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"idoneus pro noviciis et junioribus," &c Moreover, the possession of a degree on the part of a religious, as an examination of the lists will show, often in after life meant some position of trust or high office in the monastery of the graduate.
Nor was the training then received any light matter of form; but it meant long years of study, and the possession of a degree was, too, a public testimony to a certain proficiency in the science of teaching. Thus, for example, George Mace, a canon of Westacre, who became a pensioner at Gonville Hall in 1508, studied arts for five years and canon law for four years at the university, and continued the latter study for eight years in his monastery.1 William Hadley, a religious of the same house, had spent eleven years in the study of arts and theology;" and Richard Brygott, who took his B.D. in 1520, and who subsequently became Prior of Westacre, had studied two years and a half in his monastery, two years in Paris, and seven in Cambridge."
"With the Reformation, of course, all this came to an end," writes Mr. Venn, and we can well understand that this sudden stoppage of what, in the aggregate, was a considerable source of supply to the university, was seriously felt. On the old system, as we have seen, the promising students were selected by their monasteries, and supported in college at the expense of the house. As the author of the interesting account of Durham Priory says, " If the master did see that any of them (the novices) were apt to learning, and did apply his book and had a pregnant wit withal, then the master did let the prior have intelligence. Then, straightway after he was sent to Oxford to school, and there did learn to study divinity." *
Moreover, it should be remembered that it was by means of the assistance received from the monastic and conventual houses that a very large number of student9 were enabled to receive their education at the universities at all. The episcopal registers testify as to this useful function of the old religious corporations. The serious diminution in the number of candidates for ordination, and the no less lamentable depletion of the national universities, consequent upon the dissolution of these bodies, attest what had previously been done by them for the education of the pastoral clergy. This may be admitted without any implied approval of the monastic system as it existed. The fact will be patent to all who will examine into the available evidence: and the serious diminution in the number of clergy must be taken as part of the price paid by the nation for securing the triumph of the Reformation principles. The state of Oxford during, say, the reign of Edward VI., is attested by the degree lists. In the year 1547 and in the year 1550 no student at all graduated, and the historian of the university has described the lamentable state to which the schools were reduced. If additional testimony be needed, it may be found in a sermon of Roger Edgworth, preached in Queen Mary's reign. Speaking of works of piety and pity, much needed in those days, the speaker advocates charity to the poor students at the two national universities. "Very pity," he says, "moves me to exhort you to mercy and pity on the poor students in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. They were never so few in number, and yet those that are left are ready to run abroad into the world and give up their study for very need. Iniquity is so abundant that charity is all cold. A man would have pity did he but hear the lamentable complaints that I heard lately when amongst them. Would to God I were able to relieve them. This much I am sure of: in my opinion you cannot bestow your charity better." He then goes on to instance his own case as an example of what used to be done in Catholic times to help the student in his education. "My parents sent me to school in my youth, and my good lord William Smith, sometime Bishop of Lincoln, (was) my bringer up and 'exhibitour,' first at Banbury in the Grammar School with Master John Stanbridge, and then at Oxford till I was a Master of Arts and able to help myself."
1 J. Venn, Gonville and Cains College, p. 18. Ibid., p. 23. * Ibid., p. 21. 4 Ibid., p. xviii.
He pleads earnestly that some of his hearers may be inspired to help the students in the distress to which they are now reduced, and so help to restore learning to the position from which it had fallen in late years.1
Of the lamentable decay of learning as such, the inevitable, and perhaps necessary, consequence of the religious controversies which occupied men's minds and thoughts to the exclusion of all else, it is, of course, not the place here to dwell upon. All that it is necessary to do is to point out that the admitted decay and decline argues a previous period of greater life and vigour. Even as early as 1545 the Cambridge scholars petitioned the king for an extension of privileges, as they feared the total destruction of learning. To endeavour to save Oxford, it was ordered that every clergyman having a benefice to the amount of ^'1oo, should out of his living find at least one scholar at the university. Bishop Latimer, in Edward VI.'s reign, looked back with regret to past times "when they helped the scholars," for since then " almost no man helpeth to maintain them." "Truly," he said, " it is a pitiful thing to see the schools so neglected. Schools are not maintained, scholars have not exhibitions. . . . Very few there be that help poor scholars. . . . It would pity a man's heart to hear what I hear of the state of Cambridge; what it is in Oxford I cannot tell. . . . I think there be at this day (a.d. 1550) ten thousand students less than there were within these twenty years." In the year 1550, it will be remembered, there was apparently no degree of any kind taken at the university of Oxford.
The fact appears patent on this page of history, that from the time when minds began to exercise them1 Sermons (1557). f- 54
selves on the thorny subjects which grew up round about the "great divorce" question, the bright promises of the revival of learning, which Erasmus had seen in England, faded away. Greek, it has been said, may conveniently stand for learning generally; and Greek studies apparently disappeared in the religious turmoils which distracted England. With Mary's accession, some attempt was made to recover lost ground, or at least re-enkindle the lamp of learning. When Sir Thomas Pope refounded Durham College at Oxford under the name of Trinity, he was urged by Cardinal Pole, to whom he submitted the draft of his statutes, "to order Greek to be more taught there than I have provided. This purpose," he says, "I like well, but I fear the times will not bear it now. I remember when I was a young scholar at Eton, the Greek tongue was growing apace, the study of which is now of late much decayed."'
The wholesale destruction of the great libraries in England is an indirect indication of the new spirit which rose at this period, and which helped for a time to put an end to the renaissance of letters. When Mary came to the throne, and quieter times made the scheme possible, it was seriously proposed to do something to preserve the remnant of ancient and learned works that might be left in England after the wholesale destruction of the preceding years. The celebrated Dr. Dee drew up a supplication to the queen, stating that "among the many most lamentable displeasures that have of late happened in this realm, through the subverting of religious houses and the dissolution of other assemblies of godly and learned men, it has been, and among all learned students shall for ever be, judged not the least calamity, the spoil and destruction of so many and so notable libraries wherein lay the treasure of all antiquity, and the everlasting seeds of continual excellency in learning within this realm. But although in
those days many a precious jewel and ancient monument did utterly perish (as at Canterbury that wonderful work of the sage and eloquent Cicero, De Republica, and in many other places the like), yet if in time great and speedy diligence be showed, the remnants of such incredible a store, as well of writers theological as in all the other liberal sciences, might yet be saved and recovered, which now in your Grace's realm being dispersed and scattered, yea, and many of them in unlearned men's hands, still even yet (in this time of reconciliation) daily perish; and perchance are purposely by some envious person enclosed in walls or buried in the ground."
The scheme which accompanied this letter in 1556 was for the formation of a national library, into which were to be gathered the original manuscripts still left in England, which could be purchased or otherwise obtained, or at least a copy of such as were in private hands, and which the owners would not part with. Beyond this, John Dee proposes that copies of the best manuscripts in Europe should be secured. He mentions specially the libraries of the Vatican, and of St. Mark's, Venice, those at Florence, Bologna, and Vienna, and offers to go himself, if his expenses are paid, to secure the transcripts.1 The plan, however, came to nothing, and with Mary's death, the nation was once more occupied in the religious controversies, which again interfered with any real advance in scholarship.
One other point must not be overlooked. Before the rise of the religious dissensions caused England to isolate herself from the rest of the Catholic world, English students were to be found studying in considerable numbers at the great centres of learning in Europe. An immediate result of the change was to put a stop to this, which had served to keep the country in touch with the best work being done on the Continent, and the result of which had been seen in
1 Ilearne, John of Glastonbury, ii. p. 490; from MS. Cott. Vitellius c. vii.