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."
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:
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