John Henry Newman — His Childhood and School Life

{11} MR. NEWMAN'S Autobiographical Memoir, after a few brief statements, may be said to begin with his college life, probably because he has touched upon his school life in the 'Apologia pro Vita sua.' It may be well, then, for the Editor to devote some preliminary pages to his life from infancy up to his entrance into Trinity, deriving information from records preserved amongst his papers, and from the recollections of his family and early friends. But there are also passages in Mr. Newman's works which seem to take us back into the past, and to throw light on his earliest childhood, passages that could only be inspired by memory; important as giving an early picture of his mind, in harmony with its subsequent development. And as such a few extracts may be given.


At first children do not know that they are responsible beings, but by degrees they not only feel that they are, but reflect on the great truth and on what it implies. Some persons recollect a time as children when it fell on them to reflect what they were, whence they came, whither they tended, why they lived, what was required of them. The thought fell upon them long after they had heard and spoken of God; but at length they began to realise what they had heard, and they began to muse about themselves [Note 1].


Such are the feelings with which men often look back on their childhood when any accident brings it vividly before {12} them. Some relic or token of that early time; some spot or some book, or a word, or a scent, or a sound, brings them back in memory to the first years of their discipleship, and they then see, what they could not know at the time, that God's presence went up with them and gave them rest. Nay, even now, perhaps, they are unable to discern fully what it was that made that time so bright and glorious. They are full of tender, affectionate thoughts towards those first years, but they do not know why. They think it is those very years which they yearn after, whereas it is the presence of God, which they now see was then over them, which attracts them [Note 2].


We may have a sense of the presence of a Supreme Being which never has been dimmed by even a passing shadow: which has inhabited us ever since we can recollect anything, and which we cannot imagine our losing [Note 3].


It is my wish to take an ordinary child, but still one who is safe from influences destructive of his religious instincts. Supposing he has offended his parents, he will all alone and without effort, as if it were the most natural of acts, place himself in the presence of God and beg of Him to set him right with them. Let us consider how much is contained in this simple act. First, it involves the impression on his mind of an unseen Being with whom he is in immediate relation, and that relation so familiar that he can address Him whenever he himself chooses; next, of One whose goodwill towards him he is assured of, and can take for granted—nay, who loves him better, and is nearer to him, than his parents; further, of One who can hear him, wherever he happens to be, and who can read his thoughts, for his prayer need not be vocal; lastly, of One who can effect a critical change in the state of feeling of others towards him. That is, we shall not be wrong in holding that this child has in his mind the image of an invisible Being, who exercises a particular providence among us, who is present everywhere, who is heart-reading, heart-changing, ever-accessible, open to impetration. What a strong and intimate vision of God must he have already attained if, as I have supposed, an ordinary trouble of mind {13} has the spontaneous effect of leading him for consolation and aid to an Invisible Personal Power! Such is the apprehension which even a child may have of his sovereign Lawgiver and Judge, which is possible in the case of children, because at least some children possess it, whether others possess it or no; and which, when it is found in children, is found to act promptly and keenly by reason of the paucity of their ideas. It is an image of the good God, good in Himself, good relatively towards the child with whatever incompleteness; an image before it has been reflected on, and before it is recognised by him as a notion. Though he cannot explain or define the word 'God' when told to use it, his acts show that to him it is far more than a word. He listens, indeed, with wonder and interest to fables or tales; he has a dim shadowy sense of what he hears about persons and matters of this world; but he has that within him which actually vibrates, responds, and gives a deep meaning to the lessons of his first teachers about the will and the providence of God [Note 4].

In the 'Apologia' we read:

I was brought up from a child to take great delight in reading the Bible; but I had no formed religious convictions till I was fifteen. Of course I had perfect knowledge of my Catechism.

After I was grown up I put on paper my recollections of the thoughts and feelings on religious subjects which I had at the time that I was a child and a boy; such as had remained in my mind with sufficient prominence to make me then consider them worth recording. Out of these, written in the Long Vacation of 1820, and transcribed with additions in 1823, I select two.

I used to wish the Arabian Tales were true. My imagination ran on unknown influences, on magical powers, and talismans. I thought life might be a dream, or I an angel, and all this world a deception, my fellow-angels, by a playful device, concealing themselves from me, and deceiving me with the semblance of a material world.

The other remark is this:

I was very superstitious, and for some time previous to my conversion (when I was fifteen) used constantly to cross myself on going into the dark [Note 5]. {14}

These unspoken memories—however in place here—must give way to such recollections of early boyhood as fell from him in conversation, or to notices remaining amongst his early papers. One anecdote of a very early date, told to the present writer by Dr. Newman's sister in her last illness, has provoked a smile in those who knew him in later days. After an infantile struggle for mastery between mother and son—the loving mother and her strong-willed child—she reminded him, 'You see, John, you did not get your own way.' 'No,' was his answer, 'but I tried very hard.'

There is a letter from his Father, Nov. 1806, which shows an early estimate. It begins 'This is the first letter your Father ever wrote to his son'; and, after bidding him 'read it to his Mother and Charles to show how well he could read writing,' goes on, 'but you will observe that you must learn something new every day, or you will no longer be called a clever boy.' [Note 6]

Another characteristic shows itself in one of his earliest recollections of school life, recalled to his memory as a friend led him to look back to that time. After his Father's and Mother's first visit to him, the child of seven was found, after their departure, by Dr. Nicholas, crying by himself, who, to cheer him up, proposed that he should go to the big room where the boys were. To this he objected; his tears had no doubt been observed and excited derision. 'O sir! they will say such things! I can't help crying.' On his master making light of it: 'O sir! but they will; they will say all sorts of things,' and, taking his master's hand, 'Come and see for yourself!' and led him into the crowded room, where, of course, under the circumstances, there was no teasing.

On hearing that the letters which compose these volumes {15} were to be published, an early Oriel friend and pupil of Mr. Newman's said that he remembered his once telling him of having in his childhood seen Cumberland, 'the perfect man of his day,' who impressed upon his childish memory the interview as one to be remembered. To get at the truth of this story the Editor applied to the Cardinal for his recollections. The following was his answer:

Lord Blachford is substantially right about Cumberland. I think he came to an evening party at our house. My Father's partial love for me led to my reciting something or other in the presence of a literary man. I wish I could think it was 'Here Cumberland lies,' from Goldsmith's 'Retaliation,' which I knew really well as a boy. The interview ended by his putting his hand on my head and saying, 'Young gentleman, when you are old you can say that you have had on your head the hand of Richard Cumberland.'

A recollection of a similar class is mentioned by a friend, who writes:

Ealing school at that date had a great name. It was conducted on the Eton lines; everybody sent his sons there; they got on. Once a year the school had a great day—a speech day—and the Duke of Kent used to come to it. One year Newman had to make a speech before him. Unfortunately his voice had just begun to break, yet for all that he went through his speech. He must have done it very well so far as his voice would let him; for, on Dr. Nicholas apologising to the Duke, 'His voice is breaking,' the Duke immediately replied, 'But the action was so good.'

One recollection of his childhood is given in a letter to Hope-Scott, 1871, in thanking him for a copy of the abridged Life of Walter Scott.

In one sense [he writes] I deserve it; I have ever had such a devotion, I may call it, to Walter Scott. As a boy, in the early summer mornings I read 'Waverley' and 'Guy Mannering' in bed when they first came out, before it was time to get up; and long before that—I think, when I was eight years old—I listened eagerly to the 'Lay of the Last Minstrel,' which my mother and aunt were reading aloud [Note 7]. {16}

All through his school course [Note 8] his letters from home show the high estimate his parents formed of him, and that he inspired those about him with respect and confidence. His Mother writes, 'I feel great comfort in the conviction that you will always act to the best of your knowledge.' His tastes were borne in mind. 'We were at the concert,' she writes, 'and fascinated with the Dutchman' (the name he had given to Beethoven to tease his music-master, because of the Van to his name), 'and thought of you and your musical party frequently.' Music was a family taste and pursuit; Mr. Newman, the father, encouraged it in his children. In those early days they could get up performances among themselves, operatic or simply dramatic. Thus in a book recalling memories he writes:

In the year 1812 I think I wrote a mock drama of some kind; also, whether included in it or not I cannot recollect, a satire on the Prince Regent. And at one time I wrote a dramatic piece in which Augustus comes on. Again I wrote a burlesque opera in 1815, composing tunes for the songs.

At the age of fourteen a sort of passion for writing seems to have possessed him.

