Friday, October 17, 2008

44.0 The Teaser Chapter

This is the set-up chapter, the background info required to make sense of the next, argumentative chapter, of the book. I was going to roll this stuff into an explication of the impact of math on Russell and Russell (and Moore) on Richards, but it just got too convoluted.

So, the taster of the week:

Chapter One:
Cambridge:
The Intellectual Ground for the New Rhetoric


It is the central claim of this chapter that any understanding of the New Rhetoric as a body of theory in the first decades of the 20th century depends on an understanding of the site of its intellectual genesis. That site is Cambridge University, where I. A. Richards was to be both student and faculty member (and where Stephen Toulmin would also study). To properly explain this context, I will make three basic claims about Cambridge’s role as an institution in English cultural, life, about its internal academic culture, and about the changes in that culture that made the New Rhetoric possible in the interwar period.

Cambridge (and Oxford) are unique among universities throughout the world for their college structure, which yields deep effects in terms of the socialization of its undergraduates, the role of religion in university life, and the spheres of intellectual work encouraged within the university.

The Cambridge intellectual context prior to the first world war was dominated primarily by mathematics and secondarily by classics. This dominance inflected work in philosophy (then called “moral sciences”). This philosophical work would shape the New Rhetoric. I. A. Richards, as a student in Moral Sciences as an undergraduate, was deeply influenced by philosophical work in his own writings on communication, literary theory and rhetoric

The Cambridge intellectual context of the interwar period was predisciplinary. Organization of the faculty into departments reflective of disciplines did not happen until the interwar period. As a result, a great deal of interdisciplinary research and teaching was possible in the Cambridge context, which in turn inflected rhetorical study in I. A. Richards.


This chapter outlines the broadest Cambridge context (as well as the specific context of Magdalene College where Richards studied and worked) and begins to locate I. A. Richards would assume within this context.

Cambridge Life

Cambridge was born as no other medieval university was born. The standard myth involves faculty fleeing Oxford after a few of their number were accused of crimes. They relocated to the monastic setting of Cambridge, and slowly (as the faculty began restarting their professional work) Cambridge became a typical medieval university. As a typical medieval university, Cambridge included in its curriculum the teaching of rhetoric. According to the standard history of the university, the medieval curriculum consisted of the trivium that scholars in rhetoric know so well, and that rhetoric was divisible into activities like drama, epistolary practice, and homiletics. And so Cambridge developed as many or most medieval universities would, with one substantial difference.

Cambridge is a University composed of colleges. Where American universities are composed of colleges which are identified by the subjects taught by the faculty within them (the College of Liberal Arts, etc), Cambridge colleges are embedded in a different tradition. As of 2008, there are 31 colleges at Cambridge; some are medieval in their origins (Clare College, 1326), while some are contemporary in their aim and design (Churchill College, 1960). At different times in their history, all have been restricted only to men; some have been restricted only to women. Some have admitted only graduate students, or “mature” undergraduates. Only rarely (as in the case of Churchill college, for example, which emphasizes the sciences and technology) have restrictions or emphases based on field of inquiry been deployed.

To measure the social and intellectual climate in the colleges, it may be helpful to know who enrolled. While certain of the colleges maintained a religious orientation, most of the students were from the business or middle class. Between 1800-1899, more than 30% of all students were children of the clergy. Between 1800 and 1849, the children of landowners accounted for 31% of the student body, a share that drops to 19% between 1850-1899. As enrollment by the landowning classes decreased, In the meantime, the children of the middle class (bankers, lawyers, civil servants) became a larger portion of the student body (Lubenow 94).

For hundreds of years, the colleges were largely autonomous entities, admitting students by their own standards in very small numbers (each college admitting as few as ten students or less, in some cases). While some colleges attracted faculty in certain areas because of their intellectual tradition or their material resources, if there were intellectual strengths among the fellows of a college, these “local concentrations of talent” were the result of tradition as much as curricular intent (Brooke, History IV, 474). Haffenden describes the typical perspective on the college: “ a residential club for young gentlemen who wished to develop their faculties in intimate association with one another and with as little interference as possible from directors of studies and dons in general” (100). It was the relationship to other students in your college that mattered most to the young men at Cambridge in the 19th century.

College Fellows, in addition to being responsible for the academic preparation of the students, also participated in athletics, indicating their embeddedness in the whole development of the student; this kind of social integration resulted in “friendliness, mutual respect and a sense of common effort” (Rothblatt 209) that typified the experience of the student in the colleges.

