9. Discipline of Mind

An Address to the Evening Classes


{480} WHEN I found that it was in my power to be present here at the commencement of the new Session, one of the first thoughts, Gentlemen, which thereupon occurred to me, was this, that I should in consequence have the great satisfaction of meeting you, of whom I had thought and heard so much, and the opportunity of addressing you, as Rector of the University. I can truly say that I thought of you before you thought of the University; perhaps I may say, long before;—for it was previously to our commencing that great work, which is now so fully before the public, it was when I first came over here to make preparations for it, that I had to encounter the serious objection of wise and good men, who said to me, "There is no class of persons in Ireland who need a University;" and again, "Whom will you get to belong to it? who will fill its lecture-rooms?" This was said to me, and then, without denying their knowledge of the state of Ireland, or their sagacity, I made answer, "We will give lectures in the evening, we will fill our classes with the young men of Dublin."

And some persons here may recollect that the very {481} first thing I did, when we opened the School of Philosophy and Letters, this time four years, was to institute a system of Evening Lectures, which were suspended after a while, only because the singularly inclement season which ensued, and the want of publicity and interest incident to a new undertaking, made them premature. And it is a satisfaction to me to reflect that the Statute, under which you will be able to pass examinations and take degrees, is one to which I specially obtained the consent of the Academical Senate, nearly two years ago, in addition to our original Regulations, and that you will be the first persons to avail yourselves of it.

Having thus prepared, as it were, the University for you, it was with great pleasure that I received from a number of you, Gentlemen, last May year, a spontaneous request which showed that my original anticipations were not visionary. You suggested then what we have since acted upon,—acted upon, not so quickly as both you might hope and we might wish, because all important commencements have to be maturely considered—still acted on at length according to those anticipations of mine, to which I have referred; and, while I recur to them as an introduction to what I have to say, I might also dwell upon them as a sure presage that other and broader anticipations, too bold as they may seem now, will, if we are but patient, have their fulfilment in their season.


For I should not be honest, Gentlemen, if I did not confess that, much as I desire that this University should be of service to the young men of Dublin, I do not desire this benefit to you, simply for your own sakes. For your own sakes certainly I wish it, but not on your {482} account only. Man is not born for himself alone, as the classical moralist tells us. You are born for Ireland; and, in your advancement, Ireland is advanced;—in your advancement in what is good and what is true, in knowledge, in learning, in cultivation of mind, in enlightened attachment to your religion, in good name and respectability and social influence, I am contemplating the honour and renown, the literary and scientific aggrandisement, the increase of political power, of the Island of the Saints.

I go further still. If I do homage to the many virtues and gifts of the Irish people, and am zealous for their full development, it is not simply for the sake of themselves, but because the name of Ireland ever has been, and, I believe, ever will be, associated with the Catholic Faith, and because, in doing any service, however poor it may be, to Ireland, a man is ministering, in his own place and measure, to the cause of the Holy Roman Apostolic Church.

Gentlemen, I should consider it an impertinence in me thus to be speaking to you of myself, were it not that, in recounting to you the feelings with which I have witnessed the establishment of these Evening Classes, I am in fact addressing to you at the same time words of encouragement and advice, such words as it becomes a Rector to use in speaking to those who are submitted to his care.

I say, then, that, had I been younger than I was when the high office which I at present hold was first offered to me, had I not had prior duties upon me of affection and devotion to the Oratory of St. Philip, and to my own dear country, no position whatever, in the whole range of administrations which are open to the ambition of those who wish to serve God in their generation, and {483} to do some great work before they die, would have had more attractions for me than that of being at the head of a University like this. When I became a Catholic, one of my first questions was, "Why have not our Catholics a University?" and Ireland, and the metropolis of Ireland, was obviously the proper seat of such an institution.

