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Undergraduate Days


   Dr. Swete’s choice of Cambridge as his son’s University was due to the Tractarian movement at Oxford. To expose his son to the insidious influence of the “Puseyites” appeared to him to be little short of a crime. Cambridge was therefore decided upon, and the attraction of the Rev. Charles Clayton, who was then Tutor of the College, led to the selection of Caius College. To Henry it was a bitter disappointment. Oxford was by family tradition the university of the Swetes before their migration to Ireland, and he had woven a halo of romance around the thought of Oxford and he looked forward to being one of her sons. This admiration of the sister University he kept through life, although to him his own Alma Mater was first in all ways, and the most sweeping condemnation he could express of an opinionated man or sermon was “Truly Oxonian”. Moreover he looked to Cambridge to take the lead not only in learning /12/ but in sport. His intense keenness in his professorial days about the inter-University boat race, cricket and football matches and athletic sports, and his chagrin if Cambridge was beaten, were a source of quiet amusement to those who knew that, apart from a contest between the two Universities, cricket to him was merely a game in which a ball was thrown about and sometimes struck, and football a murderous scrimmage.
Swete went up to Caius College in October, 1854, without a scholarship and with still much headway to make. His hard work and well-used opportunities at King’s College were, however, not in vain. He was elected a scholar of his College at Lady Day, 1855, and continued to be so until his degree and fellowship three years later. His University career was not specially distinguished or brilliant; rather was it marked by hard work and love of thoroughness and care, which were always his chief characteristics. There exist two lists drawn up by him at this time of classical books read and to be read, with notes on various points. He had at first some idea of taking his degree under the old regulations, and he was assured of the probability of his being a Senior Optime if not a low Wrangler. But Classics were his true bent, and he was fearful of jeopardizing his place in that Tripos; he therefore renounced mathematics, gave himself almost entirely to /13/classical study, and read with Mr. Richard Shilleto. Such work as he did in theology was quite secondary to his main study, though he obtained the Carus Prize in 1855. He tried, unsuccessfully, for the Craven Scholarship in 1857. He writes the one of his sisters of this, “The papers have not been long, but hard and ‘dodgy’. I cannot say I have done as well as I had hoped. There are about 60 in, including 8 or 10 first rate classics”. He took the first of the Members’ Prizes in 1857, and his industry was rewarded the following year by his place as seventh in the Classical Tripos. His election to a Junior Fellowship took place on the same day on which he took his degree. “One day,” he would often recall, “I was an undergraduate and the next a full-fledged Don at the High Table. I never experienced the dignified life of the B.A. scholar.” The following letters to his sister Anne are of interest as shewing the procedure of those days.

Undated letter. Postmark: Cambridge,
Mar. 25, 58.

My dear Anne,
It is now half past 8 and no list has appeared – the Examiners are still at work – owing I suppose to the indolence of Mr. Day – and are not likely to have done till after 10. So I just write this line to let you know that I got here all right and until this time am /14/ not pluckt. Watson and I have been drinking coffee, sleeping and promenading by turns; but any way suspense is not agreeable.
To-morrow is a degree day, so that if I get through I shall proceed. Gown and Hood arrived all right to which I have added on spec tie and bands.
Garrick <note 1> is to be elected to-morrow and goes down on Monday or Tuesday…
Your affect. Brother,
H.B. Swete.

P.S. – It is now ¼ to 10 and the list is not out: so that I must post this without it. You will probably see it in the Times or Record of to-morrow.

Caius Coll:
Friday, March 26.

