Studies of a Biographer/Jowett's Life
This life of Jowett by two of his most enthusiastic and sympathetic disciples satisfies many demands of the art of biography. Jowett himself loved Boswell's model work as it deserves to be loved, and would have made it the standard of excellence. The unique combination of circumstances which enabled Boswell to turn out a masterpiece has not, and probably never will, be repeated. Jowett, in spite of some resemblances, noted by his biographers, was not a Johnson; and the biographers—the remark is, perhaps, equivocal—are clearly not Boswells. Boswell had the tact for selecting only such trifles as were characteristic, and I fear that they do not fully share that quality. Still, with the help of Jowett's letters and written meditations, they have brought us face to face with the man; and should enable us to form a distinct portrait of a very interesting figure. One result may be emphatically recognised at the outset. Nobody can lay down these volumes without feeling that Jowett deserved the affection of his friends. He had his weaknesses, like Johnson; but we feel in his case, .as in Johnson's, that the core of the man's nature was sweet, sound, and masculine. This is part of the explanation of a problem which, I must confess, has often appeared to me, as to others, to be rather enigmatic. What was the secret and the real nature of Jowett's remarkable influence? I had not the advantage of coming within his personal sphere, nor even of belonging to his beloved University. I had, however, the good fortune of knowing at an early period some of the group, among whom, as we are told, 'there sprang up what outsiders termed a sort of Jowett worship,' That group, it is added, did not form a 'mutual admiration society.' One reason is obvious: the bond of union was personal. The worship of Newman or of Carlyle meant, as a rule, sympathy with certain dogmas or the acceptance of a particular set of shibboleths, which at once marked a man as representing a distinctive tendency in theology or politics. This could certainly not be said of Jowett's worshippers. Jowett did not himself accept any articulate philosophical doctrine. The admiration, therefore, was mainly for the man himself; and might be common to people who, starting from a general liberalism—to use the vaguest possible word—had reached very different conclusions; and might be followers of Comte, or of Hegel, or even careless Gallios, capable of very sharp criticisms both of their master and of each other. The outsider, meanwhile, was a little in the dark as to the precise nature of a tie which united the central member to disciples who dispersed along so many diverging radii.
The problem was the more difficult to a member of the sister University. An interesting essay might, I fancy, be written upon the nature and origin of the difference between the Oxford and the Cambridge spirit. Whatever the cause, one distinction is marked. Oxford has long been fertile in prophets; in men who cast a spell over a certain number of disciples, and not only propagate ideas, but exercise a personal sway. At Cambridge no such leader, so far as I can remember, presented himself in my time; and, moreover, Cambridge men were generally inclined to regard their apparent barrenness with a certain complacency. Spiritual guides are troublesome personages. A prophet, perhaps we thought, is apt to be a bit of a humbug, and at any rate a cause of humbug in others. We had some very vigorous and excellent tutors, but they were rather anxious to disavow than to assert any such personal influence as is independent of downright logical argument. Perhaps this was partly due to the mathematical turn of Cambridge studies. At the time when Oxford was dimly troubled by the first rumours about German theology, Cambridge reformers were chiefly concerned to introduce a knowledge of the new methods of mathematical analysis, to which Englishmen had been blinded by a superstitious reverence for Newton. That was an excellent aim; but, of course, you cannot appeal to men's 'souls' in the name of the differential calculus. Even when Cambridge men took to the study of classical literature, they stuck to good, tangible matters of grammatical construction without bothering themselves about purely literary or philosophical interests. They did not deny the existence of the soul; but knew that it should be kept in its proper place. It may be an estimable entity; but it also generates 'fads' and futile enthusiasms and gushing sentimentalisms. It should not be unduly stimulated in early years, but kept in due subordination to the calm understanding occupied with positive matters of fact. The opposite view is indicated by a remark of Jowett's upon Dr. Arnold. Arnold had his weak points intellectually, says Jowett, 'but in that one respect of inspiring others with ideals, there has been no one like him in modern times.' Arnold, beyond a doubt, was an admirable person; and few cases of the value of influence as understood by Oxford men are more remarkable. Considering the shortness of his life and the limits of his position, the impression which he made upon his contemporaries is not short of surprising. To the average reader of to-day it is probably interpreted for the most part by Tom Brown's Schooldays. That is a charming book, even when one's schooldays are over; but it then suggests certain misgivings. The Rugby men had their weaknesses. '"What a good man Walrond is!" said Professor Sellar to Matthew Arnold. "Ah!" replied Arnold, "we were all so good at Rugby." "Yes," retorted Sellar, "but he kept it up."' They all, as it seems to an outsider, 'kept it up.' The very tone of voice of a true Rugbeian implied, modestly but firmly, that he was endowed with a 'moral consciousness.' He had a quasi-official right to share the lofty view which he had imbibed at the feet of the master. He always seemed to be radiating virtuous influences. A conscience is, no doubt, a very useful possession in early years. But when a man has kept one till middle life, he ought to have established a certain modus vivendi with it; it should be absorbed and become part of himself not a separate faculty delivering oracular utterances. The amiable weakness of the Rugby school was a certain hypertrophy of the conscience. It had become unpleasantly obtrusive and self-assertive. In other words, they were decidedly apt to be moral prigs.
