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Account of the late Historical Society of Trinity College.

Chief Justice of the Court of King's bench,-Lord Chief Baron,-Judge Chamberlain,-Judge Fox,-Judge Osborne, -Judge Day,-Judge Mayne,-Judge Jebb,-the Attorney General, the Solicitor General,-Right Honorable W. Č. Plunkett, Right Honorable J. Radcliffe, Judge of the Prerogative Court,-Sir John Stuart,-Sir Charles Ormsby,-Prime Sergeant Brown,t-Sergeant Ball,-the present Recorder of Dublin,-Messrs. Lefroy,-E. and R. Pennefather, J. S. Townshend,-Driscol,-J. Lloyd, &c. &c. In the profession of Medicine-Drs. Perceval,-Stokes,†-Plunkett,— Cleghorn, Clancy, &c. This list might be considerably swelled; but it is sufficient to silence those who have affected to consider the Historical Society and all similar associations as useless, considered with reference to the professed objects of their institution,-as seriously interfering with the successful prosecution of studies strictly academical-and, viewed with relation to their positive results, as merely nurseries for sedition, or, at best, hotbeds for the productions of talentless mediocrity. This society seceded in 1794.

It is foreign from the present purpose to enquire into the motives of those who were instrumental in separating from the university an institution of such utility; more especially as the loss was so soon repaired by the establishment of a new Society, having the same objects of pursuit, and founded upon principles which to him who speculated on the ordinary course of events might seem to have insured its permanency. On the 19th December, 1794, Drs. Davenport, Kyle, Sadleir; Mr. Lefroy, Kenny, Torrens, Jebb, &c. associated themselves under the title of THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY of the University of Dublin, instituted for the cultivation of HISTORY, ORATORY, and COMPOSITION. To this society no person was admissible, whose name was not on the College books. No person was permitted to remain a member after he had taken his name off the College books, except such members as had obtained a medal in the society, and such were to continue members only till they were of Master's standing.-To the Fellows of the College was given a right to attend the meetings-the books containing the proceedings of the society were to be submitted to the Board whenever required-and no question of modern politics was to be debated.

Founded on these principles, the Historical Society during a period of eighteen years advanced with rapid but steady steps in the successful prosecution of the objects of its in

Account of the late Historical Society of Trinity College.

stitution. Many of those, who by their exertion in its several departments contributed to their own improvement and its splendour, have already distinguished themselves in the senate, in the pulpit, and at the bar; and in answer to those those who are fond of asserting the incompatibility of its pursuits with studies purely collegiate, we may here observe that almost all those elected to the honourable station of junior fellows, since its foundation, have been themselves members of the institution.

Thus supported by public opinion, by the protection and good will of the governors of the college, and by the weight and character derived from the brilliant voluntary exertions of its members in the pursuit of its honors, the close of the eighteenth session saw the Historical Society flourishing in the most unexampled degree, and justifying in him who judged from external appearances, the hope of many successive years of a healthy and vigorous existence. But the commencement of the nineteenth session substituted for these seemingly well-founded expectations, the bitterness of disappointment. The faith upon which the society had been established was then broken. Its original regulations were, without any cause assigned, any blame imputed to the Society, or any necessity for the adoption of so strong a measure attempted to be shown, taken from it, and their place supplied by others differing in some respect materially from those upon which it was originally formed, and containing, in such difference, the seeds of ruin and dissolution. The interference of academic authority from this period became harassingly frequent. On the promotion of Dr. Hall to the bishoprick of Dromore, Dr. Elrington was appointed to the provostship of Trinity College. The Historical Society, according to custom, presented an address of congratulation to their new Provost, and received an answer calculated to allay the fears of those who entertained the opinion that Dr. Elrington felt not the warmest sentiments of regard for their institution. But the first night of the ensuing session blasted all these fair expectations. The long vacation of 1812 had been diligently employed by the Provost and Senior Fellows in maturing and digesting a plan of reform for the society, containing some material innovations on its original constitution. It was prescribed among other regulations, that no person should be a member whose name was not on the college books-that no person, who was not a member, should be permitted to attend any meeting of the society

Account of the late Historical Society of Trinity College.

