Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pattison, Mark
PATTISON, MARK (1813–1884), rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, and author, was son of Mark James Pattison (d. 1865), for many years rector of Haukswell, Yorkshire, by Jane, daughter of Francis Winn of Richmond, Yorkshire, banker. Born on 10 Oct. 1813 at Hornby in the North Riding, where his father was then curate in charge, Mark was the eldest of twelve children, ten of them daughters, the youngest being well known as Sister Dora [see Pattison, Dorothy]. His father, a strict evangelical, but a fair scholar, gave him, first at Hornby and afterwards at Haukswell, all his education before he proceeded to the university, and grounded him well in Latin, Greek, and mathematics. Literature and learning were his delight from an early age. But in his youth he was by no means a bookworm, and up to middle age he was a good rider, an enthusiastic fisherman, and an eager student of natural history. Brought up in a retired village, among a large family of sisters, and mixing very little with other boys, he became morbidly shy, sensitive, and self-conscious. On 5 April 1832 he matriculated from Oriel College, Oxford, and found himself in a world which was wholly different from what he had expected, and where he was surpassed in everything and on every occasion by those whom he felt to be in all real respects his inferiors. His undergraduate course at Oriel was at an unfortunate time. Edward Hawkins (1789–1882) [q. v.] had succeeded Edward Copleston [q. v.] as provost, and had got rid of Newman, Hurrell Froude, and Robert Wilberforce, the tutors to whom the reputation of the college was largely owing, and had replaced them by less able but more subservient men. The college lectures taught Pattison nothing (cf. Mozley, Reminiscences, i. 237). In his second year he was ‘put into Aristotle's Rhetoric; but such a lecture!—the tutor incapable of explaining any difficulty, and barely able to translate the Greek, even with the aid of a crib’ (Pattison, Memoirs, p. 130). He missed the first class, which had been the object of his and his father's ambition. In the class list of Easter term 1836 his name appeared in the second class in classical honours. In fact, though wholly devoted to study, his reading had been at once too discursive and too thorough. Instead of confining his attention to the rigidly orthodox and narrow list of books usually taken up, he ‘frittered away time over outlying books—Lysias, Cicero de Legibus, Terence, and other feather-weights which counted for nothing in the schools, but with which I had the whim to load my list’ (Memoirs, p. 150). Nor had he confined his reading to classics. During his undergraduate course he had been a diligent student of English literature, had spent much time upon the Pope-Addison-Swift circle, and had laid the foundation of his interest in eighteenth-century speculation.
Pattison graduated B.A. in 1836 and M.A. in 1840. In the meantime he had abandoned the narrow evangelical views in which he had been brought up, and had fallen under the influence of Newman. For some time in 1838–9 he lived with other young men in Newman's house in St. Aldate's, and aided in the translation of Thomas Aquinas's ‘Catena Aurea on the Gospels.’ ‘St. Matthew’ was Pattison's work.
In April 1838 he stood for a fellowship at Oriel, in June at University, in November at Balliol, but each time without success. He was in despair. His ‘darling hope of leading a life of study as a fellow seemed completely blocked.’ At last, in November 1839, he was elected to a fellowship at Lincoln. ‘No moment in all my life has ever been so sweet as that Friday morning, 8 Nov.,’ when his election was announced (Memoirs, p. 183). At Lincoln he at first found himself even less at home than at Oriel. It was a rigidly anti-Puseyite college, characterised indeed by no evangelical fervour, but of the type known some years later as ‘low and slow.’ In all respects the college was at a low ebb. Pattison became more and more devoted to Newman, and was for some years ‘a pronounced Puseyite, daily reciting the hours of the Roman breviary, and once getting so low by fostering a morbid state of conscience as to go to confession to Dr. Pusey’ (ib. p. 189). In 1841 he was ordained deacon, and in 1843 priest. He obtained the Denyer theological prize in 1841, and again in 1842, the subjects being respectively ‘The Sufficiency of Holy Scriptures for the Salvation of Man’ and ‘Original or Birth Sin and the Necessity of New Birth unto Life.’ In 1842 his translation of Aquinas on St. Matthew was printed. This was followed by two lives of English saints (Stephen Langton and St. Edmund) in the series edited by Newman, neither of them of great merit, but at least free from the trivialities and childish miracles which appear so frequently in the volumes.
