Terræ-filius: or, the Secret History of the University of Oxford/Terræ Filius No. XI

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Terræ-Filius. No. XI.

——vocantur
Ergo in concilium proceres——
Atque utinam his potius Nugis tota illa dedisset
Tempora sevitia.

Juv.

Wednesday, February 22.

OF all the sumptuous Edifices which of late years have shot up in Oxford, and adorned the habitation of the muses, the new Printing-house, commonly called Clarendon's Printing-house, srikes me with particular pleasure and veneration: it is, I do assure my reader, a most magnificent and stately pile of building, suitable to those great ends for which it was raised. This is the midwife in ordinary to Alma Mater, which delivers the profound genius's of the university of all those voluminous offsprings, to which the common wealth of letters is so much indebted and obliged.

Concerning the origination of this useful fabrick, divers rumours are gone forth; some say, the money, which was appropriated for this end, being embezzel'd, it was carried on at the charge of the university treasury: others, that certain books were sold for the fourth part of the prime cost, to defray this expence; which procedure was, I suppose, founded upon this politick supposition, that when they had got a new Printing-house, they could never want new books; but by what means soever it was built, my lord Clarendon has the honour, and we, his happy posterity, the invaluable benefit of it.

I should think it an undertaking well worthy the laborious Mr. Hearne, to give the world an account, from year to year, of the many incomparable tomes, which issue from that illustrious press. This, I apprehend, would do great honour to the unversity, and to its learned authors, since the catalogue would not be crouded with any of those heretical, pernicious, and free-thinking tracts, which are the noisom spawn of other modern presses: we should find there no ill-meaning Essays upon human Understanding, no Oceana's, no Hypotheses of Liberty, no descants upon Original Contracts, nor enquiries into the State of Nature, no Appeals to the Laity and common Sense in matters of religion, no vindications of Conscience and private Judgment, no defences of Resistance in any possible cases, no apologies for the Revolution, and the present Government, &c. to sully the Academical Types, and reproach the solemn Imprimatur of the unversity——New, accurate Editions of primitive Fathers, and antient Chronicles, or modern sermons, and long systems of Logick, Metaphysicks, and School-divinity are the solid productions of this august Typographeum——Such are the effects, and such the advantages of restraining the licence of the press! How would letters flourish? how would arts revive? how would religion lift up her awful front? and how would the church rejoyce, if such a wholesome check were put upon the press throughout the world?

But Printing is not the only, nor the principal use, for which these stupendous stone-walls were erected; for here is that famous apartment, by idle wits and buffoons nick-named Golgotha, i.e. the place of Sculls or Heads of colleges and halls, where they meet and debate upon all extraordinary affairs, which occur within the precincts of their jurisdiction. This room of state, or academical council-chamber is adorn'd with a fine pourtrait of her late majesty Queen ANNE, which was presented to this assembly by a jolly fox-hunter in the neighbourhood, out of the tender regard which he bore to her pious memory, and to the reverend Sculls of the university, who preside there; for which benefaction they have admitted him into their company, and allow him the honour to smoak a pipe with them twice a week.

This Room is also handsomely wainscotted; which is said to have been done by order of a certain worthy gentleman, who went to Oxford for a Degree without any claim or recommendation; and therefore, to supply that defect, promised to become a benefactor, if they would make him a graduate; accordingly, as it is said, workmen were employed in great haste, and the Sculls, lest they should be behind hand in gratitude, in as great haste, clapp'd a Degree upon his back; but the story unfortunately concludes, that when the Graduate was created, the benefactor ran away, and left the good-natur'd Sculls to pay the joiners themselves.

But what is it to me, who paid for it? or by what means it came to make such a figure, as it now does, both within doors and without? It becomes me better, as an historian, to acquaint posterity what uses it is put to, and what momentous affairs are transacted within its walls. I ask pardon therefore, and proceed.

Here as I said before, all the weighty business of the university is settled: if any sermon is preached, if any publick speech or oration is deliver'd in derogation of the church, or the university, or in vindication of the protestant succession, or the bishop of Bangor, hither the delinquent is summon'd to answer for his offence, and receive condign punishment; as Mr. Maurice, fellow of Jesus college, lately did. In short, all matters of importance are cognizable before this tribunal; I will instance only one, but that very remarkable.

