Benjamin Jowett—‘I am Master ‘

"Here come I, my name is Jowett
  All there is to know, I know it
  I am Master of this College
  And what I don’t know isn’t knowledge."

This squib gently mocks the pretensions of arguably Balliol College’s most famous Master. Jowett was a Greek scholar, and like many classicists through the ages, felt that a grounding in Latin and Greek was sufficient qualification to tackle most areas of knowledge. But he was also a dedicated theologian and an educational reformer. This letter, which another hand (possibly the same one that snipped out Jowett’s signature, thus losing text) has dated in pencil 5th November 1874, four years after Jowett was appointed Master, is addressed to a Mr Buckland (possibly a member of the celebrated clan of eccentric scientists). In it Jowett, who was always interested in Indian affairs and was a member of the 1854 committee drawn up to debate the future administration of the colony, shows his keenness to promote the benefits of an education at Oxford University to young men who might wish to join the Indian Civil Service. Previous to 1858, when it closed, such candidates would have been trained at Haileybury College, near Hertford, but Jowett argues that an Oxford education might prove more attractive to these young men than a stint at Haileybury, should that institution be ‘revived’.

‘Many thanks for your kind gift to the Hall which Mrs Buckland forwarded to me. The building is now about half way up & promises well. It will hold from 260 to 300 persons, so we have made provision for its future.
I hope that you & other Indians will come & see us when you return. I did sufficient numbers to make it worth while to arrange a system for them without compelling them to come, which might heavily weigh on those who want to live with their families during their two years in England. I should be inclined to suggest that a somewhat larger allowance should be made to those who have to meet the additional expense of a university education. I believe that this would be sufficient. The university has many advantages over a revived Haileybury---it exists already—it has advantages in that men who have gone on service to distant parts of the world should regard the college as a sort of home in which they have spent some of the best years of their life and of which they can be sure of
( paper missing ) welcome .
We are beginning to
( ?gather) good servants at Balliol ( paper missing) have now four or five ( paper missing) good ones. I think that ( paper missing) course of the next year ( paper missing)  shall probably have the ( paper missing) settled –if not then—never. The difficulty is to induce the selected candidates to move in society & the possibility of combining service in India with a University education is likely to make the possession more attractive to young men.
I should be very unwilling to have the responsibility, as you suggest, of arranging the matter; but I shall certainly do all I can to ?keep what appear to be the views of the majority of the
( ?  ) service to the attention of the India office . I am anxious also that a greater number of the selected candidates shall be chosen for University and this would be easily accomplished if the age were extended to 22… ( paper missing, presumably Jowett signed the letter here).  

The new Balliol Dining Hall was eventually completed in 1876. Haileybury opened as a public school in 1862 and continued its association with India. Today, it still has a  strong association with Balliol. Jowett died in 1893 while still in harness as its Master.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *