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early part of his collegiate residence, he had indeed personally felt the mortifying influence of aristocratical pride, in compelling the sizars to wait as servants behind the chairs of the fellows at their dinners; and as soon as he had the power, he wanted not the spirit, to abolish so degrading a distinction. He also freed this meritorious class of students, whose only crime was poverty, from some other servile obligations imposed in the days of monkish ignorance and civil bondage, when priests had their villains, and rich men their bondmen, sold and bartered with their goods and soil. Of late years, the college, which had been the asylum of Erasmus, was rapidly retrograding in its reputation for learning and discipline; but from the moment of his assuming the reins of its government, he laboured incessantly and successfully to restore its ancient character for both. In its interior arrangements, he resolutely corrected all the abuses which had crept in by the laxity or negligence of his predecessors; whilst he exerted his influence, nor did he exert it in vain, to introduce to its fellowships men eminent for their talents in other colleges, and who always found in him a steady patron and a zealous friend.”
This passage, Gentlemen, contains certainly a most grievous reflection upon Dr. Milner's predecessors, and especially upon his immediate predecessor, Dr. Plumptre, my late excellent father, whose name has been recently brought before the public in the appeals from the college, and who, though he might be inferior to Dr. Milner, as a mathematician and a philosopher, was, I will venture to affirm, in all respects, a better president of the college. Had the writer of the memoir only made the most of Dr. Milner's virtues, and the least of his faults, I should not have wished to make any comments upon it; but when an attempt is made to exalt Dr. M. at the expense of truth and of his predecessor, my own father, I should think it criminal not to state the real case. I am very willing to acquiesce in the axiom, De mortuis nil nisi BONUM, so long as it is De mortuis nil nisi VERUM. But the maxim is applicable to those who have been deceased upwards of thirty years, as well as to those upon whom the grave has just closed. On reading the above panegyric on Ďr. M., I thought that I recollected to have heard it said, that my father had put an end to the custom of the sizars' waiting on the fellows, in the collegehall, at dinner and at supper; but as I never was in college under him, (as he died a few days only before my going into college,) I wrote to some of the elders of our family, and they assure me that it was our father who put an end to the practice, and that Dr. M. himself had never waited in hall. In order, however, to put it beyond a doubt, and to ascertain the precise time when the practice was abolished, I wrote, on the 23d of October, to the present president of Queen's, requesting him to look in the college books, to see if he could find any memorandum on the subject; but I have not received any answer to my
letter. To what other “servile obligations" the writer alludes, unless it be the marking the chapèl bill, I do not know. This, I believe, was abolished by Dr. M. But at Clare Hall, the college to which I removed from Queen's, this was done by the scholars in their turns, whether pensioners or sizars. I have done it myself, and never felt degraded by it; nay, I have often done it myself when a fellow, as the dean or reader, when there has not been a scholar present. The custom continued during the whole of my residence in college; but I think it has been altered, for other reasons, by the present master.
As to the “ abuses" in " discipline” which Dr. M. corrected, I know not to what particularly the writer alludes. That there were abuses in Dr. P.'s time is too true, and so there were in other colleges - I believe all other colleges and have been in Queen's and all the colleges ever since. Dr. P. used to strive against them, and he used to complain that the fellows wanted as much keeping in order as the young
One of the objects of his concern, I know, was the boisterous mirth which prevailed in the combination room, and of which Dr. (then Mr.) M. was one of the great promoters. In the year 1792, Dr. M. was characterized by Gilbert Wakefield, in his memoirs of himself, (p. 130,) as
a heterogeneous composition of deistical levity and methodistical superstition; disparaging the ceremonies of religion, and performing them with a slovenly precipitation; but of a general decorum and seriousness of demeanour, and a blameless life.” This is certainly too strongly drawn: something is to be attributed to party spirit, the flood of which then flowed very high; but it was not without foundation. Mr. M., when dean of the college and reader in chapel, used often, when the master was not at chapel, of a morning, (for few, if any, masters were more constant in their attendance of an evening,) to begin the service as he was putting on his surplice in the anti-chapel, and as he walked to his seat, and go through the whole with indecent celerity. One of the
favourite phrases of Mr. M. (still well remembered in the university) was to keep up the hum; by which he meant that discipline was a hum, or pretence, and that such and such things were done merely to keep it up: During the two years that I was a resident member of the college, after the death of my father and the election of Dr. M. to the presidentship, he was certainly very negligent ; but little in college, and inattentive to the duties of his situation when in. He was very rarely seen at chapel. It was my unhappiness very grievously to violate the discipline of the college, for which I was convened before the vice-president (the president not being in college) and fellows, and admonished; but when Dr. M. returned, he never, either upon that occasion or any other, either reproved me as the master, or admonished me as a friend, as the son of the former president, to whom he was under personal obligations.
