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Faithful Intellect

Faithful Intellect: Samuel S. Nelles and Victoria University

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Faithful Intellect
    Book Description:

    In 1850, Samuel Nelles, a well-educated Methodist minister, was selected to resuscitate the debt-ridden and declining Victoria University. As principal, and later as president and chancellor, he fought against shortsighted government educational policies while making the school into one of the premier universities in Canada. A true academic, Nelles believed in the importance of testing assumed laws, dogmas, and creeds. However his pursuit of intellectual inquiry was always guided by a rational faith in God, as well as the expectation of the future greatness and goodness of humanity. "Faithful Intellect" expands the reader's understanding of many of the key intellectual, religious, and political concerns of nineteenth-century English Canada while providing an essential contribution to the study of Canada’s system of higher education.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7217-1
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    Key elements in history – whether mechanical technology, intellectual reasoning, or political, economic, and social discrimination – constantly modify culture. At the same time, one of the standard features of historical writing is that every age can be described as a culmination of the past or as a commencement of a new epoch. Such descriptions are almost inherent in the process by which historians organize and express their thoughts.

    It is not surprising, therefore, that in Canada the period from the 1850s to the 1880s has been rightly characterized as an era of significant transition. New technology helped to define...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-2)
  5. 1 Early Life
    (pp. 3-26)

    It had been a cold, raw day, but at least the rain had stopped. Fortunately, the last of the root and field crops had been put up in the cold cellar, and the second hay cutting dried and stored away. There would likely be enough to last through the winter. The orchard had been a disappointment; still, it would yield better when the trees matured. The cattle must be seen to, thought William, and tomorrow he must make a start on cutting several more cords of firewood. All indications were that it would be a severe winter. In another month...

  6. 2 Student Days
    (pp. 27-57)

    In the fall of 1839, sixteen-year-old Samuel Sobieski Nelles prepared to leave his home at Mount Pleasant for the first time to enter regular schools and expand his formal education. We can well imagine that, before he departed, he retraced the well-worn paths across the farm and along the creek, embracing once again the treasured moments of his childhood. We can see him stopping, remembering his fervid prayers to God and the multitude of books he had quietly read in the shade of the large elm guarding the path. These memories would remain with him, continuing to shape his life...

  7. 3 The Young Scholar-Preacher
    (pp. 58-84)

    After Samuel Nelles left the graduation ceremonies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, on 9 August 1846, he faced a momentous decision: What career path to follow? As on other such important occasions, he retreated to his favourite spot on the family farm at Mount Pleasant. His brothers and sisters, recognizing the seriousness behind his contemplative countenance, did not disturb him; even his parents offered only the advice to pray to God for guidance and trust his own judgment. Sitting on the large verandah, looking down the hill to the road that he must soon take toward the wider world,...

  8. 4 The New Principal
    (pp. 85-113)

    Samuel Nelles had been born and raised on a farm. As for most rural Canadians, the rhythm of life matched the cycle of the seasons: spring planting, summer growing, autumn harvest, winter dormancy. The annual pattern gave natural order and symmetry to life’s employment and even came to define life itself. As an adult, Nelles witnessed a shift in the cycle. Methodist ministers regulated their life around the calendar of Annual Conferences, where their fate was affirmed, their next circuit assigned. Their year started in June and ended the following June. For the newly ordained Nelles, this new sense of...

  9. 5 Addressing the People
    (pp. 114-143)

    When Samuel Nelles first assumed his responsibilities at Victoria College, he understood that he must improve his lecturing and preaching. His natural reticence, introspection, and commitment to detailed and complicated exposition, he knew, often crippled his effectiveness. Most audiences expected a mature orator and an expressive preacher and hoped for a lively performer at the rostrum. An entertaining production did not diminish the importance of the content, especially given that speeches and sermons normally lasted well over an hour. In his lectures, Nelles had not only to communicate specific knowledge but also to impart to his students an abiding enthusiasm...

  10. 6 The Academic
    (pp. 144-174)

    Samuel Nelles rarely considered himself a dynamic or earnest spokesman, or really anything beyond a rather shy and reticent witness for his church. Fairness and accuracy were more important to him than fervour and cant. In fact, Nelles was a learned and wise educator. He had come to recognize that teaching the young was as vital to the health and progress of the Christian church and to the nation he loved as preaching to a congregation, that it was as legitimate a part of his ministerial duty. The classroom supplied an expansive tabernacle. From Nelles’s perspective, the same purpose was...

  11. 7 The Quest for a Quiet, Settled Faith
    (pp. 175-203)

    In June 1866, Samuel Nelles once again recorded a profound sense of personal frustration and weariness with the world. However, these feelings were always tempered by his abiding confidence in the future. “Deeply oppressed with a sense of unspeakable dimness and vanity of human life. The Gospel throws some light, but still we see through a glass darkly. Yet I hold on by the three great props of the soul: faith, hope and charity. Let me have faith in God.”¹ Even though the way appeared clouded and God’s revelations were at best poorly comprehended, he prayed for stronger trust and...

  12. 8 Family and University Life
    (pp. 204-236)

    One evening after supper in February 1867, Samuel Nelles sat in his classroom at the college preparing new lectures. He was distracted by a student playing the violin somewhere in the rooms above. Nelles stopped working while the melodious sounds echoed through the silent corridors and filled the abandoned rooms. As he listened, he was gently transported above the cares of college, church, and state. His thoughts drifted away to the higher joys of life and the wondrous nature of God. Remembering the music later that night, he recorded in his diary, “How it melts the soul with the love...

  13. 9 The University Question
    (pp. 237-270)

    From his arrival at Victoria College as principal, Samuel Nelles was deeply concerned with his university’s place in Canadian higher education. Even though he was constantly embroiled in the minutiae of college life, he never stopped advancing what he sincerely held to be a priority: a truly national and inclusive Christian university system for Ontario. And he never doubted that a prosperous Victoria was a fundamental component of this system. His greatest obstacle always remained the lack of a sizable and secure financial base. As early as 1851 he complained, “Instead of sending that noble endowment abroad in various streams...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 271-280)

    At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 19 October 1887, two days after his death, a solemn gathering readied itself outside of Samuel Nelles’s apartments at Victoria University. All the businesses in town had closed as a sign of respect. Rev. Dr William Williams, the presiding clergyman, completed a brief service for the family before taking his place at the head of the assembly and beginning the short procession to Division Street Methodist Church. It was a fittingly grey and somber day, but not too cold or otherwise uncomfortable. Samuel’s wife, children, and brothers and sisters, as well as members of the...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 281-364)
  16. Index
    (pp. 365-369)