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Title: Oxford
Author: Lang, Andrew
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Oxford" ***

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Transcribed from the 1922 Seeley, Service & Co. edition by David Price,
email ccx074@pglaf.org

                          [Picture: Book cover]

  [Picture: St. Mary’s Church from the corner of Oriel Street and Merton
                 Street, with Oriel College on the right]


                               ANDREW LANG
                             SOMETIME FELLOW
                        OF MERTON COLLEGE, OXFORD

                                * * * * *

                       WITH ILLUSTRATIONS IN COLOUR
                            GEORGE F. CARLINE

                                * * * * *

                         SEELEY, SERVICE & CO LTD
                         38 GREET RUSSELL STREET

                                * * * * *

                                A. M. LEE

                                * * * * *


THESE papers do not profess even to sketch the outlines of a history of
Oxford.  They are merely records of the impressions made by this or that
aspect of the life of the University as it has been in different ages.
Oxford is not an easy place to design in black and white, with the pen or
the etcher’s needle.  On a wild winter or late autumn day (such as Father
Faber has made permanent in a beautiful poem) the sunshine fleets along
the plain, revealing towers, and floods, and trees, in a gleam of watery
light, and leaving them once more in shadow.  The melancholy mist creeps
over the city, the damp soaks into the heart of everything, and such
suicidal weather ensues as has been described, once for all, by the
author of _John-a-Dreams_.  How different Oxford looks when the road to
Cowley Marsh is dumb with dust, when the heat seems almost tropical, and
by the drowsy banks of the Cherwell you might almost expect some shy
southern water-beast to come crashing through the reeds!  And such a day,
again, is unlike the bright weather of late September, when all the gold
and scarlet of Bagley Wood are concentrated in the leaves that cover the
walls of Magdalen with an imperial vesture.

Our memories of Oxford, if we have long made her a Castle of Indolence,
vary no less than do the shifting aspects of her scenery.  Days of spring
and of mere pleasure in existence have alternated with days of gloom and
loneliness, of melancholy, of resignation.  Our mental pictures of the
place are tinged by many moods, as the landscape is beheld in shower and
sunshine, in frost, and in the colourless drizzling weather.  Oxford,
that once seemed a pleasant porch and entrance into life, may become a
dingy ante-room, where we kick our heels with other weary, waiting
people.  At last, if men linger there too late, Oxford grows a prison,
and it is the final condition of the loiterer to take ‘this for a
hermitage.’  It is well to leave the enchantress betimes, and to carry
away few but kind recollections.  If there be any who think and speak
ungently of their _Alma Mater_, it is because they have outstayed their
natural ‘welcome while,’ or because they have resisted her genial
influence in youth.


CHAP.             I.  THE TOWN BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY                19
   ,,            II.  THE EARLY STUDENTS—A DAY WITH A               43
                      MEDIEVAL UNDERGRADUATE
   ,,           III.  THE RENAISSANCE AND THE REFORMATION           67
   ,,            IV.  JACOBEAN OXFORD                               89
   ,,             V.  SOME SCHOLARS OF THE RESTORATION             111
   ,,            VI.  HIGH TORY OXFORD                             133
   ,,           VII.  GEORGIAN OXFORD                              153
   ,,          VIII.  POETS AT OXFORD: SHELLEY AND LANDOR          171
   ,,            IX.  A GENERAL VIEW                               191
   ,,             X.  UNDERGRADUATE LIFE—CONCLUSION                209


MOST old towns are like palimpsests, parchments which have been scrawled
over again and again by their successive owners.  Oxford, though not one
of the most ancient of English cities, shows, more legibly than the rest,
the handwriting, as it were, of many generations.  The convenient site
among the interlacing waters of the Isis and the Cherwell has commended
itself to men in one age after another.  Each generation has used it for
its own purpose: for war, for trade, for learning, for religion; and war,
trade, religion, and learning have left on Oxford their peculiar marks.
No set of its occupants, before the last two centuries began, was very
eager to deface or destroy the buildings of its predecessors.  Old things
were turned to new uses, or altered to suit new tastes; they were not
overthrown and carted away.  Thus, in walking through Oxford, you see
everywhere, in colleges, chapels, and churches, doors and windows which
have been builded up; or again, openings which have been cut where none
originally existed.  The upper part of the round Norman arches in the
Cathedral has been preserved, and converted into the circular bull’s-eye
lights which the last century liked.  It is the same everywhere, except
where modern restorers have had their way.  Thus the life of England, for
some eight centuries, may be traced in the buildings of Oxford.  Nay, if
we are convinced by some antiquaries, the eastern end of the High Street
contains even earlier scratches on this palimpsest of Oxford; the rude
marks of savages who scooped out their damp nests, and raised their low
walls in the gravel, on the spot where the new schools are to stand.
Here half-naked men may have trapped the beaver in the Cherwell, and
hither they may have brought home the boars which they slew in the
trackless woods of Headington and Bagley.  It is with the life of
historical Oxford, however, and not with these fancies, that we are
concerned, though these papers have no pretension to be a history of
Oxford.  A series of pictures of men’s life here is all they try to

It is hard, though not impossible, to form a picture in the mind of
Oxford as she was when she is first spoken of by history.  What she may
have been when legend only knows her; when St. Frideswyde built a home
for religious maidens; when she fled from King Algar and hid among the
swine, and after a whole fairy tale of adventures died in great sanctity,
we cannot even guess.  This legend of St. Frideswyde, and of her
foundation, the germ of the Cathedral and of Christ Church, is not,
indeed, without its value and significance for those who care for Oxford.
This home of religion and of learning was a home of religion from the
beginning, and her later life is but a return, after centuries of war and
trade, to her earliest purpose.  What manner of village of wooden houses
may have surrounded the earliest rude chapels and places of prayer, we
cannot readily guess, but imagination may look back on Oxford as she was
when the _English Chronicle_ first mentions her.  Even then it is not
unnatural to think Oxford might well have been a city of peace.  She lies
in the very centre of England, and the Northmen, as they marched inland,
burning church and cloister, must have wandered long before they came to
Oxford.  On the other hand, the military importance of the site must have
made it a town that would be eagerly contended for.  Any places of
strength in Oxford would command the roads leading to the north and west,
and the secure, raised paths that ran through the flooded fens to the
ford or bridge, if bridge there then was, between Godstowe and the later
Norman _grand pont_, where Folly Bridge now spans the Isis.  Somewhere
near Oxford, the roads that ran towards Banbury and the north, or towards
Bristol and the west, would be obliged to cross the river.  The
water-way, too, and the paths by the Thames’ side, were commanded by
Oxford.  The Danes, as they followed up the course of the Thames from
London, would be drawn thither, sooner or later, and would covet a place
which is surrounded by half a dozen deep natural moats.  Lastly, Oxford
lay in the centre of England indeed, but on the very marches of Mercia
and Wessex.  A border town of natural strength and of commanding
situation, she can have been no mean or poor collection of villages in
the days when she is first spoken of, when Eadward the Elder
‘incorporated with his own kingdom the whole Mercian lands on both sides
of Watling Street’ (Freeman’s _Norman Conquest_, vol. i. p. 57), and took
possession of London and of Oxford as the two most important parts of a
scientific frontier.  If any man had stood, in the days of Eadward, on
the hill that was not yet ‘Shotover,’ and had looked along the plain to
the place where the grey spires of Oxford are clustered now, as it were
in a purple cup of the low hills, he would have seen little but ‘the
smoke floating up through the oakwood and the coppice,’

             Καπνὸν δ’ ἐνὶ γέσσῃ
    ἔδρακον ὀφθαλμοῖσι διὰ δρυμὰ πυκνὰ καὶ ὕλην

The low hills were not yet cleared, nor the fens and the wolds trimmed
and enclosed.  Centuries later, when the early students came, they had to
ride ‘through the thick forest and across the moor, to the East Gate of
the city’ (_Munimenta Academica_, Oxon., vol. i. p. 60).  In the midst of
a country still wild, Oxford was already no mean city; but the place
where the hostile races of the land met to settle their differences, to
feast together and forget their wrongs over the mead and ale, or to
devise treacherous murder, and close the banquet with fire and sword.

Again and again, after Eadward the Elder took Mercia, the Danes went
about burning and wasting England.  The wooden towns were flaming through
the night, and sending up a thick smoke through the day, from Thamesmouth
to Cambridge.  ‘And next was there no headman that force would gather,
and each fled as swift as he might, and soon was there no shire that
would help another.’  When the first fury of the plundering invaders was
over, when the Northmen had begun to wish to settle and till the land and
have some measure of peace, the early meetings between them and the
English rulers were held in the border-town, in Oxford.  Thus Sigeferth
and Morkere, sons of Earngrim, came to see Eadric in Oxford, and there
were slain at a banquet, while their followers perished in the attempt to
avenge them.  ‘Into the tower of St. Frideswyde they were driven, and as
men could not drive them thence, the tower was fired, and they perished
in the burning.’  So says William of Malmesbury, who, so many years
later, read the story, as he says, in the records of the Church of St.
Frideswyde.  There is another version of the story in the _Codex
Diplomaticus_ (DCCIX.).  Aethelred is made to say, in a deed of grant of
lands to St. Frideswyde’s Church (‘mine own minster’), that the Danes
were slain in the massacre of St. Brice.  On that day Aethelred, ‘by the
advice of his satraps, determined to destroy the tares among the wheat,
the Danes in England.’  Certain of these fled into the minster, as into a
fortress, and therefore it was burned and the books and monuments
destroyed.  For this cause Aethelred gives lands to the minster, ‘fro
Charwell brigge andlong the streame, fro Merewell to Rugslawe, fro the
lawe to the foule putte,’ and so forth.  It is pleasant to see how old
are the familiar names ‘Cherwell,’ ‘Hedington,’ ‘Couelee’ or Cowley,
where the college cricket-grounds are.  Three years passed, and the
headmen of the English and of the Danes met at Oxford again, and more
peacefully, and agreed to live together, obedient to the laws of Eadgar;
to the law, that is, as it was administered in older days, that seem
happier and better ruled to men looking back on them from an age of
confusion and bloodshed.  At Oxford, too, met the peaceful gathering of
1035, when Danish and English claims were in some sort reconciled, and at
Oxford Harold Harefoot, the son of Cnut, died in March 1040.  The place
indeed was fatal to kings, for St. Frideswyde, in her anger against King
Algar, left her curse on it.  Just as the old Irish kings were forbidden
by their customs to do this or that, to cross a certain moor on May
morning, or to listen to the winnowing of the night-fowl’s wings in the
dusk above the lake of Tara; so the kings of England shunned to enter
Oxford, and to come within the walls of Frideswyde the maiden.  Harold
died there, as we have seen, but there he was not buried.  His body was
laid at Westminster, where it could not rest, for his enemies dug it up,
and cast it forth upon the fens, or threw it into the river.  Many years
later, when Henry III. entered Oxford, not without fear, the curse of
Frideswyde lighted also upon him.  He came in 1263, with Edward the
prince, and misfortune fell upon him, so that his barons defeated and
took him prisoner at the battle of Lewes.  The chronicler of Oseney Abbey
mentions his contempt of superstitions, and how he alone of English kings
entered the city: ‘_Quod nullus rex attemptavit a tempore Regis Algari_,’
an error, for Harold _attemptavit_, and died.  When Edward I. was king,
he was less audacious than his father, and in 1275 he rode up to the East
Gate and turned his horse’s head about, and sought a lodging outside the
town, _reflexis habenis equitans extra moenia aulam regiain in suburbio
positam introivit_.  In 1280, however, he seems to have plucked up
courage and attended a Chapter of Dominicans in Oxford.

The last of the meetings between North and South was held at Oxford in
October 1065.  ‘_In urle quæ famoso nomine Oxnaford nuncupatur_,’ to
quote a document of Cnut’s.  (_Cod. Dipl._ DCCXLVI. in 1042.)  There the
Northumbrian rebels met Harold in the last days of Edward the Confessor.
With this meeting we leave that Oxford before the Conquest, of which
possibly not one stone, or one rafter, remains.  We look back through
eight hundred years on a city, rich enough, it seems, and powerful, and
we see the narrow streets full of armed bands of men—men that wear the
cognisance of the horse or of the raven, that carry short swords, and are
quick to draw them; men that dress in short kirtles of a bright colour,
scarlet or blue; that wear axes slung on their backs, and adorn their
bare necks and arms with collars and bracelets of gold.  We see them
meeting to discuss laws and frontiers, and feasting late when business is
done, and chaffering for knives with ivory handles, for arrows, and
saddles, and wadmal, in the booths of the citizens.  Through the mist of
time this picture of ancient Oxford may be distinguished.  We are tempted
to think of a low, grey twilight above that wet land suddenly lit up with
fire; of the tall towers of St. Frideswyde’s Minster flaring like a torch
athwart the night; of poplars waving in the same wind that drives the
vapour and smoke of the holy place down on the Danes who have taken
refuge there, and there stand at bay against the English and the people
of the town.  The material Oxford of our times is not more unlike the
Oxford of low wooden booths and houses, and of wooden spires and towers,
than the life led in its streets was unlike the academic life of to-day.
The Conquest brought no more quiet times, but the whole city was wrecked,
stormed, and devastated, before the second period of its history began,
before it was the seat of a Norman stronghold, and one of the links of
the chain by which England was bound.  ‘Four hundred and seventy-eight
houses were so ruined as to be unable to pay taxes,’ while, ‘within the
town or without the wall, there were but two hundred and forty-three
houses which did yield tribute.’

With the buildings of Robert D’Oily, a follower of the Conqueror’s, and
the husband of an English wife, the heiress of Wigod of Wallingford, the
new Oxford begins.  Robert’s work may be divided roughly into two
classes.  First, there are the strong places he erected to secure his
possessions, and, second, the sacred places he erected to secure the
pardon of Heaven for his robberies.  Of the castle, and its ‘shining
coronal of towers,’ only one tower remains.  From the vast strength of
this picturesque edifice, with the natural moat flowing at its feet, we
may guess what the castle must have been in the early days of the
Conquest, and during the wars of Stephen and Matilda.  We may guess, too,
that the burghers of Oxford, and the rustics of the neighbourhood, had no
easy life in those days, when, as we have seen, the town was ruined, and
when, as the extraordinary thickness of the walls of its remaining tower
demonstrates, the castle was built by new lords who did not spare the
forced labour of the vanquished.  The strength of the position of the
castle is best estimated after viewing the surrounding country from the
top of the tower.  Through the more modern embrasures, or over the low
wall round the summit, you look up and down the valley of the Thames, and
gaze deep into the folds of the hills.  The prospect is pleasant enough,
on an autumn morning, with the domes and spires of modern Oxford
breaking, like islands, through the sea of mist that sweeps above the
roofs of the good town.  In the old times, no movement of the people who
had their fastnesses in the fens, no approach of an army from any
direction could have evaded the watchman.  The towers guarded the fords
and the bridge and were themselves almost impregnable, except when a hard
winter made the Thames, the Cherwell, and the many deep and treacherous
streams passable, as happened when Matilda was beleaguered in Oxford.
This natural strength of the site is demonstrated by the vast mound
within the castle walls, which tradition calls the Jews’ Mound, but which
is probably earlier than the Norman buildings.  Some other race had
chosen the castle site for its fortress in times of which we know
nothing.  Meanwhile, some of the practical citizens of Oxford wish to
level the Jews’ Mound, and to ‘utilise’ the gravel of which it is largely
composed.  There is nothing to be said against this economic project
which could interest or affect the persons who entertain it.  M.
Brunet-Debaines’ illustration shows the mill on a site which must be as
old as the tower.  Did the citizens bring their corn to be tolled and
ground at the lord’s mill?

Though Robert was bent on works of war, he had a nature inclined to
piety, and, his piety beginning at home, he founded the church of St.
George within the castle.  The crypt of the church still remains, and is
not without interest for persons who like to trace the changing fortunes
of old buildings.  The site of Robert’s Castle is at present occupied by
the County Gaol.  When you have inspected the tower (which does not do
service as a dungeon) you are taken, by the courtesy of the Governor, to
the crypt, and satisfy your archæological curiosity.  The place is much
lower, and worse lighted, than the contemporary crypt of St.
Peter’s-in-the-East, but not, perhaps, less interesting.  The
square-headed capitals have not been touched, like some of those in St.
Peter’s, by a later chisel.  The place is dank and earthy, but otherwise
much as Robert D’Oily left it.  There is an odd-looking arrangement of
planks on the floor.  It is _the new drop_, which is found to work very
well, and gives satisfaction to the persons who have to employ it.
Sinister the Norman castle was in its beginning, ‘it was from the castle
that men did wrong to the poor around them; it was from the castle that
they bade defiance to the king, who, stranger and tyrant as he might be,
was still a protector against smaller tyrants.’  Sinister the castle
remains; you enter it through ironed and bolted doors, you note the
prisoners at their dreary exercises, and, when you have seen the engines
of the law lying in the old crypt you pass out into the place of
execution.  Here, in a corner made by Robert’s tower and by the wall of
the prison, is a dank little quadrangle.  The ground is of the yellow
clay and gravel which floors most Oxford quadrangles.  A few letters are
scratched on the soft stone of the wall—the letters ‘H. R.’ are the
freshest.  These are the initials of the last man who suffered death in
this corner—a young rustic who had murdered his sweetheart.  ‘H. R.’ on
the prison wall is all his record, and his body lies under your feet, and
the feet of the men who are to die here in after days pass over his tomb.
It is thus that malefactors are buried, ‘within the walls of the gaol.’

One is glad enough to leave the remains of Robert’s place of arms—as glad
as Matilda may have been when ‘they let her down at night from the tower
with ropes, and she stole out, and went on foot to Wallingford.’  Robert
seems at first to have made the natural use of his strength.  ‘Rich he
was, and spared not rich or poor, to take their livelihood away, and to
lay up treasures for himself.’  He stole the lands of the monks of
Abingdon, but of what service were moats, and walls, and dungeons, and
instruments of torture, against the powers that side with monks?

The _Chronicle of Abingdon_ has a very diverting account of Robert’s
punishment and conversion.  ‘He filched a certain field without the walls
of Oxford that of right belonged to the monastery, and gave it over to
the soldiers in the castle.  For which loss the brethren were greatly
grieved—the brethren of Abingdon.  Therefore, they gathered in a body
before the altar of St. Michael—the very altar that St. Dunstan the
archbishop dedicated—and cast themselves weeping on the ground, accusing
Robert D’Oily, and praying that his robbery of the monastery might be
avenged, or that he might be led to make atonement.’  So, in a dream,
Robert saw himself taken before Our Lady by two brethren of Abingdon, and
thence carried into the very meadow he had coveted, where ‘most nasty
little boys,’ _turpissimi pueri_, worked their will on him.  Thereon
Robert was terrified and cried out, and wakened his wife, who took
advantage of his fears, and compelled him to make restitution to the

After this vision, Robert gave himself up to pampering the monastery and
performing other good works.  He it was who built a bridge over the Isis,
and he restored the many ruined parish churches in Oxford—churches which,
perhaps, he and his men had helped to ruin.  The tower of St. Michael’s,
in ‘the Corn,’ is said to be of his building; perhaps he only ‘restored’
it, for it is in the true primitive style—gaunt, unadorned, with
round-headed windows, good for shooting from with the bow.  St. Michael’s
was not only a church, but a watchtower of the city wall; and here the
old northgate, called Bocardo, spanned the street.  The rooms above the
gate were used till within quite recent times, and the poor inmates used
to let down a greasy old hat from the window in front of the passers-by,
and cry, ‘Pity the Bocardo birds’:

    ‘Pigons qui sont en l’essoine,
    Enserrez soubz trappe volière,’

as a famous Paris student, François Villon, would have called them.  Of
Bocardo no trace remains, but St. Michael’s is likely to last as long as
any edifice in Oxford.  Our illustrations represent it as it was in the
last century.  The houses huddle up to the church, and hide the lines of
the tower.  Now it stands out clear, less picturesque than it was in the
time of Bocardo prison.  Within the last two years the windows have been
cleared, and the curious and most archaic pillars, shaped like
balustrades, may be examined.  It is worth while to climb the tower and
remember the times when arrows were sent like hail from the narrow
windows on the foes who approached Oxford from the north, while prayers
for their confusion were read in the church below.