Jowett's influence was not exactly of this kind, but before asking what it was I must say something of one problem which is forced upon us by this book. Jowett was a man of wide philosophical culture. He was prominent in Oxford society during some remarkable intellectual changes. He lived there for some fifty-seven years. As an undergraduate he was a looker-on at the singular and slightly absurd phenomenon called the Oxford Movement, and keenly interested in the contest finally brought to a head by his friend W. G. Ward. Soon afterwards he was a leading tutor, at a time when the most vigorous youths at Oxford were inclining rather in the direction of J. S. Mill, and some of them becoming disciples of Comte. His edition of St. Paul's Epistles made him an arch-heretic in the eyes of the High Church party, and his simultaneous appointment to the Greek Professorship gave the chance, of which its members were foolish enough to avail themselves, of putting him in the position of a martyr of free thought. His share in the Essays and Reviews (1860) made him a representative man in a wider sphere. Though we have now got to the stage of affecting astonishment at the sensation produced by the avowal of admitted truths in that work, nobody who remembers the time can doubt that it marked the appearance of a very important development of religious and philosophical thought. The controversy raised by Essays and Reviews even distracted men for a time from the far more important issues raised by the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. Jowett, then a little over forty, was no doubt old enough to have some settled convictions, but young enough to be fully awake to the significance of the definite invasion of the old system of thought by the new doctrines of evolution and historical method. When, in 1870, he became Master of Balliol he was succeeded in the tutorship by his attached friend, T. H. Green, who introduced the Hegelianism which has since become so conspicuous in English philosophy, and had already been studied by Jowett. What may be the true meaning and tendency of these varying phases of opinion is a question to be answered by the rising generation. This, at least, is evident—Jowett was a man of mark and intellectual authority at a time when vital questions were being eagerly agitated and the most various conclusions reached. What had he to say to them? Will the future historian of English thought be able to show that any of the important contributions to speculation bear the impress of Jowett's intellect? The movement of the different currents of thought is too wide and complicated to be explained by any individual influence; but we might look to such a man as the best representative of some definite tendency, or at least as having been a valuable expounder of some important aspect.
Is any phase of speculation marked by Jowett's personal stamp? That is the question which one naturally asks about a man who is a well-known writer upon philosophy, and one can hardly deny that the answer must be unequivocally in the negative. Jowett's biographers hold that he might have said something very important if he had found time. He had himself a lasting ambition to be a teacher. He had a habit of drawing out plans for future work. At the age of seventy he laid down a scheme for eight years of work: one year upon Plato, two upon Moral Philosophy, two upon a Life of Christ, one upon Sermons, and two upon a History of Early Greek Philosophy. We admire the sanguine spirit of the man; we feel his illusions to be pathetic; we envy the power of believing that at the fag-end of life, tasks can still be achieved which, taken separately, might well require years of devotion at the period of highest vitality. To most of us elders any similar fancies are as impossible as fancies of a sledge-journey to the North Pole. We may most sincerely regret that we cannot cherish them. We might do more than we shall ever actually do if we could only continue to aim at a mark beyond our range; and it must be placed to Jowett's credit that the impulse to work remained so vigorous when all capacity for achievement was so soon to leave him. But, also, one cannot help asking whether Jowett at his best, and freed from the calls upon his energy, which took up so large a part of his time, could really have done anything great in these directions? What could a Life of Christ have been in his hands? 'Can I write like Renan?' he asks himself; and the answer is too clear. Could he have emulated the industry, close scholarship, and minute criticism of a German professor? That is, perhaps, still more out of the question, and one cannot feel that his failure has lost us anything more than an elegant essay balancing inconsistent theories. Jowett's biographers think that he could have written something of great value upon Moral Philosophy. Happily a man may be an admirable moralist in practice, though very vague in his theory of morals. Jowett might have been an excellent 'moralist' in the old Johnsonian sense—a forcible propounder of practical maxims for life and conduct—but however good the spirit of his discursions into ethics, they certainly do not even suggest any new solution of the old difficulties.