In 1842 he wrote his first purely literary article on ‘Earliest English Poetry,’ for which he spent months of study. It appeared in the ‘British Critic.’
His appointment to a college tutorship in 1843 gave him a serious object in life, ‘beyond holding up one of the banners of the Puseyite party.’ It was necessary to devote his mind to Aristotle, logic, and the classics generally, which he had for some time neglected. The preparation for his lectures took up most of his time, and a series of literary articles in the ‘Christian Remembrancer’ (‘Miss Bremer's Novels,’ 1844; ‘Gregory of Tours,’ ‘Wordsworth's Diary in France,’ 1845; ‘Church Poetry,’ ‘The Oxford Bede,’ ‘Thiers's Consulate and Empire,’ ‘The Sugar Duties,’ 1846; ‘Hugh Miller's First Impressions of England,’ 1847; ‘Mill's Political Economy,’ 1848; ‘Lord Holland's Foreign Reminiscences,’ 1851) occupied the remainder, and thus carried him out of the narrow ecclesiastical range of thought and practice in which he had for some years lived. Hence the secession of Newman to the church of Rome in 1845 was less of a shock to him than to many of his associates. Yet he thinks he ‘might have dropped off to Rome in some moment of mental and physical depression, or under the pressure of some arguing convert,’ in 1847 (ib. p. 221). But he had become devoted to his work as a college tutor, and was growing conscious of the possession of that magnetic influence which first affected his pupils, afterwards the college generally, and latterly so many outsiders with whom he came in contact. His appointment as examiner in the school of literæ humaniores in the spring of 1848 seems to have been the turning-point of his life.
His success as an examiner surprised him, and proved both to himself and to the university that his powers and his learning were not only equal to, but greater than, those of men of much higher reputation. Tractarianism gradually left him, and he became less and less influenced by theological opinion, for which in his latter years he had little regard except as it affected practical life or was considered as a branch of learning. To liberal opinions in politics he had always inclined, and these became more firmly fixed, but he was never an ardent politician.
His term of office as examiner gave an impetus to his study of Aristotle, and he soon acquired a reputation as the most successful college tutor and the ablest lecturer on the ‘Ethics’ in Oxford. For the three years (1848–1851) he was, moreover, absolute ruler of his college, which during that time was one of the best managed in the university. They were the happiest years of his life. He was an ideal teacher, grudging no amount of time or labour to his pupils, teaching them how to think, and drawing out and developing their mental faculties. He excited the warmest affection on their part, and their success in the schools, if not always commensurate with their or his wishes, was considerable. For several years he invited two or three undergraduates to join him for some weeks in the long vacation at the lakes, in Scotland, or elsewhere, and he assisted them in their studies without fee.