That old Oxford of war was also a trading town.  Nothing more than the
fact that it was a favourite seat of the Jews is needed to prove its
commercial prosperity.  The Jews, however, demand a longer notice in
connection with the still unborn University.  Meanwhile, it may be
remarked that Oxford trade made good use of the river.  The _Abingdon
Chronicle_ (ii. 129) tells us that ‘from each barque of Oxford city,
which makes the passage by the river Thames past Abingdon, a hundred
herrings must yearly be paid to the cellarer.  The citizens had much
litigation about land and houses with the abbey, and one Roger Maledoctus
(perhaps a very early sample of the pass-man) gave Abingdon tenements
within the city.’  Thus we leave the pre-Academic Oxford a flourishing
town, with merchants and moneylenders.  As for the religious, the
brethren of St. Frideswyde had lived but loosely (_pro libito viverunt_),
says William of Malmesbury, and were to be superseded by regular canons,
under the headship of one Guimond, and the patronage of the Bishop of
Salisbury.  Whoever goes into Christ Church new buildings from the
river-side, will see, in the old edifice facing him, a certain bulging in
the wall.  That is the mark of the pulpit, whence a brother used to read
aloud to the brethren in the refectory of St. Frideswyde.  The new leaven
of learning was soon to ferment in an easy Oxford, where men lived _pro
libito_, under good lords, the D’Oilys, who loved the English, and built,
not churches and bridges only, but the great and famous Oseney Abbey,
beyond the church of St. Thomas, and not very far from the modern station
of the Great Western Railway.  Yet even after public teaching in Oxford
certainly began, after Master Robert Puleyn lectured in divinity there
(1133; cf. _Oseney Chronicle_), the tower was burned down by Stephen’s
soldiery in 1141 (_Oseney Chronicle_, p. 24).


OXFORD, some one says, ‘is bitterly historical.’  It is difficult to
escape the fanaticism of Antony Wood, and of ‘our antiquary,’ Bryan
Twyne, when one deals with the obscure past of the University.  Indeed,
it is impossible to understand the strange blending of new and old at
Oxford—the old names with the new meanings—if we avert our eyes from what
is ‘bitterly historical.’  For example, there is in most, perhaps in all,
colleges a custom called ‘collections.’  On the last days of term
undergraduates are called into the Hall, where the Master and the Dean of
the Chapel sit in solemn state.  Examination papers are set, but no one
heeds them very much.  The real ordeal is the awful interview with the
Master and the Dean.  The former regards you with the eyes of a judge,
while the Dean says, ‘Master, I am pleased to say that Mr. Brown’s
_papers_ are very fair, very fair.  But in the matters of _chapels_ and
of _catechetics_, Mr. Brown sets—for a _scholar_—a very bad example to
the other undergraduates.  He has only once attended divine service on
Sunday morning, and on that occasion, Master, his dress consisted
exclusively of a long great-coat and a pair of boots.’  After this
accusation the Master will turn to the culprit and observe, with emphasis
ill represented by italics, ‘Mr. Brown, the _College_ cannot hear with
pleasure of such behaviour on the part of a _scholar_.  You are _gated_,
Mr. Brown, for the first fortnight of next term.’  Now why should this
tribunal of the Master and the Dean, and this dread examination, be
called collections?  Because (_Munimenta Academica_, Oxon., i. 129) in
1331 a statute was passed to the effect that ‘every scholar shall pay at
least twelve pence a-year for lectures in logic, and for physics
eighteenpence a-year,’ and that ‘all Masters of Arts except persons of
royal or noble family, shall be obliged to _collect_ their salary from
the scholars.’  This _collection_ would be made at the end of term; and
the name survives, attached to the solemn day of doom we have described,
though the college dues are now collected by the bursar at the beginning
of each term.

By this trivial example the perversions of old customs at Oxford are
illustrated.  To appreciate the life of the place, then, we must glance
for a moment at the growth of the University.  As to its origin, we know
absolutely nothing.  That Master Puleyn began to lecture there in 1133 we
have seen, and it is not likely that he would have chosen Oxford if
Oxford had possessed no schools.  About these schools, however, we have
no information.  They may have grown up out of the seminary which,
perhaps, was connected with St. Frideswyde’s, just as Paris University
may have had some connection with ‘the School of the Palace.’  Certainly
to Paris University the academic corporation of Oxford, the
_Universitas_, owed many of her regulations; while, again, the founder of
the college system, Walter de Merton (who visited Paris in company with
Henry III.), may have compared ideas with Robert de Sorbonne, the founder
of the college of that name.  In the early Oxford, however, of the
twelfth and most of the thirteenth centuries, colleges with their
statutes were unknown.  The University was the only corporation of the
learned, and she struggled into existence after hard fights with the
town, the Jews, the Friars, the Papal courts.  The history of the
University begins with the thirteenth century.  She may be said to have
come into being as soon as she possessed common funds and rents, as soon
as fines were assigned, or benefactions contributed to the maintenance of
scholars.  Now the first recorded fine is the payment of fifty-two
shillings by the townsmen of Oxford as part of the compensation for the
hanging of certain clerks.  In the year 1214 the Papal Legate, in a
letter to his ‘beloved sons in Christ, the burgesses of Oxford,’ bade
them excuse the ‘scholars studying in Oxford’ half the rent of their
halls, or hospitia, for the space of ten years.  The burghers were also
to do penance, and to feast the poorer students once a year; but the
important point is, that they had to pay that large yearly fine ‘propter
suspendium clericorum’—all for the hanging of the clerks.  Twenty-six
years after this decision of the Legate, Robert Grossteste, the great
Bishop of Lincoln, organised the payment and distribution of the fine,
and founded the first of the _chests_, the chest of St. Frideswyde.
These _chests_ were a kind of Mont de Piété, and to found them was at
first the favourite form of benefaction.  Money was left in this or that
_chest_, from which students and masters would borrow, on the security of
pledges, which were generally books, cups, daggers, and so forth.

                [Picture: Merton College from the Fields]

Now, in this affair of 1214 we have a strange passage of history, which
happily illustrates the growth of the University.  The beginning of the
whole affair was the quarrel with the town, which, in 1209, had hanged
two clerks, ‘in contempt of clerical liberty.’  The matter was taken up
by the Legate—in those bad years of King John the Pope’s viceroy in
England—and out of the humiliation of the town the University gained
money, privileges, and halls at low rental.  These were precisely the
things that the University wanted.  About these matters there was a
constant strife, in which the Kings, as a rule, took part with the
University.  The University possessed the legal knowledge, which the
monarchs liked to have on their side, and was therefore favoured by them.
Thus, in 1231 (Wood, _Annals_, i. 205), ‘the King sent out his Breve to
the Mayor and Burghers commanding them not to overrate their houses’; and
thus gradually the University got the command of the police, obtained
privileges which enslaved the city, and became masters where they had
once been despised, starveling scholars.  The process was always the
same.  On the feast of St. Scholastica, for example, in 1354, Walter de
Springheuse, Roger de Chesterfield, and other clerks, swaggered into the
Swyndlestock tavern in Carfax, began to speak ill of John de Croydon’s
wine, and ended by pitching the tankard at the head of that vintner.  In
ten minutes the town bell at St. Martin’s was rung, and the most terrible
of all Town-and-Gown rows began.  The Chancellor could do no less than
bid St. Mary’s bell reply to St. Martin’s, and shooting commenced.  The
Gown held their own very well at first, and ‘defended themselves till
Vespertide,’ when the citizens called in their neighbours, the rustics of
Cowley, Headington, and Hincksey.  The results have been precisely
described in anticipation by Homer:

    τόφρα δ’ ἄρ οἰχόμενοι Κίκονες Κικόνεσσι γεγώνευν
    οἴ σφῖν γείτονες ἦσαν ἅμα πλέονες καὶ ἀρείους

                                  . . . . .

    ἦμος δ’ Ηέλιος μετενίσσετο βουλυτόνδε
    καὶ τότε δὴ Κίκονες κλῖναν δαμάσαντες ’Αχαιούς.

Which is as much as to say, ‘The townsfolk call for help to their
neighbours, the yokels, that were more numerous than they, and better men
in battle . . . so when the sun turned to the time of the loosing of oxen
the Town drave in the ranks of the Gown, and won the victory.’  They were
strong, the townsmen, but not merciful.  ‘The crowns of some chaplains,
viz. all the skin so far as the tonsure went, these diabolical imps
flayed off in scorn of their clergy,’ and ‘some poor innocents these
confounded sons of Satan knocked down, beat, and most cruelly wounded.’
The result, in the long run, was that the University received from Edward
III. ‘a most large charter, containing many liberties, some that they had
before, and _others that he had taken away from the town_.’  Thus Edward
granted to the University ‘the custody of the assize of bread, wine, and
ale,’ the supervising of measures and weights, the sole power of clearing
the streets of the town and suburbs.  Moreover, the Mayor and the chief
Burghers were condemned yearly to a sort of public penance and
humiliation on St. Scholastica’s Day.  Thus, by the middle of the
fourteenth century, the strife of Town and Gown had ended in the complete
victory of the latter.

Though the University owed its success to its clerkly character, and
though the Legate backed it with all the power of Rome, yet the scholars
were Englishmen and Liberals first, Catholics next.  Thus they had all
English sympathy with them when they quarrelled with the Legate in 1238,
and shot his cook (who, indeed, had thrown hot broth at them); and thus,
in later days, the undergraduates were with Simon de Montfort against
King Henry, and aided the barons with a useful body of archers.  The
University, too, constantly withstood the Friars, who had settled in
Oxford on pretence of wishing to convert the Jews, and had attempted to
get education into their hands.  ‘The Preaching Friars, who had lately
obtained from the Pope divers privileges, particularly an exemption, as
they pretended, from being subject to the jurisdiction of the University,
began to behave themselves very insolent against the Chancellors and
Masters.’  (Wood, _Annals_, i. 399.)  The conduct of the Friars caused
endless appeals to Rome, and in this matter, too, Oxford was stoutly
national, and resisted the Pope, as it had, on occasions, defied the
King.  The King’s Jews, too, the University kept in pretty good order,
and when, in 1268, a certain Hebrew snatched the crucifix from the hand
of the Chancellor and trod it under foot, his tribesmen were compelled to
raise ‘a fair and stately cross of marble, very curiously wrought,’ on
the scene of the sacrilege.

The growth in power and importance of academic corporations having now
been sketched, let us try to see what the outer aspect of the town was
like in these rude times, and what manner of life the undergraduates led.
For this purpose we may be allowed to draw a rude, but not unfaithful,
picture of a day in a student’s life.  No incident will be introduced for
which there is not authority, in Wood, or in Mr. Anstey’s invaluable
documents, the _Munimenta Academica_, published in the collection of the
Master of the Rolls.  Some latitude as to dates must be allowed, it is
true, and we are not of course to suppose that any one day of life was
ever so gloriously crowded as that of our undergraduate.

The time is the end of the fourteenth century.  The forest and the moor
stretch to the east gate of the city.  Magdalen bridge is not yet built,
nor of course the tower of Magdalen, which M. Brunet-Debaines has
sketched from Christ Church walks.  Not till about 1473 was the tower
built, and years would pass after that before choristers saluted with
their fresh voices from its battlements the dawn of the first of May, or
sermons were preached from the beautiful stone pulpit in the open air.
When our undergraduate, Walter de Stoke, or, more briefly, Stoke, was at
Oxford, the spires of the city were few.  Where Magdalen stands now, the
old Hospital of St. John then stood—a foundation of Henry III.—but the
Jews were no longer allowed to bury their dead in the close, which is now
the ‘Physic Garden.’  ‘In 1289,’ as Wood says, ‘the Jews were banished
from England for various enormities and crimes committed by them.’  The
Great and Little Jewries—those dim, populous streets behind the modern
Post Office—had been sacked and gutted.  No clerk would ever again risk
his soul for a fair Jewess’s sake, nor lose his life for his love at the
hands of that eminent theologian, Fulke de Breauté.  The beautiful tower
of Merton was still almost fresh, and the spires of St. Mary’s, of old
All Saints, of St. Frideswyde, and the strong tower of New College on the
city wall, were the most prominent features in a bird’s-eye view of the
town.  But though part of Merton, certainly the chapel tower as we have
seen, the odd muniment-room with the steep stone roof, and, perhaps, the
Library, existed; though New was built; and though Balliol and University
owned some halls, on, or near, the site of the present colleges, Oxford
was still an university of poor scholars, who lived in town’s-people’s

Thus, in the great quarrel with the Legate in 1238, John Currey, of
Scotland, boarded with Will Maynard, while Hugh le Verner abode in the
house of Osmund the Miller, with Raynold the Irishman and seven of his
fellows.  John Mortimer and Rob Norensis lodged with Augustine Gosse, and
Adam de Wolton lodged in Cat Street, where you can still see the curious
arched doorway of Catte’s, or St. Catherine’s Hall.  By the time of my
hero, Walter Stoke, the King had not yet decreed that all scholars of
years of discretion should live in the house of some sufficient principal
(1421); so let him lodge at Catte Hall, at the corner of the street that
leads to New College out of the modern Broad Street, which was then the
City Ditch.  It is six o’clock on a summer morning, and the bells waken
Stoke, who is sleeping on a flock bed, in his little _camera_.  His room,
though he is not one of the luxurious clerks whom the University scolds
in various statutes, is pretty well furnished.  His bed alone is worth
not less than fifteenpence; he has a ‘cofer’ valued at twopence (we have
plenty of those old valuations), and in his cofer are his black coat,
which no one would think dear at fourpence, his tunic, cheap at tenpence,
‘a roll of the seven Psalms,’ and twelve books only ‘at his beddes heed.’
Stoke has not

    ‘Twenty bookes, clothed in blak and reed,
    Of Aristotil and of his philosophie,’

like Chaucer’s Undergraduate, who must have been a bibliophile.  There
are not many records of ‘as many as twenty bookes’ in the old valuations.
The great ornament of the room is a neat trophy of buckler, bow, arrows,
and two daggers, all hanging conveniently on the wall.  Stoke opens his
eyes, yawns, looks round for his clothes, and sees, with no surprise,
that his laundress has not sent home his clean linen.  No; Christina, of
the parish of St. Martin, who used to be Stoke’s _lotrix_, has been
detected at last.  ‘Under pretence of washing for scholars, _multa mala
perpetrata fuerunt_,’ she has committed all manner of crimes, and is now
in the Spinning House, _carcerata fuit_.  Stoke wastes a malediction on
the laundress, and, dressing as well as he may, runs down to Parson’s
Pleasure, I hope, and has a swim, for I find no tub in his room, or,
indeed, in the _camera_ of any other scholar.  It is now time to go, not
to chapel—for Catte’s has no chapel—but to parish Church, and Stoke goes
very devoutly to St. Peter’s, where we shall find him again, later in the
day, in another mood.  About eight o’clock he ‘commonises’ with a Paris
man, Henricus de Bourges, who has an admirable mode of cooking omelettes,
which makes his company much sought after at breakfast-time.  The
University, in old times, was full of French students, as Paris was
thronged by Englishmen.  Lectures begin at nine, and first there is
lecture in the hall by the principal of Catte’s.  That scholar receives
his pupils in a bare room, where it is very doubtful whether the students
are allowed to sit down.  From the curious old seal of the University of
St. Andrews, however, it appears that the luxury of forms was permitted,
in Scotland, to all but the servitors, who held the lecturer’s candles.
The principal of Catte’s is in academic dress, and wears a black cape,
boots, and a hood.  The undergraduates have no distinguishing costume.
After an hour or two of _vivâ voce_ exercises in the grammar of Priscian,
preparatory lecture is over, and a reading man will hurry off to the
‘schools,’ a set of low-roofed buildings between St. Mary’s and
Brasenose.  There he will find the Divinity ‘school’ or lecture-room in
the place of honour, with Medicine on one hand and Law on the other; the
lecture-rooms for grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, music, geometry,
and astronomy, for metaphysics, ethics, and ‘the tongues,’ stretching
down School Street on either side.  Here the Prælectors are holding
forth, and all newly made Masters of Arts are bound to teach their
subject _regere scholas_, whether they like it or not.  Our friend,
Master Stoke, however, is on pleasure bent, and means to pay his fine of
twopence for omitting lecture, and go off to the festival of his _nation_
(he is of the Southern nation, and hates Scotch, Welsh, and Irish) in the
parish Church.  He stops in the Flower Market and at a barber’s shop on
his way to St. Peter’s, and comes forth a wonderful pagan figure with a
Bacchic mask covering his honest countenance, with horns protruding
through a wig of tow, with vine-leaves twisted in and out of the horns,
and roses stuck wherever there is room for roses.  Henricus de Bourges,
and half a dozen Picardy men, with some merry souls from the Southern
side of the Thames, are jigging down the High, playing bag-pipes and
guitars.  To these Stoke joins himself, and they waltz joyously into the
church, and in and out of the gateways of the different halls, singing,—

    ‘Mihi est propositum in taberna mori,
    Vinum sit appositum morientis ori,
    Ut dicant, quum venerint, angelorum chori
    Deus sit propitius huic potatori.’

The students of the Northern nations mock, of course, at these revellers,
thumbs are bitten, threats exchanged, and we shall see what comes of the
quarrel.  But the hall bells chime half-past noon; it is dinner-time in
Oxford, and Stoke, as he throws off his mask (_larva_) and vine-leaves,
mutters to himself the equivalent for ‘there _will_ be a row about this.’
There will, indeed, for the penalty is not ‘crossing at the buttery,’ nor
‘gating,’ but—excommunication!  (_Munim. Academ._, i. 18.)  Dinner is not
a very quiet affair, for the Catte’s men have had to fight for their beer
in the public streets with some Canterbury College fellows who were set
on by their Warden, of all people, to commit this violence (_ut vi et
violentia raperent cerevisiam aliorum scholarum in vico_): however,
Catte’s has had the best of it, and there is beer in plenty.  It is
possible, however, that fish is scarce, for certain ‘forestallers’
(_regratarii_) have been buying up salmon and soles, and refusing to sell
them at less than double the proper price.  On the whole, however, there
a rude abundance of meat and bread; indeed, Stoke may have fared better
in Catte’s than the modern undergraduate does in the hall of the college
protected by St. Catherine.  After dinner there would be lecture in Lent,
but we are not in Lent.  A young man’s fancy lightly turns to the
Beaumont, north of the modern Beaumont Street, where there are wide
playing-fields, and space for archery, foot-ball, stool-ball, and other
sports.  Stoke rushes out of hall, and runs upstairs into the _camera_ of
Roger de Freshfield, a reading man, but a good fellow.  He knocks and
enters, and finds Freshfield over his favourite work, the _Posterior
Analytics_, and a pottle of strawberries.  ‘Come down to the Beaumont,
old man,’ he says, ‘and play pyked staffe.’  Roger is disinclined to
move, he _must_ finish the _Posterior Analytics_.  Stoke lounges about,
in the eternal fashion of undergraduates after luncheon, and picking up
the _Philobiblon_ of Richard de Bury (then quite a new book), clinches
his argument in favour of pyke and staffe with a quotation: ‘You will
perhaps see a stiff-necked youth lounging sluggishly in his study . . .
He is not ashamed to eat fruit and cheese over an open book, and to
transfer his cup from side to side upon it.’  Thus addressed, Roger lays
aside his _Analytics_, and the pair walk down by Balliol, to the
Beaumont, where pyked staffe, or sword and buckler, is played.  At the
Beaumont they find two men who say that ‘sword and buckler can be played
sofft and ffayre,’ that is, without hard hitting, and with one of these
Stoke begins to fence.  Alas! a dispute arose about a stroke, the
by-standers interfered, and Stoke’s opponent drew his hanger (_extraxit
cultellum vocatum hangere_), and hit one John Felerd over the sconce.  On
this the Proctors come up, and the assailant is put in Bocardo, while
Stoke goes off to a ‘pass-supper’ given by an _inceptor_, who has just
taken his degree.  These suppers were not voluntary entertainments, but
enforced by law.  At supper the talk ranges over University gossip, they
tell of the scholar who lately tried to raise the devil in Grope Lane,
and was pleased by the gentlemanly manner of the foul fiend.  They speak
of the Queen’s man, who has just been plucked for maintaining that _Ego
currit_, or _ego est currens_, is as good Latin as _ego curro_.  Then the
party breaks up, and Stoke goes towards Merton, with some undergraduates
of that college, Bridlington, Alderberk, and Lymby.  At the corner of
Grope Lane, out come many men of the Northern nations, armed with
shields, and bows and arrows.  Stoke and his friends run into Merton for
weapons, and ‘standing in a window of that hall, shot divers arrows, and
one that Bridlington shot hit Henry de l’Isle, and David Kirkby
unmercifully perished, for after John de Benton had given him a dangerous
wound in the head with his faulchion, came Will de la Hyde and wounded
him in the knee with his sword.’

