The Cambridge Academic Record of Charles Stewart Parnell

Charles Stewart Parnell spent five and a half terms as an undergraduate at Cambridge between 1865 and 1869. What sort of a student was he?

Robert Kee has summarised the general impression of that his university experience was 'something he went through more for convention's sake and from a lack of compulsion to do anything else, than with any particular purpose or enthusiasm.'[1] More recently, Paul Bew has re-stated the negatives: Cambridge was 'a negative and intellectually fruitless experience' for Parnell, who was 'quite without literary accomplishments'.[2] In two respects, the context in which Parnell entered Cambridge would certainly seem to convey the impression of a student of limited ambition and ability, although this does not tell the full story.

First, he entered at a college that was notorious for its low academic standards (although even the disapproving American William Everett had to admit in 1865 that it had 'of late had one or two distinguished scholars').[3] Parnell's father had been a student at Trinity, the largest and most dynamic college, and his younger brother Henry would head there in 1868. But go-ahead Trinity imposed one hurdle that Parnell probably needed to evade: alone among Cambridge colleges, it required its undergraduates to pass an entrance examination.[4] It was this ordeal that explained the steady trickle of young men who enrolled at Trinity but almost immediately decamped downmarket to Magdalene. Parnell, it seems, did not even attempt to follow in his father's footsteps. But we should beware of making too much of the issue of his choice of college. 'It is impossible to give any general rules why a student coming to Cambridge selects one college more than another,' wrote Everett who, as a Trinity man, could not comprehend why any sane person would wish to go anywhere else, let alone be 'eager for the honor of their dear little hermitage'. But Everett supplied an unwitting clue that relates to Parnell's circumstances. 'In the smaller colleges ... any undergraduate can get an excellent set of rooms', whereas Trinity freshmen usually lived in lodgings.[5] The young Prince of Wales had been briefly attached to Trinity in 1861, and applications had soared in consequence. Although it was building a new accommodation block, Whewell's Court, Trinity could house all its undergraduates: when Lord Amberley arrived that same year, he was exiled to lodgings in nearby Jesus Lane, even though his father, Earl Russell, was foreign secretary and a former prime minister.[6] Concern about Parnell's nervous condition ─ years later and in slightly insensitive tones, his sister would record that it 'took the form of sleep-walking and wanting to go up the chimney'[7] ─ would point to getting him into the protective womb of a small college where he could be looked after and, whatever its faults, Magdalene did take care of its young men. 'Mrs Parnell had forewarned the tutor (Mr Mynors Bright) that her son was given to somnambulism.'[8] In any case, as already argued, the decision to dodge the Trinity examination proves nothing about the young Parnell's ability: it was his schooling, not his intelligence, that was defective.[9] His father had been dead for six years and his mother, who for all her American radicalism was something of a snob, would have been attracted by Magdalene's social cachet.[10]

The second reason for attributing only a modest level of ability to the young man from Wicklow was that Parnell was evidently enrolled from the outset in the Pass degree and not the University's more prestigious Honours degree in mathematics.[11] Complaints about the low standard of the Pass degree were endemic: its Cambridge nickname, the Poll degree, derived from the Greek 'hoi polloi', which the polite translated as 'the multitude' but which in reality meant 'the rabble'. Nineteenth-century Cambridge did not issue mission statements, but it undoubtedly believed that its role included the imparting of an educational veneer to the upper classes. But since inherited wealth was not always accompanied by inherited brainpower, it was necessary to offer a syllabus to cater for a student enrolment, the bottom end of which, in the scornful words of Edward Everett, was just one grade above the depth of illiteracy.[12] But it is only fair to stress that this represented one extreme of the Poll degree, and that there were also candidates, like Parnell, who acquitted themselves respectably enough. Essentially, the Poll degree was aimed, in the words of one of its reformers in 1864, at 'that large class of men who are incapable of going deeply into any one subject, but can nevertheless acquire a moderate acquaintance with several.'[13] The Student's Guide realistically advised that it was 'rare for a young man to obtain high honours who has not had some considerable training at school, or elsewhere'.[14] It was far more common, as a Poll tutor complained in 1862, to encounter freshmen with 'Euclid got by heart and not understood, arithmetic worked by rule of thumb, without any understanding of the simplest first principles, Algebra a chaos of confusion.'[15] Such was probably Parnell's preparation at Chipping Norton, for Whishaw was an Oxford graduate who probably lacked any advanced maths training whatsoever. Parnell's brother John recalled that a 'special master' had been hired to prepare him for Cambridge, but they two had fallen out, 'and his studies suffered considerably in consequence.'[16]