Dr. Radford, the rector of Lincoln, died in October 1851. The fellows taking actual part in the election of his successor were nine in number—two others were abroad. Of these nine, three resident fellows who represented the intellectual element of the college warmly supported Pattison; a fourth—non-resident—signified his intention to do the same, and this, with his own vote, gave him a majority. But he was not popular in the common-room, where his habit of retiring at eight o'clock, and spending the rest of the evening in tutorial work or private study, was resented by those who were accustomed to devote the whole evening to port wine and whist. A discreditable intrigue induced the non-resident fellow at the last moment to support an obscure candidate whose single merit was that he would keep out Pattison, and probably, if successful, would reduce the college to the happy condition of mental torpor out of which it had of late been raised. But though this defection prevented Pattison's election, it did not result in that of the rival candidate; and in the end, as a choice of evils, the Rev. James Thompson, B.D., an equally unknown man, without any special qualification for the headship of a learned society, was elected, mainly through the votes of Pattison and his friends (Memoirs, pp. 272–88; Letter to the Rev. J. Thompson, by J. L. Kettle, London, 1851; Letter to the Rev. J. Thompson, by Rev. T. E. Espin, Oxford, 1851; Letter to Rev. T. E. Espin, from J. L. Kettle, London, 1851). To Pattison the blow was crushing. It seemed to him the downfall of all his hopes and ambitions, no doubt partly personal, but chiefly for the prosperity and success of the college in which his whole heart and pride had been for some years invested. But in the account of his feelings, which he wrote thirty years afterwards, he does himself injustice. He did not fall into the state of mental and moral degradation which he there graphically describes, and the language which he uses of his state is greatly exaggerated. The routine of tuition may have become as weary as he represents it, but, while his great depression was obvious to all who came in contact with him at this time, his lectures—on Aristotle and on Thucydides—were as able, as suggestive, and as stimulating as ever, and, except for the interruption of a serious illness, the result, no doubt, of the shock which he had sustained, his interest in his pupils and his efforts to aid them in their studies and to promote their success in the schools were as great as ever. An ill-natured but unsuccessful attempt to deprive him of his fellowship for not proceeding to the degree of B.D. within the statutable period added to his vexation (he took the degree in 1851). In his ‘Diary’ in August 1853 he writes: ‘My life seems to have come to an end, my strength gone, my energies paralysed, and all my hopes dispersed’ (Memoirs, p. 298). But, in fact, matters had already begun to mend. In the spring of 1853 he had been nominated a second time examiner in literæ humaniores. He again took to fishing, and to this pursuit, and to frequent excursions in the north of England and Scotland, he attributed the restoration of his mental equilibrium and his old energy. ‘Slowly the old original ideal of life, which had been thrust aside by the force of circumstance, but never obliterated, began to resume its place. As tone and energy returned, the idea of devoting myself to literature strengthened and developed’ (ib. p. 308).
It was the ‘Ephemerides’ of Isaac Casaubon, printed at the Clarendon Press in 1851, that specially drew him out of his depression and launched him on the field of inquiry that was to be his main occupation for the remaining thirty years of his life. He wrote (in 1852) an article on Casaubon which alone proves how he exaggerated in his ‘Memoirs’ the mental prostration of the period; it appeared in the ‘Quarterly Review’ in 1853. Its success made him contemplate a history of learning from the Renaissance downwards; but he soon found this scheme was too extensive, and he contracted his views to the history of classical learning. Of this plan he executed only fragments. He was specially attracted by Scaliger as the greatest scholar of modern times. In 1855 he was already contemplating writing Scaliger's life, and had made much preparation for it, when the appearance of Bernays's ‘Joseph Justus Scaliger’ induced him for a time to lay aside the design. But his enthusiastic admiration for ‘the most richly stored intellect that ever spent itself in acquiring knowledge’ increased. He saw in Scaliger the central figure of his age, and imposed it upon himself ‘as a solemn duty to rescue his memory from the load of falsehood and infamy under which the unscrupulous jesuit faction had contrived to bury it.’ In some respects Pattison singularly resembled his hero. The same thoroughness, the same hatred of half learning and of shams of every kind, the same love of learning for its own sake, the same reverence for truth, and, it must be added, the same caustic tongue, characterised both. He was constantly amassing materials for Scaliger's life, and after Bernays's death he formally resumed his project, and had made good progress with the work at the time of his own death. To those who, like Dr. Johnson, love most the biographical part of literature, the loss of Pattison's life of Scaliger is simply irreparable. All that we have of this work, to which he devoted thirty years of his life, is an article in the ‘Quarterly’ and three fragments printed after his death with his collected essays.