In speaking of Jowett's general position in these matters, Dr. Abbott remarks that he had written passages in his edition of St. Paul's epistles, 'such as no other man of his age has put on paper.' Later distractions, however, made him 'wander into other paths.' He spent years upon his translations of Plato and Thucydides. He was overwhelmed (it is not wonderful) by the greatness of his self-imposed tasks; and the ‘harsh reception of his theological work' disheartened him and made him fear that his writing might do as much harm as good. ‘His sensitive nature received a wound from which it never quite recovered.' These remarks are characteristic, and illustrate painfully the difficulty the seeing oneself as others see us. It may not be strange that Jowett could not understand the impression which he was making; but to any one else the probable reception was obvious. I confess that I cannot see in the essays upon St. Paul what Dr. Abbott sees in them. A cordial admirer, I fully admit, is more likely to be right than one who looks from outside and in a spirit of antagonism. I cannot, indeed, believe by any effort that the passages quite deserve this lofty eulogy, but I gladly admit that Dr. Abbott probably sees real merit to which I am blinded by prejudice or want of sympathy. I read the book, however, when it first appeared; I have turned to it since to verify my impressions; and I confess that I am afraid that they are such as would inevitably occur to any man of plain understanding. One instance will be ample. Jowett writes an essay upon the theory of the Atonement. He holds that the theory as ordinarily stated is repulsive. No unsophisticated mind will accept the doctrine that a just God pardons sinners in consideration of the suffering of a perfectly innocent man. In other words, the dogma as accepted by the Salvation Army, or even by Butler, revolts the conscience. He tries, therefore, to restate it in a variety of ways, and admits that the doctrine, turn and twist it as you will, remains morally objectionable. He suggests by way of escape that the erroneous version is produced by turning rhetoric into logic and mistaking a metaphor, one among many, for a kind of rigid legal formula. That may be true; and we will also suppose that St. Paul meant no more than a metaphor. But a 'metaphor,' unless it be a mere phrase, ought surely to indicate some truth that can be indicated, if not accurately formulated. It is pathetic, and it was once very puzzling, to see how Jowett plays hide-and-seek with this ultimate difficulty. One point is clear to him: the death of Christ was 'the greatest moral act ever done in this world.' It was greater, let us say, than the death of Socrates or of any Christian martyr. If so, it was the most stimulating of examples. But to say that it was merely this is obviously to deprive it of all the old theological significance. It is to say nothing which might not be consistently admitted by Renan, or even by Voltaire, or by the most thorough-going Agnostic. Jowett can only reply by referring to a 'mystery,' though he admits that 'there may seem to be a kind of feebleness in falling back on mystery, when the traditional language of ages is so clear and explicit.' It amounts to saying, he admits, that we not only know nothing, but apparently never can know anything of the 'objective act' of reconciliation between God and man. Meanwhile the true difficulty is to see why there should be any mystery at all. The whole mystery is created by straining metaphors and 'turning rhetoric into logic.' Why not drop it?
The difficulty, of course, is not peculiar to Jowett. I mention it to illustrate the difficulty of the intelligent youth who in those days tried to adopt Jowett as a guide. Such a one felt, if I may adapt one of Johnson's phrases, as though his master had pushed him over a cliff, and advised him to fall softly, or perhaps assured him that he was not falling at all. Before this time Jowett had been flirting with Hegelianism, and, without becoming a thorough-going disciple, was apparently attracted by the opportunities afforded by that system of saying and unsaying a thing at the same time. He puts aside all logical difficulties on the ground that somehow or other contradictory assertions may both be true. ' The notion that no idea can be composed out of two contradictory conceptions seems to arise out of the analogy of the sensible world.' A thing cannot be both white and black (rather white and not white) at the same time. But there is, it appears, no absurdity in supposing that the 'mental analysis even of a matter of fact should involve us in contradictions.' He imagines the 'old puzzles of the Eleatics' to be still insoluble, and infers apparently that we may assume without further trouble both that the will is free and that it is not free. To some philosophers, I am aware, this has a meaning; but to common sense it presents itself simply as a very convenient plan for taking both sides of any important question. In later years, indeed, Jowett, while still having a certain leaning towards Hegel, became suspicious of metaphysics generally. Some knowledge of metaphysics, he says, 'is necessary to enable the mind to get rid of them.' Metaphysics ought, as he was always saying, to be subordinate to 'common sense,' whereas Coleridge had said that 'common sense should be based on metaphysics.'
