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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

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An Early Sighting of “the Collegiate Way of Living”

— It was the Massachusetts puritan scholar Cotton Mather, in his Magnalia Christi Americana, who first spoke of the “collegiate way of living” as providing a richer life for students than boarding “here and there at Private Houses.” And it was because “the Government of New-England was for having their Students brought up in a more Collegiate Way of Living” that American higher education, at its birth, followed the British residential tradition of university life rather than the non-residential tradition of Continental Europe.

Mather’s turn of phrase was picked up by the historian Samuel Eliot Morison in his tercentenary history of Harvard University, and through Morison it has been transmitted to many other writers on higher education, from Frederick Rudolph to Mark Ryan to me.

[Edmund Calamy, 1671–1732]I was delighted this past week to discover another eighteenth-century appearance of the phrase, the only one I know of apart from Mather’s own. The writer was Edmund Calamy, D.D. (1671–1732), an English non-conformist clergyman, and the phrase appeared in Calamy’s Historical Account of My Own Life. Although written during Calamy’s lifetime in the early 1700s, this autobiographical work remained in manuscript until 1829 when the two known copies were collated and published by the Unitarian writer John Towill Rutt.

In the second chapter of his Historical Account, covering the years 1686–1691, Calamy reflected upon the time he spent studying at the University of Utrecht, which was then more welcoming to Protestant non-conformists such as himself than were the universities in his native England. In Utrecht’s university district, Calamy remembered, there had been a number of excellent preachers, but there was little sense of social cohesion among the students and no one to look after those who might go astray:

As to the students [at Utrecht], I cannot but reckon it a disadvantage to them, that they were left to their own way, without any one to inspect their manners. They might, indeed, be as good as they would, study hard, in their several lodgings, and live soberly and virtuously, if they were that way inclined; but if it were otherwise, and they mispent their time, and neither attended the professors nor studied in their own quarters, they had none calling them to an account: and I cannot but say, I reckon the collegiate way of living in our English Universities, where lads have their particular tutors, as well as each house has a separate master, empowered to keep in order his own society, much to be preferred to the living so at large.

‘I cannot but say, I reckon the collegiate way of living in our English Universities, where lads have their particular tutors, as well as each house has a separate master, empowered to keep in order his own society, much to be preferred to the living so at large.’

But did Calamy actually pick up this phrase from Cotton Mather? I think there’s good reason to believe he did.

Mather was the foremost writer in the New England Puritan tradition during Calamy’s lifetime, and Mather’s Magnalia was published in 1702, not in America but in London. Calamy, as an author, specialized in biographical sketches of Protestant non-conformist ministers, and the Magnalia is packed full of such sketches, written in Cotton Mather’s wonderfully allusive and erudite style. It seems likely that Calamy would have known Mather’s work on these grounds alone.

But an even closer connection between the two men can be established with certainty. In 1724 Cotton Mather had published in London a biographical sketch of his father, Memoirs of the Life of the Late Reverend Increase Mather, D.D. The preface to that work was written by none other than Edmund Calamy.

Mather never travelled to Europe, so he and Calamy never met face to face. And it seems unlikely that Mather ever saw Calamy’s Historical Account since it existed only in manuscript until 1829. Did they correspond directly about the virtues of residential colleges? That I don’t know. But it does seem reasonable to conclude that Calamy had absorbed Mather’s remarks in the Magnalia on the value of the collegiate way of living, and then when he later reflected upon his own experiences of student life in Continental Utrecht, called up Mather’s particular wording in support of his own view that the “the collegiate way of living in our English Universities, where lads have their particular tutors, as well as each house a separate master” was “much to be preferred to the living so at large.”

So it was then, and so it remains today.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2016