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NOTWITHSTANDING the somewhat narrow views, the inveterate prejudices, and the peculiar and occasionally uncouth language of Anthony a Wood, it cannot, we think, be denied that his Athenæ Oxonienses was felicitously designed, and executed with no mean ability. As this book reflected great lustre on the university of Oxford, it was naturally expected that a work of a similar character, devoted especially to the university of Cambridge, would follow in due course; indeed, the author of the Introduction to the second volume threw down a generous challenge "to some good Antiquary of the other University."
Henry Sampson, ejected from a fellowship at Pembroke hall for nonconformity 1662 and who subsequently for many years practised physic with reputation and success, appears to have made some collections for a history of the eminent men of this university.
Mr. Strype, in a letter to Ralph Thoresby, dated 4th August, 1709, remarks:
I perceive you have had the use of some of the manuscripts of Dr. Sampson. While he was alive he would have put me upon a task to write the history of the eminent men, and especially writers, of the University of Cambridge, and told me he had made great collections that would be serviceable that way. There is one of Cambridge now, an able man, that had been making collections divers years for that purpose. I wish he had the perusal of those papers. He is now in London, and, if I knew in whose hands Dr. Sampson's manuscripts were, I would endeavour to procure those collections for him to use. (1)
The able man to whom Strype refers was, no doubt, the Rev. Thomas Baker, of St. John's college. Drake, in his Eboracum, (1) says
(1) Thoresby's Letters, ii. 191.
(2) p. 378.
that a history of the Cambridge writers was much expected from Mr. Baker, whom he with justice designates as "that great antiquary." It may be doubted however whether Mr. Baker ever purposed such a work. Certain it is that in a letter from him to Mr. Rawlins, of Pophill, dated 23rd August, 1735, the following passage occurs:
To your inquiry concerning Athena Cantabrigienses I can give you no sure account, only it is certain Mr. Richardson is making collections towards such a work, and I have furnished him with somewhat towards this college. (1)
Mr. Baker's valuable MSS. contain many important materials for an Athenæ Cantabrigienses; but the want of arrangement in these collections and the unfortunate circumstance that some of the volumes are at Cambridge and others in the British Museum greatly augment the labour connected with their use.
Mr. Morris Drake Morris, a fellow-commoner of Trinity college, compiled lives of the most illustrious men educated in the university from the foundation thereof unto the year 1715, collected from Bale, Pits, Fuller, Lloyd, Wood, Calamy, Walker, &c., in two volumes. The first volume, containing 534 pages, comprises the lives of the archbishops and bishops educated at Cambridge, with a complete index of names and a very large number of engraved portraits; the second volume contains the lives of learned men in general, and is entitled Athenæ Cantabrigienses. Only 319 pages are filled. There are a few portraits, and it has an index containing the names of those intended to be mentioned, as well as of those whose lives are given. These manuscripts he gave to Lord Harley, afterwards earl of Oxford, and they are now in the Harleian collection. (2)
Dr. William Richardson, master of Emmanuel college (1736— 1775), the learned editor of Godwin De Præsulibus (and the gentleman mentioned by Mr. Baker), made collections for Athenæ Cantabrigienses in a folio volume without an index, preserved in the university library.(3) The number of persons noticed by Dr. Richardson is only about 350. The general utility of this volume is diminished by the use of short-hand and of symbols not easily interpreted. Cole used Dr. Richardson's collections, but could not master the stenography. Dr. Richardson made other collections on the subject, which have been lost.
(1) Masters' Life of Baker, 31.
(2) No. 7176, 7177.
(3) Ff. 3. 32.
To Dr. Richardson also we owe the compilation of a Catalogue of the graduates of the university from 1500 to 1735, with certain additions extending to 1745. This is a work of vast labour and no slight utility. Unfortunately however it cannot always be depended upon, as it is clear that Dr. Richardson read old writing but imperfectly, which circumstance has led him into many errors.
A notice of the first edition of Graduati Cantabrigienses in the Gentleman's Magazine for March 1787 thus commences:
The University of Cambridge have at last exerted themselves to bring to light a Catalogue of their Graduates Whether the indolence of her members will ever be so far surmounted as to give us anything like "Athenæ Cantabrigienses" time must shew. There are not wanting materials in Mr. Baker's excellent volumes; and perhaps, by the time Mr. Cole's collections are unlocked some antiquary now in infancy may attempt the Herculean task. (1)
Mr. Cole, to whose collections allusion is thus made, was the Rev. William Cole, of Milton near Cambridge, who was originally of Clare hall but removed to King's college. He died in 1782, bequeathing his vast and multifarious manuscript collections to the British Museum, with an injunction that they should not be opened till twenty years after his death. One of his great objects was the compilation of an Athenæ Cantabrigienses.