My dear Anne,
As you take so lively an interest in the doings of Cambridge men, I just write a line to tell you that I am ‘finished off’. Nothing could have been more rapid. The list came out this morning at 1 a.m.: at 10 I took my degree: at 11¼ a message came that Garrick and I were elected: at 3 we were instituted: and at 6 were experiencing the horrors of a dinner at the fellow’s table. The old Dons lookt grave: such things had never been in their days: young men were then required to wait 2, 3 or more years before they got their Fellowships: and even /15/ after election had to dine with the Bachelors for another year before they were admitted to the high table. However they were all very kind and affable and we did our best to feel at home with them. But –
Perhaps you would like to add to your stock of Cambridge knowledge the ‘mode and manner of admission and institution’ to a Junior Fellowship. First of all you are stumped off by the Registrar of the College (Day) tot the Vice: who requires you to sign your name to a declaration that you are a bonâ fide member of the Ch. Of England. Then you stump back to Caius, and preceded by the Master enter the Chapel. The Master goes into his stall. You stand, feeling awkward, before him. He says Jurabis (an oath to keep the College Statutes and not to reveal College secrets) to which you respond ‘Juro’ and kiss the Gk Test. You then kneel down, put your two hands between the Master’s two and he repeats the formula of admission “Auctoritate mihi commissâ etc… admitto te… in annum probationis in nomine Patris etc.” In my case the Master’s memory misled him and he left out the important clause ‘for a year of probation.’ Day thereupon whispered in his ear and the Master, never stopping so much as to say ‘Where am I’ repeated the whole again correctly. Garrick was then admitted and having crossed the Master’s man’s hand with a shilling we left the Chapel, the business being over.
You will perhaps understand that the ‘probation’ only consists of the possibility of being /16/ ejected from the fellowship in case of being screwed, or otherwise egregiously misbehaved during the first year. After that you are at liberty to do anything – unfortunately some men avail themselves of that liberty.
Is it not pleasant that Garrick and I ‘in death are not divided’? We are happily equalized: for though they have elected me first, the plate has been adjudged to him; the precedent having been universally in favour of mathematical men. Day opposed this and had the bad taste to tell Garrick so: but I am really glad that he was in the minority, for any disparity would have been uncomfortable.
Report says that Shilleto had no end of a ‘jollification’ last night, not to use stronger language. Seven of his men were in the twelve first: the seven first were all his pupils with the exception of Bowen.
You must please excuse the sameness of subject in this note. One has had little time to think of anything else to-day: next time I hope to be better behaved.
Love to all and believe me,
Your affect. Brother,
Henry B. Swete.

I am beginning to repent of staying for the Voluntary: the next week I shall have a tête a tête with one old fellow.

It does not appear that University life laid on Swete any ineffaceable mark, as it does on so many. His upbringing and his own reserve prevented him /17/ from mixing freely with men of different types. Games, as we have seen, had no place in his life, and there was little else to bring him into contact with the heedless, light-hearted youth not overburdened with brains. Extreme conscientiousness made him very careful in expenditure; his College bills would have been creditable to the son of a man of much smaller means than those of Dr. Swete. He made few intimate friends, and those he had were men of thought and tastes like his own. He would tell of one particular friend with whom he made a compact to breakfast, during which meal only Greek was spoken after the fashion of Platonic dialogue; and of his walks with the brilliant young scholar of Christ’s, afterwards a Fellow of Caius, J.R. Seeley, who would recite as they walked Milton’s poems or the recent works of Tennyson. A light on the insight which this acquaintance gave is furnished by Dr. Venn, now President of Gonville and Caius College. Ecco Homo had been published in 1865, and there was much speculation as to authorship of this remarkable book, of which to the end Swete spoke with respect. Dr. Venn writes: “He was the first man as far as I know to ‘spot’ the author of Ecco Homo in 1866. We happened to be talking of the book, and he remarked, ‘It is Seeley all over.’ Hardly any one else had thought of this at the time.” Letters of that time tell of walking tours with friends in /18/ Suffolk and in Essex. His interests were, even in these early days, mainly concerned with Church life and thought. He asks at one time, “Have you heard who is to get the Bishopric of Salisbury?” and writes again at another, “You have heard doubtless of Alford’s promotion. What a nice couple – Dean Trench and Dean Alford! I hope Alford will make use of the leisure and means thus consigned to him to bring out his next volume more carefully. ”He writes home on one of his walking tours, “I have yet to see the Church and town of Coggeshall the Great; the Church, they say, is a fine building; but the Rector is desperately ‘High’ and so the parish is not in a very flourishing state.”
An undated letter written in his first term records the “founding of a ‘Theological Essay Society’ for this College. It is to consist of 9 members each of whom is to write one essay a term on a given subject and to the best of the nine a prize is to be awarded. All controversy and discussion is to be strictly excluded – a very necessary regulation, though I believe we are almost all agreed on these points.” He mentions this Society again, February 28, 1855, “The first meeting of our Essay Society was held yesterday evening. Three (papers) were read…. I am to read mine to-morrow.” In another letter, April /19/ 18, 1856, he writes: “I have just joined a little Shakespeare-reading Society. We meet once a week for an hour after Hall; we have chosen Henry VIII. for a beginning…. I have started an harmonium but do not play it very much for fear of disturbing my neighbours. As it was the other evening my friend upstairs expressed his displeasure at the noise by sending a yard of plaster down on my head.”
In Jesus Lane Sunday School he was greatly interested. He writes in his first term, “Last Sunday, I began a morning class at the Jesus Lane School. It so happened that I had to sit with the boys in Church; but certainly it seems to be a model school for good behaviour.” And again, February 6, 1857, “I have got into the Oligarchy at Jesus Lane, nolens volens, having been elected on the Visiting Committee.”
From his first Sunday in Cambridge to his last, sixty years later, he viewed attendance at the University Sermon as part of a well-ordered Lord’s Day; nothing but actual illness was to him a sufficient excuse for absence. Thus in the undated letter before referred to we have an interesting account of a sermon by Bishop G.A. Selwyn. “Bp. Selwyn preached his last Sermon on Sunday. The crush at St. Mary’s was tremendous: one man had his arm nearly broken, another was lifted off his feet, a third was carried out in a fit, etc. The/20/ Bishop’s appeals have had some effect, for two or three University men are thinking of offering to accompany him back to New Zealand. The two peculiarities of Selwyn’s Theology which he has kept in view all through his course of sermons seem to be, that union must be purchased at almost any cost, and that Christian work is the safest preservative against theological error.”
Another letter of 1857 gives an account of a sermon by the Rev. Gordon Calthrop, later Vicar of St. Augustine’s, Highbury.
“… We had also great ‘doings’ here on Sunday. In the afternoon Calthrop preached his first University sermon. Perhaps you remember me mentioning him in the Long. He is quite a young man, but promises to be the first preacher of his school (the Evagelical) if not of his time. Everybody says that the sermon on Sunday was the most extraordinary ever heard in St. Mary’s. His forte is illustration. He lays down a proposition, hedges it round by careful definition and brings some logical proof to bear on it. But the proposition is not a very obvious one. You begin to feel cross or sleepy. All of a sudden he looks at you. ‘What, you doubt it still? Look you here for a moment. ’You look and see. A picture rises before you drawn in faultless English of some homely but moving scene in which the practical working of the principle is exhibited. He has evidently seen what he talks /21/ of. You have seen it yourself a hundred times. You cannot gainsay it; the proposition is true and the victory of the orator complete.
I believe some of the older Dons to whom life is as death and energy ranting were shocked beyond degree: but with the Undergraduates and some of the younger fellows whose hearts have not yet become, by long years of University residence, as hard as the benches on which they sit, Calthrop is all in all. But after all perhaps he was describing his own lot when he spoke of the popular preacher as ‘the fashion of to-day, the bye word of to-morrow.’ Still there must be some force and use in this faculty of illustration, when it can rivet the attention of some hundreds of men to whom a sermon and especially such a sermon as Calthrop’s is but another name for cant and cajolery.”

