Literary Landmarks of Oxford/New
"The College of St. Marie of Wynchester, in Oxenford," which has celebrated its semi-millennial year, and which was founded by William of Wykeham in 1379, has been called" New College" for five centuries, because, as Ingram, in his "Memorials," states, it formed a New Era in academical annals. There are in Oxford six colleges of more ancient date, but these, when New was new, were little more than Halls. Merton was a marked step forward in the modern University system, as it exists in Oxford to-day; but its Founder left the system in a state of transition, which the New College, with its wealth and grandeur of architecture, and its mode of imparting knowledge, brought to a state of what was considered culmination at the end of the Fourteenth Century. And, as it was the first to force its members to go to Mass daily, it was the parent of what now is called Compulsory, or Required, Chapel.
New College was good to the poor and to the needy. The kitchen-book for 1398 shows that "of a Sunday came two Friars Minors to dine with the Fellows, also the Farmer of Heyford; and two tilers came to dine; and to supper two paviours of Nettleybed."
Great were the contrasts between the manners and customs of Balliol during the first decade of the Nineteenth Century, as Sir William Hamilton described them, and the customs and habits of the undergraduates of the same institution a hundred years later. Greater still were the differences between college life in 1807, in Hamilton's time, and college life at the end of the Fourteenth Century, when William of Wykeham set down the rules for the government of New. He barred amusements of all kinds, not only "the shooting with arrows, stones, or other missiles," but even games of ball. And he prohibited, especially, "all dancing, wrestling or other incautious or inordinate games"—in Chapel! The Scholars rose at five, or six, in the morning, according to the season of the year, and they dined at ten A.M. Supper was at five in the afternoon; and, naturally, they went early to bed. No allusion is made to breakfast of any kind or at any hour; and there seems to be no trace of breakfast at any of the colleges until toward the end of the next two hundred years, when men began to go to the butteries for a slice of bread and a pint of beer, which generally were carried to their own rooms, and there consumed in the society of other men, as a foundation of strength for the day's work. This Mr. Hastings Rashdall believes to be the origin of the "Breakfast Parties" which Tom Brown and Verdant Green enjoyed so much, and which are still the pleasant fashion in Oxford.
Anthony Wood was in his tenth year only when, in 1641, he went from a Preparatory Latin School to the New College School, "situated between the west part of the Chapel and the east part of the Cloister" (to modernize the spelling). And there he was frequently birched; for in 1641 there was a notion at Oxford that sparing the rod was apt to spoil the college-child, and even the college-man.
Edward Young was to have entered New College as a student upon leaving Winchester, but no vacancy occurred until after he had passed the age limit—eighteen. However, he was accepted as an independent member, in October, 1703, and he resided in the Warden's lodgings until he should be qualified for a Fellowship at All Souls, which he received in 1708, removing for a short interval in the meantime to Corpus Christi.
"Young, during his college life," says one of his biographers, "had much of a sublime genius, though without common sense. So that his genius having no guide, was perpetually liable to degenerate into bombast. This made him pass a foolish youth, the sport of peers and poets." Another writer reports that Young, when he was in the agony of composition, was in the habit of shutting up his windows and lighting his lamps and candles, even when the sun was in full blaze outside. And it is added that skulls and bones and instruments of death were among the ornaments of his study. All this may not imply the possession in any great degree of the quality of common sense, but it was, perhaps, rather a fitting preparation for the composition, in later years, of "The Night Thoughts On Life, Death, and Immortality, On Time, Death, and Friendship."
Sydney Smith went up from Winchester in 1789. They always "go up" to Oxford, and they invariably "go down," when they are not "sent down," to any point of the compass, be it in the neighborhood of Edinburgh, Rome, or Greenland's Icy Mountains. So Sydney Smith "went up" to New College when he was in his eighteenth year; but it seems, notwithstanding his subsequent wonderful wit and brilliancy of conversation, that he made no particular impression upon his tutors and fellow-students at Oxford, either in the College or out of it.
His daughter, and biographer, Lady Holland, writes: "New College was then chiefly renowned for the quantity of port wine consumed by its Fellows; but the very slender income allowed Sydney by his father, perhaps luckily for his health [and his brains], did not permit him to indulge in such habits. As he was too proud to accept what he could not return, he lived much out of society; and he thus lost one of the advantages of college to a poor man—that of making private friends."
Smith gained his Fellowship at Oriel at the end of his second year at New; and the annual income attached to the position, one hundred pounds, not only made him independent of his father, but enabled him to pay a school-boy debt of thirty pounds, contracted to his brother, years before.
This shows us the pleasant, honest, self-respecting side of a many-sided man who was always honest and self-respecting, and who made, and kept, many private friends, a large majority of whom still love him, although they never saw him in the flesh.