Page images
PDF
EPUB

Only real stu-
dents to be
maintained
on the
foundation.

CILAP. IL that he shall be provided with all the necessary books, and

shall regularly instruct the younger students, while the more advanced students are to have the benefit of his assistance when occasion may require. It is to be noted that English as well as Latin enters into his province of instruction.

It is significant of the founder's intention that only real students should find a home within the walls of Merton, that another statute provides that all students absenting themselves from the schools on insufficient grounds shall be liable to corresponding deductions in respect of their scholarships, and even in cases where proper diligence in study is not shewn, the authorities are empowered to withhold the payments of the usual stipends. There is also another regulation, perhaps the only one of any importance which may not, in some form or other, be found embodied in the rule of subsequent foundations, providing that a year of

probation is to precede the admission of each scholar as a Wisdom of permanent member of the society! With this somewhat conception. remarkable exception, we find that the statutes of Merton

became for the most part the model of our English colleges; and it will be difficult for an unprejudiced mind to deny the tolerant spirit, the wisdom, and the thoughtfulness by which they are characterised throughout. In the construction of the curriculum, were it not for the absence of natural science from the prescribed order of studies, we might almost infer that the counsels of Roger Bacon had aided the deliberations of Walter de Merton. It appears indeed that, a few years after, an attempt was made to remedy this deficiency by establishing a faculty of medicine in connexion with the college ; an innovation which archbishop Peckham, in 1284, decided was contrary to the tenour of the statutes, and consequently abolished. We do not conceive,' says Walter de Merton's biographer?, in summing up his estimate of these statutes, that there need remain any doubt that the par

6

1 Statutes, ed. Percival, p. 20.

? Ibid. p. 55. Medicine nevertheless afterwards became a flourishing study in the college during the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth

centuries, and in a capitular order of 1504 is recognised as a philosophical act.' Bp. of Nelson's Life of Walter de Merton, p. 26, note.

ticular benefit which the founder designed to confer on the CHAP. II. Church was the improvement of his own order, the secular priesthood, by giving them first a good elementary, and then a good theological education, in close connexion with a university, and with the moral and religious training of a scholar-family living under rules of piety and discipline. And this design was, we have good reason to believe, in the main achieved. Whilst the Visitor of 1284 brings to light the fact that worldliness and selfishness were in some degree marring the original design, there are abundant witnesses to its general success. During the first eighty years of the life of the institution, a brilliant succession of names, divines who were also scholars and philosophers, shone forth, and kindled other founders to devote their substance to the creation of similar nurseries of learned clergy. The earlier statutes of Balliol, University, Oriel, Peterhouse (Cambridge), all borrowed with more or less closeness and avowal, the Regula Mertonensis, and thus justified the assertion which the royal founder of Eton afterwards used, that the later colleges bore a childlike resemblance to their common parent, velut imago parentis in prole relucent'.

We can certainly have little hesitation in asserting that if Eminent the number of eminent men who proceeded from the new foundation may be regarded as evidence of the wisdom and discernment of the founder, no college can be held to have more amply justified the motives that dictated its creation. Within the walls of Merton were trained the minds that chiefly influenced the thought of the fourteenth century. It was there that Duns Scotus was educated; it was there that he first taught. Thence too came William of Occam, the revolutioniser of the philosophy of his age, and Thomas Bradwardine, known throughout Christendoni as the Doctor Profundus, whose influence might vie even with that of the Doctor Invincible; Richard Fitzralph, the precursor of Wyclif; Walter Burley, Robert Holcot, and a host of inferior names, but men notable in their own day. In attempting to illustrate the culture and mental tendencies of this period

1 Ibid. p. 29.

Mertonians.

CHAP. II. we can do no better than turn briefly to consider the special cha

racteristics of the three most eminent Mertonians of the time.

Hitherto, the chief representative of progressive thought at Oxford has been found in one solitary Franciscan friar, whose superiority to the superstition, the mental servility, and the ignorance of his age, seems rather to bring out into stronger contrast the prevailing characteristics than to redeem them from one general censure. It has indeed been asserted on high authority, that the insight shown by Bacon into questions like those discussed in his Opus Majus, taken in conjunction with the time in which he wrote, is itself an inexplicable phenomenon'; but the additions that have been made by recent research to our acquaintance with the Arabic literature of that period, have revealed the sources from whence he drew, and afford an adequate solution of the difficulty. In fact, although in his preference for physical researches, and his distrust of the current Aristotelianism, Bacon undoubtedly presents strong points of difference from the schoolmen, there are other points in which an equally

strong resemblance may be discerned; and in estimating the Duns Scotus. genius of Duns Scotus, who next occupies the foreground in

the academical life of England, it will be important to note the similarity not less than the dissimilarity of their views and aims.

