John Vardill, Response to Dr. Witherspoon, November 1772
[Causidicius] Response to Dr. Witherspoon’s Address to the Inhabitants of Jamaica, and the other West-India Islands, in behalf of the College of New Jersey. November 24, 1772.
To the printer ofthe New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury. MR. PRINTER,
When a Writer submits any literary Production to the Inspection of the Public, every Man has a Right to examine it; provided he does this with Decency and Candour. I shall not knowingly violate either in the following Strictures on some Parts of a Performance, contained in two of your late Papers, and which had been before, in the Form of a Pamphlet.
You have given us Dr. WITHERSPOONS Address to the Inhabitants of Jamaica, and other West-India Islands, in behalf of the College of New Jersey. The Republication of this Address in your Gazette, that it might circulate thro’ designed originally for the West-Indies, has occasioned various Speculations, and many of your Readers have been at a Loss for some Clue to direct them to the Motives and Reasons of it. For my part, I am inclined to think this Step was taken upon a Presumption that it would operate in Favour of the College at Princeton: thro’ in a Method different from what was first intended by the Address. I have been informed that the Trustees of that College prepared making a Collection in the West-India Islands for the Seminary under their Care; and that this Address was drawn up to facilitate that Measure: So far was very well. The Zeal of those Gentlemen to promote the Interest of their College was commendable. But what have the North-Americans to do with this? What was the Address, originally designed for, and directed to, the Inhabitants of the West-Indies, obtruded on them?
Upon reading that part of the Address you first gave us, I was considering whether a display of the Doctor’s Ability and Skill in Composition might not be the motive for this Republication-or to inform the Public, of the Place of his Birth, near Edinburgh, of his Connection with the Members of the University of Glasgow. The Contents naturally led me to thing so; this was also very harmless. It might proceed from the Advice of Friends; imagining that a Person thus distinguished, and placed at the Head of their College, if generally known, would add to its Reputation. As I mean not to detract from the Doctor’s real Merit-from his Talents for writing or his literary Attainments; so neither shall I take upon me to determine how far this Composition may have contributed to establish his Character as an Author. I am perfectly willing that he and his College should remain in the full and quiet Possession of all the Advantages, honours and emoluments arising to them, in this Respect, from the present Address.
But the Part of this Address, which you published in a succeeding Paper, clearly pointed out the Method by which the College ofNew-Jersey was to have Service done to it, viz. presenting it as superior to all neighboring Colleges. Thus whilst Contributions were to be levied in the West-Indies, the Youth of North-America were to be lured by the Charmer’s Voice into the Bosom of Nassau-Hall.
Had this Gentleman been content with recommending an Education in America, as preferable to one in Great-Britain, where, it seems, Boys are apt to be idle and very naughty-had he only amused us with telling that America is nearer the West-Indies than Great-Britain-that Princeton is extremely healthy, and so happily situated between New-York and Philadelphia, that it could not be moved a Yard either way, without manifest Disadvantage-nay, had he been satisfied with giving a minute Detail of Premiums conferred in the several Classes of his School and College, or of the Government and Mode of Teaching practiced in each: I know no Person that would be offended at such Speculations; and besides, they might serve to take off some of that Blame which he tells us the Friends of that College have incurred by their neglect of giving pompous Descriptions, or repeated Recommendations of it in the public Papers-a charge, which in my humble Opinion, in utterly Groundless. n
Insinuations are flung out, which arejustly deemed injurious to other Seminaries, when advantages are held up as peculiar to the Coflege-of Pnnceton, the Reader being led up to imagine that other Colleges are destitute of them: The learned President must not be surprised ifhe ill be the less inclined to take amiss the few Animadversions I am about to make, as I attribute the exceptionable Passages, which gave Rise to them, principally to Misinformation. When he is better acquainted with the State of Things in America, he will often be very apt to suspect that several Articles of Intelligence which he receives from a certain Quarter, are dictated by Party Spirit.
