The Site of a University, Card. Newman

The location of a university is very important. A place for learning must have its genius loci or spirit of a place which is more than a distinctive atmosphere. Newman was convinced of the effect of the setting of a place on student’s imagination, on conversations as well on the necessary rest.

In a Romantic way Newman traces the origins of university life in Athens. He refers to subsequent rulers who welcomed learning: Pisistratus, Cimon and Pericles. “Revolution after revolution passed over the face of Europe, as well as of Greece, but still she was there,—Athens, the city of mind,—as radiant, as splendid, as delicate, as young, as ever she had been.” He describes in elegant prose the beauty of the landscape, reminiscent of the Aegean islands which he had visited. The clear air, the scent of thyme and many other fragrant herbs, the colors on the marble, the olive trees, and the beautiful views made the location a “suitable home” for a university.

All this, however, was not enough to host a university; the barren soil of Attica was compensated by the wealth of commerce afforded by its port. Many good were manufactured by foreigners living there. “If nature did much for Athens, it is undeniable that art did much more.”

Describing the seat of this first university in Athens, Newman turned his thoughts to Oxford and narrated a conversation which he had when he was only eighteen with an important academic figure at Oxford while riding in a stage coach. “He considered it was worth the consideration of the government, whether Oxford should not stand in a domain of its own. An ample range, say four miles in diameter, should be turned into wood and meadow, and the University should be approached on all sides by a magnificent park, with fine trees in groups and groves and avenues, and with glimpses and views of the fair city, as the traveller drew near it. There is nothing surely absurd in the idea, though it would cost a round sum to realise it. What has a better claim to the purest and fairest possessions of nature, than the seat of wisdom? So thought my coach companion; and he did but express the tradition of ages and the instinct of mankind.”

Next Newman described how St. Louis, King of France gave the land south of his island to (Bishop Robert de Sorbon) to found a university: “the eligible south, rising from the stream, which swept around its base, to the fair summit of St. Genevieve, with its broad meadows, its vineyards and its gardens, and with the sacred elevation of Montmartre confronting it, all this was the inheritance of the University.” With time buildings arose the country became a town; and thus the beautiful meadows disappeared. For Newman this is symbolic of the moral upheavals that would take place in Paris.

Newman will continue considering what is the best location for a university, a place for “leisured learning.”

Add Your Comment

Please share by commenting here