The effect was that he decided to treat all problems in what he calls (in reference to free-will) the 'only rational way,' that is, 'historically.' You are, that means, to accept beliefs as facts without troubling about their reasons. The result of this method is curiously given in some notes of 1886, which, as Dr. Abbott tells us, were his 'last reflections.' This, says Jowett, is the age of facts which are 'too strong for ideas,' and of criticism which is 'too strong for dogma.' The Christian religion may change till miracles become absurd; the 'hope of immortality' mean 'only the present consciousness of goodness and of God'; the 'personality of God, like the immortality of man, pass into an idea'; 'every moral act' be acknowledged to have a 'physical antecedent,' and 'doctrines become unmeaning words.' Yet, he says, the essence of religion 'may still be self-sacrifice' and so forth—'a doctrine common to Plato and to the Gospel.' This (which is, of course, a rough private note) surely amounts, as the Germans say, to emptying out the baby with the bath. Christianity will be evacuated of every clement which is not common to Plato. Indeed, we may go further. Jowett proceeds to speak of partly accepting Mr. Herbert Spencer's Agnosticism; and though he always spoke with dislike of Comte and of Darwin, it is hard to see what positive objection he could make to either.
I confess, therefore, that I am simply puzzled when I find Jowett professing a belief in 'the best form of Christianity,' and his biographers fully accepting the statements. A Christianity without the supernatural, without doctrines, without immortality, and without a 'personal God' seems to be merely an alias for morality. Neither can I share Prof. Campbell's objection to a phrase of Carlyle. Carlyle, as we are reminded, had proposed an 'exodus from Houndsditch,' and yet 'the moment some one within the camp spoke words of truth and soberness' (that is, in the Essays and Reviews article), broke out with the phrase 'the sentinel who deserts should be shot.' J. S. Mill, on the other hand, as we are reminded, approved of clergymen who remained within the Church so long as they could accept its formulae 'with common honesty.' I agree with both Mill and Carlyle. The prosecutors held sincerely that the essayist was preaching doctrines utterly inconsistent with Christianity. They not only held this sincerely, but I cannot doubt that they were right in their belief. Accept Jowett's version and the Christian services will become an elaborate mystification. 'Prayer,' he says, '(for fine weather and so forth), as at present conducted, is an absurdity,' or 'an ambiguity of the worst kind.' How then could he join in prayers, which involve absurdity and ambiguity at every clause? How at least could he complain that men believing in the absurdities should try to turn him out? To them he appeared as a 'deserter,' or rather a traitor within the camp, and rightly so if judged by the inevitable consequences of his actions. Mill, no doubt, was also right in saying that Jowett was justified in remaining so long as he could do so in 'common honesty.' He did not himself intend the consequences of his actions. His friend Stanley, who, as Carlyle used to say, was always boring holes in the bottom of the Church of England, was yet firmly convinced that he was helping the ship to float. I do not doubt the absolute sincerity of his and Jowett's conviction. But their fellow -passengers, who thought with equal sincerity that they were sending the ship to the bottom, inevitably desired to throw them overboard. Their good intention was no proof of the soundness of their calculation. Undoubtedly they meant well. 'Destroy the Church of England!' said Charles Buller, according to one of the best stories in this book. 'You must be mad! It is the only thing between us and real religion!' Free the Church, that is, from the fetters of Parliament and lay jurisdiction, and you will hand it over to the fanatics. There is doubtless much truth in the epigram, and if for 'real religion' we read 'fanaticism,' Jowett might have accepted the saying. He wished to keep the element of natural belief—of 'soberness and truth'—within the Church; and while he could do so, consistently with 'common honesty,' he was personally justified. But there is another danger. When men of his ability defend the use of superstitious observances as 'metaphorical' or popular versions of truths, they may be playing into the hands of the superstitious. They sanction a device which can be turned against them. Other people will combine superstition and reason to the profit of superstition. Divines have lately discovered how to accept the critical results which shocked readers of Essays and Reviews, and yet to accept the whole theory of priestly magic. The compromise may result in the enslavement of reason instead of the neutralising of superstition. I know not what may be the result to the Church of England, but the enterprise attempted in the best possible faith by Jowett and his friends, seems to be injurious to the higher interests of intellectual honesty. It was a hopeless endeavour to hide irreconcilable contrasts and pretend that they did not exist.
