Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

• Reverence, it has been juftly remarked, is always encreased by the distance of the object. The world at large, who hear of colleges like palaces devoted to learning, of princely elates bequeathed for the support of professors, of public libraries and schools for every science, are disposed to view the confecrated place in which they abound, with peculiar veneration. Accidental vifitors also, who behold the fuperb dining halls, the painted chapels, the luxurious common rooms, the elegant chambers, and a race of mortals, in a pecu. liar dress, frutting through the streets with a solemn air of importance; when they see all the doctors, both the proctors, with all the heads of colleges and halls, in folemn procesuon, with their velvet Sleeves, scarlet gowns, hoods, black, red, and purple-cannot but be ftruck with the appearance, and are naturally led to conclude, that here, at length, wisdom, science, learning, and whatever else is praiseworthy, for ever flourish and abound.

« Without entering into an invidious and particular examination of the subject, we may cursorily observe, that after all this pompous oftentation, and this profuse expence, the public has nof, of late ac leaft, been indebted for the greatest improvements in science and learning, to all the doctors, both the proctors, nor to all the beads of colleges and halls laid together. That populous university, London, and that region of literary labour, Scotland, bave seized every palm of literary bonour, and left the sons of Oxford and Cambridge to enjoy substantial comforts, in the smoke of the common or combination room. The bursar's books are the only manuscrips of any value produced in many colleges; and the sweets of penfions, exhibitiens, fines, fellowships, and petry offices, the chief obje&s of academical pursuit.

• If I were to enter into the many laughable absurdities of collegiate life and university institucions, as they now land, I should exe ceed the limits of my paper, It is my intention at present oply to acquaint the public with the exercises, which one celebrated feat of the Muses requires, of those who seek the envied honour of a Master of Arts degree. I speak not from displeasure or resentment; but voluntarily incur the odium of many persons attached by intereft and connections to the universities, with no other motive, than the defire of removing the disgrace of those noble establishments, by exposing the futility of the exercises to public animadverlion.

• The youth, whose heart pants for the honour of a Bachelor of Arts degree, moft wait patienily till near four years, have revolved. But this time is not to be spent idly. No; he is obliged, during this period, once to oppose, and once to respond, in disputations held in the public schools—a formidable found, and a dreadful idea; but, on closer attention, the fear will vanilh, and contempt fupply its place.

• This oppofing and responding is termed, in the cant of the place, doing generals. Two boys, or men, as they call themselves, agree to do generals together. The first (tep in this mighty work is to procure arguments. These are always handed down, from generation to generation, on long flips of paper, and consist of foolish fyllogisms on foolish subjects, of the formation or the fignification of which, the respondent and opponent feidom know more than an infant in Swaddling cloaths. The next step is so go for a liceat so one of the petry officers, called the Regent Master of the Schools, who subscribes his name to the questions, and receives fix-pence as his fee. When the important day arrives, the two doughty disputants go into a large dully room, full of dirt and cobwebs, with walls and wainscot de. corated with the names of former disputants, who, to divert the tea dious hours, cut out their names with their penknives, or wrote verses with a pencil. Here they fit in mean desks, opposite to each other, from one o'clock till three. Not once in a hundred times does any officer enter ; and, if he does, he hears one fyllogism or two, and ihen makes a boxy, and departs, as be came and remained, in solemn filence. The dispucants then return to the amusement of cutting the desks, carving their names, or reading Sterne's Sentimental Journey, or some other edifying novel. When this exercise is duly performed by both parties, they have a right to the title and insignia of Sopbs; but not before they have been formally created by one of the regent. mallers, before whom they kneel, while he lays a volume of Aristotle's works on their heads, and puts on a hood, a piece of black crape, hanging from their necks, and down to their heels; which crape, it is expressly ordained by a statute in this case made and provided, Dhall be plain, and unadorned either with wool or with fur.

officers,

• And this work done, a great progress is made towards the wished. for honour of a bachelor's degree. There remain only one or two triling forms, and another disputation almost exactly fimilar to doing generals, but called answering under bachelor, pievious to the awful examination.