Thus, while there is no reason to doubt his mother's claim that the young Parnell showed a talent for mathematics, it is not difficult to understand why he was not pointed towards the Honours degree. The Student's Guide accepted that students might overcome lack of preparation if they possessed 'real scientific ability and ... the requisite industry and endurance', but even these paragons 'may find the first steps difficult and laborious'.[17] More to the point, they would require exceptional physical strength and mental resolution to cope with the final examination marathon in their tenth term. Parnell probably lacked both the preparation and the emotional stamina to attempt mathematical Honours.[18]

While mid-Victorian Magdalene rarely aimed at educational excellence, it did aspire to instructional competence. Undergraduates were encouraged to use the College Library.[19] 'A fire is kept up during the daytime, and under certain conditions undergraduates are admitted to the use of the Library,' Parnell's tutor Mynors Bright told the Royal Commission on Cambridge in 1851. 'Keys are given to those of them who are deserving ... and they are allowed in the daytime to sit and read there. This is a privilege ... of great benefit, and of which the undergraduates gladly avail themselves.'[20] It is impossible to understand Parnell's later parliamentary campaigns without appreciating his ability to bring to bear detailed research on government proposals. Parnell recalled that during his first two years as an MP, he spent the Easter and Whitsun recesses in the Commons library, researching the Irish land question.[21] We have a glimpse of him from his biographer R. Barry O'Brien at work rapidly working through books in the House of Commons Library in 1881, although it must be recorded with great pain that he allegedly marked passages of interest with a blue pencil. When O'Brien asked him whether this vandal practice was allowed, he gave a noncommittal reply 'with the air of a man who thought the question quite irrelevant.'[22] Patrick Maume's account of Parnell's dealing with the Fenians in 1882 shows him naturally resorting to the Library of Trinity College Dublin in search of information.[23] Parnell's grandfather had assembled a gentleman's library at Avondale, but the house was let to a tenant for most of his teenage years. It may have been at Magdalene that he took the first steps in learning how to exploit a research collection.

All first-year undergraduates at Cambridge were subjected to the common curriculum of the 'Little-Go', officially known as the Previous Examination, the title indicating that it was in effect a retrospective matriculation test. The syllabus was not especially demanding although Parnell's year was the first to tackle a slightly more serious reformed version of the course. It was part classical ─ one of the Gospels in New Testament Greek, plus a Greek and a Latin text and (the innovation which 'inspired some terror' among Parnell's cohort[24]) a paper in Greek and Latin grammar. The three set works were changed from year to year, so that candidates who failed had to start all over again. However, much of the translation could be mastered through rote learning: any young gentleman who had sat through Bible readings at Sunday service since childhood needed only enough Greek to signpost familiar episodes from the New Testament which could then be reproduced from memory. But Little-Go candidates were also examined on questions in history and geography designed to test their comprehension of the passages set for translation, which ─ even if the test was not very profound ─ makes nonsense of the claim by F.S.L.Lyons that Parnell was utterly ignorant of the culture of ancient Greece.[25]

The mathematics element of the syllabus included Euclid's propositions in geometry, some arithmetic and elementary algebra up to 'easy equations ... involving not more than two unknown quantities.'  The mathematics element in the Little-Go proved 'a most serious ordeal', since the public schools 'have as yet given little attention to this subject.' Arithmetic at Cambridge, it seems, meant basic statistics, an endeavour that tested candidates fresh from their schoolboy contempt for 'sums'.[26] Finally, there was Paley's Evidences of Christianity, 'the terrible stumbling block' for many[27] and a source of religious doubt for Parnell: ten years later, he told  Tim Healy that reading Paley 'upset his faith'.[28]. Paley was incongruously pitched into the syllabus to provide what modern educational jargon would call a 'transferable skill': a sizeable proportion of Pass degree candidates became clergymen of the Church of England, and Paley provided a quarry from which they could excavate their Sunday sermons. It was not even necessary to read the Evidences of Christianity in full, since cribs ('potted Paley') could be purchased for a few shillings, and undergraduates were certainly not required to analyse or debate the work in any depth. It says something for Parnell's intellectual seriousness that Paley should have made any impact upon his mind at all: the only other nineteenth-century Cambridge students known to have taken the Evidences seriously were the historian J.M. Kemble, who attacked Paley's arguments and duly failed his Little-Go, and Charles Darwin. It is not bad company to be in.[29] In a remarkable tribute to Cambridge inertia, the Evidences of Christianity remained a first-year textbook for over half a century after the Origin of Species had undermined its claim to monopolise rational argument. When conservative Magdalene acquired its first palaeontologist in the nineteen-twenties, his more facetious colleagues affected to believe that he must be studying Paley.

