Historical account of Lisbon college/Chapter 5

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CHAPTER V.

The tenth President was the Rev. Mathias Watkinson, who succeeded Dr. Barnesley in 1672. His talents and virtues were not less eminent than those of his predecessor, and he equally enjoyed the esteem of all who knew him. He was born in London, and entered the College at the close of the year 1647, when only thirteen years and six months old. From that time to his death during the long period of sixty-three years, he never quitted the establishment. On the conclusion of his studies he entered among the Superiors in quality of Procurator, filled successively the Chairs of Philosophy and Theology in both of which he gave several courses of lectures, was made Confessarius, Vice-President, and eventually President, succeeding on the return of Dr. Barnesley to England. In this office he continued for thirty-four years, until by an order of the three Vicars Apostolic then residing in England, he resigned it into the hands of the Rev. Edward Jones. In a life exclusively academical there can occur but a few incidents of general interest. All the particulars which the Annals afford of Father Watkinson are confined to the accounts of the success which he met with in frequent public Theses over which he presided and to the high enconiums which they bestow on his mild and paternal administration. He died of a paralytic stroke in the year 1710, three years after he had retired from the government of the House. In his will he made the College heir to all his property.

During the long Presidentship of Father Watkinson and that of his predecessor Dr. Barnesley, the high reputation which the College had won for itself was maintained by several distinguished members who were educated within its walls, and who were either sent upon the Mission or continued in the service of the College. Among others may be mentioned Hesketh, Barlow, Goodin, Bromwich and Gother. A short account of each of these sons of Alma Mater cannot but prove interesting. Roger Hesketh, a native of Lancashire, after completing his course of studies, rendered important services to the College in the various situations of Procurator, Professor of Philosophy, Confessarius and Professor of Theology. He also secured the distinction of the Doctor s Cap. Returning to England in 1686 he laboured assiduously in the conversion of souls till 1715, when, to borrow the expression of the Annals, "full of days he fell asleep in the Lord." In a manuscript collection of Latin verses composed by various students of the house, which fortunately escaped the general wreck at the time of the French invasion, there is one of Dr. Hesketh's juvenile performances in praise of his native county.

Those who retrace their College days, will remember with what warmth the merits of their respective counties were, by the students, often canvassed and maintained. Probably some dispute of this kind gave occasion to this youthful effusion, which would do credit, however, to a much more mature scholar. The following are the first thirty lines of the composition, which is too long to be inserted entire.

Urbes si quæ olim nomenque decusque tulere
Vitrea quas placido recrearunt flumina lapsu,
Et quas umbra silens nemorum vestivit, et altis
Queis static portum tribuit benefida carinis,
Quasque ampli circum muri, foveæque profundæ
Vallarunt fossâ, quarum virtute decora
Lætantur cives, memores tolerantque dolores
Pro Patriâ, quorum simplex prudentia veram
Impendente fidem letho selegit, honestis
Moribus et vita populo documenta dedere:
Cur stupidus taceo Nobis quse causa silendi?

Cur non Lancastrum digno célebramus honore
Eloquioque pari meritis! prætantia cujus
Splendidior Phœbo est, rutilo præstantior auro.
Quin libet, aggredior dignoque attollere cantu
Indignus, patriumque solum super astra referre
Conabor, cœptis precor aspirate faventes.
Terra potens veterum monumentis clara parentum,
Clara viris strenuis, et regum prole Celebris.
Non Canis exurit sitientes fervidus agnos
Nec madidus nimias diffundit aquarius undas
Florida sed tellus votis respondit avari
Fructibus agricolœ gregibusque ministrat obesis,
Pascua, pingue solum, fontes hic murmure grato
Dimanant, lætoque aspergunt ubere campos:
Hic nemorum sublime decus, semperque virentum
Pulcher honos pratorum, hic largi copia lactis.
Adsunt et tremuli fœcundo gramina rivi
Lapsu lambentes, hic dulcis ab illice mellis
Vis fluit, Hyblæo dulcescunt nectare rami.

The two last lines of the piece are:

Quid opus est multis? melior nee justior ulla
Gens pietate manet, nee bello major et armis.

Roger Hesketh, cecinit.

