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.
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