MC:F23/MS5 Working Papers On The Fellows’ Oath
MC:F23/MS5 consists of a group of documents and letters sent by J. Cartland Walker to H.A. Wilson, relating to the debates in Magdalen concerning the Fellows’ Oath and improvements in the Collegiate system in 1854. They seem to have been collected by Wilson, perhaps for an updated version of, or supplement to, the College history.
MC:F23/MS5/1 11 December 1908
Envelope, now empty, addressed to The Secretary, Magdalen College, Oxford. This is crossed out and ‘The Rev. H.A. Wilson’ added. There are two 1 penny stamps on the envelope. The postmark appears to be Birmingham and ‘Dec. 11 1908.’ The date ‘1854’ has been added in pencil. There are two wax seals on reverse and a modern label: ‘MS 915 (i) – (v)’, referring to the former reference given to this collection.
MC:F23/MS5/2 10 December ‘8’ 
Letter from J. Cartland Walker (address Bickenhill Vicarage, Hampton-in-Arden, Warwickshire) to an unnamed addressee – probably Wilson. Walker says that he is enclosing letters relating to the Fellowships at Magdalen.
This document is untitled. However, a note has been added in pencil: ‘Statement by the Fellows re: the Improvements in the College System.’ An anonymous writer acting on behalf of the Fellows of Magdalen informs an anonymous recipient (addressed as ‘Your Lordship’) about the results of a recent meeting. The document explains that the meeting was arranged as a result of a letter from the Vice Chancellor of the University stating that the Chancellor wished to make known to the government all the improvements that are planned or already carried out at Magdalen and whether they required prohibitions or enabling powers from Parliament for this purpose. It then outlines some of the measures the College took in 1851 to extend or amend the educational system of Magdalen. A committee report was created, which was submitted alongside the present document. The principal recommendations of the committee are listed: the introduction of Commoners, the institution of an affiliated hall, the increase of stipends to the Praelectors and the testing of the proficiency of demyships by a stricter examination. The document describes how Magdalen has acted on these recommendations. The document communicates the response of the Fellows to a message from the addressee: on the question of applying to the legislature for prohibitions, enabling powers, etc. the Fellows have decided that it is not expedient to do so. The document then outlines the changes that the Fellows deem most important. It discusses the lectures ordained by the Founder that anyone could attend and the changes the Fellows wanted to make to these. Other issues include the number of years for which students are allowed to stay on and the creation of new exhibitions. This document purports to be a statement of the views of the majority of the fellows. The writer adds that the President is forwarding his own response.
MC:F23/MS5/4 30 January 1854
Document of legal advice entitled ‘Case for opinion’. Copies of the statutes of Magdalen College and of the oaths taken by the Fellows were originally enclosed with this document. There are instructions that Dr. Travers Twiss should read these and advise whether the Fellows are prevented from applying to Parliament for the power to suppress twenty fellowships and whether they must resist any attempt to do so. Dr. Twiss’ opinion follows. He writes that the President’s oath does stop him going to Parliament with this request. The statutes say specifically that the College shall have one president and forty fellows and that number is fixed. Twiss discusses the statutes further and quotes part of the President’s oath. He also discusses the Fellows’ obligations according their oaths and those of demies. He concludes that the injunction against procuring a diminution of the number of fellows is clearly a cardinal point in the statutes, as it is reflected at all three levels. The document is signed ‘Dr.Travers Twiss’ and dated.
MC:F23/MS5/5 30 January 1854
Document of legal advice entitled ‘Case for opinion’. The name ‘Dr. Twiss’ and what seems to be a price appear on the front, along with the name of a legal firm: ‘Jenner Dyke & Jenner.’ The document is the same as the above (MC:F23/MS5/4), except for a few minor details.
MC: F23/MS5/6 30 January 1854
Printed pamphlet entitled ‘A Letter to a Fellow of Magdalen College Oxford from Roundell Palmer, Esq. M.P. on The Effect and Obligation of the Fellows’ Oath.’ (Palmer’s address is given as 11 New Square, Lincoln’s Inn). (Roundell Palmer, 1812-1895, Counsel to Magdalen college from 1848, Lord Chancellor, see ODNB) Palmer outlines his views on the Fellows oath, quoting from the oath itself. Two questions arise out of the text: firstly whether it extends to prohibit an application to the supreme legislature of the country for an alteration of the statutes and secondly whether that prohibition has become void since the founder’s time. Palmer gives detailed answers to these questions, arguing that the prohibition still stands and that the oath binds the Fellows not to solicit any change from any authority. A note added in pen reads ‘given me by J. Rigaud. Jul. 1888. THW.’