During the same period an incident happened, which gave occasion to the composition by students of the House of four Latin Epigrams, all of them, fortunately, preserved. At the Convent of the Theatines of St. Cajetan which stands in the immediate vicinity of the main entrance of the College, an image of St. Andrew Avellinus was reported to have shed tears. This statement so far gained credit, as to become, at the time, the common subject of conversation, and a prize was at length offered to the person who should celebrate the fact in the best Latin epigram. Four of the students of the College entered the lists, Richard Shirnall, John Askew, James Skilton, and Thomas Hesketh. This last is not the same as Dr. Hesketh, author of the poem quoted above, but probably of the same family. Shirnall's performance was declared par with the best. His competitor, happening to be a nobleman, carried off the prize, but as an acknowledgement the successful but plebeian candidate was presented with an elegant edition of Sponheim's Numismata, which he afterwards gave to the College, and which still exists in the College Library, with the epigram and an account of the incident written at the commencement. The epigram is as follows:

Mortuus Andreas vivit, quod monstrat Imago
Dum madidæ rorant imbre fluente genæ.
Mens pia nutrit aquas oculis, dumque inscius omnis
Pænæ, vult sociis fletibus esse miser;
Si videat miseros, oculis mox dulce liquescit
Pectus, et in gemitus rumpere pronus amor;
Si premeris premitur : gemis et simul gemit ille
Par tibi par illi corde gemente dolor:
Omnem hie pone fidem, pia votaque dirige supplex,
Crede, feret certam qui lachrymatur opem.

Mr. Edward Barlow, alias Booth, the second of the names above mentioned, was born in 1638, and came to the College in 1659. Though not mentioning the precise period of his quitting the establishment, the Annals bestow the highest enconiums on his talents and virtues. The chief theatre of his labours was his native County of Lancashire, and the principal objects of his solicitude were the poor, whose dress and manner of living he, by choice, adopted.

Abstemiousness, benevolence, and an unaffected simplicity in all his actions, were the virtues for which he was remarkable. The endowments of his mind, were, however, not less rare and conspicuous than the qualities of his heart. " It is thought," says Dr. Dodd, "the age he lived in could not show a person better qualified by nature for the mathematical sciences. He has told me," continues the same writer, "that at his first perusal of Euclid, that Author was as easy to him as a newspaper. His name and fame are perpetuated for being the inventor of the repeater watches, but according to the fate of most projectors, while others were great gainers by his ingenuity, Barlow had never been considered on the occasion, had not Mr. Tompion (accidentally made acquainted with the inventor s name) made him a present of £200."

His Meteorological Essays, published in 1715, was a work of much merit considering the state of Science at the time. Mr. Francis Nicholson of whom more particular mention will subsequently be made, writes of this work: "I return you Mr. Barlow's book with this character that it is the most elegant and rational piece I have seen written for a long time; manifesting the Author to be a master in style, in arguing in Philosophy and in Mathematics, as well as his inventions do in Mechanism. Really I wonder how anyone conversing so long in mines with colliers only, could write so clearly, so properly, so solidly on points so abstruse and before him so unaccountable."

Barlow died in 1719, in the eighty-first year of his age. In addition to his Meteorological Essays, he wrote "An Exact Survey of Tide, explicating its production and propagation, variety and anomaly, in all parts of the world, especially near the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland. With a preliminary treatise concerning the Origin of Springs, Generation of Rain, and Production of Wind." With twelve curious maps. 2 vols. Also a Treatise of the Eucharist. He was a Master in Latin and Greek, and had a competent knowledge of Hebrew.

The Rev. Peter Goodin, also a native of Lancashire, companion at College with Barlow, went to Lisbon in 1661. After going through his studies with great applause, he was sent on the Mission in company with Barlow, and was soon after nominated to the Chaplaincy of the regiment of the Duke of Berwick. To eminent mental endowments he united all those exterior accomplishments, which so powerfully contribute to give them effect. He was remarkable for the manner in which he conducted the public controversies in which he was engaged, and the success which ever attended his efforts in these encounters. He repeatedly entered the lists with Stillingfleet, Clagget, and others among the most celebrated Protestant champions of that period. Indeed it is no small honour to Lisbon College that her sons, as we have seen, bore so large a share in the conflict waged in defence of the Church at that time, and bore away the laurels of victory against the ablest and most learned opponents the Established Church has ever produced. " No man," says Dodd, "was better qualified to come off with reputation in a personal conference than Mr. Goodin. He was naturally bold and intrepid; had a strong voice, a ready utterance, and generally made choice of such topics, as afforded him matter to display his eloquence and make an easy conquest." The Revolution of 1688, obliged him to withdraw from the public advocacy of his religion, but did not prevent him from continuing assiduously to labour in the same sacred cause. He died in Audcliffe in Lancashire, in the year 1695.