These were rough times, and it is not improbable that Stoke had a brush
with the Town before he got safely back to Catte’s Hall.  The old
rudeness gave way gradually, as the colleges swallowed up the irregular
halls, and as the scholars unattached, _infando nomine Chamber-Dekyns_,
ceased to exist.  Learning, however, dwindled, as colleges increased,
under the clerical and reactionary rule of the House of Lancaster.


WE have now arrived at a period in the history of Oxford which is
confused and unhappy, but for us full of interest, and perhaps of
instruction.  The hundred years that passed by between the age of Chaucer
and the age of Erasmus were, in Southern Europe, years of the most eager
life.  We hear very often—too often, perhaps—of what is called the
Renaissance.  The energy of delight with which Italy welcomed the new
birth of art, of literature, of human freedom, has been made familiar to
every reader.  It is not with Italy, but with England and with Oxford,
that we are concerned.  How did the University and the colleges prosper
in that strenuous time when the world ran after loveliness of form and
colour, as, in other ages, it has run after warlike renown, or the
far-off rewards of the saintly life?  What was Oxford doing when
Florence, Venice, and Rome were striving towards no meaner goal than

It must be said that ‘the spring came slowly up this way.’  The
University merely reflected the very practical character of the people.
In contemplating the events of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, in
their influence on English civilisation, we are reminded once more of the
futility of certain modern aspirations.  No amount of University
Commissions, nor of well-meant reforms, will change the nature of
Englishmen.  It is impossible, by distributions of University prizes and
professorships, to attract into the career of letters that proportion of
industry and ingenuity which, in Germany for example, is devoted to the
scholastic life.  Politics, trade, law, sport, religion, will claim their
own in England, just as they did at the Revival of Letters.  The
illustrious century which Italy employed in unburying, appropriating, and
enjoying the treasures of Greek literature and art, our fathers gave, in
England, to dynastic and constitutional squabbles, and to religious
broils.  The Renaissance in England, and chiefly in Oxford, was like a
bitter and changeful spring.  There was an hour of genial warmth, there
breathed a wind from the south, in the lifetime of Chaucer; then came
frosts and storms; again the brief sunshine of court favour shone on
literature for a while, when Henry VIII. encouraged study, and Wolsey and
Fox founded Christ Church and Corpus Christi College; once more the bad
days of religious strife returned, and the promise of learning was
destroyed.  Thus the chief result of the awakening thought of the
fourteenth century in England was not a lively delight in literature, but
the appearance of the Lollards.  The intensely practical genius of our
race turned not to letters, but to questions about the soul and its
future, about property and its distribution.  The Lollards were put down
in Oxford; ‘the tares were weeded out’ by the House of Lancaster, and in
the process the germs of free thought, of originality, and of a rational
education, were destroyed.  ‘Wyclevism did domineer among us,’ says Wood;
and, in fact, the intellect of the University was absorbed, like the
intellect of France during the heat of the Jansenist controversy, in
defending or assailing ‘267 damned conclusions,’ drawn from the books of
Wyclif.  The University ‘lost many of her children through the profession
of Wyclevism.’  Those who remained were often ‘beneficed clerks.’  The
Friars lifted up their heads again, and Oxford was becoming a large
ecclesiastical school.  As the University declared to Archbishop Chichele
(1438), ‘Our noble mother, that was blessed in so goodly an offspring, is
all but utterly destroyed and desolate.’  Presently the foreign wars and
the wars of the Roses drained the University of the youth of England.
The country was overrun with hostile forces, or infested by disbanded
soldiers.  Plague and war, war and plague, and confusion, alternate in
the annals.  Sickly as Oxford is to-day by climate and situation, she is
a city of health compared to what she was in the middle ages.  In 1448 ‘a
pestilence broke out, occasioned by the overflowing of waters, . . . also
by the lying of many scholars in one room or dormitory in almost every
Hall, which occasioned nasty air and smells, and consequently diseases.’
In the general dulness and squalor two things were remarkable: one, the
last splendour of the feudal time; the other, the first dawn of the new
learning from Italy.  In 1452, George Neville of Balliol, brother of the
King-maker, gave the most prodigious pass-supper that was ever served in
Oxford.  On the first day there were 600 messes of meat, divided into
three courses.  The second course is worthy of the attention of the

                              SECOND COURSE

Vian in brase.       Carcell.
Crane in sawce.      Partrych.
Young Pocock.        Venson baked.
Coney.               Fryed meat in paste.
Pigeons.             Lesh Lumbert.
Byttor.              A Frutor.
Curlew.              A Sutteltee.

Against this prodigious gormandising we must set that noble gift, the
Library presented to Oxford by Duke Humfrey of Gloucester.  In the
Catalogue, drawn up in 1439, we mark many books of the utmost value to
the impoverished students.  Here are the works of Plato, and the _Ethics_
and _Politics_ of Aristotle, translated by Leonard the Aretine.  Here,
among the numerous writings of the Fathers, are Tully and Seneca,
Averroes and Avicenna, _Bellum Trojae cum secretis secretorum_, Apuleius,
Aulus Gellius, Livy, Boccaccio, Petrarch.  Here, with Ovid’s verses, is
the Commentary on Dante, and his _Divine Comedy_.  Here, rarest of all,
is a Greek Dictionary, the silent father of Liddel’s and Scott’s to be.

   [Picture: Broad Street, a fine wide street containing many historic
 buildings, and showing the Sheldonian and the old Clarendon Building on
                                the right]

The most hopeful fact in the University annals, after the gift of those
manuscripts (to which the very beauty of their illuminations proved
ruinous in Puritan times), was the establishment of a printing-press at
Oxford, and the arrival of certain Italians, ‘to propagate and settle the
studies of true and genuine humanity among us.’  The exact date of the
introduction of printing let us leave to be determined by the learned
writer who is now at work on the history of Oxford.  The advent of the
Italians is dated by Wood in 1488.  Polydore Virgil had lectured in New
College.  ‘He first of all taught literature in Oxford.  Cyprianus and
Nicholaus, _Italici_, also arrived and dined with the Vice-President of
Magdalen on Christmas Day.  Lily and Colet, too, one of them the founder,
the other the first Head Master, of St. Paul’s School, were about this
time studying in Italy, under the great Politian and Hermolaus Barbarus.
Oxford, which had so long been in hostile communication with Italy as
represented by the Papal Courts, at last touched, and was thrilled by the
electric current of Italian civilisation.  At this conjuncture of
affairs, who but is reminded of the youth and the education of Gargantua?
Till the very end of the fifteenth century Oxford had been that ‘huge
barbarian pupil,’ and had revelled in vast Rabelaisian suppers: ‘of fat
beeves he had killed three hundred sixty seven thousand and fourteen,
that in the entering in of spring he might have plenty of powdered beef.’
The bill of fare of George Neville’s feast is like one of the catalogues
dear to the Curé of Meudon.  For Oxford, as for Gargantua, ‘they
appointed a great sophister-doctor, that read him Donatus, Theodoletus,
and Alanus, in _parabolis_.’  Oxford spent far more than Gargantua’s
eighteen years and eleven months over ‘the book de Modis significandis,
with the commentaries of Berlinguandus and a rabble of others.’  Now,
under Colet, and Erasmus (1497), Oxford was put, like Gargantua, under
new masters, and learned that the old scholarship ‘had been but
brutishness, and the old wisdom but blunt, foppish toys serving only to
bastardise noble spirits, and to corrupt all the flower of youth.’

The prospects of classical learning at Oxford (and, whatever may be the
case to-day, on classical learning depended, in the fifteenth century,
the fortunes of European literature) now seemed fair enough.  People from
the very source of knowledge were lecturing in Oxford.  Wolsey was Bursar
of Magdalen.  The colleges, to which B. N. C. was added in 1509, and C.
C. C. in 1516, were competing with each other for success in the New
Learning.  Fox, the founder of C. C. C., established in his college two
chairs of Greek and Latin, ‘to extirpate barbarism.’  Meanwhile,
Cambridge had to hire an Italian to write public speeches at twenty pence
each!  Henry VIII. in his youth was, like Francis I., the patron of
literature, as literature was understood in Italy.  He saw in learning a
new splendour to adorn his court, a new source of intellectual luxury,
though even Henry had an eye on the theological aspect of letters.
Between 1500 and 1530 Oxford was noisy with the clink of masons’ hammers
and chisels.  Brasenose, Corpus, and the magnificent kitchen of Christ
Church, were being erected.  (The beautiful staircase, which M.
Brunet-Debaines has sketched, was not finished till 1640.  The world owes
it to Dr. Fell.  The Oriel niches, designed in the illustration, are of
rather later date.)  The streets were crowded with carts, dragging in
from all the neighbouring quarries stones for the future homes of the
fair humanities.  Erasmus found in Oxford a kind of substitute for the
Platonic Society of Florence.  ‘He would hardly care much about going to
Italy at all, except for the sake of having been there.  When I listen to
Colet, it seems to me like listening to Plato himself’; and he praises
the judgment and learning of those Englishmen, Grocyn and Linacre, who
had been taught in Italy.

In spite of all this promise, the Renaissance in England was rotten at
the root.  Theology killed it, or, at the least, breathed on it a deadly
blight.  Our academic forefathers ‘drove at practice,’ and saw everything
with the eyes of party men, and of men who recognised no interest save
that of religion.  It is Mr. Seebohm (_Oxford Reformers_, 1867), I think,
who detects, in Colet’s concern with the religious side of literature,
the influence of Savonarola.  When in Italy ‘he gave himself entirely to
the study of the Holy Scriptures.’  He brought to England from Italy, not
the early spirit of Pico of Mirandola, the delightful freedom of his
youth, but his later austerity, his later concern with the harmony of
scripture and philosophy.  The book which the dying Petrarch held
wistfully in his hands, revering its very material shape, though he could
not spell its contents, was the _Iliad_ of Homer.  The book which the
young Renaissance held in its hands in England, with reverence and
eagerness as strong and tender, contained the Epistles of St. Paul.  It
was on the Epistles that Colet lectured in 1496–97, when doctors and
abbots flocked to hear him, with their note-books in their hands.  Thus
Oxford differed from Florence, England from Italy: the former all intent
on what it believed to be the very Truth, the latter all absorbed on what
it knew to be no other than Beauty herself.

We cannot afford to regret the choice that England and Oxford made.  The
search for Truth was as certain to bring ‘not peace but a sword’ as the
search for Beauty was to bring the decadence of Italy, the corruption of
manners, the slavery of two hundred years.  Still, our practical
earnestness did rob Oxford of the better side of the Renaissance.  It is
not possible here to tell the story of religious and social changes,
which followed so hard upon each other, in the reigns of Henry VIII.,
Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth.  A few moments in these stormy years are
still memorable for some terrible or ludicrous event.

That Oxford was rather ‘Trojan’ than ‘Greek,’ that men were more
concerned about their dinners and their souls than their prosody and
philosophy, in 1531, is proved by the success of Grynaeus.  He visited
the University and carried off quantities of MSS., chiefly Neoplatonic,
on which no man set any value.  Yet, in 1535, Layton, a Commissioner,
wrote to Cromwell that he and his companions had established the New
Learning in the University.  A Lecture in Greek was founded in Magdalen,
two chairs of Greek and Latin in New, two in All Souls, and two already
existed, as we have seen, in C. C. C.  This Layton is he that took a
Rabelaisian and unquotable revenge on that old tyrant of the Schools,
Duns Scotus.  ‘We have set Dunce in Bocardo, and utterly banished him
from Oxford for ever, with all his blind glosses . . . And the second
time we came to New College we found all the great quadrant full of the
leaves of Dunce, the wind blowing them into every corner.  And there we
found a certain Mr. Greenfield, a gentleman of Buckinghamshire, gathering
up part of the same books’ leaves, as he said, therewith to make him
_sewers_ or _blanshers_, to keep the deer within his wood, thereby to
have the better cry with his hounds.’  Ah! if the University
Commissioners would only set Aristotle, and Messrs. Ritter and Preller,
‘in Bocardo,’ many a young gentleman out of Buckinghamshire and other
counties would joyously help in the good work, and use the pages, if not
for _blanshers_, for other sportive purposes!

‘_Habent sua fata libelli_,’ as Terentianus Maurus says, in a frequently
quoted verse.  If Cromwell’s Commissioners were hard on Duns, the
Visitors of Edward VI. were ruthless in their condemnation of everything
that smacked of Popery or of magic.  Evangelical religion in England has
never been very favourable to learning.  Thus, in 1550 ‘the ancient
libraries were by their appointment rifled.  Many manuscripts, guilty of
no other superstition than red letters in the front or titles, were
condemned to the fire . . . Such books wherein appeared angles were
thought sufficient to be destroyed, because accounted Papish or
diabolical, or both.’  A cart-load of MSS., lucubrations of the Fellows
of Merton, chiefly in controversial divinity, was taken away; but, by the
good services of one Herks, a Dutchman, many books were preserved, and,
later, entered the Bodleian Library.  The world can spare the
controversial manuscripts of the Fellows of Merton, but who knows what
invaluable scrolls may have perished in the Puritan bonfire!  Persons,
the librarian of Balliol, sold old books to buy Protestant ones.  Two
noble libraries were sold for forty shillings, for waste paper.  Thus the
reign of Edward VI. gave free play to that ascetic and intolerable hatred
of letters which had now and again made its voice heard under Henry VIII.
Oxford was almost empty.  The schools were used by laundresses, as a
place wherein clothes might conveniently be dried.  The citizens
encroached on academic property.  Some schools were quite destroyed, and
the sites converted into gardens.  Few men took degrees.  The college
plate and the jewels left by pious benefactors were stolen, and went to
the melting-pot.  Thus flourished Oxford under Edward VI.

The reign of Mary was scarcely more favourable to letters.  No one knew
what to be at in religion.  In Magdalen no one could be found to say
Mass, the fellows were turned out, the undergraduates were whipped—boyish
martyrs—and crossed at the buttery.  What most pleases, in this tragic
reign, is the anecdote of Edward Anne of Corpus.  Anne, with the conceit
of youth, had written a Latin satire on the Mass.  He was therefore
sentenced to be publicly flogged in the hall of his college, and to
receive one lash for each line in his satire.  Never, surely, was a poet
so sharply taught the merit of brevity.  How Edward Anne must have
regretted that he had not knocked off an epigram, a biting couplet, or a
smart quatrain with the sting of the wit in the tail!

Oxford still retains a memory of the hideous crime of this reign.  In
Broad Street, under the windows of Balliol, there is a small stone cross
in the pavement.  This marks the place where, some years ago, a great
heap of wooden ashes was found.  These ashes were the remains of the fire
of October 16th, 1555—the day when Ridley and Latimer were burned.  ‘They
were brought,’ says Wood, ‘to a place over against Balliol College, where
now stands a row of poor cottages, a little before which, under the town
wall, ran so clear a stream that it gave the name of Canditch, _candida
fossa_, to the way leading by it.’  To recover the memory of that event,
let the reader fancy himself on the top of the tower of St. Michael’s,
that is, immediately above the city wall.  No houses interfere between
him and the open country, in which Balliol stands; not with its present
frontage, but much farther back.  A clear stream runs through the place
where is now Broad Street, and the road above is dark with a swaying
crowd, out of which rises the vapour of smoke from the martyrs’ pile.  At
your feet, on the top of Bocardo prison (which spanned the street at the
North Gate), Cranmer stands manacled, watching the fiery death which is
soon to purge away the memory of his own faults and crimes.  He, too,
joined that ‘noble army of martyrs’ who fought all, though they knew it
not, for one cause—the freedom of the human spirit.

It was in a night-battle that they fell, and ‘confused was the cry of the
pæan,’ but they won the victory, and we have entered into the land for
which they contended.  When we think of these martyrdoms, can we wonder
that the Fellows of Lincoln did not spare to ring a merry peal on their
gaudy-day, the day of St. Hugh, even though Mary the Queen had just left
her bitter and weary life?

It would be pleasant to have to say that learning returned to Oxford on
the rising of ‘that bright Occidental star, Queen Elizabeth.’  On the
other hand, the University recovered slowly, after being ‘much troubled,’
as Wood says, ‘_and hurried up and down_ by the changes of religion.’  We
get a glimpse, from Wood, of the Fellows of Merton singing the psalms of
Sternhold and Hopkins round a fire in the College Hall.  We see the
sub-warden snatching the book out of the hands of a junior fellow, and
declaring ‘that he would never dance after that pipe.’  We find Oxford so
illiterate, that she could not even provide an University preacher!  A
country gentleman, Richard Taverner of Woodeaton, would stroll into St.
Mary’s, with his sword and damask gown, and give the Academicians,
destitute of academical advice, a sermon beginning with these words:

    ‘Arriving at the mount of St. Mary’s, I have brought you some fine
    bisketts baked in the Oven of Charitie, carefully conserved for the
    chickens of the Church, the sparrows of the spirit, and the sweet
    swallows of salvation.’

In spite of these evil symptoms, a Greek oration and plenty of Latin
plays were ready for Queen Elizabeth when she visited Oxford in 1566.
The religious refugees, who had ‘eaten mice at Zurich’ in Mary’s time,
had returned, and their influence was hostile to learning.  A man who had
lived on mice for his faith was above Greek.  The court which contained
Sydney, and which welcomed Bruno, was strong enough to make the classics
popular.  That famed Polish Count, Alasco, was ‘received with Latin
orations and disputes (1583) in the best manner,’ and only a scoffing
Italian, like Bruno, ventured to call the Heads of Houses _the Drowsy
heads_—_dormitantes_.  Bruno was a man whom nothing could teach to speak
well of people in authority.  Oxford enjoyed the religious peace (not
extended to ‘Seminarists’) of Elizabeth’s and James’s reigns, and did not
foresee that she was about to become the home of the Court and a place of


THE gardens of Wadham College on a bright morning in early spring are a
scene in which the memory of old Oxford pleasantly lingers, and is easily
revived.  The great cedars throw their secular shadow on the ancient
turf, the chapel forms a beautiful background; the whole place is exactly
what it was two hundred and sixty years ago.  The stones of Oxford walls,
when they do not turn black and drop off in flakes, assume tender tints
of the palest gold, red, and orange.  Along a wall, which looks so old
that it may well have formed a defence of the ancient Augustinian priory,
the stars of the yellow jasmine flower abundantly.  The industrious hosts
of the bees have left their cells, to labour in this first morning of
spring; the doves coo, the thrushes are noisy in the trees.  All breathes
of the year renewal, and of the coming April; and all that gladdens us
may have gladdened some indolent scholar in the time of King James.

In the reign of the first Stuart king of England, Oxford became the town
that we know.  Even in Elizabeth’s days, could we ascend the stream of
centuries, we should find ourselves much at home in Oxford.  The earliest
trustworthy map, that of Agas (1578), is worth studying, if we wish to
understand the Oxford that Elizabeth left, and that the architects of
James embellished, giving us the most interesting examples of collegiate
buildings, which are both stately and comfortable.  Let us enter Oxford
by the Iffley Road, in the year 1578.  We behold, as Agas
enthusiastically writes:

    ‘A citie seated, rich in everything,
    Girt with wood and water, meadow, corn, and hill.’

