The fifteenth century, the age of revived letters and intelligence through Europe,1 was the chief era of Scotch University foundations. The University of St. Andrews was founded in the beginning of the century, Glasgow in the middle, and Aberdeen at its close. The last, like the former two, owed its birth to the Bishop of the diocese; and its founder, Bishop Elphinstone, had a large experience of what was beneficial or defective in other Universities.
The situation of the new school of learning may have in some degree influenced its constitution. It was represented to the Pope that, in the north of Scotland, were some districts so distant, and separated from the places where Universities had already been established, by such obstacles of mountains and arms of the sea, and dangers of the way, that the natives remained rude, unlettered, and almost barbarous, insomuch that persons could hardly be found there fit for preaching the word of God, and ministering the sacraments of the Church. Aberdeen was held to be “sufficiently near” for educating the people of those rude regions; at any rate it had the advantage of possessing a Bishop with zeal enough to give the endowment, and sufficient influence to obtain the royal and papal privileges necessary for a university.
While we allow for some exaggeration in stating the necessity of the new foundation, it was not easy to overstate the physical and ethical impediments to education in the Highlands and Isles of Scotland. These, to a great degree, remain unconquered at this day. But it would be a mistake to join under the common description of barbarous ignorance the district in which the new University was founded, or indeed any part of the eastern coast or Lowlands of Scotland. Centuries before the era of our oldest University, the whole corn-bearing land of Scotland was occupied bu the same energetic tribes, whether Saxon or Danish, who colonized England. Towns were built wherever a river’s mouth gave haven for small ships in the dangerous coast. Trade was carried on with the kindred people of Flanders, Holland, and Normandy; and the hides and wool of our mountains, the salmon of the Dee and Tay, and the herring of our seas, were exchanged against the cloths of Bruges, the wines of Bordeaux and the Rhine; and the table luxuries, as well as the ornaments of dress and art, which found admirers among us long before we appreciated what are now counted the comforts of life. A trading and friendly intercourse with the continental nations would, of itself, go far to prove some intelligence and education.
But this is not left to speculation. Master Thomas of Bennum writes himself “Rector scholarum de Aberdeen” in the year 1262;2 and we learn, at a later period, that these were proper burghal schools, endowed by the community, and under the patronage of the magistrates. In 1418, we find a schoolmaster of Aberdeen – Magister Scholarum burgi de Aberdene– presented by the alderman and the community; when the Chancellor of the diocese, the inducting officer, testifies him to be of good life, of honest conversation, of great literature and science, and a graduate in arts.3 Sixty years later, but still prior to the foundation of the University, the “Master of the Grammar Schules of Abirdene” had the respectable salary of five pounds yearly, “of the common gude of the toune,” until he should be provided with a benefice in the church of St. Nicholas.4 It was in the next century that Master John Marshall, master of the Grammar School of Aberdeen, “inquirit be the Provost whom of he had the same of the said good Town, offerand him reddy to do thame and thair bairnis service and plesour at his power.”5
The chief difficulty in any attempts at popular education must have arisen from the scarcity of books. But, after all, that was not greater on the eve of the grand invention of printing, than it had been in all ages of the world before. It did not press more heavily upon the Scotchman of the fourteenth century, than it did on the Italian contemporaries of Petrarch and Boccaccio, than it had done upon the people who appreciated the verse of Sophocles, and the rhetoric of Demosthenes, and the philosophy of Plato. How this impediment to instruction was overcome, is for us difficult to understand. That it was overcome, we know. Among other means to supply the defect of books, public dictation was, perhaps, the chief, and this explains much of the method of the old Universities, where time was given to writing down verbatim the dictata of the master, which might have been better bestowed, if books had been common, in obtaining a full knowledge of the subject of his lecture.
The scarcity of books had one effect which has not been enough considered. It tended to congregate students in masses. One public library afforded the seeds of learning to multitudes who could not buy books. The teaching of Abelard opened to thousands whom his writings could never reach, the mysteries of a new philosophy. The comparing of opinions, the disputations, the excitement of fellow-students, the emulation – even the enthusiasm arising from the mere crowd engaged in one pursuit – made up in part for the want of books, which was one of the causes that compelled the multitude to come together. Universities were infinitely more necessary when books were scarce.
In 1411, the Bishop of St. Andrews founded his University. Forty years later, the rival see of Glasgow followed; and in 1494, Bishop Elphinstone of Aberdeen obtained the Papal constitution for the studium generale or University of his Episcopal See. The Pope bestowed the usual privileges of a University (of which Bologna and Paris were the patterns, and licensed masters and doctors, whether ecclesiastical or lay, to teach, study, and confer degrees in Theology, the Canon and the Civil Law, Medicine, and Arts. Such were the simple operative words by which the recognised power of the Head of the Church admitted the new University and its members to the great fellowship of the scholars of Christendom.
There is nothing here of endowments or of Colleges. By what may be called the public University law, all masters and doctors were entitled, and even bound to “read,” that is, to teach, in their several faculties, for a limited time after obtaining their degrees, in the University where they graduated. That was the only provision for teaching by the ancient constitution of the Universities of all Europe; and the constitution and early practice of Bishop Elphinstone’s mother University of Glasgow were not different. But the primitive liberty of teaching, and of choosing masters, had some manifest disadvantages, which induced first the Italian, and afterwards other foreign Universities, to exchange the free competition of “reading” graduates receiving a small fee from each student, for a limited number of salaried teachers. This new system was followed by Bishop Elphinstone, and he engrafted upon the papal erection of the University, ten years after its date, a full collegiate body,6 sufficiently endowed, for teaching the several faculties, and for the service of the church which he founded in immediate connexion with his University. The endowment of the College was all obtained by the Bishop’s own means or influence. The young king made a small donation in aid of the new fabric, when he passed by in one of his pilgrimages to Saint Duthac; but it does not appear that he assisted the foundation otherwise, except by consenting to the annexation of the Hospital of St. Germains, and allowing the new University to bear his name.
The papal erection declared the Bishop ex officio Chancellor of the University. No provision was made for the appointment of the other high officer of the University, the Rector; his election being left to the common University law which placed it in the cotes of the general body of the University. In like manner, the election of Proctors by the nations, according to the ancient and uniform practice of Universities, is taken for granted, not prescribed.
The Rector of the University, if a stranger, or the Official, if the Rector was himself a member of the College, with the advice of four masters chosen by the four nations of the University, had the duty of yearly visitation of the College.
The persons composing the College were elected in such a manner, that, though the Rector of the University and the Proctors of the four nations had voices, the real power lay with the chief members of the College.