In 1815 I wrote two periodicals—that is, papers called the 'Spy' and 'Anti-Spy.' They were written against each other. The former ran to thirty numbers from May 8 to October 27, the latter ran to twenty-seven numbers from August 8 to October 31. There is not a sentence in either worth preserving. Still, I am rescuing from the flames the commencing lines of each and the last words of the latter. {17} 'The Portfolio'—the name being given by G. Adams, the eldest of the three sons of the American Minister to the British Court—was written by the club of senior boys nicknamed the Spy Club. The American Minister himself contributed to it. It began November 6, 1815, ran through twenty numbers; ended May16, 1816. There is nothing in it worth preserving. I have kept, however, Mr. Adams' lines on 'The Grasshopper and the Ant.' 'The Beholder' was all my own writing; it ran through forty numbers and 160 octavo pages closely written [Note 9]. The first number is dated February 22, 1816, but I rather think some of the later numbers were written in 1817, after I had left school. It is far superior in composition to my others; but nothing worth keeping but some verses in No. 23 and No. 24, to the doctrine of which I hold fast now.

The copybook which contains the Beads and Cross spoken of in the 'Apologia' has a coloured sketch, a half-involuntary caricature, probably by one of themselves, of a party of boys of fifteen or sixteen sitting round a table, addressed by a member standing on his chair, whose marked features make it clear who was the leading spirit of the company. Is this the Spy Club?

Certain rough notes, written not very long after, touch upon what proved to be the beginning of a great family trial—the stoppage of the bank in which Mr. Newman's father was partner—and connect the close of his school-days with what he always considered the event of his life—his conversion.

On my conversion how the wisdom and goodness of God is discerned! I was going from school half a year sooner than I did. My staying arose from the 8th of March. Thereby I was left at school by myself, my friends gone away.

To explain this sentence a few words from a private paper may be given. Writing March 17, 1874, Dr. Newman says:

I fell in with the following important letter a day or two ago while looking through and destroying papers connected with our 'School Portfolio.' It was written ą propos of some contribution my Father made to it; but it accidentally contains {18} a notice of a fact which I know very well myself because I, and we all, made much of it at the time, but of which I had, as far as I know, no record. I have kept the autograph.


Your Mother will add something to this, which is principally to say that our Banking House has today paid every one in full. Tell this to Dr. Nicholas.

[The question arises why it should have stopped payment at all if it could pay in full at the end of a month? I recollect at the time hearing that it arose from the obstinacy of one individual.—J. H. N.]

Not to touch again on this subject, a letter may be given here, written by Mr. J. W. Bowden, a year or two later, in answer to a communication from his friend.


Fulham: January 14, 1819.
… With regard to your Father's affairs I am much obliged to you for your communication, and will confess that I was acquainted with some of its leading features. I had heard of your Father's failure [It was not a failure; the house stopped payment, but paid in full; there was no bankruptcy. J.H.N.], and I solemnly assure you that I had also heard of the highly honourable way in which all was settled. My information came principally from Mrs. Owen, to whom I once, before you came, mentioned your name as a person she might recollect; and, as on a subject like this I may speak without suspicion of flattery, I must say she lavished the highest possible encomiums on the manner in which the affairs of the house were arranged.

On the fact and the effects of his conversion Cardinal Newman's language remains the same throughout his life, from the words just recorded—'On my conversion how the wisdom and goodness of God is discerned!'—written probably in 1816; from those words in the 'Apologia' penned in 1864—'Of the inward conversion of which I speak I am still more certain than that I have hands and feet'—down to 1885, when {19} Cardinal Newman writes, in answer to the Editor, who had spoken of possible early letters:

February 28, 1885.
Of course I cannot myself be the judge of myself; but, speaking with this reserve, I should say that it is difficult to realise or imagine the identity of the boy before and after August 1816 ... I can look back at the end of seventy years as if on another person.

Recalling his state of mind at the age of fourteen, he wrote in a manuscript book of early date:

I recollect, in 1815 I believe, thinking that I should like to be virtuous, but not religious. There was something in the latter idea I did not like. Nor did I see the meaning of loving God. I recollect contending against Mr. Mayer in favour of Pope's 'Essay on Man.' What, I contended, can be more free from objection than it? Does it not expressly inculcate 'Virtue alone is happiness below'?

The conversion that succeeded this posture of mind produced in him as a necessary consequence a desire for some additional strictness of life in evidence of its reality. Some reflections, written probably in 1816, remain on the subject of recreations, in which he looked forward to the probability of a difference between himself and his parents, which show a freedom from the wilfulness of enthusiasm.

Although it is far from pleasant to give my reasons, inasmuch as I shall appear to set myself up, and to be censuring recreations and those who indulge in them, yet when I am urged to give them, I hope I shall never be ashamed of them; presenting my scruples with humility and a due obedience to my parents; open to conviction, and ready to obey in a matter so dubious as this is, and to act against my judgment if they command, thus satisfying at once my own conscience and them ... [but continuing the argument] I have too much sense of my own weakness to answer for myself. The beginnings of sin are small, and is it not better, say, to be too cautious than too negligent? Besides, I know myself in some things better than you do; I have hidden faults, and if you knew them, so serious a protest would not appear to you strange ... I think those things of importance to myself; {20} but I hope I am not so enthusiastic as to treat it as a concern of high religious importance. You may think this contradicts what I said just now about the beginning of sin; if so, I am sorry I cannot express myself with greater exactness and propriety.

After matriculation, but before residence, he wrote the following letter to his late tutor, the Rev. Walter Mayer. It illustrates that passage in the 'Apologia' where, in speaking of his conversion, he says, 'I fell under the influence of a definite creed, and received into my intellect impressions of dogma.'


January, 1817.

… I have not yet finished reading Bishop Beveridge, but it seems to me, as far as I have read it, an excellent work; and indeed I know it must be so, else you would not have given it me.

There is one passage in the first chapter of the second part that I do not quite comprehend: it is on the Sacrament of Baptism. I had, before I read it, debated with myself how it could be that baptized infants dying in their infancy could be saved unless the spirit of God was given them: which seems to contradict the opinion that baptism is not accompanied by the Holy Spirit. Dr. Beveridge's opinion seems to be that the seeds of grace are sown in baptism, though they often do not spring up. That baptism is the mean whereby we receive the Holy Spirit, although not the only mean; that infants when baptized receive the inward and spiritual grace, without the requisite repentance and faith: if this be his opinion, the sermon Mr. Milman preached on grace last year was exactly consonant with his sentiments ...

The texts of some dozen of sermons, so to call them, I composed in 1817, which are all that remain of them, show his mind occupied on questions which were henceforth the subject of thought and speculation [Note 10]. Looking over these {21} youthful efforts, Dr. Newman wrote: 'I was very fond of Beveridge's "Private Thoughts" at this time, and the above quasi sermons are, I think, in his style.' It is, perhaps, a greater proof of a youth of sixteen or seventeen being very gravely in earnest that he was 'very fond' of Beveridge's 'Private Thoughts' than that he could write sermons on his own account.

During his solitary first term at Trinity he was still meditating on mysteries. He hears a sermon (June 29, 1817) preached at St. Mary's by the Rev. W. Crowe. The line of the sermon led him to the question of predestination and efficacious grace, and to argue it out at full length.

From this date it may almost be said that the subjects which then filled his thoughts were the subjects that occupied his life. Theology proper at once filled his mind and never relaxed its hold; and also those cognate subjects, searching the heart and appealing to the conscience, which have been treated by him with such telling effect on his generation, are seen to be there in embryo. Thus in a MS. book of this date is this sentence:

The reality of conversion, as cutting at the root of doubt, providing a chain between God and the Soul, that is with every link complete; I know I am right. How do you know it? I know I know [Note 11].

There are many boyish anticipations or buddings of his after thoughts noted down at about this date. On reading these in later life, Dr. Newman is severe on his early style:

The unpleasant style in which it is written arises from my habit, from a boy, to compose. I seldom wrote without an eye to style, and since my taste was bad my style was bad. I wrote in style as another might write in verse, or sing instead of speaking, or dance instead of walking. Also my evangelical tone contributed to its bad taste.

May it not be said that so young a mind was weighted with thought beyond its power of easy expression? Deeply {22} impressed with the solemn truth and vital importance of the subjects which occupied it, the mind could hardly avoid some formality of style. To be easy would seem to itself to be familiar. This question may be put to other early passages where the style is in contrast with that known to the reader.

The point is now reached for entering on the first chapter of the Memoir.

