12 DECEMBER 1885, Page 41

MEMORIALS OF MERTON COLLEGE.* IN this volume, which is one

of a series now in course of publica- tion under the auspices of the Oxford Historical Society, the Warden of Merton has succeeded in setting forth, as far as the archives of his College enable him to do so, a lively and interest- ing account of the Foundation over which he presides. The book, which, apart from its Appendices, contains three hundred pages, is divided into two sections of one hundred and fifty pages each, of which the former embraces the history of Merton College, and the latter is composed of lists of its Wardens and Fellows from the earliest days till the eighteenth century, with biographical notices of those of their number whose memory still survives. We mean no disparagement of Mr, Brodrick's work when we say that the mere dry statement of the facts con- nected with the institution and development of Merton College in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries would suffice to make any history of it interesting, for he has thrown valuable side- lights upon the tale he set himself to tell, so as to make his account an important contribution to the elucidation of the difficult problems of the period of intellectual development under the Plantagenet Kings.

All Oxford men know that Merton stands third in seniority in the list of Colleges in the official Oxford Calendar, University and Balliol, in that order, being placed above it. The very name of "University College" suggests that under some form or other it existed before any other corporate body which sprang up under the protection of the Alma Mater; though, by claiming for founder Alfred the Great, some four hundred years before any other similar corporation arose, it has thrown suspicion on its assertion of absolute priority. Balliol, the second on the list, is certainly not more than ten years older than Merton, if we regard the date when the latter was removed to Oxford ; while it was probably founded after the great Chancellor, Walter de Merton, established his " House of the Scholars of Merton " at Malden, in Surrey, in 1264. What makes the history of Merton College especially interesting is the fact that, pace the Oxford Calendar, it is, as a College, absolutely the oldest in Oxford, and consequently older than any other in England. Mr. Brodrick shows this clearly by reference to the dates of the first statutes of the three Colleges under discussion, • Memorials of Merton College. with Biographical Notices of the Wardens and FeHOWB. By the Hon. George 0. Brodrick, Warden of Merton College. Oxford : Printed for the Oxford Historical Society at the Clarendon Press. 1885.

those of Merton dating from 1274, those of University College from 1280, and those of Balliol from 1282. Peterhouso, the oldest of the Cambridge Colleges, framed its earliest statutes on those of Merton, at about the same time, with scarcely any alterations.

Walter de Merton, like most men of genius, was at once a child and a maker of his time ;—a. child of his time, inasmuch as he grew up under the influences which we see developed first under John, who, had he been endowed with better instincts, might have been a better Henry VIII., in- augurating a moderate Anglican Reformation. Those influences were all exercised in the direction of emancipation of thought from the supreme and despotic guidance of Rome and the priesthood ; and, in so far as they led to the secularisation of learning, formed a Renaissance as marked as the movement which has monopolised the name ; the Crusades in the one case, and the fall of Byzantium in the other, operating as immediate causes. But Walter de Merton was also a maker or guide of his time, inasmuch as he carried out the spirit of the new era, and applied it to the education of the youth of England. The

Merton Statutes, "the foundation of the College system," as Mr. Brodrick calls them, breathe in a more liberal air than any code of mere monastic rules. " Study, not the clanstralis religio of the older religious orders, nor the more practical and popular self- devotion of the Dominicans and Franciscans," was to be the

employment of the scholars. They were forbidden to take vows, and commanded not to take up the study of theology till they had gone through a course of the liberal arts and philosophy.

In contrast to the monastic government of the corporate bodies of earlier date, Merton was to have the services of chaplains, whose performance of the ritual duties of religion should relieve the scholars from the service of the altar, and give them the necessary leisure for study. Plain living, but not asceticism, was to be the ideal for all. Thus, through the realisa- tion of this "essentially original design," as Mr. Brodrick justly calls it, there was evolved gradually out of the Oxford of Henry ILI., who gave the University its first charter; out of the monasteries and halls, with which, to the number of 300, the City was crowded ; out of the friars, who swarmed thither from Continental Europe in the first half of the thirteenth century,—a pattern for the new Oxford which has continued without change in its essential character up to our own day. And the proud pre-eminence of Merton above all other Colleges, for some two centuries from its foundation, was a fitting monument to the genius of the great man who initiated the new system of University life and study. "Within the walls of Merton were trained the minds that chiefly influenced the thought of the fourteenth century." It was in the venerable library in Mob Quadrangle that the great schoolman, Dims Scotus, was said to have raised the devil, that William of Occam, the nominalist, and John Wyclif, the Reformer, seem to have studied, all three being probably fellows of that society. With the invention of the printing-press, which made study possible in other places besides the storehouses of manuscripts, and with the reformation in religion which destroyed the pre- dominance of the priesthood, Merton, along with all Oxford, suffered decline, temporary in the case of the University, which revived before another century had passed ; but Merton never regained its supremacy under the new system :—

" Nevertheless," says Mr. Brodrick, "the College system founded by Walter de Merton was destined to survive the temporary decay of the University, and continues to exercise a profound influence on the whole spirit of our higher education. To him, more than to any- one else, it is due that the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are more than mere fluctuating aggregates of professors and disciples. Whatever may be said against educational endowments, they afford the only means whereby poor students of ability can be relieved from the necessity of working for their bread and enabled to cnitivato literature or science. Whatever may be said against the collegiate monopoly, which for some generations cramped the freedom of University teaching, it is the Colleges which have provided academical homes, with the inestimable advantages of personal superintendence, tutorial discipline, and domestic associations. Instead of being divided into professional faculties, or left to group themselves in clubs, according to social or provincial distinctions, English students of various ranks and various pursuits have been united into families by the kindly intercourse of College life. The future clergyman, the future lawyer, the future landowner, and the future statesman, bound together by ties of early friendship, thus acquire a common stock of culture, sentiments and tastes, which is so distinctive and admirable a feature of English society. If the National Church is penetrated with lay ideas beyond any other ecclesiastical body in Christendom, if members of the learned professions in England seldom degenerate into mere specialists, and if the spirit of caste is but little cherished by the most powerful landed aristocracy in Europe, these results have no distant connection with the collegiate organisation of Oxford and