The colleges served effectively as a means to connect students with alumni and with other students in preparation for entry to middle-class life, but could also serve, problematically, to insulate students. While the University was officially and ultimately responsible for the students, jurisdictional disputes, in fact, often tended to favor the college. For example, throughout the 19th century, University statute demanded that students accused of sexual offences be reported to the University for disciplinary action. In fact, the students were more commonly reported to the Colleges, where discipline was far more lenient. (This story smacks of sexist creepiness. Should I delete it? (Rothblatt 184).

The university also insulated students from the Cambridge city community, the town and gown. According to Rothblatt, “walls, gates and ditches surrounding the colleges were meant to restrict student mobility and prevent townsmen from disturbing the college peace… Proctors flanked by subordinates called ‘bulldogs’ policed the streets in order to prevent town and gown conflicts and to enforce regulations regarding academic dress” (184). The split between the privileged students and the average resident of Cambridge was a defining experience for the young undergraduate.

The place of religion in the social life of the colleges was also complicated in part because any visitor to Cambridge, even today, sees the prominent chapels (some “chapels” larger than most town churches) in all of the old colleges. These chapels are as much designed to promote the religious culture of the colleges as to honor the royalty and others who funded them, to be sure. But religion was part of University culture in the 19th century. Masses were well-attended. And institutional events occurred in the chapels: fellows were appointed in the chapels, for example, a situation that some lecturers, fellows and others bristled at, to say the least.

The apparent dominance of religious culture spawned a sub-culture of intellectual resistance. Lubenow writes that the intellectual circle the Cambridge Apostles were “de rigueur… agnostic.” (406). Ogden’s Cambridge Heretics, for example, were another intellectual club devoted to the discussion of religion, art and philosophy, with an agnostic membership and an antipathy toward the religious conditions of the college clear from their name. Resistance to religion was complex and polyvalent. Some Cambridge figures believed that religion was the “cunning invention of priests and kings;” others accepted that religion serves a useful social function and met certain primitive instincts (Lubenow 404). In any event, religion was a wedge issue well into the 20th century – a wedge issue brought to a head by the works of (for example) Bertrand Russell.

Given the loose administrative structures tying the largely autonomous colleges together in the 19th century, the only promise of standardization in education was found in the tripos system. The tripos is a kind of honors exit exam that guaranteed that a level of mastery of a subject had been achieved before graduation. (Not all 19th century students sought honors status through the tripos; students with secure financial futures, for example the landed classes, would often simple seek to “pass” to graduation, and were called “poll men.”)

The tripos was very different than many of the standardized exams given college graduates today (for example, bar exams for lawyers or CPA exams for accounting majors or PRAXIS exams for education majors). It was closer to a formal examination of liberal education. Rothblatt describes it best: “The man who understood the principles of argument and knew how to derive generalizations from a body of actual material could subsequently teach himself any subject” (182). The tripos, then, was rigorous without being arcane.

The most prominent and popular of tripos in the late 19th century were mathematics and classics. As we measure the Cambridge influences on the New Rhetoric, we need to look first at the dominance of math and classics.

The Dominance of Mathematics and Classics in the Curriculum

In the 19th century, “mathematics and classics were the road to liberal learning and the liberal imagination” (Lubenow 119), working together “in a common literary culture” (23). Neither was quite what these fields of inquiry are today – rarified and overspecialized. Instead, a degree in mathematics or classics at Cambridge was a fully liberal education. And it was a popular one. Two thirds of students sitting for Honors exams between 1874 and 1885 were seeking degrees in mathematics or classics. Between 1880 and 1890,

125 students took the Mathematical Tripos
109 students took the Classical Tripos
8 students took the Moral Sciences Tripos
66 students took the Natural Sciences Tripos
23 students took the History Tripos.

The dominance of math and classics us clear (as is the incredibly small size of the University). The new fields of study (Moral Sciences, Natural Sciences, etc.) found legitimacy when they “mimicked the objectives of classical and mathematical learning” (Lubenow 10), with their close connection to the liberal arts.

The 19th century Tripos in mathematics included tests on “arithmetic, geometry, algebra, trigonometry, mechanics, optics, astronomy and Newton’s Principia” (Lubenow 119), indicating that mathematics was neither completely theoretical nor applied. It was both an object of study in its own right and a tool for research. The same could be said of its complementary field of study, classics.

Classics in 19th century Cambridge was not the rarified study of bones, pots, and philology. Instead, according to Lubenow, “classical learning had a critical function. It provided a point of purchase from which to evaluate experience… the agent for mental cultivation and for developing feelings of beauty” (22). This is the 19th century sense of humane education manifest.