Ireland is the proper seat of a Catholic University, on account of its ancient hereditary Catholicity, and again of the future which is in store for it. It is impossible, Gentlemen, to doubt that a future is in store for Ireland, for more reasons than can here be enumerated. First, there is the circumstance, so highly suggestive, even if there was nothing else to be said, viz., that the Irish have been so miserably ill-treated and misused hitherto; for, in the times now opening upon us, nationalities are waking into life, and the remotest people can make themselves heard into all the quarters of the earth. The lately invented methods of travel and of intelligence have destroyed geographical obstacles; and the wrongs of the oppressed, in spite of oceans or of mountains, are brought under the public opinion of Europe,—not before kings and governments alone, but before the tribunal of the European populations, who are becoming ever more powerful in the determination of political questions. And thus retribution is demanded and exacted for past crimes in proportion to their heinousness and their duration.

And in the next place, it is plain that, according as intercommunion grows between Europe and America, it is Ireland that must grow with it in social and political importance. For Ireland is the high road by which that intercourse is carried on; and the traffic between hemispheres must be to her a source of material as well as social benefit,—as of old time, though on the minute geographical scale of Greece, Corinth, as being the {484} thoroughfare of commerce by sea and land, became and was called "the rich."

And then, again, we must consider the material resources of Ireland, so insufficiently explored, so poorly developed,—of which it belongs to them rather to speak, who by profession and attainments are masters of the subject.

That this momentous future, thus foreshadowed, will be as glorious for Catholicity as for Ireland we cannot doubt from the experience of the past; but, as Providence works by means of human agencies, that natural anticipation has no tendency to diminish the anxiety and earnestness of all zealous Catholics to do their part in securing its fulfilment. And the wise and diligent cultivation of the intellect is one principal means, under the Divine blessing, of the desired result.


Gentlemen, the seat of this intellectual progress must necessarily be the great towns of Ireland; and those great towns have a remarkable and happy characteristic, as contrasted with the cities of Catholic Europe. Abroad, even in Catholic countries, if there be in any part of their territory scepticism and insubordination in religion, cities are the seat of the mischief. Even Rome itself has its insubordinate population, and its concealed free-thinkers; even Belgium, that nobly Catholic country, cannot boast of the religious loyalty of its great towns. Such a calamity is unknown to the Catholicism of Dublin, Cork, Belfast, and the other cities of Ireland; for, to say nothing of higher and more religious causes of the difference, the very presence of a rival religion is a perpetual incentive to faith and devotion in men who, from the circumstances of the case, would be in danger of {485} becoming worse than lax Catholics, unless they resolved on being zealous ones.

Here, then, is one remarkable ground of promise in the future of Ireland, that that large and important class, members of which I am now addressing,—that the middle classes in its cities, which will be the depositaries of its increasing political power, and which elsewhere are opposed in their hearts to the Catholicism which they profess,—are here so sound in faith, and so exemplary in devotional exercises, and in works of piety.

And next I would observe, that, while thus distinguished for religious earnestness, the Catholic population is in no respect degenerate from the ancient fame of Ireland as regards its intellectual endowments. It too often happens that the religiously disposed are in the same degree intellectually deficient; but the Irish ever have been, as their worst enemies must grant, not only a Catholic people, but a people of great natural abilities, keen-witted, original, and subtle. This has been the characteristic of the nation from the very early times, and was especially prominent in the middle ages. As Rome was the centre of authority, so, I may say, Ireland was the native home of speculation. In this respect they were as remarkably contrasted to the English as they are now, though, in those ages, England was as devoted to the Holy See as it is now hostile. The Englishman was hard-working, plodding, bold, determined, persevering, practical, obedient to law and precedent, and, if he cultivated his mind, he was literary and classical rather than scientific, for Literature involves in it the idea of authority and prescription. On the other hand, in Ireland, the intellect seems rather to have taken the line of Science, and we have various instances to show how fully this was recognized in those times, and with what success it {486} was carried out. "Philosopher," is in those times almost the name for an Irish monk. Both in Paris and Oxford, the two great schools of medieval thought, we find the boldest and most subtle of their disputants an Irishman,—the monk John Scotus Erigena, at Paris, and Duns Scotus, the Franciscan friar, at Oxford.