The obtainer of the Papal and Royal privileges for the University, himself the founder and endower of the College and its Church, Bishop William Elphinstone, has left a name to be reverenced above every other in the latter days of the ancient Scotch Church. His biographer, Boece, sufficiently zealous, and living so near in time and situation that he could not be uninformed, has given only a general account of his descent ex veteri Elphinstonorum failia; and the same silence might be thought allowable now, were it not for the mis-statements of later writers. There is no doubt that he was, like so many well-educated men of his time, the offspring of a churchman, who could not legally marry, but whose connexion and family, in violation of his vows, were then tolerated by society, and almost sanctioned by the practice of the highest of his order.7 His father was William Elphinstone, rector of Kirkmichael and Archdeacon of Teviotdale, whom there is better reason than tradition for believing to have been of a branch of the baronial house which was ennobled as Lords Elphinstone, and enriched with the lordship of Kildrummy by James IV.8 He is asserted by Keith, following Crawfurd, to have died in 1486, “after he had the comfort of seeing his son Bishop of Aberdeen.” If we are to rely on the same authorities, William Elphinstone (the Bishop) was born in 1437,9 educated at the pædagogium and University of Glasgow, and only, at the mature age of twenty-four, received his degree of Master of Arts, at the same time that he took priest’s orders, having been for some years diverted from study by family and secular affairs. He studied canon law for several years at Glasgow, and practised as an advocate in the church courts. Then he retired to Kirkmichael, where he rusticated for some years on his father’s benefice, devoting himself to the cure of the parish.10 From this life he was roused by his uncle, Lawrence Elphinstone, vir optimus, who stimulated his ambition, and assisted him with the means to study at the most celebrated schools of the Continent. He spent a long time at the University of Paris. Elphinstone’s biographer describes his habits while studying at the University – “All day hearing preachers or professors of the canon law; by night, in solitude, recalling what he had heard during the day: most sparing of sleep and of food; most patient of labour, so that it was hard to say whether he studied more by day or by night.” We read this of Elphinstone, with a wish to believe it true, though our biographer’s unlucky rhetorical turn makes us suspect he might have said as much for one not so deserving. But, in the facts which follow, there can scarcely be a mistake. After completing his studies, he was appointed to fill the place of primarius lector in the University – an office, as Boece remarks, conferred only on the most learned – and he “read” canon law for six years there. Then, having received his degree of Doctor of Decrees, he migrated to the University of Orleans, and stayed some years studying the most abstruse and difficult parts of law with the professors there, who, at that time, had the highest reputation in legal science. His learning, and some opportunities he had of expounding law in public, brought him so much into notice, that his opinion was asked on great questions even by the Parliament of Paris. Boece records Elphinstone’s extreme intimacy and friendship with Jean de Ganai, who afterwards rose to great distinction as a lawyer and statesman, and was, successively, First President of the Parliament of Paris and Chancellor of France,11 a friendship that may have been serviceable afterwards to the Bishop and Chancellor of Scotland on his several embassies to the French court.
Elphinstone returned to Scotland in the ninth year after he had gone abroad, according to his biographer.12 He was Official General of the Diocese of Glasgow, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts of the University in 1471-2. In 1474, he was chosen rector of the University. Boece says that the office of Official was of great dignity, and given only to the most learned. We know that at that time the church courts, besides the load of properly consistorial cases, monopolized a great part of civil business. They were, in truth, the only settled and organized judicatures in Scotland, and were alone presided over by educated lawyers. Boece says Elphinstone was a severe judge, keeping in his mouth the adage – “He hurts the good, who spares the bad.” His reputation in the office at Glasgow obtained him, in 1478, promotion to the place of Official of Lothian, then probably the second judicial office in the kingdom,13 which he filled for two years, sitting in Parliament and serving on the judicial committees, which formed the supreme civil jurisdiction in Scotland. In 1481, he was made Bishop of Ross, though some delay took place in his consecration, perhaps on account of his birth.
Elphinstone was nominated Bishop of Aberdeen in the autumn of 1483.14 According to his biographer, he went on an embassy to France before that time; for, though he gives no date, he tells us it was to Louis XI., who died in that year, and adds, that his first bishopric was the reward for his service in it. The oration which he puts in the ambassador’s mouth we may safely trust was not delivered;15 and it will not lessen the good bishop in our eyes, if we abate something of the influence which Boece attributes to him in the councils of the weak and unfortunate James III. We know, from evidence of record, that he was employed in embassies to France, England, Burgundy, and Austria,16 and that, for a few months before the death of King James III., he held the office of Chancellor of the kingdom.17 He lost his great office on the accession of the young king, but was speedily restored to favour and to the royal counsels, and seems to have been keeper of the Privy Seal from 1500 till his death. Apparently as soon as he was appointed to the Bishopric of Aberdeen, more especially after he had ceased to be Chancellor, Elphinstone, though still occasionally called to serve his country in foreign missions, and to guide the councils of the gallant young monarch, devoted his chief attention to the affairs of his diocese; and it is not often that a prelate has left such a tradition of goodness, or so many proofs, still extant, of great benefits conferred. His first cares were to reform his clergy, and restore the service and the fabric of his cathedral.18 Next was the University. His last undertaking was the bridge over Dee, a more important, as well as a more arduous undertaking than men of this age can easily believe.
He did not live to complete all his great designs, but he had provided for their completion in substantial wise. With no private fortune, and without dilapidating his benefice, he provided for the buildings requisite for his University and collegiate church, and for the suitable maintenance of its forty-two members; and the cathedral choir, the King’s College, and the old grey bridge spanning the valley of the Dee, are monuments to his memory that command the respect of those who have no sympathy with his breviary, rich in legends of Scotch saints, and who would scarcely approve of his reformed Gregorian chant. His picture we love to fancy a true likeness, though painted by a flattering artist:- “He was most splendid in the maintenance of his establishment, seldom sitting down to dinner without a great company of guests of the gentry, and always with a well-furnished table. In the midst of such temptations, he himself, abstemious, but cheerful in aspect, gay in conversation, took great delight in the arguments of the learned, in music, and in decent wit: all ribaldry he detested. He had talent and energy for any business of public or private life, and could adapt himself equally to civil or church affairs. He seemed of iron frame, and was of indomitable courage in enduring labour. – one whom no toil, no exertion, no public or private duty, not age itself, could break. In his eighty-third year he discussed the weighty affairs of the state more acutely than any man; and showed no decay of mind, or any of the senses, while he preserved a ready memory, which, indeed, knew not what it is to forget. His old age was happy and venerable, not morose, anxious, peevish, low-spirited. Age had worked no change on his manners, which were always charming; nor did he suffer anything till his very last sickness, for which he could blame old age.” Having dissuaded the English war, and survived to mourn the fatal field of Flodden, he died, amid the universal love and sorrow of his diocese and his country, on the 25th October 1514.
Long afterwards, a great philosopher, who, like Elphinstone, had been connected with both the Universities which he was comparing, observed that there were “two obvious defects in the ancient constitutions of the University [of Glasgow]; the first, that no salaries were provided for regular lectures in the high faculties;… the second defect, that there was not sufficient power over the University to remedy disorders, when these became general, and infected the whole body.” And then, alluding to Aberdeen, he continues: “Either from the experience of what Elphinstone had seen in the University of Glasgow, or from a deeper knowledge of human nature, he supplied in his University both the defects we have observed in that of Glasgow: for he gave salaries not illiberal for the times, to those who were to teach theology, canon and civil law, medicine, languages, and philosophy, and pensions top a certain number of poor students; and likewise appointed a visitorial power, reserving to himself, as Chancellor, and to his successors in that office, a dictatorial power, to be exercised occasionally, according to the report of the visitors.”19
To work out his great plan of mixed religion and education, Elphinstone found qualified persons, for the most part at home, and probably in his own chapter. Two only he brought from abroad, Hector Boece and William Hay. They were both natives of Angus, and had spent their schoolboy days together at Dundee, and afterwards prosecuted their studies at the College Montaigu of Paris, where Boece was lecturing in philosophy, when Elphinstone, himself perhaps of the same college, induced him to undertake the duties of Primarius, or Principal of the infant seminary at Aberdeen.