The Doctor recommends his College to the Attention and Esteem of Men of Penetration and Candour, chiefly from such Circumstances-as are essential to its Situation and Constitution, and therefore must be supposed to have not only the most powerful but the most lasting Effect. These Circumstances he reduces under five different Heads; and to these we ought to attend, as the supposed Superiority of Princeton College depends on them. – –
He begins with affirming the College of New-Jersey is altogether independent. This Expression is very strong. Does he mean Independent with respect to its Funds, or to the principles which are therein circulated? The former Sense is excluded by what he soon after adds-we are so far, says he, from having our Find so complete, as of itself to support the necessary Expence, that the greater Part of our annual Income, arises from the Payment of the Scholars, -and the very Design of this Address, which is to solicit Benefactions, plainly evinces that their Funds are not in a State of Independency.
It remains that this College is altogether independent, with Respect to the Principles that are there inculcated. Does this Gentleman then imagine that this Circumstance will recommend his College to Men of Penetration and Condour under a British Government, and where the Church of Englandj established? The Principles of independents are justly deemed by the judicious and discerning, not only unfriendly, but dangerous in the highest Degree, to our happy Constitution, which has often bled under their seditious Machinations. Turbulence and Faction ever have, and probably ever will mark their Proceedings. Would this Gentleman see the genuine Effects of Principles altogether Independent? I need not send him so farback as to the Reign of CHARLES I, for this, when the Constitution was in Ruins. Let him only tum his Eyes to may see Men acting on grace to all Order and Government. The giddy Caprice, Insolence and Disorders, which hare there daily exhibited, are sufficient to give every reasonable Man and loyal Subject a Disgust to Principles altogether Independent._:_that political Paradox where local adventitious Circumstances prevent the same Spirit from becoming so conspicuous.
The learned President goes on.-It, i.e. the College of New Jersey hath received no Favour from Government, but the Charter, by the particular Friendship of a Person now deceased. It owes nothing but to the Benefactions of a public so deficient that it cannot produce particular Dependence, or operate by partial Influence. From this Circumstance it must be free from great Evils and derive the like number of solid Advantages. There is no Fear of being obliged to choose Teachers upon ministerial Recommendations, or in Compliance with the over-bearing Weight of Family Interest.
Those two Evils, from which the College of Princeton is exempt, are, I confess, of a very extraordinary Nature. Doubtless this Gentleman must have in View some American Colleges, which are exposed to those Evils. This is manifestly implied; for he is here enumerating thoseCircumstances which are essential to the Situation and Constitution of his College, and must therefore e be supposed to have no only the most powerful, but the most lasting Effects; and from these, endeavors to recommend it to the attention and Esteem of Men of Penetration and Candour. Would it not be absurd therefore to rank among these Circumstances, such as are common to other colleges; and not essential or peculiar to that of New-Jersey?
Well! What Colleges are those which have received Favours from Government that must choose Teachers upon ministerial Recommendation, or in Compliance with the over-bearing Weight of Family Interest? I cannot conceive that any other Colleges can be pointed at, than those of Williamsburg, Philadelphia, and New-York. That of Williamsburg is so distant, and thro’ a Succession of unlucky Circumstances, is in such a depressed state that it cannot be supposed to rival any college in the more northern Colonies, or engage this Gentleman’s Attention. TheCollege of Philadelphia received a Charter, and some other Favours from the Proprietor of Pennsylvania; but it does not appear in Fact that the proprietary Regulations of that College. The trustees, many of whom are in an opposite Interest to the Proprietor, are vested with such powers by their Charter, that the Proprietor, were he even willing, could not control their Resolutions; especially in such Matters as this Gentleman refers to. is present Majesty graciously bestowed his Royal Bounty on that College in a late Collection; but the person would be only laughed at, who would infer from thence that the King’s Ministers would found a Claim thereon to influence or direct the Measures of that Corporation. So that it is not likely that he had even this College, at least principally, in view.
The College of New-York stands the fairest for being the Mark at which the President’s Observation was leveled. It has a Royal Charter, and ample privileges by Virtue of that Charter. It equally shared in the same royal Munificence with the College of Philadelphia.-Our gracious Sovereign has been pleased very lately to remit for ever the Quit-Rents of some valuable Tracts of land granted for its Use.-There is a Family of Distinction in New-York, which has numerous and respectable Connexions, and they have patronized that College, to their immortal Honour, and opposed theTorrent of Party Rage that would have crushed it as soon as formed. But that College has not yet felt, and there is not the most distant Prospect that it ever will feel, the Evils suggested by the learned President.
