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- The Coming of the Friars - 30/38 -

whole Christian world, or they might constitute an inner circle of some larger community, of which they--though a _Universitas_- formed but a part. A University in its original signification meant no more than our modern term an Association. When men associated together for purposes of trade, they were a trading _Universitas_; when they associated for religious objects, they were a religious _Universitas_; when they associated for the promotion of learning, they were a learned _Universitas_. But the men came first, the bricks and mortar followed long after. The architectural history, in its merely technical and professional details, could only start at a point where the University, as an association of scholars and students, had already acquired power and influence, had been at work for long, and had got to make itself felt as a living force in the body politic and in the national life. It was because the antiquaries of a former age lost sight of this truth that they indulged in the extravagances they did. Starting from the assumption that stonewalls make an institution, they professed to tell when the Universities came into existence and who were their earliest founders. The authors of this modern _Magnum Opus_ have set themselves to deal with a far more instructive problem. Their object has been to trace the growth of the University of to-day in its concrete form, down from the early times when it existed only in the germ; and to show us how "the glorious fellowship of living men," which constituted the _personal_ University of the eleventh or the twelfth century, developed by slow degrees into the brick-and- mortar Universities of the nineteenth--such Universities as are springing up all over the world; their teachers advertised for in _The Times_, and their students tempted to come and be taught in them by the bait of money rewards.

* * * * * * *

As to the exact time when a band of scholars and teachers first made their home in Cambridge or Oxford, and began to attract to themselves from the four winds classes of eager youths hungry for intellectual food and anxious to listen and learn, that we must be content to leave undetermined. They who like the flavour of the old antiquarianism may enjoy it in its spiciest form, if they choose to hunt up among certain forgotten volumes now grown scarce. They may read what John Caius (pronounced Keys) wrote as the champion of Cambridge, and Thomas Caius wrote as champion of Oxford; they may rejoice their hearts over the Battle of the Keys, and come to what conclusion they prefer to arrive at. For most of us, however, this sort of old-world lore has lost its charm. A man lives through his taste for some questions. The student of history nowadays is inclined to say with St. Paul, "So fight I not as one that beateth the air," and to reject with some impatience the frivolous questions which help not a jot towards bringing us into closer relation with the life and personality of our ancestors.

"I am halt sick of shadows," said The Lady of Shalott;

and we, too, have grown weary of weaving our webs with our backs to the light. There is no making any way in Cloudland. We ask for firm ground on which to plant our footsteps, if we would move onwards.

* * * * * * *

It would have been very galling to the Oxford antiquaries of Queen Elizabeth's days to have to acknowledge that there was a Cambridge before there was an Oxford. Nevertheless the fact is so. Hide your diminished heads, ye rash ones who would fain have us believe that a thousand years before our era, King Mempric, the wicked king whom the wolves ate--as was right and fitting they should--built a noble city, which as time went on "was called _Oxonia_, or by the Saxons _Oxenfordia_." Alack! it turns out that we must make an enormous step along the course of time before we can find trace of any such city or anything like it. It turns out that "the year 912 saw Oxford made a fortified town, with a definite duty to perform and a definite district assigned to it." What! Seven years after the great Alfred had closed his eyes in death, and left to others the work which he had showed them how to do? Yes! Even so. It may be very hard to have to confess the odious crime of youth; but it seems almost capable of demonstration that Cambridge, as a fortress and a a town existed a thousand years before Oxford was anything but a desolate swamp, or at most a trumpery village, where a handful of Britons speared eels, hunted for deer, and laboriously manufactured earthenware pots. What have we to do with thee, thou daughter of yesterday? Stand aside while thine elder sister--ay, old enough to be thy mother--takes her place of honour. She has waited long for her historian; he has come at last, and he was worth waiting for.

In times before the Roman legionaries planted their firm feet in Britain, there was a very formidable fortress at Cambridge. It contained about sixty acres; it was surmounted by one of those mighty earthworks which the hand of man in the old days raised by sheer brute force, or rather by enormous triumph of organized labour. The Romans drove out the Britons, and settled a garrison in the place. Two of the great Roman roads intersected at this point, and the conquerors called it by a new name, as was their wont, retaining some portion of the old one. In their language it was known as _Caniboritum_. The primeval fortress stood on the left bank of the river, which some called the Granta and some called the Cam; and for reasons best known to themselves, the Romans did not think fit to span that river by a bridge, but they made their great Via Devana pass sheer through the river-as some Dutch or German Irrationalist has pretended that the children of Israel did when they found the Jordan barring their progress--that is, those Roman creatures constructed a solid pavement in the bed of the sluggish stream, over which less audacious engineers would have thrown an arch. Through the water they carried a kind of causeway, and the name of the place for centuries indicated that it was situated on the _ford_ of the Cam. But what the Roman did not choose to do, that the people that came after him found it needful to do. In the Saxon Chronicle we find that the old fortress which the Romans had held and strengthened, and then perforce abandoned, had got to be called Granta-brygge; and this name, or something very like it, it retained when the great survey was made as the Norman Conqueror's reign was drawing to its close. By this time the town had moved across to the right bank of the river, and had become a town surrounded by a ditch and defended by walls and gates. Already it contained at least four hundred houses, and on the site of the old mound the Norman raised a new castle, and in doing that he laid some twenty-nine houses low.

