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Historical Sketches: Volumes 1 To 3 -Blessed John Henry Newman

COLLEGES, and Colleges for the advancement of science, were not altogether a medieval idea. To say nothing else, it is obvious to refer to the Museum of the Ptolemies at Alexandria, of which I spoke in an earlier Chapter. The Saracens too founded Colleges for learned education at Cordova, Granada, and Malaga; and these obtained a great reputation. Yet it is an idea, which has been brought out and familiarized in history, and recognized in political institutions, and completed in its parts, during the era of Universities, with a fulness which almost allows us to claim it as belonging to the new civilization. By a College, I suppose, is meant, not merely a body of men living together in one dwelling, but belonging to one establishment. In its very notion, the word suggests to us position, authority, and stability; and again, these attributes presuppose a foundation; and that foundation consists either in public recognition, or in the possession of revenues, or in some similar advantage. If two or three individuals live together, the community is not at once called a College; but a charter, or an endowment, some legal status, or some ecclesiastical privilege, is necessary to erect it into the Collegiate form. However, it does, I suppose, imply a community or convitto too; and, if so, it must be of a certain definite size: for, as soon as it exceeds in point of numbers, non-residence may be expected to follow. It is then a household, and offers an abode to its members, and requires or involves the same virtuous and paternal discipline which is proper to a family and home. Moreover, as no family can subsist without a maintenance, and as children are dependent on their homes, so it is not unnatural that an endowment, which is, as I have said, suggested by the very idea of a College, should ordinarily be necessary for its actual carrying out. Still more necessary are buildings, and buildings of a prominent character; for, whereas every family must have its dwelling, a family which has a recognized and official existence, must live in a sort of public building, which satisfies the eye, and is the enduring habitation of an enduring body.

This view of a College, which I have not been attempting to prove but to delineate, suggests to us the objects which a College is adapted to fulfil in a University. It is all, and does all, which is implied in the name of home. Youths, who have left the paternal roof, and travelled some hundred miles for the acquisition of knowledge, find an “altera Troja” and “simulata Pergama” at the end of their journey and in their place of temporary sojourn. Home is for the young, who know nothing of the world, and who would be forlorn and sad, if thrown upon it. It is the refuge of helpless boyhood, which would be famished and pine away, if it were not maintained by others. It is the providential shelter of the weak and inexperienced, who have still to learn how to cope with the temptations which lie outside of it. It is the place of training for those who are not only ignorant, but have not yet learned how to learn, and who have to be taught, by careful individual trial, how to set about profiting by the lessons of a teacher. And it is the school of elementary studies, not of advanced; for such studies alone can boys at best apprehend and master. Moreover, it is the shrine of our best affections, the bosom of our fondest recollections, a spell upon our after life, a stay for world-weary mind and soul, wherever we are cast, till the end comes. Such are the attributes or offices of home, and like to these, in one or other sense and measure, are the attributes and offices of a College in a University.

We may consider, historically speaking, that Colleges were but continuations, mutatis mutandis, of the schools which preceded the rise of Universities. These schools indeed were monastic or at least clerical, and observed a religious or an ecclesiastical rule; so far they were not simple Colleges, still they were devoted to study, and, at least sometimes, admitted laymen. They had two courses of instruction going on at once, attended by the inner classes and the outer; of which the latter were filled by what would now be called externs. Thus even in that early day the school of Rheims educated a certain number of noble youths; and the same arrangement is reported of Bec also.