Does this Gentleman really believe, that his Majesty’s Ministers of State, at the Distance of 3000 Miles, will interfere in choosing Teachers for the College of New-York? That those Teachers will be chosen in Consequence of Ministerial Recommendations? Is it not equally ridiculous to suppose this, as to suppose the King’s Ministers would interest themselves in choose Constables for the City ofNew-York, because its Charter and some Grants of Lands have been receive from the Crown? Why then throw out this Insinuation, so absurd, so improbable, to prejudice Mankind against a respectable Seminary? Surely this Gentleman must have been sadly at a Loss for Arguments, to show the superior Advantages of his own College, when he pitched upon this.-An Argument which is likely to have an Effect, contrary to what he intended, with all Men of Sense.
Equally groundless and injurious is the Insinuation, that Teachers must be chosen in Compliance with the over-bearing Weight of Family Interest. The Family above-mentioned, is, no Doubt, here aimed at: To one of its Members, who has an Honour to America, the College of New-York owes its Charter. He, and other Friends of Literature, snatched the Infant Sciences from their Cradle, when ready to perish,-cherished them with parental Tenderness, and exerted their zealous Endeavors to bring them to Maturity and Perfection. But that Family never did, by its own over bearing Weight influence the Choice of Teacher; or recommend any measure inconsistent with the most liberal Sentiments. In choosing Professors for that College, the Circumstances principally attended to,were Abilities, Prudence and a fair Character. Their Profession, in Point ofReligious was never any Impediment. One of the Professors, who has acquitted himself with universal Approbation for several Years i!lhis Department, is a Presbyterian._ The Doctor boasts that his College is founded, and hath been conducted upon the most Catholic Principles. But can he produce such an Instance as this of it’s being conducted on Catholic Principles? Was any Member of the Church of England ever admitted to be a Professor in the College of Princeton? I believe not, altho’ I will not affirm that the above Professor, or any other Professor in the College ofNew-York, has more Wisdom and self-denial than usually falls to the Lot of Humanity: Yet religious Sentiments, as the learned President apprehends. The Society has not been divided into Parties, nor marshaled under Names, on that Account.
As a consequence that naturally may be expected from the State of Princeton College-its being altogether independent-its Governors and Teachers being removed as far as the State of Human Nature will admit, from any Temptation to a fawning, cringing Spirit, and mean Servility in Hope of Court Favour or Promotion; the learned President informs us, that in Fact they have found by Experience hitherto the Spirit of Liberty hath breathed high and strong in all its Members. This Information was needless to those who are acquainted with the State of Princeton College. The Students in their public Examinations have very often entered deep!y into the Party Politics and Contentions of latter Times, and in such Manner as to give the greatest Offence to many who were present. This hath become so flagrant, especially of late, that a Person, who appears to be a warm Friend to Princeton College, gave a very sensible and just Rebuke for it in the last Pennsylvania Chronicle of the 31st of October last. In Truth I condole with the Doctor on the Awkwardness of his Situation; being obliged to avow in Public a Fact, which he had been under a Necessity of apologizing for often in private, and perhaps really disapproves. However this may exculpate the learned President himself, it is certainly no Recommendation of his College, of its Constitution or Government.
But this is called the Spirit of Liberty, which breathes high and strong. Others will probably think it deserves and will give it a worse Name. I know no Business that students have with such Matters. The general Principles and different Forms of Government, they ought indeed to be made acquainted with, and the Subject is treated of in most Books of Natural Law. But for Students to be trained up in the peculiar Tenets, and taught to pace in the political Trammels, or any Sect or Party,-to waste their Time in canvassing the Proceedings and Principles of different Factions,-to have their Judgment early biased, and Impressions, perhaps injurious to our happy Constitution, make on their Minds, before they are able to distinguish what is Right, from what is Wrong, in such Matters; is improper in the highest Degree, and utterly inconsistent with the Business of a College. Students would spend their Time full as well, (I am sure with less Detriment to the State,) were they to employ it for the Benefit of his Majesty’s liege Subjects, in “raw; or inclement Summers,” like some Academicans in LAGADO; or divertise themselves with the several Plays and Amusements of the renowned GARAGANTUA, when he went to College.
