Terræ-filius: or, the Secret History of the University of Oxford/Dedication

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To the Reverend

John Mather, D. D.

President of Corpus Christi College, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

Reverend Sir,

There being a demand for a second edition of Teræ Filius, you cannot be suprized at this address; nor need I to make any apology for prefixing your name to a book, in which you have already interested yourself in so publick and signal a manner. I was, I confess, somewhat astonished, when I first heard of your Prohibition, it being an honour which I little expected at your hands; for I concluded that you would not condescend to rank so mean a performance as mine amongst those noble and shining volumes, which have experienced the same and worse severity from your learned Predecessors; it would be needless to recollect instances of this in former ages, or to put you in mind of those glorious doctrines of Liberty, which were, together with their authors, delivered over to Satan by your famous Decree.

But I cannot help observing to you, that Books of another kind have sometimes found no better reception at Oxford; particularly the late famous Antony Wood's Athenæ, and the present laborious Mr. Hearne's edition of Camden's Elizabeth; the former of which (though it was professedly written in honour of the University, which it will always effectually preserve; yet) was suppressed or condemned for relating, in an impartial manner, some historical facts concerning the great Earl of Clarendon; and the latter was prosecuted (for it could not be prohibited, all the copies being subscribed for) under pretence that the preface contained something which reflected upon the memory of King Henry the Eighth; but, if the Reader will give himself the trouble to look into it, the true reason will soon appear; and he will find that the author might have been as free as he pleased with the King's Highness, had be not offended,[1] some of their more powerful Highnesses the Heads of Houses, by obtruding upon them some unseasonable advice against drinking, gaming, and luxurious living, which the immortal Queen Elizabeth gave to their predecessors in her time; for which, at their instigation, he was so cruelly harrassed by the then Vice-Chancellor, Doctor Baron, in his Court, that had that Magistrate continued much longer in his office, or had not Mr Hearne been well supported by the munificence of some great men at London, that learned and laborious Antiquary would have been torn to pieces; or, at least, intirely disabled to proceed in his studies. The Reader may expect a farther account of this, when I come to consider the case of Academical Prohibitions, and the nature of the Vice-Chancellor's court more distinctly in some future essays. In the mean time, Sir, methinks you are too good in putting me into such company, and, under the disguise of censuring, have paid them a compliment much greater than they deserve.

But, if you sincerely designed this as a mark of your displeasure, and did it with a cordial intent of suppressing my book, I am still more suprized that you should not express the one and prosecute the other in a different manner; since the examples of many ages, and your own learned-experience must have convinced you, that these ends are much more effectually obtained by silence and contempt, than by publick censures and prohibitions, which (as[2] Bishop Taylor well observes) will always be found to inhance the value of a book, in which there is nothing vicious or immoral: and this, I am sure, cannot be proved to be the case of mine.

Whatever disservice therefore you may imagine to have done me in my reputation, you have done a real service to my bookseller, who is not, I'll assure you, at all backward in his acknowledgements of this favour; nay, I sometimes think him too officious in his professions of gratitude; for whereas, like all other authors, I would willingly believe, that the great encouragement, which the town has given my book, proceeds from its own intrinsick merit; it is, you may think, no small mortification to hear him constantly drinking your health, and strongly intimating, that he looks upon the quick sale, which it has met with, to be less owing to my abilities as a writer, than to that publick notice, by which you have distinguished it as a censor.

I presume however, (even under the supposition of your being in earnest) that you will so far agree with the rest of the world as to allow that, in whatsoever manner your prohibition may discourage the sale of any book, yet it ought not to be esteem'd a full confutation of the matter which it contains, or a convincing argument that its author has neither integrity nor understanding.

I must beg leave to observe farther (according to the same supposition) that you seem to be guilty of some Partiality in thus publickly branding and forbidding my book, as a libel upon the University, and suffering another to be still openly vended within your jurisdiction, which, I think, I have demonstrated (and, as I am inform'd, to the almost universal satisfaction of all parties) to contain the same reflections on the university in general, besides several grievous imputations and notorious falshoods upon some particular members of it, which I will defy that learned author to retort upon me. I say, Sir, it does not look altogether so impartial, nor does it suit with the justice of your character, or the former tenor of your life, to make so wide a distinction where there is no difference; or rather, where the difference is so palpably in my favour!

I do not mention this from any uneasiness which I feel upon this occasion; but only out of regard to your own character. I confess, indeed, that I had much rather have your approbation than your sensure, and enjoy the favour of my dear mother, if I could gain it by just methods, than always live under her displeasure; but if that is not to be obtain'd, I shall be always ready to shew my obedience in submitting to any censures, which you or she shall please to fix upon me; nor shall any treatment, however hard, discourage me from pursuing the interest of true learning, and the honour of that antient University.

Notwithstanding that this has been my chief study for these several years past, yet I have been so often misrepresented by my enemies, and amwithal so diffident of my own merit, that I almost dispair of ever seeing my designs looked upon in a true light, and my writings understood in their genuine sense. I intended, by Terræ-Filius, to justify the University, by exposing the practices of her unworthy members, and endevouring to reform her corruptions. This, it seems, is looked upon as the same with exposing the University itself, and is accordingly expelled, by your authority, as a nuisance. In the same manner I design this Dedication as a mark of Respect; but I shall not be in the least surprized, if what I really intend for a compliment, should, by your better judgement, be condemn'd as a libel.