It is not necessary to speak much of a person so well known as the historian of Scotland, and indeed there is little to tell of the events of his life. His estimation as a teacher is gathered partly from the tradition of the University, and partly from the list of eminent men whom he enumerates as instructed by him. He seems to have been rather a good Latinist than a scholar imbued with the riches of classical study. That he was of the reforming party of the day – the humanists, as they were called in the continental schools – we learn from his own expression, from his friends and associates, and especially from his profound admiration for Erasmus,20 with whom he had even the honour of corresponding. As a historian, he was at first admired and followed, and latterly condemned, in both cases much beyond reason. His object was to give a classical dress to his rude native chronicles. One must doubt whether he really meant his grave readers to credit his stories of “Veremund” and “Cornelius Campbell,” and the records from Iona. He found, over a large period of his history, bare lists of kings, and he took the pains of dressing them in what he thought suitable characters and actions. Quite unembarrassed by facts, he proposed to treat his subject like an artist, with the proper balancing of light and shadow, and studied to administer among the persons of his drama some sort of poetical justice. Leslie compares him to Livy, and his most fabulous portions are perhaps not more romantic than Livy’s first decade. The difference lies in the genius of the writers.21
Of William Hay, his companion through life, we know little but what we learn from Boece. He records his friend’s industry, and the pleasure he took in the business of education, with the success which attended their joint labours, in the production in a short time of many well disciplined in theology, canon and civil law, and very many in philosophy – “permulti in philosophia.“22 The merit of his labours must have been acknowledged, since, after filling the office of Sub-principal for a long period, upon the death of Boece in 1536, he was chosen to succeed his friend as Primarius or Principal of the College.23
The only other of Boece’s original coadjutors whom he commemorates, is John Vaus the grammaticus, or humanist, as that teacher was afterwards called – in hoc genere disciplinæ admodum eruditus, sermone elegans, sententiis venustus, labore invictus.24 Little is known of him; yet it can never be said we are altogether unacquainted with one who has written and printed books.
It is pleasant to mark the history of our University by the contemporary progress of the art which seems so essential to learning, that we cannot now easily conceive how education could go on without it. It was apparently by the influence of the founder of King’s College that the first printing-press was established in Scotland;25 and its first sustained effort was in giving to the world his Breviary of Aberdeen. Twelve years later, two of the teachers were at press with works connected with the University – Boece with his Lives of the Bishops of Aberdeen, and John Vaus with his first Essay in Grammar.
We have no means of ascertaining the success and popularity of the new school in its first age. The number of its students must have been considerable, to have afforded such a list of distinguished scholars as Boece collected before 1522. We might suspect some partiality or compliment in the praises of the Parisians, who regarded Aberdeen as the daughter of their own University, but Ferrerius had no such motive, when in 1534 he spoke of Aberdeen as the most celebrated of the Scotch Universities at that time.
The year 1541 was one of great honour to our University. In the summer of that year, James V. and his queen, after the death of the two infant princes, made a progress to the north, and were entertained by the Bishop of Aberdeen for fifteen days, being lodged apparently in the College buildings.26 Bishop Leslie, who must have been present, informs us that they were received there “with diverse triumphes and playes maid be the town, and be the university and sculis theirof, and remainit thair the space of fiftein dayes weill entertenit be the bishop; quhair ther was exercise and disputationes in all kind of sciences in the college and sculis, with diverse oratiouns maid in Greke, Latine, and uther languages, quhilk wes mickell commendit be the King and Quene and all thair company.”
These imperfect notices of the prosperity of the University bring us to the verge of that great revolution which, after years of struggle and convulsion, was consummated in 1560. It is not to be expected that, during the fierce contest, either the actors on the scene, or those who have recorded their acts, should bestow much attention on the seats where education was still doing her noiseless work. We know few of those who were teachers at Aberdeen before and at the era of the Reformation, but it would appear the members of the College, like the members of the Chapter of Aberdeen, were of that party, more numerous than is supposed, who acknowledged, and would willingly have corrected, some of the corruptions, especially in life and morals, which had crept into the Church, while they were not prepared to take the great leap of the Scotch Reformers.
The University must have declined from the palmy time of its early teachers, when we are first authentically informed of its constitution as reduced to practice. In 1549, Alexander Galloway, Prebendary of Kynkell,27 was Rector of the University for the fourth time, and has left a record of his Rectorial visitation, held in terms of the foundation, which shows us in part the working of the University, and the inner life of the College. There were no lay teachers in the University, and there were evidently very few educating in the College who were not on the foundation, and apparently none who were not preparing for the church, or the practice of the church courts. Bursars of Arts were not admissible unless “mere pauperes,” and were all educated and maintained gratis. The teachers were negligent, perhaps from the smallness of their audience. If the Collegiate body was still efficient for the service of the Collegiate Church – its first intention, and for bringing up young churchmen to perform that service, it can have had little reach beyond. The College had sunk into a convent and conventual school; and the design of the University, and the great hopes of its founder and first teachers seemed about to be frustrated.
As yet, there was no alarm felt for the storm which was so near. Although “the spread of heresy” had already drawn the attention of the cathedral chapter, the new opinions are not even allowed to in the proceedings of the visitors of the University in 1549, and whatever were the opinions of John Bisset the principal, it appears that he was not disturbed on account of them.
