Ten letters introductory to college residence

In 1848 an Oxford don published his Ten letters introductory to college residence. They were intended to smooth the transition from home to school and to alert young men to the fact that they would soon be exposed to the dangers and excesses of student life where many of the constraints of responsibility were absent and the prevailing atmosphere beyond the influence not just of parents, but of the college authorities. These letters express ideas that are remarkably similar to Newman’s – which is no surprise, since the two were Fellows of Oriel College and close friends – and they address the concerns of anxious parents as well as school-leavers.

In his two introductory letters, Charles Daman points out to the prospective student that he stood ‘at the very threshold of this definite and critical period’ of life when he was beginning ‘comparative Manhood’, with its measure of independence and freedom and its proportionately increased responsibility. The virtues and habits developed in boyhood now had to be built upon, for, Daman told his reader, you are only ‘conventionally by courtesy a Man, that is a youth, adolescens, an inchoate and promissory man’. In his letters the tutor hoped to assist the aspiring undergraduate ‘to carry to the utmost your notion, to guide you to the lasting and solid realisation of your wish to be a man.

Daman was a committed Christian and in daily contact with Newman. His Ten letters were spiritual in tone, encouraging the reader to lead a life of piety and to consider everything sub specie aeternitatis, and, much as Newman did, he managed to combine high principle with sound, practical advice.

Daman encouraged his reader to consider what it means to be a man, first by dealing with the thinking person, then with the social person, and finally with the ruling or governing person. To become a master of others, the student needed to develop his own higher faculties and become master of himself, which he would do by ordering his time, amusements, reading and companions, to the extent that they were not determined by his college.

In his letters, Daman urged that his reader’s life should not be merely one of study, but should have the character of devotion too; he gave advice on self-government through keeping to a timetable which would ‘form the character’; he counselled him about the companions he should keep; he cautioned him not to single himself out, but to try to accommodate his high principles with his circumstances; and he encouraged him to prepare for university academically by striving for quality rather than quantity of work and by using his vacations well.

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