Billeder på siden

through a friend. It 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 respect, amongst so many servants and people, servile to external impressions, without some regard to the elegance of his dress.

[ocr errors]

A reproof so courteously prefaced I could not take offence at; and at that time I resolved to spend some cost upon decorating my person. But always it happened that some book, or set of books, - that passion being absolutely endless, and inexorable as the grave, stepped between me and my intentions; until one day, upon arranging my toilet hastily before dinner, I suddenly made the discovery that I had no waistcoat (or vest, as it is now called, through conceit or provincialism), which was not torn or otherwise dilapidated; whereupon, buttoning up my coat to the throat, and drawing my gown as close about me as possible, I went into the public "hall" (so is called in Oxford the public eating-room) with no misgiving. However, I was detected; for a grave man, with a superlatively grave countenance, who happened on that day to sit next me, but whom I did not personally know, addressing his friend sitting opposite, begged to know if he had seen the last Gazette, because he understood that it contained an order in council laying an interdict upon the future use of waistcoats. His friend replied, with the same perfect gravity, that it was a great satisfaction to his mind that his majesty's government should have issued so sensible an order; which he trusted would be soon followed up by an interdict on

breeches, they being still more disagreeable to pay for. This said, without the movement on either side of a single muscle, the two gentlemen passed to other subjects; and I inferred, upon the whole, that, having detected my manœuvre, they wished to put me on my guard in the only way open to them. At any rate, this was the sole personality, or equivocal allusion of any sort, which ever met my ear during the years that I asserted my right to be as poor as I chose. And, certainly, my censors were right, whatever were the temper in which they spoke, kind or unkind; for a little extra care in the use of clothes will always, under almost any extremity of poverty, pay for so much extra cost as is essential to neatness and decorum, if not even to elegance. They were right, and I was wrong, in a point which cannot be neglected with impunity.

But, to enter upon my own history, and my sketch of Oxford life. - Late on a winter's night, in the latter half of December, 1803, when a snow-storm, and a heavy one, was already gathering in the air, a lazy Birmingham coach, moving at four and a half miles an hour, brought me through the long northern suburb of Oxford, to a shabby coach-inn, situated in the Corn Market. Business was out of the question at that hour. But the next day I assembled all the acquaintances I had in the university, or had to my own knowledge; and to them, in council assembled, propounded my first question : What college would they, in their superior state of information, recommend to my choice? This question leads to the first great characteristic of Oxford, as distinguished from most other universities. Be

fore me at this moment lie several newspapers, reporting, at length, the installation in office (as Chancellor) of the Duke of Wellington. The original Oxford report, having occasion to mention the particular college from which the official procession moved, had said, no doubt, that the gates of University, the halls of University, &c., were at such a point of time thrown open. But most of the provincial editors, not at all comprehending that the reference was to an individual college, known by the name of University College, one of twenty-five such establishments in Oxford, had regularly corrected it into "gates of the University," &c. Here is the first misconception of all strangers. And this feature of Oxford it is which has drawn such exclamations of astonishment from foreigners. Lipsius, for example, protested with fervor, on first seeing this vast establishment of Oxford, that one college of this university was greater in its power and splendor, that it glorified and illustrated the honors of literature more conspicuously by the pomps with which it invested the ministers and machinery of education, than any entire university of the continent.

What is a university almost everywhere else? It announces little more, as respects the academic buildings, than that here is to be found the place of rendezvous - the exchange, as it were, or, under a different figure, the palestra of the various parties connected with the prosecution of liberal studies. This is their "House of Call," their general place of muster and parade. Here it is that the professors and the students converge, with the certainty of meeting each other. Here, in short, are the lecture

rooms in all the faculties. Well: thus far we see an arrangement of convenience- that is, of convenience for one of the parties, namely, the professors. To them it spares the disagreeable circumstances connected with a private reception of their students at their own rooms. But to the students it is a pure

matter of indifference. In all this there is certainly no service done to the cause of good learning, which merits a state sanction, or the aid of national funds. Next, however, comes an academic library, sometimes a good one; and here commences a real use in giving a national station to such institutions, because their durable and monumental existence, liable to no flux or decay from individual caprice, or accidents of life, and their authentic station, as expressions of the national grandeur, point them out to the bequests of patriotic citizens. They fall also under the benefit of another principle-the conservative feeling of amateurship. Several great collections have been bequeathed to the British Museum, for instance not chiefly as a national institution, and under feelings of nationality, but because, being such, it was also permanent; and thus the painful labors of collecting were guaranteed from perishing. Independently of all this, I, for my part, willingly behold the surplus of national funds dedicated to the consecration, as it were, of learning, by raising temples to its honor, even where they answer no purpose of direct use. Next, after the service of religion, I would have the service of learning externally embellished, recommended to the affections of men, and hallowed by the votive sculptures, as I may say, of that affection, gathering in amount from age to


Magnificabo apostolatum meum is a language almost as becoming to the missionaries and ministers of knowledge, as to the ambassadors of religion. It is fit that by pompous architectural monuments, that a voice may forever be sounding audibly in human ears of homage to these powers, and that even alien feelings may be compelled into secret submission to their influence. Therefore, amongst the number of those who value such things, upon the scale of direct proximate utility, rank not me: that arithmetica officina is in my years abominable. But still I affirm that, in our analysis of an ordinary university, or "college," as it is provincially called, we have not yet arrived at any element of service rendered to knowledge or education, large enough to call for very extensive national aid. Honor has thus far been rendered to the good cause by a public attestation, and that is well: but no direct promotion has been given to that cause, no impulse communicated to its progress, such that it can be held out as a result commensurate to the name and pretensions of a university. As yet there is nothing accomplished which is beyond the strength of any little commercial town. And as to the library in particular, besides that in all essential departments it might be bought, to order, by one day's common subscription of Liverpool or Glasgow merchants, students very rarely indeed have admission to its free use.

What other functions remain to a university? For those which I have mentioned of furnishing a point of rendezvous to the great body of professors and students, and a point of concentration to the different establishments of implements and machinery

« ForrigeFortsæt »