The early history of Oxford is more or less connected with that of the obscure and insignificant monastery of St. Frideswide, though even at Oxford it is observable that the town and the University grew up in almost entire independence of any influence exercised by any of the older religious houses. At Cambridge this was much more the case. There were no _monks_ at Cambridge at any time; there never were any nearer than at the Abbey of Ely, in the old times a long day's journey off, and accessible in the winter, if accessible at all, only by water. King Knut, we are told, greatly favoured the Abbey of Ely, visited it, was entertained there, in fact restored it. But at Cambridge there were no monks. No _real_ monks; a fact which ought to be a significant hint to "all educated men," but which, unhappily, is likely to be significant only to the few who have taken the trouble to learn what a real monk professed to be. If there were no monks at Cambridge, there was something else. Outside the walls of the town there rose up, in the twelfth century, the priory of Barnwell-a priory of Augustinian _canons_; and, moreover, a nunnery-the Benedictine nunnery of St. Rhadegunda. Within the walls there was another house of Augustinians, which was known as St. John's Hospital; that is, a house where the canons made it part of their duty to provide a spurious kind of _hospitality_ to travellers, much in the same way that the Hospice of St. Bernard offers food and shelter now to the wayfarer, and with such food and shelter something more--to wit, the opportunity of worshipping the Most High in peace, up there among the eternal snows. At St. John's Hospital, as at St. Bernard's, the grateful wanderer who had found a refuge would leave behind him his thankoffering in recognition of the kindly treatment he had met with, and it might happen that these free gifts constituted no small portion of the income on which the canons-- for the most part a humble and unpretentious set of men-kept up their houses.

With the dawn of the thirteenth century came the great revivalists-- the friars. Wherever the friars established themselves they began not only to preach, but to teach. They were the awakeners of a new intellectual life; not only the stimulators of an emotional pietism always prone to run into religious intoxication and extravagance. With the coming of the friars what may be called the modern history of Cambridge begins. Not that it can be allowed that there were no schools of repute on the banks of the Cam till the coming of the friars; it is certain that learning had her home at Cambridge long before this time.

As early as 1187 Giraldus Cambrensis came to Oxford and read his _Expugnatio Hiberniae_ in public lectures, and entertained the doctors of the diverse faculties and the most distinguished scholars. [Footnote: Bishop Stubbs's "Lectures on Mediaeval and Modern History," p. 141, 8vo, 1886.] Oxford was doubtless at that time more renowned, but Cambridge followed not far behind. If the friars settled at Cambridge early in their career, it was because there was a suitable home for them there--an opening as we say--which the flourishing condition of the University afforded. There were scholars to teach, there were masters to dispute with, there were doctors to criticize, oppose, or befriend. Doubtless, too, there were already strained relations between the townsmen and the gownsmen at Cambridge as at Oxford. The first great "town and gown row" which we hear of took place at Oxford in 1209, but when we do hear of it we find the other University mentioned by the historian in close connection with the event recorded. The townsmen under great provocation had seized three of the gownsmen _in hospitio suo_ and threw them into the gaol. King John came down to make inquiry, and he hung those three, guiltless though they were, as Matthew Paris assures us. Hereupon there was intense indignation, and the University dispersed. Three thousand of the gownsmen migrated elsewhere, some to Cambridge we learn. Oxford for a while was deserted. This was fifteen years before the Franciscans settled among us. It was the year in which King John was excommunicated. There were only three bishops left in England; the king had worried all the rest away. There was misery and anarchy everywhere. Yet, strange to say, in the midst of all the bitterness men _would_ have their sons educated, and the Universities did not despair of the republic. Shadowy and fragmentary as all the evidence is on which we have to rely for the history of the Universities during the twelfth century, it is enough to make us certain that the friars settled at Cambridge because there they found scope for their labours. There was undoubtedly a University there long before they arrived. Nevertheless, it is not till the middle of the reign of Henry the Third (A.D. 1216-1272) that we come upon any direct mention of a corporation which could be regarded as a chartered society of scholars at Cambridge, and it is difficult to resist the conviction that, whatever may have been its previous history, and however far back its infancy may date, the friars were to some extent nursing fathers of the University of Cambridge.

And this brings us again to the point from which we started a page or two back, and gives me the opportunity of quoting a passage from Professor Willis's introduction, which will serve at once as a

The Coming of the Friars - 30/38

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