The most hopeful fact in the University annals, after the gift of those manuscripts (to which the very beauty of their illuminations proved ruinous in Puritan times), was the establishment of a printing-press at Oxford, and the arrival of certain Italians, "to propagate and settle the studies of true and genuine humanity among us." The exact date of the introduction of printing let us leave to be determined by the learned writer who is now at work on the history of Oxford. The advent of the Italians is dated by Wood in 1488. Polydore Virgil had lectured in New College. "He first of all taught literature in Oxford. Cyprianus and Nicholaus, Italici, also arrived and dined with the Vice-President of Magdalen on Christmas Day. Lily and Colet, too, one of them the founder, the other the first Head Master, of St. Paul's School, were about this time studying in Italy, under the great Politian and Hermolaus Barbarus. Oxford, which had so long been in hostile communication with Italy as represented by the Papal Courts, at last touched, and was thrilled by the electric current of Italian civilisation. At this conjuncture of affairs, who but is reminded of the youth and the education of Gargantua? Till the very end of the fifteenth century Oxford had been that "huge barbarian pupil," and had revelled in vast Rabelaisian suppers: "of fat beeves he had killed three hundred sixty seven thousand and fourteen, that in the entering in of spring he might have plenty of powdered beef." The bill of fare of George Neville's feast is like one of the catalogues dear to the Cure of Meudon. For Oxford, as for Gargantua, "they appointed a great sophister-doctor, that read him Donatus, Theodoletus, and Alanus, in parabolis." Oxford spent far more than Gargantua's eighteen years and eleven months over "the book de Modis significandis, with the commentaries of Berlinguandus and a rabble of others." Now, under Colet, and Erasmus (1497), Oxford was put, like Gargantua, under new masters, and learned that the old scholarship "had been but brutishness, and the old wisdom but blunt, foppish toys serving only to bastardise noble spirits, and to corrupt all the flower of youth."
The prospects of classical learning at Oxford (and, whatever may be the case to-day, on classical learning depended, in the fifteenth century, the fortunes of European literature) now seemed fair enough. People from the very source of knowledge were lecturing in Oxford. Wolsey was Bursar of Magdalen. The colleges, to which B. N. C. was added in 1509, and C. C. C. in 1516, were competing with each other for success in the New Learning. Fox, the founder of C. C. C., established in his college two chairs of Greek and Latin, "to extirpate barbarism." Meanwhile, Cambridge had to hire an Italian to write public speeches at twenty pence each! Henry VIII. in his youth was, like Francis I., the patron of literature, as literature was understood in Italy. He saw in learning a new splendour to adorn his court, a new source of intellectual luxury, though even Henry had an eye on the theological aspect of letters. Between 1500 and 1530 Oxford was noisy with the clink of masons' hammers and chisels. Brasenose, Corpus, and the magnificent kitchen of Christ Church, were being erected. (The beautiful staircase, which M. Brunet-Debaines has sketched, was not finished till 1640. The world owes it to Dr. Fell. The Oriel niches, designed in the illustration, are of rather later date.) The streets were crowded with carts, dragging in from all the neighbouring quarries stones for the future homes of the fair humanities. Erasmus found in Oxford a kind of substitute for the Platonic Society of Florence. "He would hardly care much about going to Italy at all, except for the sake of having been there. When I listen to Colet, it seems to me like listening to Plato himself"; and he praises the judgment and learning of those Englishmen, Grocyn and Linacre, who had been taught in Italy.
In spite of all this promise, the Renaissance in England was rotten at the root. Theology killed it, or, at the least, breathed on it a deadly blight. Our academic forefathers "drove at practice," and saw everything with the eyes of party men, and of men who recognised no interest save that of religion. It is Mr. Seebohm (Oxford Reformers, 1867), I think, who detects, in Colet's concern with the religious side of literature, the influence of Savonarola. When in Italy "he gave himself entirely to the study of the Holy Scriptures." He brought to England from Italy, not the early spirit of Pico of Mirandola, the delightful freedom of his youth, but his later austerity, his later concern with the harmony of scripture and philosophy. The book which the dying Petrarch held wistfully in his hands, revering its very material shape, though he could not spell its contents, was the Iliad of Homer. The book which the young Renaissance held in its hands in England, with reverence and eagerness as strong and tender, contained the Epistles of St. Paul. It was on the Epistles that Colet lectured in 1496-97, when doctors and abbots flocked to hear him, with their note-books in their hands. Thus Oxford differed from Florence, England from Italy: the former all intent on what it believed to be the very Truth, the latter all absorbed on what it knew to be no other than Beauty herself.
We cannot afford to regret the choice that England and Oxford made. The search for Truth was as certain to bring "not peace but a sword" as the search for Beauty was to bring the decadence of Italy, the corruption of manners, the slavery of two hundred years. Still, our practical earnestness did rob Oxford of the better side of the Renaissance. It is not possible here to tell the story of religious and social changes, which followed so hard upon each other, in the reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth. A few moments in these stormy years are still memorable for some terrible or ludicrous event.
