The Supplemental Charter

From Modern Ireland: Its Vital Questions, Secret Societies, and Government, 1868

By 'An Ulsterman'

The grant of the Supplemental Charter to the Queen's University has been made the occasion of heaping odium on Mr. Gladstone and the Liberal party. The fortunate chance which gave their opponents the reins of power immediately after, gave them also opportunities of conspicuously displaying their virtuous indignation; whilst the fate that brought the disputed legal questions before Conservative judges, though it may not have influenced the tedious judgment, availed to have it pointed with a sneer.

The opposition which the Supplemental Charter encountered would seem surprising, were it not a matter of notoriety that monopolies never relax their hold, without a desperate struggle. Religious and political passions were evoked to oppose it, and yet the alteration was only an extension of powers given to the University to enable it to affiliate colleges, and admit to degrees persons whom it thought qualified. That indeed meant that the students of the Catholic University College would be relieved of the penal ban which forbade them to obtain degrees; and the party which resisted Catholic emancipation resisted this, objecting, as usual, that the enfranchised Catholics would come down, in a flood, and overwhelm everything.

There were others who sincerely, but erroneously, believed it would prove the cause of immediate ruin to the Queen's Colleges. They argued that the Catholic clergy would compel the students of their persuasion to go to Dublin, to the Catholic College; but then, on the other hand, some of them proclaimed that, though they objected to the Supplemental Charter, they had no such ineradicable objection to a chartered Catholic University. It is impossible to see how the same reasons do not apply in both cases. A different theory was started by the President of the Queen's College, Galway, and has obtained some popularity in certain quarters. He undertook to show that young Irish students were devoted to the mixed system, and resented any alteration. He omitted to prove one great point, namely, that these colleges, with only a very small minority of Catholic professors, are good representatives of the mixed system, and are esteemed as such. He passed over the important fact, also, that these colleges would remain as they were, and that the University would still be conducted on the mixed system, because it would still continue to examine students of different religious persuasions; the only difference being that the number of Catholics going up for examination would be more near their proper proportion than before, and that the increase came from a denominational college.

Mr. Berwick, like most others connected with the Queen's Colleges, is an estimable, upright, and honourable gentleman, but here we have simply a question of reasoning to deal with. What argument, then, does he bring forward in support of his view? This, that the moment the Supplemental Charter was issued to widen the doors of the University, students began to desert the three Colleges which had heretofore en-joyed the monopoly of it. That this should be cited as a proof of their attachment to the mixed system looks very much like irony on Mr. Berwick's part; but he intends nothing of the kind. The change effected by the Supplemental Charter left it to the discretion of the Senate to select what college or colleges they thought fit for affiliation; but it placed the students of the already affiliated Colleges in no worse position than before. There would have been under its operation a few more candidates presenting themselves for degrees and university honours, but the apprehension of that could frighten none but the fainthearted. It is Mr. Berwick's fancy, however, that what scared away students was the dread of the Colleges becoming sectarianized. Such conduct is unusual with devotees. Commonly when the object they hold dear is exposed to attack, they rush to uphold it. The best defence of this College system would have been to show that it had so won the hearts of the people that the halls were crowded. Besides, it would have been expected that if it were something they fervently admired, they would wish to enjoy its benefits as long as they could, and make a special display of this desire at the moment when they feared they might soon loose it for ever. Instead of this, we are asked to believe that they have set at nought or contravened all the ordinary laws which regulate the manifestations of the affections—that they have fled from what they loved, refused what they wished, and neglected what they desired to uphold. "Here again another proof is afforded of the devotion of the laity to unsectarian institutions," writes Mr. Berwick, when describing the decrease of the last two years "when the mere suspicion that the sectarian element was to be introduced into the Colleges has already scared so many of all persuasions from their class-rooms."