Jowett sincerely held 'Christianity' to be in some shape the great force on the side of the moral elevation of mankind. When removing what seems to others the very essence of the creed, he really supposed himself to be only removing 'incrustations.' That he could hold that position sincerely implies, as I fancy, an intellectual weakness admitted by his biographers. He catches aspects of opinions and expresses them pithily, but he never can concentrate his mind or bring his doctrine to a focus. His writing becomes discontinuous, he wanders round and round problems without distinctly answering them or bringing the whole to an issue. He plays with philosophical principles without ever exactly saying Yes or No. And, therefore, he would seem to be less qualified for exercising an influence than more vigorous, if more one-sided, men. What are you to make of a guide who, so far from saying which is the right path, objects to decidedly committing himself to any one? His pupil Green could at least declare that Hegel would take us out of the labyrinth; but Jowett could only think that perhaps Hegel might lead to some interesting points of view not really so much better than others. Maurice's disciples, again, complained, we are told, that Jowett would persist in silence about their leader. 'I shall never join,' he said in answer, 'with that modern Neoplatonism it is so easy to substitute one mysticism for another.' The same view perhaps made him dislike Carlyle and Froude as romantics, if not charlatans. Newman and the later ritualists represent for him the natural enemies of common sense. But then where would common sense lead? Voltaire, we may say, was an incarnation of common sense, and of Voltaire Jowett asserted, 'somewhat perversely,' that he had done more good than all the fathers of the Church put together. The 'perversity' is obvious, for Voltaire's desire to crush the ' infame ' was clearly not to Jowett's taste. The school which perhaps represented most clearly the development of the eighteenth century philosophy was that of J. S. Mill, but of the Utilitarians Jowett always spoke with marked dislike. Young men, as a rule, like a leader who has some distinct aim, good or bad, and if Jowett were to be judged by that test one would say that no one of his time was less qualified to be a leader. To a distinct view of the importance of some solution he seems to have joined the profound conviction that no conceivable solution would hold water. 'He stood,' says one of his pupils, in a rather different sense, 'at the parting of many ways,' and he wrote, one must add, 'No thoroughfare' upon them all.
Jowett's influence, then, was hardly that of a consistent or confident guide in speculation. It was not less real and perhaps something much better, though to define it precisely would require a personal knowledge which I do not possess. There is abundant proof in these volumes of his great power of attaching men of all varieties. All his friendships, we are told, were life-long. In spite of oddities and little asperities, he never apparently had a personal quarrel. Like Dr. Johnson, he loved women and children, and felt as strongly as the doctor the importance of 'keeping his friendships in repair.' From the earliest Oxford days he formed close alliances; as the old friends dropped off, he drew new recruits from his pupils; and he kept up intimacies with many who had passed to wider scenes of action. A man who is 'nicknameable' must be a good fellow, and the phrase 'Old Jowler,' with its vague suggestion of a surly but trusty watch-dog, fits a man who could attach in spite of external crustiness. There is only one aspect, however, upon which it may be permissible for an outsider to dwell. Jowett, it strikes one forcibly as one reads, was the last and one of the finest products of the old school of 'dons.' He came to the front before the old system had been thrown into distraction by University Commissions, and though he was an important leader during the subsequent changes, he was never in perfect sympathy with reformers who would radically alter the system. I have often wished that some skilful hand would draw a portrait of the old college don before he is finally numbered with the dodos. I present the suggestion to any one in want of a setting for a novel of 'sixty years since.' A college don was for the most part a young clergyman anxious to succeed to a living and marry a wife. For him, a fellowship was a mere step on the path to comfort. But some men, by external fate or idiosyncrasy, were doomed to permanent celibacy. Then they took one of two paths—either they acquired a taste in port-wine and became soured, or mildly (sometimes more than mildly) sybaritical; or else they accepted the college in place of a family, and felt for it a devotion such as an old monk may have had for his convent. It was their world; their whole 'environment'; the object of a local patriotism as intense as could ever animate patriots in a wider sphere. A touching anecdote tells how Whewell, the typical Cambridge don, begged, when dying, to be raised in his bed that he might have one more glance at the great court of Trinity. That was the last flash of an enthusiastic love for the scene so intimately associated with boyish aspirations and manly energies. Jowett's love of Balliol was equally intense, and is the most characteristic part of his career. Balliol had absorbed him. 'The college,' he said, 'is the great good and comfort of my life.' 'Make the college beautiful,' was one of his last sayings. Some men have joined equal devotion to a college to a really low ideal of its true functions, but Jowett's ideal was worthy of a man of keen intellectual interest in the great problems of his day. His college deserved devotion; it had an almost unique position; and, as outsiders must grant, had 'produced' a longer list of eminent men than almost any rival that can be mentioned. The phrase 'produced,' too, had more than its usual propriety. It is generally equivalent to 'not extinguished,' but it is undeniable that Jowett somehow acted as a positive and lasting stimulant upon his pupils.