He also regularly attended on Sunday a parochial service in addition to the two obligatory Chapel services of his College. College sermons were then unknown or extremely rare, and the preaching at Holy Trinity and St. Edward’s Churches was to a great extent directed towards the undergraduates. Preaching himself at St. Edward’s close on forty years later, he recalled, in reference to the recent death of Bishop Harvey Goodwin, the deep impression made upon him as an undergraduate by the Bishop’s eloquence and earnestness when he was Chaplain of St. Edward’s. /22/
To Anne he gives a racy account of Dr. Livingstone’s great appeal to the University on December 4th, 1857.
Caius Coll: Dec. 9.
My dear Anne,
You have, I dare say, heard of our doings here during the past week. We have heard the lion roar. Livingstone came up here to visit a friend; and our good Vice invited him to lecture before the University, putting the Senate House at his disposal. So at 2 o’clock on Friday last you might have seen the Senate House thronged, the pit with M.A.’s and ladies and the galleries with undergrads. All state was dispensed with and the Dr. was allowed to profane the building with the English tongue. And the language was not badly represented. There was a picturesque simplicity about his Saxon which won the heart of the oldest Don present. He told us something of his travels, of the manners of the natives and of the facilities offered by the country to commerce and ended with a hearty encomium upon the C.M.S. and an appeal to the University for hands. I need not tell you the details, because I believe they are all to be found in his book. What we Cantabs liked best in him was the Catholicity of spirit; no parts of his lecture calling forth such hearty applause as those in which he disclaimed sectarianism, and generously acknowledged the fruits of even Jesuit labours in Africa. He is apt withal to be funny and that at the expense of the ladies! The African ladies were good looking enough, /23/ he said, only they would try to improve nature. But then such freaks were not confined to African ladies. Among other practices, they fastened their hair to a hoop which ran underneath the chin and hardly suffered them to open their mouths. Wasn’t it a very singular way of wearing hoops? You could hardly hear or see for 5 minutes afterwards for the uproar and dust that proceeded from the galleries.
He was followed by a Professor, who… concluded a bombastic declamation (in the course of which he nearly walloped the Vice, cracked Whewell’s pate, and put out Livingstone’s eyes, with the long demonstrating rod of the latter gentleman) by proposing ‘three hearty cheers for the Dr. from the deep bass voices of the gallery and the shrill – ahem! (cries of shame and great commotion) ahem! celestial voices of the ladies’ (endless confusion). So the three cheers given in best style, a voice from the gallery calls out Now for the celestial!
Livingstone lectured to the Town the next day. Appleford and a dozen other men had an introduction to him and half an hour’s conversation. The portrait given in his book is singularly like him – in fact you know him from it, if you met him in the street. But it lacks the benevolence of the archetype.”