First-year students in Magdalene were required to attend two lectures each weekday morning, one in classics and the other in mathematics. They were held in the College Hall. 'A College lecture at Cambridge is often the same thing as a lesson at school,' explained the Student's Guide, not 'a formal and continuous discourse delivered by the lecturer.' In classics, it might take the form of a seminar, with students taking turns to translate 'while the lecturer interposes his comments as he sees fit.'  In a maths lecture, 'students are often occupied during the whole hour in writing answers to written questions, or in solving problems.' A.S. Ramsey, later a Fellow of Magdalene, described the mathematics classes in 1886-7. It is clear that the teaching was intensive, requiring students to work through their notes afterwards – probably in the evening, since afternoons were sacred for exercise.  In Ramsey's time, Magdalene undergraduates worked together in groups of four, which means that even the most isolated of alleged loners had some intellectual interaction with fellow undergraduates.[30] Although, to quote the Student's Guide, 'the lectured are not subject to the restraints and discipline of schoolboys', Magdalene certainly expected its freshmen to turn up. 'Irregularity of attendance on the part of pupils is visited either with the loss of weeks, or the penalty of being confined to early gates.'[31] In other words, playing truant from lectures could entail either being banned from going out in the evening or, in more extreme cases, insistence on spending part of the vacation at Cambridge. Classics at Magdalene was taught by John Roberts, a Yorkshireman who doubled as a London barrister. Presumably he was not very successful at the Bar, but the Law did take him to London where he picked up 'the most recent gossip of the Clubs.' He was something of a dandy but with an old-fashioned taste in clothes: it was an undergraduate joke that his wardrobe was about fifteen years behind the fashion.[32] Mathematics was taught by Francis Pattrick, a young don in his late twenties. A product of Wisbech Grammar School, he won golden opinions for 'his unsparing devotion to the interests of his pupils.'[33] One of the educational advantages of the larger colleges was that they could stream their students by ability, but Pattrick managed to be 'a most patient teacher of the dull, and stimulating to the quick'.[34] Pattrick evidently retained affectionate recollections of his notorious pupil, and Parnell seems to have responded positively to his teaching.

Far from being 'undistinguished',[35] the available evidence indicates that Parnell was a diligent and reasonably successful student. Francis Pattrick 'often used to describe how Parnell, when he had been given the ordinary solution to a problem, would generally set about to find whether it could not be solved equally well by some other method.'[36] This does not sound like the behaviour of a lazy and supine undergraduate. His examination record bears out the impression of ability, for he not only successfully passed his 'Little-Go' in December 1866, but was included in the First Class.[37] (He was listed as 'Parnel', which incidentally seems to confirm that his name was pronounced during his Cambridge days with the emphasis upon the first syllable, the form that he himself preferred.[38]) We should not be carried away in our admiration, for the result did not convey quite the cachet of first class honours in later times. 503 students entered for the examination ─ roughly equal to the class of 1865, those who had already fallen by the wayside being replaced by casualties from earlier years. Of those, 362 passed in the First Class, 56 in the Second and the remaining 85 failed. Of the 418 who passed, 215, just over half, had also passed the Additional Subjects, optional papers intended for those who intended to proceed to honours in mathematics. Parnell, then, was placed among the 197 students who had surmounted the Little-Go but did not intend to ascend the Tripos mountain, roughly speaking in the middle tier of the candidates who presented, and certainly among the top seventy percent who managed to get into the First Class. This was a creditable performance in at least two respects. First, one quarter of the examination was in Greek, a language to which Parnell was a latecomer and with which he seems to have wrestled at Chipping Norton. Second, he had been absent from Cambridge during the Easter Term of 1866, which meant that he had spent only three terms at the University, one term fewer than his competitors. Given the distractions of Cambridge in the summer term, this may not have meant much difference in terms of teaching received, but he had also missed the College's freshman examination.[39] College examinations were not held in particularly high regard, since it was hardly in an institution's interest to throw out its own customers,[40] but they did provide some form of dry run that might mitigate the unknown terrors of the Little-Go. 