The spectacle presented by Oxford at the beginning of

b. 1274. d. 1308

1 It is difficult to conceive how such a character could then exist. That he received much of his knowledge from Arabic writers there is no doubt; for they were in his time the repositories of all traditional knowledge. But that he derived from them his disposition to shake off the authority of Aristotle, to maintain the importance of experiment, and to look upon knowledge as in its infancy, I cannot believe.' (Whewell, Hist. of the Inductive Sciences, 1 258.) It may be doubted whether any passages in Bacon's writings can be construed into impatience of the authority of Aristotle himself: a careful examination will shew that his cen. sures are always directed at the Latin

translations, which certainly appear to have merited all his severity. Of both Avicenna and Averroes he speaks with invariable respect. Mr Lewes remarks, 'I am myself but very superficially acquainted with these (the Arabian) writings, yet I have discovered evidence enough to make the position of Roger Bacon quite explicable without in the least denying him extraordinary merit.' Hist. of Phil. 11 84. Mr Shirley, in the Introduction to the Fasciculi Zizaniorum, p. 1. has even gone so far as to assert that we have in Roger Bacon the normal type English philosopher' of the thir. teenth century.

an

Oxford at the coinmencement of the fourteenth

the fourteenth century is one of the most remarkable afforded CHAP. II. by any university since the commencement of the new era, the earliest developement, in our own country, of that singular and almost feverish activity of thought which stands in such century. marked contrast to the generally low culture of the period, and which becomes intelligible only when we bear in mind all the circumstances that, in the preceding chapter, we have endeavoured to bring together in their mutual true relations. At a time when learning had fewest followers minds are to be found most excited and most enquiring. In a century during which Greek scholarship in England is represented by a single name, and wherein the comparatively correct Latinity of the twelfth century, such as characterised writers like Giraldus and John of Salisbury, was supplanted by a barbarous jargon", Oxford appears as the centre of a purely philosophic ferment to which the subsequent annals of neither university present a parallel. A young Franciscan, originally a student at Merton, rises up; disputes with a subtlety never before exhibited the conclusions of his predecessors; gathers round him vast and enthusiastic audiences as he successively expounds his doctrines at Oxford, Paris, and Cologne; and is carried off at the early age of thirtyfour, while in the zenith of his fame, leaving behind a reputation unsurpassed both for sanctity and for learning. His treatises become the text-books of English education

up the time of the Reformation; and his theories form the germ of that dialectic freedom of discussion which ultimately snapt asunder the links wherewith Albertus and Aquinas had laboured to unite philosophy and faith. The leadership of

1 Down to the thirteenth century ruption became rapid and marked in it would not be easy to find among the all directions. The style of Giraldus chroniclers or miscellaneous writers is not purer than that of Malmesof Latin in the Middle Ages very bury; not so pure as that of his congross departures from the ordinary temporary, John of Salisbury. Yet rules of Latin syntax. The niceties it would not be easy to find in Gi. of the language had been lost ten raldus any violent transgressions of centuries before; but the difference the rules of Latin construction; of the Latinity of the age extending perhaps none for which sufficient from Bede to Giraldus, that is, of the authority might not be produced in seventh to the thirteenth century, from the wide range of Latin literature, Tertullian or Ausonius, is not greater from the earliest period to the fall than the decline of the latter from of the empire.' Prof. Brewer, Preface the purer Latinity of the Republic. to Giraldus Cambrensis, ii, xv. After the thirteenth century, the cor

to

schoolman and the modern scholar

CHAP. 11. the age had passed from the Dominicans to the Franciscans,

nor can it be denied that to the latter order England was mainly indebted for such profundity of thought and vigour of speculation as the fourteenth century beheld'.

The causes of that onesided developement of mental

activity that is now presented to us are not difficult to assign. Views of the

The languid culture of the Benedictines had been thrust aside by the fervid intellectualism of the Mendicants. But

in the very character of that activity the observer of the coinpared.

fashions and revolutions that succeed each other in the evolution of human thought, will discern a significant illustration of the interval that separates us from the mind of the scholastic era. Precisely that contempt with which the ordinary scholar now regards the metaphysical researches of the schoolmen, was felt by the schoolman of the fourteenth century for researches such as have mainly occupied many of the learned of our own time. Discussions on Greek metres and disquisitions on Etruscan pottery would have appeared, to the Oxonian of the days of Edward I, but solemn trifling, while the distinction between the prima and secunda intentio still remained uninvestigated and the principium individuationis undetermined; and students who could not have written a Latin verse or a page of Latin prose without solecisms that would now excite the laughter of an average English public schoolboy, listened with rapt attention to series upon series of argumentative subtleties such as have taxed the patience and the powers of some of our acutest modern metaphysicians.

The name of the oracle of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, to whom Coleridge has assigned the praise of being

the only Englishman (if such he were) possessed of 'high Difficulties metaphysical subtlety, has passed, by a strange caprice of any account fortune, into an epithet for the grossest ignorance; and as we

turn the leaves of the ponderous tomes which enshrine the thought once deemed the quintessence of human wisdom, we

1 The prosperity and authority of university in century as a 'heavy the Dominicans appear to have been blow' to the order. See Fasciculi very closely associated with the pro- Zizaniorum, p. li. sperity of the university of Paris. Coleridge's Literary Remains, Mr Shirley notes the decline of that

of this period.

2

III 21.

« PreviousContinue »