Classics, after the establishment of the area of study in 1822, was an elective series of courses to be completed only after the completion of a series of courses and the Tripos in mathematics. In 1849, an ancient history paper became a formal part of the Tripos exam (Stray 6). When classics at Cambridge was freed from its mathematical core curriculum in 1854, it needed some replacement, some guarantee of academic rigor. Philology was that new guarantor. John Robert Seeley, a prominent figure in Cambridge classics in the 19th century, argued that classics, as the study of syntax and philology, was training in analytic ways to think, en route to broader work on “the nature of man and society” (Rothblatt 166). His goal was “to train men for leadership rather than scholarship” in the classics curriculum (Rothblatt 179). At the end of the century, R. C. Jebb continued the belief that linguistic foundations for classics were central to a humanizing education, because “the proper end of knowledge and the proper end of teaching was conduct. Education was a means to a better self” (220-221). And that better self included women: classics, especially archaeology, was a popular field of study for women entering Cambridge.

In 1872, the Royal Commission recommended that the Classics tripos be subdivided. The first part included primarily questions in a “liberal education” understanding of the classics, with some beginning exposure to philogy. The second part, not taken by all students, was subdivided into literature, philosophy, history, archaeology and comparative philology. Only the literature section was compulsory (Stark 8). (Scholars of rhetoric will note that this is the period that formal study of rhetoric evaporates from the organized Cambridge curriculum, inside and outside classics.) The growth of literary study in the classics curriculum would have a profound impact on the development of multiple fields of study, including the field of English literature.

The first designated King Edward VII Professor of English Literature was classicist A. W. Verrall, whom Chainey claims “endeavoured to treat Greek and Latin works as living literature, not merely as grammatical texts. This approach would in the end energize the teaching of English as English manifested in the reorganization of the Cambridge curriculum in the 20th century.

The Reorganization of the Curriculum in the 20th Century

Apologists for Cambridge often argued that the German research university as a model for education was fundamentally incompatible with “a characteristically English concern for the moral welfare of students” (Rothblatt 175). The tension between the traditional model and the German model was clear by the interwar period, when the government began to take an interest in the structures of education at Cambridge. As the national government diverted funds into Cambridge, they wanted increased efficiency and at least some input into programs and majors (for example, agriculture).

At the behest of the government that was more and more deeply subsidizing Cambridge, a move toward centralizing administration of teaching and research manifested. A central, University office began to schedule teaching and to hire instructors; these faculty were paid by the University, instead of the colleges. This relationship, according to Concise, is “ineluctably problematic,” as the university controls the course offerings but has no control over the admission standards and strategies for the student body that take the courses.

Beyond these administrative concerns, the centralization of the university had immense impact on the intellectual climate. The construction of disciplinary “silos” for intellectual work becomes dominant, as fellows began to work more intimately with their disciplinary colleagues, across the colleges, instead of collegially with their colleagues in their own college. Such disciplinary crystallization would eventually result in the offering of the PhD at Cambridge in 1919 and the eventual requirement for the PhD to teach at Cambridge (Howarth 86). After centuries, Cambridge finally came to take on the structure and appearance of the modern university.

While multiple disciplines blossomed in this period (some, like agriculture, heavily subsidized by the state), a few were of particular importance for the development of the New Rhetoric: Philosophy (Moral Sciences) and English.

The Moral Sciences Tripos was founded in 1851, but it was not, generally speaking, a popular course of study until the interwar period. Brooke tells us that in 1905, there were five male students and one female, as compared to four examiners on the faculty. Despite the small number of students, however, it is fair to say that moral sciences were the intellectual center of Cambridge life in the first decades of the 20th century. And it was sprawling, intersecting with psychology, mathematics, and other disciplines. (In the interwar period, F. C. Bartlett became the engine in establishing experimental psychology [Brooke, History IV 499] as an alternative to the psychology rooted in the philosophy of mind. This did not end such research, though; the work on philosophy of mind started by Ward as Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic [beginning in 1897] would continue [Lubenow 339].) Moral Sciences broke the ground, in terms of the philosophy of language, where New Rhetoric would grow.

English, as a disciplinary formation at Cambridge, did not take root until the interwar period. There were courses offered in Anglo-Saxon and Chaucer, but the faculty teaching those courses “resisted from the start any alliance with belles letters” (Brooke, History IV, 444). Their research was largely linguistic and philological. In 1910, the King Edward VII Professorship of English Literature (held by Verrall, discussed above) was established, the first faculty line in “literary and critical” research. By 1916, Sir Arthur Quilller-Crouch had begun to draft the Tripos in English, a move welcomed by the linguists and philologists (who believed that they might teach smaller, more focused courses by differentiating the course of study of medieval languages from the course of study of literature in modern English). It is into this newly born disciplinary formation that Richards would become a lecturer, then a fellow, finally a world-renowned scholar.