• Every candidate is obliged to be examined in the whole circle of the sciences by three masters of arts, of his own choice. The exa

mination is to be held in one of the public schools, and to continue i from nine o'clock till ele en. The matters take a molt folemn oath,

that they will examine properly and impartially. Dreadful as all this appears, there is always found to be more of appearance in it than reality; for the greatest dunce usually gets his tijtimonium figned with as much ease and credit as the finest genius. The manner of proceeding is as follows: The poor young man to be examined in the sciences often knows no more of them than bis bedmaker, and the mallers who examine are sometimes equally unacquainted with such mysteries. But schemes, as they are called, or little books, containirg forty or fifty questions on each science, are handed down, from age to age, from one to anotter. The candidate to be examined employs three or four days in learning these by heart, and the examiners, having done the same before him when they were examined, know what quellions to ak, and so all goes on smoothly. When the candidate has displayed his universal knowledge of the sciences, he is to display his fill in philology. One of the mafters, therefore, defires him to contrue a passage in some Greek or Latin clasic, which he docs with no interruption, just as he pleases, and as well as he can. The ftatutes next require; that he should cranflate familiar Englith phrases into Latin. And now is the time when the matters thew their wit and jocularity. Droll quesions are put on any subject, and che puzzled candidate furnishes diversion by his aokward embar. rassment. I have known the questions on this occafion to confift of an enquiry into the pedigree of a race-horse. And it is a common

X 2

quellion, question, after aking what is the fummum bonum of various sects of philosophers, to ask what is the summum bonum, or chief good, among Oxonians; to which the answer is such as Mimnermus would give. This familiarity, however, only takes place when the examiners are pot-companions of the candidate, which indeed is usually the case ; for it is reckoned good management to get acquainted with two or three jolly young mallers of arts, and supply them well with poit, previoully to the examination. If the vice-chancellor and procors happen to enter the fchool, a very uncommon event, then a little fo. lemniiy is put on, very much to the confusion of the masters, as well as of the boy, who is fitting in the little box opposite to them. As neither the officer, nor any one else, usually enters the room (for it is reckoned very ungeneel), the examiners and the candidates ofien con. verse on the last drinking-bout, or on horles, or sead the newspaper, or a novel, or diiert themselves as well as they can in any manner, till the clock Arikes eleven, when all parties descend, and the tefti. morium is figned by the matters. With this teftimonium in his poflel. fion, the candidate is sure of success. The day in which the honour is to be conferred arrives; he appears in the Convocation house, be takes an abundance of oaths, pays a sum of money in fees, and, after kneeling down before the vice-chancellor, and whispering a lie, rises up a Bachelor of Arts.

• And now, if he aspires at higher honours (and what emulous spirit can sit down without aspiring at them ?) new labours and new difficulties are to be encountered during the space of three years. He mult determine in Lent, he must do quodlibets, he must do auflins, he met declaim twice, he must read lix folemn lectures, and he must be again examined in the sciences, before he can be promoted to the degree of Mafter of Aris.

• None but the initiated can know what determining, doing quodlibets, and doing auffins mean. I have ort room to enter into a minute de fcription of such contempiible minutiæ. Let it be sufficient to say. that these excrcises confit of disputations, and the dispurations of fyllogisms, procured and uttered nearly in the same places, time, and manner, as we have already seen them in doing generals. There is, however,' a great deal of trouble in little formalities, such as procuring lix-penny liceats, iticking up the names on the walls, fitting in large emply rooms by yourself, or with some poor wight as ill employed as you Telf. without any thing to fay or do, wearing hoods, and a Ittle piece of lambskin with the wool on it, and a variety of oiher particulars too tedious and too trifiing to enumerale.

• The declamations would be an useful exercise, if it were not always performed in a careless and evasive manner. The lectures are always called Wall Leciures, because the lecturer has no orber audience but the walls. Indeed he usually feels a lheet or two of Larin out of fome old book, no matter on wha: subject, though it ought to be on natural philosophy. There he keeps in bis pocker, in order to take them out and read away, if a prostor fhould come in; bot, otherwise. he is by himself, and soiaces him'elf with a book, nos from the Bodleian but the circulating library.

• The examination is performed exactly in the same manner as before described ; and, though reprefented as very formidavie, is fuco an one as a boy from a good school just entered, might go through as well as after a seven years residence. Few however reside; for the majority are what are called term-trotters, that is, persons who only keep the terms for form-sake, or spend fix or eight weeks in a year in the university, to qualify them for degrees, according to the letter of the Atatutes.

• After all these important exercises and trials, and after again taking oaths by wholesale, and paying the fees, the academic is honoured with a Master's degree, and issues out into the world with this undeniable passport to carry him through it with credit.

