In the debate about what needs to be done to make university education more coherent and more effective, no figure is cited more frequently than John Henry Newman, whose classic study The Idea of a University (1873) tackles educational questions that still exercise would-be reformers. Some of those questions include: whether the governing principle of university education should be utilitarian or nonutilitarian; whether teaching or research should predominate in the hierarchy of university priorities; and what truly constitutes university education.
Until now, the two most highly regarded books on Newman’s treatment of the subject were Fergal McGrath’s Newman’s University: Idea and Reality (1951) and Dwight Culler’s The Imperial Intellect: A Study of Newman’s Educational Ideal (1955). Now, in The ‘Making of Men,’ Paul Shrimpton contends that past studies of Newman’s educational achievement have suffered from failing to take into account the full scope of Newman’s educational endeavors, and he has written his own book to rectify that.
Deeply researched and persuasively argued, The ‘Making of Men’ is a major contribution to our understanding of Newman’s commitment to university education. It will enliven and refine all future discussions of the subject by encouraging readers to revisit not only Newman’s classic text but the practical challenges he addressed—first as fellow of Oxford’s Oriel College, and then as rector of the Catholic University in Dublin. Shrimpton draws on Newman’s copious correspondence and memoranda, as well as “accounts ledgers, buttery records, punishments books, timetables, rules and regulations, prospectuses, minute books, reports of all types, and a host of other documents,” all of which give The ‘Making of Men’ an admirable richness.
In addition, the book includes vivid pen portraits of the men who joined Newman in his educational undertakings. Of Aubrey de Vere, for example, who was a close associate of Newman in the 1850s, Shrimpton notes how the Anglo-Irish poet and convert found Newman “not an aloof intellectual” but a man of “sweet gravity, simple manners and plain speech.” In fact, his “quick sympathy and fierce moods before injustice” reminded de Vere of his countryman Edmund Burke. In such nicely chosen details, we can see why Newman commanded at once the respect and the affection of his colleagues.
The genesis of Newman’s interest in education began while he was a student at Trinity College, when Oxford was just emerging from the bibulous torpor about which Edward Gibbon wrote so memorably (“At the most precious season of youth, whole days and weeks were suffered to elapse without labor or amusement, without advice or account”). By the time Newman entered Trinity, the intellectual tone of the university might have improved but not the tastes of gentlemen commoners. Writing to his father, Newman described how he had accompanied fellow undergraduates to their rooms:
[T]hey drank and drank all the time I was there. . . . They sat down with the avowed determination of each making himself drunk. I really think, if any one should ask me what qualifications were necessary for Trinity College, I should say there was only one,—Drink, drink, drink.
Once a fellow at Oriel, Newman set himself against this dissolute ethos by developing the moral and spiritual life of the undergraduates in his charge. Together with his friends Hurrell Froude and Robert Wilberforce he gave his tutoring a pastoral attentiveness—until the provost demanded that he either stop tutoring along these lines, which the provost feared would foster favoritism, or leave off tutoring altogether. Newman duly relinquished his tutorial duties, though he remained a redoubtable force in college life and continued to offer spiritual counsel to students and dons alike. One of these was Mark Pattison, who would go on to become rector of Lincoln College and a lifelong champion of the tutorial solicitude that Newman advocated.
Before converting to Roman Catholicism, Newman also sent a series of brilliant letters to the Times opposing a reading room sponsored by Sir Robert Peel and Lord Brougham that would exclude all books of theology from its shelves. Later published as The Tamworth Reading Room (1841), the letters attacked the cult of knowledge, which Newman saw as an outcrop of the relativist and atheist rationalism of the Enlightenment. That the cult was adopted by the father of Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, did not make it any more palatable to Newman: Since the false god of knowledge still stultifies the study of the liberal arts, his objections to it remain compelling.