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1. Parochial Sermons, vol. vi. p. 98.
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2. Parochial Sermons, vol. vi. p. 262.
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3. Grammar of Assent, p. 178.
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4. Grammar of Assent, p. 112.
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5. Apologia, p. 2.
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6. Writing to a friend in after years, he says, 'I have been going about seeing once again, and taking leave for good of, the places I saw as a child. I have been looking at the windows of our house at Ham, near Richmond, where I lay, aged five, looking at the candles stuck in them in celebration of the victory of Trafalgar. I have never seen the house since September 1807. I know more about it than any house I have been in since, and could pass an examination in it. It has ever been in my dreams.'
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7. Memoirs of J. R. Hope-Scott, vol. ii. p. 243.
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8. At nine years old he kept a pocket-book Diary, which remains—e.g.:

1810, May 4.—Heard for the first time the cuckoo.
                         Dreamed that Mary was dead.

Then follow 'Lines on Nelson'; moral axioms; verses on the death of a beggar:—'When the rude winter's blast blew keen.' But he is not satisfied, and concludes: 'I think I shall burn it.'

In an old diary he records his early school course.
1810, May 25.—Got into Ovid and Greek.
1811, February 11.—Began verses.
1812, March 5.—Got into Diatessaron.
          May 25.—Began Homer.
1813, May 3.—Herodotus.
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9. These MS. books contain essays with comments: 'This is a school theme in the style of Addison.' Again: one of the papers in The Beholder has a saying of Addison's on the love of fame.
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10. 1. He that eateth and drinketh unworthily. 2. Great things doeth he which we cannot comprehend. 3. These shall go into everlasting punishment. 4. Man is like to vanity, his days are as a shadow. 5. Let no one despise thy youth. 6. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies. 7. Thou when thou fastest.
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11. See Grammar of Assent, p. 197.
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Autobiographical Memoir — Chapter 1

{23} JOHN HENRY NEWMAN was born in Old Broad Street in the City of London on February 21, 1801, and was baptized in the church of St. Benet Fink on April 9 of the same year. His Father was a London banker, whose family came from Cambridgeshire. His Mother was of a French Protestant family, who left France for this country on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He was the eldest of six children, three boys and three girls.

On May 1, 1808, when he was seven years old, he was sent to a school of 200 boys, increasing to 300, at Ealing, near London, under the care of the Rev. George Nicholas, D.C.L., of Wadham College, Oxford. As a child he was of a studious turn and of a quick apprehension, and Dr. Nicholas, to whom he became greatly attached, was accustomed to say that no boy had run through the school, from the bottom to the top, as rapidly as John Newman. Though in no respect a precocious boy, he attempted original compositions in prose and verse from the age of eleven, and in prose showed a great sensibility, and took much pains in matter of style. He devoted to such literary exercises, and to such books as came in his way, a good portion of his playtime; and his school-fellows have left on record that they never, or scarcely ever, saw him taking part in any game.

At Ealing he remained eight years and a half, his own entreaties aiding his Mother and his schoolmaster in hindering his removal to Winchester College. In the last half-year of his school life, from August to December 1816—accidentally out-staying his immediate school friends—he fell under the {24} influence of an excellent man, the Rev. Walter Mayer, of Pembroke College, Oxford, one of the Classical masters, from whom he received deep religious impressions, at the time Calvinistic in character, which were to him the beginning of a new life. From school he went straight to Oxford, being entered at Trinity College on December 14, 1816, when he was as yet two months short of sixteen.

He (Newman) used to relate in illustration of the seeming accidents on which our course of life and personal history turn, that, even when the postchaise was at the door, his Father was in doubt whether to direct the postboy to make for Hounslow, or for the first stage on the road to Cambridge. He seems to have been decided in favour of Oxford by the Rev. John Mullins, curate of St. James's, Piccadilly, a man of ability and learning, who had for some years taken an interest in the boy's education. When they got to Oxford Mr. Mullins at first hoped to find a vacancy for him in his own college—Exeter. But, failing this, he took the advice of his Exeter friends to introduce him to Dr. Lee, President of Trinity, and at that time Vice-Chancellor, by whom Newman was matriculated as a commoner of that society. On his return to Ealing to inform his schoolmaster of the issue of his expedition, his timid mention of a college of which he himself had never heard before was met by Dr. Nicholas's reassuring reply 'Trinity? a most gentlemanlike college—I am much pleased to hear it.'

Newman was called into residence the following June, in his fourth term, and, for want of the vacancy of a room, not till the term was far advanced, the Commemoration close at hand, the college lectures over, and the young men on the point of leaving for the Long Vacation.

However, it was his good fortune, in the few days which remained before he was left to himself, to make the acquaintance of Mr. John William Bowden, a freshman also, afterwards one of His Majesty's Commissioners of Stamps and Taxes. The acquaintance ripened into a friendship so intimate, though Mr. Bowden was just by three years the elder of the two (the birthday of both being February 21), that the two youths lived simply with and for each other all through their {25} undergraduate time, up to the term when they went into the schools for their B.A. examination, being recognised in college as inseparables—taking their meals together, reading, walking, boating together—nay, visiting each other's homes in the vacations; and, though so close a companionship could not continue when at length they ceased to be in a state of pupilage, and had taken their several paths in life, yet the mutual attachment thus formed at the University was maintained between them unimpaired till Mr. Bowden's premature death in 1844, receiving an additional tie as time went on by their cordial agreement in ecclesiastical views and academical politics, and by the interest with which both entered into the Oxford movement of 1833. Mr. Bowden was one of the first writers in the 'Tracts for the Times,' and it was at Mr. Newman's suggestion that he wrote his history of Pope Gregory VII., the valuable work of his leisure hours and yearly vacation, when a Commissioner at the Stamps and Taxes. It may be added that Mr. Newman's first literary attempts in print were made in partnership with Mr. Bowden, when they were both of them undergraduates.

In May 1818 Mr. Newman gained one of the Trinity scholarships then lately thrown open to University competition; and here it may be well to trace, from his own letters at the time, the steps by which he had already risen in the good opinion of his college, during the year since he was called up, an unknown youth of sixteen, for his solitary residence of three weeks. It is hoped that the details of his progress, though seemingly trifling, will not be uninteresting.

A letter of his remains which he wrote to his Father immediately upon his being left to himself on that occasion; like a boy his first thought is about his outward appearance:

June 11, 1817.
The minute I had parted from you I went straight to the tailor's, who assured me that, if he made me twenty gowns, they would fit me no better. If he took it shorter—he would if I pleased—but I might grow, &c. &c. I then went home (!) and had hardly seated myself, when I heard a knock at the door, and opening it, one of the Commoners entered {26} whom Mr. Short [Note 1] had sent to me, having before come himself with this said Commoner, when I was out. He came to explain to me some of the customs of the college, and accompany me into the Hall at dinner. I have learned from him something I am much rejoiced at. 'Mr. Ingram,' said he, 'was very much liked; he was very good-natured; he was presented with a piece of plate the other day by the members of the college. Mr. Short on the contrary is not liked; he is strict; all wish Mr. Ingram were tutor still.' Thus I think I have gained by the exchange, and that is a lucky thing. Some time after, on my remarking that Mr. Short must be very clever, having been second master at Rugby, he replied, 'Do you think so?' Another proof that he is a strict tutor.

At dinner I was much entertained with the novelty of the thing. Fish, flesh and fowl, beautiful salmon, haunches of mutton, lamb, &c., fine strong beer; served up in old pewter plates and misshapen earthenware jugs. Tell mamma there were gooseberry, raspberry, and apricot pies. And in all this the joint did not go round, but there was such a profusion that scarcely two ate of the same. Neither do they sit according to their rank, but as they happen to come in.

I learned from the same source whence I learned concerning Mr. Short, that there are a great many juniors to me. I hear also that there are no more lectures this term, this being the week for examinations, and next week most of them go. I shall try to get all the information I am able respecting what books I ought to study, and hope, if my eyes are good-natured to me, to fag [Note 2].

Tell Harriett [his sister] I have seen the fat cook. The wine has come; 8 1/3 per cent. is taken off for ready money. Two things I cannot get, milk and beer; so I am obliged to put up with cream for the one and ale for the other.

He writes again to his Father on the 16th:

June 16, 1817.
I was very uncomfortable the first day or two because my eyes were not well, so that I could not see to read, and whenever my eyes are bad I am low-spirited. Besides, I did not know anyone, and, after having been used to a number about {27} me, I felt very solitary. But now my eyes are better, and I can read without hurting them, and I have begun to fag pretty well.

I am not noticed at all except by being silently stared at. I am glad, not because I wish to be apart from them and ill-natured, but because I really do not think I should gain the least advantage from their company. For H. the other day asked me to take a glass of wine with two or three others, and they drank and drank all the time I was there. I was very glad that prayers came half an hour after I came to them, for I am sure I was not entertained with either their drinking or their conversation.