The masters of the University were first brought to question in the General Assembly of January 1561, when Knox and the leading Reformers had a sort of disputation or wrangle with the Sub-Principal and the Canonist of King’s College, without much profit or honour to either party.28
It is superfluous to say that nothing resulted from that conference, which might exasperate, but could not convince. For some years the Lords of the Congregation and the General Assemblies were occupied with more pressing matters; but in 1569 they found leisure to “purge” the University of Aberdeen. “Our Generall Assemblys took a particular inspection of the state of Universitys, especially after they had the countenance of the good Regent the Earle of Murray. Saint Andrews was pretty soon looked after, and some purgation made under Mr. John Douglas, Rector. That of Glasgow was extremely low every way, till Mr. Andrew Melvil was sent to it. In Aberdeen, a good many of the Popish masters made a shift to continow in their places. Several complaints were made by Mr. Adam Herriot, first minster at Aberdeen. After the Assembly, in the year 1569, commission was given to the Laird of Dun to visit that bounds, and particularly the University, with some others adjoyned to him. In July, the Regent, after he had settled the North and Highlands in peace, came to Aberdeen, and, with the council, joyned with the Superintendant and those in commission with him, and effectually purged that nursery of learning.”29 They called before them Mr. Alexander Anderson, now principal, Mr. Alexander Galloway, sub-principal, Mr. Andrew Anderson, Mr. Thomas Owsten, Mr. Duncan Norie, regents, and required them to subscribe articles approving the Confession of Faith, and adhering to the true kirk; and they, “most obstinately contemning his Grace’s most godly admonitions, and refusing to subscribe the articles,” were deprived and removed.30
We have seen that the principal, Alexander Anderson, was highly esteemed by those of his own persuasion. He is said, on insufficient authority, to have dilapidated the University and College, wishing that they should perish rather than breed heresy.31 On the other hand, the tradition of the College records a cause of gratitude to him which will not be disputed. When the mob from the Mearns, who had torn the lead from the Cathedral roof, were gathered with the same intention against the College buildings, the principal resisted, and was fortunate enough to resist successfully.32 We learn nothing of him, after his deprivation, but his death in 1577, “excommunicatt contrayr the religione and at the kyngis horne.”33
“Upon the purging of the College,” says Wodrow, “Mr. James Lowson was made sub-principal, and Mr. Alexander Arbuthnot, and many other shining lights in this church, taught in that University.”34
We know not the fate of the teachers ousted at the Reformation. They were mostly in church orders. Some may have found shelter among the great families who still adhered to the old faith: others probably sought employment among the bands of Scotch scholars, who were already numerous in all the continental Universities. Indeed, long before the definite era of the Reformation, the disturbed state of the country, and the tumult in men’s minds, had rendered Scotland no country for philosophical education. There was more pressing work to do, before the attention of the Reformers could be cast so far forward, or devoted to the peaceful and unexciting business of training a new generation. If the civil power, and, still more, if churchmen in power (of either party) interfered, it was generally to pull down rather than to build up – to persecute a popular adversary rather than to encourage an orthodox teacher.
Even this state of public affairs and of public feeling will not of itself account for the remarkable state of the Scotch scholar life of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The want of employment, the insecurity, the poverty at home, only in part explain the crowd of expatriated Scotchmen who were during those centuries teaching science and letters in every school of Europe. There was something in it of the adventurous spirit of the country – something of the same knight-errantry which led their unlettered brother to take service wherever a gallant captain gave hope of distinction and prize money. It was not enough for one of those peripatetic scholars to find a comfortable niche in a University, where he might teach and gain friends and some money for his old age. The whole fraternity was inconceivably restless, and successful teachers migrated from college to college, from Paris to Louvain, from Orleans to Angers, from Padua to Bologna, as men in later times completed their education by the Grand Tour. The University was “free” of all. His qualifications were on the surface too, and easily tested. A single conference settled a man’s character, where ready Latin and subtle or vigorous disputation were the essential points. But whatever were the causes, the student of the history of those centuries must be struck with the facts. The same period which saw Florence Wilson, Scrymger, the elder Barclay, received among the foremost scholars of Europe, in its most learned age, witnessed also three Scotsmen professors at Sedan35 at one and the same time, and two, if not three, together at Leyden.36 John Cameron, admirably learned, lecturing everywhere, everywhere admired, moved in 1600 from Glasgow to Bergerac, from Bergerac to Sedan, from Sedan to Paris, from Paris to Bordeaux, to Geneva, to Heidelberg, to Saumur, to Glasgow, again to Saumur, to Montauban, there to rest at last. But the type of the class was Thomas Dempster, a man of proved learning and ability, but whose adventures in love and arms, while actually “regenting” at Paris, at Tournay, at Toulouse, at Nimes, in Spain, in England, at Pisa, at Bologna, were as romantic as those of the Admirable Crichton* or Cervantes’ hero. Incidentally to his own history, Dempster makes us acquainted with four Scotchmen of letter whom he met at Louvain. He visited James Cheyne, a Scotch doctor at Tournay; succeeded David Sinclair as Regent in the college of Navarre at Paris, and was invited by Professors Adam Abernethy, and Andrew Currie, to join them at Montpellier.37
Of those expatriated Scots, scattered through the Universities of the Continent, Aberdeen had produced her share. Florence Wilson, who describes his native scenes by the banks of the Lossy, under the towers of Elgin, was equal to his friend Buchanan in easy graceful Latinity. He was a Greek scholar also, and taught Greek in 1540. But that part of his education could hardly be got at his native University. William Barclay, the great jurist – father of John, the author of the admirable romance the Argenis – David Chalmers of Ormond, besides multitudes of mere professors, kept up the reputation of King’s College abroad, while there were not wanting at home men of high name in literature, who owed their instruction to the Northern University. The depression, which is visible at the visitation of 1549, continued during the actual storm of the Reformation. In 1562, when Queen Mary made her northern progress, accompanied by the English ambassador, Randolph wrote from Aberdeen: “The Quene, in her progresse, is now come as far as Olde Aberdine, the Bishop’s seat, and where also the Universitie is, or at least, one college with fiftene or sixteen scollers.”38**
We shall form a high opinion of the reformed University, if we judge of it by the first Principal of its College. Alexander Arbuthnot, “a gentleman born of the house of Arbuthnot in Mearns,39 being trained up in the study of letters, and having passed the course of philosophy in the College of St. Andrews, went to France at the age of twenty-three years. There, applying himself to the laws, he lived five years an auditor of that great Doctor Cujacius, and being made licentiate, returned to Scotland in the year 1566, of purpose to follow that calling. But God otherwise disposing, in the year 1569 he was made principal of the College of Aberdeen, where, by his diligent teaching, and dexterous government, he not only revived the study of good letters, but gained many from the superstitions whereunto they were given. He was greatly loved of all men, hated of none, and in such account for his moderation with the chief of men of these parts, that without his advice they could almost do nothing, which put him in great fashery, whereof he did often complain Pleasant and jocund in conversation, and in all sciences expert; a good poet, mathematician, philosopher, theologue, lawyer, and in medicine skillful, so as in every subject he could promptly discourse, and to good purpose.”40 This is a favourable testimony by the Archbishop to a leader of the anti-episcopal party.
Arbuthnot was the friend and associate of the Melvilles, and a chief among that small section of the kirk who, themselves most learned, felt the necessity of reforming education as a means of religious reformation. James Melville never names him without commendation. He relates that, after the General Assembly of 1575, his uncle and he “past to Angus, in companie with Mr. Alexander Arbuthnot, a man of singular gifts of lerning, wesdome, godliness and sweitnes of nature, then Principall of Aberdein, whom withe Mr. Andro communicat anent the haill ordour of his collage in doctrine and discipline, and aggreit as therefter was sett down in the new reformation of the collages of Glasgow and Aberdein.”41 At another time, this best of gossips recalls the pleasant society in the house of his father-in-law John Dury, where the ministers of Edinburgh used to meet – “with a wonderful consent in varietie of giftes, all strak on a string and sounded a harmonie” – and where, at the seasons of the General Assembly, they were joined by still mo re eminent men: “Ther ludgit in his house at all these Assemblies in Edinbruche for common, Mr. Andro Melvill, Mr. Thomas Smeton, Mr. Alexander Arbuthnot, thrie of the lernedest in Europe… with sum zelus godlie barrones and gentilmen. In tyme of mealles, was reasoning upon good purposes, namlie,42 maters in hand; therefter ernest and lang prayer; therefter a chaptour read, and everie man about gaiff his not and observation thereof; sua that giff all haid bein sett down in wryt, I haiff hard the lernedest and of best judgment say, they wald nocht haiff wissed a fuller and better commentar nor sum tymes wald fall out in that exercise.”43 Principal Arbuthnot died in 1583; Spottiswood says he was in the forty-fifth year of his age, and that he was buried in the College Church.