Robert Kee in 1993 revealed that Parnell had successfully passed his Little-Go.[41] But his record of academic achievement extended still further, and to assess its import we need to delve a little into the wave of reform that was gently lapping the shores of Cambridge University. Prior to Parnell's year of entry, 1865, the Pass degree wallowed still deeper in pointlessness: 'Poll men' had five terms in which to confront the Little-Go, giving them a further four terms to prepare for the graduation hurdle, patronisingly called the Ordinary Examination 'which was little more than a repetition of the Previous on a slightly higher scale' ─ more classics, more mathematics and no Paley.[42] Since Everett believed that three months of 'faithful study ... would easily do the work', it is not surprising that the Pass degree became synonymous with idleness and pleasure-seeking.

There was, however, one other Cambridge peculiarity that had become entangled with the unprestigious Pass degree. Over the centuries, benefactors had endowed Cambridge with a number of professorships, some of them very generously remunerated. Unfortunately, many of these were in subjects totally related to the taught syllabus. As a result, until well into the nineteenth century, few professors bothered to lecture. Those who did sometimes gave up in the face of empty classrooms and some even ceased to reside in the University at all, although they did not disclaim their comfortable stipends. Those who made the attempt did not necessarily inspire respect for their efforts. One professor of history, for instance, delivered an annual course on the French Revolution. His lecture on the trial of Marie Antoinette was always crowded with students because it was known that he invariably burst into tears when describing her execution. The establishment of the Previous Examination in 1822 opened the way to the partial integration of the professors into the curriculum. Every Poll man was required to enrol for a course of lectures from one of the professors. Graduation required a certificate of attendance, which in turn obliged the professors to set their own examinations, although it was understood that these could not require any profundity of comprehension. Critics regarded it as bizarre and degrading that the most elevated and active academic minds should be wasted upon the least talented and motivated students. However,  the professors were prepared to swallow their humiliation since they were the direct recipients of the enrolment fees that the candidates paid. Alfred Newton, Fellow of Magdalene and pioneer of modern ornithology, became Professor of Zoology in 1866. A hopelessly dull lecturer, he was immensely relieved to draw 'a pretty good audience' when he 'began holding forth' in October 1866, 'and 14 men were kind enough to inscribe their names ... which meant as many pounds in my pocket.'[43] (He later took to lecturing at one o'clock, secure in the knowledge that most undergraduates would be at lunch.)

The reforms to the Pass degree that took effect in 1865 boldly tackled both the aridity of its syllabus and the embarrassing irrelevance of the professorial lectures. Moving the Little-Go back one term made space to transfer the Ordinary Examination (now renamed the General) from the end of third year to the summer of the second year, in line with the Everett's belief that three months of concentrated study would be sufficient to master its mixture of mathematics and classics. This left the third year open to a range of new studies, directly linked to the professorial specialisms, and aimed at such real world subjects as science and engineering. It was to benefit from this up-to-date menu that Parnell eventually returned to Cambridge in April 1869, although at the time when he effectively dropped out two years earlier, in the summer of 1867, nobody could know whether the novel third-year options would enable the professors to deliver more genuine content than the existing arid ritual of compulsion and conscription.

