Literary Landmarks of Oxford/University
THE college, whose legal title is "The College of the Great Hall of the University," appears to have no tangible reason for its boast of long and of royal descent. It claims Alfred the Great as its Founder. It contains a bust of Alfred, as its Founder. On more than one occasion, when it was to its benefit to appear as a Royal Foundation, it has appealed to the Crown and to the Courts. And, in June, 1872, it celebrated what it called its thousandth birthday, by giving a dinner-party at which the Chancellor of the Exchequer of Great Britain spoke of Alfred as a man ahead of his time, and drank to Alfred's memory as the begetter of the Institution. The first benefactor of whom there is any authentic account was one William of Durham, who died in the middle of the Thirteenth Century; and the present buildings, although they look much more ancient, date back only to the middle of a century which was four centuries later.
Leonard Digges, chiefly remembered now by his lines prefixed to the 1623 Folio of Shakspere's Plays—
"Be sure our Shakspere thou canst never die,
But crowned with Lawrell live eternally,"
was a member of University College, as a Commoner, in 1603. He was esteemed, by those who knew him, as a great Master of the English language; a perfect Understander of French and Spanish; a good Poet, and no mean Orator. He died in Oxford; and, according to Wood, "he was buried in that little old chapel of University College (sometime standing near the middle of the present Quadrangle) [This was written about 1675] which was pulled down in 1668."
Edward Herbert, of Cherbury, according to his own statement, was only twelve years of age when he entered University College; and he remembered that at his first coming he disputed in logic, and made, in Greek oftener than in Latin, the exercises required by the college. Then, as Wood says, "he took himself to travel."
Gerard Langbaine, the Younger, Dramatic Biographer and Critic, was, in birth, in education, in life and in death, a thorough Oxford man. He was born in the Parish of St. Peter's-in-the-East; his father, bearing the same name, being Provost of Queen's. He went to school in and about Oxford; he entered University College as a Gentleman Commoner in 1672; he died in Oxford twenty years later, and he was "buried within the body of St. Peter's-in-the-East."
At college Wood tells us that the young Langbaine was put under the charge of a good tutor; yet by the fondness of his indulgent mother, then a widow, he became idle, a great jockey, married, evidently at an early age, and ran out of a good part of the estate descended to him. Wood adds that "Being a man of good parts he afterwards took up [which is Anthony Wooden for braced up], lived for some years a retired life, and improved much his nature and the gay geny that he had to dramatic poetry."
George Horne, Commentator on the Psalms, won the Maidstone Scholarship at University College in 1745; and he was graduated in 1749, to take a Fellowship at Magdalen, where the greater part of the rest of his life was spent.
The extraordinary capacity and precocious genius of William Jones, the Orientalist, which were so marked at Harrow, bore rich fruits at Oxford. He became a Commoner at University College in the spring of 1764, a Scholar in the autumn of the same year, and a Fellow two years later. While there he maintained himself as private tutor in a distinguished family, which gave him happy opportunities to be taken abroad in the Long Vacations, where he was enabled to improve his knowledge of foreign languages. Besides being fluent in German, in Spanish, and in Portuguese, he mastered Arabic, Persian, and Hebrew; and at the same time he shared with his pupils in their lessons in dancing, riding, and fencing.
It is refreshing, now and then, to read of a distinguished man of letters who did not distinguish himself, at Oxford, by being sent out of his college, or by leaving it, voluntarily, without the degree which he could not obtain.
Shelley went up to University College in 1810; and he went down, involuntarily, within a twelve-month. On account of a pamphlet he wrote upon "The Necessity of Atheism," his preceptors did not see "The Necessity of Shelley"; and the author of the pamphlet was summarily expelled
He is now represented at University, however, as a recumbent, nude figure, thrown up by the waves; and done in dull cold marble, by the scu1ptor Onslow Ford.
Shelley's room, according to Murray, was on the first floor of the staircase on the right of the Hall; and, according to the "Memoir of Shelley" by T. S. Hogg, it was littered with books, papers, philosophical instruments, air-pumps, electric machines, clothes, boots, pistols, bags, boxes, lamps, and crockery. Carpets and table-linen were burned, and spotted, and stained; and two piles of books supported the shovel and the tongs. His friend and chum and biographer, Hogg, says of their life there: "Oxford is a seat in which learning sits very comfortably, well thrown back, as in an easy-chair, and sleeps so soundly that neither you nor I nor anyone else can wake her." If the picture of his apartment is a correct one, Shelley himself must have had a queer idea of comfort. But for all that, Hogg declares that the residence at Oxford was exceedingly delightful to Shelley; and on all accounts most beneficial. There seems to be no reason now why this beneficial residence should have been so short. And it is a curious commentary upon Oxford ways that his Alma Mater, rejecting him in life, should, to-day, boast of him, in a sculptured way, as one of the most distinguished of her sons. The Hall-porter—for a shilling—will show you the windows of his room (No. One Staircase, First Flight Up). But it has now become part of the junior Common Room; and the tongs and the shovel stand, to-day, on their proper foundation, with no air-pumps or pistols in evidence.
Shelley and Hogg left Oxford together, and it is reported that nobody, then, regretted their departure, although regrets were afterwards expressed—by some! It is also reported that Hogg said to the magnates of University: "If Shelley is an atheist then I am an atheist." And that one of the Dons said, in reply: "No, sir! you are only a fool!"
The Hall-porter can tell you, unfortunately, nothing of Arthur Stanley's room at University College. And no persons now seem to know where they were.
It will be remembered, by the way, that Tom Brown wrote to Arthur as a Cambridge man.
Stanley, a Balliol man of Oxford, became a Tutor of University in 1838, and a Fellow in 1840; giving the best of his time and of himself, says one of his biographers, to firing his pupils with some of his own enthusiasm. His colleagues were stimulated by his example; and his College rose to a high position in the University. He left Oxford in 1851.
A youngster quite as precocious as Horne was John Connington, who repeated a thousand lines of Virgil to his father before he was twelve; and who, when he was thirteen, invested one pound thirteen shillings, out of his own pocket-money, for a copy of Homer. This was a number of years before John Fiske, a boy of about the same age, made, by his disagreeable drudgery, money enough to purchase his copy of Liddell and Scott's Greek Lexicon, in Middletown, Connecticut.
Connington was matriculated at University College in June, 1843, but almost immediately he obtained a "Demieship" at Magdalen. He returned to University, however, in 1846 with a Scholarship. He became a Fellow in 1849; won a First Class and the Chancellor's Prize; and in 1854 he filled the chair of the Latin Language and Literature. He began his famous edition of "Virgil" there in 1852, when he was twenty-seven.