If what is said about the want of discipline, and of learned men, had been true, it would have reflected as much upon the tutors, of whom Dr. M. was one, as upon the master. But I question whether, if the triposes were carefully examined, the honours in Dr. P.'s time would be found fewer than those in Dr. M.'s. Queen's had the second wrangler in 1781, (or at least the second and third were classed as equal,) four wranglers in 1782, two in 1783, the senior wrangler in 1784, the third and fourth in 1787, and the fourth in 1788. These (not to mention lesser) are many and great honours in a small college. The persons from other colleges were not introduced till after those brought up under Dr. P. were gone
off. Mr. Barnes, who was, I believe, the first, took his degree (as third wrangler) in 1796, seven years and a half nearly after Dr. P.'s death. The next was Mr. Sowerby, of Trinity College, the senior wrangler in 1798. The succession to a fellowship may, I suppose, be considered to be at about four or five years from the time of the person's coming up to reside. Queen's College so abounded in clever men soon after Dr. P.'s death, that Mr. Vickars, who took his degree as fourth wrangler in 1788, and Mr. Bourdillon, who took his as sixth_wrangler in 1794, were successively spared to be tutors at Trinity Hall.
In respect to the revenues of the college, I have no scruple in saying, that Dr. Plumptre was far more careful than Dr. Milner. Dr. P., with a wife and nine children, and by no means large preferment, was always scrupulous how he spent the college money; while Dr. M. was lavish of it, and frequently employed it in whims, and things which were merely for his own personal comfort, not for any permanent advantage' to his successors as well as himself; while the fellowships were often kept open, under the plea that the revenues of the college were low. This has frequently been a subject of remonstrance at the audits by fellows, who are now living, and could speak to it. It happened to me once to make a speech to Dr. Milner, which was at once unfortunate in one respect, but most happy in another. I called on him soon after the new entrance and staircase to the lodge was built, and he asked me how I liked it. I said I thought it a very great improvement. He added, “ I wonder
your father never did it." I replied that it had been suggested to him by a gentleman of the college, mentioning his name; but, added I, (thinking only of the truth, and not considering to whom I was saying it, further than that it was to one who could bear witness to the fact,) “ you know, sir, that my father was always careful not to put the college to any unnecessary expense.” Dr. M.'s countenance changed from his usual smile to a serious cast, and I saw that he felt it; and I myself felt that I had spoken a truth, which, had I been aware of the implied censure on him, I should have kept to myself.
When Dr. M. canvassed for the Lucasian professorship, in the summer of 1798, I met him in the court of Clare Hall, as he was going to the lodge to call upon the master. He inquired of me if he was in college, and at home, said what his business was, and pleaded poverty for his applying for the professorship; and of which, when he had obtained it, he never fulfilled the duties. Yet he died, it seems, worth from fifty to sixty thousand pounds. The vice-chancellor, in the year 1819, began to publish the wills for the founders of the several professorships, with a view to call the professors to their duty, and to shame them into it. Those of Dr. Woodward and Mr. Plume were printed, and regulations were made accordingly; but when the course of things came to Mr. Lucas's, the vice-chancellor did not persevere. It was said that the professor's address had prevailed over the spirit of reformation of abuses.
At page 246, the writer of the memoir, speaking of Dr. Milner's keeping his act in the divinity schools, says, “ The circumstance of these disputations being held in Latin, proves also that Milner must have made great progress in classical knowledge.” If there are no better proofs of Dr. Milner's
classical attainments than this, they are of a very uncertain kind. Had the writer been used to the schools, he would have known that school Latin is proverbially bad. Indeed how should it be otherwise, since Latin is no longer the common language of the university? It is said in Cambridge, that a person of very great mathematical attainments, when acting as a moderator in the schools, wishing to express to the young man who was keeping the act, that he had not got on that part of his academical dress worn under the chin, called a band, said, Domine, nonne vides quod non habes, quod habere debes, VINCULUM, hic, hic, hic, (pointing to under his own chin.) I will not vouch for the truth of this; but the very story shows the general idea of school Latin, though, no doubt, very elegant Latin is often spoken there *.
At page 254, the writer mentions the appearance of only one volume of Dr. Milner's sermons, whereas two were published together. These sermons I consider as very valuable, and, delivered in Dr. M.'s powerful manner, must have been very impressive; but they afford matter of wonder to me, that, as Dr. M. thought it his duty to preach in the cathedral at Carlisle, he should not equally think it his duty to preach before the university of Cambridge. But he was a mass of contradictions. I have understood that he preached a sermon at Carlisle to prevent a theatre being erected there, and plays performed, and that he succeeded. But when he was vice-chancellor at Cambridge, in the year 1809-10, and had those matters in his power, so far was he from “ reforming abuses,” that he not only allowed the players to come as usual, but took no measures as to seeing that the best plays were performed; and licensed, during the year, a great many inferior exhibitions of conjurors, tumbling, &c. &c.
Hoping, Gentlemen, that you will give the same publicity to this that you have afforded to the reflections on Dr. Milner's predecessor,
Great Gransden Vicarage,
near Caxton, November 27, 1821.
With great respect,
* Without entering into the general merits of Cambridge scholastic Latin, which ought to be correct if it is not, we m fairly conclude that it was classical, in the disputation which so competent a judge as bishop Watson termed " a real academical treat." - EDIT.