[Oxford University Act, 1854.] Autograph Draft Memorandum on 'Oxford University Commission' by Rev. Dr Richard Harington , Principal of Brasenose College, stating his opposition to 'those who propose to strip the favoured classes of the privileges'.

Rev. Dr Richard Harington (1800-1853), Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford [Oxford University Act 1854; Report of Royal Commission, 1852; Hebdomadal Council]
Publication details: 
[Brasenose College, University of Oxford] 8 April 1852.
SKU: 22821

A highly-interesting document, written by a college head on the verge of the reforms resulting from the passing of the Oxford University Act of 1854 and setting up of the Hebdomadal Council, in which Harington states - in detail, at length and with great emphasis - his opposition to 'those who propose to strip the favoured classes of the privileges which Founders of Colleges have thought proper to confer on them', arguing that this will not 'necessarily ensure the election of the most distinguished candidates'. In 1850 Lord John Russell had set up a Royal Commission on the matter, and Harington's memorandum is written in response to the publication of its report inquiring 'Into the State, Discipline, Studies, and Revenues of the University and Colleges of Oxford'. The Law Magazine, in its issue of August-November 1852, praised the report as 'most valuable' and 'meritorious', noting among the obstacles to its completion 'the resolute and dogged refusal of information on the part of many, intimately connected with the University', including Harington's college Brasenose. The Spectator discussed the report on 29 May 1852, and reproduced all 47 recommendations on 5 June 1852. The present document is an Autograph Draft Memorandum, headed 'Oxford University Commission.' 20pp, folio. Unsigned. Complete, and dated at end: 'Ap 8. 1852'. Reworked, with numerous emendations, interpolations and deletions. On nine bifoliums, with the main text on the rectos and a passage for interpolation on one of the facing versos. Harington sums up his position in an impassioned passage towards the end of the document, which he has deleted, possibly because it states his views in too forthright a manner: 'We make a great outcry after progress but it seems to be forgotten that the progress of Societies, like the growth of plants or animals is a process of nature which cannot be artificially accelerated without the danger of destroying the Subject by the operation. | To interfere with our Academical institutions by force is not to make progress: it is to begin over again, and however skilfully the reconstitution may be planned, the wit of man cannot devise a Security for the successful completion of the edifice'. Harington begins the memorandum: 'Among the alleged obstacles to the full development of the improved system of study which the University of Oxford has recently sought to establish a prominent place has been assigned by Lord John Russell to the restrictions of Fellowships to the natives of some particular county or district, to the Scholars educated in a particular School, or in some instances to the descendants of the Founder or his family.' (The quotations are from two letters addressed to the Duke of Wellington, the first from Vice-Chancellor Plumptre, and the second from Russell, both reprinted in the 1852 Report of the Royal Commission inquiring 'Into the State, Discipline, Studies, and Revenues of the University and Colleges of Oxford'.) He proceeds to discuss the merits of 'Open Fellowships' and 'the undisputed superiority of unrestricted over restricted Elections', a topic on which he feels that his 'considerations will perhaps have but little weight with Lord John Russell or with the Commissioners of his appointment'. Harington next turns to 'the distribution of Academical distinctions among the Fellows of the Various Colleges in Oxford', an enquiry into which, he feels, 'will produce results less disadvantageous to those in which such restrictions obtain than the advocates for their abolition would anticipate'. He supports his assertion with the examples of 'the First Class of Classical Honours conferred at the Public Examination for the degree of B.A.', finding, after examining the 'elections to Fellowships for the last ten years', that 'the difference between the numbers of First Class men elected at the most open and at many of the closed Colleges is inconsiderable', with the exception of Balliol, 'where all the Fellowships but two are open to the general competition of all Graduates below a certain standing', and 'which Society (it must be acknowledged) is in this respect far a head of its Competitors'. He proceeds with references to Brasenose and Magdalen, before asserting: 'They who propose to strip the favoured classes of the privileges which Founders of Colleges have thought proper to confer on them, seem to take it for granted that freedom of choice will necessarily ensure the election of the most distinguished candidates.' In this matter he again adverts to the 'remarkable Success at Balliol', before contrasting: 'But what are we to say to All Souls, with forty Fellows and a field of choice comprising all natives of the Province of Canterbury besides the countless descendants of the Chichele family, whether from within that province or elsewhere, only two out of thirty fellows elected in the last ten years have been ranked in the first class in Literis Humanioribus. | The Scarcity of University Honours in this Society cannot reasonably be ascribed to the restrictions imposed by the Founder, they can only be accounted for upon the Supposition that qualifications of a different kind have for the most part greater favour in the eyes of the electors'. Continuing on the same theme, at one point noting that 'the Emoluments of a Fellowship of All Souls are so small that they without the prospect of employment in Tuition probably have little attraction for those who are qualified and desirous to take up what may be called the University [amended from 'Academical'] Profession[]'. He concedes that 'in principle [...] a free is preferable to a restricted choice and that restrictions are injurious in proportion as the field of choice is narrowed by them', but again asserts that 'comparisons of the elections of All Souls with those of most other Colleges close and open will shew to them that Free elections will not necessarily or invariably secure , and that the restrictions, as they are actually found in operation, do not prevent the choice of distinguished candidates'. He feels it is 'a mistake or a misrepresentation to suppose that the restrictions in question require or encourage the election of incompetent persons', adding: 'It may be truly said that if any young man of distinguished ability desires to obtain a Fellowship it rarely happens that he is disappointed.' He manages to insert a reference to Scott's 'Ivanhoe', before discussing the 'First class in Literis Humanioribus during the last 10 years', before inquiring: 'is it a very extravagant assumption to suppose that Oxford may communibus annis send out four accomplished young men into the world whose position or prospects in life, or whose personal inclinations have either disqualified them to hold or have [made?] them indifferent or averse to the acquisition of a Fellowship'. He concedes that it cannot be pretended that 'the inducements to select the best candidates operate with equal force in all of these venerable Societies [...] But a power more potent than Royal Commissions is at work which is at this very time energetically operating to improve their efficiency and augment their usefulness: not by converting them into Boards of Teachers or Examiners dependant upon the Patronage of Government, but by a continual open and unanswerable challenge to the full and faithful discharge of the peculiar duties which they owe to Society as well as to their Founders and to themselves'. The document turns to a discussion of the beneficial effect of the 'activity of the public press': 'A few years ago the proceedings of a College attracted as little public attention as those of a Parish Vestry [...] Hence it is that Academical distinction has taken the place of family as the best introduction to a Fellowship at Merton, that the Demyships at Magdalen are, as we are told, to be thrown open to competition instead of being treated as private patronage; hence the doors of that College and of Corpus, heretofore closed against all but members of their respected foundations, and a few Gentlemen commoners, are now or shortly will be opened to as many of all classes as their respective means of accommodation will admit'. Harington concludes the document in a toned-down paraphrase of the deleted passage quoted at the beginning of this description. Other documents by Harington on this question are offered separately, as is a letter from Rev. Dr Joseph Loscombe Richards, Rector of Exeter College, to the future Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, as MP for the University.