« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
gratified by your requesting from me a few scattered reminiscences on the subject.
To retrace from the time of my hobble-de-hoy-hood (if your Oriel criticism will admit such a vox barbara), my father's connexions and partialities would have determined him on matriculating me at Christ Church, had it not been for the high reputation which your uncle then enjoyed as senior tutor of Oriel, and his wish that I should become Mr. Copleston's private as well as collegiate pupil. This reputation extended to more departments than one. The conscientious firmness and gentlemanly courtesy with which he had recently discharged the arduous duties of the proctorship, had rendered him generally popular, and shown his practical wisdom beyond the walls of his own college, in which he was known to enjoy the intimate confidence of our excellent provost, Eveleigh, one of the most strenuous originators of the present system of classes and honours. The sly pungency of a jeu-d'esprit from his pen, published about the same time, under the title of Hints to a Young Reviewer, was also considered in the literary world to have found a joint in the armour of the Edinburgh Review, a journal at that time standing alone in its own peculiar department, and assuming a tone of domination in English literature, only to be paralleled by the more modern assumptions of Cardinal Wiseman as the director of English religion. To sum up, I must now go back to an earlier period of my boyhood. Many graduates now living may possibly have served in the university volunteer corps raised at the time of Napoleon's threatened invasion, and will probably confirm the reputation of Captain Edward Copleston, fellow of Oriel, and fresh from his scholastic honours, as the 'tightest drill,' and the most indefatigable officer, in that learned phalanx. To appear with any credit in this company, and to keep pace with his exactions and personal exertions in marching, countermarch
MR. COPLESTON AS TUTOR OF ORIEL.
ing, parade and fatigue duty, required, it is said, no small portion of the wind and muscle in which Oxonians have never been found deficient in their voluntary gymnasia. But at the time of my matriculation, arms had given place to the toga ; the musket and bayonet had disappeared from our academic groves, and Mr. Copleston was training the minds of young men with the same zeal and activity which he had shown in the military drilling of their bodies. Both universities may at all times boast of learned divines, accurate philologists, and judicious disciplinarians; but as far as I can judge of the public opinion entertained in Oxford at the time of my first residence, I believe that, if graduates and undergraduates collectively had been called to name their one 'Pentathlus,'—the man among them best adapted, according to the definition of some English sage of the old time, to discharge well any given office of peace or war,—they would have unanimously named your uncle. His manly and practical habits of mind pervaded both his lectures, and his opinions as to the true ends of an university education. The latter he held to consist, not so much in the quantity of books read, and systems learned in a half-digested manner, as in the acquired power of dissecting and investigating a subject, of whatever given sort, with sustained attention, and in that logical and common-sense way by which it becomes incorporated with the mind. Things rather than words, and quality rather than quantity, were the tests of proficiency to which he looked. Both during his college career, and in after life, his mind appeared at the same time to grasp the main gist of a question, and to classify all its minute details with a just appreciation of the relative bearing and importance of each. It was not his nature to make the most trifling thing a sinecure which came under his notice, even down to the planting a forest-tree, or the proper orthography of a name; and on subjects on which he conversed to get information,
so mercilessly pertinent were his queries and cross-questionings, that the examined at once discerned his own deficiency in matters on which he had thought himself fully prepared, and the right method of remedying it; while at the same time he perceived that whatever he had said to the purpose was from that moment stored for use in the mind of the querist. Mr. Pitt is said to have turned this power of mind to great account in preparing, from the verbal information of scientific and mercantile men, the details which gave so much weight to his speeches. And of Sir Samuel Romilly I know, from the information of one of his clients, that the result of a single interview on technical matters of a peculiar nature, with which he was before unacquainted, was such, that in my friend's words, 'he appeared in his speech to know much more than I did myself, of a subject which I have studied all my life.' It
may be well imagined how favourably this analytical habit of mind, seconded by his known and extensive scholarship, and a patience and accuracy which passed over nothing, told on Mr. Copleston's efficiency as a lecturer. Under his system, and that of his friend and colleague, Mr. Bishop (a sound instructor, and a man of many virtues, whom our roughest hands regarded with a sort of filial feeling), the college studies embraced only one lecture a day; but to prepare this lecture so as to satisfy your uncle's zeal and accuracy, fully taxed the industry and scholarship of those who gave him their full attention. Of the necessity of the modern system of getting up books for a degree, styled by the young men 'coaching,' or 'cramming' I cannot presume to form an opinion; all I can say is, that Mr. Copleston's mode of lecturing rendered it a work of supererogation, provided his instructions were noted and stored up at the time. The same might, indeed, be said of his successor in office, Mr. Davison (afterwards prebendary of Durham), a man of kindred mind and acquirements,
MR. COPLESTON AS TUTOR OF ORIEL.
