Newman the undergraduate

Far from the world of student high jinks and outdoor pursuits, Newman spent his first year buried in books, lectures and private devotions What these devotions were can be deduced from an article he wrote for The Christian Observer entitled ‘Hints to religious students at College’ (October 1822). In the course of suggesting that the religious student should not leave his devotions to the end of the day, he mentions spending half an hour each evening on prayer, meditation, self-examination and the reading of Scripture.

Going up to Trinity College, Oxford at the tender age of sixteen was a chastening experience for the earnest young man of Calvinist leanings, who found himself among sixty undergraduates, all of them older than himself, not over-studious and given to enjoying life. Within a week of arriving, at the tail-end of the academic year 1816/17, Newman’s preconceptions of Oxford were shattered when he attended a wine party and found himself in the company of undergraduates who enthusiastically set about getting drunk. As he would later say, it was the support of Walter Mayers (a teacher from the school he had attended) which helped him through ‘the dangerous season of my Undergraduate residence’, by warning him not to associate with those who were dissipated and instead to seek out select friends – and by urging him to face up to the dangers of residence at Oxford and endure the ‘ridicule of the world’.

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