This dominant passion seems to explain and to reconcile us to Jowett's obvious foibles. To the old dons of the narrower variety the college became an ultimate end; if it taught young men, it deserved gratitude for undertaking a troublesome and strictly superfluous duty; and any attempt to tamper with its constitution, in order to make it a better school, was regarded as a sacrilege. Jowett was free from this superstition in its extremer form. He felt as strongly as any reformer that colleges could only justify their independence by thorough educational efficiency; but he was equally clear that in point of fact their efficiency could only be preserved by maintaining their independence. The characteristic college system was admirable in his eyes. An undergraduate is not to be a mere student, after the German fashion, but the member of a little corporate body, imbibing a spirit of loyalty, and subject to the discipline and the judicious direction of the college tutors. This was the valuable and even vital part of the English University system, which in Jowett's hands, more than in any one's, was a reality. He never, we are told, got over the shyness caused by his temperament; he was capable of persistent silence and of decisive snubbing; he could tell a youth, who addressed him, to hold his tongue rather than talk such nonsense; and one can very well believe that he was not universally popular. Everybody is not grateful for having his knuckles rapped at the right moment, though the rap may represent a sense of duty overpowering reluctance to speak. At any rate, the tendency to administer a good tonic, bitter or not, became part of his nature. He was, as Professor Campbell puts it, an 'irrepressible mentor.' He had experience enough to know what is the general fate of good advice, especially when the recipient has no longer the malleability of youth. But he advised at all hazards, in season and out of season. When he sees a friend in danger of relaxing his zeal, even under the pressure of sorrow, he cannot help applying the goad. He may help his friend at least to 'pull himself together'; and no doubt there are times when it does a man good to have a thorough shake. The advice, too, seems always to have been prompted by genuine goodwill which generally disarmed resentment. One feels, however, that there is a certain humorous side to the propensity. When a man sees his old schoolmaster, he generally looks back upon the old emotion of awful reverence as a quaint memory which has no living force left in it. But in Jowett's mind the relation seems to have presented itself as though it were as permanent and indissoluble as marriage. Once his pupil, you were not the less his pupil, though you might have become a judge, or a bishop, or a Cabinet Minister. You were absorbed in State affairs instead of -the study of Plato; but you would still be the better for a friendly crack of the old whip. Jowett was charged with having thought too much of genius in early years and of success in later. He measured a man by what he achieved and not by his capability of achieving; and was accused of being a little too fond of the 'great.' This, again, coincides with the natural view of the college tutor. He loves his pupils, it is true, but he always loves them as members of the college. He wishes to raise a harvest of first-class men, and believes a first-class to be an infallible indication of merit, and must be more than human if he does not exaggerate its importance. He wishes to see the college boards ornamented with long lists of men distinguished in their later career; to turn out men whose portraits may be hung in the college hall; and naturally thinks of it as a personal injury, or, which is the same thing, as an injury to the college, if some man of genius fails to obtain tangible honours. It is not that the genius is necessarily inferior—and Jowett could recognise, when it was fairly put before him, the inadequacy of success as a test of merit–– but that the genius has not fulfilled the true final end of man, the glorification of his college. A man might fail at the Bar or in Parliament, and yet be successful in the eyes of 'all-judging Jove'; but even Jove could not think much of a man who failed to promote the interests of Balliol. Unless he could do something for the college he was of no use in the world. Jowett's interest in his pupils was most admirable; he spared neither time nor trouble as a tutor; he did more for his men as a master than all the Cambridge heads of houses (in my time, at least) put together; he was the most generous and open-handed of men, whenever the opportunity offered; if his shyness made it hard for him to be on easy terms with some of his pupils, he could at least be an 'irrepressible' and inexorable mentor. It was the intense interest of a captain in his crew; and the friendships, doubtless most genuine, were not simply personal. Jowett, one fancies, could not separate himself even in thought from Balliol; membership of the college was not an accident superadded to him or his friends, but an essential part of their personal identity, and therefore it was impossible to abstract from their effect on the college. Perhaps, one may guess, this went for a good deal in his own appreciation, if it existed, of 'the great.' Jowett, as Professor Campbell remarks, became so practical from the time of his coming to rule the college that some people thought that he was losing his interest in theology. He threw most of his energy into the task of improving the college, materially as well as morally. He spent his own money upon new buildings