• Exercises of a nature equally dilly and obłolece, are performed, in a similar manner, for the other degrees ; but I have neither time nor parierce to enter into the detail.

• And now I seriously repea:, that what I have said proceeds from no other motive than a wish to see the glory of the universjes unsullied by the disgrace of requiring, with ridiculous solemnicy, a fer of childish and useless exercises. They raise no emulation, they confer no honour, they promote no improvement. They give a great deal of trouble, they walle much time, and they reader the university contemptible to its own members. I have the honour, such as it is, to be a member of the university of Oxford, and a master of aris in it. I know the adiantages of ihe place; but I also know its morc numerous and weighey disadvantages; and the confidence the public has already placed in me, makes it a duty to inform them of every thing, in which the general ftare of morals and litera:u'e is greatly concerned. I have done this duty; nor shall I regard the displeafure of all the doctors, both the proctors, nor of all ihe heads of colleges and halls, with their respective societies.'

On reviewing this picture, we scarcely know whether to grieve or smile. It is in itself absurd and farcical ; and yet, when we reflect on the consequences, we see something too serious for a laugh; and, with mingled astonishment and concern, we are ready to cry out, “ Are these things 1o?"-And yec though things are indeed so, an attempt to reform would in all probability be treated as a piece of officious zeal. Amendment would be called innovation :-and old MUMPSIMUS, as usual, would carry the day!

IN

Art, VII. The Hiftory of the Life of William Pitt, Earl of Cbarbam.

8vo.

4 s. Boards. Kearley. 1783. N this performance we meet with some entertainment, but

with liccle information. It is not a history drawn from any curious or hidden sources; but a declamation founded on events recorded in the common registers of the day. The reflections of the Writer are in general trite and fuperficial; but a certain pomp and elevation of style disguises the poverty of sentiment, and gives the air of novelty to what is hacknied, and of dignity to what is vulgar. And yet this affected brilliancy often obicures the sense : and description, swelling itself beyond the just limits of grace X 3

and

and decorum, under a violent emotion to stretch into the fube lime, sinks beneath its own efforts, and degenerates into bombaft

, There are however in the work before us some noble and elevated thoughts : and where the Writer doth not too much labour at loftiness of expression, he is nervous and elegant.

The Life of Lord Chatham, as this publication is entitled, is only a diffuse account of his political existence. We look in vain for any anecdotes relative to him as a husband, a fatber, or a friend. None of his domestic habits, none of his transactions in the lesser circles of life, are here recorded-thofe habits and transactions which make biography so pleasing, by introducing us to the hero's acquaintance in his more relaxed and familiar hours; and which, if well selected, and faithfully delineated, convey a juster idea of his real disposition and character, than the most minute relation of his conduct in the higher departments of the state, and the transactions of public life, where a man feels himself before the awful tribunal of the world. No. thing in Plutarch entertains and amuses the reader more than his familiarizing, by the incidents of common life, the characters of the herces whole exploits he celebrates. It may, however, be pleaded in favour of this Writer, that Lord Chatham's mind seems to have been so totally absorbed in political speculacions, that scarcely any other passion could obtain even a transient pofleflion of it. His history therefore is almost necessarily confined to intrigues of ftate, parliamentary debates, minifterial arrangements, and the other great scenes of the political drama, In delineating it, some of the more illustrious actors are brought forward; and their characters are, we think, juftly marked and discriminated,

The work before us is divided into nine chapters. We shall give a short sketch of their contents, that the Reader may form an idea of the entertainment he is likely to meet with from the perusal of the whole.

William Pitt was born Nov. 15th, 1708. His grandfather was Thomas Pitt, Governor of Madras, commonly called Diamond Pitt, on account of that extraordinary jewel which he fold to the King of France. His family was of Boconnoc, in Cornwall. His original destination was the army, and a cornetcy of horse was his first and only commiffion. His allowance was fcanty. An hereditary gout attacked him very early. His youth was marked by severe temperance. He took his feat in the House of Commons to oppose the corrupt adminiftration of Walpole; and diftinguished himself by the boldnefs and fervour of his fpeeches. The first chapter treats of his oppofition to the Spanish convention, and of Lord Carteret's adminiftration, Chap. II. Administration of Mr. Pelham: Mr. Pitt is appointed Peymaster-General: His versatility: Origin of the war of 1755;

Deach

« AnteriorContinuar »