The Governors and Teachers however of Princeton College, are removed as far as East is from West, from any Temptation to a fawning, cringing Spirit and mean Servility in hope of Court Favour and Promotion. But there is such a Thing as a cringing Spirit and mean Servility towards the Populace, as well as towards our Superiors. Popularity may be equally advantageous to some, by gaining a Number of Student to support their necessary Expense, as Court Favour can be to others, for the Purpose of Promotion. There may be as much Servility in the one Case as the other: And notwithstanding the Caution given by the learned President to the contrary, every Reader must see that his whole Address is chiefly ad populum; and this Part in particular, is evidently calculated to lay Hold on the Prejudices of the People, and tum them to Advantage of his College.
Constitutional Liberty is one of the greatest Blessings a Briton can boast of. No Possession out to be held dearer or more sacred. An unshaken Attachment to it should distinguish every real Friend of his Country; and is as distant from the unbridled Licenctiousness of Independents, as from the crouching Servility claimed by Despotism. Both would equally destroy Constitutional Liberty; both are therefore to be equally detested. The Students in the College of New-York are, in general, the Sons of Gentlemen of Independent Fortunes. They have, I verily believe, as high a Sense of the Value of Constitutional Liberty, as Persons of their Years can be supposed to have; and would highly disdain all Cringing and Servility: and the Governors of that College would not fail to spurn with Indignation, any Attempts were they made, which however is not the Case, and it is injurious and false to suppose it,-any Attempts, I say, too diminish a due Sense of that Liberty.
Having dwelt so long on the first Article, I shall be the more concise in my strictures on those that remain; for it is not my Design to animadvert on all that is justly exceptionable. Under the second Head, the learned President affirms-that the Number of Under Graduates, or proper Members of his College, is near four times that of any College on the Continent to the Southward of New-England, and probably greater that all the Rest put together. This is mentioned as a Circumstance to show the Esteem and Approbations of those who are nearest it and know it best. But this Gentleman has been egregiously imposed on. His Account is extremely erroneous; and the candid Reader is left to judge how such Accounts should operate in Favour of his College, or to the Prejudice of others.
He had not told us the Number of Under-Graduates in his College. But that Defect is supplied by a Return “of all the Inhabitants of Windsor Township, in Middlesex-County, New Jersey, made by JOSEPH SKELTON, ESQ; Assessor of said Township,” and who is said to be one of most intelligent Men in the Country. This Return was laid before the Assembly, and an Extract of it published in the Supplement of the New York Journal, No. 1559. The College of Princeton stands in the Township of Windsor; and Mr. SKELTON informs us that in that College there are “3 Tutors-85 Scholars,” or Students. Now the Number of Students in the College of New-York, as I have it from the best Authority, is almost 50; besides Students in the Medical School. The Reader may easily see how different this Proportion is from what the learned President would represent; and I shall make no Reflections on it. But were the Disproportion greater than it is, in Favour of the College of New-Jersey, it need not be wondered at; considering the indefatigable Endeavours and Methods used by its Friends to promote it, as well as depress the College of New-York.
Under the third Head, this Gentleman refers us to the Numbers of Clergymen, Lawyers and Physicians disperser thro’ the Colonies and Islands, who have received their Education at the College of Princeton, as a Proof of its Utility, and make the same Appeal which he makes there. If his College has given an Education to more Gentlemen in those learned Professions, than some others have, the principal Reason is that it is older. The Colleges of Philadelphia and New-York, I do affirm, can boast of Pupils greatly superior and more eminent, in each of those Departments, than the College of New-Jersey. He says, we are willing that the Public should attend to the Characters and Appearance of those Gentlemen in the Law and medical Departments, who were brought up at Nassau-Hall, and are now in the Cities of Philadelphia and New-York,-How the Case may be in Philadelphia, I shall not stay to enquire. But in New-York, I can aver, there is not one Physician, now above one or two Lawyers at most, of any Eminence, who received their Education, or were graduated at his College. Here again Misinformation steps in to exalt Nassau-Hall at the Expence of other Seminaries, and throw a Shade over them.