that no student (noblemen, sons of noblemen, and baronets excepted) should be admitted until he should become a junior sophister-that the questions debated and the laws enacted should, at the conclusion of each month, be reported to the professor of modern history-that no composition should be read in the society, unless signed by some member, not the author, who should be responsible for it. The Historical Society objected to this change as being unwarranted by any change of circumstances or conduct on their part, and remarked that the new regulations tended to diminish the value of the rewards conferred on members, by depriving them of the privilege hitherto enjoyed of attending its meetings that they thereby deprived the Society of the advice and assistance of the oldest, and consequently the most experienced members-that the restrictions laid upon compositions were at variance with some of the laws in that department—and that the declaration of secrecy being removed, was likely to injure the Society, and placed new members in a situation essentially different from the old. Their remonstrance, however, was not attended with any good effect, as the new regulations were not withdrawn; and in consequence of the untimely exclusion of the older and more experienced members, a spirit of irregularity now began to pervade their meetings. This rendered it necessary again to address the Board, and request the restoration of their old rules; but the only answer the Board thought fit to make was a verbal communication that they had determined not to comply. The motives of the Board for such an exercise of authority, without any statement to support their measures, was unknown. To suppose that it should give every Freshman a reason for every order, would be absurd; but when essential alterations in the laws and constitution of such a body as the Historical Society were proposed to be made, the inconvenience arising from a momentary descent from the dignity of Provost and Senior Fellow, for the purpose of consulting some of its members as to the expediency of the measure, might, perhaps, have been more than counterbalanced by the good consequences resulting from so rational and conciliatory a measure.

All chance of a total repeal of the new regulations had now vanished-yet it was thought that possibly the Board might be induced upon a third application to mitigate its severity. Accordingly a new proposition was made by the Historical Society. It was submitted that as the character of

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Account of the late Historical Society of Trinity College.

the society depended on the excellence of the speeches delivered from the chair, it was most desirable that the persons selected for this important duty should be recommended by talent, seniority on the books, and experience in public speaking-requisites, the two latter of which could scarcely be obtained by a selection from the present limited society. It was therefore suggested as expedient, that the auditor should propose for the purpose of delivering a speech from the chair any individual who had been a member, having first obtained the concurrence of the provost, and that on such occasions only all the students should be permitted to attend. This proposition was also rejected by a majority in the Board.

No further effort was made. The members of the Society contented themselves with silent submission. The Historical Society had hitherto uninterruptedly exercised the privilege of leaving their door open for the purpose of permitting those junior students, who were not members, to listen to their debates. This privilege was taken away. In the same spirit of watchfulness, a college porter was sent to punish any deviation in the members from the extreme punctilio of academic dress. And frequent censures were sent for debating questions; some of them involving in their consideration the first principles of the British Constitution, and which, as such, had been discussed without interruption from the foundation of the Institution. The new fundamental regulations continued to be silently acquiesced in, but their injurious effects could not fail to attract the notice of those who compared the state of the Society under their operation, with its flourishing condition before their enactment.

The attendance at its former meetings of those members whom superior talents or industry had privileged above their fellows, had ever been productive of the best consequences. In their company, the petulance and forwardness into which youthful inexperience might naturally lead some of the members, was awed into silence. How much this contributed to the preservation of order and decorum in the proceedings of the Society, must be obvious to every one. But a tendency to forwardness in some-to puerility of conduct in others— to asperity and warmth of expression in the discussion of questions remotely interesting the feelings, occasionally leading to acts inconsistent with collegiate discipline, and calling for the interference of the governing powers-such was the natural consequence of the absence of the senior members. The first of these more serious violations of order, 3 M


Account of the late Historical Society of Trinity College.

was a personal difference between two members in January, The Board took cognizance of the affair, and most justly sentenced the parties to have their names privately taken from the College books. The next transaction of a similar kind occurred in the June following; but the Board with a mistaken and dangerous lenity, pronounced no opinion as to the nature of the affair, or the conduct of those concerned, thereby rendering a more frequent repetition of such breach of decorum probable.

On the evening of January 25th, 1815, just after the Society had broken up its sitting, a personal difference occurred between two members. Its determination in the most decisive way was fixed on; but information of the circumstances having been given, the Sheriff interfered, and the Board became acquainted with the quarrel. They ordered the names of the two gentlemen to be erased from the list of members -that junior sophisters should not, after that session, be admitted-and that a committee of five should be elected for the purpose of regulating the private business of the society, from whose decisions there should be no appeal. They also curtailed an hour from the usual time of meeting.

Against these changes the Society through their committee. remonstrated, as tending to their gradual annihilation. By the exclusion of the Junior Sophisters the funds of the Society would become so contracted as scarcely to answer their allotted purposes, and it would be scarcely worth the while of senior sophisters to seek admission into an institution in which the now very limited period for the developement of their talents would preclude much intellectual gratification or practical improvement; and the Committee again adverted to the exclusion of the senior members as the cause of that tendency to disorder which now rendered the exclusion of the Junior Sophisters necessary. Previous to the enactment of the regulations of 1812, the Junior Sophisters were proverbially silent. Attendance on the meetings was to them not a business, but a relaxation from business. They took no active part in the proceedings-they were, in the truest sense of the term, lookers on, unbending their minds from the severity and strictness of mathematical and scientific researches, by weekly excursions into regions of a more diversified and less serious complexion-and silently and imperceptibly acquiring a knowledge of, and a value for those rules of decorum, the advantage and uecessity of which their observation rendered them capable of appreciating.

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