And in matter of fact these monastic schools remained within the limits of the University, when it was set up, as they had been before, only of course more exclusively religious; for, as soon as the reception of laymen was found to be a part of the academical idea, the monasteries seemed to be relieved of the necessity of receiving lay students within their walls. At first, those Orders only would have a place in the University which were already there; but in process of time nearly every religious fraternity found it its interest to provide a College for its own subjects, and to have representatives in the Academical body. Thus in Paris, as soon as the Dominicans and Franciscans had thrown themselves into the new system, and had determined that their vocation did not hinder them from taking degrees, the Cistercians, under the headship of an Englishman, founded a College near St. Victor’s; and the Premonstrants followed their example. The Carmelites, being at first at a distance from St. Geneviève, were planted by a king of France close under her hill. The Benedictines were stationed in the famous Abbey of St. German, near the University Pratum; the monks of Cluni and of Marmoutier had their respective houses also, and the former provided lecturers within their walls for the students. And in Oxford, in like manner, the Benedictines founded Durham Hall for their monks of the North of England, and Gloucester Hall for their monks of the South, on the respective sites of the present Trinity and Worcester Colleges. The Carmelites (to speak without book,) were at Beaumont, the site of Henry the First’s palace; and St. John’s and Wadham Colleges are also on the sites of monastic establishments. Besides these, there were in Oxford houses of Dominicans, Franciscans, Cistercians, and Augustinians.

These several foundations, indeed, are of very different eras; but, looking at the course of the history as a whole, we shall find that such houses as were monastic preceded the rest. And if the new changes had stopped there, lay education would have suffered, not gained, by the rise of Universities; for it had the effect of multiplying, indeed, monastic halls, but of shutting their doors against all but monks more rigidly than before. The solitary strangers, who came up to Paris or Oxford from a far country, must have been stimulated by a most uncommon thirst for knowledge, to persevere in spite of the discouragements by which they were surrounded. Some attempt indeed was made by the Professors to meet so obvious and so oppressive an evil. The former scholastic type had recognized one master, and one only, in a school, who professed in consequence the whole course of instruction without any assistant Tutors. The tradition of this system continued; and led in many instances to the formation of halls, inns, courts, or hostels, as they were variously called. That is, the Professor of the school kept house, and boarded his pupils. Thus we read of Torald schools in Oxford in the reign of Henry the Third, which had belonged previously to one Master Richard Bacum, who had fitted up a large tenement, partly for lodging house, partly for lecture rooms. In like manner, early in the twelfth century, Theobald had as many as from sixty to a hundred scholars under his tuition, for whom he would necessarily be more or less answerable. A similar custom was pointed out in Athens, in an early Chapter of these sketches, where it was the occasion of a great deal of rivalry and canvassing between the Professorial housekeepers, each being set upon obtaining as many lodgers as possible. And apparently a similar inconvenience had to be checked at Paris in the thirteenth century, though, whatever might be that incidental inconvenience, the custom itself, under the circumstances of the day, was as advantageous to the cause of study, as it was natural and obvious.

But still lodging keepers, though Professors, must be paid, and how could poor scholars find the means of fulfilling so hard a condition? And the length of time then required for a University course hindered an evasion of its difficulties by such shifts and expedients, as serve for passing a mere trying crisis, or weathering a threatening season. The whole course, from the termination of the grammatical studies to the licentiate, extended originally through twenty years; though afterwards it was reduced to ten. If we are to consider the six years of the course in Arts to have been in addition to this long space, the residence at the University is no longer a sojourn at the seat of learning, but becomes a sort of naturalization, yet without offering a home.

The University itself has little or no funds, to meet the difficulty withal. At Oxford, it had no buildings of its own, but rented such as were indispensable for academical purposes, and these were of a miserable description. It had little or no ground belonging to it, and no endowments. It had not the means of being an Alma Mater to the young men who came thither for education. Some verses are quoted by Antony à Wood, apropos of the poor scholar, which describe both his enthusiastic love of study and the trial to which it was put. The following is a portion of them:—

Parva domus, res ipsa minor, contraxit utrumque

Immensus tractusque diu sub Pallade fervor,

Et logices jucundus amor &c., &c. …

Pauperies est tota domus, desuevit ad illos

Ubertas venisse lares; nec visitat ægrum

Copia Parnassum; sublimior advolat aulas,

His ignota casis.

