Feb 21: The Cardinal pipes up for meatspace*

It's the first part of Cardinal Newman's essay "The Idea of a University" (Vol. 28, "Essays English and American"). It starts off promisingly enough: " IF I were asked to describe as briefly and popularly as I could, what a University was,..." but just when you think it's going to be brief and popular -- "I should draw my answer from its ancient designation of a Studium Generale, or 'School of Universal Learning.'"

Okay, so it's one of those. The expository prose I find to be the toughest going; it's reading the essays, in general, where I long for our modern invention of punchiness.

Oh, and I almost forgot that this has the best intro yet from the DRG: "Does Football Make A College?" Even in 1908! The Cardinal would answer "no" -- which is why, although he enjoyed a distinguished career, he was pretty clearly never a university president.

Basically this essay, or the portion of it we're to read, is an answer to the question, "What can you get at college that you can't get in books?" (Books like the Harvard Classics -- the whole rationale of the series is that it's just as good as a college education.) Here's Newman's formulation of the question:
Considering the prodigious powers of the press, and how they are developed at this time in the never-intermitting issue of periodicals, tracts, pamphlets, works in series, and light literature, we must allow there never was a time which promised fairer for dispensing with every other means of information and instruction. What can we want more, you will say, for the intellectual education of the whole man, and for every man, than so exuberant and diversified and persistent a promulgation of all kinds of knowledge? Why, you will ask, need we go up to knowledge, when knowledge comes down to us? ... works larger and more comprehensive than those which have gained for ancients an immortality, issue forth every morning, and are projected onwards to the ends of the earth at the rate of hundreds of miles a day. Our seats are strewed, our pavements are powdered, with swarms of little tracts; and the very bricks of our city walls preach wisdom, by informing us by their placards where we can at once cheaply purchase it.
And that was even before Us Weekly.

Newman's answer: FTF. Of course, this being the nineteenth century, which was not known for its summarizing acronyms, he goes further:
...if we wish to become exact and fully furnished in any branch of knowledge which is diversified and complicated, we must consult the living man and listen to his living voice. ... no book can convey the special spirit and delicate peculiarities of its subject with that rapidity and certainty which attend on the sympathy of mind with mind, through the eyes, the look, the accent, and the manner, in casual expressions thrown off at the moment, and the unstudied turns of familiar conversation. ..The general principles of any study you may learn by books at home; but the detail, the colour, the tone, the air, the life which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already. You must imitate the student in French or German, who is not content with his grammar, but goes to Paris or Dresden: you must take example from the young artist, who aspires to visit the great Masters in Florence and in Rome.
In fact, Newman even goes further and argues for the city as teacher (an argument very much to my taste):
...Thither come up youths from all parts of the country, the students of law, medicine, and the fine arts, and the employés and attachés of literature. There they live, as chance determines; and they are satisfied with their temporary home, for they find in it all that was promised to them there. They have not come in vain, as far as their own object in coming is concerned. They have not learned any particular religion, but they have learned their own particular profession well. They have, moreover, become acquainted with the habits, manners, and opinions of their place of sojourn, and done their part in maintaining the tradition of them. We cannot then be without virtual Universities; a metropolis is such[.]
Sure, you get mugged. But that's part of your education too.

Two other things of note in this reading. First, those of you who have to go to scholarly conferences can now take comfort in the fact that this ritual is defended by someone who may one day be declared to be a saint:
Such gatherings would to many persons appear at first sight simply preposterous. Above all subjects of study, Science is conveyed, is propagated, by books, or by private teaching; experiments and investigations are conducted in silence; discoveries are made in solitude. What have philosophers to do with festive celebrities, and panegyrical solemnities with mathematical and physical truth? Yet on a closer attention to the subject, it is found that not even scientific thought can dispense with the suggestions, the instruction, the stimulus, the sympathy, the intercourse with mankind on a large scale, which such meetings secure. A fine time of year is chosen, when days are long, skies are bright, the earth smiles, and all nature rejoices; a city or town is taken by turns, of ancient name or modern opulence, where buildings are spacious and hospitality hearty. The novelty of place and circumstance, the excitement of strange, or the refreshment of well-known faces, the majesty of rank or of genius, the amiable charities of men pleased both with themselves and with each other; the elevated spirits, the circulation of thought, the curiosity; the morning sections, the outdoor exercise, the well-furnished, well-earned board, the not ungraceful hilarity, the evening circle; the brilliant lecture, the discussions or collisions or guesses of great men one with another, the narratives of scientific processes, of hopes, disappointments, conflicts, and successes, the splendid eulogistic orations; these and the like constituents of the annual celebration, are considered to do something real and substantial for the advance of knowledge which can be done in no other way.
Sorry for such a long excerpt but I wanted to show how lovingly he discusses what your whole weekend will be like.

Finally, when the Cardinal closes with:
Such is a University in its idea and in its purpose; such in good measure has it before now been in fact. Shall it ever be again? We are going forward in the strength of the Cross, under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin, in the name of St. Patrick, to attempt it.
I am sorry, but I can only think of this:
Good luck, Eminence.

*Defined here.

1 comment:

Sophist said...

Ahn, I approve of this journal. I just wanted to declare that, since I don't think that it is completely fair to lurk for too long without saying a thing. Write more, and what not.