He (Newman) was very impatient to be directed in his reading, and as he understood he could not leave college without permission from the President, he resolved, in his simplicity, to 'take that opportunity,' as he says, 'of asking him what books he ought to read' in the vacation. On June 27, three days before his departure, he tells his Father the result of his experiment:

I went today to the President, and was shown into a parlour, the servant saying he would be ready to see me in a minute. I waited an hour and a half, and then rang the bell; when it proved to be a mistake, and he was not at home. I shall go again tomorrow morning.

He did go again, and was told by the President, who was a courteous gentlemanlike man, and afterwards very kind to him, that he left all such questions as Mr. Newman asked to be answered by the tutors.

In consequence, up to Sunday the 29th, the day before his departure, he had not gained any information on the point which lay so near his heart; but he persevered, and fortune favoured him. As in the evening of that day he was returning home from a walk along the Parks, he saw one of the tutors in topboots on horseback on his way into the country. Thinking it his last chance, he dashed into the road, and, abruptly accosting him, asked him what books he should read during the vacation. The person addressed answered him very kindly; explained that he was leaving Oxford for the vacation, and referred him to one of his colleagues still in {28} college, who would give him the information he desired. On his return home he availed himself of this reference, and obtained a satisfactory answer to all his difficulties.

Such was his introduction to University life; not of a character to make him at home with it; but the prospect of things improved immediately on his return after the Long Vacation. He writes to his Mother thus, on October 28: 'Mr. Short has not examined me; but he has appointed me some lectures.' After naming them, he adds, 'This is little enough, but of course they begin with little to see what I can do.'

On November 13:

I have been fagging very hard, but not without benefit, and, I may add, not without recompense. The first day I attended my tutor [Mr. Short] for mathematics. I found I was in the second division of what at school is called a class. I own I was rather astonished at hearing them begin the Ass's Bridge, nor was my amazement in the least degree abated, when my turn came, to hear him say, with a condescending air, 'I believe, sir, you never saw Euclid before?' I answered I had. 'How far?' 'I had been over five books.' Then he looked surprised; but I added I could not say I knew them perfectly by any means. I am sure by his manner he then took it into his head that I was not well grounded, for he proceeded to ask me what a point was, and what a line, and what a plane angle. He concluded, however, by telling me that I might come in with the other gentlemen at 10 o'clock, with the 4th, 5th, and 6th books.

The next time I came he was not condescending, but it was 'sir,' very stiffly indeed.

The next time, after I had demonstrated, I saw him peep at my paper, to see if I had anything written down—a good sign.

The next time, he asked if I wanted anything explained—another good sign.

And today, after I had demonstrated a tough one out of the fifth book, he told me I had done it very correctly.

Nor is this all. I had a declamation to do last week, a Latin one. I took a great deal of pains with it. As I was going to lecture today, I was stopped by the Fellow who {29} looks over the declamations [the Dean, Mr. Kinsey], and to whom we recite them, and told by him that mine did me much credit.

He adds on another subject:

The tailor entered my room the other day, and asked me if I wanted mourning. I told him no. 'Of course you have got some,' said he. 'No,' I answered with surprise. 'Everyone will be in mourning,' he returned. 'For whom?' 'The Princess Charlotte.' You see what a hermit I am; but the paper had been lying on my table the whole day, and I had not had time to take it up.

He continues the last subject in a letter to his Mother:

November 21.
The dismal figure Oxford makes from the deep mourning. Black coat, waistcoat, trousers, gloves, ribbon (no chain) to the watch; no white except the neckcloth and unplaited frill. The Proctors will not suffer anyone to appear unless in black [Note 3].

I have not mentioned the conclusion of my approximation to Mr. Short. The next time I went to him he lent me a book on mathematics, being a dissertation &c. upon Euclid; and the next morning invited me to breakfast. As to the book, I have made some extracts from it, and I know all about multiple, superparticular, submultiple, subsuperparticular, subsuperpartient of the lesser inequality, sesquilateral, sesquiquintal, supertriquartal, and subsuperbitertial. I am engaged at present in making a dissertation on the fifth book; indeed, I even dream of four magnitudes being proportionals.

By November 28 he has risen still higher in the good opinion of Mr. Short. He writes to his Mother, and, after {30} making some remarks on 'every one of his lectures being so childishly easy,' he continues:

These very thoughts suggested themselves to Mr. Short, and the other morning he said he was sorry I should not be attending lectures which would profit me more, and that next term he should take care to give me books which would give me more trouble [Note 4].

He adds that the higher class in mathematics into which he had been advanced fell off to two; in other words that he and another went on too fast for the rest to keep up with them; then of that other he says:

This one who remained is the one I was first introduced to last term [Mr. Bowden]; he is pretty assiduous. The consequence is, as he is much forwarder than myself, he spurns at the books of Euclid, and hurries to get through them. I disdain to say he goes too fast; so I am obliged to fag more.

Then he adds in an exulting tone:

If anyone wishes to study much, I believe there can be no college that will encourage him more than Trinity. It is wishing to rise in the University, and is rising fast. The scholarships were formerly open only to members of the college; last year, for the first time, they were thrown open to the whole University. In discipline it has become one of the strictest of the colleges. There are lamentations in every corner of the increasing rigour; it is laughable, but it is delightful, to hear the groans of the oppressed.

Mr. Short seems to have taken an increased interest in Newman during the term which immediately followed. He it was who had the reputation of having led the authorities of the college to the step just mentioned of opening their scholarships to all comers, which in the event has been so great a benefit to Trinity. He was naturally anxious for the success of his important measure, and therefore it was a special token of his good opinion when he invited Mr. Newman to present {31} himself as a candidate at the competitive examination which was to determine the election of a scholar on the ensuing Trinity Monday. This Mr. Short could do without impropriety, because, as he told Newman, the tutors had no votes in the election. As has been already said, Newman stood and was elected.

He relates the circumstances attendant on this, to him, happy event in a letter to his Mother of May 25:

On Wednesday, April 29, about breakfast-time, Mr. Wilson [Note 5] and Mr. Short called for me, and asked me whether I intended to stand for the scholarship. I answered that I intended next year. However, they wished me to stand this year, because they would wish to see me on the foundation. I said I would think of it. I wrote home that day. How often was my pen going to tell the secret! but I determined to surprise you. I told you in a letter written in the midst of the examination that there were five [candidates] of our own [men]; did you suspect that I was one of the five? A Worcester man was very near getting it [Note 6].

They made me first do some verses; then Latin translation; then Latin theme; then chorus of Euripides; then an English theme; then some Plato; then some Lucretius; then some Xenophon; then some Livy. What is more distressing than suspense? At last I was called to the place where they had been voting; the Vice-Chancellor [the President] said some Latin over me; then made a speech. The electors then shook hands with me, and I immediately assumed the scholar's gown.

First, as I was going out, before I had changed my gown, one of the candidates met me, and wanted to know if it was decided. What was I to say? 'It was.' 'And who has got it?' 'Oh, an in-college man,' I said; and I hurried away as fast as I could. On returning with my newly-earned gown, I met the whole set going to their respective homes. I did not know what to do; I held my eyes down.

By this I am a scholar for nine years at 60l. a year. In which time, if there be no Fellow of my county (among the Fellows), I may be elected Fellow, as a regular thing, for five years without taking orders. {32}

He adds the next day:

I am sure I felt the tortures of suspense so much that I wished and wished I had never attempted it. The idea of turpis repulsa haunted me. I tried to keep myself as cool as possible, but I could not help being sanguine. I constantly reverted to it in my thoughts, in spite of my endeavours to the contrary. Very few men thought I should get it, and my reason thought the same. My age was such a stumbling-block [that is, he could stand again, being only seventeen, others could not]. But I, when I heard the voice of the Dean summoning me before the electors, seemed to myself to feel no surprise. I am told I turned pale.

There is one other matter which should be mentioned in connexion with this May 18, 1818, a day which was ever so dear to the subject of this Memoir, though the matter in question is not of a very pleasant character. Trinity Monday was not only the election day of Fellows and scholars, but also the Gaudy of the year: and among other vestigia ruris [Note 7] then remaining was the custom of keeping it throughout the college, with few exceptions, by a drinking bout.

Since Newman had not a grain in his composition of that temper of conviviality so natural to young men, it was no merit in him that the disgust of drink, which he showed in one of his first letters from Oxford, should have continued in him all through his course. For the most part he was let go his own way, as soon as it was discovered what that way was; but Trinity Monday would come once a year, and then that way of his, whether he would or not, became a protest against those who took another way. Moreover, much as he might wish to keep his feelings to himself, which he did generally, and, as he afterwards thought on looking back, too much, he had very strong feelings on the point, as the following vehement letter, addressed to his friend Mr. Mayer in the following year, manifests clearly enough. It is quite out of keeping with his letters, as they have been quoted above, and as he generally wrote; but, in spite of his gentleness of manner, there were in him at all times ignes suppositi cineri doloso {33} which, as the sequel of his life shows, had not always so much to justify them as they may be considered to have in the instance before us.