The way is not bordered, of course, by the long, straggling streets of
rickety cottages, which now stretch from the bridge half-way to Cowley
and Iffley.  The church, called by ribalds ‘the boiled rabbit,’ from its
peculiar shape, lies on the right; there is a gate in the city wall, on
the place where the road now turns to Holywell.  At this time the walls
still existed, and ran from Magdalen past ‘St. Mary’s College, called
Newe,’ through Exeter, through the site of Mr. Parker’s shop, and all
along the south side of Broad Street to St. Michael’s, and Bocardo Gate.
There the wall cut across to the castle.  On the southern side of the
city, it skirted Corpus and Merton Gardens, and was interrupted by Christ
Church.  Probably if it were possible for us to visit Elizabethan Oxford,
the walls and the five castle towers would seem the most curious features
in the place.  Entering the East Gate, Magdalen and Magdalen Grammar
School would be familiar objects.  St. Edmund’s Hall would be in its
present place, and Queen’s would present its ancient Gothic front.  It is
easy to imagine the change in the High Street which would be produced by
a Queen’s not unlike Oriel, in the room of the highly classical edifice
of Wren.  All Souls would be less remarkable; at St. Mary’s we should
note the absence of the ‘scandalous image’ of Our Lady over the door.  At
Merton the fellows’ quadrangle did not yet exist, and a great wood-yard
bordered on Corpus.  In front of Oriel was an open space with trees, and
there were a few scattered buildings, such as Peckwater’s Inn (on the
site of ‘Peck’), and Canterbury College.  Tom Quad was stately but
incomplete.  Turning from St. Mary’s past B. N. C., we miss the attics in
Brasenose front, we miss the imposing Radcliffe, we miss all the
quadrangle of the Schools, except the Divinity school, and we miss the
Theatre.  If we go down South Street, past Ch. Ch. we find an open space
where Pembroke stands.  Where Wadham is now, the most uniform, complete,
and unchanged of all the colleges, there are only the open pleasances,
and perhaps a few ruins of the Augustinian priory.  St. John’s lacks its
inner quadrangle, and Balliol, in place of its new buildings, has its old
delightful grove.  As to the houses of the town, they are not unlike the
tottering and picturesque old roofs and gables of King Street.

To the Oxford of Elizabeth’s reign, then, the founders and architects of
her successor added, chiefly, the Schools’ quadrangle, with the great
gate of the five orders, a building beautiful, as it were, in its own
despite.  They added a smaller curiosity of the same sort, at Merton;
they added Wadham, perhaps their most successful achievement.  Their
taste was a medley of new and old: they made a not uninteresting effort
to combine the exquisiteness of Gothic decoration with the proportions of
Greek architecture.  The tower of the five orders reminds the spectator,
in a manner, of the style of Milton.  It is rich and overloaded, yet its
natural beauty is not abated by the relics out of the great treasures of
Greece and Rome, which are built into the mass.  The Ionic and Corinthian
pillars are like the Latinisms of Milton, the double-gilding which once
covered the figures and emblems of the upper part of the tower gave them
the splendour of Miltonic ornament.  ‘When King James came from Woodstock
to see this quadrangular pile, he commanded the gilt figures to be
whitened over,’ because they were so dazzling, or, as Wood expresses it,
‘so glorious and splendid that none, especially when the sun shone, could
behold them.’  How characteristic of James is this anecdote!  He was by
no means _le roi soleil_, as courtiers called Louis XIV., as divines
called the pedantic Stuart.  It is easy to fancy the King issuing from
the Library of Bodley, where he has been turning over books of theology,
prosing, and displaying his learning for hours.  The rheumy, blinking
eyes are dazzled in the sunlight, and he peevishly commands the gold work
to be ‘whitened over.’  Certainly the translators of the Bible were but
ill-advised when they compared his Majesty to the rising sun in all his

James was rather fond of visiting Oxford and the royal residence at
Woodstock.  We shall see that his Court, the most dissolute, perhaps,
that England ever tolerated, corrupted the manners of the students.  On
one of his Majesty’s earliest visits he had a chance of displaying the
penetration of which he was so proud.  James was always finding out
something or somebody, till it almost seemed as if people had discovered
that the best way to flatter him was to try to deceive him.  In 1604,
there was in Oxford a certain Richard Haydock, a Bachelor of Physic.
This Haydock practised his profession during the day like other mortals,
but varied from the kindly race of men by a pestilent habit of preaching
all night.  It was Haydock’s contention that he preached unconsciously in
his sleep, when he would give out a text with the greatest gravity, and
declare such sacred matters as were revealed to him in slumber, ‘his
preaching coming by revelation.’  Though people went to hear Haydock,
they were chiefly influenced by curiosity.  ‘His auditory were willing to
silence him by pulling, haling, and pinching him, yet would he
pertinaciously persist to the end, and sleep still.’  The King was
introduced into Haydock’s bedroom, heard him declaim, and next day
cross-examined him in private.  Awed by the royal acuteness, Haydock
confessed that he was a humbug, and that he had taken to preaching all
night by way of getting a little notoriety, and because he felt himself
to be ‘a buried man in the University.’

                [Picture: New College Cloisters and Tower]

That a man should hope to get reputation by preaching all night is itself
a proof that the University, under James, was too theologically minded.
When has it been otherwise?  The religious strife of the reigns of Henry
VIII., Edward VI., and Mary, was not asleep; the troubles of Charles’s
time were beginning to stir.  Oxford was as usual an epitome of English
opinion.  We see the struggle of the wildest Puritanism, of Arminianism,
of Pelagianism, of a dozen ‘isms,’ which are dead enough, but have left
their pestilent progeny to disturb a place of religion, learning, and
amusement.  By whatever names the different sects were called, men’s
ideas and tendencies were divided into two easily recognisable classes.
Calvinism and Puritanism on one side, with the Puritanic haters of
letters and art, were opposed to Catholicism in germ, to literature, and
mundane studies.  How difficult it is to take a side in this battle,
where both parties had one foot on firm ground, the other in chaos, where
freedom, or what was to become freedom of thought, was allied with narrow
bigotry, where learning was chained to superstition!

As early as 1606, Mr. William Laud, B.D., of St. John’s College, began to
disturb the University.  The young man preached a sermon which was
thought to look Romewards.  Laud became _suspect_, it was thought a
‘scandalous’ thing to give him the usual courteous greetings in the
street or in the college quadrangle.  From this time the history of
Oxford, for forty years, is mixed up with the history of Laud.  The
divisions of Roundhead and of Cavalier have begun.  The majority of the
undergraduates are on the side of Laud; and the Court, the citizens, and
many of the elder members of the University, are with the Puritans.

The Court and the King, we have said, were fond of being entertained in
the college halls.  James went from libraries to academic disputations,
thence to dinner, and from dinner to look on at comedies played by the
students.  The Cambridge men did not care to see so much royal favour
bestowed on Oxford.  When James visited the University in 1641, a
Cambridge wit produced a remarkable epigram.  For some mysterious reason
the playful fancies of the sister University have never been greatly
admired at Oxford, where the brisk air, men flatter themselves, breeds
nimbler humours.  Here is part of the Cantab’s epigram:

    ‘To Oxenford the King has gone,
       With all his mighty peers,
    That hath in peace maintained us,
       These five or six long years.’

The poem maunders on for half a dozen lines, and ‘loses itself in the
sands,’ like the River Rhine, without coming to any particular point or
conclusion.  How much more lively is the Oxford couplet on the King, who,
being bored by some amateur theatricals, twice or thrice made as if he
would leave the hall, where men failed dismally to entertain him.

    ‘“The King himself did offer,”—“What, I pray?”
    “He offered twice or thrice—to go away!”’

As a result of the example of the Court, the students began to wear
love-locks.  In Elizabeth’s time, when men wore their hair ‘no longer
than their ears,’ long locks had been a mark, says Wood, of ‘swaggerers.’
Drinking and gambling were now very fashionable, undergraduates were
whipped for wearing boots, while ‘Puritans were many and troublesome,’
and Laud publicly declared (1614) that ‘Presbyterians were as bad as
Papists.’  Did Laud, after all, think Papists so very bad?  In 1617 he
was President of his college, St. John’s, on which he set his mark.  It
is to Laud and to Inigo Jones that Oxford owes the beautiful
garden-front, perhaps the most lovely thing in Oxford.  From the
gardens—where for so many summers the beauty of England has rested in the
shadow of the chestnut-trees, amid the music of the chimes, and in air
heavy with the scent of the acacia flowers—from the gardens, Laud’s
building looks rather like a country-house than a college.

If St. John’s men have lived in the University too much as if it were a
large country-house, if they have imitated rather the Toryism than the
learning of their great Archbishop, the blame is partly Laud’s.  How much
harm to study he and Waynflete have unwittingly done, and how much they
have added to the romance of Oxford!  It is easy to understand that men
find it a weary task to read in sight of the beauty of the groves of
Magdalen and of St. John’s.  When Kubla Khan ‘a stately pleasure-dome
decreed,’ he did not mean to settle students there, and to ask them for
metaphysical essays, and for Greek and Latin prose compositions.  Kubla
Khan would have found a palace to his desire in the gardens of Laud, or
where Cherwell, ‘meandering with a mazy motion,’ stirs the green weeds,
and flashes from the mill-wheel, and flows to the Isis through meadows
white and purple with fritillaries.

    ‘And here are gardens bright with sinuous rills,
    Where blossoms many an incense-bearing tree’;

but here is scarcely the proper training-ground of first-class men!

Oxford returned to her ancient uses in 1625.  Soon after the accession of
Charles I. the plague broke out in London, and Oxford entertained the
Parliament, as six hundred years before she had received the Witan.
There seemed something ominous in all that Charles did in his earlier
years—the air, or men’s minds, was full of the presage of fate.  It was
observed that the House of Commons met in the Divinity School, and that
the place seemed to have infected them with theological passion.  After
1625 there was never a Parliament but had its committee to discuss
religion, and to stray into the devious places of divinity.  The plague
pursued Charles to Oxford.  In those days, and long afterwards, it was a
common complaint that the citizens built rows of poor cottages within the
walls, and that these cottages were crowded by dirty and indigent people.
Plague was bred almost yearly at Oxford, and Charles really seems to have
improved the sanitary arrangements of the city.

Laud, the President of St. John’s, became, by some intrigue, Chancellor
of the University.  He made Oxford many presents of Greek, Chinese,
Hebrew, Latin, and Arabic MSS.  There may have been—let us hope there
were—quiet bookworms who enjoyed these gifts, while the town and
University were bubbling over with religious feuds.  People grumbled that
‘Popish darts were whet afresh on a Dutch grindstone.’  A series of
anti-Romish and anti-Royal sermons and pamphlets, followed as a rule by a
series of recantations, kept men’s minds in a ferment.  The good that
Laud did by his gifts—and he was a munificent patron of learning—he
destroyed by his dogmatism.  Scholars could not decipher Greek texts
while they were torturing biblical ones into arguments for and against
the opinions of the Chancellor.  What is the true story about the
gorgeous vestments which were found in a box in the house of the
President of St. John’s, and which are now preserved in the library of
that college?  Did they belong to the last of the old Catholic presidents
of what was Chichele’s College of St. Bernard before the Reformation?
Were they, on the other hand, the property of Laud himself?  It has been
said that Laud would not have known how to wear them.  Fancy sees him
treasuring that bright ecclesiastical raiment, πέπλοι παμποίκιλοι, in
some place of security.  At night, perhaps, when candles were lit and
curtains drawn, and he was alone, he may have arrayed himself in the
gorgeous chasuble before the mirror, as Hetty wore her surreptitious
finery.  ‘There is a great deal of human nature in man.’  If Laud really
strutted in solitude, draped rather at random in these vestments, the
ecclesiastical gear is even more interesting than the thin ivory-headed
staff which supported him on his way to the scaffold; more curious than
the diary in which he recorded the events of night and day, of dreaming
hours and waking.  In the library at St. John’s they show his bust—a
tarnished, gilded work of art.  He has a neat little cocked-up moustache,
not like a prelate’s; the face is that of a Bismarck without strength of

In speaking of Oxford before the civil war, let us not forget that true
students and peaceable men found a welcome retreat beyond the din of
theological fictions.  Lord Falkland’s house was within ten miles of the
town.  ‘In this time,’ says Clarendon, in his immortal panegyric, ‘in
this time he contracted familiarity and friendship with the most polished
men of the University, who found such an immenseness of wit and such a
solidity of judgment in him, so infinite a fancy, bound in by a most
logical ratiocination, such a vast knowledge that he was not ignorant in
anything, yet such an excessive humility as if he had known nothing, that
they frequently resorted and dwelt with him, as in a college situated in
a purer air; so that his house was a university in a less volume, whither
they came not so much for repose as study; and to examine and refine
those grosser propositions, which laziness and consent made current in
vulgar conversation.’

The signs of the times grew darker.  In 1636 the King and Queen visited
Oxford, ‘with no applause.’  In 1640 Laud sent the University his last
present of manuscripts.  He was charged with many offences.  He had
repaired crucifixes; he had allowed the ‘scandalous image’ to be set up
in the porch of St. Mary’s; and Alderman Nixon, the Puritan grocer, had
seen a man bowing to the scandalous image—so he declared.  In 1642
Charles asked for money from the colleges, for the prosecution of the war
with the Parliament.  The beautiful old college plate began its journey
to the melting-pot.  On August 9th the scholars armed themselves.  There
were two bands of musqueteers, one of pikemen, one of halberdiers.  In
the reign of Henry III. the men had been on the other side.  Magdalen
bridge was blocked up with heaps of wood.  Stones, for the primitive
warfare of the time, were transported to the top of Magdalen tower.  The
stones were never thrown at any foemen.  Royalists and Roundheads in turn
occupied the place; and while grocer Nixon fled before the Cavaliers, he
came back and interceded for All Souls College (which dealt with him for
figs and sugar) when the Puritans wished to batter the graven images on
the gate.  On October 29th the King came, after Edgehill fight, the Court
assembled, and Oxford was fortified.  The place was made impregnable in
those days of feeble artillery.  The author of the _Gesta Stephani_ had
pointed out, many centuries before, that Oxford, if properly defended,
could never be taken, thanks to the network of streams that surrounds
her.  Though the citizens worked grudgingly and slowly, the trenches were
at last completed.  The earthworks—a double line—ran in and out of the
interlacing streams.  A Parliamentary force on Headington Hill seems to
have been unable to play on the city with artillery.  Barbed arrows were
served out to the scholars, who formed a regiment of more than six
hundred men.  The Queen held her little court in Merton, in the Warden’s
lodgings.  Clarendon gives rather a humorous account of the discontent of
the fine ladies ‘The town was full of lords (besides those of the
Council), and of persons of the best quality, with very many ladies, who,
when not pleased themselves, kept others from being so.’  Oxford never
was so busy and so crowded; letters, society, war, were all confused;
there were excursions against Brown at Abingdon, and alarms from Fairfax
on Headington Hill.  The siege, from May 22nd to June 5th, was almost a
farce.  The Parliamentary generals ‘fought with perspective glasses.’
Neither Cromwell at Wytham, nor Brown at Wolvercot, pushed matters too
hard.  When two Puritan regiments advanced on Hinksey, Mr. Smyth blazed
away at them from his house.  As in Zululand, any building made a
respectable fort, when cannon-balls had so little penetrative power, or
when artillery was not at the front.  Oxford was surrendered, with other
places of arms, after Naseby, and—Presbyterians became heads of colleges!


IN Merton Chapel a little mural tablet bears the crest, the name, and the
dates of the birth and death, of Antony Wood.  He has been our guide in
these sketches of Oxford life, as he must be the guide of the gravest and
most exact historians.  No one who cares for the past of the University
should think without pity and friendliness of this lonely scholar, who in
his lifetime was unpitied and unbefriended.  We have reached the period
in which he lived and died, in the midst of changes of Church and State,
and surrounded by more worldly scholars, whose letters remain to testify
that, in the reign of the Second Charles, Oxford was modern Oxford.  In
the epistles of Humphrey Prideaux, student of Christ Church, we recognise
the foibles of the modern University, the love of gossip, the internecine
criticism, the greatness of little men whom _rien ne peut plaire_.

Antony Wood was a scholar of a different sort, of a sort that has never
been very common in Oxford.  He was a perfect dungeon of books; but he
wrote as well as read, which has never been a usual practice in his
University.  Wood was born in 1632, in one of the old houses opposite
Merton, perhaps in the curious ancient hall which has been called Beham,
Bream, and _Bohemiæ Aula_, by various corruptions of the original
spelling.  As a boy, Wood must have seen the siege of Oxford, which he
describes not without humour.  As a young man, he watched the religious
revolution which introduced Presbyterian Heads of Houses, and sent
Puritanical captains of horse, like Captain James Wadsworth, to hunt for
‘Papistical reliques’ and ‘massing stuffs’ among the property of the
President of C. C. C. and the Dean of Ch. Ch. (1646–1648).  In 1650 he
saw the Chancellorship of Oliver Cromwell; in 1659 he welcomed the
Restoration, and rejoiced that ‘the King had come to his own again.’  The
tastes of an antiquary combined, with the natural reaction against
Puritanism, to make Antony Wood a High Churchman, and not averse to Rome,
while he had sufficient breadth of mind to admire Thomas Hobbes, the
patriarch of English learning.  But Wood had little room in his heart or
mind for any learning save that connected with the University.  Oxford,
the city, and the colleges, the remains of the old religious art, the
customs, the dresses—these things he adored with a loverlike devotion,
which was utterly unrewarded.  He owed no office to the University, and
he was even expelled (1693) for having written sharply against Clarendon.
This did not abate his zeal, nor prevent him from passing all his days,
and much of his nights, in the study and compilation of University

The author of Wood’s biography has left a picture of his sombre and
laborious old age.  He rose at four o’clock every morning.  He scarcely
tasted food till supper-time.  At the hour of the college dinner he
visited the booksellers’ shops, where he was sure not to be disturbed by
the gossip of dons, young and old.  After supper he would smoke his pipe
and drink his pot of ale in a tavern.  It was while he took this modest
refreshment, before old age came upon him, that Antony once fell in, and
fell out, with Dick Peers.  This Dick was one of the men employed by Dr.
Fell, the Dean of Ch. Ch., to translate Wood’s History and Antiquities of
the University of Oxford into Latin.  The translation gave rise to a
number of literary quarrels.  As Dean of Ch. Ch., Dr. Fell yielded to the
besetting sin of deans, and fancied himself the absolute master of the
University, if not something superior to mortal kind.  An autocrat of
this sort had no scruples about changing Wood’s copy whenever he differed
from Wood in political or religious opinion.  Now Antony, as we said, had
eyes to discern the greatness of Hobbes, whom the Dean considered no
better than a Deist or an Atheist.  The Dean therefore calmly altered all
that Wood had written of the Philosopher of Malmesbury, and so maligned
Hobbes that the old man, meeting the King in Pall Mall, begged leave to
reply in his own defence.  Charles allowed the dispute to go on, and
Hobbes hit Fell rather hard.  The Dean retorted with the famous
expression about _irritabile illud et vanissimum Malmesburiense animal_.
This controversy amused Oxford, but bred bad feeling between Antony Wood
and Dick Peers, the translator of his work, and the tool of the Dean of
Ch. Ch.  Prideaux (_Letters to John Ellis_; Camden Society, 1875)
describes the battles in city taverns between author and translator:

    ‘I suppose that you have heard of the continuall feuds, and often
    battles, between the author and the translator; they had a skirmish
    at Sol Hardeing [keeper of a tavern in All Saints’ parish], another
    at the printeing house [the Sheldonian theatre], and several other

From the record of these combats, we learn that the recluse Antony was a
man of his hands:

    ‘As Peers always cometh off with a bloody nose or a black eye, he was
    a long time afraid to goe annywhere where he might chance to meet his
    too powerful adversary, for fear of another drubbing, till he was
    pro-proctor, and now Woods (_sic_) is as much afraid to meet him,
    least he should exercise his authority upon him.  And although he be
    a good bowzeing blad, yet it hath been observed that never since his
    adversary hath been in office hath he dared to be out after nine,
    least he should meet him and exact the rigor of the statute upon

The statute required all scholars to be in their rooms before Tom had
ceased ringing.  It was, perhaps, too rash to say that the Oxford of the
Restoration was already modern Oxford.  The manners of the students were,
so to speak, more accentuated.  However much the lecturer in Idolology
may dislike the method and person of the Reader in the Mandingo language,
these two learned men do not box in taverns, nor take off their coats if
they meet each other at the Clarendon Press.  People are careful not to
pitch into each other in that way, though the temper which confounds
opponents for their theory of irregular verbs is not at all abated.  As
Wood grew in years he did not increase in honours.  ‘He was a mere
scholar,’ and consequently might expect from the greater number of men
disrespect.  When he was but sixty-four, he looked eighty at least.  His
dress was not elegant, ‘cleanliness being his chief object.’  He rarely
left his rooms, that were papered with MSS., and where every table and
chair had its load of books and yellow parchments from the College
muniment rooms.  When strangers came to Oxford with letters of
recommendation, the recluse would leave his study, and gladly lead them
about the town, through Logic Lane to Queen’s, which had not then the
sublimely classical front, built by Hawksmoor, ‘but suggested by Sir
Christopher Wren.’  It is worthy of his genius.  Wood died in 1695,
‘forgiving every one.’  He could well afford to do so.  In his _Athenæ
Oxonienses_ he had written the lives of all his enemies.