The Rev. Andrew Bromwich, a native of Oscott, Staffordshire, was admitted into the College in 1668. The Annals do not give the date of his departure on to the Mission, but mention the following particulars concerning him: "that he was born of Catholic parents, and went through his studies with success; after taking Holy Orders he returned to England, and laboured for some years in the conversion of souls, until, in the reign of Charles II, he was apprehended, and underwent a long imprisonment in Staffordshire, before he was brought to trial: he suffered much during his imprisonment from hunger and thirst, and was finally condemned to death for his religion by Sir William Scroggs. The violence of the persecution soon after abating, he was set at liberty. He then returned to his home and property at Oscott, and took charge of a few Catholics here and in the neighbourhood, until his death in 1702. He was buried in the family vault at Handsworth. His antique chair of very rude construction is still preserved at Oscott. From this humble foundation and residence of Andrew Bromwich, has been raised the present extensive College of St. Mary's, Oscott." Gillow. The speech which he had prepared for delivery at the scaffold is worthy of record, and may be read in Dodd, vol. iii. p. 359. The following is the substance of it:

"I am immediately to appear before God s tribunal … I hope therefore yon will believe a dying man … and believe that it is no ways lawful for me or any Roman Catholic to sin that good may proceed from it … I am not to be executed for refusing any allegiance to my gracious King. I have professed that fully by the oaths before his Majesty s Justice of the Peace … I have professed that neither the Pope nor any foreign person hath right to exercise any external power … without his Majesty s authority, upon his subjects. I do not mean that the King can exercise any power of the Keys or any act of jurisdiction purely spiritual or internal … I am not to be executed for the plot … Nay I am cleared by one of his Majesty s Secretaries of State … I am absolutely innocent of the plot … and detest from my heart all such bloody and damnable designs … I beseech God to discover the truth … But if there be no plot, but innocent blood hath been and now is to be spilt, Domine averte iram tuam, and impute it not to the nation … I am not to be executed for teaching sedition or treason, or any fact or doctrine which is not consistent with Monarchy, but for the only crime of Priesthood … Anne Robinson was the only positive witness against me, whom I never wronged in my life, I pray God that malice and avarice did not more move her to it, than truth. The other two witnesses, poor old people, were forced, being severely treated, to accuse me, yet they declared they did not know me … I beseech God my life may not be laid to any man s charge. Every one, the very worst of my enemies … I forgive them from my heart … I humbly beseech God to bless the King s Majesty … God bless the whole nation, and not lay my blood to the charge of it, or to any person in particular, and bring all persons to the true Church, by Faith, Hope and Charity."

An incident of his captivity is mentioned in his Address, viz., after the jury had found him guilty, Chief Justice Scroggs sent Sir Henry Gough to him with an offer of pardon if he would discover anything about the plot, or any concerned in it.

Among all the sons of the College who flourished at the close of the seventeenth century, and who, by their great talents and zeal in the cause of religion, have rightfully a claim to special notice, stands forth pre eminently and conspicuously John Gother. He was born of Presbyterian parents at Southampton in Hampshire, and was educated by them in sentiments of hostility to the Catholic Faith. Of the immediate occasion of his conversion there is no record, but soon after that event he was sent, probably by Dr. Godden, to Lisbon College, where he arrived on January 10, 1668. He was thus contemporary with the remarkable individuals whose short memoirs have just been given. The distinguished talents which Mr. Gother displayed during his studies, were united to a rare and exemplary virtue. He was noted for his engaging and affectionate conduct towards his fellow students; and in conversation he was cheerful without levity, grave and circumspect without affectation.