Once they had surmounted the hurdle of their Little-Go, the cohort of Poll men who had entered Cambridge in 1865 faced an unprecedented challenge. Their predecessors had been granted four leisurely terms to prepare for the Ordinary Examination at the end of their third year. They now faced the need to master an identical syllabus in just two terms before sitting the renamed General Examination in the summer of their second year. The six compulsory papers covered two more Latin and Greek set texts, the Acts of the Apostles in Greek, more algebra, basic 'Statics' (which a later generation would probably have called 'applied maths') and, a Cambridge speciality, 'Elementary Hydrostatics'.[44] As one conservative academic had put it, without hydrostatics, a student might graduate from Cambridge 'without knowing the difference between a thermometer and a barometer, and without knowing how to describe the common pump.'[45] Individually, the six papers were not overwhelmingly demanding, but collectively they required a large amount of work in a short time. Moreover, once the Little-Go was passed, college teaching became much less central to an undergraduate's studies. Instead, students turned to coaching, known in Ireland as 'grinds'. Alongside the formal academic hierarchy operated a cluster of free-lance tutors whose sole function was to process candidates through their examinations. Some were married men, excluded from regular college structures by the arcane Cambridge requirement of celibacy; many were known by nicknames. One of the most successful was J.H. Smith of Caius, in whom the Magdalene hearties placed particular faith, even though he operated at the far end of the minuscule universe that was Cambridge. 'Day after day, hour after hour, some fast young man at Magdalen [sic] will tramp down to Big Smith ... not having prepared any work, not intending to hear or retain any instruction, but merely listening in blank faith to what his tutor says, thinking that he may now go off and play, for he has been to Big Smith, and that must get him through.'[46] But Parnell was not among them. His private tutor was John Clark, who was unusual in being a bachelor and a Fellow of his college (Queens'), where he had rooms but received only a small stipend. Known as Poll Clark to distinguish him from his namesake Bone Clark, the professor of anatomy, he devoted forty years to coaching hundreds of candidates for the Pass degree. His Times obituary in 1900 mentioned just one of them: Charles Stewart Parnell. Clark was a popular figure in university circles, a raconteur noted for his lively reminiscences.[47] Generally speaking, there are two reasons why a teacher will recall a student many years afterwards: either the pupil made a favourable impression or there were vexatious problems. For whatever reason, Clark evidently remembered Parnell, and probably for the same enthusiastic diligence that Pattrick also celebrated.

In June 1867, Parnell successfully passed his General Examination, which placed him two-thirds of the way towards graduation. He had evidently worked consistently throughout the two previous terms, despite having returned to college relatively late at the end of the vacations. The bad news was that he seemed to have slipped down the pecking order, being graded in the third class out of four in contrast to his first-class place in the Little-Go six months earlier. But the falling-off was more apparent than real. Parnell had been one of 418 students who had passed the Little-Go. Of these, 215 had qualified for Honours, leaving 203 eligible to sit the 1867 General Examination. But only 121 passed in June 1867: the rest had either failed to sit or failed to pass. Taking the 1865 Cambridge entry as a whole, Parnell was once again located close to the middle of the cohort. And there may have been a specific reason for his slide from the first class to the third. Pass or fail in the General Examination was determined by performance on the six compulsory papers in classics and mathematics. But there were also two optional papers, on which candidates could obtain extra marks to be 'taken into account in assigning the places in the Class List.' One paper, requiring translation from English into Latin, was included because 'a considerable proportion' of Poll men eventually became clergymen and 'it has now become almost general among the Bishops to require Latin Prose Composition' when examining candidates for ordination. Since the Church of England, unlike Rome, did not conduct its business in Latin, this academic passage rite is hard to explain, but it was obviously of no concern to Parnell. The other optional paper was in English prose composition, coupled with passages from Shakespeare and Milton which candidates had first to punctuate and then summarise.[48] Twenty years later, repudiating the Pigott forgeries, Parnell was to tell the House of Commons that he wrote 'with great difficulty and slowness' and that it was 'a labour and a toil for me to write anything at all.'[49] While that description probably referred in part to the impact of the serious illness he had suffered the previous year, there is plenty of supporting evidence to indicate that Parnell was never very fluent when holding a pen. Neither Shakespeare nor Milton held much attraction for him, and hence it is very likely that he did not enter for the optional papers. And since these were specially recommended to 'all the students who wish for a first or second class'[50], his presence among the thirds should cause no surprise.

Thus by the summer of 1867, Charles Stewart Parnell, so often dismissed by biographers as an indifferent student, was two-thirds of the way to graduating as B.A. (Cantab.), backed by an examination performance that was at least competent and a favourable assessment of his work in class from at least one tutor, Francis Pattrick, and possibly from a second, John Clark. But that summer Parnell came of age and took direct control of the family property at Avondale. It was no longer elementary hydrostatics or the evidence for Christianity that preoccupied Parnell's thinking, but the sudden and dramatic challenge of entrepreneurial enterprise necessary to rescue the estate's finances. He seems to have quickly turned his mind to exploitation of local forestry resources, establishing a profitable sawmill. It is also likely that he retained an interest in the possibility of finding mineral deposits in the Wicklow hills: this had certainly been a boyhood enthusiasm, and he seems to have been sufficiently knowledgeable about coal-mining to have considered making a major investment when he visited the United States in the early eighteen-seventies.[51] All this was a long way from the sterile grind of New Testament Greek and quadratic equations that made up the Cambridge Poll degree.