Wood, ‘being a mere scholar,’ could, of course, expect nothing but
disrespect in a place like Oxford.  His younger contemporary, Humphrey
Prideaux, was, in the Oxford manner, a man of the world.  He was the son
of a Cornish squire, was educated at Westminster under Busby (that awful
pedagogue, whose birch seems so near a memory), got a studentship at
Christ Church in 1668, and took his B.A. degree in 1672.  Here it may be
observed that men went up quite as late in life then as they do now, for
Prideaux was twenty-four years old when he took his degree.  Fell was
Dean of Christ Church, and was showing laudable zeal in working the
University Press.  What a pity it is that the University Press of to-day
has become a trading concern, a shop for twopenny manuals and penny
primers!  It is scarcely proper that the University should at once
organise examinations and sell the manuals which contain the answers to
the questions most likely to be set.  To return to Fell; he made Prideaux
edit Lucius Florus, and publish the _Marmora Oxoniensia_, which came out
1676.  We must not suppose, however, that Prideaux was an enthusiastic
archæologist.  He did the _Marmora_ because the Dean commanded it, and
because educated people were at that period not uninterested in Greek
art.  At the present hour one may live a lifetime in Oxford and only
learn, by the accident of examining passmen in the Arundel Room, that the
University possesses any marbles.  In the walls of the Arundel Room (on
the ground-floor in the Schools’ quadrangle) these touching remains of
Hellas are interred.  There are the funereal stelæ, with their quiet
expression of sorrow, of hope, of resignation.  The young man, on his
tombstone, is represented in the act of rising and taking the hand of a
friend.  He is bound on his latest journey.

    ‘He goeth forth unto the unknown land,
       Where wife nor child may follow; thus far tell
    The lingering clasp of hand in faithful hand,
       And that brief carven legend, _Friend_, _farewell_.

    O pregnant sign, profound simplicity!
       All passionate pain and fierce remonstrating
    Being wholly purged, leave this mere memory,
       Deep but not harsh, a sad and sacred thing.’ {120}

The lady chooses from a coffer a trinket, or a ribbon.  It is her last
toilette she is making, with no fear and no regret.  Again, the
long-severed souls are meeting with delight in the home of the just made

              [Picture: Trinity College Gates, Parks’ Road]

Even in the Schools these scraps of Greek lapidary’s work seem beautiful
to us, in their sober and cheerful acceptance of life and death.  We
hope, in Oxford, that the study of ancient art, as well as of ancient
literature, may soon be made possible.  These tangible relics of the past
bring us very near to the heart and the life of Greece, and waken a
kindly enthusiasm in every one who approaches them.  In Humphrey
Prideaux’s letters there is not a trace of any such feeling.  He does his
business, but it is hack-work.  In this he differs from the modern
student, but in his caustic description of the rude and witless society
of the place he is modern enough.  In his letters to his friend, John
Ellis, of the State Paper Office, it is plain that Prideaux wants to get
preferment.  His taste and his ambition alike made him detest the heavy,
beer-drinking doctors, the fast ‘All Souls gentlemen,’ and the fossils of
stupidity who are always plentifully imbedded in the soil of University
life.  Fellowships were then sold, at Magdalen and New, when they were
not given by favour.  Prideaux grumbles (July 28th, 1674) at the laxness
of the Commissioners, who should have exposed this abuse: ‘In town, one
of their inquirys is whether any of the scholars weare pantaloons or
periwigues, or keep dogs.’  The great dispute about dogs, which raged at
a later date in University College, had already begun to disturb dons and
undergraduates.  The choice language of Oxford contempt was even then
extant, and Prideaux, like Grandison in _Daniel Deronda_, spoke curtly of
the people whom he did not like as ‘brutes.’  ‘Pembroke—the fittest
colledge in the town for brutes.’  The University did not encourage
certain ‘players’ who had paid the place a visit, and the players, in
revenge, had gone about the town at night and broken the windows.

When the journey from London to Oxford is so easily performed, it is
amusing to read of Prideaux’s miserable adventures, in the diligence,
between a lady of easy manners, a ‘pitiful rogue,’ and two undergraduates
who ‘sordidly affected debauchery.’

    ‘This ill company made me very miserable all the way.  Only once I
    could not but heartily laugh to see Fincher be sturdyly belaboured by
    five or six carmen with whips and prong staves for provoking them
    with some of his extravagant frolics.’

The ‘violent affection to vice’ in the University, or in the country,
was, of course, the reaction against the godliness of Puritan captains of
horse.  Another form of the reaction is discernible in the revived High
Church sentiments of Prideaux, Wood, and most of the students of the

The manners of the undergraduates were not much better than those of the
pot-house-haunting seniors.  Dr. Good, the Master of Balliol, ‘a good old
toast,’ had much trouble with his students.

    ‘There is, over against Balliol College, a dingy, horrid, scandalous
    ale-house, fit for none but draymen and tinkers, and such as, by
    going there, have made themselves equally scandalous.  Here the
    Balliol men continually, and by perpetuall bubbing, add art to their
    natural stupidity, to make themselves perfect sots.’

The envy and jealousy of the inferior colleges, alas! have put about many
things, in these latter days, to the discredit of the Balliol men, but
not even Humphrey Prideaux would, out of all his stock of epithets,
choose ‘sottish’ and ‘stupid.’  In these old times, however, Dr. Good had
to call the men together, and—

    ‘Inform them of the mischiefs of that hellish liquor called ale; but
    one of them, not so tamely to be preached out of his beloved liquor,
    made answer that the Vice-Chancelour’s men drank ale at the “Split
    Crow,” and why should not they too?’

On this, old Dr. Good posted off to the Vice-Chancellor, who, ‘being a
lover of old ale’ himself, returned a short answer to the head of
Balliol.  The old man went back to his college, and informed his fellows,
‘that he was assured there were no hurt in ale, so that now they may be
sots by authority.’  Christ Church men were not more sober.  David
Whitford, who had been the tutor of Shirley the poet, was found lying
dead in his bed: ‘he had been going to take a dram for refreshment, but
death came between the cup and the lips, and this is the end of Davy.’
Prideaux records, in the same feeling style, that smallpox carried off
many of the undergraduates, ‘besides my brother,’ a student at Corpus.

The University Press supplied Prideaux with gossip.  They printed ‘a book
against Hobs,’ written by Clarendon.  Hobbes was the heresiarch of the
time, and when an unhappy fellow of Merton hanged himself, the doctrines
of Hobbes were said to have prompted him to the deed.  To return to the
Press.  ‘Our Christmas book will be Cornelius Nepos . . . Our marbles are
now printing.’  Prideaux, as has been said, took no interest in his own

    ‘I coat (quote) a multitude of authors; if people think the better of
    me for that, I will think the worse of them for their judgement.  It
    beeing soe easyly a thinge to make this specious show, he must be a
    fool that cannot gain whatsoever repute is to be gotten by it.  If
    people will admire him for this, they may; I shall admire such for
    nothing else but their good indexs.  As long as books have these, on
    what subject may we not coat as many others as we please, and never
    have read one of them?’

It is not easy to gather from this confession whether Prideaux had or had
not read the books he ‘coated.’  It is certain that Dean Aldrich (and
here again we recognise the eternal criticism of modern Oxford) held a
poor opinion of Humphrey Prideaux.  Aldrich said Prideaux was
‘incorrect,’ ‘muddy-headed,’ ‘he would do little or nothing besides
heaping up notes’; ‘as for MSS. he would not trouble himself about any,
but rest wholly upon what had been done to his hands by former editors.’
This habit of carping, this trick of collecting notes, this inability to
put a work through, this dawdling erudition, this horror of manuscripts,
every Oxford man knows them, and feels those temptations which seem to be
in the air.  Oxford is a discouraging place.  College drudgery absorbs
the hours of students in proportion to their conscientiousness.  They
have only the waste odds-and-ends of time for their own labours.  They
live in an atmosphere of criticism.  They collect notes, they wait, they
dream; their youth goes by, and the night comes when no man can work.
The more praise to the tutors and lecturers who decipher the records of
Assyria, or patiently collate the manuscripts of the _Iliad_, who not
only teach what is already known, but add to the stock of knowledge, and
advance the boundaries of scholarship and science.

One lesson may be learned from Prideaux’s cynical letters, which is still
worth the attention of every young Oxford student who is conscious of
ambition, of power, and of real interest in letters.  He can best serve
his University by coming out of her, by declining college work, and by
devoting himself to original study in some less exhausted air, in some
less critical society.

Among the aversions of Humphrey Prideaux were the ‘gentlemen of All
Souls.’  They certainly showed extraordinary impudence when they secretly
employed the University Press to print off copies of Marc Antonio’s
engravings after Giulio Romano’s drawings.  It chanced that Fell visited
the press rather late one evening, and found ‘his press working at such
an imployment.  The prints and plates he hath seased, and threatened the
owners of them with expulsion.’  ‘All Souls,’ adds Prideaux, ‘is a
scandalous place.’  Yet All Souls was the college of young Mr. Guise, an
Arabic scholar, ‘the greatest miracle in the knowledge of that I ever
heard of.’  Guise died of smallpox while still very young.

Thus Prideaux prattles on, about Admiral Van Tromp, ‘a drunken greazy
Dutchman,’ whom Speed, of St. John’s, conquered in boozing; of the
disputes about races in Port Meadow; of the breaking into the Mermaid
Tavern.  ‘We Christ Church men bear the blame of it, our ticks, as the
noise of the town will have it, amounting to £1,500.’  Thus Christ Church
had little cause to throw the first stone at Balliol.  Prideaux shows
little interest in letters, little in the press, though he lived in palmy
days of printing, in the time of the Elzevirs; none at all in the
educational work of the place.  He sneers at the Puritans, and at the
controversy on ‘The Foundations of Hell Torments shaken and removed.’  He
admits that Locke ‘is a man of very good converse,’ but is chiefly
concerned to spy out the movements of the philosopher, suspected of
sedition, and to report them to Ellis in town.  About the new buildings,
as of the beautiful western gateway, where Great Tom is hung, the work of
Wren, Prideaux says little; St. Mary’s was suffering restoration, and
‘the old men,’ including Wood, we may believe, ‘exceedingly exclaim
against it.’  That is the way of Oxford, a college is constantly
rebuilding amid the protests of the rest of the University.  There is no
question more common, or less agreeable than this, ‘What are you doing to
your tower?’ or ‘What are you doing to your hall, library, or chapel?’
No one ever knows; but we are always doing something, and working men for
ever sit, and drink beer, on the venerable roofs.

Long intercourse with Prideaux’s letters, and mournful memories of Oxford
new buildings, tempt a writer to imitate Prideaux’s spirit.  Let us shut
up his book, where he leaves Oxford, in 1686, to become rector of
Saham-Toney, in Norfolk, and marry a wife, though, says he, ‘I little
thought I should ever come to this.’


THE name of her late Majesty Queen Anne has for some little time been a
kind of party watch-word.  Many harmless people have an innocent loyalty
to this lady, make themselves her knights (as Mary Antoinette has still
her sworn champions in France and Mary Stuart in Scotland), buy the plate
of her serene period, and imitate the dress.  To many moral critics in
the press, however, Queen Anne is a kind of abomination.  I know not how
it is, but the terms ‘Queen Anne furniture and blue china’ have become
words of almost slanderous railing.  Any didactic journalist who uses
them is certain at once to fall heavily on the artistic reputation of Mr.
Burne Jones, to rebuke the philosophy of Mr. Pater, and to hint that the
entrance-hall of the Grosvenor Gallery is that ‘by-way’ with which Bunyan
has made us familiar.  In the changes of things our admiration of the
Augustan age of our literature, the age of Addison and Steele, of
Marlborough and Aldrich, has become a sort of reproach.  It may be that
our modern preachers know but little of that which they traduce.  At all
events, the Oxford of Queen Anne’s time was not what they call
‘un-English,’ but highly conservative, and as dull and beer-bemused as
the most manly taste could wish it to be.

The _Spectator_ of the ingenious Sir Richard Steele gives us many a
glimpse of non-juring Oxford.  The old fashion of Sanctity (Mr. Addison
says, in the _Spectator_, No. 494) had passed away; nor were appearances
of Mirth and Pleasure looked upon as the Marks of a Carnal Mind.  Yet the
Puritan Rule was not so far forgotten, but that Mr. Anthony Henley (a
Gentleman of Property) could remember how he had stood for a Fellowship
in a certain College whereof a great Independent Minister was Governor.
As Oxford at this Moment is much vexed in her Mind about Examinations,
wherein, indeed, her whole Force is presently expended, I make no scruple
to repeat the account of Mr. Henley’s Adventure:

    ‘The Youth, according to Custom, waited on the Governor of his
    College, to be examined.  He was received at the Door by a Servant,
    who was one of that gloomy Generation that were then in Fashion.  He
    conducted him with great Silence and Seriousness to a long Gallery
    which was darkened at Noon-day, and had only a single Candle burning
    in it.  After a short stay in this melancholy Apartment, he was led
    into a Chamber hung with black, where he entertained himself for some
    time by the glimmering of a Taper, till at length the Head of the
    College came out to him from an inner Room, with half a dozen Night
    Caps upon his Head, and a religious Horror in his Countenance.  The
    Young Man trembled; but his Fears increased when, instead of being
    asked what progress he had made in Learning, he was ask’d “how he
    abounded in Grace?”  His _Latin_ and _Greek_ stood him in little
    stead.  He was to give an account only of the state of his
    Soul—whether he was of the Number of the Elect; what was the Occasion
    of his Conversion; upon what Day of the Month and Hour of the Day it
    happened; how it was carried on, and when completed.  The whole
    Examination was summed up in one short Question, namely, _Whether he
    was prepared for Death_?  The Boy, who had been bred up by honest
    Parents, was frighted out of his wits by the solemnity of the
    Proceeding, and by the last dreadful Interrogatory, so that, upon
    making his Escape out of this House of Mourning, he could never be
    brought a second Time to the Examination, as not being able to go
    through the Terrors of it.’

By the year 1705, when Tom Hearne, of St. Edmund’s Hall, began to keep
his diary, the ‘honest folk’—that is, the High Churchmen—had the better
of the Independent Ministers.  The Dissenters had some favour at Court,
but in the University they were looked upon as utterly reprobate.  From
the _Reliquiæ_ of Hearne (an antiquarian successor of Antony Wood, a
_bibliophile_, an archæologist, and as honest a man as Jacobitism could
make him) let us quote an example of Heaven’s wrath against Dissenters:

    ‘_Aug._ 6, 1706.  We have an account from Whitchurch, in Shropshire,
    that the Dissenters there having prepared a great quantity of bricks
    to erect a spacious conventicle, a destroying angel came by night and
    spoiled them all, and confounded their Babel in the beginning, to
    their great mortification.’

Hearne’s common-place books are an amusing source of information about
Oxford society in the years of Queen Anne, and of the Hanoverian usurper.
Tom Hearne was a Master of Arts of St. Edmund’s Hall, and at one time
Deputy-Librarian of the Bodleian.  He lost this post because he would not
take ‘the wicked oaths’ required of him, but he did not therefore leave
Oxford.  His working hours were passed in preparing editions of
antiquarian books, to be printed in very limited number, on ordinary and
LARGE PAPER.  It was the joy of Tom’s existence to see his editions
become first scarce, then VERY SCARCE, while the price augmented in
proportion to the rarity.  When he was not reading in his rooms he was
taking long walks in the country, tracing Roman walls and roads, and
exploring Woodstock Park for the remains of ‘the labyrinth,’ as he calls
the Maze of Fair Rosamund.  In these strolls he was sometimes accompanied
by undergraduates, even gentlemen of noble family, ‘which gave cause to
some to envy our happiness.’  Hearne was a social creature, and had a
heart, as he shows by the entry about the death of his ‘very dear friend,
Mr. Thomas Cherry, A.M., to the great grief of all that knew him, being a
gentleman of great beauty, singular modesty, of wonderful good nature,
and most excellent principles.’

The friends of Hearne were chiefly, perhaps solely, what he calls ‘honest
men,’ supporters of the Stuart family, and always ready to drink his
Majesty’s (King James’) health.  They would meet in ‘Antiquity Hall,’ an
old house near Wadham, and smoke their honest pipes.  They held certain
of the opinions of ‘the Hebdomadal Meeting,’ satirised by Steele in the
_Spectator_ (No. 43).  ‘We are much offended at the Act for importing
_French_ wines.  A bottle or two of good solid Edifying Port, at honest
_George’s_, made a Night cheerful, and threw off Reserve.  But this
plaguy _French_ Claret will not only cost us more Money but do us less
good.’  Hearne had a poor opinion of ‘Captain Steele,’ and of ‘one
Tickle: this Tickle is a pretender to poetry.’  He admits that, though
‘Queen’s people are angry at the _Spectator_, and the common-room say
’tis silly dull stuff, men that are indifferent commend it highly, as it
deserves.’  Some other satirist had a plate etched, representing
Antiquity Hall—a caricature of Tom’s antiquarian engravings.  It may be
seen in Skelton’s book.

Thanks to Hearne, it is easy to reproduce the common-room gossip, and the
more treasonable talk of honest men at Antiquity Hall.  The learned were
much interested, as they usually are at Oxford, in theological
discussion.  Some one proved, by an ingenious syllogism, that all men are
to be saved; but Hearne had the better of this Latitudinarian, easily
demonstrating that the comfortable argument does not meet the case of
madmen, and of deaf-mutes, whom Tom did not expect to meet in a future
state.  The ingenious, though depressing speculations of Mr. Dodwell were
also discussed: ‘He makes the air the receptacle of all souls, good and
bad, and that they are under the power of the D—l, he being prince of the
air.’  ‘The less perfectly good’ hang out, if we may say so, ‘in the
space between earth and the clouds,’ all which is subtle, and creditable
to Mr. Dodwell’s invention, but not susceptible of exact demonstration.
The whole controversy is an interesting specimen of Queen Anne
philosophy, which, with all respect for the taste of the period, we need
not wish to see revived.  The Bishop of Worcester, for example, ‘expects
the end of the world about nine years hence.’  While the theology of
Oxford is being mentioned, the zeal of Dr. Miller, Regius Professor of
Greek, must not be forgotten.  The learned Professor endeavoured to
convert, and even ‘writ a Letter to Mrs. Bracegirdle, giving her great
encomiums (as having himself been often to see plays acted whilst they
continued here) upon account of her excellent qualifications, and
persuading her to give over this loose way of living, and betake herself
to such a kind of life as was more innocent, and would gain her more
credit.’  The Professor’s advice was wasted on ‘Bracegirdle the brown.’

Politics were naturally much discussed in these doubtful years, when the
Stuarts, it was thought, had still a chance to win their own again.  In
1706, Tom says, ‘The great health now is “The Cube of Three,” which is
the number 27, i.e. the number of the protesting Lords.’  The University
was most devoted, as far as drinking toasts constitutes loyalty.  In
Hearne’s common-place book is carefully copied out this ‘Scotch Health to
K. J.’:

    ‘He’s o’er the seas and far awa’,
    He’s o’er the seas and far awa’;
    Altho’ his back be at the wa’
    We’ll drink his health that’s far awa’.’