who carried out your uncle's system in a similar spirit. The acumen of these gentlemen in the details of explanation and questioning, their suggestions as to the preparation of analyses for the end of term-time, and their illustrations of every subject by whatever had a collateral bearing on it, rendered a future recurrence to the book in question little more than an act of memory and arrangement in regard to matter already acquired. At the time when Mr. Davison supplied his place, Mr. Copleston took the office of dean of the college. Those who examine the Oxford calendar of this period, as well as the class lists, may trace the effect of the combined action of two men of their standard of intellect, in promoting an improved style of composition in their college ; and also infer with truth, that the common-room of Oriel, uniting, as it did, their society with that of Whately, Arnold, and other congenial spirits, might fairly rival the conversational reputation of that of Trinity College in the sister university.
But, to return. What I fully believe of Mr. Davison, as attending his classes during the latter part of my time, I can confirm as to Mr. Copleston, as both his public and private pupil,-viz., that as his zealous interest in the progress of every man in the college who would work, could not be exceeded, his private pupils gained rather in the quantity than in the quality of his assistance. No ‘honorarium' was necessary to quicken that interest; and no apparent dulness or imperfect scholarship abated it. The following dialogue is said to have occurred previously to my time in his lecture-room. A despairing freshman, after one or two previous failures, and much laudable plodding, had stuck fast in the middle of the Pons Asinorum.
Mr. C.-Do you really think, Mr. * * * that master this fifth proposition ?'
Mr. * * * * (in a deep positive tone).—No, sir, I CAN NOT !--but (emphatically) I'LL TRY.'
Mr. C.—'I respect the manliness of that answer, Mr.
: and, let me tell you, I am convinced you have it in you not only to try, but to succeed.”
The effect of this timely tact showed itself at the next lecture; the neophyte took heart, got through the dreaded problem with perfect accuracy, and very soon found out for himself, what his subsequent high honours in the schools demonstrated, that he had one of the clearest and soundest heads of his standing. I am happy to add, of my old friend and fellow-collegian, that after many years of arduous and useful labour in his calling, he is now a dignitary of the church. I cannot vouch for the truth of a circumstance of which I was not an eye-witness; but can easily imagine how a word or a look from an instructor of liberal feeling, good heart, and knowledge of the world, may push a young man triumphantly into the bowels of a region, from which he had shrunk as from a barren Zahara; and, in fact, materially influence his progress in life.
Another encouraging circumstance in Mr. Copleston's mode of tuition, was his utter contempt of anything in the shape of pedantry and mystification, and his leaning to the rationalist school of commentators, such as Brunck, Heynė, and Schütz. His habit was to treat nonsense as nonsense; and his familiarity with the thought and idioms of the ancients, while it supplied the best possible criterion for the adoption or rejection of an ingenious guess, fully convinced him that the Greeks wrote nothing definable under that predicament. “On dit que nous avons changé tout cela;' and that in more ways than one; but in the Oxford days of your relative, an addiction to practical common sense was considered rather a merit than otherwise in a commentator or divine.
I will not assert that Mr. Copleston evinced the equanimity of patient Grizel in his dealings with the wilful idlers, of whom a sprinkling is to be found in the best