Now, it is my belief, Gentlemen, that this character of mind remains in you still. I think I rightly recognize in the Irishman now, as formerly, the curious, inquisitive observer, the acute reasoner, the subtle speculator. I recognize in you talents which are fearfully mischievous, when used on the side of error, but which, when wielded by Catholic devotion, such as I am sure will ever be the characteristic of the Irish disputant, are of the highest importance to Catholic interests, and especially at this day, when a subtle logic is used against the Church, and demands a logic still more subtle on the part of her defenders to expose it.

Gentlemen, I do not expect those who, like you, are employed in your secular callings, who are not monks or friars, not priests, not theologians, not philosophers, to come forward as champions of the faith; but I think that incalculable benefit may ensue to the Catholic cause, greater almost than that which even singularly gifted theologians or controversialists could effect, if a body of men in your station of life shall be found in the great towns of Ireland, not disputatious, contentious, loquacious, presumptuous (of course I am not advocating inquiry for mere argument's sake), but gravely and solidly educated in Catholic knowledge, intelligent, acute, versed in their religion, sensitive of its beauty and majesty, alive to the arguments in its behalf and aware both of its difficulties and of the mode of treating them. And the first step in attaining this desirable end is that you should submit {487} yourselves to a curriculum of studies, such as that which brings you with such praiseworthy diligence within these walls evening after evening; and, though you may not be giving attention to them with this view, but from the laudable love of knowledge, or for the advantages which will accrue to you personally from its pursuit, yet my own reason for rejoicing in the establishment of your classes is the same as that which led me to take part in the establishment of the University itself, viz., the wish, by increasing the intellectual force of Ireland, to strengthen the defences, in a day of great danger, of the Christian religion.


Gentlemen, within the last thirty years, there has been, as you know, a great movement in behalf of the extension of knowledge among those classes in society whom you represent. This movement has issued in the establishment of what have been called Mechanics' Institutes through the United Kingdom; and a new species of literature has been brought into existence, with a view, among its objects, of furnishing the members of these institutions with interesting and instructive reading. I never will deny to that literature its due praise. It has been the production of men of the highest ability and the most distinguished station, who have not grudged, moreover, the trouble, and, I may say in a certain sense, the condescension, of presenting themselves before the classes for whose intellectual advancement they were showing so laudable a zeal; who have not grudged, in the cause of Literature, History, or Science, to make a display, in the lecture room or the public hall, of that eloquence, which was, strictly speaking, the property, as I may call it, of Parliament, or of the august tribunals of {488} the Law. Nor will I deny to the speaking and writing, to which I am referring, the merit of success, as well as that of talent and good intention, so far as this,—that it has provided a fund of innocent amusement and information for the leisure hours of those who might otherwise have been exposed to the temptation of corrupt reading or bad company.

So much may be granted,—and must be granted in candour: but, when I go on to ask myself the question, what permanent advantage the mind gets by such desultory reading and hearing, as this literary movement encourages, then I find myself altogether in a new field of thought, and am obliged to return an answer less favourable than I could wish to those who are the advocates of it. We must carefully distinguish, Gentlemen, between the mere diversion of the mind and its real education. Supposing, for instance, I am tempted to go into some society which will do me harm, and supposing, instead, I fall asleep in my chair, and so let the time pass by, in that case certainly I escape the danger, but it is as if by accident, and my going to sleep has not had any real effect upon me, or made me more able to resist the temptation on some future occasion. I wake, and I am what I was before. The opportune sleep has but removed the temptation for this once. It has not made me better; for I have not been shielded from temptation by any act of my own, but I was passive under an accident, for such I may call sleep. And so in like manner, if I hear a lecture indolently and passively, I cannot indeed be elsewhere while I am here hearing it,—but it produces no positive effect on my mind,—it does not tend to create any power in my breast capable of resisting temptation by its own vigour, should temptation come a second time.

Now this is no fault, Gentlemen, of the books or the {489} lectures of the Mechanics' Institute. They could not do more than they do, from their very nature. They do their part, but their part is not enough. A man may hear a thousand lectures, and read a thousand volumes, and be at the end of the process very much where he was, as regards knowledge. Something more than merely admitting it in a negative way into the mind is necessary, if it is to remain there. It must not be passively received, but actually and actively entered into, embraced, mastered. The mind must go half-way to meet what comes to it from without.

