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?"
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