.

71. Gr, 24 April 1897, p. 264. "As long as the University [of Edinburgh] is overflowing with male Students, and every class-room is over-crowded", wrote Principal Grant in 1884, "it is of course impossible to think of admitting a number of ladies in addition." Grant, Story of the University of Edinburgh, ii, p. 159.

72. Gr, 15 May 1897, pp. 322-4.

73. Pethick-Lawrence, Fate Has Been Kind, p. 35.

74. Inaug., pp. 34-5.

75. 7/3/37. Twenty members were present, and the motion passed on the casting vote of the President.

76. VPR, E 1892.

77. CR, 25 Feb. 1897, p. 260 (and cf. Gr, 27 Feb. 1897, pp. 218-20).

78. Gr, 24 April 1897, p. 263.

79. Gr, 15 May 1897, pp. 322-4.

80. 30/1/05; 9/2/09.

81. The Times, 25 Feb. 1886.

82. 14/5/12; CR, 16 May 1912, p. 444. The speaker was Aubrey Attwater.

83. Howarth, p. 169.

84. Brooke, pp. 324-7, L-G, pp. 192-3. For the abbreviation, Howarth, pp. 41-2.

85. Balfour, Chapters of Autobiography, pp. 52-3.

86. L. Stephen, Life of Fitzjames Stephen, p. 93.

87. British and Foreign Review, 5, 1837, p. 180.

88. Barry O'Brien, Parnell, i, p. 41.

89. Pethick-Lawrence, Fate Has Been Kind, p. 31.

90. 22/10/01.

91. E. Waugh, A Little Learning (1983 ed.), p. 139. Defenders of the proposed Lectureship in American History in 1866 challenged critics to explain why the Cambridge curriculum gave so much attention to the republican institutions of Greece and Rome. Ged Martin, "Cambridge Lectureship of 1866", p. 25.

92. Gunning, i, p. 19; Rom2, p. 179n.

93. 10/2/91; Oxf. Mag., 19 Feb. 1891, pp. 220-1. MacBride was regarded as "a prominent representative of the Scientific Course". (11 Feb. 1891, p. 205).

94. Johnson, p. 11.

95. VCH, p. 282.

96. Student's Guide, pp.97-8. A critic of Oxford and Cambridge pointed out that such arguments would imply that similar educational benefit would be obtained "if the same number of young men were to live in any two cities, as York and Exeter … for the same period". Westminster Review, 15, 1841, p. 65.

97. A.C. Benson, From a College Window, p. 167.

98. 2/4/78; 25/2 /79; Oxf. Mag., 12 Nov. 1890, p. 88.

99. Johnson, p. 65. But as an undergraduate Jebb had denounced "those wretched Classics, which I now almost detest". C. Jebb, Life and Letters of Richard Claverhouse Jebb (1907), p. 35.

100. 26/11/78; 22/4/04; 23/2/05; 27/5/13; Johnson, pp. 65-6.

101. 1/3 /92.

102. 9-15/5/49.

103. 5/6/88.

104. Bristed, p. 04.

105. Cradock, p. 66; Oxf. Mag., 16 Nov. 1892, 8 Feb. 1893, pp. 91, 208-9.

106. D. Newsome, Godliness and Good Learning: Four Studies on a Victorian Ideal (1964), pp. 104-5; Bristed, p. 423.

107. Honey, Tom Brown's Universe, p. 35. However, Eton was poor at preparing students for the study of mathematics.

108. LVC, p. 357. Macaulay defended the Maynooth grant by reminding the House of Commons of Protestant appropriation of the medieval endowments of Catholicism. Macaulay, ii, p.102n.

109. Brooke, p. 113.

110. "Magdalene in the Sixties", Magdalene College Magazine, March 1910, p. 68.

Magdalene discontinued chapel fines in 1902 on ethical grounds, sacrificing on principle vitally needed income. Cunich et al, eds, History of Magdalene, p. 217.