This, then, is the point in which the institutions I am speaking of fail; here, on the contrary, is the advantage of such lectures as you are attending, Gentlemen, in our University. You have come, not merely to be taught, but to learn. You have come to exert your minds. You have come to make what you hear your own, by putting out your hand, as it were, to grasp it and appropriate it. You do not come merely to hear a lecture, or to read a book, but you come for that catechetical instruction, which consists in a sort of conversation between your lecturer and you. He tells you a thing, and he asks you to repeat it after him. He questions you, he examines you, he will not let you go till he has proof, not only that you have heard, but that you know.


Gentlemen, I am induced to quote here some remarks of my own, which I put into print on occasion of those Evening Lectures, already referred to, with which we introduced the first terms of the University. The attendance upon them was not large, and in consequence we discontinued them for a time, but I attempted to explain in print what the object of them had been; and {490} while what I then said is pertinent to the subject I am now pursuing, it will be an evidence too, in addition to my opening remarks, of the hold which the idea of these Evening Lectures has had upon me.

"I will venture to give you my thoughts," I then said, writing to a friend [Note 1], "on the object of the Evening Public Lectures lately delivered in the University House, which, I think, has been misunderstood.

"I can bear witness, not only to their remarkable merit as lectures, but also to the fact that they were very satisfactorily attended. Many, however, attach a vague or unreasonable idea to the word 'satisfactory,' and maintain that no lectures can be called satisfactory which do not make a great deal of noise in the place, and they are disappointed otherwise. This is what I mean by misconceiving their object; for such an expectation, and consequent regret, arise from confusing the ordinary with the extraordinary object of a lecture,—upon which point we ought to have clear and definite ideas.

"The ordinary object of lectures is to teach; but there is an object, sometimes demanding attention, and not incongruous, which, nevertheless, cannot be said properly to belong to them, or to be more than occasional. As there are kinds of eloquence which do not aim at any thing beyond their own exhibition, and are content with being eloquent, and with the sensation which eloquence creates; so in Schools and Universities there are seasons, festive or solemn, anyhow extraordinary, when academical acts are not directed towards their proper ends, so much as intended to amuse, to astonish, and to attract, and thus to have an effect upon public opinion. Such are the exhibition days of Colleges; such the annual Commemoration of Benefactors at one of the {491} English Universities, when Doctors put on their gayest gowns, and Public Orators make Latin Speeches. Such, too, are the Terminal Lectures, at which divines of the greatest reputation for intellect and learning have before now poured forth sentences of burning eloquence into the ears of an audience brought together for the very sake of the display. The object of all such Lectures and Orations is to excite or to keep up an interest and reverence in the public mind for the Institutions from which the exhibition proceeds:"—I might have added, such are the lectures delivered by celebrated persons in Mechanics' Institutes.

I continue: "Such we have suitably had in the new University;—such were the Inaugural Lectures. Displays of strength and skill of this kind, in order to succeed, should attract attention, and if they do not attract attention, they have failed. They do not invite an audience, but an attendance; and perhaps it is hardly too much to say that they are intended for seeing rather than for hearing.

"Such celebrations, however, from the nature of the case, must be rare. It is the novelty which brings, it is the excitement which recompenses, the assemblage. The academical body which attempts to make such extraordinary acts the normal condition of its proceedings, is putting itself and its Professors in a false position.

"It is, then, a simple misconception to suppose that those to whom the government of our University is confided have aimed at an object, which could not be contemplated at all without a confusion or inadvertence, such as no considerate person will impute to them. Public lectures, delivered with such an object, could not be successful; and, in consequence, our late lectures have, I cannot doubt (for it could not be otherwise), ended unsatisfactorily {492} in the judgment of any zealous person who has assumed for them an office with which their projectors never invested them.

"What their object really was the very meaning of academical institutions suggests to us. It is, as I said when I began, to teach. Lectures are, properly speaking, not exhibitions or exercises of art, but matters of business; they profess to impart something definite to those who attend them, and those who attend them profess on their part to receive what the lecturer has to offer. It is a case of contract:—'I will speak, if you will listen:'—'I will come here to learn, if you have any thing worth teaching me.' In an oratorical display, all the effort is on one side; in a lecture, it is shared between two parties, who co-operate towards a common end.