The words live, and ring strangely out of that dusty past.  The song
survives the throne, and sounds pathetically, somehow, as one has heard
it chanted, in days as dead as the year 1711, at suppers that seem as
ancient almost as the festivities of Thomas Hearne.  It is not unpleasant
to remember that the people who sang could also fight, and spilt their
blood as well as their ‘edifying port.’  If the Southern ‘honest men’ had
possessed hearts for anything but tippling, the history of England would
have been different.

When ‘the allyes and the French fought a bloudy battle near Mons’ (1709,
‘Malplaquet’), the Oxford honest men, like Colonel Henry Esmond, thought
‘there was not any the least reason of bragging.’  The young King of
England, under the character of the Chevalier St. George, ‘shewed
abundance of undaunted courage and resolution, led up his troups with
unspeakable bravery, appeared in the utmost dangers, and at last was
wounded.’  Marlborough’s victories were sneered at, his new palace of
Blenheim was said to be not only ill-built, but haunted by signs of evil

It was not always safe to say what one thought about politics at Oxford.
One Mr. A. going to one Mr. Tonson, a barber, put the barber and his wife
in a ferment (they being rascally Whigs) by maintaining that the
hereditary right was in the P. of W.  Tonson laid information against the
gentleman; ‘which may be a warning to honest men not to enter into
topicks of this nature with barbers.’  One would not willingly, even now,
discuss the foreign policy of her Majesty’s Ministers with the person who
shaves one.  There are opportunities and temptations to which no decent
person should be wantonly exposed.  The bad effect of Whiggery on the
temper was evident in this, that ‘the Mohocks are all of the Whiggish
gang, and indeed all Whigs are looked upon as such Mohocks, their
principles and doctrines leading thus to all manner of barbarity and
inhumanity.’  So true is it that Conservatives are all lovers of peace
and quiet, that (May 29th, 1715) ‘last night a good part of the
Presbyterian meeting-house in Oxford was pulled down.  The people ran up
and down the streets, crying, _King James the Third_!  _The true king_!
_No Usurper_.  In the evening they pulled a good part of the Quakers’ and
Anabaptists’ meeting-houses down.  The heads of houses have represented
that it was begun by the Whiggs.’  Probably the heads of houses reasoned
on _à priori_ principles when they arrived at this remarkable conclusion.

                 [Picture: The Cottages, Trinity College]

In consequence of the honesty, frankness, and consistency of his
opinions, Mr. Hearne ran his head in danger when King George came to the
throne, which has ever since been happily settled in the possession of
the Hanoverian line.  A Mr. Urry, a Non-juror, had to warn him, saying,
‘Do you not know that they have a mind to hang you if they can, and that
you have many enemies who are very ready to do it?’  In spite of this,
Hearne, in his diaries, still calls George I. the Duke of Brunswick, and
the Whigs, ‘that fanatical crew.’  John, Duke of Marlborough, he styles
‘that villain the Duke.’  We have had enough, perhaps, of Oxford
politics, which were not much more prejudiced in the days of the Duke
than in those of Mr. Gladstone.  Hearne’s allusions to the contemporary
state of buildings and of college manners are often rather instructive.
In All Souls the Whigs had a feast on the day of King Charles’s
martyrdom.  They had a dinner dressed of woodcock, ‘whose heads they cut
off, in contempt of the memory of the blessed martyr.’  These men were
‘low Churchmen, more shame to them.’  The All Souls men had already given
up the custom of wandering about the College on the night of January
14th, with sticks and poles, in quest of the mallard.  That ‘swopping’
bird, still justly respected, was thought, for many ages, to linger in
the college of which he is the protector.  But now all hope of recovering
him alive is lost, and it is reserved for the excavator of the future to
marvel over the fossil bones of the ‘swopping, swopping mallard.’

As an example of the paganism of Queen Anne’s reign—quite a different
thing from the ‘Neo-paganism’ which now causes so much anxiety to the
moral press-man—let us note the affecting instance of Geffery Ammon.  ‘He
was a merry companion, and his conversation was much courted.’  Geffery
had but little sense of religion.  He is now buried on the west side of
Binsey churchyard, near St. Margaret’s well.  Geffery selected Binsey for
the place of his sepulchre, because he was partial to the spot, having
often shot snipe there.  In order to moisten his clay, he desired his
friend Will Gardner, a boatman of Oxford, who was accustomed to row him
down the river, to put now and then a bottle of ale by his grave when he
came that way; an injunction which was punctually complied with.

Oxford lost in Hearne’s time many of her old buildings.  It is said, with
a dreadful appearance of truth, that Oxford is now to lose some of the
few that are left.  Corpus and Merton, if they are not belied, mean to
pull down the old houses opposite Merton, halls and houses consecrated to
the memory of Antony Wood, and to build lecture-rooms _and houses for
married dons_ on the site.  The topic, for one who is especially bound to
pray for Merton (and who now does so with unusual fervour), is most
painful.  A view of the ‘proposed new buildings,’ in the Exhibition of
the Royal Academy (1879), depresses the soul.  In the same spirit Hearne
says (March 28th, 1671), ‘It always grieves me when I go through Queen’s
College, to see the ruins of the old chapell next to High Street, the
area of which now lies open (the building being most of it pulled down)
and trampled upon by dogs, etc., as if the ground had never been
consecrated.  Nor do the Queen’s Coll. people take any care, but rather
laught at it when ’tis mentioned.’  In 1722 ‘the famous postern-gate
called the _Turl_ Gate’ (a corruption for _Thorold_ Gate) was ‘pulled
down by one Dr. Walker, who lived by it, and pretended that it was a
detriment to his house.  As long ago as 1705, they had pulled down the
building of Peckwater quadrangle, in Ch. Ch.’  Queen’s also ‘pulled down
the old refectory, which was on the west side of the old quadrangle, and
was a fine old structure that I used to admire much.’  It appears that
the College was also anxious to pull down the chamber of King Henry V.
This is a strange craze for destruction, that some time ago endangered
the beautiful library of Merton, a place where one can fancy that Chaucer
or Wyclif may have studied.  Oxford will soon have little left of the
beauty and antiquity of _Patey’s Quad_ in Merton, as represented in our
illustration.  What the next generation will think of the multitudinous
new buildings, it is not hard to conjecture.  Imitative experiments,
without style or fancy in structure or decoration, and often more than
medievally uncomfortable, they will seem but evidences of Oxford’s love
of destruction.  People of Hearne’s way of thinking, people who respect
antiquity, protest in vain, and, like Hearne, must be content sadly to
enjoy what is left of grace and dignity.  He died before Oxford had quite
become the Oxford of Gibbon’s autobiography.


OXFORD has usually been described either by her lovers or her
malcontents.  She has suffered the extremes of filial ingratitude and
affection.  There is something in the place that makes all her children
either adore or detest her; and it is difficult, indeed, to pick out the
truth concerning her past social condition from the satires and the
encomiums.  Nor is it easy to say what qualities in Oxford, and what
answering characteristics in any of her sons, will beget the favourable
or the unfavourable verdict.  Gibbon, one might have thought, saw the
sunny, and Johnson the shady, side of the University.  With youth, and
wealth, and liberty, with a set of three beautiful rooms in that ‘stately
pile, the new building of Magdalen College,’ Gibbon found nothing in
Oxford to please him—nothing to admire, nothing to love.  From his poor
and lofty rooms in Pembroke Gate-tower the hypochondriac Johnson—rugged,
anxious, and conscious of his great unemployed power—looked down on a
much more pleasant Oxford, on a city and on schools that he never ceased
to regard with affection.  This contrast is found in the opinions of our
contemporaries.  One man will pass his time in sneering at his tutors and
his companions, in turning listlessly from study to study, in following
false tendencies, and picking up scraps of knowledge which he despises,
and in later life he will detest his University.  There are wiser and
more successful students, who yet bear away a grudge against the stately
mother of us all, that so easily can disregard our petty spleens and
ungrateful rancour.  Mr. Lowe’s most bitter congratulatory addresses to
the ‘happy Civil Engineers,’ and his unkindest cuts at ancient history,
and at the old philosophies which ‘on Argive heights divinely sung,’ move
her not at all.  Meanwhile, the majority of men are more kindly compact,
and have more natural affections, and on them the memory of their
earliest friendships, and of that beautiful environment which Oxford gave
to their years of youth, is not wholly wasted.

There are more Johnsons, happily, in this matter, than Gibbons.  There is
little need to repeat the familiar story of Johnson’s life at Pembroke.
He went up in the October term of 1728, being then nineteen years of age,
and already full of that wide and miscellaneous classical reading which
the Oxford course, then as now, somewhat discouraged.  ‘His figure and
manner appeared strange’ to the company in which he found himself; and
when he broke silence it was with a quotation from Macrobius.  To his
tutor’s lectures, as a later poet says, ‘with freshman zeal he went’; but
his zeal did not last out the discovery that the tutor was ‘a heavy man,’
and the fact that there was ‘sliding on Christ Church Meadow.’  Have any
of the artists who repeat, with perseverance, the most famous scenes in
the Doctor’s life—drawn him sliding on Christ Church meadows, sliding in
these worn and clouted shoes of his, and with that figure which even the
exercise of skating could not have made ‘swan-like,’ to quote the young
lady in ‘Pickwick’?  Johnson was ‘sconced’ in the sum of twopence for
cutting lecture; and it is rather curious that the amount of the fine was
the same four hundred years earlier, when Master Stoke, of Catte Hall
(whose career we touched on in the second of these sketches), deserted
his lessons.  It was when he was thus sconced that Johnson made that
reply which Boswell preserves ‘as a specimen of the antithetical
character of his wit’—‘Sir, you have sconced me twopence for
non-attendance on a lecture not worth a penny.’

Sconcing seems to have been the penalty for offences very various in
degree.  ‘A young fellow of Balliol College having, upon some discontent,
cut his throat very dangerously, the master of his College sent his
servitor to the buttery-book to sconce him five shillings; and,’ says the
Doctor, ‘tell him that the next time he cuts his throat I’ll sconce him
ten!’  This prosaic punishment might perhaps deter some Werthers from
playing with edged tools.

From Boswell’s meagre account of Johnson’s Oxford career we gather some
facts which supplement the description of Gibbon.  The future historian
went into residence twenty-three years after Johnson departed without
taking his degree.  Gibbon was a gentleman commoner, and was permitted by
the easy discipline of Magdalen to behave just as he pleased.  He
‘eloped,’ as he says, from Oxford, as often as he chose, and went up to
town, where he was by no means the ideal of ‘the Manly Oxonian in
London.’  The fellows of Magdalen, possessing a revenue which private
avarice might easily have raised to £30,000, took no interest in their
pupils.  Gibbon’s tutor read a few Latin plays with his pupil, in a style
of dry and literal translation.  The other fellows, less conscientious,
passed their lives in tippling and tattling, discussing the ‘Oxford
Toasts,’ and drinking other toasts to the king over the water.  ‘Some
duties,’ says Gibbon, ‘may possibly have been imposed on the poor
scholars,’ but ‘the velvet cap was the cap of liberty,’ and the gentleman
commoner consulted only his own pleasure.  Johnson was a poor scholar,
and on him duties were imposed.  He was requested to write an ode on the
Gunpowder Plot, and Boswell thinks ‘his vivacity and imagination must
have produced something fine.’  He neglected, however, with his usual
indolence, this opportunity of producing something fine.  Another
exercise imposed on the poor was the translation of Mr. Pope’s ‘Messiah,’
in which the young Pembroke man succeeded so well that, by Mr. Pope’s own
generous confession, future ages would doubt whether the English or the
Latin piece was the original.  Johnson complained that no man could be
properly inspired by the Pembroke ‘coll,’ or college beer, which was then
commonly drunk by undergraduates, still guiltless of Rhine wines, and of
collecting Chinese monsters.

    _Carmina vis nostri scribant meliora poetæ_
       _Ingenium jubeas purior baustus alat_.

In spite of the muddy beer, the poverty, and the ‘bitterness mistaken for
frolic,’ with which Johnson entertained the other undergraduates round
Pembroke gate, he never ceased to respect his college.  ‘His love and
regard for Pembroke he entertained to the last,’ while of his old tutor
he said, ‘a man who becomes Jorden’s pupil becomes his son.’  Gibbon’s
sneer is a foil to Johnson’s kindliness.  ‘I applaud the filial piety
which it is impossible for me to imitate . . . To the University of
Oxford I acknowledge no obligations, and she will as cheerfully renounce
me for a son, as I am willing to disclaim her for a mother.’

Johnson was a man who could take the rough with the smooth, and, to judge
by all accounts, the Oxford of the earlier half of the eighteenth century
was excessively rough.  Manners were rather primitive: a big fire burned
in the centre of Balliol Hall, and round this fire, one night in every
year, it is said that all the world was welcome to a feast of ale and
bread and cheese.  Every guest paid his shot by singing a song or telling
a story; and one can fancy Johnson sharing in this barbaric hospitality.
‘What learning can they have who are destitute of all principles of civil
behaviour?’ says a writer from whose journal (printed in 1746) Southey
has made some extracts.  The diarist was a Puritan of the old leaven, who
visited Oxford shortly before Johnson’s period, and who speaks of ‘a
power of gross darkness that may be felt constantly prevailing in that
place of wisdom and of subtlety, but not of God . . . In this wicked
place the scholars are the rudest, most giddy, and unruly rabble, and
most mischievous.’  But this strange and unfriendly critic was a
Nonconformist, in times when good Churchmen showed their piety by
wrecking chapels and ‘rabbling’ ministers.  In our days only the
Davenport Brothers and similar professors of strange creeds suffer from
the manly piety of the undergraduates.

Of all the carping, cross-grained, scandal-loving, Whiggish assailants of
_Alma Mater_, the author of _Terræ Filius_ was the most persistent.  The
first little volume which contains the numbers of this bi-weekly
periodical (printed for R. Franklin, under Tom’s Coffee-house, in Russell
Street, Covent Garden, MDCCXXVI.) is not at all rare, and is well worth a
desultory reading.  What strikes one most in _Terræ Filius_ is the
religious discontent of the bilious author.  One thinks, foolishly of
course, of even Georgian Whigs as orthodox men, at least in their
undergraduate days.  The mere aspect of Mr. Leslie Stephen’s work on the
philosophers of the eighteenth century is enough to banish this pleasing
delusion.  The Deists and Freethinkers had their followers in Johnson’s
day among the undergraduates, though scepticism, like Whiggery, was
unpopular, and might be punished.  Johnson says, that when he was a boy
he was a lax _talker_, rather than a lax _thinker_, against religion;
‘but lax talking against religion at Oxford would not be suffered.’  The
author of _Terræ Filius_, however, never omits a chance of sneering at
our faith, and at the Church of England as by law established.  In his
description of the exercises of the Club of Wits, only one respectably
clever epigram is quoted, beginning,—

    ‘Since in religion all men disagree,
    And some one God believe, some thirty, and some three.’

This production ‘was voted heretical,’ and burned by the hands of the
small-beer drawer, while the author was expelled.  In the author’s advice
to freshmen, he gives a not uninteresting sketch of these rudimentary
creatures.  The chrysalis, as described by the preacher of a University
sermon, ‘never, in his wildest moments, dreamed of being a butterfly’;
but the public schoolboy of the last century sometimes came up in what he
conceived to be gorgeous attire.  ‘I observe, in the first place, that
you no sooner shake off the authority of the birch but you affect to
distinguish yourselves from your dirty school-fellows by a new drugget, a
pair of prim ruffles, a new bob-wig, and a brazen-hilted sword.’  As soon
as they arrived in Oxford, these youths were hospitably received ‘amongst
a parcel of honest, merry fellows, who think themselves obliged, in
honour and common civility, to make you _damnable drunk_, and carry you,
as they call it, a CORPSE to bed.’  When this period of jollity is ended,
the freshman must declare his views.  He must see that he is in the
fashion; ‘and let your declarations be, that you are _Churchmen_, and
that you believe as the _Church_ believes.  For instance, you have
subscribed the Thirty-nine Articles; but never venture to explain the
sense in which you subscribed them, because there are various senses; so
many, indeed, that scarce two men understand them in the same, and no
_true Churchman_ in that which the words bear, and in that which they
were written.’

This is pretty plain speaking, and _Terræ Filius_ enforces, by an
historical example, the dangers of even political freethought.  In 1714
the Constitution Club kept King George’s birthday.  The Constitutional
Party was then the name which the Whigs took to themselves, though,
thanks to the advance of civilisation, the Tories have fallen back upon
the same.  The Conservative undergraduates attacked the club, sallying
forth from their Jacobite stronghold in Brasenose (as seen in our
illustration), where the ‘silly statue,’ as Hearne calls it, was about
that time erected.  The Whigs took refuge in Oriel, the Tories assaulted
the gates, and an Oriel man, firing out of his window, wounded a gownsman
of Brasenose.  The Tories, ‘under terror of this dangerous and unexpected
resistance, retreated from Oriel.’  Yet such was the academic strength of
the Jacobites and the Churchmen, that a Freethinker, or a
‘Constitutioner,’ could scarcely take his degree.

_Terræ Filius_, who lashes the dons for covetousness, greed, dissipation,
rudeness, and stupidity, often corroborates the Puritan’s report about
the bad manners of the undergraduates.  Yet Oxford, then as now, did not
lack her exquisites, and her admirers of the fair.  _Terræ Filius_ thus
describes a ‘smart,’ as these dandies were called—Mr. Frippery:

    ‘He is one of those who come in their academical undress, every
    morning between ten and eleven, to Lyne’s Coffee-house; after which
    he takes a turn or two upon the park, or under Merton Wall, whilst
    the dull _regulars_ are at dinner in their hall, according to
    statute; about one he dines alone in his chamber upon a boiled
    chicken or some pettitoes; after which he allows himself an hour at
    least to dress in, to make his afternoon’s appearance at Lyne’s; from
    whence he adjourns to Hamilton’s about five; from whence (after
    strutting about the room for a while, and drinking a dram of citron),
    he goes to chapel, to show how genteelly he dresses, and how well he
    can chaunt.  After prayers he drinks tea with some celebrated toast,
    and then waits upon her to Magdalen Grove or Paradise Garden, and
    back again.  He seldom eats any supper, and never reads anything but
    novels and romances.’

The dress of this hero and his friends must have made the streets more
gay than do the bright-coloured flannel coats of our boating men.

    ‘He is easily distinguished by a stiff silk gown, which rustles in
    the wind as he struts along; a flax tie-wig, or sometimes a long
    natural one, which reaches down below his [well, say below his
    waist]; a broad bully-cock’d hat, or a square cap of about twice the
    usual size; white stockings; thin Spanish leather shoes.  His clothes
    lined with tawdry silk, and his shirt ruffled down the bosom as well
    as at the wrists.’

These ‘smarts’ cut no such gallant figure when they first arrived in
Oxford, with their fathers (rusty old country farmers), in linsey-woolsey
coats, greasy, sun-burnt heads of hair, clouted shoes, yarn stockings,
flapping hats, with silver hatbands, and long muslin neck-cloths run with
red at the bottom.

         [Picture: Magdalen College and Bridge from the Cherwell]

After this satire of the undergraduates we may look at the contemporary
account-book of a Proctor.  In 1752 Gilbert White of Selborne was
Proctor, and may have fined young Gibbon of Magdalen, who little thought
that Oxford boasted an official who was to become an English classic.
White paid some attention to dress, and got a feather-topp’d, grizzled
wig from London; cost him £2, 5s.  He bought ‘mountain wine, very old and
good,’ and had his crest engraved on his teaspoons, that everything might
be handsome about him.  When he treated the Masters of Arts in Oriel Hall
they ate a hundred pounds weight of biscuits—not, we trust, without
marmalade.  ‘A bowl of rum-punch from Horsman’s’ cost half a crown.
Fancy a jolly Proctor sending out for bowls of rum-punch, and that in
April!  Eggs cost a penny each, and ‘three oranges and a mouse-trap’

White, a generous man, gave the Vice-Chancellor ‘seven pounds of
double-refined white sugar.’  I like to fancy my learned friend, the
Proctor, going to the present Vice-Chancellor’s with a donation of white
sugar!  Manners have certainly changed in the direction of severity.
‘Share of the expense for Mr. Butcher’s release’ came to ten and
sixpence.  What had Mr. Butcher been doing?  The Proctor went ‘to
Blenheim with Nan,’ and it cost him fifteen and sixpence.  Perhaps she
was one of the ‘Oxford Toasts’ of a contemporary satire.  Strawberries
were fourpence a basket on the ninth of June; and on November 6, White
lost one shilling ‘at cards, in common room.’  He went from Selborne to
Oxford, ‘in a post-chaise with Jenny Croke’; and he gave Jenny a ‘round
Chinaturene.’  Tea cost eight shillings a pound in 1752, while rum-punch
was but half a crown a bowl.  White’s highest terminal battels were but
£12, though he was a hospitable man, and would readily treat the other
Proctor to a bowl of punch.  It is well to remember White and Johnson
when the Gibbon of that or any other day bewails the intellectual poverty
of Oxford.