Towards his Superiors he always manifested great docility and respect, and in the observance of the Rules of the House he was a model of obedience. Whatever was the occupation in which he was engaged, the first toll of the bell calling him to any duty was obeyed by him with as much deference and promptitude, as if it had been the voice of an angel. That such a behaviour during his College course should have drawn down upon him the special blessing of heaven is not surprising. He left Lisbon at the close of the year 1682, having previously filled for a short period the office of Prefect of Studies. At the commencement of his Missionary career, his labours were principally directed to catechising children and instructing the poor. In the garrets and cellars of London, he found abundant opportunities of exercising his zeal and charity.

At this period the many evident proofs of attachment given by James II, to the Catholic Faith, alarmed the zealots of the Established Church, and the press daily teemed with every species of invective against the errors and the superstitions of the Church of Rome.

To the ecclesiastical Superiors of the Catholic body, no one appeared better qualified than Gother to stem the torrent. At their request he undertook the task of Apologist of the Faith, and in 1685 he published his inestimable work The Papist Misrepresented and Represented, a book which, for upwards of two centuries, has maintained its popularity, giving thus evidence of its intrinsic value. This publication was followed by his Nubes Testium, and a variety of other controversial tracts to the number of seventeen. In all of them Gother preserves the dignified character which he had assumed in his first work. To an invincible strength of reasoning he unites a becoming and generous regard for his adversaries personally, and never indulged, as did his opponents, in those offensive reflections which may embitter, but can never terminate religious controversy.

His style is agreeable and correct and not unfrequently rises to a degree of elegance not found in writers of the same period. Dryden, who was his contemporary, used often to say that Gother was the only individual, besides himself, who knew how to write the English language. Of the fruits of his zeal, the conversion of the venerable Bishop Challoner may be considered as an illustrious instance.

After the Revolution of 1688, Gother employed his pen in the production of several works of instruction and piety. His spiritual writings contained in sixteen volumes octavo, breathe that zealous and solid piety which had characterized him throughout life, and for generations were the bread which, in great measure, supported the spiritual life of the Catholics of this country. At length, after twenty-two years spent in his native country in promoting the cause of God, the venerable Missionary proposed to return to Lisbon. What precise object prompted this journey is not known, all that the records of the College say is, that it was under taken from a pure motive of zeal and Charity. He embarked in the San Caetano, an Italian vessel, in company, it appears, with another ecclesiastic. While on the voyage he was seized with an illness, and, after receiving all the rites of the Church, expired on October 13, 1704. The captain of the ship, struck with the marks of sanctity which he had shown in his sickness, embalmed his body and earned it with him to Lisbon. The second night after its arrival at the port, it was transferred privately to the College, and the following day, the Feast of SS. Simon and Jude, after a solemn dirge had been performed over it, was interred in the church near the altar of St. Thomas of Canterbury.

The memory of this pleasing act of respect on the part of the captain of the San Caetano is perpetuated in those words of the College Song so familiar to all Lisbonians:

Remember, too, Gother, great champion of Faith,
   Whose toils for religion ceased only with death;
Remember how pity and honour would save
   His hallow'd remains from a watery grave.

To the five illustrious names above mentioned yet another should be added, that of John Brett who, if in a humbler sphere, yet in a manner not less worthy of record, gave for the space of forty-six years an unstinted and faithful service to the College. He was born of a respectable family in Lincolnshire, in the year 1627. At the age of thirty-eight, when too old to commence the Course of Studies necessary for receiving Holy Orders, he came to the College and undertook the humble, yet most serviceable, occupation of porter or doorkeeper, an office which he discharged for that long period with the greatest zeal and fidelity. He died from a stroke of paralysis, full of days and greatly regretted by the Community, leaving the arrears of his wages and all that he had in the world to the College. In former days, previous to the alterations made in the college church by the President Dr. Buckley, there might be seen his small tombstone near the entrance, with the following epitaph:

Siste hospes; saxum hoc Bretti premit ossa Joannis
Quern magnis meritis busta minora tegunt
Artubus in lapsis, mens Integra, longa lahorum
Tœdia pro Patribus lustra per octo tulit.

