[Letter of John James Taylor to Francis William Newman.]
The Limes, Rosslyn, Hampstead
February 18th, 1867
. . . We have just lost, at the advanced age of ninety-two, a very kind old friend, whom I think you knew, Mr. Henry Crabb Robinson. He was a man of vigorous powers and most benevolent heart, and exceedingly well read in all the modern literatures. We shall miss him much in our circle of acquaintance; for his house was a centre where men of the most opposite opinions in religion and politics met in friendly intercourse. His small dinner parties were the most agreeable I ever attended. It is surprising how the old man kept up an interest in all that was going on to the last. He was greatly annoyed at the rejection of Martineau from the vacant chair in University College; and even spoke on the subject at one of the recent meetings of the Council. On this last subject—much as I regret the final decision—I still think the strong expression of public opinion which has been elicited, will not be without its effect on the future action of the College; and I confess I agree with those who think that no benefit is likely now to arise from the further agitation of the question. I am old enough to remember the origination of the project for founding the University of London; and I recall as if of yesterday the sanguine enthusiasm with which I hailed the prospect of a future union of free thought and unsectarian Catholicity with thorough scholarship and profound science. I confess my experience of the result has been one of successive disappointments. The College has not become, as was hoped, a school of the highest learning and science. The highest ends of liberal and noble culture—such as a true Academic Institution should ever aim at—have not been adequately realized. The class for whose special benefit it was designed, have not shewn that they fully appreciated the advantage of such culture; and my present feeling strongly is, that when our Old Universities have well purged themselves of the last remnants of ecclesiastical narrowness, they will become more than ever the highest seats of national education—the richest fountains of our highest mind; so that, had I still a son to educate, I should prefer sending him even now to Oxford or Cambridge, to confining him to University College and the University of London—and that not for culture and refining influence alone, but even for the large-hearted and Catholic tendencies of the best kind that would be infused into his nature. I do not believe it was religious bigotry, but philosophical exclusiveness which defeated Martineau's claims. The objection was not against any particular religion, but against expression of religion at all in a philosophical chair. This is the penalty, as I have always said, which the popular theology is now paying for its own narrowness and hostility to science. It has raised up a philosophical opposition as narrow and intolerant as itself. But the age teems with prognostics of the advent of a more catholic and spiritual tone of mind. Have you seen a remarkable paper by Lord Amberley in the Fortnightly Review, in which he proposes a scheme of Church enlargement, which would take into its ministry such men as Theodore Parker, Emerson, and yourself? It is a good sign when men of this class apply themselves earnestly to such subjects. The Duke of Argyll in his recent work on the "Reign of Law" furnishes another example of the kind. I believe that Gladstone too is a sincerely religious man; and to this cause I ascribe the moral elevation and noble enthusiasm of his policy. His High-Churchmanship does not annoy me. For religion with him seems a reality, and wherever it is so, a man of sense and culture can never go far wrong. I sympathize heartily, dear friend, in all your generous hopes for the human race. But some things distress and alarm me. I do not like to see France and Germany gathering together such enormous masses of military force. What may be the ultimate bearing of Prussia's ascendancy on Liberty I do not yet clearly see. For our own country, its vast material prosperity alarms me. Intense poverty keeps pace with it; and the feverish lust of wealth and high place which pervades all classes, corrupts our commercial morality, and is subverting the ancient simplicity and probity of the manners of our middle class. But I will not croak—but with you live in hope. . . .