But 1867 was also the year in which the new Pass degree syllabus became available for third-year students, with a series of options 'designed to give a more professional character to the studies of the latter portion of the Undergraduate course.'[52] It was now possible to combine a degree with practical training, all the more valuable since the new 'Special Examinations' were built around lecture courses from Cambridge professors. Two of the five courses on offer would have appealed to Parnell: Natural Science and Mechanism and Applied Science. Natural Science covered Chemistry, Geology, Botany and Zoology. A combination of the first two would have been useful for Parnell's mining enthusiasm, but candidates were required to specialise and 'will not be examined in more than one branch' of the syllabus. At that stage in his life, it is more probable that Parnell would have chosen what was in effect the engineering option, the Mechanism 'Special'. This required attendance at the lecture of the brilliant Robert Willis, who had exploited the necessarily loose specifications of the Jacksonian Chair in Natural Experimental Philosophy to specialise in subjects such as the operation of machinery and the structure of buildings. His lectures were 'an uninterrupted stream of lucid exposition ... carrying his hearers without weariness through the most intricate details, and making them grasp the most complex history or construction.'[53] In 1885, Willis's successor in the Jacksonian Chair, James Dewar, met Parnell while visiting Ireland, and the Irish leader told him with great gusto the story of his abrupt departure from Cambridge.[54] This incident perhaps confirms that Parnell had been intending to study engineering under Willis when he returned to Cambridge in 1869, although we should remember that relatively few Cambridge academics visited Ireland, and fewer still would have sought out the leader of the Home Rule movement.

As already stressed, Parnell's successful examination record during his first two years at Cambridge was all the more commendable in that, having missed the summer term of his first year, he had covered in five terms a syllabus intended to stretch over six. As has also been previously outlined, to qualify for a degree Parnell would not only have to pass his third-year 'Special Examination', but also to have been physically present in Cambridge for nine terms. Thus after completing his second-year examinations in the summer of 1867, Parnell faced three further terms of study, but the need to complete four terms of residence. Since the final examinations for the Pass degree were held in June, it would obviously be an anticlimax to return to clock up that vital extra term the following October: there would be no profitable course of study to pursue and Cambridge is hardly at its most attractive at the onset of winter. Once Parnell decided to target the academic year from October 1869 to June 1870 for the completion of his degree, everything pointed to making up the missing term in the early summer of 1869. Cambridge is a pleasant place between mid-April and mid-June. There might be opportunities for some preliminary academic work to ease the young Wicklow squire back into the routine of study, and there would certainly be cricket. It was probably this period that Parnell referred to when he told T.P. O'Connor that he had thought 'a good deal more about cricket than about his studies.'[55] Hence the curious set of circumstances that the combination of a utilitarian syllabus reform and a traditional residence requirement pointed to a leisurely prelude to serious study that would place Parnell outside the Cambridge railway station on the very night where a festive local was looking for trouble.


[1] Kee, The Laurel and the Ivy, p. 37.

[2] Paul Bew, Enigma: A New Life of Charles Stewart Parnell (Dublin, 2011), 12, 10.

[3] William Everett, On the Cam (Cambridge, 1865), p. 203.

[4] D.A. Winstanley, Later Victorian Cambridge (Cambridge, 1947), p. 147.

[5] Everett, On the Cam, pp. 198, 204.

[6] B. and P. Russell, eds, The Amberley Papers (2 vols, London, 1937), I, pp. 225-27. Amberley affected to be deeply insulted when his sister inadvertently addressed a letter to him at 'Jesus College': 'what can have suggested an idea so horrible?' Like Magdalene, Jesus was one of the institutions to which Trinity men retreated if they could not pass their examinations.  Contemporary legend claimed that one such refugee had been greeted at his first chapel service by a hymn that began: 'Ashamed of Jesus! Can it be? / A mortal man ashamed of thee.'

[7] Irish Times, 12 March 1906.