After thirty years' labour he thus records his bitter disappointment:
In good truth, whoever undertakes the drudgery of an Athenæ Cantabrigienses, must be contented with no prospect of credit or reputation to himself; and with the mortifying reflection, that after all his pains and study through life, he must be looked upon in an humble light, and only as a journeyman to Anthony Wood, whose excellent book of the same sort will ever preclude any other, who shall follow him in the same track, from all hopes of fame; and will only represent him as an imitator of so original a pattern. For at this time of day, all great characters, both Cantabrigians and Oxonians, are already published to the world, either in his books, or various others: so that the collection, unless the same characters are reprinted here, must be made up of second rate persons, and the refuse of authorship. However, as I have begun, and made so large a progress in this undertaking, it is death to think of leaving it off, though from the former considerations so little credit is to be expected from it.
W. COLE, May 17, 1777.
A year later, after quoting Dr. Johnson's striking reflections (2) on the tendency of antiquaries to forget the brevity of human life, he proceeds to remark:
However reasonable the observation may be there may be many palliatives in (2) Rambler, No. 71.
(1) Gent. Mag. lvii. part. i. p. 247.
favour of the dilatory Antiquary. It is to be presumed he would make his work as perfect as he could; collect all the materials necessary for that purpose: in the mean time years slide from under us, and we leave our collections to others to piece together, who have not had the drudgery to collect, but have all ready to their hands. This is exactly my own case in respect to this Work, and the history of the County. I hope my industry will fall into the hands of a judicious brother Antiquary, who will make a proper use of them, when I am no more.
W. COLE, May 28, 1778.
Whilst we freely admit that Mr. Cole's voluminous collections have in many instances been very serviceable, we cannot but think that he was disposed rather to overrate the value of his materials. He certainly fell into the error pointed out by Dr. Johnson. He amassed more than he could digest.
Mr. Cole had the industry of Wood without his common sense. He affected Wood's prejudices, but the prejudices of Wood are to a great extent respectable; those of Cole are simply ridiculous.
Mr. Bruce in his introduction (1) to Sir John Hayward's Annals of the first four years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth adverts to the nonexistence of an Athenæ Cantabrigienses as being daily more and more deplored. A similar sentiment is expressed by the editors of the Churches of Cambridgeshire. (2)
The publication of an Athenæ Cantabrigienses was one of the projects of the Ecclesiastical History Society, upon the dissolution of which Mr. Halliwell sent a communication to the Cambridge Antiquarian Society (3 May, 1852), in which he stated that he despaired, for the present, of the production of such a work, and suggested the publication of a limited impression of Cole's manuscript Athenæ.(3) This occasioned another communication to the Society (18 April, 1853), by the Rev. J. J. Smith, M.A. of Caius college. (4) Mr. Smith considered Mr. Halliwell took too desponding a view of the matter; and, after pointing out the most palpable sources of information, strongly pressed the resident members of the university to turn their attention to the subject, and, by the publication of the work, raise an enduring memorial to the honour of their Alma Mater.
Upon consideration of all the circumstances it appeared to us that the difficulties of the undertaking although not slight were not insuperable, and we therefore determined to attempt a work which
(1) Dated 31 Oct. 1839.
(3) Communication to Camb. Antiq. Soc. i. 49.
(2) p. 84.
(4) Ibid. 65.
should comprehend notices of: 1. Authors. 2. Cardinals, archbishops, bishops, abbats, heads of religious houses and other church dignitaries. 3. Statesmen, diplomatists, military and naval commanders. 4. Judges and eminent practitioners of the civil or common Law. 5. Sufferers for religious or political opinions. 6. Persons distinguished for success in tuition. 7. Eminent physicians and medical practitioners. 8. Artists, musicians, and heralds. 9. Heads of colleges, professors, and principal officers of the university. 10. Benefactors to the university and colleges, or to the public at large.
This scheme is more comprehensive than Wood's. It must however be observed that although he avowedly gives only the lives of eminent writers and of bishops; yet in his Fasti, the interest and utility of which seem to be generally acknowledged, he notices many persons who do not come within either of the specified classes.
For various reasons which it can hardly be necessary to particularise it appeared to us that the year 1500 was convenient as a point of commencement.
Three modes of arrangement suggested themselves:
(i) Alphabetically. The most convenient undoubtedly for reference, but nearly useless for any other purpose, and unpleasant and repulsive to the general reader.
(ii) By colleges. But in many, especially the earlier cases, the
colleges are unknown or uncertain, and even in comparatively recent times degrees have been conferred on persons who are not recorded as of any particular college. In several cases also the same individual has been of two, three, and even four colleges.
(iii) Chronologically, the date of death when known or capable of calculation being adopted, and in the remaining cases the latest date at which the party is known to have been living. There are obvious advantages attending this mode of arrangement. The work is better adapted for continuous perusal. If, from any cause its progress should be suspended, the portion actually executed will possess a certain extent of completeness. Lastly, it may be continued from time to time as occasion may require.
Upon the whole the advantages of a chronological arrangement appeared so decisive that we resolved upon its adoption.