Arbuthnot’s communication with Andrew Melville without doubt gave rise to that famous “new foundation” of King’s College, which was the subject of such contention afterwards. Like the parallel measure for Glasgow, it went to break down all the usages and feelings of a University, setting up a teaching institution in its place.44 On this account we cannot regret that it was abortive,45 but some of its provisions were evident improvements upon the existing practice, if not on the original foundation. The teachers were to be confined, each to one department, and not as hitherto, each to take his students through the four years of their course, a change sanctioned by the universal practice of the present day, yet not without leaving some cause of regret for the better acquaintance that must have existed between the teacher and the scholars when they journeyed in company through their whole academic life.46 The Canonist and Medicus were to be abolished. If the functions of the former were abrogated by the Reformation, that reason could hardly affect the latter.
It is unfortunate that we have no documents to show how the University throve under Arbuthnot’s presidency, nor any lists of graduates or students that might serve to prove the increase which we must believe would follow his improved discipline. We know that he introduced the study of Greek, and if, in other things, he followed Andrew Melvile’s example, as shown at Glasgow and St Andrews, where that zealous scholar set himself to educate teachers for future generations of students, we may look to Arbuthnot as the fountain of that theological learning and classical and literary taste which distinguished Aberdeen for a century after his own labours had ceased. The number of students when we first become acquainted with it, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, had, indeed, much increased since the “fifteen or sixteen scollers” of Queen Mary’s visit; but the quieter state of the country, and the comparative subsidence of the war of opinions, might, in a great measure, account for that improvement.
The history of the University during the seventeenth century – the government of the College funds – the discipline and studies – the dangers from without, and the greater perils from intestine discord – the partial decay and the restoration of the venerable school of learning – the steady increase of students through all the impediments of a turbulent age – are to be gathered, in general with sufficient accuracy and detail, from the records lately given to the world, especially the series of “Visitations.”47 We must not expect that any memorials of that period of church dissension should be free of party bias, especially where recorded by churchmen; but in the midst of prejudice and misrepresentation, some events, and fortunately some characters, stand above them and cannot be misunderstood.
Patrick Forbes of Corse, a gentleman of a competent estate in Aberdeenshire, having been induced by some peculiar causes to take orders, was made Bishop of Aberdeen in 1618. Of a presbyterian family, and educated by Andrew Melville, he had imbibed his master’s love of learning, and the principles of the straitest sect of the Kirk. The views of that body, when developed, appearing to him almost inconsistent with discipline or civil government, at length drove is from them, and threw his heartily into the party of the Church as then established. Spottiswood says of him that he was the best prelate in the Church of Scotland since Elphinstone, and adds – “So wyse, judicious, so grave and graceful a pastor, I have not known in all my time in anie church.” Judging not by his writings alone, but by the impression he made upon his age – gathering our opinion even from the vehement denunciations of his opponents – it is easy to see that that high character is not beyond the truth. Of his desire to enforce conformity by the secular arm – of his equal antipathy to Papists and Puritans – we need not speak: toleration was then unknown to Churchmen in power, of whatever sect. His pastoral care of his people was an example to the humblest minister of a parish; is discharge of his duties as Bishop of a great diocese, was regarded with admiration by those most averse to the office. As Chancellor of the University, his attention was perhaps too exclusively devoted to rendering it a school of sound theology; but, like Elphinstone, who had the same object in view, he knew that it could only be reached by the legitimate and severe discipline of secular learning and philosophy. Like Elphinstone, also, his care was to draw round this College and his Cathedral, men, who by their own accomplishment, might command respect for the lessons they taught.
He was alike vigilant concerning the fabric and the funds of the College, and the discipline of the members of the University. It appears that his care for these matters was much required. The Royal Commissioners, in 1619, represent the internal economy of the College as exceedingly faulty, and its affairs as verging to ruin, through neglect or dishonesty, and the Bishop writing to the king, speaks in even stronger terms: “As your Hienes’ pleasure must be a law to us, so wish I heartely that your Majestie understood particularly the distresse of that poor House through the abominable dilapidatioun of the meanes mortified thereto, by miserable men who, in bad times, not being controulled, have so securely sacked all that estait, as if nather a God hade bene in heaven to count with, nor men on earth to examin their wayes!”48 These censures may point at the alleged dilapidations of the last Roman Catholic Principal; but they may also have been called for by the misconduct, fortunately not irremediable, of the Principal then in office, Mr. David Raitt.
Leaving the records of his visitations to tell of his reformation of the College economy and his zealous care of the fabric, we may throw some light from other sources upon the exertions Bishop Forbes made for literature. Immediately upon his promotion, he began to fill the pulpits and the academic chairs with that remarkable band of scholars who remained to meet the storm which he escaped. Their names are now little known except to the local antiquary; but no one who had even slightly studied the history of that disturbed time, in unacquainted with the collective designation of “the Aberdeen Doctors,” bestowed upon the learned “querists” of the ultra-Presbyterian Assembly of 1638, and the most formidable opponents of the Solemn League and Covenant.
Of these learned divines, Dr. Robert Barron had succeeded Bishop Forbes in his parish of Keith, and from thence was brought on the first opportunity to be made minister of Aberdeen, and afterwards Professor of Divinity in Marischal College. He is best judged by the estimation of his own time, which placed him foremost in philosophy and theology. Bishop Sydserf characterizes him as vir in omni scholastica theologia et omni literatura versatissimus. “A person of incomparable worth and learning,” says Middleton, “he had a clear apprehension of things, and a rare facultie of making the hardest things to be easily understood.”49 Gordon of Rothiemay says, “He was one of those who maintained the unanswerable dispute (in 1638) against the Covenante, which drew upon him both ther envye, hate, and calumneyes; yet so innocently lived and dyed hee, that such as then hated him, doe now reverence his memorye, and admire his works.” Principal Baillie, of the opposite party, speaks of him as “a meek and learned person,” and always with great respect; and Bishop Jeremy Taylor, writing in 1659 to a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, recommending the choice of books for “the beginning of a theologicall library,” names two treatises of Barron’s especially, and recommends generally, “everything of his.”50 That a man so honoured for his learning and his life, should receive the indignities inflicted on Barron after his death, is rather to be held as a mark of the general coarseness of the time, than attributed to the persecuting spirit of any one sect.51
Another of the Aberdeen doctors, William Leslie, was successively Sub-Principal and Principal of King’s College. The visitors of 1638 found him worthy of censure, as defective and negligent in his office, but recorded their knowledge that he was “ane man of gude literature, lyff, and conversatioun.” “He was a man,” says James Gordon, “grave, and austere, and exemplar. The University was happy in having such a light as he, who was eminent in all the sciences above the most of his age.”