Accordingly, one of the earliest movements in the University, almost as early as the entrance into it of the monastic bodies, was that of providing maintenance for poor scholars. The authors of such charity hardly aimed at giving more than the bare necessaries of life,—food, lodging, and clothing,—so as to make a life of study possible. Comfort or animal satisfaction can hardly be said to have entered into the scope of their benefactions; and we shall gain a lively impression of the sufferings of the student, before the era of endowments, by considering his rude and hardy life even when a member of a College. From an account which has been preserved in one of the colleges of Cambridge, we are able to extract the following horarium of a student’s day. He got up between four and five; from five to six he assisted at Mass, and heard an exhortation. He then studied or attended the schools till ten, which was the dinner hour. The meal, which seems also to have been a breakfast, was not sumptuous; it consisted of beef, in small messes for four persons, and a pottage made of its gravy and oatmeal. From dinner to five p.m., he either studied, or gave instruction to others, when he went to supper, which was the principal meal of the day, though scarcely more plentiful than dinner. Afterwards, problems were discussed and other studies pursued, till nine or ten; and then half an hour was devoted to walking or running about, that they might not go to bed with cold feet;—the expedient of hearth or stove for the purpose was out of the question.

However, poor as was the fare, the collegiate life was a blessing in many other ways far more important than meat and drink; and it was the object of pious benefactions for centuries. Hence the munificence of Robert Capet, as early as 1050, even before the canons of St. Geneviève and the monks of St. Victor had commenced the University of Paris. His foundation was sufficient for as many as one hundred poor clerks. Another was St. Catherine in the Valley, founded by St. Louis, in consequence of a vow, which his grandfather, Philip Augustus, had died before executing. Another and later was the Collegium Bonorum Puerorum, which is assigned to the year 1245. Such too, in its original intention, was the Harcurianum, or Harcourt College, the famous College of Navarre, the more famous Sorbonne, and the Montague College.

These Colleges, as was natural, were often provincial or diocesan, being founded by benefactors of a particular district for their own people. Sometimes too they were connected with one or other of the Nations of the University; I think the Harcurianum, just mentioned, was founded for the Normans; such too was the Dacian, founded for the Danes; and the Swedish; to which may be added the Burses provided for the Italians, the Lombards, the Germans, and the Scotch. In Bologna there was the greater College of St. Clement for the Spaniards, and the Collegio Sondi for the Hungarians. As to Diocesan or Provincial Colleges, such was Laon College, for poor scholars of the diocese of Laon; the College of Bayeux for scholars of the dioceses of Mons and Angers; the Colleges of Narbonne, of Arras, of Lisieux, and various others. Such too in Oxford at present are Queen’s College, founded in favour of north countrymen, and Jesus College for the Welsh. Such are the fellowships, founded in various Colleges, for natives of particular counties; and such the fellowships or scholarships for founder’s kin. In Paris, in like manner, Cardinal de Dormans founded a College for more than twenty students, with a preference in favour of his own family. A Society of a peculiar kind was founded in the very beginning of the thirteenth century. Baldwin, Count of Flanders, at that time Emperor of Constantinople, is said to have established a Greek College with a view to train up the youth of Constantinople in devotion to the Holy See.

When I said that there were graver reasons than the need of maintenance, for establishing Colleges and Burses for poor scholars, it may be easily understood that I alluded to the moral evils, of which a University, without homes and guardians for the young, would infallibly be the occasion and the scene. These are so intelligible, and so much a matter of history, and so often illustrated, whether from the medieval or the modem continental Universities, that they need not occupy our attention here. Whatever licentiousness of conduct there is at Oxford and Cambridge now, where the Collegiate system is in force, does but suggest to us how fatal must be the strength of those impulses to disorder and riot when unrestrained, which are so imperfectly controlled even when submitted to an anxious discipline. Leaving this head of the subject, I think it better to turn to the consideration of an important innovation on the character and drift of academical foundations, which took place in the fifteenth century, when political changes in the nations of Europe brought with them corresponding changes in their Universities.

