Newman as rector

Newman could have easily distanced himself from the student residences and the problems they threw up, yet it was typical of him that he wished to deal with individuals rather than remain aloof in academic and administrative isolation.

‘A Rector ought to be a more showy, bustling man than I am, in order to impress the world that we are great people. This is one of our great wants. I feel it vividly – but it is difficult to find the man who is this with other qualifications too. […] I ought to dine out every day, and of course I don’t dine out at all. I ought to mix in literary society and talk about new gasses and the price of labour – whereas I can’t recollect what I once knew, much less get up a whole lot of new subjects – I ought to behave condescendingly to others, whereas they are condescending to me – and I ought above all to be 20 years younger, and take it up as the work of my life. But since my qualifications are not those, all I can do is to attempt to get together a number of clever men, and set them to do what is not in my own line.’ (Newman to Mrs Bowden, 31 August 1855)

To Newman’s worries as rector of the Catholic University were added those of being rector of the Birmingham Oratory. The difficulties of heading two totally different institutions in different countries he described as follows:

‘Alas! you do not realize my work. My chattels stand about my room in the same confusion as on the night I came here three weeks ago, from my inability to find leisure for removing them to their places. My letters are a daily burden, and, did I not answer them by return of post, they would soon get my head under water and drown me. Every hour or half-hour of the day I have people calling on me. I have to entertain strangers at dinner, I have to attend Inaugural Lectures – four last week, I have to stop Professors resigning, and Houses revolting. I have to keep accounts and find money, when I have none. Besides the book I have just finished at Longman’s [Office and Work of Universities], I have three reprinting which I am reading thro’ and correcting; and I have to provide four Sermons in print by St Paul’s day, that for Sunday week not having the first word written yet. I have to lecture on Latin Composition, and examine for Exhibitions [i.e. scholarships]. In ten days I rush to Birmingham for their sheer want of me – and then have to throw myself into quite a fresh world. And I have the continual pain of our [Oratorian] Fathers sighing if I am not there, and priests and professors looking black if I am not here.’ (Newman to H. Wilberforce, 11 November 1856)

In his final year as rector, which he spent largely in Birmingham, Newman explained to his long-term adviser on all matters educational:

‘It is impossible […] that I can govern 300 miles off without continual little collisions. While I am on the spot, there is a continual action and reaction between all members of the University and myself, which has hindered anything of the kind. We have hitherto been in the most perfect harmony – So we are now – but I despair of its continuing if I am to act in the dark in another place.’ (Newman to Hope-Scott, 24 December 1857)

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