That Oxford was rather "Trojan" than "Greek," that men were more concerned about their dinners and their souls than their prosody and philosophy, in 1531, is proved by the success of Grynaeus. He visited the University and carried off quantities of MSS., chiefly Neoplatonic, on which no man set any value. Yet, in 1535, Layton, a Commissioner, wrote to Cromwell that he and his companions had established the New Learning in the University. A Lecture in Greek was founded in Magdalen, two chairs of Greek and Latin in New, two in All Souls, and two already existed, as we have seen, in C. C. C. This Layton is he that took a Rabelaisian and unquotable revenge on that old tyrant of the Schools, Duns Scotus. "We have set Dunce in Bocardo, and utterly banished him from Oxford for ever, with all his blind glosses . . . And the second time we came to New College we found all the great quadrant full of the leaves of Dunce, the wind blowing them into every corner. And there we found a certain Mr. Greenfield, a gentleman of Buckinghamshire, gathering up part of the same books' leaves, as he said, therewith to make him sewers or blanshers, to keep the deer within his wood, thereby to have the better cry with his hounds." Ah! if the University Commissioners would only set Aristotle, and Messrs. Ritter and Preller, "in Bocardo," many a young gentleman out of Buckinghamshire and other counties would joyously help in the good work, and use the pages, if not for blanshers, for other sportive purposes!
"Habent sua fata libelli," as Terentianus Maurus says, in a frequently quoted verse. If Cromwell's Commissioners were hard on Duns, the Visitors of Edward VI. were ruthless in their condemnation of everything that smacked of Popery or of magic. Evangelical religion in England has never been very favourable to learning. Thus, in 1550 "the ancient libraries were by their appointment rifled. Many manuscripts, guilty of no other superstition than red letters in the front or titles, were condemned to the fire . . . Such books wherein appeared angles were thought sufficient to be destroyed, because accounted Papish or diabolical, or both." A cart- load of MSS., lucubrations of the Fellows of Merton, chiefly in controversial divinity, was taken away; but, by the good services of one Herks, a Dutchman, many books were preserved, and, later, entered the Bodleian Library. The world can spare the controversial manuscripts of the Fellows of Merton, but who knows what invaluable scrolls may have perished in the Puritan bonfire! Persons, the librarian of Balliol, sold old books to buy Protestant ones. Two noble libraries were sold for forty shillings, for waste paper. Thus the reign of Edward VI. gave free play to that ascetic and intolerable hatred of letters which had now and again made its voice heard under Henry VIII. Oxford was almost empty. The schools were used by laundresses, as a place wherein clothes might conveniently be dried. The citizens encroached on academic property. Some schools were quite destroyed, and the sites converted into gardens. Few men took degrees. The college plate and the jewels left by pious benefactors were stolen, and went to the melting-pot. Thus flourished Oxford under Edward VI.
The reign of Mary was scarcely more favourable to letters. No one knew what to be at in religion. In Magdalen no one could be found to say Mass, the fellows were turned out, the undergraduates were whipped--boyish martyrs--and crossed at the buttery. What most pleases, in this tragic reign, is the anecdote of Edward Anne of Corpus. Anne, with the conceit of youth, had written a Latin satire on the Mass. He was therefore sentenced to be publicly flogged in the hall of his college, and to receive one lash for each line in his satire. Never, surely, was a poet so sharply taught the merit of brevity. How Edward Anne must have regretted that he had not knocked off an epigram, a biting couplet, or a smart quatrain with the sting of the wit in the tail!
Oxford still retains a memory of the hideous crime of this reign. In Broad Street, under the windows of Balliol, there is a small stone cross in the pavement. This marks the place where, some years ago, a great heap of wooden ashes was found. These ashes were the remains of the fire of October 16th, 1555--the day when Ridley and Latimer were burned. "They were brought," says Wood, "to a place over against Balliol College, where now stands a row of poor cottages, a little before which, under the town wall, ran so clear a stream that it gave the name of Canditch, candida fossa, to the way leading by it." To recover the memory of that event, let the reader fancy himself on the top of the tower of St. Michael's, that is, immediately above the city wall. No houses interfere between him and the open country, in which Balliol stands; not with its present frontage, but much farther back. A clear stream runs through the place where is now Broad Street, and the road above is dark with a swaying crowd, out of which rises the vapour of smoke from the martyrs' pile. At your feet, on the top of Bocardo prison (which spanned the street at the North Gate), Cranmer stands manacled, watching the fiery death which is soon to purge away the memory of his own faults and crimes. He, too, joined that "noble army of martyrs" who fought all, though they knew it not, for one cause--the freedom of the human spirit.
Source of this article：http://rnjxz.imcritics.com/html/787b799113.html
Copyright statement: The content of this article was voluntarily contributed by internet users, and the views expressed in this article only represent the author themselves. This website only provides information storage space services and does not hold any ownership or legal responsibility. If you find any suspected plagiarism, infringement, or illegal content on this website, please send an email to report it. Once verified, this website will be immediately deleted.