On Richards’ Intellectual Home: Magdalene College

Magdalene is the youngest of the old colleges and the only one of the old colleges to be located on the far side of the river Cam from the center of town. As such, it has often been considered marginal. It was founded on the site of a Benedictine Monk’s Hostel (intentionally sited, then, across the river from the bustle of the city) in 1428 (Haffenden, Madarins, 98), reorganized and renamed in 1542, and struggled through the Enlightenment and 19th century, sometimes enrolling fewer than ten students. At the beginning of the 20th century, Magdalene, this poor sister of a college, had only 40 students on its books and just five fellows.

Historians of the College note that A. C. Benson was in large part responsible for a turnaround in the College’s fortunes. Benson was hired as a fellow in 1904, named vice-master in 1912 and master in 1915. According to Martin Garrett, “During the twenty-one years of his involvement with the college he transformed it froim a small, poor, failing institution into a respected and confident one” (24), in part subsidizing College growth with income from his popular novels. But that process was just beginning as Richards became a student and later faculty member at the College. The limited resources were of little concern to a precocious young mind like that of I. A. Richards. Magdalene was the gateway to a variety of intellectual experiences with some of the dominant personalities of the age.

The Early Life of I. A. Richards

Richards was born in Sandbach, Cheshire, in 1893. He was the third son of William Armstrong Richards (a chemical engineer) and Mary Anne Haigh. His father died in 1902. As a child, he read Kipling and Verne and Stevenson; he worked with model trains. In 1905, he entered the Junior (boarding) school at Clifton College, with an enrollment of 528 boys. There, Richards studied Latin, Greek, English, French, Mathematics, among other subjects; he also suffered his first bout with tuberculosis.ii After a recuperative period, he returned to Clifton in 1908, where he dropped out of his classics courses and switched from the liberal arts curriculum at Clifton to a polytechnic (“Military and Engineering”) curriculum, where he quickly rose to top of the class.

At age 16, while still at student at Clifton, Richards got his first taste of teaching through the Extension movement at the Adult School, where Richards taught the Book of Job as a work of literature.iii

Richards entered Cambridge as a student in 1911. Magdalene (Richards’ college) was very small: it admitted roughly 25 students a year.iv Richards first studied Medicine and History, later leaving those subjects for Moral Sciences. According to Russo, the revolution of G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell against Hegelian idealism had occurred,” v and Richards was to benefit from this dynamic intellectual environment. His teachers were J. M. E McTaggart (an idealist philosopher) and logician W. E. Johnson.vi He would soon fall under the influence of Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, John Ward, later Wittgenstein and other intellectual giants of Cambridge.

He received first-class honors on the tripos exams in 1915, only to suffer from tuberculosois in 1916. This bout with illness kept him out of the war. He recuperated in Wales and in the Alps, where he learned a love of mountaineering.vii At one point, he had intended life as a climbing guide; mountaineering remained his passion for decades. In 1917, his convalescence complete, he returned to Cambridge.

By 1919, Richards was invited to join Cambridge’s new English Faculty. Mansfield Forbes offered Richards a position as a lecturer in the English tripos, an area of student examination initiated in 1917.viii As a lecturer, Richards could collect 15 shillings from each student attending 3 or more lectures of the eight delivered in a term; this was not a salaried position.ix In a letter to Forbes in 1919, Richards outlines the content of his lectures on the “Theory of Criticism” (Selected Letters 14-15); Richards told Forbes that he would offer the following lectures series in the summer of 1920:

October: Theory of Criticism; Grammar and the Art of Writing
Lent: Theory of Criticism; The Novel
Summer: Theory of Criticism; Recent Novels (Selected Letters 20).


The instability of this life as a kind of adjunct faculty member did not last long. In 1922, Richards’ career was secured through a College Lectureship at Magdalene, one of the colleges at Cambridge. He became a Fellow of the College four years later (Russo, Complementarities ix).

The time that Richards spent at Magdalene was among the most fruitful of his career. The bulk of that good work can be seen as an attempt to wrestle with Moore’s passion for language, though his research would lead him in very different directions. The aim of that good work can be seen as an attempt to refine Russell’s (and later Wittgenstein’s) understanding of language. The products of that good work are The Meaning of Meaning, Principles of Literary Criticism and Practical Criticism. The effects of that good work can be called the beginning of the reinstantiation of rhetoric, though Richards did not know the term, in the crucible that was the Cambridge context.

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