The Portal February 2018 - Page 10

THE P RTAL February 2018 Page 10 Thoughts on Newman Industry Dr Stephen Morgan I n the first week of 2018 a report emerged from Sweden (it’s always Sweden, isn’t it?) suggesting that the Swedish government were considering reducing the working day to six hours because research had shown that after six hours work in a day, our efficiency falls off so quickly that we really ought not to bother. We are, today, all very busy. I know this is so because we tell one another constantly how busy we are. Working life is hectic: meetings, emails, appointments, telephone calls, meetings, meetings, meetings – every minute of our lives taken up with a seemingly accelerating avalanche of things to do, people to see – oh and did I mention meetings? first set of University-wide papers, the Responsions, known as ‘the Little Go”: the remaining five books of Herodotus, the Odes and Epodes of Horace and Euclid’s Elements. He was also working through more Virgil and the Roman Poet Terence. Call me a sceptic, a cynic even, but I am far from convinced by any of this talk of busy-ness and of industrious efficiency. It isn’t only born of a growing realisation of how little I seem to achieve – that, of course, may be as much a comment on personal inadequacy as on anything else – but of sheer amazement at what our forebears managed to achieve and to do so without any of the aids to productivity (mobile phones, computers, motor cars) that are supposed to enhance our performance. Lest we might be inclined to put this down to the narrow industriousness of an exceptionally gifted and focused young man, Newman, whose Oxford college battels indicate that he led a highly sociable existence, managed to keep up a fearsome pace for most of his adult life – as the thirty three volumes of his correspondence demonstrate, not to mention the hundreds of sermons and forty one published books, nor the establishment of schools, an unsuccessful attempt to establish a University, editing journals, founding the Oratory and nearly sixty years of parish work. Although suggesting to his father that same month that, on top of the work for Collections and Even when we have retired, we seem to be busy. It Responsions, sitting for a College Scholarship would be is a frequently heard complaint of the newly retired more than he could manage, he did, in fact undertake that they are so busy that they don’t know how they the four-day examinations that brought his election, managed to find time for work. But are we really so on 18th May 1818, as a Scholar of Trinity College, with busy, and if we are, are we achieving a very great deal the distinctive dimidiated sleeved gown and £60 per year: nearly £3,000 in today’s terms. for all our effort?  I can’t help wondering whether we haven’t simply been seduced by our own propaganda, by the narrative His near-contemporaries seem no less hard-working: of ‘life’s so busy these days’ with which we console and Gladstone’s library in North Wales contains nearly excuse ourselves. 10,000 volumes which contain detailed marginal notes Two hundred years ago this February, in the month in the man’s hand – the pace of reading appears to that he turned seventeen, John Henry Newman was show no slackening during the periods when he was preparing for Collections – informal, college-based simultaneously Prime Minister and Chancellor of the examinations designed to establish whether any of the Exchequer. reading and study was actually making an impression What neither man had to contend with, though, were on the intellect. In a letter to his mother, Newman lists those triple thieves of time: the television, the wireless the papers he was required to handin. radio and the internet. How fortunate they were not to He lists the first five books of Herodotus, Virgil’s be as busy as us. Aeneid, Mechanics, the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges and Ruth. Only six weeks later, he was preparing for his