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Ch. 5: Some Scholars of the Restoration

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 Bohemiae 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 history.

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 places."


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 him."


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 Athenae 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 archaeologist. 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 stelae, 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."*

*Poems by Ernest Myers. London, 1877.


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 perfect.

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 time.

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 work.


"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 pounds." 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."


Andrew Lang