and a new cricket-ground, and so forth, and appealed to all his old friends to support him. He had, that is, to acquire the great art of stimulating the flow of subscriptions, and seems to have become, if the word may be allowed, a most accomplished 'tout.' Naturally, for this purpose, as well as for advancing the interests of his pupils, the support of the great and rich was of the highest importance. They were the predestined milch-cows who had to be skilfully manipulated. It is impossible to learn that art thoroughly without regarding your victims with a certain complacency. In order that their power and their purses are to be turned to the right account, one must cultivate their sympathies, and, without undue subservience, of which there seems to be no ground for accusing Jowett, one must adopt the mental attitude from which the value of wealth and influence receives fair recognition. They must be courted, not from snobbishness or personal motives, but from a hearty appreciation of their utility as possible supporters of the good cause. Another peculiarity of the don has some meaning too. The old college don often professed to look down upon the outside world; but was conscious at heart that the world is a little inclined to retort by calling him a rusty pedant. He was never better pleased than when he could fairly show that he too was a man of true literary and social culture—able to judge the last poem or novel, as well as to lecture upon Plato and Æschylus. Jowett's cordial spirit of hospitality, was fostered and stimulated by this sentiment. He drew all manner of distinguished people to Balliol Lodge in later years; he would show them—as he could well show them in the time of H. J. S. Smith—that Balliol too was a centre of enlightenment; and he could prove to Oxford in general that a college might be attractive to the foremost statesmen and men of letters. He could do so, of course, because his hospitality was thoroughly spontaneous, and his friendship with eminent writers, such as Tennyson, Browning, and George Eliot, rested upon genuine appreciation. But a certain additional flavour was given by the collection in the shadow of the old college buildings of people at home in circles wider than the academical.
Jowett was Balliol and Balliol was Jowett. His foibles—they do not seem to have been very serious—were consequences of this tacit identification. To make the college as great a factor as possible in the higher ranks of English society, to extend and strengthen its influence in every direction, was to fulfil the main purpose of his life. And that—as might be illustrated by the history of larger societies which have tried to influence the outside world–– involves a certain amount of mutual accommodation. 'To do much good,' says Jowett, in 1883, 'you must be a very honest and able man, thinking of nothing else day and night; and you must also be a considerable piece of rogue, having many reticences and concealments.' 'A good sort of roguery,' he adds, 'is never to say a word against anybody, however much they may deserve it.' That is a version of some very orthodox phrases about the wisdom of the serpent and being all things to all men. Jowett in this sense may be called a bit of a 'rogue'; only remembering that his roguery meant no more than a little difficulty in distinguishing between the interests of Balliol and the interests of the universe. In one direction it brought him into direct collision with a more advanced wing of reformers. Pattison imagined that the primary end of a university was to diffuse intellectual light, and inferred the propriety of devoting college revenues to the 'endowment of research.' There, as we find, Jowett had his reserves. He drew the line distinctly at the point at which the interests of the university might conflict with the interests of the colleges. To divert money from 'prize fellowships' to professorships was to sacrifice a stimulus to students and a certain bond of connection between the colleges and the outside world, in order to enable a few men to devote themselves to 'minute philosophy' and elaborate pursuit of useless knowledge. He looked with suspicion upon certain tendencies of modern Oxford. The present teaching, he says (about 1878), is 'utterly bad for students,' but 'flattering to the teacher.' The old-fashioned college tutor, if he did his duty, gave 'catechetical' lectures; that is, he dealt with students individually, stimulated their minds, and investigated their progress. The new professor gives smart lectures, lets the pupils pick up what crumbs they can, but aims at winning praise for his eloquence and does not care whether his hearers are really able to follow him or at most catch the art of stringing smart phrases into a leading article. He is, in short, thinking about himself instead of his college, and has lost the old corporate spirit which was so fully imbibed by Jowett. Jowett's conservatism may have been well or ill judged; I am only concerned to say that it was at least characteristic. The old college system which he had worked so efficiently, must, he held, in no case be lowered in efficiency. He looked rather coldly, for example, upon the movement for women's education, because he thought it likely to interfere at various points with the old order, and evidently thought that Pattison's ideas were calculated to hamper the colleges without better result than endowing facile orators and useless investigation of trifles. It would diminish the educational power of the colleges in order to help the accumulation of useless knowledge dear in the eyes of Dryasdust.