Trinity Sunday, 1819.
Tomorrow is our Gaudy. If there be one time of the year in which the glory of our college is humbled, and all appearance of goodness fades away, it is on Trinity Monday. Oh, how the angels must lament over a whole society throwing off the allegiance and service of their Maker, which they have pledged the day before at His table, and showing themselves the sons of Belial!

It is sickening to see what I might call the apostasies of many. This year it was supposed there would have been no such merry-making. A quarrel existed among us: the college was divided into two sets, and no proposition for the usual subscription for wine was set on foot. Unhappily, a day or two before the time a reconciliation takes place; the wine party is agreed upon, and this wicked union, to be sealed with drunkenness, is profanely joked upon with allusions to one of the expressions in the Athanasian Creed.

To see the secret eagerness with which many wished there would be no Gaudy; to see how they took hope, as time advanced and no mention was made of it; but they are all gone, there has been weakness and fear of ridicule. Those who resisted last year are going this. I fear even for myself, so great a delusion seems suddenly to have come over all.

Oh that the purpose of some may be changed before the time! I know not how to make myself of use. I am intimate with very few. The Gaudy has done more harm to the college than the whole year can compensate. An habitual negligence of the awfulness of the Holy Communion is introduced. How can we prosper?

It is necessary to observe here that Mr. Bowden was at this time away from Oxford for the vacation, having gone home a fortnight before to attend the death-bed of a sister. To return. The Trinity scholarship, thus unexpectedly gained, was the only academical distinction which fell to the lot of Mr. Newman during his undergraduate course; and as he had on this occasion the trial of success, so when the course was {34} coming to its end he had to undergo the trial of failure. After passing with credit his first University examination, he settled down to read for honours in the final examination; but, standing for the highest honours, he suffered an utter breakdown and a seeming extinction of his prospects of a University career.

He had come to Oxford young. Apparently he had himself been impatient to get to college; but he recognised his disadvantage in consequence as soon as he began lectures. He writes to his Father in the first term of lectures—that term in which he was so successfully to make his way with Mr. Short: 'I now see the disadvantage of going too soon to Oxford, and before I had the great addition of time that two or three more years would have given me; for there are several who know more than I do in Latin and Greek, and I do not like that.' He was not twenty when he went in for final examination, whereas the usual age was twenty-two.

His youth was against him in another respect also. It was not only that he was short by two or three years of the full period marked out for the B.A. examination, but he had not that experience for shaping for himself his course of reading, or that maturity of mind for digesting it, which a longer time would have given him. He read books, made ample analyses and abstracts, and entered upon collateral questions and original essays which did him no service in the schools. In the Long Vacation of 1818 he was taken up with Gibbon and Locke. At another time he wrote a critique of the plays of Ęschylus, on the principles of Aristotle's 'Poetics,' though original composition at that time had no place in school examinations, and he spent many weeks in reading and transcribing Larcher's 'Notes on Herodotus.' Moreover, though the examiners were conscientiously fair and considerate in their decisions, they would understand a candidate better, and follow his lead and line of thought more sympathetically, if they understood his position of mind and intellectual habits, than if these were new to them [Note 8]. {35}

It is also true that Mr. Newman had, in union with his friend Mr. Bowden, for a few months at the end of 1818 and the beginning of 1819, been tempted to dabble in matters foreign to academical objects. They had published a poem, their joint composition, and commenced a small periodical like Addison's 'Spectator'; but these excursive acts only occupied their leisure hours, and that for a very short time, and were not more than such a recreation as boating might be in the summer term. The memoranda which Mr. Newman has left behind him would show this abundantly were it worth while to quote them.

As to the literary efforts in question, the periodical was called 'The Undergraduate,' and it began and ended in February 1819. It sold well, but, to his great disgust, Newman's name got out, and this was its death-blow. They made it over to its publishers, who continued it with an editor of their own for some weeks; then it expired.

His and Bowden's poem was a romance founded on the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. The subject was the sequel of the unfortunate union of a Protestant gentleman with a Catholic lady, ending in the tragical death of both, through the machinations of a cruel fanatical priest, whose inappropriate name was Clement. Mr. Bowden did the historical and picturesque portions, Mr. Newman the theological. There were no love scenes, nor could there be; for, as it turned out, to the monk's surprise, the parties had been some time before the action husband and wife, by a clandestine marriage, known however to the father of the lady.

The following passage from Mr. Newman's pen will give an idea of the theology of the poem:

In silent agony she shrank to feel
How fierce his soul, how bigoted his zeal:
For he had been to her, from early youth,
From vice her guardian, and her guide to truth. {36}
Her memory told her that he once was kind,
Ere the monk's cowl had changed his gentler mind;
But now of late his holy call had thrown
A haughty coldness o'er him not his own.
Yet still she paid him reverence, tho' no more
She told her bosom secrets as before.
True he was stern, but they who knew him best,
Said fast and penance steeled that holy breast;
She knew him harsh avenge Heaven's injured laws,
But deemed superior sanctity the cause;
She knew him oft mysterious, wild and strange,
But hoped that heavenly converse wrought the change.

This was in February 1819. In the summer term, in the absence of his friend Bowden, the Dean—Mr. Kinsey, who treated Newman with the familiar kindness of an elder brother—took him to Professor Buckland's Lectures on Geology, at that time a new and interesting science, but in no degree subserving the interest of candidates for a first class in the examination schools. But in the Long Vacation of 1819 he began to read hard for the honours of his final examination. He did a great deal of work, nor did a second study of Gibbon, in which he then indulged himself, take him away from the classics. He writes to Bowden in October 1819:

What books had we better read this time? We settled on Sophocles and Ęschylus. We are to begin reading without let or hindrance,—on, on, like the Destroyer [Note 9] in the mysterious boat, till we arrive at the ocean of great-goes.

He adds:

You must excuse my talking on book subjects; but, having been stationary all the vacation, I have no others to discourse upon; and Herodotus, Thucydides, and Gibbon have employed me nearly from morning to night. A second perusal of the last historian has raised him in my scale of merit. With all his faults, his want of simplicity, his affectation and his monotony, few can be put in comparison with him, and sometimes, when I reflect on his happy choice of expressions, his vigorous compression of ideas, and the life and significance of every word, I am prompted indignantly to exclaim that no style is left for historians of an after day. Oh, who is worthy to succeed our Gibbon? Exoriare aliquis! and may he be a better man! {37}

In the same month he writes to his Mother:

I think I contemplate with brighter hopes the honours of the schools. We are reading between eleven and twelve hours a day, and have an hour for walking and an hour for dinner.

At the end of the term, December 18, he writes to her:

The Fellows have been very kind, have said we might stop up as long as we like, and have offered to do anything they can for us. This is to me an important year; I heartily wish it over, though most probably I shall look back on it with regret when past.

The Long prospect is now before me. I anticipate that soothing, quiet, unostentatious pleasure which only an equable unvarying time of living can give. I look forward to it with great delight. I hope it will resemble the last Long Vacation. When I first went to college I could write long letters without effort, and lament when the full sheet refused additional matter; for everything then was novel, and I had not any dread of approaching examinations to awe me into silence. I have often remarked that the undergraduate residence [of three years] is a picture of a whole life—of youth, of manhood, and of old age—which could not be understood or felt without actual experience.

At this time he seems to have been half conscious of some mental or moral change within him, which he fully recognised in the following year, when he took a retrospect of his undergraduate experiences. 'In 1819 and the beginning of 1820,' he wrote in 1821, 'I hoped great things for myself. Not liking to go into the Church, but to the law, I attended Modern History lectures [professorial], hearing that the names were reported to the Minister.' These dreams of a secular ambition, which were quite foreign to his frame of mind in 1817, when he employed himself in writing sermons and sermonets as an exercise, seem now to have departed from him, never to return.

In the Long Vacation of 1820, which he was now entering, whenever Bowden was not with him he had Trinity College, its garden and library, all to himself; and in his solitude, pleasant as he found it, he became graver and graver. At first he says to his Mother, 'The prospect before me looks {38} alternately dark and bright, but when I divest my mind of flurried fear, I think I may say I have advanced much more, and much more quickly and easily, than I had expected.' This was in July; in August he writes to his brother Frank:

August 1820.
Here at Oxford I am most comfortable. The quiet and stillness of everything around me tends to calm and lull those emotions which the near prospect of my grand examination, and a heart too solicitous about fame and too fearful of failure, are continually striving to excite. I read very much, certainly, but God enables me to praise Him with joyful lips when I rise, and when I lie down, and when I wake in the night. For the calm happiness I enjoy I cannot feel thankful as I ought. How in my future life, if I do live, shall I look back with a sad smile at these days! It is my daily, and I hope heartfelt, prayer that I may not get any honours here if they are to be the least cause of sin to me. As the time approaches and I have laboured more at my books, the trial is greater.

