Friday, November 24, 2006

D. R. Davies VI: Drop-Out

The Unitarian College at Manchester, then housed in Summerville College, Manchester (current building depicted) at which D. R. Davies arrived was affilliated to the University of Manchester, and it was the University matriculation that he was to take. This was a bad thing, for it led to Davies becoming isolated from his fellow students. According to his later account of his studies, only his room-mate, Douglas Hoole, showed any interest in him:

"After the excitement of the first few weeks, I began to feel a stranger in the place: I simply slept and boarded there. I attended all my lectures at the University. Once a week I had to attend a sermon-class, when each student in turn had to preach a sermon for criticism. That was the only educational contact I had with the college itself. There was a very marked and definite prejudice against Welshmen [and Davies, remember, had Welsh as a first language], which I felt keenly; it conspired to make me feel an alien, and drove me to find my interests outside. That would have happened anyhow, but the environment certainly encouraged that."

The only University classes were less than gripping for the young would-be minister. Only Greek, taught by Professor Burroughs, interested Davies. Apart form that, he found the course deadly dull, even British history, which was taught by one Hilda Oakeley. Davies began to skip classes, and soon barely attended at all.

After a chance encounter with British statesman John Morley, Davies devoured the man's works, starting with his On Compromise. A pupil of the philosopher John Stuart Mill, 'like his master [...] he loved humanity in the abstract, but had little eye for the concrete specimen." In spite of this, the meeting with the man sparked off what was to be life-long interst in politics and political philosophy, as well as a belief in individual freedom. He became a radical in his politics.

He also discovered the theatre. In time, Davies became intesely interested in plays with a social message, such as the works of Galsworthy and George Bernard Shaw. This served as a gateway to the discovery of other contemporary authors, most notably H. G. Wells, through whose influence, Davies became a socialist:

"I lost both head and heart to Wells. I not only read, I also bought each new book by him, which kept me busy and short of money. He was my guide and philosopher. I raved about him. Yet of all my early gods, he is the one of whom time and experience have made the greatest scarecrow. Today I think Wells merely tawdry, shallow and shabby, with his quack nostrums of World Brain, New declaration of Human Rights, and so on. But in those Manchester days, my youthful,eager mind clothed him in royal purple."

Sunday evenings became a time for politics, worshipping at the altar of socialism, through such high priests as Keir Hardie, Phillip Snowden and J. Ramsay Macdonald. This came to be his religion, Socialism meaning far more to Davies than Unitarianism, although he was a student for the Unitarian ministry. Indeed, by June of 1907, Davies had become deeply hostile to religion in all its forms. He was also under-performing in his studies, due to the fact that he despised them as well. Indeed, only his fear of returning to Maesteg kept him from resigning from the college. Like many before and since, he liked being a student, although he hated the work.

At the start of the summer term, however, Davies found himsel in the Principal's office, being asked to explain his appalling results. After he made a clean breast of his rejection of religion, the Principal gave him a term in which to make up his mind, and, if he felt no different, Davies was to resign.

In the end, God took a hand. Davies' father was taken seriously ill, and D. R. found himself forced to return to coal-mining in Maesteg. He had come to hate coal-mining, for the only practical effect of his time at college had been that D. R. Davies had come to consider himself a cut above his fellows. His next field of labour would be politics, not religion.



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