[Oxford University Act, 1854.] Autograph Draft Memorandum by Rev. Dr Richard Harington, Principal of Brasenose College, stating his opposition to 'Oxford University Commission. | Proposals for remodelling the Constitution of the University'.

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] Undated, but written in response to the Royal Commission Report of 1852.
SKU: 22824

A significant document by an Oxford college head, responding negatively to the 1852 Report of the Royal Commission appointed in 1850 by Lord John Russell to enquire 'Into the State, Discipline, Studies, and Revenues of the University and Colleges of Oxford'. The report - which prepared the ground for the passing of the Oxford University Act of 1854 and the setting up of the Hebdomadal Council - was praised by the Law Magazine, in its issue of August-November 1852 as 'most valuable' and 'meritorious', the review noting among the obstacles to the report's 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. | Proposals for remodelling the Constitution of the University.' 16pp, folio. Unsigned. Complete on four bifoliums of paper with Warren & Sons watermark dated 1848. Reworked, with numerous emendations, interpolations and deletions. (Accompanying the memorandum are a further sixteen pages of supporting quotations, dealt with at the end of this description.) Harington begins with a long quotation from the 1852 Report regarding the Commissioners' proposals for 'abolishing the existing monopoly of the Colleges and Halls by allowing Students to reside in Oxford without the expense of connexions with those bodies'. The proposals are, in Harington's view, of 'unquestionable' importance, 'for, if adopted, they would have the effect of subverting the existing system of the University, and of exerting another in its stead, not altogether untried but from which the experience of the past would lead me to anticipate deterioration rather than improvement'. He offers 'a few observations on the mode in which it is proposed to remodel the legislative powers of the University'. While dismissing the suggestion that 'the Commissioners have been influenced by a prejudice in favour of Antiquity', he finds it 'remarkable that their most important recommendations for the reformation of the Academical Constitution are borrowed from mediaeval systems reformed or superseded centuries ago for their inconvenience or inefficiency.' He finds this remark 'particularly applicable to the new House of Congregation which they have projected. This assembly, if it be established, will be the counterpart of the ancient Black Congregation'. He sketches the history of the Black Congregation (asserting that it was 'of the nature of a Committee of the whole House of Congregation') and its abolition by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and then turns to 'two important alterations in this part of the Academical Constitution' affected in 1631 by authority of Charles I: the omitting of 'the Doctoers, as constituent Members of the Board', and the converting of it 'into a regular weekly Meeting', i.e. the Hebdomadal Board, 'the Constitution and functions of which have been unaltered up to the present time'. These historical allusions are accompanied by quotations from Anthony à Wood and Bishop Laud. Harington does not intend to determine whether the statute 'provides the best machinery that can be derived for its intended purposes', but he considers that 'the alterations of those interested in the reformation of the University may be directed to the fact that the Commissioners have proposed to supply its deficiencies by the creation of an assembly differing little, if at all, from that, the extinction of which in 1569 was applauded by most men'. He proceeds to argue that 'The new assembly as proposed by the Commissioners, comprising the Vice Chancellor, the Heads of Houses and the Proctors, with the addition of the Professors and Public Lecturers, and the Senior Tutor of each College and Hall, bears a close resemblance to the ancient one composed of the Regent Members of Convocation'. Addressing 'the Scheme of the Commissioners', he claims that the 'proposed Congregation is estimated by themselves to comprise about a hundred members. Supposing it to consist of anything like that number, few will be sanguine enough to expect that it will enjoy a complete immunity from the faults attributable to other deliberative assemblies of equal magnitude, or that it will be much, if at all better calculated for the business of academical legislation than the defunct assembly of which it is to be the substitute or representative.' He quotes the Report on the same question, claiming that the Commissioners are not themselves 'entirely free from such an apprehension'. He doubts whether 'proposed securities' will prove effective, or that 'the character and station of its members will afford any adequate protection against the temptation to display their powers of argument or oratory'. He continues: 'It is intended that Congregation shall debate in English, and (it may be presumed) with open doors. The subjects to be brought under discussion will frequently, if not always, create a good deal of interest in the University. There will be frew members who will not think their opinions entitled to respect, and under such circumstances it is difficult to persuade oneself that an earnest tone of debate will not grow up in the University, and that the business of such a legislative assembly will not absorb a larger share of time and attention than Professors and Tutors (to say nothing of Proctors and Heads of Houses) can well spare without prejudice to the due discharge of their ordinary duties as Instructors and Governors of an Academical Youth.' He turns to the 'right of Veto' for Convocation, proposed in the Report, observing: 'Academics are no more ready than others to surrender their opinions, and if the Old House of Convocation were to be at issue with the new House of Congregation, there can be little doubt that the former would no less loudly complain of having to register the decrees of the latter, than Convocation occasionally does of being required to register the decrees of the Hebdomadal Board.' He doubts whether the proposed reforms would afford an 'adequate protection against the continuance of the present divisions in the Academical body'. He fears that the new 'arena [...] would in all probability become too frequently the Scene of still more violent and more dangerous contentions'. He turns to the 'necessity of providing some means of promoting harmony of action between the Hebdomadal Board on the one hand, and the general body of Convocation, on the other', before expatiating on his claim that 'the existing System is neither inefficient nor unsatisfactory'. He claims that 'if means were afforded for the reciprocal interchange of explanations in case of difference between the Board and the rest of Convocation, the points in dispute would in general be clearly stated, and reduced to their lowest terms; both the parties concerned would feel an equal interest in their removal'. Harington's next point is the 'inconvenience' arising out of 'the obligation imposed on Convocation to accept or reject in the gross any measure proposed to it by the Hebdomadal Board'. He proposes and discusses his own 'arrangement' as a 'remedy', while conceding that it would be 'inadequate to meet the views or designs of those who would almost or altogether deprive the Hebdomadal Board of its initiatory powers with regard to the legislation of the University'. He concludes with a discussion of one of the many 'new Statutory enactments which would be required for the purpose of carrying the proposed measure into effect'. The enactment - which he considers 'of paramount importance' - concerns 'the mode of appointing Delegacies'. Accompanying the memorandum are supporting quotations from seventeenth century documents in Harington's hand, on sixteen quarto pages, on sixteen leaves, stitched together, including 'Statutes concerning the Choice of Collectors', 1628.