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ART. VII.—Memoir of Edward Copleston, D.D., Bishop of Llan
daff, with Selections from his Diary and Correspondence. By WILLIAM JAMES COPLESTON, M.A., Rector of Cromhall, Gloucestershire, and late Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford. London, 1851.
ASSOCIATED as is the name of Copleston with the revival of learning at Oxford, and with the progress of that academical reform which dates from the beginning of the present century, the announcement of the publication of his biography is at once invested with peculiar interest. We forget and forgive the zeal with which an overstrained loyalty to his alma mater betrayed him long since into the palliation of those defects which he, at the same time, strove so manfully to remove, and regard him rather as one of those faithful and diligent pioneers, who, hoping against hope, and struggling against difficulties, cleared the thickets, and removed the obstructions which time, and neglect, and prejudice, and ignorance, had accumulated in that ancient seat of learning. Of his contemporaries, Whately, Senior, Macbride, and others, still survive, to enter into the rich fruit of those labours, in the burden of which they bore a part; but Eveleigh, Cyril Jackson, John Duncan, Arnold, and other noble spirits of the first half of the nineteenth century, now live only in institutions into which they breathed a new energy, in the intellectual life, which still has to buffet with impediments to its free development in the old English universities,—and in the recollection of the few like-minded contemporaries, to whom their memory is sweet. No wonder, then, that we opened, with lively anticipations, a memoir of one of these leading spirits, and that the promise of “extracts from the diary and correspondence" of the late distinguished Provost of Oriel College, beguiled us into an expectation, less of a mere biographical outline of the professed subject of the memoir, than of an insight into the private thoughts and feelings of those other eminent men, mostly now gathered to their fathers, whose names we have been wont to connect with that of Copleston. Possibly, in this calculation, we were not uninfluenced by what is recorded of Pope, that hisexample, and perhaps assistance, produced the letters of Gay, and Bolingbroke, and Swift; and we thus relied on the promised correspondence" as likely to afford us that kind of autobiography of Copleston and his contemporaries, which individuals gradually and insensibly compose in the course of their letters, and which have this advantage over professed “memoirs,” that they exhibit the sentiments and feel
ings of the writers, contrasted with, and of course connected by,
those of their friends and intimates. • With these feelings we turned to the Memoir of one whose name
thirty years ago was so deeply connected with the minute details of academical work in Oxford, who was head of Oriel College when it was styled by Sir James Mackintosh “the school of speculative philosophy in England," and who was himself the associate of some of the most remarkable writers and leaders of opinion whom England has known in this century. We confess that we have laid down the book with feelings of disappointment. But our sense of the interest of the subject urges us to a brief review of a work which, on account of its name, naturally enough falls within the scope of our critical labours, even although we find it necessary to indicate deficiencies, rather than to express satisfaction with the information which is here conveyed to us.
To be candid, we think we discern throughout its pages something like a systematic reserve, arising possibly out of absence of sympathy with the ecclesiastical and political sentiments of the Bishop, and a disposition to exhibit him only in such a light as accords with the predilection of the writer. We have the portraiture of an ideal character, and that somewhat commonplace, created by the selection of parts of an historical one, and the alteration of the proportions which existed between those parts in the original subject. We may truly say that we have but the disjecta membra of one who was certainly, in his day, the “ grande decus columenque rerum Oxoniensium ;" and did we not rely on some private sources of information, we doubt whether we could succeed in constructing ont of the imperfect remains, scattered about at random, any very distinct image. In tracing the narrative, therefore, we shall hope to render good service by indicating some of the particulars in which we believe that the biographer has sinned against his subject, the chasms which appear to us to require to be filled up, and the inaccuracies, which seem to impose on some survivor of the Bishop's acquaintance the task of giving to the world a more ample and correct biography.
The Memoir commences with the birth of Edward Copleston, son of the clergyman of Offwell, Devon, in 1776. His father was descended, through a junior branch, from the ancient stock of Copleston of Copleston, in the same county, settled in Dorsetshire; and it was a favourite occupation of the subject of this biography, in his horæ subsecivæ, to trace out the links which connected him with the family whose name he bore. Amongst its members was another Provost, who presided over King's College, Cambridge, at the period of the Restoration, and of whom a memento, in the form of a silver-gilt cup, presented to him as ViceChancellor of Cambridge, is, we are told, still preserved in the
family. Of the early boyhood of Edward, no record seems to have been preserved, and we are brought, per saltum, to the period of his election to a scholarship at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in his sixteenth year; while, as early as 1793, we find him reciting his poem, “ Marius in tugurio Ruinarum Carthaginiensium,” in the Sheldonian Theatre, on occasion of the installation of the Duke of Portland as Chancellor of the University
The circumstances of his election to a fellowship of Oriel College in 1795, are spoken of as remarkable; for “whereas, in ordinary cases, the candidates present themselves and solicit permission to be admitted to the lists, here, in this case, after examination of a number of competitors, among whom young Copleston was not included, the provost and fellows of Oriel College, it is said, sent for him to C. C. C., and invited him to be chosen into their Society." This is scarcely accurate, or consistent with the terins of an extract from Archdeacon Williams's obituary notice, where the latter states, that “as he left the scene of election, one of them (the fellows) bade him recollect that he owed his preferment to free competition and merit alone.” The real facts were as follows: There was a vacancy in one of those few fellowships at Oriel which are in the first instance limited to particular counties, in case any well-qualified candidate (idoneus) from those counties presents himself. Of this qualification the Statutes constitute the existing electors the judges. Now it has been, and still at the time we are writing is, usual in most societies at Oxford to lower the standard of qualification to the attainments of the county candidates; and to this abuse of endowments is to be traced, to a great extent, that decline of learning which, towards the middle of the last century, had reached its climax. To an abandonment of the practice, on the other hand, may be attributed the lead which the society of Oriel College took, and possessed for a considerable period, and which it still partially retains. It was to a rejection of the county candidates, in application of this principle, after examination, as unfit, that the future provost and bishop owed his election; not that he was invited to be chosen, strictly speaking, but to present himself as a candidate for examination. By noon, however, on the same day, he was elected.