The diminution, in the two years, in the number of entrances has been to the extent of 27 members of the Established Church, 19 Catholics, 27 Presbyterians, and 2 members of other denominations—in all of 75—so runs his return. If the absent men were scared away, it would have been interesting to be told to what per centage each denomination had been subject to the influence of fear of change. Although we have not had this given, we find material for another equally interesting calculation. In Galway College the number of Presbyterians entering, for instance, amounted, in the session 1858-9, to 7 students; in the succeeding sessions, it reached in each, respectively, to 1, 12, 6, 16, 11, 13, 10, and to 7 again in the session just over. Was it a confidence in the permanence of the mixed system that raised the number of entering Presbyterians from 1 in 1859-60 to 12 in 1860-61? And, if so, how comes it that we have the inverse of this fluctuation shown in the case of the non-matriculated students, who, numbering 5 entries in 1859-60, could show but 1 in 1860-1? Did those specified as "non-matriculated students" see cause for despair where the "Presbyterians" discerned ground for twelve-fold hope? Again, the entries of members of the Established Church increased only by 1 in the years named, rising from 12 to 13. Are they more tepid or merely less sanguine than their dissenting brethren? One "Independent," and one classed under the head of "Various," entered for the session of 1859-60; during the three and two years following, respectively, none of either class entered at all. Consequently we have the Presbyterians increasing by twelve times their number; the members of the Established Church by one-twelfth; the non-matriculated diminishing to one-fifth, and the Independents and "Various" disappearing totally. Before accepting Mr. Berwick's explanation of the last two years, we should require him to show cause for fluctuations so dissimilar. Taking the students as these returns exhibit them, it is plain that a uniform rule does not govern their increase or diminution; and to reason from either increase or diminution in any way which supposes the uniform action of the same cause is clearly full of risk. We see that, in 1866-7, the number of Presbyterians entering was 7, the same exactly as it had been the eighth session before. What is very singular is that the eighth session previous to that exhibits again the mystic number 7. Their record of entrances may thus be divided into cycles; and there are men who would oppose to Mr. Berwick's lamentation the theory that an inexorable natural law has caused the falling-off in this instance, and that his deductions are so far untenable. Indeed, if it be the "mere suspicion of sectarianism" that accounts for the decrease during the years 1865, 1866, the Wesleyan Methodists must be the least suspicious people alive; for during these two sessions they show in Galway the largest number of entrances they ever had! Never exceeding 2 any previous year, they stood at zero in the session 1864-5, whilst in those two years they had increased to 3 in either session. In Belfast, also, they reached their maximum in 1866-7. Never previously having shown a number of entrances greater than 6, and that only once, they stood at 3 in the fourth, and 3 in the fifth year back. In 1865-6, however, they had increased to 5, and in 1866-7, they had risen to the unexampled number of 10. These figures weaken the force of Mr. Berwick's argument and spoil the pathos of his appeal for immobility.

He is not much happier on one or two other vital points. In his report for the year ending on the 31st of March, 1866, it became his duty to point out the great and sudden interruption which had occurred in the progress of the Galway College as well as in that of its sister institutions in Belfast and Cork. Instead of an increase there had been a decrease, the "attendances on lectures being in session 1864-5, 837; in 1865-6, 788" Nor did the entrances into the Colleges, he adds, exhibit a more satisfactory result than the attendances on lectures. These entrances which had risen from 207 in session 1859-60, to 388 in 1864 -5, fell in 1865-6 to 241. For various reasons Galway College has felt the change most of all; but the statistics of 1866-7 not only as regards it, but as regards all the Colleges, will, he believes, justify the warfare against the Supplemental Charter. The numbers attending lectures in the three Colleges, which in 1865-6 amounted still to 788, have in
1866-7 further decreased to 732. The entrances, which in 1865-6 reached 241, have still further diminished to 213. The diminution of numbers attending lectures in the several Colleges may be shown as follows:—

Belfast Cork Galway
1864-5 405 263 169
1866-7 384 230 135

The entrances, he adds, have fallen with still greater precipitance. In Belfast, in the sessions named, they decreased from 135 to 105; in Cork from 90 to 76; in Galway from 70 to 44. "Little wonder is it," runs his comment, "that the policy adopted by the late Government, and embodied in the Supplemental Charter, should have been received with exultation by all the enemies of the Colleges, who, while, obtaining from the new Charter no one additional substantial privilege for the institutions they support, saw in its immediate operation the results I have just described —in its slower but equally sure effects the overthrow of one, if not of two of these institutions."

As a matter of fact, was there at the beginning of the session of 1865-6 any such public certainty of the speedy grant of the Supplemental Charter as would reasonably account for the falling off in the number of entrances, supposing for the moment that the granting of it would really have the effect of frightening away intending students? On referring to the Report of the President of the Belfast College we find his statement suggesting a radically different view from that entertained by Mr. Berwick: "During the session of 1866-7, 387 students were in attendance in the different departments of the College," he says—" precisely the same number that appeared on the. rolls in the session 1863-4." It is to be remarked that he adds that in the two intervening years the attendance had been "unusually" large. "Taking into consideration," he continues, "the diminution still going on in the population of this country, the incessant demand in this locality for the services of young men in the various departments of business and trade, the establishment of new seats of learning in various places, the increase in the number of 154 students on the rolls in the year 1854, up to 387 in the present year, must be regarded as a gratifying and encouraging result." There is no word of the Supplemental Charter here—no word of the effect of the shadow it cast before. But the question of "unusually large" attendance is worth following up; it may be found to cover more than the two years specified.