Dr. James Sibbald, minister of St. Nicholas, and a regent in the University, is recorded by the same contemporary:- “It will not be affirmed by his very enemyes, but that Dr. James Sibbald was ane eloquent and painefull preacher, a man godly and grave and modest, not tainted with any vice unbeseeming a minister, to whom nothing could in reason be objecte3d, if you call not his anti-covenanting a cryme.”52 Principal Baillie, while condemning his Arminian doctrines, says, “The man was there of great fame.”
Dr. Alexander Scroggy, minister in the Cathedral Church, first known to the world as thought worthy to contribute to the Funerals of his patron and friend Bishop Forbes,53 is described in 1640 by Gordon, as “a man sober, grave, and painefull in his calling,” and by Baillie, as “ane old man, not verie corrupt, yet perverse in the Covenant and Service-book.” His obstinacy yielded under the weight of old age and the need of rest, but he is not the more respected for the questionable recantation of all his early opinions.54
Dr. William Forbes, who died Bishop of Edinburgh, another of the Aberdeen doctors, was more immediately connected with Marischal College, having received the beginning of his education there, and being afterwards its Principal. “He was,” says the parson of Rothiemay, “one of the learnedest men, and one of the most eloquent preachers of is age, or that ever Aberdeen, the nursery of so many great spirits, ever brought forthe.”55 Bishop Burnet tells us “he was a grave and eminent divine. My father that knew him long, and, being of counsel for him in his law matters, had occasion to know him well, has often told me that he never saw him but he thought his heart was in heaven.”56 “Vir, vitæ sanctimonia,” says Dr. Garden, “humilitate cordis, gravitate, modestia, temperantia, orationis et jejunii frequentia, bonorum operum praxi, industria pauperum cura, clinicorum crebra visitatione et consolatione, et omnifaria virtute Christiana, inter optimos primitivæ ecclesiæ patres annumerandus.”57 Bishop Cosin of Durham esteemed Dr. William Forbes’s writings so highly, that he transcribed with his own hand all his remains.58
Eminent, among that body of divines and scholars, was John Forbes, the good Bishop’s son. He had studied at King’s College, and, after completing his education i the approved manner by a round of foreign Universities, returned to Scotland to take his doctor’s degree, and to be the first professor in the chair of theology, founded and endowed in our University by his father and the clergy of the diocese. Dr. John Forbes’s theological works have been appreciated by all critics and students, and have gone some way to remove the reproach of want pf learning from the divines of Scotland. His greatest undertaking, the Instructiones Historico-Theologicæ, which he left unfinished, Bishop Burnet pronounces to be “a work which, if he had finished it, and had been suffered to enjoy the privacies of his retirement and study to give us the second volume, had been the greatest treasure of theological learning that perhaps the world has yet received.”59
These were the men whom the Bishop drew into the centre and heart of the sphere which he had set himself to illuminate; and, in a short space of time, by their united endeavours, there grew up around their Cathedral and University a society more learned and accomplished than Scotland had hitherto known, which spread a taste for literature and art beyond the academic circle, and gave a tone of refinement to the great commercial city and its neighbourhood.
It must be confessed the cultivation was not without bias. It would seem, that in proportion as the Presbyterian and Puritan party receded from the learning of some of their first teachers, literature became here, as afterwards in England, the peculiar badge of Episcopacy. With Episcopacy went, hand in hand, the high assertion of royal authority; and influenced as it had been by Bishop Patrick Forbes and his followers, Aberdeen became, and continued for a century to be, not only a centre of northern academic learning, but a little stronghold of ultra loyalty and episcopacy – the marked seat of high cavalier politics and anti-Puritan sentiments of religion and church government.
That there was a dash of pedantry in the learning of that Augustan age of our University, was the misfortune of the time, rather than peculiar to Aberdeen. The literature of Britain and all Europe, except Italy, was still for the most part scholastic, and still to a great degree shrouded in the scholastic dress of a dead language; and we must not wonder that the northern University exacted from her divines and philosophers, even from her historians and poets, that they should use the language of the learned. After all, we owe too much to classical learning to grudge that it should for a time have overshadowed and kept down its legitimate offspring of native literature. “We never ought to forget,” writes one worthy to record the life and learning of Andrew Melville, “that the refinement and the science, secular and sacred, with which modern Europe is enriched, must be traced to the revival of ancient literature, and that the hid treasures could not have been laid open and rendered available but for that enthusiasm with which the languages of Greece and Rome were cultivated in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.”60
It is not to be questioned that in the literature of that age, and in all departments of it, Aberdeen stood pre-eminent. Clarendon commemorates the “many excellent scholars and very learned men under whom the Scotch Universities, and especially Aberdeen, flourished.”61 “Bishop Patrick Forbes,” says Burnet, “took such care of the two Colleges in his diocese, that they became quickly distinguished from all the rest of Scotland… They were an honour to the Church, both by their lives and by their learning, and with that excellent temper they seasoned that whole diocese, both clergy and laity, that it continues to this very day very much distinguished from all the rest of Scotland, both for learning, loyalty, and peacableness.”62
That this was no unfounded boast, as regards one department of learning, has been already shown, in enumerating the learned divines who drew upon Aberdeen the general attention soon after the death of their Bishop and master. In secular learning it was no less distinguished. No one excelled Robert Gordon of Straloch in all the accomplishments that honour the country gentleman. Without the common desire of fame, or any more sordid motive, he devoted his life and talents to illustrate the history and literature of his country. He was the prime assistant to Scotstarvet in his two great undertakings, the Atlas and the collections of Scotch poetry.63 The maps of Scotland in the Great Atlas (many of them drawn by himself, and the whole “revised” by him at the earnest entreaty of Charles I.), with the topographical descriptions that accompany them, are among the most valuable contributions ever made by an individual to the physical history of his country. His son, James Gordon, Parson of Rothiemay, followed out his father’s great objects with admirable skill, and, in two particulars, he merits our gratitude even more. He was one of the earliest of our countrymen to study drawing, and to apply it to plans and views of places; and, while he could wield Latin easily, he condescended to write the history of his time in excellent Scotch.