I have lately alluded to these changes in introducing the subject of the ancient University of Ireland. I said that the multiplication of Universities, the growth of nationalism, the increasing appreciation of peace and of the conveniences of life, the separation of languages, the Collegiate system itself, and similar and cognate causes, tended to give these institutions a local, political, and, I may now add, aristocratic character. At first Universities were almost democracies: Colleges tended to break their anarchical spirit, introduced ranks and gave the example of laws, and trained up a set of students, who, as being morally and intellectually superior to other members of the academical body, became the depositaries of academical power and influence. Moreover, learning was no longer thought unworthy of a gentleman; and, while the nobles of an earlier period had not disdained to send their sons to Lanfranc or Vacarius, now it even became a matter of custom, that young men of rank should have a University education. Thus, in the charter of the 29th of Edward the Third, we even read that “to the University a multitude of nobles, gentry, strangers, and others continually flock;” and towards the end of the century, we find Henry of Monmouth, afterwards the Fifth, as a young man, a sojourner at Queen’s College, Oxford. But it was in the next century, of which Henry has made the first years glorious, that Colleges were provided, not for the poor, but for the noble. Many Colleges too, which had been originally for the poor, opened their gates to the rich, not as fellows or foundation-students, but as simple lodgers, or what are now called independent members, such as monasteries might have received in a former age. This was especially the case with the College of Navarre at Paris; and the change has continued remarkably impressed upon Oxford and Cambridge even down to this day, with this additional peculiarity, that, while the influence of aristocracy upon those Universities is not less than it was, the influence of other political classes has been introduced into the academic cloisters also. Never has learned institution been more directly political and national than the University of Oxford. Some of its Colleges represent the talent of the nation, others its rank and fashion, others its wealth; others have been the organs of the government of the day; while others, and the majority, represent one or other division, chiefly local, of the country party. That all this has rather destroyed, than subserved, the University itself, which Colleges originally were instituted to complete, I will not take upon myself to deny; but good comes out of many things which are in the way to evil, and this antagonism of the Collegiate to the University principle was not worked out, till Colleges had first rendered signal service to the University, and that, not only by completing it in those points where the University was weak, but even corroborating it in those in which it was strong. The whole nation, brought into the University by means of the Colleges, gave the University itself a vigour and a stability which the abundant influx of foreigners had not been able to secure.

As in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries French, German, and Italian students had flocked to the University of Oxford, and made its name famous in distant lands, so in the fifteenth, all ranks and classes of the nation furnished it with pupils, and what was wanting in their number or variety, compared with the former era, was compensated by their splendour or political importance. At that time nobles moved only in state, and surrounded themselves with retainers and servants, with an ostentation which has now quite gone out of fashion. A writer, whom I have from time to time used, Huber, informs us, that, before the wars of the Roses, and when the aristocracy were more powerful than the king, each noble family sent up at least one son to Oxford with an ample retinue of followers. Nor were the towns in that age, less closely united to the University than the upper classes, by reason of the numerous members of it that belonged to the clerical order, the popular character of that institution, and its intimate connection, as now, with the seat of learning. Thus town and country, high and low, north and south, had a common stake in the academical institutions, and took a personal interest in the academical proceedings. The degree possessed a sort of indelible character, which all classes understood; and the people at large were more or less partakers of a cultivation which the aristocracy were beginning to appreciate. And, though railroad travelling certainly did not then exist, communication between the students and their homes occurred with a frequency which could not be when they came from abroad; and Oxford became in a peculiar way a national and political centre. Not only in vacations and term-time was there a stated ebbing and flowing of the academical youth, but messengers posted to and fro between Oxford and all parts of the country in all seasons of the year. So intimate was this connection, that Oxford became a sort of selected arena for the conflicts of the various interests of the nation, and a serious University strife was received far and wide as the presage of civil war.

“Chronica si penses, cum pugnant Oxonienses,

Post paucos menses, volat ira per Angligenenses.”

