but here is scarcely the proper training-ground of first-class men!
Oxford returned to her ancient uses in 1625. Soon after the accession of Charles I. the plague broke out in London, and Oxford entertained the Parliament, as six hundred years before she had received the Witan. There seemed something ominous in all that Charles did in his earlier years--the air, or men's minds, was full of the presage of fate. It was observed that the House of Commons met in the Divinity School, and that the place seemed to have infected them with theological passion. After 1625 there was never a Parliament but had its committee to discuss religion, and to stray into the devious places of divinity. The plague pursued Charles to Oxford. In those days, and long afterwards, it was a common complaint that the citizens built rows of poor cottages within the walls, and that these cottages were crowded by dirty and indigent people. Plague was bred almost yearly at Oxford, and Charles really seems to have improved the sanitary arrangements of the city.
Laud, the President of St. John's, became, by some intrigue, Chancellor of the University. He made Oxford many presents of Greek, Chinese, Hebrew, Latin, and Arabic MSS. There may have been--let us hope there were--quiet bookworms who enjoyed these gifts, while the town and University were bubbling over with religious feuds. People grumbled that "Popish darts were whet afresh on a Dutch grindstone." A series of anti-Romish and anti-Royal sermons and pamphlets, followed as a rule by a series of recantations, kept men's minds in a ferment. The good that Laud did by his gifts--and he was a munificent patron of learning--he destroyed by his dogmatism. Scholars could not decipher Greek texts while they were torturing biblical ones into arguments for and against the opinions of the Chancellor. What is the true story about the gorgeous vestments which were found in a box in the house of the President of St. John's, and which are now preserved in the library of that college? Did they belong to the last of the old Catholic presidents of what was Chichele's College of St. Bernard before the Reformation? Were they, on the other hand, the property of Laud himself? It has been said that Laud would not have known how to wear them. Fancy sees him treasuring that bright ecclesiastical raiment, [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], in some place of security. At night, perhaps, when candles were lit and curtains drawn, and he was alone, he may have arrayed himself in the gorgeous chasuble before the mirror, as Hetty wore her surreptitious finery. "There is a great deal of human nature in man." If Laud really strutted in solitude, draped rather at random in these vestments, the ecclesiastical gear is even more interesting than the thin ivory-headed staff which supported him on his way to the scaffold; more curious than the diary in which he recorded the events of night and day, of dreaming hours and waking. In the library at St. John's they show his bust--a tarnished, gilded work of art. He has a neat little cocked-up moustache, not like a prelate's; the face is that of a Bismarck without strength of character.
In speaking of Oxford before the civil war, let us not forget that true students and peaceable men found a welcome retreat beyond the din of theological fictions. Lord Falkland's house was within ten miles of the town. "In this time," says Clarendon, in his immortal panegyric, "in this time he contracted familiarity and friendship with the most polished men of the University, who found such an immenseness of wit and such a solidity of judgment in him, so infinite a fancy, bound in by a most logical ratiocination, such a vast knowledge that he was not ignorant in anything, yet such an excessive humility as if he had known nothing, that they frequently resorted and dwelt with him, as in a college situated in a purer air; so that his house was a university in a less volume, whither they came not so much for repose as study; and to examine and refine those grosser propositions, which laziness and consent made current in vulgar conversation."
The signs of the times grew darker. In 1636 the King and Queen visited Oxford, "with no applause." In 1640 Laud sent the University his last present of manuscripts. He was charged with many offences. He had repaired crucifixes; he had allowed the "scandalous image" to be set up in the porch of St. Mary's; and Alderman Nixon, the Puritan grocer, had seen a man bowing to the scandalous image--so he declared. In 1642 Charles asked for money from the colleges, for the prosecution of the war with the Parliament. The beautiful old college plate began its journey to the melting-pot. On August 9th the scholars armed themselves. There were two bands of musqueteers, one of pikemen, one of halberdiers. In the reign of Henry III. the men had been on the other side. Magdalen bridge was blocked up with heaps of wood. Stones, for the primitive warfare of the time, were transported to the top of Magdalen tower. The stones were never thrown at any foemen. Royalists and Roundheads in turn occupied the place; and while grocer Nixon fled before the Cavaliers, he came back and interceded for All Souls College (which dealt with him for figs and sugar) when the Puritans wished to batter the graven images on the gate. On October 29th the King came, after Edgehill fight, the Court assembled, and Oxford was fortified. The place was made impregnable in those days of feeble artillery. The author of the Gesta Stephani had pointed out, many centuries before, that Oxford, if properly defended, could never be taken, thanks to the network of streams that surrounds her. Though the citizens worked grudgingly and slowly, the trenches were at last completed. The earthworks--a double line--ran in and out of the interlacing streams. A Parliamentary force on Headington Hill seems to have been unable to play on the city with artillery. Barbed arrows were served out to the scholars, who formed a regiment of more than six hundred men. The Queen held her little court in Merton, in the Warden's lodgings. Clarendon gives rather a humorous account of the discontent of the fine ladies "The town was full of lords (besides those of the Council), and of persons of the best quality, with very many ladies, who, when not pleased themselves, kept others from being so." Oxford never was so busy and so crowded; letters, society, war, were all confused; there were excursions against Brown at Abingdon, and alarms from Fairfax on Headington Hill. The siege, from May 22nd to June 5th, was almost a farce. The Parliamentary generals "fought with perspective glasses." Neither Cromwell at Wytham, nor Brown at Wolvercot, pushed matters too hard. When two Puritan regiments advanced on Hinksey, Mr. Smyth blazed away at them from his house. As in Zululand, any building made a respectable fort, when cannon- balls had so little penetrative power, or when artillery was not at the front. Oxford was surrendered, with other places of arms, after Naseby, and--Presbyterians became heads of colleges!
CHAPTER V--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.
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