At the same date he writes to one of his sisters:

I try to keep myself as cool as I can, but find it very difficult. However it is my duty not to 'take thought for the morrow.' I cannot think much of the schools without wishing much to distinguish myself in them; and that wishing much would make me discontented if I did not succeed; and that is coveting, for then we covet when we desire a thing so earnestly as to be discontented if we fail in getting it; I will not therefore ask for success, but for good.

Meanwhile his application to his books, which had recommenced with such vigour in the Long Vacation of 1819, was now almost an absorption by them; he gives a retrospective account of it in a letter to an Irish friend, written in 1821:

During the Long Vacation of 1819 [he says], I read nearly at the rate of nine hours a day. From that time to my examination in November 1820 it was almost a continuous mass of reading. I stayed in Oxford during the vacations, got up in winter and summer at five or six, hardly allowed myself time for my meals, and then ate, indeed, the bread of carefulness. During twenty out of the twenty-four weeks immediately preceding my examination, I fagged at an average {39} of more than twelve hours a day. If one day I read only nine, I read the next fifteen.

The termination of these 'laborious days' was now approaching, and he ushered it in with a long letter to his friend Mr. Mayer. In the course of it he says:

I am more happy here than I suppose I ever was yet … yet in truth I am in no common situation. The very few honours that have been taken by men of our college, the utter absence of first classes for the last ten years, the repeated failures which have occurred, and the late spirit of reading which has shown itself among us, render those who attempt this, objects of wonder, curiosity, speculation, and anxiety. Five of us were going up for first classes this term; one has deferred his examination, one most likely goes up for no honours at all; one is expected to fail; one—whom I think most certain of success—may before the examination remove to another college; one remains. 'Unless,' I am told, 'success at length attends on Trinity this examination, we have determined it is useless to read.'

The high expectations, too, that are formed of me; the confidence with which those who know nothing of me put down two first classes to my name; the monstrous notions they form of the closeness of my application, and, on the other hand, my consciousness of my own deficiencies—these things may create a smile, in my future life, to think I feared them, but they are sufficient to dismay me now. I fear much more from failure than I hope from success.

It was not strangers only who did not know him that felt so assured that Newman would succeed. His friend Bowden, who had read with him so long, and, having passed his own ordeal, had gone home before him, wrote thence to Newman, prophesying all good things of him, being confident that his examination would be brilliant. This was in November. 'I shall expect,' he said, 'to hear in your answer whether they put you on in any books besides those you took up.' And in a second letter: 'By the time you receive this, I conclude you will have completed your labours in the schools and covered yourself and the college with glory.' Bowden did but express the expectations of his friends generally, but fortune had gone against him. He had over-read himself, and being suddenly {40} called up a day sooner than he expected, he lost his head, utterly broke down, and, after vain attempts for several days, had to retire, only first making sure of his B.A. degree. When the list came out, his name did not appear at all on the mathematical side of the paper, and in classics it was found in the lower division of the second class of honours, which at that time went by the contemptuous title of the 'Under-the-line,' there being as yet no third and fourth classes.

Though he never was able to satisfy himself how it came about that he did so little justice on that occasion to his long and assiduous toil, it must be borne in mind that a similar affection, after a severe course of reading, overtook him seven years later, on all but the same day (November 26, instead of November 25), when he was exercising his office of University examiner in the very same schools in which in 1820 he had failed as examinee, and that that attack came on with greater violence, for he was obliged to leave Oxford, and for a time relinquish his office.

During the long days of his ineffectual efforts in the schools he suffered severely; and again, with especial keenness, immediately on his having to give those efforts up; but he was not long in recovering his composure. His first letter home ran as follows:


December 1, 1820.
It is all over, and I have not succeeded. The pain it gives me to be obliged to inform you and my mother of it, I cannot express. What I feel on my own account is indeed nothing at all, compared with the thought that I have disappointed you. And most willingly would I consent to a hundred times the sadness that now overshadows me, if so doing would save my mother and you from feeling vexation. I will not attempt to describe what I have gone through, but it is past away, and I feel quite lightened of a load. The examining masters were as kind as it was possible to be; but my nerves quite forsook me and I failed. I have done everything I could to attain my object; I have spared no labour, and my reputation in my college is as solid as before, if not so splendid. If a man falls in battle after a display of bravery, he is honoured as a hero; {41} ought not the same glory to attend him who falls in the field of literary conflict?

His parents answered him, as might be supposed, that they were more than satisfied with his exertions; that he must wait patiently and cheerfully the time appointed for his reaping the fruit of them. 'The only sorrow we feel,' they said, 'is for the keenness of your feelings.' By the time this letter came he had recovered himself, and in his answer to his Mother he was unwilling to allow that his distress was so great as she implied it to be:

December 3, 1820.
I am ashamed to think that anything I have said should have led you to suppose that I am at all pained on my own account ... I am perfectly convinced that there are few men in the college who do not feel for me more than I feel for myself ... A man has just left me, and his last words were, 'Well, Newman, I would rather have your philosophy than the high honours to which you have been aspiring.' I say this, not in vanity, but to prove the truth of my assertion.

I am sure success could not have made me happier than I am at present ... very much I have gone through, but the clouds have passed away ... Since I have done my part I have gained what is good [Note 10].

Only a few words are necessary to complete the outline of this portion of Mr. Newman's career.

He had been destined by his Father's loving ambition for the Bar, and with that purpose had been sent to the University, and in 1819 had entered at Lincoln's Inn; but his failure in the schools making his prospect of rising in a difficult profession doubtful, and his religious views becoming more pronounced, he decided in the course of 1821, with his Father's {42} full acquiescence, on taking Orders. His scholarship at Trinity continuing for several years still, he was furnished with a sufficient plea for remaining at Oxford, though a B.A., and for taking private pupils as a means of support. He wished also to be of use to his youngest brother, whom he was desirous of bringing to the University; and, as the year drew to its close, and just at the time he began to take pupils, he conceived the audacious idea of standing for a fellowship at Oriel—at that time the object of ambition of all rising men at Oxford, and attainable only by those who had the highest academical pretensions. It may be called audacious for various reasons, and certainly would so seem to others; but, in truth, he had never himself accepted his failure in the schools as the measure of his intellectual merits, and in proportion as the relief of mind ceased to be felt, consequent at first upon his freedom from scholastic work and its anxieties, a reaction took place within him, and he began to think about retrieving his losses, and to aspire to some honourable and permanent place in his loved University, refusing tempting offers of tutorships in gentlemen's families which would call him away from Oxford, and applying in whispers to himself the line of Gray:

And hushed in grim repose expects his evening prey.

This change in his state of mind took place in him in the autumn of 1821, and he has described his feelings at that time in the following passage in 'Loss and Gain':

He recollected with what awe and transport he had at first come to the University, as to some sacred shrine; and how from time to time hopes had come over him that some day or other he should have gained a title to residence on one of its old foundations. One night in particular came across his memory: how a friend and he had ascended to the top of one of its many towers with the purpose of making observations on the stars; and how, while his friend was busily engaged with the pointers, he, earthly-minded youth, had been looking down into the deep gas-lit, dark-shadowed quadrangles, and wondering if he should ever be Fellow of this or that college, which he singled out from the mass of academical buildings. {43}

It is scarcely necessary to say here that his attempt at Oriel, startling as it was to his friends and hopeless as it was in his own calm judgment, was successful. It follows next to draw out the circumstances under which it was made.

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Letters and Extracts Connecting Chapters 1. and 2. of the Memoir

The close of the first chapter of the Autobiographical Memoir seems the proper occasion for introducing contemporary letters from the family correspondence, and such extracts from Mr. Newman's records of the period as throw further light on the Memoir.

More space may have been given to the mischance of a failure—due, in fact, to physical causes—than, considering the subsequent career and reputation of the narrator, may seem called for; but, after all, it illustrates the faith in taking pains which was a feature of his mind through life; and, in fact, the history throughout is characteristic. No subsequent intellectual triumph would efface this blow in a memory which held its whole being in so firm a grasp. The intense labour and capacity for work which later on were the wonder of his friends, the sensitive nerves, the keenness of pain in disappointing the hopes he had raised, all belonged to his mature nature, as did also the latent undisturbed consciousness of power—as shown in his next move—which no failure or reverse, whether in the schools or elsewhere, could disturb. At sixteen he wrote an essay on Fame, which shows him speculating on the question in the tone of his manhood:

… But this is not the fame I intend to discuss; I mean by fame the knowledge your contemporaries have of you while living, and posterity when dead. On this I will advance an assertion which may at first appear strange, but which has often struck me very forcibly—that is, that there is no such thing as a person being famed. Let it not be thought a {44} quibble when I say it is his name that is celebrated, and not himself [Note 11].