"There should be ever something, on the face of the arrangements, to act as a memento that those who come, come to gain something, and not from mere curiosity. And in matter of fact, such were the persons who did attend, in the course of last term, and such as those, and no others, will attend. Those came who wished to gain information on a subject new to them, from informants whom they held in consideration, and regarded as authorities. It was impossible to survey the audience which occupied the lecture-room without seeing that they came on what may be called business. And this is why I said, when I began, that the attendance was satisfactory. That attendance is satisfactory,—not which is numerous, but—which is steady and persevering. But it is plain, that to a mere bystander, who came merely from general interest or good will to see how things were going on, and who did not catch the object of advertising the Lectures, it would not occur to look into the faces of the audience; he would think it enough to be counting their heads; he {493} would do little more than observe whether the staircase and landing were full of loungers, and whether there was such a noise and bustle that it was impossible to hear a word; and if he could get in and out of the room without an effort, if he could sit at his ease, and actually hear the lecturer, he would think he had sufficient grounds for considering the attendance unsatisfactory.

"The stimulating system may easily be overdone, and does not answer on the long run. A blaze among the stubble, and then all is dark. I have seen in my time various instances of the way in which Lectures really gain upon the public; and I must express my opinion that, even were it the sole object of our great undertaking to make a general impression upon public opinion, instead of that of doing definite good to definite persons, I should reject that method, which the University indeed itself has not taken, but which young and ardent minds may have thought the more promising. Even did I wish merely to get the intellect of all Dublin into our rooms, I should not dream of doing it all at once, but at length. I should not rely on sudden, startling effects, but on the slow, silent, penetrating, overpowering effects of patience, steadiness, routine, and perseverance. I have known individuals set themselves down in a neighbourhood where they had no advantages, and in a place which had no pretensions, and upon a work which had little or nothing of authoritative sanction; and they have gone on steadily lecturing week after week, with little encouragement, but much resolution. For months they were ill attended, and overlooked in the bustle of the world around them. But there was a secret, gradual movement going on, and a specific force of attraction, and a drifting and accumulation of hearers, which at length made itself felt, and could not be mistaken. In {494} this stage of things, a friend said in conversation to me, when at the moment I knew nothing of the parties: 'By-the-bye, if you are interested in such and such a subject, go by all means, and hear such a one. So and so does, and says there is no one like him. I looked in myself the other night, and was very much struck. Do go, you can't mistake; he lectures every Tuesday night, or Wednesday, or Thursday,' as it might be. An influence thus gradually acquired endures; sudden popularity dies away as suddenly."

As regards ourselves, the time is passed now, Gentlemen, for such modesty of expectation, and such caution in encouragement, as these last sentences exhibit. The few, but diligent, attendants upon the Professors' lectures, with whom we began, have grown into the diligent and zealous many; and the speedy fulfilment of anticipations, which then seemed to be hazardous, surely is a call on us to cherish bolder hopes and to form more extended plans for the years which are to follow.


You will ask me, perhaps, after these general remarks, to suggest to you the particular intellectual benefit which I conceive students have a right to require of us, and which we engage by means of our evening classes to provide for them. And, in order to this, you must allow me to make use of an illustration, which I have heretofore employed [Note 2], and which I repeat here, because it is the best that I can find to convey what I wish to impress upon you. It is an illustration which includes in its application all of us, teachers as well as taught, though it applies of course to some more than to others, and to those especially who come for instruction. {495}

