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Ch. 6: High Tory at Oxford

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 Reliquiae of Hearne (an antiquarian successor of Antony Wood, a bibliophile, an archaeologist, 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 omen.

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 a priori principles when they arrived at this remarkable conclusion.

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.


Andrew Lang