But his troubles were not yet at an end. It was never easy for him to work with those with whom he was altogether out of sympathy. Differences arose between him and the new rector, and at the end of 1855 he threw up his tutorship. But though this caused him much vexation at the time, the result was perhaps beneficial, as it enabled him to devote himself entirely to study and to literature. His reputation as a philosophical tutor was so great that when it was known that he was willing for a term or two to take private pupils, the best men in the university desired to read with him. He now began to make long tours in Germany, occasionally spending weeks together at one of the universities, and attending the lectures of a philosophical or theological professor. In 1858 he was for three months the Berlin correspondent of the ‘Times,’ and in 1859 was appointed one of the assistant commissioners to report upon continental education. The results of his inquiries appeared in a blue-book in 1861 (‘Education Commission; Report of the Assistant Commissioners on the State of Popular Education in Continental Europe.’ Vol. iv. (pp. 161–267) contains Pattison's report on the state of elementary education in Germany).
Always earnest in promoting university reform, he contributed to ‘Oxford Essays’ (1855) an article on ‘Oxford Studies,’ now rather of historical and literary than of practical interest, partly owing to the changes since effected, partly because the maturer view of its author is contained in his ‘Suggestions on Academical Organisation’ (1868), and in the essay which he contributed to the volume ‘On the Endowment of Research’ (1876). In these three writings he puts forward his views on university reform. He desired to see the university no longer a mere continuation-school for boys of a larger growth, diligently crammed with a view to passing examinations, but a place of real education, aiming at ‘a breadth of cultivation, a scientific formation of mind, a concert of the intellectual faculties;’ and, further, an institution organised to promote learning and research, so as to carry out ‘the principle that the end and aim of the highest education must be the devotion of the mind to some one branch of science.’ In 1860 he contributed to ‘Essays and Reviews’ ‘Tendencies of Religious Thought in England, 1688–1750.’ Learned, temperate, and impartial, the vehement and bitter haters of the book and its contributors could find little fault with his article, except the fact that it had appeared in company with the others.
On the death of Dr. Thompson in 1861, Pattison obtained the prize he had contended for ten years earlier, and was elected rector of Lincoln. In 1870 he accepted for the third time the office of public examiner, then an unusual post for the ‘head of a house’ to fill. He was also a delegate of the press and of the Bodleian Library, but in 1878 he declined the vice-chancellorship. Although for a time after his election the rector lectured on the ‘Ethics,’ he took a less active part in the administration of the college than might have been expected. The habits of ten years had disinclined him for administrative detail. He showed a keen interest in those undergraduates who possessed a love of study or a desire to succeed in the schools, but he did not much concern himself with the college generally or with the undergraduates.
In the meantime his literary activity was great. His articles in the ‘Quarterly’ on ‘Huet’ (1855), ‘Montaigne’ (1856), ‘Joseph Scaliger’ (1860), ‘The Stephenses’ (1865); in the ‘National Review’ on ‘Bishop Warburton’ and ‘Learning in the Church of England’ (1863); in the ‘North British’ on ‘F. A. Wolf’ (1865), were marked by that thorough knowledge, that maturity of judgment, and that grasp of the subject-matter which are among the characteristics of his writings. For some time he wrote the article ‘Religion and Philosophy’ in the literary chronicle of the ‘Westminster Review;’ and though he ceased to do so at the end of 1855, he continued to furnish occasional notices of theological and historical books to that ‘Review,’ to which he also contributed the following more serious articles: ‘The Present State of Theology in Germany’ and ‘Buckle's Civilisation in England,’ 1857; ‘Calvin at Geneva’ and ‘The Calas Tragedy,’ 1858; ‘Early Intercourse of England and Germany,’ 1861; ‘Popular Education in Prussia,’ 1862; ‘Mackay's Tübingen School,’ 1863. To the ‘Saturday Review’ he was a frequent contributor for some years after its commencement in 1855, and continued to write occasionally down to 1877, his severe but not unfair review of W. E. Jelf's edition of ‘Aristotle's Ethics,’ 8 March 1856, bringing down upon him a foolishly irate letter from Jelf [see Jelf, William Edward]. He also wrote in the ‘British Quarterly’ (‘Pope and his Editors,’ 1872), the ‘North American’ (‘The Thing that might be,’ 1881), ‘Fraser's Magazine’ (‘The Birmingham Congress,’ 1857; ‘Antecedents of the Reformation,’ 1859; ‘Philanthropic Societies in the Reign of Queen Anne,’ 1860), ‘Macmillan’ (‘A Chapter of University History’ and ‘Milton,’ 1875), the ‘Contemporary’ (‘The Religion of Positivism,’ 1876), ‘Fortnightly’ (‘The Age of Reason,’ ‘Note on Evolution and Positivism,’ and ‘Books and Critics,’ 1877; ‘Industrial Shortcomings,’ 1880; ‘Etienne Dolet,’ 1881), ‘New Quarterly Magazine’ (‘Middle-class Education,’ 1879), and the ‘Academy,’ where his reviews of Newman's ‘Grammar of Assent’ and Mozley's ‘Reminiscences’ have not only a literary, but a personal interest. He was an occasional contributor to the ‘Times’ (‘Hatin's Histoire de la Presse,’ 19 Nov. 1860; ‘Courthope's Pope,’ 27 Jan. 1882; ‘Muretus,’ 23 Aug. 1882), to ‘Mind’ (‘Philosophy in Oxford,’ 1876), to the ‘Journal of Education,’ and to the short-lived ‘Reader,’ and so late as May 1883 wrote a review of Mr. Henry Craik's ‘Life of Swift’ for the ‘Guardian’ newspaper. (His diaries refer to other reviews and magazine articles which it has not been found possible to identify with certainty.)
At the same time Pattison edited with notes, for the Clarendon Press, in 1869 Pope's ‘Essay on Man’ (2nd edit. 1872), and in 1872 Pope's ‘Satires and Epistles’ (2nd edit. 1874). In the ninth edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica’ are to be found seven biographical notices by Pattison on Bentley, Casaubon, Erasmus, Grotius, Lipsius, More, and Macaulay, ‘all terse, luminous, and finished’ (J. Morley in Macmillan's Magazine, vol. li.) In 1879 he wrote a life of Milton for the ‘English Men of Letters’ series (reprinted, with considerable alterations, 1880, 1883, 1885, and 1887), and in 1883 he published an edition of Milton's ‘Sonnets.’ In 1875 his most important work appeared—the life of ‘Isaac Casaubon’ (2nd edit. 1892, with index). Though he only devoted himself to Casaubon upon finding his intention to write the life of Scaliger anticipated by Bernays, he threw himself con amore into the work, and the result is that he has given to the world the best biography in our language of a scholar, as he in common with Casaubon and Scaliger understood the word.
But Pattison was by no means a recluse. For some years after his marriage in 1861 his house was a centre of all that was best in Oxford society. Under a singularly stiff and freezing manner to strangers and to those whom he disliked, he concealed a most kindly nature, full of geniality and sympathy, and a great love of congenial, and especially of female, society. But it was in his intercourse with his pupils, and generally with those younger than himself, that he was seen to most advantage. His conversation was marked by a delicate irony. His words were few and deliberate, but pregnant with meaning, and above all stimulating, and their effect was heightened by perhaps too frequent and, especially to undergraduates, somewhat embarrassing flashes of silence. His aim was always to draw out by the Socratic method what was best in the mind of the person he conversed with, and he seemed to be seeking information and suggestions for his own use. To the last he was open to new personal impressions, was most grateful for information on subjects which were of interest to him, and was always full of generous admiration for good work, or even for work which, if not really good, was painstaking or marked by promise.
