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The Origins of English Idealism in Relation to Oxford* V. R. MEHTA MELVIN RICHTER'S BOOK 1 on T. H. Green admirably succeeds in giving a balanced account of Green's relation to his age. But being a pioneering work, his study fails to explain adequately an important question: Why did the Idealist philosophy find firmer roots, and a more fertile soil, in Oxford than in Cambridge? In the following pages an attempt has been made to answer this question. It is true that by the middle of the nineteenth century Germanic ideas had penetrated the writings of Hutchinson Stifling, the volcanic essays of Carlyle, the elusive poems of Coleridge, and the theological writings of Dean Mansel. At one stage or another all these men had turned for inspiration to German philosophy, especially that of Kant, Schleierreacher and Hegel. "German poetry, as well as German philosophy and historical criticism ," wrote Professor Leslie Stephen, "had come as a revelation.'' According to him, "it meant that a new light had dawned upon the world, that an escape was opened from that wicked old eighteenth century, with its scepticism and its materialism, and that a real survey must correspond to some appreciation of the great spiritual revolution of the age."s All these forces exercised a great influence on Green, but it was to his own university, more than anything else, that he owed his Germanism. Oxford and Cambridge are often represented as embodying two different paths in the endless quest for truth and knowledge . One approaches it through the mysterious world of philosophy and the other through the dynamic and rationalistic world of natural sciences. While Leslie Stephen has contrasted the 'illusion of romantic sentiment' with the 'dry light of reason',4 and Noel Annan has compared 'Oxford mysticism' with 'Cambridge rationalism',~ Sir E. Barker, who had the rare privilege of teaching in both universities, thought that the essential difference [between Oxford and Cambridge] is a difference in their methods of pursuing that knowledge (knowledge for its own sake). Oxford, as early as the thirteenth * The author is very thankful to Mr. D. H. Newsome, Mr. Maurice Cowling, and Dr. A. J. Milne for their helpful suggestions. 1 M. Richter, The Politics o! Conscience: T. H. Green and His Age (London, 1964). o L. Stephen,"The Importance of German," in Studies o/a Biographer, (London, 1898),II, 71. For the influenceof German thought, see alsoW. R. Inge, The Platonic Tradition in English Religious Thought (London, 1926);R. Wellek,Kant in England (Princeton, 1931);J. H. Muirhead, The Platonic Tradition in Anglo-Saxon Philosophy (London, 193l); P. R. Robins, The Reception ol Hegelian Philosophy in Britain with special reference to social and political thought (Ph.D. diss., London, 1967). a Stephen,p. 71. 4 Stephen,Some Early Impressions (London, 1924),pp. 13-14. 5 N. Annan, Leslie Stephen: His Thought and Character in Relation to his Time (London, 1951), pp. 130-131. [177] 178 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY century, accepted the sovereignty of Aristotle and the authority of antiquity: it pursued a general and encyclopaedic wisdom, and it discovered the fountain of that wisdom in the past. Cambridge was later in finding a single acknowledged master: but the master, when he came, was one of its own sons, Isaac Newton, and he was a master of deep and ascertained knowledge in the one field of natural philosophy,e The unique character of Oxford and Cambridge thought is brought out in the following two incidents. The Cambridge incident occurred during a meeting presided over by Sir Montague Butler, the Master of Trinity, at which Professor Sidgwick was also present. At the end of a long discussion, in which Sidgwick did not participate, the Master asked him if he had anything to say. "Yes," he said with his stammer, "yes. I am pur... pursuing a train of thought which ev... eventually may lead to a possible objection.''~ At Oxford the emphasis was on rhetoric and style rather than on logic. Thus, when one of Jowett's students asked him for his opinion of Ward's Nature and Grace, which was lying on his table, he said in his characteristic manner: "Dark with excess of logic.''8...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 177-187
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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