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tage-ground of earlier history, and claim respect not more on account of their existing merits than by immemorial prescription. If, however, the materials of the historic narrative of the latter are more attractive than those which supply the account of this comparatively modern society, it should be recollected that they must be also in some respect less authentic. With their distant æra, what may be called the poetic age of social life is romantically connected, and when facts have perished, the lapse is supplied by the more interesting detail of legendary narration.
It must, however, be confessed that, as monuments of national pride and literary affection, the ancient Universities have the advantage over those of more recent endowment. As it cannot be forgotten that they were once the exclusive depositories of whatever relics of learning had been collected from the ruins of civilized states, and which were by them preserved afloat upon the inundation of barbarism until the waters had subsided; they have also names associated with their history antecedent to the existence of the latter, which the civilized world at present recognises with gratitude: the fathers of European erudition, whose masculine energies and patriarchal virtues give their memories the expression of simple and august example. Besides, the early light of knowledge in passing through the moral gloom receives a richness favourable for effect, and like the rays that illumine the vista of a gothic aisle, seem endued with a more sacred splendour. Thus have those institutions been put under the protection of piety and the imagination; and accordingly for centuries their dominion was, at the same time, venerable and despotic.
In later years, the merits of Universities have been disputed, and unmitigated censure on the one side, has called up unqualified commendation on the other. They, as at present conducted, are not fairly the subject of either; for, although founded on a principle productive of great utility, they possess some defects of system which narrow the sphere of its operation.
When first established, their importance was in
calculable. They collected the learned, who were few, and gave them a compact and honourable confederacy against the ignorant, who were powerful and many. They gave rise to the plan of collective exertion and emulative industry, which encouraged the energies of the mind and advanced the progress of discovery more than any solitary and detached application: and they supplied a continued growth of cultivated talent for the demands of successive generations.
They treasured the materials of knowledge, saved from the wreck of that moral world which had been passed over by a desolating ignorance, and arranged them as bases of new acquisitions.
Being protected by royal favour and individual opulence, and having a munificent patronage and a chartered authority, they possessed that station which gave to the Body a political importance, and conferred honour upon the individual.
The institution of Degrees was a kind of moral investiture, by which what may be called the manorial rights of learning, and its title to the tribute of public esteem, were solemnly granted and conferred. Thus self-respect, without which nothing great is ever performed, was sustained in the mind devoted to learning, at a time when the feudal institutions of society made every man, who was not a soldier, a slave; and when ancestral bearings had a tyrannic ascendant over the nobility of virtue.
The splendid exception which the piety of religious men, and the wise liberality of monarchs, made in the case of scholars, gave them the stimulus and capability of great performances. They became ardent and indefatigable, because the path of glory was opened to their exertions, and achieved what it is the astonishment of later days could have been comprised within the limits of human life. They were then far in advance of the age, but their consciousness of superiority at length produced relaxation; they rested to enjoy their triumphs while there were yet other worlds to conquer, and the emoluments which at first enabled them to proceed, gave them, subse
quently, opportunities of ease. Society, always in motion, began to gain upon them, and even accident contributed to effect a revolution, by which their infallibility was deposed. The invention of Printing, which reduced the monopoly of learning, and the discovery of the Compass, that gave rise to an unexampled boldness in commercial adventure, threw open sources of information over which they had no control, and animated mankind with a general impulse towards improvement, that gained continually upon the stately and formal advances of scholastic ambition.
Had scholars then observed the altered character of the times, and modelled their institutions to the gradual but certain revolution which the world was silently and grandly undergoing, their dominion would have been confirmed, and the union of lighter literature with practical knowledge and solid erudition, must have made their usefulness complete, and have given, through their means, to the fabric of society, the best disposition of ornament and strength. But scholars, accustomed to recluse and abstracted exertions, isolated from the mass of busy and variable society, were little acquainted with the affairs of the world, and knew nothing of the actual influences which, as far as human agency extended, were altering the course of its moral direction.
Within the sacred penetralia of their temple, the priests of the classic altar, engaged in the service of a speculative world, heard, but as a distant sound, the noisy existence of practical man. Antiquity fascinated them, while modern life was not elevated enough even for casual attention. The useful was sacrificed to the curious ; and they disdained as vulgar what was not expressed according to the ancient rules, and clothed in terms hallowed by the usages of erudition. Attributing too high an influence to the powers which they had, they neglected to avail themselves of agencies still more effective. The intercourse of life, and the tuition of experience, gave to the general mind gradual advancement, while Colleges, remaining stationary, appeared by a mistake of the intellectual
vision, to be retrograding, because the age was progressive in its approaches to various and consummate refinement.
In later times, however, a more liberal spirit has visited, and, to a great extent, reformed the Universities. The imperious intellect of Bacon successfully rebelled against the tyranny of forms. He erected the presiding power of Reason on the ruins of an erroneous Philosophy, while delusive theories disappeared before the light of his experimental wisdom. The works of Locke accomplished the overthrow of the despotism erected on the Aristotelian doctrines, which, although they might have been originally useful, his clear reason justly regarded as antiquated.
In the earliest period of the revival of letters, indeed, it is not surprising that such doctrines held over the learned an uncontrolled dominion. Dissociating, as they did, the mind from the common circumstances of life, they fostered the pride of superiority, and, while speaking the language of a mystical intelligence, upheld the first sentiments which the vulgar entertained towards the majesty of learning. Besides, they might have been productive of good, by leading to those acute and subtle distinctions which kept the sagacity exercised and invigorated, in abstract matters, at a time when the actions of the world were so near the simplicity of the barbarous state, as to afford no field for philosophic contemplation. Perhaps, also, the infancy of the human mind required the guidance of a harsher and more formal authority than became its character on approaching maturity, when the instruction that unbends into an elevated companionship must be more consistent with the age of manly attainments. The first efforts of the intellect are on the side of the imagination, and there might have been a necessity for the discipline of a stern and austere tuition to counteract the prevailing fascination of romance. But when the human mind was sufficiently strengthened to make a discerning and sober application of its powers, and when the multiplied re
lations of human intercourse called into the real actions of society every mental attribute, then, at least, a more benignant and less recluse system of instruction was required, which might combine the theories of the schools with the business of men, and give to reason the support of a chastened imagination, and a liberalized experience.
Accordingly, scholastic studies have been lately extended to embrace much of recent discovery, while their original sternness has been ameliorated by a mixture of instruction more congenial with the spirit of the age, and more agreeable to the progress of improvement. But in the work of innovation, Colleges,
be presumed, have proceeded with rather too much of that jealous circumspection natural to those bodies, whose habits had been so long unaltered as to become almost constitutional. But though something yet remains undone, much has been performed. Among other proofs of relaxation in the ancient discipline, the introduction of the study of the common law at Oxford is the most remarkable. A branch of knowledge which sprang from the unsophisticated sense and every-day experience of mankind, was not, till lately, thought deserving of a place among the sciences which a meditative philosophy had created and arranged. For centuries the Imperial Code, which contained the methodized principles of Roman degeneracy, was cultivated with delight by the learned among a free people, and the baseness of those principles was overlooked in the admirable economy with which science had arrayed them. It was, therefore, long allowed to burden the memories and expatriate the sentiments of British youth ; but no sooner did the University admit the study of those British laws, the offspring of homely wisdom, operating upon actual occurrence, than genius arose to give their vigorous, but apparently ill-combined, energies unity and order; and although tyranny is of simpler elements than freedom, yet the Commentaries of Blackstone exhibit a system no less lucid and philosophical than that of the Pandects of Justinian. Such an instance may suffice