111. Searby, pp. 268-73; Rom1, p. 162; W.W. Rouse Ball, Cambridge Papers (1918), pp. 71-83. In fact the young Australian, John Lang, went on to read for the Bar in London.

112. 6/12/64; 24/4/66; 24/3/68; 1/3/70; 23/4/72.

113. EVC, p. 83n.

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

115. Johnson, pp. 28-30 and Cornford in Johnson, p. 100.

116. Blunt, Land War, p. 165. The student cannot be identified from Blunt's description, although Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson is a possibility. This is the sole allusion to hallucinogenic drugs at Cambridge encountered during this study.

117. H. Dalton, Call Back Yesterday, p. 37.

118. LVC, p. 41.

119. Cradock, pp. 17-18; Thackeray, p. 38.

120. H. Montgomery Hyde, Norman Birkett: The Life of Lord Birkett of Ulverston (1964), p. 31. The switch in Birkett's career plans coincided with the announcement by the Master of Emmanuel that he (the Master) had become an atheist. Brooke, p. 123-6.

121. Birkett in Cradock, p. 96.

122. Thackeray, The Book of Snobs (1993 ed.), p. 59 (ch. 14).

123. S. Rothblatt, The Revolution of the Dons: Cambridge and Society in Victorian England (1968), pp. 48-93.

124. Student's Guide, p. 73; Rothblatt, Revolution of the Dons, pp. 65-72. For wages, G. Best, Mid-Victorian Britain 1851-74 (1973 ed.), pp. 116-17. A "steady reading man" was estimated to spend £100 a year at Magdalene in 1852. At St John's in 1867, "a poor person" could survive on £80 a year, whereas at Trinity "a few men live for as little as £150 a year … including tradesmen's bills and everything, but the majority spend from £150 to £300 a year". By 1914, minimum annual costs were estimated at anything from £110 to £225. Parliamentary Papers, 1852-3, 44, p. 412; 1867, 13, questions 571, 1628; VCH, p. 285. A glance at Whitaker's Almanack for 1914 puts these figures into some context. The Housing Manager of the London County Council received £800 a year. Second-class clerks in the Land Registry in London were paid on a scale of between £250 and £400 a year. For District Inspectors in the Royal Irish Constabulary, the scale began at £125 and rose to £300 a year. The Clerk in charge of Minor Staff at the Reformatory and Industrial Schools section at Dublin Castle was paid up to £350: he held a Doctorate in Laws. Parents who groan at the cost of higher education today may wish to reflect on these figures.

125. A.C. Benson, The Life of Edward White Benson Sometime Archbishop of Canterbury (2 vols, 1988) i, p. 74. Despite financial pressures, E.W. Benson joined the Union.

126. Gray and Brittain, History of Jesus College, p. 175. Cf. Searby, pp. 74-5; Brooke, pp. 240-54.

127. Rothblatt, Revolution of the Dons, pp. 78-80.

128. W. Harris, Life So Far, p. 45.

129. Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, i, p. 57. Crompton Llewelyn Davies later had links with Sinn Féin and Russell claimed that he drafted the 1921 Treaty "though this was never publicly known" (p. 59). The story seems unlikely.

130. Gr, 26 Jan. 1907, pp. 159-60.

131. 2/5 /11; Annual Report 1914.

132. Rom3, p. 159; Cunich et al., History of Magdalene, p. 231.

133. A. Fox, Dean Inge (1960), pp. 203.

134. Fox, Dean Inge, p. 202.

135. Howarth, p. 66. Cambridge incorporated a number of Latin terms into its day-to-day vocabulary. "In loco parentis" was the counterpart of "in statu pupillari", meaning that college and university authorities assumed a parental responsibility for (and control over) undergraduates. Permission to go out of residence (i.e. to leave college for a few days or at the end of term) was conveyed in an "exeat" ("let him go forth"). Offered the chance of a ride in a balloon, Monckton Milnes dutifully sought permission from his tutor, William Whewell, who invented a new document, an "ascendat".

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