The Social Science Association found in him one of its earliest supporters; and he was for some years, to the surprise and even amusement of some of his friends, a regular attendant at the conferences, a sympathetic listener to the papers, and a diligent frequenter of the soirées. At the meeting at Birmingham in 1868 he read a paper on university reform, and at Liverpool in 1876 he was president of the section of education. In 1862 he was elected a member of the Athenæum Club by the committee under the special rule admitting distinguished persons. For many years he was a member of the committee of the London Library, and regularly attended its meetings. But he was singularly inefficient on a board or committee, where his want of self-reliance was painfully apparent, and where his disinclination to express a positive opinion or to vote often caused great embarrassment, and sometimes inconvenience, to his colleagues, who would on many subjects have attached the utmost importance to any definite statement of his views. His occasional addresses, on such varied subjects as ‘Locke’ at the Royal Institution, ‘What is a College?’ before the Ascham Society, ‘Coal Scuttles’ at the School of Art at Oxford (November 1876), ‘The Art of Teaching’ at Bloomsbury, ‘Modern Books and Critics’ at Birmingham, drew large audiences. Several of them afterwards appeared as magazine articles. He occasionally took clerical duty for a few weeks in the summer in some country village, but it cannot be said that his ministrations were well adapted to country congregations.
Pattison's health, which had been for some time feeble, completely broke down in November 1883. But he rallied, and was able to visit London in the spring, and to be present—his last public appearance—at a meeting of the Hellenic Society. In June he was removed to Harrogate, where he died on 30 July 1884. He was buried, as he desired, in the neighbouring churchyard of Harlow Hill.
In 1861 Pattison married Emilia Frances, daughter of Captain Strong, H.E.I.C.S., a lady much younger than himself, who has achieved distinction as a writer on art. There was no issue of the marriage. Mrs. Pattison survived her husband, and, on 3 Oct. 1885 she married the Right Hon. Sir Charles W. Dilke, bart., M.P.
In the last few months of 1883 Pattison dictated his ‘Memoirs,’ which, however, only come down to 1860. They are largely based upon diaries which he deposited in the Bodleian Library. His later diaries are in the possession of his representatives. The ‘Memoirs’ were published by Mrs. Pattison in 1885. The book is one of deep and painful interest, the only one in existence that can be compared with Rousseau's ‘Confessions’ in the fidelity with which it lays bare the inmost secrets of the heart, but in which, unlike the ‘Confessions,’ the author does himself much less than justice. He gives a far less favourable impression of himself than any impartial outside observer would have done, and draws a portrait not so much of what he really was at the time of which he writes, as of what he seemed to himself through the morbid recollections of the past and the often not less morbid entries in his diary. For his true portrait we must look into his ‘Essays’ and his ‘Life of Casaubon.’ His own personality is evident in whatever he writes. He was essentially a man of learning, using the word in the sense in which he has defined it: ‘Learning is a peculiar compound of memory, imagination, scientific habit, accurate observation, all concentrated through a prolonged period on the analysis of the remains of literature. The result of this sustained mental endeavour is not a book, but a man. It cannot be embodied in print; it consists of the living word.’ He was consequently intolerant, not of ignorance, but of pretended learning, and showed his contempt sometimes too obviously. In his ‘Memoirs’ he is no less unfair to those whom he disliked than to himself, and all through his (later) writings there is a tendency to unduly depreciate both the learning and the actions of those who supported the cause of the catholic church. He sees the hand of the jesuits everywhere, and finds an evident difficulty in doing justice to the opponents of intellectual progress.
Though not in the technical sense of the word a bibliophile, Pattison collected not only the largest private library of his time at Oxford, but one that was extraordinarily complete for the history of learning and philosophy of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. It numbered about fourteen thousand volumes, and was sold by auction at Sotheby's sale-room in London in July and August 1885.
A volume of his college and university sermons was published in 1885. In 1889 a selection of his essays appeared at the Clarendon Press, in two volumes, under the editorship of Pattison's friend, Henry Nettleship [q. v.][Memoirs by Mark Pattison, 1885; Times, 31 July 1884; Athenæum, 2 Aug. 1884; Saturday Review, 2 Aug. 1884; Academy, 9 Aug. 1884; Macmillan, vol. 1.; Morley's Miscellanies (from Macmillan, vol. li.); Althaus's Recollections of Mark Pattison (from Temple Bar, January 1885); Tollemache's Recollections of Pattison (from Journal of Education, 1 June 1885); Pattison's manuscript Diaries and Correspondence; personal knowledge.]