A day or two before the late Queen died, a letter was brought to the post-office at Oxford, with these words upon the outside of it; We hear the Queen is dead, which, being suspected to contain something equally mischievous within, was stopt, and carried to the vice-ch—ll—r, who immediately summon'd his brethren to meet him at Golgotha about a matter of the utmost consequence: when they were assembled together, be produced the letter before them; and having open'd it, read the contents of it with an audible voice; which were as follow:

St. J—n's College, July 30. 1714.

Honoured Mother,

I Receaved the Cheshear chease you sent ma buy Roben Joulthead, our waggonor, and itt is a vary gud one, and I thanck you for itt, mother, with all my hart and soale, and I pomis to be a gud boy, and mind my Boock, as yow dezired ma. I am a fising lad, mother, and have gott prefarment in college allready; for owr fextoun beeing gonn intoo Heryfoordshear to see his frends, he has left mee his depoty, which is a vary good pleace. I have nothing to complayne off, onely that John Fulkes the tailor scores me upp a penney strong a moost every day; but I'le put a stopp to it shortly, I worrant ye: I beleave I sholl do vary well, if you wull but send me t'other crowne; for I have spent all my mony at my fresh treat, (as they caul itt,) which is an abomminabel Ecstortion, but I coud not help itt, when I cum intoo the cuntry, I'le tell yow all how it is. So no more att this present; but my sarvice to our parson, and my love to brother Nick and sister Kate; and so I rest

Your ever dutiful and obedent Son,

Benjamin Numps.

When he had done reading, the Sculls look'd very gravely upon one another for some time, till at length Dr. Faustus, late of New College, got up and spoke to them in the following manner.

Gentlemen,

The words of this letter are so very plain and intelligible in themselves, that I wish there is no latent and mysterious meaning in them. How do we know what he means by the Cheese, which he thanks his mother for? or how do we know that he means nothing else by it, but a Cheese? Then, he desires his mother to send him t'other Crown; now what, I conjure you all to tell me, can he mean by that other Crown but the Elector of Hanover; especially since he tells us on the outside of his letter, that the Queen is dead? These Rebels and Roundheads are very sly in every thing they do: they know we have a strict eye over then; and therefore, if this Benjamin Nump should be one of them, and have any such ill designs in his head, to be sure, if he expected to succeed, he would not express himself to be understood. So that, with all submission to my reverend Brethren, I think we ought to sift this matter thoroughly, for fear of the worst,——

and sat down.

Then Father William rose up, and apply'd himself, with his usual majesty, to Dr. Faustus, in these words.

Brother Faustus

What a notable fine Speech hast thou made. Thy wise noddle is always finding out mischief where there is none meant; thou art always jealous of plots, and crying out murder before thou art hurt. Who, but you, would ever have dreamt of treason in a Cheshire-cheese? I warrant you, you smell'd a rat in it. Come, come, be advis'd brother Faustus, thou art a very cunning fellow, we all know; but don't let thy great knowledge and sagacity exert itself upon every petty occasion; don't think thy wise character obliges thee to start difficulties where no creature besides can possibly see any. As to this Ben. Numps, I know him very well: why, he was enter'd but t'other day a servitor in my college: poor fellow! I'll engage for him he is no plot-monger, as a less Conjurer than you, brother Faustus, might have easily seen, by his sending his news on the ouside of his letter. Heresy and Rebellion are not his consitution. However, if you think fit, we'll send for him, and reprimand him for his folly.

Then a beadle was dispatch'd for Mr. Numps, who appeared, and being rebuked by the committee, acknowledg'd his fault full of sorrow and contrition, and humbly ask'd pardon for the same; which, without much opposition, was granted; and he was thereupon dismiss'd; as was likewise this high and mighty assembly.

It is said that Mr. Numps, who is since enter'd into holy orders, lives somewhere about town, and in an excellent preacher——of Dean Young's sermons.