Academical honours now descended thick upon him. In 1796 he obtained the English essay prize on the subject of agriculture, for which he received the thanks of the Agricultural Society, communicated through Sir John Sinclair. He was subsequently appointed to the responsible office of College tutor,
We could have wished for fuller notices than the present Memoir contains of this period of the bishop's life, for according to the concurrent testimony of his friends and pupils, it was as a
College tutor that his influence was most extensively felt, and the somewhat commonplace and tedious details of his declining years, which clog the Memoir, very inadequately compensate us for the absence of information at the more important periods of his life which preceded. The omission is the more inexcusable, as it has given an opportunity for a recent criticism which is undeserved, and which can only be justified on the supposition that all that was to be known of Dr. Copleston was contained in the Memoir given by his relation. Yet a close inspection of the meagre “ correspondence,” which he has here and there interspersed, might have suggested inquiries such as would have led the writer to vindicate the subject of the Memoir from the remark, that he had not imparted anything like " a tone to the age by his labours.” The criticism which we refer to is in terms confined to “ literary” labours indeed, but obviously tends to exclude Bishop Copleston from the list of those benefactors to their generation who have given an impulse to thought, and guided the intellectual tastes of their contemporaries.
This we believe to be untrue. Were the reinark confined even to his work as an author, he can hardly be said to have lavished the stores of long study and severe thought on subjects too ephemeral to command the attention of succeeding generations, much less has he inany competitors in the pregnant thought, compact reasoning, and felicitous illustration with which he arouses the minds of those with whom he lived and for whom he wrote, But it is still less true when applied to his labours in that not less effective sphere of influence, of which the results endure long beyond the memory of their prime movers. “ College tuition,” writes a well informed correspondent and contemporary of Dr. Copleston, “ was after all his forte ; his clearness in explaining, his patience with humble efforts, his power of calling forth whatever a man had in him, to the surprise of all parties in all this he was the best tutor in Oxford, far the best in his day, never exceeded since. His mind during that portion of his life was in its full vigour; the exercise of his faculties was more variable later in life.”
The letter of an old Orielite, Mr. Hughes, also bears strong : testimony to the Bishop's powers of conveying information and disciplining the intellect, and describes the manly and practical habit of mind which pervaded his lectures," with much enthusiasm. To him, in common with his successor in the tutorship, Mr. Davison, (author of those able treatises on Prophecy and on Sacrifice which bear his name,) Mr. Hughes attributes the most extensive influence, both on the minds of the Oriel student, and the tone of the common room at Oriel, which he describes as at the time uniting their society with that of
Whately, Arnold, and other congenial spirits, and rivalling the conversational reputation of Trinity College in the sister University.
With these facts before us, which we have been at some pains to collect, we are disappointed at the absence from this volume of any epistolary or conversational intercourse with either Davison or Arnold, and of any traces of the degree of sympathy or coincidence of opinion between them, on points of educational, social, or political interest, although this may conceivably be partly owing to the absence of any considerable degree of intimacy between them and the provost. With respect to the third name in Mr. Hughes's letter, we have heard it remarked that no stranger could learn from the Memoir alone what warm and close intimacy, extending through half a century, had existed between the Archbishop of Dublin and Dr. Copleston, or that during a large portion of that time the most unrestrained intercourse had been carried on, in relation to nearly all the great subjects, literary, ecclesiastical, and political, which have agitated various sections of society during the period.
The Archbishop, from his college intimacy with Dr. Copleston, might have been able to furnish something of interest as regards the influence exerted by the latter on the minds of his college pupils and contemporaries in lectures or conversation. In a letter given (p. 103) Dr. Whately confesses bis obligation to send a copy of every production of his pen, as to a “kind of lord of the soil," in acknowledgment that from the Bishop he derived the main principles on which he had acted and speculated through life !*
Might not Davison and Arnold have derived similar inspiration from Copleston in their best days, of which such imperfect records are given in this volume? We have at heart our suspicions that the genuine features, which under extensively diversified combinations of character and temperament, belong to what has been styled “The Oriel School," (and we include in it, with Whately, Davison, and Arnold, the names of Hampden, Hawkins, Newman, Hinds, Powell, Pusey and others,) are attributable in no small degree to the guidance of their Provost, and
* Scarcely less decisive is the language of the Prefatory Dedication of the Archbishop's “ Elements of Logic,” addressed to Dr. Copleston, when Dean of Chester, in which he speaks of the latter, “not merely as having originally imparted to him the principles of the science (of Logic), but also as having contri. buted remarks, explanations, and illustrations, relative to the most important points, to so great an amount, that he could hardly consider himself as more than half the author of such portions of the Treatise, as were not borrowed from former publications.” Surely, if the language of this preface is not to be taken as mere compliment, the impulse given to logical studies, both throughout Europe and in the New World by the Archbishop's celebrated Work, as it is here generously shared with, is at least partly attributable to his Provost.