But one may admire the position of a University, as a national centre, without any desire of renewing, in this day or in Ireland, the particular mode in which that position was in former times manifested in England. Such an united action of the Collegiate and of the National principle, far from being prejudicial, was simply favourable to the principle of a University. It was a later age which sacrificed the University to the College. We must look to the last two or three centuries, if we would witness the ascendency of the College idea in the English Universities, to the extreme prejudice, not indeed of its own peculiar usefulness (for that it has retained), but of the University itself. Huber, who gives us this account of Oxford, and who is neither Catholic on the one hand, nor innovator on the existing state of things on the other, warming yet saddening at his own picture, ends by observing: “Those days never can return; for the plain reason that then men learned and taught by the living word, but now by the dead paper.”

What has been here drawn out from the history of Oxford, admits of ample illustration from the parallel history of Paris. We find Chancellor Gerson on one occasion remonstrating in the name of his University with the French king. “Shall the University,” he says, “being what she is, shut her eyes and be silent? What would all France say, whose population she is ever exhorting, by means of her members, to patience and good obedience to the king and rulers? Does not she represent the universal realm, nay, the whole world? She is the vigorous seminary of the whole body politic, whence issue men of every kind of excellence. Therefore in behalf of the whole of France, of all states of men, of all her friends, who cannot be present here, she ought to expostulate and cry, ‘Long live the king.’ ”

There is one other historical peculiarity attached to Colleges, to which I will briefly allude before concluding. If Colleges, with their endowments and local interest provincial or county, are necessarily, when compared with Universities, of a national character, it follows that the education which they will administer, will also be national, and adapted to all ranks and classes of the community. And if so, then again it follows, that they will be far more given to the study of the Arts than to the learned professions, or to any special class of pursuits at all; and such in matter of fact has ever been the case. They have inherited under changed circumstances the position of the monastic teaching founded by Charlemagne, and have continued its primitive tradition, through, and in spite of, the noble intellectual developments, to which Universities have given occasion. The historical link between the Monasteries and the Colleges have been the Nations, as some words of Antony à Wood about the latter suggest, and as the very name of “Nation” makes probable; and indeed the Colleges were hardly more than the Nations formally established and endowed, with Provosts and Wardens in the place of Proctors.

Bulæus has some remarks on the subject of Colleges, which illustrate the points I have last insisted on, and several others which have previously come before us. He says: “The College system had no slight influence in restoring Latin composition. Indeed Letters were publicly professed in Colleges, and that, not only by persons on the foundation, but by others also who lived within the walls, though external to the body, and who were admitted to the schools of the Masters and to the classes in a fixed order and by regulated steps. On the contrary, we find that all the ancient Colleges were established for the education and instruction of poor scholars, members of the foundation; but in the fifteenth century other ranks were gradually introduced also. By this means the lecturer was stimulated by the largeness of the classes, and the pupil by emulation, while the opportunities of a truant life were removed. Accordingly laws were frequently promulgated and statutes passed, with a view of bringing the Martinets and wandering scholars within the walls of the Colleges. We do not know exactly when this practice began; it is generally thought that the College of Navarre, which was reformed in the year 1464, was the first to open its gates to these public professors of letters. It is certain, that in former ages the teachers of grammar and rhetoric had schools of their own, or hired houses and hostels, where they received pupils; but in this century teachers of grammar, or of rhetoric, or of philosophy, began to teach within the Colleges.” He adds that in the time of Louis the eleventh, the Professors who lectured on literature, rhetoric, and philosophy in the town, were generally left by the students for those who had taken up their abodes in the Colleges.

This is rather an enumeration of some characteristics of Colleges, than a sufficient sketch of their relation to the University; but it may suggest points of inquiry to those who would know more. I will but add, that at Paris there seem to have been as many as fifty Colleges; at Oxford at present there are from twenty to twenty-four; as many, I believe, were at Salamanca; at Cambridge not so many; at Toulouse, eight. As to Louvain, I have been told that if a bird’s-eye view be taken of the city, the larger and finer buildings which strike the beholder throughout it, will be found at one time to have belonged to the University.

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