I am informed that the learned author of University Education is pleased to speak with great contempt of my Remarks upon it; and defies such a Boy, as I am, to blemish his establish'd reputation. I must confess, indeed, that I am not yet altogether fifty years of age, nor have I resided, as he has done, above one and thirty years in the University of Oxford; but, I think, however, that I am past my first childhood, and I hope not entered into my second; when some men expose themselves more than in their first. I must suppose from hence, that the Doctor esteems writings according to the age of their authors, and does not think any performance worthy of his notice, which is not father'd by one, who can boast of as many years and as few teeth as himself; which is somewhat like a Gentleman, in this town, who will not fight any man, whoever piqu'd in homour to do it, who cannot produce as much money upon the field of battle as he can do.

But it is very unlucky for this magisterial Author, that the publick are and will be the judges of what both He and I have produced. I appeal to them, and believe they will agree with me, that, whatever I may be, there are several points in my Appendix, which it behoves an honest writer to clear up; for I do still maintain that his book advances the same doctrines with mine, and consequently, that if one be a libel upon the University, so must also the other. I farther alledge, that, besides this agreement between us in some points, there are in his book diverse falsifications of fact, illusive arguments and injurious calumnies, which, according to the principles of common honest, conscience, and religion, he ought to detract; unless he can prove, which, I once more defy him to do, that I have unjustly fixed this charge upon him. If therefore he persists in doing neither of these, I must make good my promise to the publick, by examining farther into this matter, and shall, perhaps, bring some other points to light, which will make him ashamed of his conduct; if he has not quite out-liv'd all sense of that noble passion.

But however he may act in this affair, and superciliously despise, what he knows he cannot answer; yet the world, Sir, expects a different manner of procedure from you, both from that excellent disposition which you have hitherto shewn upon all occasions, and especially from that publick character, with which you are invested; I need not acquaint you, Sir, that it is the duty of every Magistrate, and more particularly of one, who is, by his office, a learned and religious Magistrate, to act equally and impartially, as well as justly and candidly in all his proceedings; for which reason you ought (and I doubt not you will still do) to proscribe both our books, if you judge is neccessary to suppress either: for to act otherwise, will be look'd upon as an instance of the same partiality which has been lately complained of in the cafe of Dr. Wills, who was strenuously opposed in taking his Degree (which he obtained at last, with much difficulty, by a majority of only three or four) and was by many persons denied the common favour of accumulating, the very same day, by the very same convocation, that the same favour was unanimously granted to the worthy Doctor Wintle. I do not mention this as any accusation against you, who, I am informed, did Dr. Wills all the service in your power; but to shew the partiality of some men, and the spirit, that still reigns in the University; which may be fully gather'd from the answer of one (amongst a large cluster of zealots) to a gentleman who modestly ask'd his reasons for acting so furiously against Dr. Wills, which he very ingenuously returned in these words; what Reasons, said he, have I against him? did not he decypher the Bishop of Rochester's letters?

I cannot be induced, upon any account, to believe that a person of your great judgement, integrity and candour, would rashly præjudge any book, and condemn it without reading, even upon the strongest sollicitations and most pressing importunities of any man whatsoever; for you cannot be insensible that all things here below are subject to misinterpretations and false lights; and therefore would not fix so publick a brand upon my book upon hearsay, nor censure it in this manner, without giving it the most serious and deliberate purusal. I cannot, I say, believe this, notwithstanding the strongest assertions and most plausible arguments, which I have met with to the contrary.

As to what I have written, in common with the Doctor aforesaid, concerning the University, I am so far from being convinced, that I have said too much, that I am daily advertised by several friends and correspondents from Oxford, that I have omitted many particulars, which it is proper to animadvert upon, in order to compleat the Secret History of that place; and I have therefore, in compliance with their request, resolved to resume this work, and continue to publish some part of it every Act-Term, till the whole is finished, and the subject fully exhausted: so that although, it has, of late years, and especially since his Majesty's accession, been thought expedient (for several good reasons, no doubt) to lay aside the solemnity of a Publick Act, and it is very uncertain when Terræ-Filius will be able to regain his antient privileges in the Sheldonian Theatre; yet I shall, in some measure, supply that defect, and do my particular duty to the University. The Reader may therefore expect to hear from me next summer, and be assured that I shall not, from time to time, want sufficient materials and assistance for that purpose.

I will conclude this address with my prayers to Almighty God, so to direct your heart in all your proceedings, that you may never deviate from the cause of truth nor your own natural integrity; that you may never derogate from your high trust and the publick honour of the University (over which you preside) by a blind and partial zeal for any particular, adopted opinions, or from a personal prejudice against any man whatsoever!

I beg leave, with these prayers, and the sincerest respect for you person and character, to subscribe my self, reverend Sir,

Your most devoted,
humble servant,
Terræ-Filius.

  1. Viz. Dr. Gardiner, Charlet, D—l···ne, C--b, &c.
  2. Vide, Terræ Filius No 17.