« AnteriorContinuar »
TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.
TOWARDS the end of 1699, about eight months after the publication of Bentley's Dissertation on Phalaris, the Mastership of Trinity College, Cambridge, became vacant by the removal of Dr. Mountague to the Deanery of Durham. The nomination of a successor rested with six Commissioners, to whom King William had entrusted the duty of advising in the ecclesiastical and academic patronage of the Crown. They were Archbishops Tenison and Sharp, with Bishops Lloyd, Burnet, Patrick, and Moore - the lastnamed in place of Stillingfleet, who had died in April, 1699. On their unanimous recommendation, the post was given to Bentley. He continued to hold the office of King's Librarian; but his home thenceforth was at Cambridge.
No places in England have suffered so little as Oxford and Cambridge from the causes which tend to merge local colour in a monochrome. The academic world which Bentley entered is still, after a hundred and eighty years, comparatively near to us, both in form and in spirit. The visitor in 1700, whom the coach conveyed in twelve hours from the “Bull” in Bishopsgate Street to the “Rose” in the Market-place of Cambridge, found a scene of which the
essential features were the same as they are to-day. The most distinctive among the older buildings of the University had long been such as we now see them; already for nearly two centuries the chapel of King's College had been standing in the completeness of its majestic beauty; the charm of the past could already be felt in the quadrangles and cloisters of many an ancient house, in pleasant shades and smooth lawns by the quiet river, in gardens with margins of bright flowers bordering time - stained walls, over which the sound of bells from old towers came like an echo of the middle age, in all the haunts which tradition linked with domestic memories of cherished
It was only the environment of the University that was decidedly unlike the present. In the narrow streets of the little town, where feeble oil-lamps flickered at night, the projecting upper stories of the houses on either side approached each other so nearly overhead as partly to supply the place of umbrellas. The few shops that existed were chiefly open booths, with the goods displayed on a board which also served as a shutter to close the front. That great wilderness of peat-moss which once stretched from Cambridge to the Wash had not yet been drained with the thoroughness which has since reclaimed two thousand square miles of the best corn-land in England; tracts of fen still touched the outskirts of the town; snipe and marsh-fowl were plentiful in the present suburbs. To the south and south-east the country was unenclosed, as it remained, in great measure, down to the beginning of this century. A horseman might ride for miles without seeing a fence.
The broadest difference between the University life of Bentley's time and of our own might perhaps be roughly described by saying that, for the older men, it had more resemblance, both in its rigours and in its laxities, to the life of a monastery, and, for the younger men, to the life of a school. The College day began with morning chapel, usually at six. Breakfast was not a regular meal, but, from about 1700, it was often taken at a coffee-house where the London newspapers could be read. Morning lectures began at seven or cight in the College hall. Tables were set apart for different subjects. At "the logick table”
one lecturer is expounding Duncan's treatise, while another, at "the ethick table," is interpreting Puffendorf on the Duty of a Man and a Citizen; classics and mathematics
The usual College dinner-hour, which had long been 11 A.M., had advanced before 1720 to noon. The afternoon disputations in the Schools often drew large audiences to hear “respondent” and opponent” discuss such themes as “ Natural Philosophy does not tend to atheism," or “Matter cannot think.” Evening chapel was usually at five; a slight supper was provided in hall at seven or eight; and at eight in winter, or nine in summer, the College gates were locked. All students lodged within College walls. Some tutors held evening lectures in their rooms. Dis. cipline was stern. The birch-rod which was still hung up at the butteries typified a power in the College dean similar to that which the fasces announced in the Roman Consul; and far on in the seventeenth century it was sometimes found to be more than an austere symbol, when a youth showed himself, as Anthony Wood has it, “too forward, pragmatic, and conceited." Boating, in the athletic sense, was hardly known till about 1820, and the first record of cricket in its present form is said to be the match of Kent against England in 1746; but the undergraduates of Bentley's day played tennis, racquets, and bowls; they rang peals on church-bells; they gave concerts; nay, we hear that the votaries “ of Handel and Co. relli” (the Italian violinist) were not less earnest than those of Newton and Locke. In Bentley's Cambridge the sense of a corporate life was strengthened by continuous residence. Many Fellows of Colleges, and some undergraduates, never left the University from one year's end to another. An excursion to the Bath or to Epsom Wells was the equivalent of a modern vacation-tour. No reading-party had yet penetrated to the Lakes or the Highlands. No summer fêtes yet brought an influx of guests ; the nearest approach to anything of the kind was the annual Sturbridge Fair in September, held in fields near the Cam, just outside the town. The seclusion of the University world is curiously illustrated by the humorous speeches which old custom allowed on certain public occasions. The sallies of the academic satirist were to the Cambridge of that period very much what the Old Comedy was for the Athens of Aristophanes. The citizens of a compact commonwealth could be sufficiently entertained by lively criticism of domestic affairs, or by pointed allusions to the conduct of familiar persons.
In relation to the studies of Cambridge the moment of Bentley's arrival was singularly opportune. The theories of Descartes had just been exploded by that Newtonian pbilosophy which Bentley's Boyle Lectures bad first popularised; in alliance with Newton's principles, a mathematical school was growing; and other sciences also were beginning to flourish. Between 1702 and 1727 the University was provided with chairs of Astronomy, Anatomy, Geology, and Botany; whilst the academic study of Medicine was also placed on a better footing. George I. founded the chair of Modern History in 1724. For classical learning the latter part of the seventeenth century had been a somewhat sterile period. There was thus a twofold function for a man of comprehensive vigour, holding an eminent station in the University—to foster the new learning, and to reanimate the old. Bentley proved himself equal to both tasks.
On February 1, 1700, the Fellows of Trinity College met in the chapel for the purpose of admitting their new Master. Bentley took the Latin oath, promising (amongst other undertakings) that he would “observe in all things the Statutes of the College, and interpret them truly, sincerely, and according to their grammatical sense;" that he would “rule and protect all and singular Fellows and Scholars, Pensioners, Sizars, Subsizars, and the other members of the College, according to the same Statutes and Laws, without respect of birth, condition, or person, without favour or ill-will;" that, in the event of his resigning or being deposed, he would restore all that was due to the College“ without controversy or tergiversation." He was then installed in the Master's seat, and his reign began.
Bentley had just completed his thirty-eighth year. He had a genius for scholarship, which was already recognised. He had also that which does not always accompany it, a large enthusiasm for the advancement of learning. His powers of work were extraordinary, and his physical strength was equal to almost any demand which even he could make upon it. Seldom has a man of equal gifts been placed at so early an age in a station which offered such opportunities.
Henry VIII. founded Trinity College only a few weeks before his death. Two establishments, each more than two centuries old, then stood on the site of the present