While these writers were illustrating the history of their country in prose, a crowd of scholars were writing poetry, or, at least, pouring forth innumerable copies of elegant Latin verses. While the two Johnstons were the most distinguished of those poets of Aberdeen, John Leech, once Rector of our University,64 David Wedderburn, Rector of the Grammar School, and many others, wrote and published pleasing Latin verse, which stands the test of criticism. While it cannot be said that such compositions produce on the reader the higher effects of real poetry, they are not without value, if we view them as tests of the cultivation of the society among which they were produced. Arthur Johnston not only addresses elegiacs to the Bishop and his doctors, throwing a charming classical air over their abstruser learning, but puts up a petition to the magistrates of the city, or celebrates the charms of Mistress Abernethy, or the embroideries of the Lady Lauderdale, all in choice Latin verse, quite as if the persons whom he addressed appreciated the language of the poet.65
Intelligent and educated strangers, both foreigners and the gentry of the north, were attracted to Aberdeen; and its Colleges became the place of education for a higher class of students than had hitherto been accustomed to draw their philosophy from a native source.66
If it was altogether chance, it was very fortunate accident, which placed in the midst of a society so worthy of commemoration a painter like George Jamiesone, the pupil of Rubens, the first, and, till Raeburn, the only great painter whom Scotland had produced. Though he was a native of Aberdeen, it is not likely that anything but the little court of the Bishop could have induced such an artist to prosecute his art in a provincial town. An academic orator in 1630, while boasting of the crowd of distinguished men, natives and strangers, either produced by the University, or brought to Aberdeen by the Bishop, was able to point to their pictures ornamenting the hall where his audience were assembled. Knowing by whom these portraits were painted, we cannot but regret that so few are preserved.67
The intellectual society thus gathered round the Cathedral and University would have been incomplete without a printing-press, and, to meet that want, the Bishop induced Edward Raban, an Englishman who had settled as a printer at St. Andrews, to quit the older University, and establish at Aberdeen the first press which had ever crossed the Grampian line.68 The chief inducement to the undertaking was, without doubt, the convenience of saving the endless dictation and writing required in teaching grammar and philosophy where there were no text-books; but the press served higher purposes also, and we not only owe to Raban’s types the first editions of Arthur Johnston’s Latin Poetry, but to him and his successors we are indebted for a large mass of Academic literature, which must have been lost without them, and which furnishes the best materials (after the proper archives) of University history.69 The first book printed in Aberdeen bears the date of 1622, being just a century after John Vaus crossed to Paris to have his grammar printed, and 115 years after Chepman and Miller established their printing-press at Edinburgh.
The Bishop was fortunate in the time of his death (1635), escaping the storm which destroyed the Cathedral he had laboured to restore, and which threatened to involve his renovated University in the common ruin. With more feeling than he usually expresses, Gordon of Rothiemay concludes his account of the Assembly of 1640, which “purged” the University. “Thus the Assembly’s errand was thoroughly done; thes eminent divynes of Aberdeen, either deade, deposed, or banished; in whom fell mor learning then wes left behynde in all Scotlande besyde at that tyme. Nor has that cittye, nor any cittye in Scotland, ever since seene so many learned divynes and scollers at one tyme together as wer immediatly befor this in Aberdeene. From that tyme fordwards, learning beganne to be discountenanced; and such as wer knowing in antiqwitie and in the wryttings of the fathers, wer had in suspitione as men who smelled of poperye; and he was most esteemed of who affected novellisme and singularitye moist; and the very forme of preaching, as wealle as the materialls, was chainged for the most pairt. Learning was nicknamed human learning; and some ministers so farr cryed it doune in ther pulpittsm as they wer heard to saye, ‘Downe doctrine and upp Chryste!’ “70
It was in the year following6 that King Charles I. made the great experiment of uniting the two Colleges of Old and New Aberdeen under one University, to be called “King Charles’s University,” and which for a short time flourished under the title of UNIVERSITAS CAROLINA. Unfortunately we learn nothing of the promoters of this measure, nor of the causes that induced one of the united bodies afterwards to dissolve a union which, whether then legally effected or not, seems to us at the present day so reasonable and so expedient for the Colleges themselves, the public, and the cause of literature, that when it shall have come to pass, as it needs must, all men will wonder at the prejudice which so long delayed it.71
Even the sharp discipline of the General Assembly, enforced by Munro’s musketeers, did not extinguish either the principles or the learning which had taken root in Aberdeen. The University continued to be well attended, and by a high class of students. The reputation of its scholars, and its comparative moderation in church politics, drew to it the sons of many a northern lord and laird who disliked the Covenant, and of some, perhaps, who cherished a lurking reverence for Episcopacy. There, too, without doubt, came many a youth seeking an education in good letters and Christian philosophy, though not designing to throw the energy of his after life into a struggle for the predominance of any sect or any shape of church government. All alike, it would seem, must have subscribed the formula of the Covenant, with such reservation and qualification as such tests usually produce.
When John Row had been placed in the Principal’s chair by Cromwell’s five Colonels, he brought with him the discipline of his patron, no enemy certainly to Universities, and a great store of uncommon learning.72 We have evidence, in the University records, of his attention to his duties while he presided over the College; and a few accounts kept by him show us somewhat of the domestic life of the students and masters of his day.
Hitherto, the regents and founded masters, whether required or not, practised celibacy. It is noted, that in 1643, Alexander Middleton, the sub-principal, was married, “contrary to the foundation of the College, for he was the first regent that entered into a marriage condition in this college.”73 Some years later, it would appear, that there was an intention to enforce a rule against Regents marrying; but the attempt, if made, was defeated, as a similar one was evaded at Glasgow.74
Then, and for long afterwards, the unendowed students, as well as the endowed members of the College, all lived within the walls of the College, and ate at a common table. The Economus kept the accounts and managed the housekeeping. It might be possible to guess at the expense of the College life, from the whole outlay compared with the number of inmates; but we have better means of learning the actual expense of students (much of which did not go through the hands of the Economus), from the chance which has preserved the accounts of a young man who studied at King’s College at that time. Hugh Rose of Kilravock, having finished his elementary education at the parish school of Auldearn, left his old tower on the Nairn for the University, on the 8th November 1657, accompanied by his tutor, a young man who had taken his master’s degree seven years before, and now wrote himself “Master William Geddes,” and “Jacobus Rose” his page. They rode the journey to College, and home again in May, on horseback. The expenses of all three, including journeys, and a visit to the young gentleman’s kinsfolk at Achlossen, amounted to little more than £420 Scots. This included board paid to the Economus for two quarters (£80 a quarter), furniture for chambers, fee to the Regent (£30 Scots), fire and candle, clothes (including a “muffe” and “four-tailed coat”), washing, and a few customary fees to servants, and “to the printer, £6, 8s.”75
The change from the old academic economy has been gradual. For more than a century after Hugh Rose had occupied his simply furnished apartment, the students continued to lodge in chambers within the walls of the College, and to take their meals in the College hall; but as no imperative rule prevented those who pleased from having lodgings in the town, a class of boarding-houses seems to have grown up, which were preferred by the young men to the restraint of a college life; and the change was not discouraged by the masters. Gradually the number remaining within the College diminished, till, in 1788, the masters withdrew the salary which had hitherto induced the Economus to give his attention to the domestic arrangements of the College;76 and, in the beginning of the present century, the ancient and honoured collegiate practice disappeared. It may be impossible to return to it, with the altered numbers of students, and after so long an interval; but some change, which should bring the students more under the master’s eye, and establish something of a domestic relation between the teachers and the taught, would be of more importance in our Scotch Universities than any improvement in the mere teaching of classes.
It has been already mentioned that in Aberdeen, as in other universities of old, the student, entering under a certain Regent, continued under him during his whole course of study; and although the authors of the “new foundation,” and subsequent reformers at several times, sought to alter that system, it was maintained till the end of last century. The present practice, which gives to each master the province of teaching that to which he has peculiarly devoted himself, was introduced in 1798-9.77 It seems not impossible to retain the manifest advantages of the present practice while recalling in part the old, which, like the system of tutors in the Colleges of the English Universities, established in each master a feeling of personal interest and responsibility in a limited number of students.