AT any given time a large number of poets may be found among the
undergraduates at Oxford, and the younger dons.  It is not easy to say
what becomes of all these pious bards, who are a marked and peculiar
people while they remain in residence.  The undergraduate poet is a not
uninteresting study.  He wears his hair long, and divides it down the
middle.  His eye is wild and wandering, and his manner absent, especially
when he is called on to translate a piece of an ancient author in
lecture.  He does not ‘read’ much, in the technical sense of the term,
but consumes all the novels that come in his way, and all the minor
poetry.  His own verses the poet may be heard declaiming aloud, at unholy
midnight hours, so that his neighbours have been known to break his
windows with bottles, and then to throw in all that remained of the cold
meats of a supper party, without interfering with the divine _afflatus_.
When the college poet has composed a sonnet, ode, or what not, he sends
it to the Editor of the _Nineteenth Century_, and it returns to him after
many days.  At last it appears in print, in _College Rhymes_, a
collection of mild verse, which is (or was) printed at regular or
irregular intervals, and was never seen except in the rooms of
contributors.  The poet also speaks at the Union, where his sentiments
are either revolutionary, or so wildly conservative that he looks on
Magna Charta as the first step on the path that leads to England’s ruin.
As a politician, the undergraduate poet knows no mean between Mr. Peter
Taylor and King John.  He has been known to found a Tory club, and
shortly afterwards to swallow the formulæ of Mr. Bradlaugh.

The life of the poet is, not unnaturally, one long warfare with his dons.
He cannot conform himself to pedantic rules, which demand his return to
college before midnight.  Though often the possessor of a sweet vein of
clerical and Kebleian verse, the poet does not willingly attend chapel;
for indeed, as he sits up all night, it is cruel to expect him to arise
before noon.  About the poet’s late habits a story is told, which seems
authentic.  A remarkable and famous contemporary singer was known to his
fellow-undergraduates only by this circumstance, that his melodious voice
was heard declaiming anapaests all through the ambrosial night.  When the
voice of the singer was lulled, three sharp taps were heard in the
silence.  This noise was produced by the bard’s Scotch friend and critic
in knocking the ashes out of his pipe.  These feasts of reason are almost
incompatible with the early devotion which, strangely enough, Shelley
found time and inclination to attend.

Now it is (or was) the belief of undergraduates that you might break the
decalogue and the laws of man in every direction with safety and the
approval of the dons, if you only went regularly to chapel.  As the poet
cannot do this (unless he is a ‘sleepless man’), his existence is a long
struggle with the fellows and tutors of his college.  The manners of
poets vary, of course, with the tastes of succeeding generations.  I have
heard of two (Thyrsis and Corydon) ‘who lived in Oxford as if it were a
large country-house.’

Of other singers, the latest of the heavenly quire, it is invidiously
said that they build shrines to Blue China and other ceramic abominations
of the Philistine, and worship the same in their rooms.  Of this sort it
is not the moment to speak.  Time has not proved them.  But the old poets
of ten years ago lived a militant life; they rarely took good classes
(though they competed industriously for the Newdigate, writing in the
metre of _Dolores_), and it not uncommonly happened that they left Oxford
without degrees.  They were often very agreeable fellows, as long as one
was in no way responsible for them; but it was almost impossible—human
nature being what it is—that they should be much appreciated by tutors,
proctors, and heads of houses.  How could these worthy, learned, and
often kind and courteous persons know when they were dealing with a lad
of genius, and when they had to do with an affected and pretentious

These remarks are almost the necessary preface to a consideration of the
existence of Shelley and Landor at Oxford—the Oxford of 1793–1810.
Whatever the effects may be on Shelleyan commentators, it must be said
that, to the donnish eye, Percy Bysshe Shelley was nothing more or less
than the ordinary Oxford poet, of the quieter type.  In Walter Savage
Landor, authority recognised a noisier and rowdier specimen of the same
class.  People who have to do with hundreds of young men at a time are
unavoidably compelled to generalise.  No don, that was a don, could have
seen Shelley or Landor as they are described to us without hastily
classing them in the category of poets who would come to no good and do
little credit to the college.  Landor went up to Trinity College in 1793.
It was the dreadful year of the Terror, when good Englishmen hated the
cruel murderers of kings and queens.  Landor was a good Englishman, of
course, and he never forgave the French the public assassination of Marie
Antoinette.  But he must needs be a Jacobin, and wear his own unpowdered
hair—the Poet thus declaring himself at once in the regular recognised
fashion.  ‘For a portion of the time he certainly read hard, but the
results he kept to himself; for here, as at Rugby, he declined everything
in the shape of competition.’  (Now competition is the essence of modern
University study.)  ‘Though I wrote better Latin verses than any
undergraduate or graduate in the University,’ says Landor, ‘I could never
be persuaded by my tutor or friends to contend for any prize whatever.’
The pleasantest and most profitable hours that Landor could remember at
Oxford ‘were passed with Walter Birch in the Magdalen Walk, by the
half-hidden Cherwell.’  Hours like these are indeed the pleasantest and
most profitable that any of us pass at Oxford.  The one duty which that
University, by virtue of its very nature, has never neglected, is the
assembling of young men together from all over England, and giving them
three years of liberty of life, of leisure, and of discussion, in scenes
which are classical and peaceful.  For these hours, the most fruitful of
our lives, we are grateful to Oxford, as long as friendship lives; that
is, as long as life and memory remain with us.  And, ‘if anything endure,
if hope there be,’ our conscious existence in the after-world would ask
for no better companions than those who walked with us by the Isis and
the Cherwell.

Landor called himself ‘a Jacobin,’ though his own letters show that he
was as far as the most insolent young ‘tuft’ from relishing doctrines of
human equality.  He had the reputation, however, of being not only a
Jacobin, but ‘a mad Jacobin’; too mad for Southey, who was then young,
and a Liberal.  ‘Landor was obliged to leave the University for shooting
at one of the Fellows through a window,’ is the account which Southey
gave of Landor’s rustication.  Now fellows often put up with a great deal
of horse-play.  There is scarcely a more touching story than that of the
don who for the first time found himself ‘screwed up,’ and fastened
within his own oak.  ‘What am I to do?’ the victim asked his sympathising
scout, who was on the other, the free side of the oak.  ‘Well, sir, Mr.
Muff, sir, when ’e’s screwed up ’e sends for the blacksmith,’ replied the
servant.  What a position for a man having authority, to be in the
constant habit of sending for the blacksmith!  Fellows have not very
unfrequently been fired at with Roman candles, or bombarded with
soda-water bottles full of gunpowder.  One has also known sparrows shot
from Balliol windows on the Martyrs’ Memorial of our illustration.  In
this case, too, the sportsman was a poet.  But deliberately to pot at a
fellow, ‘to go for him with a shot gun,’ as the repentant American said
he would do in future, after his derringer missed fire, is certainly a
strong measure.  No college which pretended to maintain discipline could
allow even a poet to shoot thus wildly.  In truth, Landor’s offence has
been exaggerated by Southey.  It was nothing out of the common.  The poet
was giving ‘an after-dinner party’ in his rooms.  The men were mostly
from Christ Church; for Landor was intimate, he says, with only one
undergraduate of his own college, Trinity.  On the opposite side of the
quadrangle a Tory and a butt, named Leeds, was entertaining persons whom
the Jacobin Landor calls ‘servitors and other raff of every description.’
The guests at the rival wine-parties began to ‘row’ each other, Landor
says, adding, ‘All the time I was only a spectator, for I should have
blushed to have had any conversation with them, particularly out of a
window.  But my gun was lying on a table in the room, and I had in a back
closet some little shot.  I proposed, as they had closed the casements,
and as the shutters were on the outside, to fire a volley.  It was
thought a good trick, and accordingly I went into my bedroom and fired.’
Mr. Leeds very superfluously complained to the President.  Landor adopted
the worst possible line of defence, and so the University and this poet
parted company.

It seems to have been generally understood that Landor’s affair was a
boyish escapade.  A copious literature is engaged with the subject of
Shelley’s expulsion.  As the story is told by Mr. Hogg, in his delightful
book, the _Life of Shelley_, that poet’s career at Oxford was a typical
one.  There are in every generation youths like him, in unworldliness,
wildness, and dreaminess, though unlike him, of course, in genius.  The
divine spark has not touched them, but they, like Shelley, are still of
the band whom the world has not tamed.  As Mr. Hogg’s book is out of
print, and rare, it would be worth while, did space permit, to reproduce
some of his wonderfully life-like and truthful accounts of Oxford as she
was in 1810.  The University has changed in many ways, and in most ways
for the better.  Perhaps that old, indolent, and careless Oxford was
better adapted to the life of such an almost unexampled genius as
Shelley.  When his Eton friends asked him whether he still meant to be
‘the Atheist,’ that is, the rebel he had been at school, he said, ‘No;
the college authorities were civil, and left him alone.’  Let us remember
this when the learned Professor of Poetry at Oxford, Mr. Shairp, calls
Shelley ‘an Atheist.’  Mr. Hogg sometimes complains that undergraduates
were left too much alone.  But who could have safely advised or securely
guided Shelley?

Undergraduates are now more closely looked after, as far as reading goes,
than perhaps they like—certainly much more than Shelley would have liked.
But when we turn from study to the conduct of life, is it not plain that
no _official_ interference can be of real value?  Friendship and
confidence may, and often does, exist between tutors and pupils.  There
are tutors so happily gifted with sympathy, and with a kind of eternal
youth of heart and intellect, that they become the friends of generation
after generation of freshmen.  This is fortunate; but who can wonder that
middle-aged men, seeing the generations succeed and resemble each other,
lose their powers of understanding, of directing, of aiding the young,
who are thus cast at once on their own resources?  One has occasionally
heard clever men complain that they were neglected by their seniors, that
their hearts and brains were full of perilous stuff, which no one helped
them to unpack.  And it is true that modern education, when it meets the
impatience of youth, often produces an unhappy ferment in the minds of
men.  To put it shortly, clever students have to go through their age of
_Sturm und Drang_, and they are sometimes disappointed when older people,
their tutors, for example, do not help them to weather the storm.  It is
a tempest in which every one must steer for himself, after all; and
Shelley ‘was borne darkly, fearfully afar,’ into unplumbed seas of
thought and experience.  When Mr. Hogg complains that his friend was too
much left to himself to study and think as he pleased, let us remember
that no one could have helped Shelley.  He was better at Oxford without
his old Dr. Lind, ‘with whom he used to curse George III. after tea.’

    [Picture: In the Garden of Worcester College.  By Richard Seeley]

There are few chapters in literary history more fascinating than those
which tell the story of Shelley at Oxford.  We see him entering the hall
of University College—a tall, shy stripling, bronzed with the September
sun, with long elf-locks.  He takes his seat by a stranger, and in a
moment holds him spell-bound, while he talks of Plato, and Goethe, and
Alfieri, of Italian poetry, and Greek philosophy.  Mr. Hogg draws a
curious sketch of Shelley at work in his rooms, where seven-shilling
pieces were being dissolved in acid in the teacups, where there was a
great hole in the floor that the poet had burned with his chemicals.  The
one-eyed scout, ‘the Arimaspian,’ must have had a time of tribulation
(being a conscientious and fatherly man) with this odd master.  How
characteristic of Shelley it was to lend the glow of his fancy to
science, to declare that things, not thoughts, mineralogy, not
literature, must occupy human minds for the future, and then to leave a
lecture on mineralogy in the middle, and admit that ‘stones are dull
things after all!’  Not less Shelleyan was the adventure on Magdalen
Bridge, the beautiful bridge of our illustration, from which Oxford, with
the sunset behind it, looks like a fairy city of the Arabian Nights—a
town of palaces and princesses, rather than of proctors.

    ‘One Sunday we had been reading Plato together so diligently, that
    the usual hour of exercise passed away unperceived: we sallied forth
    hastily to take the air for half-an-hour before dinner.  In the
    middle of Magdalen Bridge we met a woman with a child in her arms.
    Shelley was more attentive at that instant to our conduct in a life
    that was past, or to come, than to a decorous regulation of the
    present, according to the established usages of society, in that
    fleeting moment of eternal duration styled the nineteenth century.
    With abrupt dexterity he caught hold of the child.  The mother, who
    might well fear that it was about to be thrown over the parapet of
    the bridge into the sedgy waters below, held it fast by its long

    ‘“Will your baby tell us anything about pre-existence, Madam?” he
    asked, in a piercing voice, and with a wistful look.’

Shelley and Hogg seem almost to have lived in reality the life of the
Scholar Gipsy.  In Mr. Arnold’s poem, which has made permanent for all
time the charm, the sentiment of Oxfordshire scenery, the poet seems to
be following the track of Shelley.  In Mr. Hogg’s memoirs we hear little
of summer; it seems always to have been in winter that the friends took
their long rambles, in which Shelley set free, in talk, his inspiration.
One thinks of him

          ‘in winter, on the causeway chill,
    Where home through flooded fields foot travellers go,’

returning to the supper in Hogg’s rooms, to the curious desultory meals,
the talk, and the deep slumber by the roaring fire, the small head lying
perilously near the flames.  One would not linger here over the absurd
injustice of his expulsion from the University.  It is pleasant to know,
on Mr. Hogg’s testimony, that ‘residence at Oxford was exceedingly
delightful to Shelley, and on all accounts most beneficial.’  At Oxford,
at least, he seems to have been happy, he who so rarely knew happiness,
and who, if he made another suffer, himself suffered so much for others.
The memory of Shelley has deeply entered into the sentiment of Oxford.
Thinking of him in his glorious youth, and of his residence here, may we
not say, with the shepherd in Theocritus, of the divine singer:

    αἰθ’ ἐπ’ ἐγμῦ ζωοῖς ἐναρίθμιος ὤφελες εἶμεν,
    ὥς τοι ἐγὼν ἐνόμευον ἀν ὤρεα τὰς καλὰς αἶγας
    φωνᾶς εἰσαίων, τὺ δ’ ὑπὸ δρυσὶν ἦ ὑπὸ πεύκαις
    ἁδὺ μελισδόμενος κατεκέκλισο, θεῖε Κομᾶτα.

‘Ah, would that in my days thou hadst been numbered with the living, how
gladly on the hills would I have herded thy pretty she-goats, and
listened to thy voice, whilst thou, under oaks and pine-trees lying,
didst sweetly sing, divine Comatas!’

                                CHAPTER IX
                              A GENERAL VIEW

WE have looked at Oxford life in so many different periods, that now,
perhaps, we may regard it, like our artist, as a whole, and take a
bird’s-eye view of its present condition.  We may ask St. Bernard’s
question, _Whither hast thou come_? a question to which there are so many
answers readily given, from within and without the University.  It is not
probable that the place will vary, in essential character, from that
which has all along been its own.  We shall have considered Oxford to
very little purpose, if it is not plain that the University has been less
a home of learning, on the whole, than a microcosm of English
intellectual life.  At Oxford the men have been thinking what England was
to think a few months later, and they have been thinking with the passion
and the energy of youth.  The impulse to thought has not, perhaps, very
often been given by any mind or minds within the college walls; it has
come from without—from Italy, from France, from London, from a country
vicarage, perhaps, from the voice of a wandering preacher.  Whencesoever
the leaven came, Oxford (being so small, and in a way so homogeneous) has
always fermented readily, and promptly distributed the new forces,
religious or intellectual, throughout England.

It is characteristic of England that the exciting topics, the questions
that move the people most, have always been religious, or deeply
tinctured with religion.  Conservative as Oxford is, the home of
‘impossible causes,’ she has always given asylum to new doctrines, to all
the thoughts which comfortable people call ‘dangerous.’  We have seen her
agitated by Lollardism, which never quite died, perhaps, till its eager
protest against the sacerdotal ideal was fused into the fire of the
Reformation.  Oxford was literally devastated by that movement, and by
the Catholic reaction, and then was disturbed for a century and a half by
the war of Puritanism, and of Tory Anglicanism.  The latter had scarcely
had time to win the victory, and to fall into a doze by her pipe of port,
when Evangelical religion came to vex all that was moderate, mature, and
fond of repose.  The revolutionary enthusiasm of Shelley’s time was
comparatively feeble, because it had no connection with religion; or, at
least, no connection with the religion to which our countrymen were
accustomed.  Between the era of the Revolution and our own day, two
religious tempests and one secular storm of thought have swept over
Oxford, and the University is at present, if one may say so, like a ship
in a heavy swell, the sea looking much more tranquil than it really is.

The Tractarian movement was, of course, the first of the religious
disturbances to which we refer, and much the most powerful.

It is curious to read about that movement in the _Apologia_, for example,
of Cardinal Newman.  On what singular topics men’s minds were bent! what
queer survivals of the speculations of the Schools agitated them as they
walked round Christ Church meadows!  They enlightened each other on
things transcendental, yet material, on matters unthinkable, and,
properly speaking, unspeakable.  It is as if they ‘spoke with tongues,’
which had a meaning then, and for them, but which to us, some forty years
later, seem as meaningless as the inscriptions of Easter Island.

    [Picture: Old Episcopal Palace.  From a Drawing by R. Kent Thomas]

This was the shape, the Tractarian movement was the shape, in which the
great Romantic reaction laid hold on England and Oxford.  The father of
all the revival of old doctrines and old rituals in our Church, the
originator of that wistful return to things beautiful and long dead,
was—Walter Scott.  Without him, and his wonderful wand which made the dry
bones of history live, England and France would not have known this
picturesque reaction.  The stir in these two countries was curiously
characteristic of their genius.  In France it put on, in the first place,
the shape of art, of poetry, painting, sculpture.  Romanticism blossomed
in 1830, and bore fruit for ten years.  The religious reaction was a
punier thing; the great Abbé, who was the Newman of France, was himself
unable to remain within the fantastic church that he built out of
medieval ruins.  In England, and especially in Oxford, the æsthetic
admiration of the Past was promptly transmuted into religion.  Doctrines
which men thought dead were resuscitated; and from Oxford came, not
poetry or painting, but the sermons of Newman, the _Tracts_, the whole
religious force which has transformed and revivified the Church of
England.  That force is still working, it need hardly be said, in the
University of to-day, under conditions much changed, but not without
thrills of the old volcanic energy.

Probably the Anglican ideas ceased to be the most powerfully agitating of
intellectual forces in Oxford about 1845.  A new current came in from
Rugby, and the influence of Dr. Arnold and the natural tide of reaction
began to run very strong.  If we had the _apologiæ_ of the men who
thought most, about the time when Clough was an undergraduate, we should
see that the influence of the Anglican divines had become a thing of
sentiment and curiosity.  The life had not died out of it, but the people
whom it could permanently affect were now limited in number and easily
recognisable.  This form of religion might tempt and attract the
strongest men for a while, but it certainly would not retain them.  It is
by this time a matter of history, though we are speaking of our
contemporaries, that the abyss between the _Lives of the English Saints_,
and the _Nemesis of Faith_, was narrow, and easily crossed.  There was in
Oxford that enthusiasm for certain German ideas which had previously been
felt for medieval ideas.  Liberalism in history, philosophy, and religion
was the ruling power; and people believed in Liberalism.  What is, or
used to be, called the Broad Church, was the birth of some ten or fifteen
years of Liberalism in religion at Oxford.  The _Essays and Reviews_ were
what the _Tracts_ had been; and Homeric battles were fought over the
income of the Regius Professor of Greek.  When that affair was settled
Liberalism had had her innings, there was no longer a single dominant
intellectual force; but the old storms, slowly subsiding, left the ship
of the University lurching and rolling in a heavy swell.

