Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland [...] (Author: Thomas Campbell)

Letter 12


The endowed school here is called a college; and certainly no seat of learning could wish for a situation more cheerful, or more healthful. Such stagnating floods as we have seen round Magdalen-walks, Merton-fields, and Christ-church meadows, could never annoy this charming spot. The city itself would be something like Oxford, if we could suppose Oxford dilapidated of its towers and pinnacles.

Many people in Dublin expressed to me an earnest desire, that Kilkenny should be made the seat of a learned society; hoping by that means to prevent so many from going to Scotland, in quest of education. Others again hinted, that if Armagh in the north was to divide with Kilkenny in the south, the emoluments of Trinity-College Dublin, it would be more conducive to the interests of literature and virtue.


Discipline is, at present, attended to with the utmost exactness, and every possible care taken to enforce obedience to the statutes. Greater strictness is certainly observed than with us at Oxford. The gates are regularly attended, and no student can be in the city, without the knowledge of the porters. Defaulters undergo pecuniary mulcts, at the discretion of the Dean and a board of Fellows. Nevertheless, frequent and enormous outrages are committed. One of the gownsmen was lately killed in a riot with the watchmen; yet it is believed, that, in general, the poor watchmen are more sinned against than sinning.

The Lord Mayor's jurisdiction extends to the college; and it has been exercised, but not without tumult and disorder. From this principle, a perpetual feud is kept up with the inferior officers of magistracy, those obnoxious restrainers of natural liberty.

But there is a political evil in the constitution of this corporate body, which brings on a periodical fever, the crisis of which is generally violent. You already


see, I mean the election of representatives. This never fails to breed abundance of ill blood, convulsing the whole system, and dissolving every principle of health within.

Nor is its malignant influence confined to the college walls. It not only sets the tutor against the pupil, and the pupil against the tutor, but it sets the father against the son, and the son against the father: and, what is still worse, it places self-advantage against general interest; at once overturning what Cicero and Cumberland are for establishing in the halls.

Old age is but too prone to adopt the sordid maxims of worldly wisdom; but this, alas! prematurely wrinkles the mind, and brings early decrepitude on private virtue and public spirit. But let every influence be far and for ever removed from our schools, which, instead of expanding the affections to the sphere of human happiness, contract them to the narrow focus of self-interest: which should always be considered, but as a particle, in the mass of universal good.

Unhappily for this society, the power of returning members is lodged, principally in the hands of boys; for of ninety electors,


seventy are scholars, one half of whom are probably not of age. From the Provost's prerogative of nomination, which I have already explained to you; it is evident that he can, in seven years, as with a plastic hand, mould this society into the arbitrary form of his wishes; for in that period, between seventy and eighty of the whole may be of his own creation.

A new Provost indeed coming in, at the eve of an election, may find many refractory, and some rebellious subjects in his dominions. He should not therefore endeavour, all at once, to drive them into allegiance; he should only gradually lead them into compliance. And he has, in the plenitude of his power, such a magazine of resources, as cannot fail to operate powerfully on the majority.

If universities must have representatives in parliament, it would be well for that of Dublin, if its Fellows only had been vested with the privilege of freeholders, and that the Provost had here, as in other cases, the power of nomination; for reasons, obvious from what I have already said.


Scarce a week passes without the appearance of some satirical production, either in prose or verse, pointed at the highest in station, and the most eminent for abilities of the whole body. No less than two volumes of these have been already collected, under the title of Pranceriana; which, however they may discover great talents for wit and humour, in the young gentlemen who wrote them, sufficiently evince the unfortunate political system of this learned republic.