Billeder på siden

into which the very coldest hearts entered, that a little divided with me the else monopolizing awe attached to the solemn act of launching myself upon the world. That expression may seem too strong as applied to one who had already been for many months a houseless wanderer in Wales, and a solitary roamer in the streets of London. But in those situations, it must be remembered, I was an unknown, unacknowledged vagrant; and without money I could hardly run much risk, except of breaking my neck. The perils, the pains, the pleasures, or the obligations of the world, scarcely exist in a proper sense for him who has no funds. Perfect weakness is often secure it is by imperfect power, turned against its master, that men are snared and decoyed. Here in Oxford, I should be called upon to commence a sort of establishment upon the splendid English scale; here I should share in many duties and responsibilities, and should become henceforth an object of notice to a large society. Now first becoming separately and individually answerable for my conduct, and no longer absorbed into the general unit of a family, I felt myself, for the first time, burthened with the anxieties of a man, and a member of the world.

Oxford, ancient Mother! hoary with ancestral honors, time-honored, and, haply, it may be, time-shattered power

I owe thee nothing! Of thy vast riches I took not a shilling, though living amongst multitudes who owed to thee their daily bread. Not the less I owe thee justice; for that is a universal debt. And at this moment, when I see thee called to thy audit by unjust and malicious accusers men with the hearts of inquisitors and the purposes of robbers - I feel towards thee something of filial reverence and duty. However, I mean not to speak as an advocate, but as a conscientious witness in the

simplicity of truth; feeling neither hope nor fear of a personal nature, without fee, and without favor.

I have been assured from many quarters that the great body of the public are quite in the dark about the whole manner of living in our English Universities; and that a considerable portion of that public, misled by the totally different constitution of Universities in Scotland, Ireland, and generally on the continent, as well as by the different arrangements of collegiate life in those institutions, are in a state worse than ignorant, (that is, more unfavorable to the truth) starting, in fact, from prejudices, and absolute errors of fact, which operate most uncharitably upon their construction of those insulated statements, which are continually put forward by designing men. Hence, I can well believe, that it will be an acceptable service, at this particular moment, when the very constitution of the two English Universities is under the unfriendly revision of Parliament, when some roving commission may be annually looked for, under a contingency which I will not utter in words, (for I reverence the doctrine of ivqiiquos,) far worse than Cromwellian, i. e. merely personal, and to winnow the existing corporation from disaffection to the state a Henry the Eighth commission of sequestration, and levelled at the very integrity of the institution under such prospects, I can well believe that a true account of Oxford as it is, (which will be valid also for Cambridge,) must be welcome both to friend and foe. And instead of giving this account didactically, or according to a logical classification of the various items in the survey, I will give it historically, or according to the order in which the most important facts of the case opened themselves before myself, under the accidents of my own personal inquiry. No situation could be better adapted than my own for eliciting information; for, whereas most

young men come to the University under circumstances of
absolute determination as to the choice of their particular
college, and have, therefore, no cause for search or in-
quiry, I, on the contrary, came thither, in solitary, self-
dependence, and in the loosest state of indetermination.
Every single point of my future position and connection,
to what college I would attach myself, and in which of
the two orders, open to my admission, I would enrol my-
self, was left absolutely to my own election. My coming
at all, in this year, arose out of an accident of conversa-
tion. In the latter half of 1803, I was living with my
mother at the priory of St. J-, a beautiful place,
which she had in part planned, and built, but chiefly re-
paired out of a very ancient Gothic monastery; when my
uncle, a military man, on a visit to England, after twenty-
five years' absence in India, suddenly remarked, that in
my case he should feel it shameful to be tied to my
mother's apron-string,' for was I not eighteen years old ?
I answered that certainly I was but what could I do?
My guardians had the power to control my expenditure
until I should be twenty-one; and they, it was certain,
would never aid my purpose of going to Oxford, having
quarrelled with me on that very point. My uncle, a man
of restless activity, spoke to my mother immediately, I
presume, for within one hour I was summoned to her
presence. Among other questions, she put this to me,
which is importantly connected with my future experience
at Oxford, and my coming account of it :— Your guar-
dians,' she prefaced, still continue to me your school
allowance of £100. To this, for the present, when your
sisters cost me such heavy deductions from my own in-
come, I cannot undertake to make any addition
that is,
you are not to count upon any. But, of course, you will
be free to spend your entire Oxford vacations, and as


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

much time besides as the rules of your college will dispense with your attendance, at my house, wherever that may be. On this understanding, are you willing to undertake an Oxford life, upon so small an allowance as £100 per annum?' My answer was by a cheerful and prompt assent. For I felt satisfied, and said as much to my mother, that, although this might sound, and might really prove, on a common system of expenditure, ludicrously below the demands of the place, yet in Oxford, no less than in other cities, it must be possible for a young man of firm mind, to live on a hundred pounds annually, if he pleased to do so; and to live respectably. I guessed even then how the matter stood; and so in my own experience I found it. If a young man were known to be of trivial pursuits, with slight habits of study, and 'strong book-mindedness,' naturally enough his college peers, who should happen to be idlers, would question his right to court solitude. They would demand a sight of his warrant of exemption from ordinary usages; and finding none, they would see a plain argument of his poverty. And, doubtless, when this happens to be the sole characteristic point about a man, and is balanced by no form of personal respectability, it does so far lead to contempt as to make a man's situation mortifying and painful; but not more so, I affirm, in Oxford than anywhere else. Mere defect of power, as such, and where circumstances force it into violent relief, cannot well be other than a degrading feature in any man's position. Now, in other cities, the man of £100 a year never can be forced into such an invidious insulation he finds many to keep him in countenance; but in Oxford he is a sort of monster he stands alone in the only class with which he can be compared. So that the pressure upon Oxford predispositions to contempt is far stronger than elsewhere; and,

consequently, there would be more allowance due, if the actual contempt were also stronger — which I deny. But, no doubt, in every climate, and under all meridians, it must be humiliating to be distinguished by pure defect. Now and for ever- to be weak, is in some sense to be miserable; and simple poverty, without other qualification or adjunct, is merely defect of power. But, on the other hand, in Oxford, at least, as much as in any other place I ever knew, talents and severe habits of study are their own justification. And upon the strongest possible warrant, viz., my own experience in a college, then recently emerging from habits of riotous dissipation, I can affirm that a man, who pleads known habits of study as his reason for secluding himself, and for declining the ordinary amusements and wine parties, will meet with neither molestation nor contempt.

For my part, though neither giving nor accepting invitations for the first two years of my residence, never but once had I reason to complain of a sneer, or indeed any allusion whatever to habits, which might be understood to express poverty. Perhaps, even then, I had no reason to complain, for my own conduct in that instance was unwise; and the allusion, though a personality, and so far ill-bred, might be meant in real kindness. The case was this I neglected my dress in one point habitually; that is, I wore clothes until they were threadbare: partly in the belief that my gown would conceal their main defects, but much more from carelessness and indisposition to spend upon a tailor, what I had destined for a bookseller. At length, an official person, of some weight in the college, sent me a message on the subject through a friend. was couched in these terms - That, let a man possess what talents or accomplishments he might, it was not possible for him to maintain his proper station, in the public


« ForrigeFortsæt »