It was one of the consequences of Mr. Newman beginning his Oxford career so early that he had no idea of husbanding his strength. He made his eyesight the test. So long as his eyes did not pain him he worked on, or, as he called it, fagged, till he could do no more. The following letter to his Mother, written early in his Oxford days, tells of a complete breakdown, clearly the consequence of overtaxing his strength:

October 28, 1817.
… Last Sunday, while in St. Mary's, a dizziness came over my eyes: I could see nothing, and to my surprise I found my head was on the shoulder of the gownsman who sat next to me. He took me out and brought me to my rooms, for my mind was alive and I could show him the way, so that while he was stumbling up the stairs, I, by recollection, did not miss a step. He brought me some water, and he bade me good morning, and neither his face, his name, nor his rank in the University (except that he must either be a bachelor or an undergraduate) have I an idea of. While I was sitting reading about eight in the evening I dropped asleep for an hour, and woke quite myself.

In fact, Mr. Newman never had robust health. The letters from home, even at this early period, show a constant solicitude on the score of overwork and its consequences. His constitution showed singular powers of continuous application all through his life, and even when this was pushed too far there was a recuperative energy in reserve which saved him from the ordinary consequences of an overtaxed brain; but there was not even in early days the sense or aspect of exuberant health. In his busiest years toothache was a constant suffering and hindrance, and seems to have been something abnormal. His youth, indeed, was chequered by cares; his Mother's tone shows him the sharer of all family anxieties, and him, indeed, solicitous to share them. Her early letters show an unbounded confidence in his 'well-regulated mind,' equal to all trials, whether prosperous or adverse. And how {45} dear this trust was to him is almost pathetically apparent as time goes on [Note 12].

Answering his Mother's birthday letter of 1819 his memory goes far back:

February 24, 1819.
I woke on the morning of February 21, and, without recollecting it was my birthday, my mind involuntarily recurred to the day I was four years old, and said the 'Cat and the Cream Bowl' [to a party of little ones in Southampton Street], and the day I was five years old your telling me that now I was a big boy, and must behave myself accordingly; to the day I was six years old, when I spoke Cowper's 'Faithful Friend' at Ham [where his grandmother lived]. I have no doubt I shall look back with regret on the time I was at Oxford and on my birthday of 1819.

In the memoranda of this year 1819 there occurs this thought:

Sunday evening bells pealing. The pleasure of hearing them. It leads the mind to a longing after something, I know not what. It does not bring past years to remembrance; it does not bring anything. What does it do? We have a kind of longing after something dear to us, and well known to {46} us—very soothing. Such is my feeling at this minute as I hear them.

Music in his undergraduate days was a constant recreation. In 1820 he had found sympathisers, and a music club was formed.


February 26.
Our music club at St. John's has been offered and has accepted the music room for our weekly private concerts. [Again June 3:] I was asked by a man yesterday to go to his rooms for a little music at seven o'clock. I went. An old Don—a very good-natured man, but too fond of music—played Bass; and through his enthusiasm I was kept playing quartets on a heavy tenor from seven to twelve! O my poor arm and eyes and head and back! [Again he writes later:] I went to the R.'s to play the difficult first violin to Haydn, Mozart, &c.

He found time for lighter reading; is enthusiastic to his Mother on 'Ivanhoe,' especially the second volume; and writes to his Father of Crabbe's poems, for which he had a lasting admiration:

I also send Crabbe's 'Tales of the Hall,' a work of which I am excessively fond; but the monotonous gloominess of which is so great an objection that I can hardly think he will ever have many admirers. Hardly one of his Tales has a fortunate ending; hardly one of his Tales but has the same ending; hardly one of his Tales but is disfigured by the most prosaic lines or degraded by familiar vulgarity. However, for all this, he seems to me one of the greatest poets of the present day. His 'Lady Barbara,' out of many beautiful ones, is the most uniformly elevated and animated.

A letter to his Father of this date mentions Dr. Routh. It is observable that no Oxford memory ever knew this name but as associated with the word Venerable. It was a remark of Mr. Richards's, who had an early experience of Oxford, not only that Dr. Routh was old at any given date, but that he always had been old, and gave the world the impression of never having known any other stage of being.

One of our Dons is on the eve of marriage, the President {47} of Magdalen, noted for his learning, his strange appearance, his venerable age [Note 13].

A letter already quoted in the Memoir, 'The Long prospect is now before me, &c.,' excited its writer as he read it in after years to inscribe on it the following comments: 'This means that I was idle in the Long Vacation 1818,' after gaining the scholarship; and on the whole letter is this notice: 'This is in very Gibbonian style.' It is difficult to connect the writing of this early date with what has been described as the short, sharp, terse fire of Mr. Newman's style some ten or a dozen years later, but at each date his subject mastered him, whether he leant upon a model for giving his thought adequate expression, or later on trusted the energy of his thought to take its course by the most direct road.

We read in the 'Apologia' that 'when I was fifteen [in the autumn of 1816] a great change of thought took place in me. I fell under the influences of a definite creed, and received into my intellect impressions of dogma, which through God's mercy have never been effaced or obscured.' The remarks noted down during the years of his undergraduateship illustrate this. The Memoir says, 'In the solitude of the Long I became graver and graver.' In evidence of this many records of thought remain, showing a mind set upon subjects far removed from the ordeal he was preparing for, with such excessive industry. Thus, in a memorandum dated August 20, 1820:

It may be supposed that the greatest agony Christ endured was not that which He suffered in the body, but that inward horror and darkness which caused the drops of blood in the garden, and the mysterious exclamation on the Cross. May not this be stated in such a manner as to repel the objection, that His corporal sufferings could not cleanse us from sin which is spiritual? [Note 14]

A few months later the same MS. book contains the following reflection on mysteries (March 4, 1821): {48}

The Second Person of the Trinity is called the Son of the Father, the Only Begotten. Not in a literal sense, but as the nearest analogy in human language to convey the idea of an incomprehensible relation between the Father and the Son. Nothing can show this more clearly than the other titles given to him in Scripture. If He were in every respect a Lamb, He would not be the Shepherd. If He were in every respect the Husband of the Church, He could not be the Father.

Again (June 1, 1821):

About a week ago I dreamed a spirit came to me and discoursed about the other world. I had several meetings with it. Dreams address themselves so immediately to the mind, that to express in any form of words the feelings produced by the speeches themselves of my mysterious visitant, were a fruitless endeavour. Among other things it said that it was absolutely impossible for the reason of man to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and in vain to argue about it; but that everything in another world was so very, very plain that there was not the slightest difficulty about it. I cannot put into any sufficiently strong form of words the ideas that were conveyed to me. I thought I instantly fell on my knees overcome with gratitude to God for so kind a message.

It is not idle to make a memorandum of this, for out of dreams often much good can be extracted.

Again (June 1, 1821):

When I have heard or read that Horsley, Milner, &c., were adverse to the introduction of the doctrine of election, final perseverance, &c., into the pulpit, I have wondered, and been sorry for such an opinion. However, when I came to examine my own opinion on the subject, I have much the same sentiments. Do we see St. Paul or St. Peter in the Acts addressing the unconverted in this manner?

Some touches of his home life and its varying influences on his character may here be given. In the Long Vacation of 1821, when he was for a short time at home, there occurs this entry in his journal:

September 30, 1821. Sunday.—After dinner today I was suddenly called downstairs to give an opinion whether I thought it a sin to write a letter on a Sunday. I found dear F. had refused to copy one. A scene ensued more painful than any I have experienced. I have been sadly deficient in {49} meekness, long-suffering, patience, and filial obedience. With God's assistance I will redeem my character.

Monday, October 1, 1821.—My Father was reconciled to us today. When I think of the utter persuasion he must entertain of the justice of his views, of our apparent disobedience, the seeming folly of our opinions, and the way in which he is harassed by worldly cares, I think his forgiveness of us an example of very striking candour, forbearance and generosity.