The question as to the true theory of universities is a wide one, and I will not venture even to hint at any opinion about it. What is plain is that Jowett substantially adhered to the older doctrine. Even if 'research ' were really stimulated by substituting professors for college tutors its value was doubtful. 'Is learning of any use?' he asks, and he replies that it is worse than useless except as a stimulant to thought and imagination. He thought that Green's lectures did harm by diverting lads from 'poetry and literature' to wandering in the barren fields of metaphysics. Young men, the implication seems to be, should not aim at conquering any province of knowledge—the conquest must be superficial or won at the price of one-sided and narrow development. A premature specialist is a mental cripple—a prodigy made by bandaging the vital organs. And what is true of metaphysics and 'learning' is equally true of theology. If Jowett's influence upon the outside world was, as I have suggested, not altogether good, it might well be excellent in the college so understood. A man with a definite creed is tempted to instil it into his pupils. He will give them a ready-made set of dogmas, and try to frighten them out of obnoxious lines of inquiry. Jowett at least could not make the college into a caucus for the support of a sect. As Pater reports, part of his charm was owing to 'a certain mystery about his own philosophic and other opinions.' He was throwing out suggestions, not imposing opinions; going about like a Socrates cross-examining and dislodging old prejudices with a happy impartiality, not dogmatising or enlisting recruits for any definite party. The college was to be a gymnasium to strengthen the mental fibre, not a place of drilling according to any regulation. What was a defect in a philosopher might be an excellence in a teacher. Of the disciples of Newman, half were permanently enslaved without ever looking at the doctrine from the outside, and the other half, who ultimately rebelled, suffered permanently from the dislocating effect of the revulsion. Jowett's pupils had at least not to lament that their minds had been put into a strait-waistcoat, injurious even if ultimately thrown aside.
In this sense we may understand Jowett's 'influence' as identical with the influence of the college which he did so much to mould. You might not learn anything very definite, but you were subject to a vigorous course of prodding and rousing, which is perhaps the best of training for early years. Jowett is judged from a wrong point of view when we try to regard him as a leader of thought; but his influence was excellent as an irritant, which at least would not allow a man to bury himself in intellectual slumbers. You might be propelled in any direction, but at least you would not stand still. How much has been done by Balliol is not for me to say; but Jowett's real influence is to be found by considering him as an intrinsic element of Balliol. And this may suggest a final remark. The last ten years of life, as Jowett frequently remarked, are the best: best, because you are freest from care, freest from illusion and fullest of experience. They must no doubt be fullest of experience; they may be freest from care, if you are head of a college, and have no domestic ties; but, unluckily, the illusions which have vanished generally include the illusion that anything which you did at your best had any real value, or that anything which you can do hereafter will even reach the moderate standard of the old work. One of the advantages of Jowett's identification of himself with his college was perhaps that he was never freed from this illusion. He won the advantage at a heavy price—the price of not knowing the greatest happiness. But a man who is swallowed up in a corporate body, which will outlast himself, acquires a kind of derivative immortality. His own life is only an element in the more permanent life. His work could be carried on by his successors, as the buildings which he helped to erect would remain for future generations. A man in that position might naturally fancy that as his authority and his experience grew with age he was stamping himself more effectively upon the organism of which he was a member; and in that sense hope, in spite of Dryden, to receive from 'the last dregs of life' 'what the first sprightly runnings could not give.' That is an enviable frame of mind.
- Life and Letters of Benjamin Jowett, M.A., Master of Balliol College, Oxford. By Robert and Lewis Campbell. London, 1897. John Murray.