[8] O'Brien, Life of Parnell, I, pp. 40-41, quoting Wilfrid Gill.

[9] Because Parnell was a minor, his estates (and his budget) were in the hands of the Court of Chancery. It is possible that the Master in Chancery, Gerald Fitzgibbon, was consulted about plans to send Parnell to Cambridge, either out of courtesy or to ensure approval of the costs. (During the winter of 1862-3, the Chancery court did map out a scheme for both the elder Parnell sons to be educated in England: Irish Times, 2 February 1863.) Fitzgibbon was a loyal graduate of Dublin University, and might well have felt the need to consult a Cambridge man. One obvious candidate was a rising candidate at the Irish Bar, George Augustus Chichester May, who had become the only Magdalene candidate in the entire 19th century to achieve a Double First, in Mathematics and Classics, before being elected to a Fellowship in 1838. It would be ironic if Chichester May had indeed determined the young Parnell's choice of college, since in 1879-80, as Chief Justice of Ireland, he was one of the judges who tried the Irish leader for his Land League activities. However, Chichester May withdrew from hearing the case after public criticism of a preliminary decision he had made relating to the case. It is possible that this was a pretext to avoid embarrassment.

[10] The Times, 9 May 1873, records her (as 'Mrs Stewart Parnell') presenting 'Miss Fanny Parnell' to Queen Victoria: evidently the Court did not engage in security vetting, for Fanny was allegedly a Fenian sympathiser. Mrs Parnell had herself been presented by the Countess of Darnley, whose husband owned an estate in County Meath. Two years later, C.S. Parnell would become their MP.

[11] Students intending to take Maths Honours took two extra papers, the 'Additional Subjects', in the Previous Examination (or 'Little-Go'). Parnell did not attempt these papers, and so must be assumed to have been aiming for the Pass degree from the time he started at Cambridge. 

[12] Everett, On the Cam, p. 110.

[13] Winstanley, Later Victorian Cambridge, p. 154. One of Magdalene's most distinguished scholars, the zoologist and ornithologist Alfred Newton, took the Poll degree because opportunities for Tripos (Honours) study were too narrow.

[14] Student's Guide (1874 ed.), pp. 113-14.

[15] Winstanley, Later Victorian Cambridge, p. 146.

[16] J.H. Parnell, Charles Stewart Parnell: A Memoir (London, 1914), p. 49.

[17] Student's Guide (1874 ed.), pp. 113-14.

[18] In reminiscences written so long after the events that were not wholly accurate, John Howard Parnell claimed that their younger brother Henry 'went through Cambridge, but was too nervous to pass his examination for a degree.' This cannot be wholly true, since H.T. Parnell graduated in 1873, apparently with a Pass degree. The recollection suggests that the family were aware of the stress of the Cambridge Honours course. J.H. Parnell, Charles Stewart Parnell: A Memoir, 11.

[19] The Library was housed on the north side of First Court in what is now the Parlour, and had been until 1835 part of the Master's Lodge. The collection is now called the Old Library.

[20] UK Parliamentary Papers, 1852-53, xliv, Cambridge University Commission, p. 413.

[21] A. Robbins, Parnell: The Last Five Years (London, 1926), p. 17. When asked to confirm that he had spent so much time in the Commons Library, Parnell genially replied: 'Surely it isn't suggested that I was intending to blow it up.'

[22] R. Barry O'Brien, The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell (2 vols, London, 1898), [[[ p. 210]]

[23] Patrick Maume's article, 'Parnell and the I.R.B. Oath', Irish Historical Studies, xxix (1995), argued that Parnell joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood shortly after his release from Kimainham in 1882, taking the oath in Trinity College Library.  Patrick Maume's discussion of the sources is, of course, impeccable, but the story seems implausible, as is the location.

[24] Cambridge Chronicle, 22 December 1866.

[25] F.S.L. Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell, p. 30. Lyons based this assessment on a reminiscence by Justin McCarthy, who once told Parnell that he planned to visit Athens. 'He asked me, with a kindly show of interest, whether Athens was considered a pleasant place in which to spend a holiday.' Parnell's comment was probably an ironic allusion to the fact that 19th-century Greece was a backward and unstable society. A gentleman would not have engaged in the double-whammy of one-upmanship by commenting that he had studied ancient Greece, and at an elite university. Justin McCarthy, Reminiscences (2 vols, London, 1899), II, pp. 92, 100.