I consider, then, that the position of our minds, as far as they are uncultivated, towards intellectual objects,—I mean of our minds, before they have been disciplined and formed by the action of our reason upon them,—is analogous to that of a blind man towards the objects of vision, at the moment when eyes are for the first time given to him by the skill of the operator. Then the multitude of things, which present themselves to the sight under a multiplicity of shapes and hues, pour in upon him from the external world all at once, and are at first nothing else but lines and colours, without mutual connection, dependence, or contrast, without order or principle, without drift or meaning, and like the wrong side of a piece of tapestry or carpet. By degrees, by the sense of touch, by reaching out the hands, by walking into this maze of colours, by turning round in it, by accepting the principle of perspective, by the various slow teaching of experience, the first information of the sight is corrected, and what was an unintelligible wilderness becomes a landscape or a scene, and is understood to consist of space, and of bodies variously located in space, with such consequences as thence necessarily follow. The knowledge is at length gained of things or objects, and of their relation to each other; and it is a kind of knowledge, as is plain, which is forced upon us all from infancy, as to the blind on their first seeing, by the testimony of our other senses, and by the very necessity of supporting life; so that even the brute animals have been gifted with the faculty of acquiring it.

Such is the case as regards material objects; and it is much the same as regards intellectual. I mean that there is a vast host of matters of all kinds, which address themselves, not to the eye, but to our mental sense; viz., all those matters of thought which, in the course of life {496} and the intercourse of society, are brought before us, which we hear of in conversation, which we read of in books; matters political, social, ecclesiastical, literary, domestic; persons, and their doings or their writings; events, and works, and undertakings, and laws, and institutions. These make up a much more subtle and intricate world than that visible universe of which I was just now speaking. It is much more difficult in this world than in the material to separate things off from each other, and to find out how they stand related to each other, and to learn how to class them, and where to locate them respectively. Still, it is not less true that, as the various figures and forms in a landscape have each its own place, and stand in this or that direction towards each other, so all the various objects which address the intellect have severally a substance of their own, and have fixed relations each of them with everything else,—relations which our minds have no power of creating, but which we are obliged to ascertain before we have a right to boast that we really know any thing about them. Yet, when the mind looks out for the first time into this manifold spiritual world, it is just as much confused and dazzled and distracted as are the eyes of the blind when they first begin to see; and it is by a long process, and with much effort and anxiety, that we begin hardly and partially to apprehend its various contents and to put each in its proper place.

We grow up from boyhood; our minds open; we go into the world; we hear what men say, or read what they put in print; and thus a profusion of matters of all kinds is discharged upon us. Some sort of an idea we have of most of them, from hearing what others say; but it is a very vague idea, probably a very mistaken idea. Young people, especially, because they are young, {497} colour the assemblage of persons and things which they encounter with the freshness and grace of their own springtide, look for all good from the reflection of their own hopefulness, and worship what they have created. Men of ambition, again, look upon the world as a theatre for fame and glory, and make it that magnificent scene of high enterprise and august recompence which Pindar or Cicero has delineated. Poets, too, after their wont, put their ideal interpretation upon all things, material as well as moral, and substitute the noble for the true. Here are various obvious instances, suggestive of the discipline which is imperative, if the mind is to grasp things as they are, and to discriminate substances from shadows. For I am not concerned merely with youth, ambition, or poetry, but with our mental condition generally. It is the fault of all of us, till we have duly practised our minds, to be unreal in our sentiments and crude in our judgments, and to be carried off by fancies, instead of being at the trouble of acquiring sound knowledge.

In consequence, when we hear opinions put forth on any new subject, we have no principle to guide us in balancing them; we do not know what to make of them; we turn them to and fro, and over, and back again, as if to pronounce upon them, if we could, but with no means of pronouncing. It is the same when we attempt to speak upon them: we make some random venture; or we take up the opinion of some one else, which strikes our fancy; or perhaps, with the vaguest enunciation possible of any opinion at all, we are satisfied with ourselves if we are merely able to throw off some rounded sentences, to make some pointed remarks on some other subject, or to introduce some figure of speech, or flowers of rhetoric, which, instead of being the vehicle, are the {498} mere substitute of meaning. We wish to take a part in politics, and then nothing is open to us but to follow some person, or some party, and to learn the commonplaces and the watchwords which belong to it. We hear about landed interests, and mercantile interests, and trade, and higher and lower classes, and their rights, duties, and prerogatives; and we attempt to transmit what we have received; and soon our minds become loaded and perplexed by the incumbrance of ideas which we have not mastered and cannot use. We have some vague idea, for instance, that constitutional government and slavery are inconsistent with each other; that there is a connection between private judgment and democracy, between Christianity and civilization; we attempt to find arguments in proof, and our arguments are the most plain demonstration that we simply do not understand the things themselves of which we are professedly treating.


