[Marxism] William Hazlitt on the university

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 30 08:50:03 MDT 2009

The great resorts and seats of learning often outlive in this way the 
intention of the founders as the world outgrows them. They may be said 
to resemble antiquated coquettes of the last age, who think everything 
ridiculous and intolerable but what was in fashion when they were young, 
and yet are standing proofs of the progress of taste and the vanity of 
human pretensions. Our universities are, in a great measure, become 
cisterns to hold, not conduits to disperse knowledge. The age has the 
start of them; that is, other sources of knowledge have been opened 
since their formation, to which the world have had access, and have 
drunk plentifully at those living fountains, but from which they are 
debarred by the tenor of their charter, and as a matter of dignity and 
privilege. They have grown poor, like the old grandees in some 
countries, by subsisting on the inheritance of learning, while the 
people have grown rich by trade. They are too much in the nature of 
fixtures in intellect: they stop the way in the road to truth; or at any 
rate (for they do not themselves advance) they can only be of service as 
a check-weight on the too hasty and rapid career of innovation. All that 
has been invented or thought in the last two hundred years they take no 
cognizance of, or as little as possible; they are above it; they stand 
upon the ancient landmarks, and will not budge; whatever was not known 
when they were first endowed, they are still in profound and lofty 
ignorance of. Yet in that period how much has been done in literature, 
arts, and science, of which (with the exception of mathematical 
knowledge, the hardest to gainsay or subject to the trammels of 
prejudice and barbarous ipse dixits) scarce any trace is to be found in 
the authentic modes of study and legitimate inquiry which prevail at 
either of our Universities! The unavoidable aim of all corporate bodies 
of learning is not to grow wise, or teach others wisdom, but to prevent 
any one else from being or seeming wiser than themselves; in other 
words, their infallible tendency is in the end to suppress inquiry and 
darken knowledge, by setting limits to the mind of man, and saying to 
his proud spirit, Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther! It would not 
be an unedifying experiment to make a collection of the titles of works 
published in the course of the year by Members of the Universities. If 
any attempt is to be made to patch up an idle system in policy or 
legislation, or church government, it is by a member of the University: 
if any hashed-up speculation on an old exploded argument is to be 
brought forward 'in spite of shame, in erring reason's spite,' it is by 
a Member of the University: if a paltry project is ushered into the 
world for combining ancient prejudices with modern time-serving, it is 
by a Member of the University. Thus we get at a stated supply of the 
annual Defences of the Sinking Fund, Thoughts on the Evils of Education, 
Treatises on Predestination, and Eulogies on Mr. Malthus, all from the 
same source, and through the same vent. If they came from any other 
quarter nobody would look at them; but they have an Imprimatur from 
dulness and authority: we know that there is no offence in them; and 
they are stuck in the shop windows, and read (in the intervals of Lord 
Byron's works, or the Scotch novels) in cathedral towns and close boroughs!


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