A Letter from Cambridge
[To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR.]
SIR,—The illusion shared by the passive Wordsworth and the passionate Lear, that the heavens respond to what we feel, carries conviction in the summer term. Heavy skies, sunless heats, strange freezings, feverish damps, thunder and snow, respond admirably to the doubt, despair, deathbed repentance, headache and hectic flush of the Tripos candidate. The day of reckoning arrives, and then the eye of heaven shines out bright as a button. The river shimmers, the but- tercups blaze, the lawns are deserted. In labs. and halls and Senate House youth grunts and sweats : "And the day shall have a sun, Which shall make thee wish it done."
What, then, are the examinations for ? What do they test ? Is it knowledge ? Presumably so ; for the new library risi s apace, gaunt and forbidding ; its girders frown upon the college gardens ; Trinity and King's plant poplars in vain ; they cannot shut out the vast water tower in which Rapunzel (the Librarian) is to be immured. Is the examinee proving his right to an office stool in the family business ? Some parents would say so. Or are the young men here to have a good time and learn incidentally to carry their liquor and keep a straight bat ? Many fathers hold this view. Mean- while among the scholars and the Blues, the Philistines and the Laodiceans there may lurk a nursling of immortality, a Spenser, a Newton. These problems (familiar as Higher Certificate essay questions) naturally present themselves at this season, and the publication of a volume called Cambridge University Studies is apt.
Its authors are mostly Kingsmen, and Kingsmen are reputed to believe more in education than in research. There is a grave omission. I do not refer to Economics, although Cambridge claims pre-eminence in that subject ; it is said that a chaj)ter was begun by a man (King's again) so scrupulous and diffident that he is not known ever to have completed any written work. The subject to which I refer is Divinity, with its six Professors (the Lady Margaret Chair was founded in 1502) and many lecturers. One is curious as to the present nature of the study which trained the in- tellectuals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Are there lectures on the Angelic Doctor, attended by the moral scientists and by the disciples of Mr. T. S. Eliot and John Donne ? But despite omissions, despite the regrettable dis- cretion of some contributors and the apparent indifference of others to the central problem raised by the rival claims of the average undergraduate and the advancement of learning, this volume provides food for thought. Science, of course, gets away with it. We read of the eye of the conger eel, of gold leaf and tin cans, of sealing wax and plasticine, of respirators for use on Mount Everest ; it is a felicitous combination of mediaeval alchemy and Hobbies for Boys. Mr. C. P. Snow, in his elu- cidation of Chemistry, warns Cambridge men against provinci- ality and, with a passing mention of cricket, chorus girls and Dorothy Sayers, tells us that anyone who has solved a Tor- quemada puzzle will be able with a little training to become a successful molecular spectroscopist. "What," says Johnson, "should books' teach but the art of living ? " We turn to the humanities. History today outstrips the Classics in our places of education, and we find Mr. R. E. Balfour suggesting that history is a more philosophical thing than poetry. He advocates its study for much the same reasons that Arnold em- ployed when advertising literature as the cure for both Vic- torian swollen head and Victorian low spirits. Culture, disin- terestedness, criticism of life, moral ideas, the best that is thought in the world—the slogans of that gallant adversary of the Philistines all come to mind as one reads Mr. Balfour's impersonal, impartial essay. Is history an art or a science ? Is it education or research ? As the Cambridge Histories do .not, like the novels of Balzac, occupy one shelf, one looks for some comments on writing, teaching and examining in the University ; one looks for an estimate of the second part of the Tripos, but one looks in vain. Mr. Balfour's tone is the tone of Gray's Elegy, and he closes on a note of philosophic, gloom. Perhaps the chapter on Classics will enlighten us ? Ice ; discretion reigns supreme. The Cambridge Ancient
History we are told has had its antagonists, but there is much
to be said on both sides, and this apparently was not the place to say it. Mr. Hallward's chapter is a mosaic of admirable
extracts from the inaugural lectures and addresses of his
seniors, and our mouths are stopped by an imposing biblio- graphy. But, we clamour, is Part II satisfactory ? Does it
cater too exclusively for the specialist ? Is the rotation of subjects .in Section A prudent, which will compel a candidate born in a particular year to take Bucolic or Comedy instead of Tragedy or Epic ? Was a particle of the magnificent Law- rence benefaction set aside to provide (once in three years) a
fraction of the cost of staging a Greek Play? (This is a nun/ question and expects the answer " No.") The fact is that only one of these young contributors is a rebel, and he is the oldest of them. Mr. F. L. Lucas deals scrupulously with that versatile combination of logic, psychology and criticism which is I. A. Richards, and follows his exposition with an exposure of the dangers of research. He might well here have quoted Words- worth's admonition to teachers in a Letter to The Friend. Arrogance and acidity and jargon are very catching. They corrupt unseen. "Of all the cants which are canted in this canting world—though the cant of hypocrites may be the worst—the cant of criticism is the most tormenting." English however prospers in Cambridge, despite the opposition of College tutors and that native distrust of the arts which has made England what she is. The opposition would be dimin- ished if the Faculty reverted to a single examination, one which could only be taken as a sequel to another Tripos. As to lectures, the usual quotation from Johnson appears, and Mr. Lucas dubs them an antiquated abomination. The remedy —in English at any rate—is to enable and encourage lecturers to show off the paces of their own particular Hobby Horse, instead of conducting Cook's Tours with a loud speaker and high-speed charabanc. . Like the "young men whom Aristotle thought unfit to hear moral philosophy "—a study which one gathers from Mr. Braithwaite's chapter has abandoned the spirit for the letter—I have perhaps " glozed but superficially" on prob- blems of education in the university. One positive event re- mains to be reported, as awe-inspiring as Mr. P. M. S. Blackett's isolation of the positive electron, which has been followed, by the way, by his election to the Royal Society and appoint- ment to a London Chair. Professor Housman delivered the Leslie Stephen lecture on the Name and Nature of Poetry. Masters of Arts thronged the Senate House but fewer under- graduates than one anticipated leant from the gallery to see the man who edited Manillas and composed A Shropshire Lad : an academic paradox comparable with C. L. Dodgson and Lewis Carroll. Perhaps Mr. Ezra Pound would have attracted the young. Professor Housman is too little read in Cambridge ; too much, one is told, in Oxford. Perhaps there will be more to applaud Mr. W. B. Yeats when he takes his Honorary Degree than there were to listen to the man whose candid and emphatic prose shows him the peer of Samuel Johnson, whose verse has the rarity and classic grace of Ben. At any rate Dr. Richards' classes have pored over broad sheets showing the Irish poet's early, middle and late manner ; and gossip reports a comment on Professor Housman's lecture-: "It will take us experts years to undo all this." The younger generation were certainly taken aback by the dismissal of the Metaphysicals and by a restatement of the doctrine of poisie pure. A poem, they would retort, is a combination and not an aggregate of qualities, and because there is an essential element without which poetry cannot exist, it is not therefore the quintessence of poetry. If—a giant if—the intellectual, the emotional and the musical elements are once fused, they become, like the loves of the Phoenix and the Turtle, an indivisible unity. Scholasticism taught that the soul is one and indissoluble ; that the heavenly bodies are made up of elements but are compounds between whose elements there is no contrariety; non enim invenitur cor- ruptio nisi ubi invenitur contrarietas. The young disciples of Coleridge, who in Cambridge today explore his definition of the imagination, would claim that the oneness of Blake and the harmonious compound of Keats, even the discordia concors of Donne may equally result in a poem.—I am, Sir, &e.,
YOUR CAMBRIDGE CORRESPONDENT.