Reflect, Gentlemen, how many disputes you must have listened to, which were interminable, because neither party understood either his opponent or himself. Consider the fortunes of an argument in a debating society, and the need there so frequently is, not simply of some clear thinker to disentangle the perplexities of thought, but of capacity in the combatants to do justice to the clearest explanations which are set before them,—so much so, that the luminous arbitration only gives rise, perhaps, to more hopeless altercation. "Is a constitutional government better for a population than an absolute rule?" What a number of points have to be clearly apprehended before we are in a position to say one word on such a question! What is meant by "constitution"? by "constitutional government"? by "better"? by "a population"? {499} and by "absolutism"? The ideas represented by these various words ought, I do not say, to be as perfectly defined and located in the minds of the speakers as objects of sight in a landscape, but to be sufficiently, even though incompletely, apprehended, before they have a right to speak. "How is it that democracy can admit of slavery, as in ancient Greece?" "How can Catholicism flourish in a republic?" Now, a person who knows his ignorance will say, "These questions are beyond me;" and he tries to gain a clear notion and a firm hold of them; and, if he speaks, it is as investigating, not as deciding. On the other hand, let him never have tried to throw things together, or to discriminate between them, or to denote their peculiarities, in that case he has no hesitation in undertaking any subject, and perhaps has most to say upon those questions which are most new to him. This is why so many men are one-sided, narrow-minded, prejudiced, crotchety. This is why able men have to change their minds and their line of action in middle age, and to begin life again, because they have followed their party, instead of having secured that faculty of true perception as regards intellectual objects which has accrued to them, without their knowing how, as regards the objects of sight.

But this defect will never be corrected,—on the contrary, it will be aggravated,—by those popular institutions to which I referred just now. The displays of eloquence, or the interesting matter contained in their lectures, the variety of useful or entertaining knowledge contained in their libraries, though admirable in themselves, and advantageous to the student at a later stage of his course, never can serve as a substitute for methodical and laborious teaching. A young man of sharp and active intellect, who has had no other training, has little to show for it besides {500} a litter of ideas heaped up into his mind anyhow. He can utter a number of truths or sophisms, as the case may be, and one is as good to him as another. He is up with a number of doctrines and a number of facts, but they are all loose, and straggling, for he has no principles set up in his mind round which to aggregate and locate them. He can say a word or two on half a dozen sciences, but not a dozen words on any one. He says one thing now, and another thing presently; and when he attempts to write down distinctly what he holds upon a point in dispute, or what he understands by its terms, he breaks down, and is surprised at his failure. He sees objections more clearly than truths, and can ask a thousand questions which the wisest of men cannot answer; and withal, he has a very good opinion of himself, and is well satisfied with his attainments, and he declares against others, as opposed to the spread of knowledge altogether, who do not happen to adopt his ways of furthering it, or the opinions in which he considers it to result.

This is that barren mockery of knowledge which comes of attending on great Lecturers, or of mere acquaintance with reviews, magazines, newspapers, and other literature of the day, which, however able and valuable in itself, is not the instrument of intellectual education. If this is all the training a man has, the chance is that, when a few years have passed over his head, and he has talked to the full, he wearies of talking, and of the subjects on which he talked. He gives up the pursuit of knowledge, and forgets what he knew, whatever it was; and, taking things at their best, his mind is in no very different condition from what it was when he first began to improve it, as he hoped, though perhaps he never thought of more than of amusing himself. I say, "at the best," for perhaps he will suffer from exhaustion and a distaste of the {501} subjects which once pleased him; or perhaps he has suffered some real intellectual mischief; perhaps he has contracted some serious disorder, he has admitted some taint of scepticism, which he will never get rid of.

And here we see what is meant by the poet's maxim, "A little learning is a dangerous thing." Not that knowledge, little or much, if it be real knowledge, is dangerous; but that many a man considers a mere hazy view of many things to be real knowledge, whereas it does but mislead, just as a short-sighted man sees only so far as to be led by his uncertain sight over the precipice.