People believed in Liberalism!  Their faith worked miracles; and the
great University Commission performed many wonderful works, bidding close
fellowships be open, and giving all power into the hands of Examiners.
Their dispensation still survives; the large examining-machine works
night and day, in term time and vacation, and yet we are not happy.  The
age in Oxford, as in the world at large, is the age of collapsed
opinions.  Never men believed more fervidly in any revelation than the
men of twenty years ago believed in political economy, free trade, open
competition, and the reign of Common-sense and of Mr. Cobden.  Where is
that faith now?  Many of the middle-aged disciples of the Church of
Common-sense are still in our midst.  They say the old sayings, they
intone the old responses, but somehow it seems that scepticism is abroad;
it seems that the world is wider than their system.  Not even open
examinations for fellowships and scholarships, not half a dozen new
schools, and science, and the Museum, and the Slade Professorship of Art,
have made Oxford that ideal University which was expected to come down
from Heaven like the New Jerusalem.

We have glanced at the history of Oxford to little purpose if we have not
learned that it is an eminently discontented place.  There is room in
colleges and common rooms for both sorts of discontent—the ignoble, which
is the child of vanity and weakness; and the noble, which is the
unassuaged thirst for perfection.  The present result of the last forty
years in Oxford is a discontent which is constantly trying to improve the
working, and to widen the intellectual influence, of the University.
There are more ways than one in which this feeling gets vent.  The
simplest, and perhaps the most honest and worthy impulse, is that which
makes the best of the present arrangements.  Great religious excitement
and religious discussion being in abeyance, for once, the energy of the
place goes out in teaching.  The last reforms have made Oxford a huge
collection of schools, in which physical science, history, philosophy,
philology, scholarship, theology, and almost everything in the world but
archæology, are being taught and learned with very great vigour.  The
hardest worked of men is a conscientious college tutor; and almost all
tutors are conscientious.  The professors being an ornamental, but (with
few exceptions) _merely_ ornamental, order of beings, the tutors have to
do the work of a University, which, for the moment, is a
teaching-machine.  They deliver I know not how many sets of lectures a
year, and each lecture demands a fresh and full acquaintance with the
latest ideas of French, German, and Italian scholars.  No one can afford,
or is willing, to lag behind; every one is ‘gladly learning,’ like
Chaucer’s clerk, as well as earnestly teaching.  The knowledge and the
industry of these gentlemen is a perpetual marvel to the ‘bellelettristic
trifler.’  New studies, like that of Celtic, and of the obscurer Oriental
tongues, have sprung up during recent years, have grown into strength and
completeness.  It is unnecessary to say, perhaps, that these facts
dispose of the popular idea about the luxury of the long vacation.
During the more part of the long vacation the conscientious teacher must
be toiling after the great mundane movement in learning.  He must be
acquiring the very freshest ideas about Sanscrit and Greek; about the
Ogham characters and the Cyprian syllabary; about early Greek
inscriptions and the origins of Roman history, in addition to reading the
familiar classics by the light of the latest commentaries.

                 [Picture: The Ante Chapel, New College]

What is the tangible result, and what the gain of all these labours?  The
answer is the secret of University discontent.  All this accumulated
knowledge goes out in teaching, is scattered abroad in lectures, is
caught up in note-books, and is poured out, with a difference, in
examinations.  There is not an amount of original literary work produced
by the University which bears any due proportion to the solid materials
accumulated.  It is just the reverse of Falstaff’s case—but one
halfpenny-worth of sack to an intolerable deal of bread; but a drop of
the spirit of learning to cart-loads of painfully acquired knowledge.
The time and energy of men is occupied in amassing facts, in lecturing,
and then in eternal examinations.  Even if the results are satisfactory
on the whole, even if a hundred well-equipped young men are turned out of
the examining-machine every year, these arrangements certainly curb
individual ambition.  If a resident in Oxford is to make an income that
seems adequate, he must lecture, examine, and write manuals and primers,
till he is grey, and till the energy that might have added something new
and valuable to the acquisitions of the world has departed.

This state of things has produced the demand for the ‘Endowment of
Research.’  It is not necessary to go into that controversy.  Englishmen,
as a rule, believe that endowed cats catch no mice.  They would rather
endow a theatre than a _Gelehrter_, if endow something they must.  They
have a British sympathy with these beautiful, if useless beings, the
heads of houses, whom it would be necessary to abolish if Researchers
were to get the few tens of thousands they require.  Finally, it is asked
whether the learned might not find great endowment in economy; for it is
a fact that a Frenchman, a German, or an Italian will ‘research’ for life
on no larger income than a simple fellowship bestows.

The great obstacle to this ‘plain living’ is perhaps to be found in the
traditional hospitality of Oxford.  All her doors are open, and every
stranger is kindly entreated by her, and she is like the ‘discreet
housewife’ in Homer—

                 εἴδατα πόλλ’ ἐπιθεῖσα, χαριζομένη παρεόντων.

In some languages the same word serves for ‘stranger’ and ‘enemy,’ but in
the Oxford dialect ‘stranger’ and ‘guest’ are synonymous.  Such is the
custom of the place, and it does not make plain living very easy.  Some
critics will be anxious here to attack the ‘æsthetic’ movement.  One will
be expected to say that, after the ideas of Newman, after the ideas of
Arnold, and of Jowett, came those of the wicked, the extravagant, the
effeminate, the immoral ‘Blue China School.’  Perhaps there is something
in this, but sermons on the subject are rather luxuries than necessaries
in the present didactic mood of the Press.  ‘They were friends of ours,
moreover,’ as Aristotle says, ‘who brought these ideas in’; so the
subject may be left with this brief notice.  As a piece of practical
advice, one may warn the young and ardent advocate of the Endowment of
Research that he will find it rather easier to curtail his expenses than
to get a subsidy from the Commission.

The last important result of the ‘modern spirit’ at Oxford, the last
stroke of the sanguine Liberal genius, was the removal of the celibate
condition from certain fellowships.  One can hardly take a bird’s-eye
view of Oxford without criticising the consequences of this innovation.
The topic, however, is, for a dozen reasons, very difficult to handle.
One reason is, that the experiment has not been completely tried.  It is
easy enough to marry on a fellowship, a tutorship, and a few small
miscellaneous offices.  But how will it be when you come to forty years,
or even fifty?  No materials exist which can be used by the social
philosopher who wants an answer to this question.  In the meantime, the
common rooms are perhaps more dreary than of old, in many a college, for
lack of the presence of men now translated to another place.  As to the
‘society’ of Oxford, that is, no doubt, very much more charming and
vivacious than it used to be in the days when Tony Wood was the surly
champion of celibacy.

Looking round the University, then, one finds in it an activity that
would once have seemed almost feverish, a highly conscientious industry,
doing that which its hand finds to do, but not absolutely certain that it
is not neglecting nobler tasks.  Perhaps Oxford has never been more busy
with its own work, never less distracted by religious politics.  If we
are to look for a less happy sign, we shall find it in the tendency to
run up ‘new buildings.’  The colleges are landowners: they must suffer
with other owners of real property in the present depression; they will
soon need all their savings.  That is one reason why they should be chary
of building; another is, that the fellows of a college at any given
moment are not necessarily endowed with architectural knowledge and
taste.  They should think twice, or even thrice, before leaving on Oxford
for many centuries the uncomely mark of an unfortunate judgment.


A HUNDRED pictures have been drawn of undergraduate life at Oxford, and a
hundred caricatures.  Novels innumerable introduce some Oxford scenes.
An author generally writes his first romance soon after taking his
degree; he writes about his own experience and his own memories; he mixes
his ingredients at will and tints according to fancy.  This is one of the
two reasons why pictures of Oxford, from the undergraduate side, are
generally false.  They are either drawn by an aspirant who is his own
hero, and who idealises himself and his friends, or they are designed by
ladies who have read _Verdant Green_, and who, at some period, have paid
a flying visit to Cambridge.  An exhaustive knowledge of _Verdant Green_,
and a hasty view of the Fitzwilliam Museum and ‘the backs of the
Colleges’ (which are to Cambridge what the Docks are to Liverpool), do
not afford sufficient materials for an accurate sketch of Oxford.  The
picture daubed by the emancipated undergraduate who dabbles in fiction is
as unrecognisable.  He makes himself and his friends too large, too
noisy, too bibulous, too learned, too extravagant, too pugnacious.  They
seem to stride down the High, prodigious, disproportionate figures, like
the kings of Egypt on the monuments, overshadowing the crowd of dons,
tradesmen, bargees, and cricket-field or river-side cads.  Often one
dimly recognises the scenes, and the acquaintances of years ago, in
University novels.  The mildest of men suddenly pose as heroes of the Guy
Livingstone type, fellows who ‘screw up’ timid dons, box with colossal
watermen, and read all night with wet towels bound round their fevered
brows.  These sketches are all nonsense.  Men who do these things do not
write about them; and men who write about them never did them.

There is yet another cause which increases the difficulty of describing
undergraduate life with truth.  There are very many varieties of
undergraduates, who have very various ways of occupying and amusing
themselves.  A steady man that reads his five or six hours a day, and
takes his pastime chiefly on the river, finds that his path scarcely ever
crosses that of him who belongs to the Bullingdon Club, hunts thrice a
week, and rarely dines in hall.  Then the ‘pale student,’ who is hard at
work in his rooms or in the Bodleian all day, and who has only two
friends, out-college men, with whom he takes walks and tea,—he sees
existence in a very different aspect.  The Union politician, who is for
ever hanging about his club, dividing the house on questions of
blotting-paper and quill pens, discussing its affairs at breakfast,
intriguing for the place of Librarian, writing rubbish in the
suggestion-book, to him Oxford is only a soil carefully prepared for the
growth of that fine flower, the Union.  He never encounters the
undergraduate who haunts billiard-rooms and shy taverns, who buys jewelry
for barmaids, and who is admired for the audacity with which he smuggled
a fox-terrier into college in a brown-paper parcel.  There are many other
species of undergraduate, scarcely more closely resembling each other in
manners and modes of thought than the little Japanese student resembles
the metaphysical Scotch exhibitioner, or than the hereditary war minister
of Siam (whose career, though brief, was vivacious) resembled the Exeter
Sioux, a half-reclaimed savage, who disappeared on the warpath after
failing to scalp the Junior Proctor.  When The Wet Blanket returned to
his lodge in the land of Sitting Bull, he doubtless described Oxford life
in his own way to the other Braves, while the squaws hung upon his words
and the papooses played around.  His account would vary, in many ways,
from that of

    ‘Whiskered Tomkins from the hall
       Of seedy Magdalene.’

And he, again, would not see Oxford life steadily, and see it whole, as a
more cultivated and polished undergraduate might.  Thus there are
countless pictures of the works and ways of undergraduates at the
University.  The scene is ever the same—boat-races and foot-ball matches,
scouts, schools, and proctors, are common to all,—but in other respects
the sketches must always vary, must generally be one-sided, and must
often seem inaccurate.

It appears that a certain romance is attached to the three years that are
passed between the estate of the freshman and that of the Bachelor of
Arts.  These years are spent in a kind of fairyland, neither quite within
nor quite outside of the world.  College life is somewhat, as has so
often been said, like the old Greek city life.  For three years men are
in the possession of what the world does not enjoy—leisure; and they are
supposed to be using that leisure for the purposes of perfection.  They
are making themselves and their characters.  We are all doing that, all
the days of our lives; but at the Universities there is, or is expected
to be, more deliberate and conscious effort.  Men are in a position to
‘try all things’ before committing themselves to any.  Their new-found
freedom does not merely consist in the right to poke their own fires,
order their own breakfasts, and use their own cheque-books.  These
things, which make so much impression on the mind at first, are only the
outward signs of freedom.  The boy who has just left school, and the
thoughtless life of routine in work and play, finds himself in the midst
of books, of thought, and discussion.  He has time to look at all the
common problems of the hour, and yet he need not make up his mind
hurriedly, nor pledge himself to anything.  He can flirt with young
opinions, which come to him with candid faces, fresh as Queen Entelechy
in Rabelais, though, like her, they are as old as human thought.  Here
first he meets Metaphysics, and perhaps falls in love with that
enchantress, ‘who sifts time with a fine large blue silk sieve.’  There
is hardly a clever lad but fancies himself a metaphysician, and has
designs on the Absolute.  Most fall away very early from this, their
first love; and they follow Science down one of her many paths, or
concern themselves with politics, and take a side which, as a rule, is
the opposite of that to which they afterwards adhere.  Thus your
Christian Socialist becomes a Court preacher, and puts his trust in
princes; the young Tory of the old type will lapse into membership of a
School Board.  It is the time of liberty, and of intellectual attachments
too fierce to last long.

Unluckily there are subjects more engrossing, and problems more
attractive, than politics, and science, art, and pure metaphysics.  The
years of undergraduate life are those in which, to many men, the enigmas
of religion present themselves.  They bring their boyish faith into a
place (if one may quote Pantagruel’s voyage once more) like the Isle of
the Macraeones.  On that mournful island were confusedly heaped the ruins
of altars, fanes, temples, shrines, sacred obelisks, barrows of the dead,
pyramids, and tombs.  Through the ruins wandered, now and again, the
half-articulate words of the Oracle, telling how Pan was dead.  Oxford,
like the Isle of the Macraeones, is a lumber-room of ruinous
philosophies, decrepit religions, forlorn beliefs.  The modern system of
study takes the pupil through all the philosophic and many of the
religious systems of belief, which, in the distant and the nearer past,
have been fashioned by men, and have sheltered men for a day.  You are
taught to mark each system crumbling, to watch the rise of the new temple
of thought on its ruins, and to see that also perish, breached by
assaults from without or sapped by the slow approaches of Time.  This is
not the place in which we can well discuss the merits of modern
University education.  But no man can think of his own University days,
or look with sympathetic eyes at those who fill the old halls and rooms,
and not remember, with a twinge of the old pain, how religious doubt
insists on thrusting itself into the colleges.  And it is fair to say
that, for this, no set of teachers or tutors is responsible.  It is the
modern historical spirit that must be blamed, that too clear-sighted
vision which we are all condemned to share of the past of the race.  We
are compelled to look back on old philosophies, on India, Athens,
Alexandria, and on the schools of men who thought so hard within our own
ancient walls.  We are compelled to see that their systems were only
plausible, that their truths were but half-truths.  It is the long vista
of failure thus revealed which suggests these doubts that weary, and
torture, and embitter the naturally happy life of discussion, amusement,
friendship, sport, and study.  These doubts, after all, dwell on the
threshold of modern existence, and on the threshold—namely, at the
Universities—men subdue them, or evade them.

The amusements of the University have been so often described that little
need be said of them here.  Unhealthy as the site of Oxford is, the place
is rather fortunately disposed for athletic purposes.  The river is the
chief feature in the scenery, and in the life of amusement.  From the
first day of term, in October, it is crowded with every sort of craft.
The freshman admires the golden colouring of the woods and Magdalen tower
rising, silvery, through the blue autumnal haze.  As soon as he appears
on the river, his weight, strength, and ‘form’ are estimated.  He soon
finds himself pulling in a college ‘challenge four,’ under the severe eye
of a senior cox, and by the middle of December he has rowed his first
race, and is regularly entered for a serious vocation.  The
thorough-going boating-man is the creature of habit.  Every day, at the
same hour, after a judicious luncheon, he is seen, in flannels, making
for the barge.  He goes out, in a skiff, or a pair, or a four-oar, or to
a steeplechase through the hedges when Oxford, as in our illustration, is
under water.  The illustration represents Merton, and the writer
recognises his old rooms, with the Venetian blinds which Mr. Ruskin
denounced.  Chief of all the boating-man goes out in an eight, and rows
down to Iffley, with the beautiful old mill and Norman church, or
accomplishes ‘the long course.’  He rows up again, lounges in the barge,
rows down again (if he has only pulled over the short course), and goes
back to dinner in hall.  The table where men sit who are in training is a
noisy table, and the athletes verge on ‘bear-fighting’ even in hall.  A
statistician might compute how many steaks, chops, pots of beer, and of
marmalade, an orthodox man will consume in the course of three years.  He
will, perhaps, pretend to suffer from the monotony of boating shop,
boating society, and broad-blown boating jokes.  But this appears to be a
harmless affectation.  The old breakfasts, wines, and suppers, the honest
boating slang, will always have an attraction for him.  The summer term
will lose its delight when the May races are over.  Boating-men are the
salt of the University, so steady, so well disciplined, so good-tempered
are they.  The sport has nothing selfish or personal in it; men row for
their college, or their University; not like running—men, who run, as it
were, each for his own hand.  Whatever may be his work in life, a
boating-man will stick to it.  His favourite sport is not expensive, and
nothing can possibly be less luxurious.  He is often a reading man,
though it may be doubted whether ‘he who runs may read’ as a rule.
Running is, perhaps, a little overdone, and Strangers’ cups are, or
lately were, given with injudicious generosity.  To the artist’s eye,
however, few sights in modern life are more graceful than the University
quarter-of-a-mile race.  Nowhere else, perhaps, do you see figures so
full of a Hellenic grace and swiftness.

The cream of University life is the first summer term.  Debts, as yet,
are not; the Schools are too far off to cast their shadow over the
unlimited enjoyment, which begins when lecture is over, at one o’clock.
There are so many things to do,—

    ‘When wickets are bowled and defended,
       When Isis is glad with the eights,
    When music and sunset are blended,
       When Youth and the Summer are mates,
    When freshmen are heedless of “Greats,”
       When note-books are scribbled with rhyme,
    Ah! these are the hours that one rates
       Sweet hours, and the fleetest of Time!’

There are drags at every college gate to take college teams down to
Cowley.  There is the beautiful scenery of the ‘stripling Thames’ to
explore; the haunts of the immortal ‘Scholar Gipsy,’ and of Shelley, and
of Clough’s Piper, who—

    ‘Went in his youth and the sunshine rejoicing, to Nuneham and

Further afield men seldom go in summer, there is so much to delight and
amuse in Oxford. {221}  What day can be happier than that of which the
morning is given (after a lively college breakfast, or a ‘commonising’
with a friend) to study, while cricket occupies the afternoon, till music
and sunset fill the grassy stretches above Iffley, and the college eights
flash past among cheering and splashing?  Then there is supper in the
cool halls, darkling, and half-lit up; and after supper talk, till the
birds twitter in the elms, and the roofs and the chapel spire look
unfamiliar in the blue of dawn.  How long the days were then! almost like
the days of childhood; how distinct is the impression all experience used
to make!  In later seasons Care is apt to mount the college staircase,
and the ‘oak’ which Shelley blessed cannot keep out this visitor.  She
comes in many a shape—as debt, and doubt, and melancholy; and often she
comes as bereavement.  Life and her claims wax importunate; to many men
the Schools mean a cruel and wearing anxiety, out of all proportion to
the real importance of academic success.  We cannot see things as they
are, and estimate their value, in youth; and if pleasures are more keen
then, grief is more hopeless, doubt more desolate, uncertainty more
gnawing, than in later years, when we have known and survived a good deal
of the worst of mortal experience.  Often on men still in their pupilage
the weight of the first misfortunes falls heavily; the first touch of
Dame Fortune’s whip is the most poignant.  We cannot recover the first
summer term; but it has passed into ourselves and our memories, into
which Oxford, with her beauty and her romance, must also quickly pass.
He is not to be envied who has known and does not love her.  Where her
children have quarrelled with her the fault is theirs, not hers.  They
have chosen the accidental evils to brood on, in place of acquiescing in
her grace and charm.  These are crowded and hustled out of modern life;
the fever and the noise of our struggles fill all the land, leaving
still, at the Universities, peace, beauty, and leisure.

If any word in these papers has been unkindly said, it has only been
spoken, I hope, of the busybodies who would make Oxford cease to be
herself; who would rob her of her loveliness and her repose.


{120}  Poems by Ernest Myers.  London, 1877.

{221}  A very pleasing account of the scenery near Oxford appeared in the
_Cornhill_ for September 1879.

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