The period which closes with the Presidentship of Father Watkinson, 1707, may be said to constitute the most brilliant portion of the history of the College. For the space of eighty years from its commencement in 1628, the services which it rendered to the cause of religion were numerous and important. Its supplies of Missionaries were frequent, and the reputation which its members acquired for it in England, was not less than that which the learning and abilities of its Professors maintained amongst the Portuguese. These results become the more remarkable when it is remembered that they were accomplished in the face of difficulties of no ordinary nature, arising from very limited means, and restricted pecuniary resources. The building as originally erected was wretchedly mean and unsightly; the apartments few, small and inconvenient, insomuch that for the first century after the foundation of the College, our ancestors may be said to have lived in ruins rather than in a house.

The College fare seems to have been in keeping with the wretched fabric. Except on Friday which then, as in England, was observed out of Paschal time as a strict fast, each individual in the house received for breakfast three ounces of bread and one ounce of butter, which might be washed down by draughts of cold water ad libitum. For dinner, half a pound of meat was allotted by the Rules to each person; Rules alas, like so many others, frequently " more honoured in the breach than the observance," for often the resources of the Establishment could not provide so liberal an allowance! The same Rules, with equal generosity, allowed another half pound of meat for supper, but it may be easily surmised that funds which could only with difficulty supply the dinner, were not likely to be adequate for providing the supper; and, indeed, we learn from a document preserved in the archives of the House, that meat for supper was a luxury in which our ancestors could only occasionally indulge, and that two pounds of rice were often served out as a meal for the whole Community.

If water was the beverage for breakfast, there was allowed for dinner and supper a limited portion of weak wine, left after its fermentation without any preparation or addition of spirit, possibly a more exhilarating though, probably, less palatable drink.

When we contemplate men like Daniel, Godden and Sergeant contentedly sitting down to a boiled onion for supper, and for their other meals partaking of that small portion of the allotted food which the extreme poverty of the establishment afforded, the words of Pope St. Leo readily suggest themselves: "Semper enim virtuti cibus jejunium fuit." The President and Superiors shared the same food with the lowest student in the House, and the poverty of the Establishment did not permit them to receive any pecuniary recompense for the duties which they performed. All rose at four o clock, breakfasted at eight, dined at eleven and supped at seven.

Such was the manner of living at the College till long after the period of which we have been speaking; such its state when at a word from their Superiors our Missionaries abandoned all their prospects, sometimes their comforts in England, to fly to its assistance: such the Establishment which even in the days of pinching poverty, as now in pleasanter conditions, was able to attach to itself the affections of its children in as great, if not greater, degree than any other foreign College. We need not be surprised, however, if, whilst great numbers cheerfully submitted to these inconveniences during the whole course of their studies, others were found who took occasion from them, to attribute to the mismanagement of the Superiors the hardships which they had to endure. Hence charges and complaints were not unfrequently laid before the Bishop and Chapter in England, and many whose ecclesiastical spirit could not stand so severe a test, abandoned their undertaking. It would be difficult indeed to imagine a discipline more effective for preparing men to encounter the hardships and privations of missionary life in those days, than the severe regime to which the inmates of Lisbon College were subjected. Indeed even in later and more prosperous times, the very pronounced tinge of monastic severity which marked the regime was preserved, repressing any tendency to niceness or delicacy of self-indulgence.

In the memory of many still living there will be, no doubt, vivid recollections of the early rising at five in the morning throughout the winter months, the half-hour's meditation in the cold church, followed for the younger ones, at least, by long study in the colder class rooms, the heating of which seems never even to have been dreamt of; the many hours spent in class and previous preparation lasting, without a break, from half-past eight in the morning till twelve, and from two o clock in the afternoon until seven or half-past seven; the rigorous and frequent fasts exacted from all whose age subjected them to the Church s discipline, without any relaxation of the close study, and above all the severe Lent during which, even up to the early Forties, no flesh meat was ever seen or tasted from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday. To this must be added those domestic duties which, in monastic houses, are usually performed by the lay-brothers or hired servants, but which each student from the highest to the lowest had to fulfil each for himself.

If a more delicate age has introduced modifications of the system, may it have been without detriment to those sterling qualities which such discipline was calculated to produce!