On examination of the tabular returns, there seems to have been something peculiar in the session of 1860 -61. At that date the Colleges appear to have suddenly become more interesting to students. In Belfast, for instance, the number of entrances had fluctuated from 93 in 1850-51 to 90 in 1859-60, always keeping below this figure, and once reaching only 54. The number 90 in 1859-60 was an increase of but two on the number of the preceding year. In 1860-61, however, it had sprung at one bound from 90 to 137, rising in the next session to 152, but afterwards gradually subsiding again until in 1866 it had sunk to 106, or more nearly its former level. In Galway College the total number of entrances reached its highest point, before the eventful session in the year 1858-59 (excluding, of course, the number recorded for the opening year of the College). At the date named it amounted to 48, being an increase of 5 on the two preceding sessions; it decreased, however, by 8 next year, the session of 1859-60 having had only 40 entrances. Notwithstanding this, in the peculiar session of 1860-61 it jumped up and reached the unexampled total of 60, gradually increasing for two or three years, and then subsiding again. Its record of 44 for 1866 shows a return to the original state, after its transitory fever-fit. In Cork College, likewise, there was a fluctuation in the number of entrances from 99 in 1850-1 to 87 in 1859-60; never at any intervening time did they exceed or even equal the lesser of these two totals. However, here again we find a curious augmentation shown in 1860-1, when the number reached 102, fitfully increasing afterwards, and gradually subsiding till in 1866-7 it reached 76, which is much nearer its former or ordinary state. For in one year only (1855-6) between the periods named did it reach 77, generally keeping under 70, and once falling to 56.

What then can have been the cause of this sudden access of prosperity which flashed over the Colleges in 1860-1, and which, by its transitory brightness, has left men discontented with what formerly satisfied them? We fail to trace any direct connection with the great Charter question here. The public, however, need be at no loss for a satisfactory reason, which will furnish means for solving more problems than one in connection with these returns of the three presidents.

At the period named certain assaults on the Colleges had made the public more fully aware than it had been of the rich prizes which they offered to students; and when it was denounced that sometimes there were more prizes than pupils, and that scholarships which would, it was said, be given even to incompetent lads, went begging for lack of anybody to ask for them. a number of enquirers naturally resolved to present themselves at once. Add to this that, on account of denunciations of failure, founded on a paucity of regular students, the College professors who superintend the matriculation examinations relaxed their rigour. They passed all they could, naturally wishing to furnish material for rebutting the case made against the institutions. But a chief part in producing the result must be assigned to the movement set on foot by Sir Robert Peel for providing yet more and richer prizes for Queen's College students. He crowned the agitation he created by an offer of £1,200, at the first public meeting of the University in October, 1861. This sum was to be devoted to founding three exhibitions of £40 each, to be competed for annually for ten year; and it was afterwards increased by a collection amongst the Castle officials, the University officials, and the College officials, and the few friends of those institutions generally. The agitation and the increased stimulus had their effect at the time; but like all things factitious, the excitement died down in a few years, and matters appear to have resumed their usual aspect, in spite of the increase in prizes. In the Report of the President of Cork College we find this waif, which sufficiently indicates a preceding laxity at the matriculation examination. After the examinations for entrance held in October, 1866, sixty new students were entered as Matriculated Students to the First Year's Class, "as were also twenty-five students who had previously matriculated, but who, from not having been promoted, or from other causes being disqualified from proceeding with the higher studies of a senior class, were therefore required to re-enter the class of the first year, and to resume the more elementary courses."

Probably the other Colleges could tell a similar tale if they liked. But the President of Galway College is too much perplexed with fears of change, and the President of Belfast College is too greatly delighted with the exquisite example of mixed education exhibited there, to attend to such things. "If an illustration were required of the practicability and advantage of united education," says the latter gentleman, "this College incontestably furnishes it: its authorities, its professors, its officers, its students, belong to different churches and creeds."

The "incontestable illustration" resolves itself into this:—There is no Catholic amongst the office-bearers (two of whom are Protestant Clergymen), and only one on the roll of professors; and as for the "authorities" the President, a Protestant clergyman, sits in council with seven Protestant councillors round him!

Not the least important lesson derivable from these Reports is to be found in the fact that they unconsciously reveal the existence of a body of student material which, except under very extraordinary circumstances, lies beyond the reach of the Queen's Colleges.