MC:F23/MS5/7 April 1854
Printed pamphlet entitled ‘A Letter from a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, to Roundell Palmer, Esq. M.P.’ The letter is from Francis Hugh Deane (address, Magdalen College) to Palmer. Deane responds to a letter of Palmer’s in which he had corrected inaccuracies in a report made of a speech he gave in Parliament and insisted that any legislation made regarding Colleges must be compulsory. The Fellows, according to Deane, already considered themselves able and willing to administer their property and ‘meet the educational needs of the present generation’ without new powers from Parliament. He outlines changes already made at Magdalen and concludes ‘Such is the time chosen by the Government of the day for treating us as incurably corrupt.’ He predicts negative consequences if the Government continues in its present course. The front cover is marked ‘Given me by J. Rigaud Jul. 1888. THW.’
MC:F23/MS5/8 3 May 1854
Letter labelled ‘No. 1’, from Roundell Palmer (address Lincolns Inn) to The Rev. F.H. Deane (F.1843-54). Palmer writes in response to a letter from Deane, noting that he had started a reply sooner, but wanted to approach it differently when he discovered that Deane was thinking of publishing it. He declares his intention to give a few responses, which Deane could append to his publication. He proceeds to discuss legal and ethical points relating to the Oxford University Act of 1854. He states that he believes that there certainly will be legislation, from which Magdalen will not be exempt. He also observes that Magdalen should seize the chance to negotiate terms as favourable as possible to the independence of the College and the Founder’s intentions. He defends the right of the government to modify the structure and laws of the College and its reasons for doing so. Palmer then argues that the new bill must be compulsory in order to justify any departure from the existing statutes: ‘a superior obligation must be created’ in order to override the College oaths. He discusses an amendment that he had introduced and argues against the policy of employing fellows based on geography rather than merit. Finally he comes to his personal position, saying that he feels no conflict between his role of MP and position as a former Fellow of Magdalen.
MC:F23/MS5/9 26 May 1854
Rough draft of a letter from an unknown sender (probably Francis Hugh Deane) (address Magdalen College) to an unnamed addressee (probably Palmer). Deane expresses his regret that some of their correspondence had been published in the Morning Post. He promises to publish Palmer’s response. He outlines and defends his position on the Fellows’ Oath. Parts of the letter are crossed out.
MC:F23/MS5/10 26 May 1854
Letter labelled ‘No. 2’, from Roundell Palmer (address Lincoln’s Inn) to an unnamed addressee, probably F.H. Deane. Palmer starts by declaring emphatically that he does not want his letter to be published unless his correspondent thinks it useful. However, he does wish the letter to be shown to anyone in College who wants to see it. The rest of the letter discusses the issue of the College oaths and their relationship to the law of the land. Palmer argues that the moral obligation created by the oaths is negated by the superior moral obligation created by the law. He states that he wishes to counter the notion that the only options open to Fellows were to violate the oath, disobey the law or retire from college and hopes that this false view will not be encouraged.
MC:F23/MS5/11 [26 May 1854]
Document initialled ‘F.H.D.’, i.e. Francis Hugh Deane. Deane recalls Mr. Mozley’s argument for the propriety of an application to Parliament for absolution to dispense the College from the observation of the Fellows oath. He presents this in a series of points against the Act of Parliament. Deane concludes that there is no ‘sound or judicious improvement’ which the present statutes do not already allow the College to carry out. The overall tone of the document seems dismissive of the arguments for Parliamentary intervention. (The date of has been added in pencil).
MC:F23/MS5/12 29 May 1854
Letter labelled ‘No. 3’, from Roundell Palmer (address Lincoln’s Inn) to The Rev. F.H. Deane. Palmer begins by stating that he cannot object to the publication his correspondent proposes, although he may have said things in a manner more suitable for a private letter than a public correspondence. He mentions a specific word that he would not have employed, clarifying how he intended it to be interpreted. He mentions the Visitor’s recent decisions, declaring them to be favourable to Magdalen’s independence. Palmer states that he does not wish to see any substantial changes to Magdalen by Parliamentary authority. He asks Deane to publish this letter alongside the others.
MC:F23/MS5/13 29 May 1854
Printed version of a letter from Francis Hugh Deane (address Magdalen College) to Roundell Palmer. This seems to be a printed proof, as there are some suggested alterations added by hand. Deane writes that he has taken his correspondent’s advice and tried to discover what the extent of the obligation of the Fellows really is, concluding that “The present compulsory bill, by denying the claims of indigence, seems to be to legalize a fraud on our Founder.” He declares that although Parliament certainly has the power to enact this legislation, it would be morally wrong to do so. Therefore he refuses to comply with this law and will continue to consider the financial circumstances of candidates for fellowships. Deane argues that the College’s property was left for a specific charitable end and that intellectual attainments regardless of financial need are already catered for at Oxford with open fellowships. He describes changes that had already been made at Magdalen to raise academic standards and extend the benefits of the College to a wider group of people. The Fellows request the freedom to carry on their reforms and extensions. Deane fears that if Parliament intervenes, it will set a precedent. He clarifies that he is discussing the bill as it stands, not after any possible amendments, and explains why he wrote to Palmer in the first place. A passage at the end is marked to be excised.
MC:F23/MS5/14 29 May 1854
MS rough draft of the above letter, with crossings out, etc.
Return here to the introduction to this catalogue.