[26] Student's Guide (1874 ed.), pp. 340-41, 351. Candidates for the Little-Go were 'required to conform in their written papers to the rules of English Grammar, including Orthography.' (p. 342) Many modern-day British students would fail.

[27] Everett, On The Cam, p. 111.

[28] Healy, Letters and Leaders, ii, p. 367.

[29] Ged Martin, The Cambridge Union and Ireland, 1815-1914 (Edinburgh, 2000), pp. 45, 296-97.

[30] A.S. Ramsey, 'Bygone Days at Magdalene'  (typescript in Magdalene College Archives).

[31] UK Parliamentary Papers, 1852-53, xliv, Cambridge University Commission, p. 408 (evidence of the Rev. F. Warter).

[32] Reminiscences of Samuel Sproston, Magdalene College Magazine, 1910.

[33] The Times, 8 October 1896.

[34] E.K. Purnell, Magdalene College: A History (London, 1904), p. 194.

[35] Joan Haslip, Parnell: A Biography (London, 1936), p. 21.

[36] R.B. O'Brien, Life of Charles Stewart Parnell , [38]. O'Brien's source was Wilfrid Gill, Fellow of Magdalene and friend of Pattrick, who had died in 1896.

[37] Cambridge Chronicle, 22 December 1866. Robert Kee (The Laurel and the Ivy, pp. 34-35) established that the police raided the family's Dublin house on 6 December 1866, believing that his mother was sheltering Fenian fugitives, an intrusion that undoubtedly made him very angry. Kee is no doubt correct in speculating that the interval between the raid and the formal complaint which ensued indicates that it was Parnell himself who raised the issue on his return from Cambridge, where he was in residence until 19 December. We cannot know whether he had heard of the incident before his return to Dublin: it is possible that his family kept the news from him while he was engaged in his examinations.

[38] His wife Katharine referred to the 'horrible emphasis' on the second syllable: K O'Shea, Charles Stewart Parnell: His Life and Loves (2 vols, London, 1914), ii, 110. W.B. Yeats, who might be expected to know, clearly rejected this in his 'Come gather round me, Parnellites'. (Yeats also rhymed Pearse with 'verse'.) An elderly lady from east Cork in her 90s used the same pronunciation to me, unprompted, in the early 21st century.

[39] He was listed as absent in the results, Cambridge Chronicle, 9 June 1866, which suggests that his third-term absence was the result of a last-minute decision. See also my 1992 article, 'Parnell at Magdalene: Some New Evidence' in the 'Some Published Work' of this website:

[40] Everett scornfully said they were 'easier to pass than not', On The Cam, p. 110. Magdalene grouped its 23 freshmen into three classes, with 11 Thirds and 10 Seconds.

[41] Kee, The Laurel and the Ivy, p. 38.

[42] Winstanley, Later Victorian Cambridge, p. 145.

[43] A.F.R. Wollaston, Life of Alfred Newton (London, 1921), p. 250. After addressing a meeting in Canada in 1880 that had been funded by ticket sales, Parnell mused: 'I wonder would any man ever pay to hear me a second time!' This was an ironic comment on his own poor style as a speaker, but may have carried an echo of Cambridge professorial lectures. Healy, Letters and Leaders, i, p. 85.

[44] Student's Guide (1874 ed.), pp. 342-43.

[45] Winstanley, Later Victorian Cambridge, p. 151.

[46] Everett, On The Cam, p. 114.

[47] The Times, 16 July 1900.

[48] Student's Guide (1874 ed.), pp. 343, 351.

[49] R.B. O'Brien, Life of Charles Stewart Parnell, [p. 438]

[50] Student's Guide (1874 ed.), p. 351.

[51] The visit was described by his brother, John Howard Parnell in his Charles Stewart Parnell: A Memoir.

[52] Student's Guide (1874 ed.), p. 344.

[53] E. Leedham-Green, A Concise History of Cambridge University (Cambridge, 1996), p. 165; Dictionary of National Biography.

[54] Freeman's Journal, 7 September 1908. Dewar recalled the episode to a journalist when he attended the 1908 meeting of the British Association which was held in Dublin. By then he might well have forgotten the context of Parnell's reminiscence.

[55]  T.P. O'Connor, Charles Stewart Parnell: A Memory (London, 1891), 21-23.