Such, then, being true cultivation of mind, and such the literary institutions which do not tend to it, I might proceed to show you, Gentlemen, did time admit, how, on the other hand, that kind of instruction of which our Evening Classes are a specimen, is especially suited to effect what they propose. Consider, for instance, what a discipline in accuracy of thought it is to have to construe a foreign language into your own; what a still severer and more improving exercise it is to translate from your own into a foreign language. Consider, again, what a lesson in memory and discrimination it is to get up, as it is called, any one chapter of history. Consider what a trial of acuteness, caution, and exactness, it is to master, and still more to prove, a number of definitions. Again, what an exercise in logic is classification, what an exercise in logical precision it is to understand and enunciate the proof of any of the more difficult propositions of Euclid, or to master any one of the great arguments for Christianity so thoroughly as to bear examination upon it; or, again, to analyze sufficiently, yet in as few words as possible, a speech, or to draw up a critique upon a poem. And so of any other science,— {502} chemistry, or comparative anatomy, or natural history; it does not matter what it is, if it be really studied and mastered, as far as it is taken up. The result is a formation of mind,—that is, a habit of order and system, a habit of referring every accession of knowledge to what we already know, and of adjusting the one with the other; and, moreover, as such a habit implies, the actual acceptance and use of certain principles as centres of thought, around which our knowledge grows and is located. Where this critical faculty exists, history is no longer a mere story-book, or biography a romance; orators and publications of the day are no longer infallible authorities; eloquent diction is no longer a substitute for matter, nor bold statements, or lively descriptions, a substitute for proof. This is that faculty of perception in intellectual matters, which, as I have said so often, is analogous to the capacity we all have of mastering the multitude of lines and colours which pour in upon our eyes, and of deciding what every one of them is worth.


But I should be transgressing the limits assigned to an address of this nature were I to proceed. I have not said any thing, Gentlemen, on the religious duties which become the members of a Catholic University, because we are directly concerned here with your studies only. It is my consolation to know that so many of you belong to a Society or Association, which the zeal of some excellent priests, one especially, has been so instrumental in establishing in your great towns. You do not come to us to have the foundation laid in your breasts of that knowledge which is highest of all: it has been laid already. You have begun your mental training {503} with faith and devotion; and then you come to us to add the education of the intellect to the education of the heart. Go on as you have begun, and you will be one of the proudest achievements of our great undertaking. We shall be able to point to you in proof that zeal for knowledge may thrive even under the pressure of secular callings; that mother-wit does not necessarily make a man idle, nor inquisitiveness of mind irreverent; that shrewdness and cleverness are not incompatible with firm faith in the mysteries of Revelation; that attainment in Literature and Science need not make men conceited, nor above their station, nor restless, nor self-willed. We shall be able to point to you in proof of the power of Catholicism to make out of the staple of great towns exemplary and enlightened Christians,—of those classes which, external to Ireland, are the problem and perplexity of patriotic statesmen, and the natural opponents of the teachers of every kind of religion.

As to myself, I wish I could by actual service and hard work of my own respond to your zeal, as so many of my dear and excellent friends, the Professors of the University, have done and do. They have a merit, they have a claim on you, Gentlemen, in which I have no part. If I admire the energy and bravery with which you have undertaken the work of self-improvement, be sure I do not forget their public spirit and noble free devotion to the University any more than you do. I know I should not satisfy you with any praise of this supplement of our academical arrangements which did not include those who give to it its life. It is a very pleasant and encouraging sight to see both parties, the teachers and the taught, co-operating with a pure esprit-de-corps thus voluntarily,—they as fully as you can do,— {504} for a great object; and I offer up my earnest prayers to the Author of all good, that He will ever bestow on you all, on Professors and on Students, as I feel sure He will bestow, Rulers and Superiors, who, by their zeal and diligence in their own place, shall prove themselves worthy both of your cause and of yourselves.


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1. University Gazette, No. 42, p. 420.
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2. Vid. supr. p. 231.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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