Neglect at Newman’s Oxford

Newman was scathing about the Oxford of his undergraduate days:

‘things went on for the most part by mere routine, and form took the place of earnestness. I have experienced a state of things, in which teachers were cut off from the taught as by an insurmountable barrier; when neither party entered into the thoughts of the other; when each lived by and in itself; when the tutor was supposed to fulfil his duty, if he trotted on like a squirrel in his cage, if at a certain hour he was in a certain room, or in hall, or in chapel, as it might be; and the pupil did his duty too, if he was careful to meet his tutor in that same room, or hall, or chapel, at the same certain hour; and when neither the one nor the other dreamed of seeing each other out of lecture, out of chapel, out of academical gown. I have known places where a stiff manner, a pompous voice, coldness and condescension, were the teacher’s attributes, and where he neither knew, nor wished to know, and avowed he did not wish to know, the private irregularities of the youths committed to his charge.’ (Rise and progress of universities)

While a Fellow and Tutor at Oriel College, Newman adopted a very different approach. He read with his pupils, walked with them, breakfasted and dined with them. He ‘cultivated relations, not only of intimacy, but of friendship, and almost of equality, putting off, as much as might be, the martinet manner then in fashion with College Tutors, and seeking them in outdoor exercise, on evenings, and in Vacation’, Newman says of himself in an autobiographical memoir.

According to his tutee Thomas Mozley, who likened him to ‘a father, or an elder and affectionate brother’, within two years of becoming a tutor, Newman acquired ‘such a devoted body of pupils as Oxford had never seen’, at least since the Middle Ages (Reminiscences: chiefly of Oriel College and the Oxford Movement).

Marking a student’s piece of work at Oriel, Newman wrote: ‘This University intends, (as far as the time of a student’s residence allows) to form his character, religious, moral, & social – i.e. to make him a Christian & a gentleman. Towards making him both, it is a great step to make him a scholar & a man of literary taste – or rather, while making him such, right feelings & principles may be instilled into him.’ (Memorandum book about college pupils, 1826–31)

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