The healthy Situation of Princeton College, the Strictness of its Discipline, and the Advantages of a College in the Country, especially to secure the Morals of Youth, are held up to View in the fourth Article. Princeton I believe may be healthy; but not more so than New-York, no, nor is any other Place that is known in America. I shall not dispute the Strictness of their Discipline, as I am not so well acquainted with it as the learned President, I shall take it upon his Word; tho’ I never heard that College censured for being too rigorous in this Way, as he intimates.
I would candidly suppose that all who have the Care of Colleges, keep up such Strictness of Discipline as they think more conductive to the Benefit of their Students. To determine precisely the Degree that should be observed, would be difficult, if not impossible; as thought to be regulated by particular Circumstances. I am persuaded there are not fewer Irregularities committed at that, than at other Colleges, nor more Learning carried from it in general; and to prevent the former and promote the latter, are the objects about which Discipline is chiefly concerned. It is by no means a clear Point that Colleges in the Country, or in Villa s, have the Advantage of those in Cities. I think the reverse is true, and if the practice of Mankind is called in to decide the Matter, it will evidently be in Favour of my opinion. Most, if not all the Universities of Europe are in large Cities. Can we suppose this would have been so generally the Case, if wise and learned Men had not always judged such Places, upon the whole, to be most eligible and best? It is certainly an Advantage to a Student, if whilst he is improving his Mind by a learned Education, he hath Opportunities also of polishing his Manners, knowing Mankind, and learning the Behavior of a Gentleman-from which Character, I assure the President, I totally exclude the fashionable Follies, Dissipation and Vices of the present Age. Cities indubitably supply the best Opportunities of thus polishing our Manners and knowing Mankind, by the constant Intercourse with Men of Sense and Learning, with Persons of Distinction in the higher Ranlcs of Temptations and Vices; not excepting the Country or Village. Irregularities of the lowest and basest Kind, are perhaps more predominant in Proportion, than-in Cities. Attention and Discipline are necessary to prevent these, everywhere, as far as possible; and it is natural to think that where there are more Eyes to watch a young Person; where his Conduct is open to the Inspection ofNumbers,-many of whom he must necessarily reverse and stand in Awe of, that he will there be most circumspect. I shall just observe further, that the Clownishness and brutal Manners, Practices and Vices so prevalent among the lower Classes of Mankind, will be extremely apt to infect those who frequently mingle with them, as Students at Country Colleges must do; and I appeal to Experience,-to what we daily see, for the Truth of this Observation.
I have anticipated already a Part of what is contained under the fifth Head; the rest is not of much Consequence. There are several Things interspersed thro’ the Address at which I am tempted to demur a little; such as that Students are taught Divinity by the President, (as a regular Science, I presume) and yet as to religious controversy, have that Science wholly to begin, when they go away-that some have left the College, (after finishing their Course of Studies, we must suppose) and yet the President is wholly uncertain to this Hour to what Denomination they belong. These, and some other Matters of the Kind, I pass over as mysterious; yet, like other Mysteries, they may be, and I suppose are, true.
As a Friend to useful Science, I sincerely wish it may flourish in every Seminary on the Continent-even in Nassau-Hall; for I am no Enemy to that College, tho’ I do not like to see it exalted at the Expence of other respectable Seminaries. There should be no Contention among us, but in our Endeavors to promote literature; and notwithstanding the above Strictures, I assure Dr. Witherspoon that I entertain no Sentiments disrespectful to his Character.
November 24, 1772 CAUSIDICUS [John Vardill, King’s College, 1766]
Source: New Jersey Archives, Vol. 28 (1772-1773), pp. 345-359.
James de Lancey doubtless is meant, who as Lieutenant-Governor allowed the act to pass the seals.