On the question of his brother Francis going to read with him in Oxford, he writes to his Father:

June 21, 1821.
I am turned out of college in a little more than a fortnight, and for Trinity term I have engaged lodgings. The Dean tells me there is nothing extraordinary in a brother coming up to Oxford to study before entrance at any college. Tell Charles I cannot find in the Bodleian any work on the mathematica1 principles of chess. [Writing a day or two after:] I am glad to say that Mr. Short has been good enough to get me a man of our college for a private pupil. I am to begin with him after the Long Vacation. He is to give me a hundred a year. I am naturally much delighted to find you propose Francis should come to Oxford, and have been arranging things as well as I can.


October 26, 1821.
I am very glad to hear you say that yourself and my Father are both well; of course whatever you say concerning him and his anxieties must interest me very much. There is no one who is on any side without cause of sorrow; and, this being the case, it is a most happy thing to feel one's particular distress comes from without. When I look round, I see few families but what are disturbed from within. Many are wasted by death; many distracted by disagreements; many scattered. We have not had to weep over the death of those we love. We are not disquieted by internal variance; we are not parted from each other by circumstances we cannot control. We have kind and indulgent parents, and our tastes, disposition, and pursuits are the same. How grateful ought we to be! Surely it is a joyful thing that that distress, which must be, leaves unimpaired, or rather heightened, all domestic affection and love. {50}

And then as to the very trial itself, there is nothing in any way to fear. 'All things work together for good to those who love God.' I am firmly and rootedly persuaded of this. Everything that happens to them is most certainly the very best, in every light, that could by any possibility have happened. God will give good. I will do as much as I can, and then I have nothing to apprehend. This is indeed a privilege, for it takes away all care as to the future.

His other gifts
All bear the royal stamp that speaks them His,
And are august; but this transcends them all.

To his sister Harriett he tells of the end of a successful career, with what may be supposed a personal warning.

January 19, 1822.
I informed you in my last that Dr. Hodson was very ill. He died yesterday morning. Having attained the Headship of Brasenose, the Regius Chair of Divinity, and a Canonry of Ch. Ch.; when all men looked on in expectation of what would come next, in the height of his influence with Lord Grenville and Lord Buckingham, he is suddenly taken ill, and in a few days died.

I trust I ask sincerely, Give me nothing which will in any way delay me in my Christian course; and such prayers God is accustomed, and promises, to grant.

To his Mother he writes on attaining his majority:

March 6, 1822.
Thank you for your very kind letter. When I turn to look at myself I feel quite ashamed of the praise it contains, so numerous and so great are the deficiencies that even I can see. There is an illusion in the words 'being of age' which is apt to convey the idea of some sudden and unknown change. That point, instead of being gained by the slow and silent progress of one and twenty years, seems to divide, by some strongly marked line, the past from the to-come ... Not that I am sorry so great a part of life is gone—would that all were over!—but I seem now more left to myself, and when I reflect upon my own weakness I have cause to shudder.

Not unnaturally, his Mother thinks the tone of the last line morbid. Out of the midst of troubles of her own—which, {51} indeed, he shared with her—she writes anxiously on his account:

March 11, 1822.
... This subject I have been anxious to begin with, but another is equally pressing on my mind and your Father's; that is the state of your health and spirits. We fear very much, from the tone of your letter, you are depressed; and if imperious reasons did not forbid us, you would certainly see us. We fear you debar yourself a proper quantity of wine ... Take proper air and exercise; accept all the invitations you receive; and do not be over-anxious about anything. Nothing but your own over-anxiety can make you suppose we give a thought to Oriel ...

To show you I do not think you too old for a mother's correction and advice, I shall not hesitate to tell you I see one great fault in your character which alarms me, as I observe it grows upon you seriously; and as all virtues may degenerate into vices, it is everyone's duty to have a strict guard over themselves to avoid extremes. Your fault is a want of self-confidence and a dissatisfaction with yourself ...

His answer comes by return of post. And first he assures his Mother his health is not at all in fault.

... I have hardly a moment to write, I am going out to a wine party, and to the music room in the evening ... I am very very much obliged to you for your anxiety, but never was anxiety so ill founded. I was only the other day congratulating myself on the great improvement of my health from what it was a year ago ...

As to my opinions, and the sentiments I expressed in my last letter, they remain fixed in my mind, and are repeated deliberately and confidently. If it were any new set of opinions I had lately adopted, they might be said to arise from nervousness, or over-study, or ill-health; but no, my opinion has been exactly the same for these five years ... The only thing is, opportunities have occurred of late for my mentioning it more than before; but believe me, those sentiments are neither new nor slightly founded. If they made me melancholy, morose, austere, distant, reserved, sullen, then indeed they might with justice be the subject of anxiety; but if, as I think is the case, I am always cheerful, if at home I am always ready and eager to join in any merriment, if I am not clouded {52} with sadness, if my meditations make me neither absent in mind nor deficient in action, then my principles may be gazed at and puzzle the gazer, but they cannot be accused of bad practical effects. Take me when I am most foolish at home, and extend mirth into childishness; stop me short and ask me then what I think of myself, whether my opinions are less gloomy; no, I think I should seriously return the same answer, that 'I shuddered at myself.' And what is to make me so? Am I in the midst of persons of the same opinions? Am I solitary? Neither. However, I have no time to finish this so good-bye.

It is now time to return to Mr. Newman's own account of himself.


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1. The Rev. Thomas Short, for so many years the respected and popular tutor of the college.
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2. He suffered from weakness of the eyes at this time.
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3. The original letter in the family collection goes on to say, 'And I believe [the Proctors] wish to make up by the universality of the mourning for the neglect of observing the day of the funeral, last Wednesday, in some particular manner; for the Master of Balliol [the Bishop of Peterborough] is said to have proposed in Convocation that the churches and chapels should be all hung with black, and that there should be sermons in all; but some of the old Doctors conceived it would be introducing new customs (just like them), and consequently the motion was negatived.'
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4. In looking over old papers the Editor has come upon some words of Mr. Short's which show the high estimate he had formed of J. H. N. at this time. Meeting Mr. Newman (the father) he went up to him as an old friend, and holding out his hand, said 'O Mr. Newman! what have you given us in your son!'
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5. Afterwards President.
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6. Afterwards Archdeacon Coxe. It was said that 'J. H. N.'s mathematics decided the question between the two.'
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7. 'Vestigia ruris,' Hor. Ep. ii. 1. 160, or 'vestigia fraudis,' Virg. Ecl. iv. 31.
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8. Newman in his old age recollected one instance in which the examiners had missed his meaning. When the tutors of Trinity inquired of the examiners how he came so utterly to fail, his having translated the word 'proprium' in Virgil by 'proper' instead of 'his own' was specified as a critical instance in point, but he knew the sense of the Latin word perfectly well; only, as translating a poet, he had in mind Cymbeline, and again in Measure for Measure (in the Duke's speech, 'The mere effusion of thy proper loins'), and foolishly copied it on purpose, not considering how he might be misunderstood.
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9. Thalaba.
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10. The length of time and space Mr. Newman gives to his failure in the schools is only interesting to the reader as illustrating the indomitable resolution and industry of the young aspirant for honours. Of course the cause of his failure was overwork; he overtaxed his powers and broke down. There was a determination in him to work up to the point—just short of health and strength failing him. He overstepped this point on more than one subsequent occasion, as he did conspicuously here.

It may be noted that his confession of certain periods of idleness would represent the industry of the average undergraduate.—ED.
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11. See this thought carried out in the sermon on the 'Vanity of Human Glory'—Parochial Sermons, vol. viii.
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12. Mr. Newman's eyes, which troubled him so early, were not a permanent trouble. The rules prescribed by the oculist of the day may be given, as it were, to impress the fact upon the reader of the short-sightedness which made spectacles a necessity all through his active life.

'The following is the advice of Mr. Alexander concerning my eyes: "Those who have a disposition to be short-sighted, books, contracting as they do the muscles of the eye, are apt to make more so. They first feel it about twelve years of age; this short-sightedness increases until twenty-two. It then stops, and time will bring a longer sight. There is this consolation for you, you will never be blind. With respect to what is advisable for you to do, observe the following directions. Strain not your sight at distant objects, rather use a glass; when you read have your neckcloth loose, your head erect; avoid everything like a stooping posture. In bed your head very high, your feet low, your bed an inclined plane, your head cool, your feet warm. In your diet avoid anything which may cause a sudden rush of blood to the head. Keep your temperature cool, and apply leeches to your temples once a fortnight. An observance of these directions will keep you from being worse, and may make you a shade better." Oh, consolation! "may"!'

It does not appear that the last direction was ever followed; the writer makes no comment on it.
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13. Dean Burgon gives Dr. Routh's age on marriage as sixty-five. The marriage took place September 18, 1820.
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14. The reader of Mr. Newman's works will recognise in this passage the dawn of a thought subsequently most powerfully worked out.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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