Cambridge. And thus, in establishing a model seminary for the secular priesthood, independent of Papal jurisdiction, Walter de Merton was unconsciously doing much to mould not only the character of the English Universities, but the character of the English nation, for centuries after the curtain should have fallen upon the great drama of the Middle Ages, transforming almost every mediaeval insti- tution in Church or State, but without destroying the identity of Merton College as it existed before the Reformation."

The history of Merton from the Reformation onwards occupies the remaining chapters of Mr. Brodrick's book, after the first ; but, owing to the fact that the College had lost its supremacy, and owing to the reduced vitality of the University itself, they do not collectively contain so much interesting matter as the first forty pages of the book. From being an important part of the history of the English people, the history of Merton now becomes more or less domestic, though, of course, at intervals of time, it con- nects itself with external events. Mr. Brodrick gives us an in eight into the life of the College at different stirring epochs, such as the time of the Marian persecution ; of Charles I.'s residence at Oxford, when Queen Henrietta Maria lived in the house of the Warden of Merton ; of the Protectorate, and of William III. ; but we cannot trace any consistent continuity, and, perhaps, it would be irrational to expect it, in the attitude of the College towards the problems of the day at different periods. A Merton man preaches the sermon before the stake, when Latimer and Ridley are burned to death ; and the College of Wyclif shows anti-Reformation feeling under Edward VI. Charles I. finds as

great devotion to his cause at Merton as at any other College; though, after the Revolution of 1688, "it gradually came to be known as a distinctively Whig College, and was regarded as an anti-Jacobite stronghold in Oxford for more than a generation" after that event.

Still, underlying all the changes which can be explained by the assumption of sympathy with the prevailing spirit of the University at any given time, or of mere opportunism, there is one characteristic which individualises Merton more or less throughout its entire history, namely, its tendency to prefer lay to clerical influences in its government. A glance along the list of Wardens which Mr. Brodrick gives us, with short biographical notices, shows how the spirit of the founder (who was something more than a Bishop of Rochester,being also twice Lord Chancellor

and Regent of England in the absence of Henry III. and of Edward I.) presided over the appointments to that post. Men with legal and medical diplomas, especially the latter, of whom the great Harvey was one, appear frequently among the Wardens.. Mr. Brodrick does not carry the list further than the thirty-fifth Warden, the sixth in ascent from himself, who, like some six or

seven of his predecessors, was a Doctor of Medicine. The late Warden was a lawyer, and the only lay Head of a College at Oxford for several years, though now All Souls certainly, as well as Merton, is presided over by a layman. If sermons were a more prominent feature in the services of the different College chapels than they are at present, it might be a real misfortune to have a layman for master, for undergraduates are as impressionable, and require as much guidance in their lives, as boys ; and we are told that it is in the pulpit that a headmaster rules his pupils, more than in the class-room, and that therefore most of our schools are presided over byclergymen. But as Oxford chapel pulpits are but moderately used, such an objection cannot hold ; while Congregation cannot but benefit by the presence of lay Heads at its meetings, for the clerical element is more than sufficiently strong in both our older Universities. Merton College, which enjoyed so brilliant a pre-eminence in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and experienced many varying fortunes for the next three hundred years, preserving, however, in the main, the enlightened traditions of its founder, seems to have sank into insignificance with the commencement of the eighteenth century, though not alone, for all Oxford sank with it. We presume that this is the reason why Mr. Brodrick lays down his pen when he does. He may well have thought, " Quis leget hmc ? " when he came to the record of that dead time.

The accession of the House of Brunswick, and the prominence attained by Parliament at the expense of King and Church, or some cause connected with the political changes of the age, seem to have bred an almost fatal lethargy in academic centres.

The annual matriculation list during much of the last century at Oxford was startlingly small. Adam Smith and Gibbon, as Mr. Leslie Stephen tells us in his monograph on Samuel John- son, suffered from the prevailing indifference of the authorities, and gave expression to strong feelings on the subject, Gibbon saying that he passed at Oxford "the most idle and nnprofit- able " months of his whole life. " Oxford, as judged by these men, was remarkable as an illustration of the spiritual and intellectual decadence of a body which at other times has been a centre of great movements of thought." Its resident staff, under the first three Georges, seem to us to have been " vervecum in patrii, crassoque sub aere nati;" nor was there any awakening till England felt the influences at work in her which were first stirred by the French Revolution. "Except Methodism," says Mr. Brodrick, "the great movements of thought which underlay the artificial society of the eighteenth century had no connection with the University, and the minds which dominated the world of politics and literature were trained in a wholly different school." Oxford had done her work when she had given the necessary minimum of culture to the future vicars of country parishes and domestic chaplains of noblemen.

We pass by the second half of Mr. Brodrick's volume here, as its contents are not likely to interest the general reader, though of course, here and there, great names, such as Bradwardine, Wyclif, Savile, and Bodley appear. Mertonians ought, how- ever, to be interested in reading of those who trod the old quadrangles once, and will enjoy the study of the very clear plan of their College and its environs at the end of the fifteenth century, which is appended to the book.