Of the course of study immediately before Rowe became Principal we derive some valuable information from the proceedings of a sort of general University Court – an institution that might be imitated with great advantage at the present time.
In 1647-8, the Commissioners appointed by the four Universities of Scotland – St. Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh – met at Edinburgh, and adopted measures for promoting a correspondence among them, and a uniform course of study. Some of their resolutions are worthy of notice.
“1647, 28th Aug. – It was fund expedient to communicat to the generall assemblie no more of our Universitie afaires but such as concerned religion or that had some evident ecclesiastick relatione…
“30th Aug. – That everie student subscryve the nationall covenant, with the League and Covenant…
“It is fund necessar that ther be a cursus philosophicus drawin up be the four Universities and printed, to the end that the unprofitable and noxious paines in writeing be shunned; and that each Universitie contribute thair travellis thairto, and it is to be thoucht upon, against the month of Merch ensewing, viz., that St. Androis tak the metaphisicks; that Glasgow tak the logicks; Aberdine the ethickis and mathematickis, and Edinburgh the physicks.
“It is thought convenient that quhat beis found behoveful for improving of learneing in schooles and colledgis be represented to the Parliament in Merch nixt…
“17th July 1648. – It is aggreid that all the Universities concur with and assist ane another in everie comone caus concerning the commonweill of all the Universities.”
The former agreement is renewed, “that no delinquent in any College sall be received into another College befor he give testimony that he have given satisfaction to the College from quhich he came.”
To facilitate the establishment of a uniform course, each University gave in a report of the studies actually followed. The statement of King’s College is very short.
“Courses taught yeirly in the King’s College of Aberdine:- The Colledge sitteth downe in the beginning of October, and for the space of a moneth till the studentis be weill convened, both masters and schollaris are exercised with repetitiones and examinationis, quhich being done, the courses are begun about the first or second day of November.
“1. To the first classe is taught Clenard, Antesignanus; the greatest part of the New Testament; Basilius Magnus his epistle; ane oration of Isocrates; ane other of Demosthenes; a buik of Homer; Phoncyllides: some of Nonni paraphrasis.
“2. To the second classe, Rami dialectica; Vossii retorica; some elements of arithmetick; Porphyrie; Aristotill his categories, de interpretatione and prior analyticks, both text and questiones.
“3. To the third classe, the rest of the logicks; twa first books of the ethicks; five chapteris of the third, with a compend of the particular writtis; the first fyve books of the generall phisicks, with some elements of geometrie.
“4. To the fourt classe, the bookes de cœlo, de ortu et interitu, de anima, the meteoris; sphera Jo. de Sacro bosco, with some beginningis of geography and insight in the globs and mappes.
“This is to be understood, ordinarly, and in peaceable tymes.”78
The report of the course of St. Andrews is longer and more in detail. Students of the first year were taught Greek and the elements of Hebrew. In the last year, the students were to learn “some compend of anatomy.” Then, “because the dyteing of long notes have in tyme past proven a hinderance, not only to other necessarie studies, but also to the knawledge of the text itselff… it is thairfor seriouslie recommendit by the Regentis to the Deane and Facultie of Arts that the Regents spend not too much time in dyteing of thair notts; that no new lesson be taught till the former be examined; that everie student have the text of Aristotill in Greek, and that the Regent first analyse the text viva voce.“…
In Edinburgh, in the third year’s course anatomia humani corporis describitur. This is the only Scotch University which notes any attention to prosody. In the classis humaniorum literarum– Docentur classici auctores historici, oratores, poetæ; transferunt themata a Latino in vernaculum et a vernaculo in Latinum sermonem. In versibus etiam exercentur.
The effect of Principal Rowe’s discipline in the study of his house, we do not learn otherwise than in the continued and increasing attendance of students.
Something of the vigilance of the more ancient academie discipline appears from a few scraps which were found scattered and loose in the Archives of the College. The Censura Studiosorum, gives briefly the character of every student of the University, and his relative position when compared with others. Unfortunately it extends only over a few years; but in the fourth, or highest class, it gives us the names of the students of one year earlier than the earliest list of entrants preserved in the Album.79
A few words must be allowed of the fabric of our College. Its retired and pretty rural situation, contrasting with the bustle of the neighbouring town, is now more admired than the edifice itself, which called forth the extravagant praise of its historians in past times. Perhaps no part of the building is entirely as it was left by the founders, Bishops Elphinstone and Dunbar; but the plan and foundations, in many parts the walls, are nearly as at first.
Beside the door which entered under the west window of the church (now the library), is inscribed –
per serenissimum illustrissimum ac invictissimum J. 4. R.
quarto nonas aprilis anno millesimo et quingentesimo
hoc insigne collegium latomi inteperunt edificare.
There is no reason to doubt that this inscription is nearly of the date it records, and that the church, so far as its masonry is concerned, is now as it was left by its venerable founder. Hector Boece, whose book was printed only eight years after Elphinstone’s death, records that that bishop built the church, the towers, and most of the houses, and covered them with lead;80 and Andrew Strachan, writing while the church was still used for the purpose of its foundation, speaks of it almost in the words of Boece, and declares that ll its stones and beams proclaim Bishop Elphinstone their founder.81 We can fix the date of the church somewhat more accurately from a document preserved in the Burgh Records of Aberdeen, which bears that on the 21st October 1506, Andrew Cullan, provost of the burgh – as factor for William, Bishop of Aberdeen, entered into an indenture of contract with “John Buruel, an Englishman, and plumber to the King of England,82 regarding the roofing of the church of the Bishop’s new University.”
The windows and ceilings, the marble altars and pulpits of brass, celebrated by the historian, are all gone, as well as the more perishable articles of pictures and images of saints, and the carpets and hangings for decking the church on festivals. It is something that there still remains the shell of the church, with its choir, used as a college chapel, and, though deformed by a pulpit thrust into the place of the high altar, still preserving the tomb of its founder, and the fine oak stall-work which excited the admiration of the first Principal.83
The buildings, left unfinished by Elphinstone, were completed by another munificent prelate, Bishop Gawin Dunbar; and the south side of the quadrangle, from being chiefly his work, was long known as “Dunbar’s buildings.”84
We have notices of successive repairs of the College buildings in Bishop Patrick Forbes’s time, but directed evidently with laudable care to replace and restore without alteration.85
In 1633, on the 7th February, a violent storm blew down the crown of the steeple, the wonderful structure “after the manner of an imperial diadem.” “This goodlie ornament, haveing stood since the dayes of that glorious king, James IV., was by ane extraordinar tempest of stormie wind thrown downe; quherby both the roofes of tymber and lead, and other adjacent workes, wer pitifullie crusched.”86 The members of the College, with the assistance of their neighbours, in particular the burgh of Aberdeen, immediately applied themselves to repair the crown; which, Spalding assures us, was “re-edefeit and biggit wp litle inferior to the first.”87 The church roof, which had been injured by its fall, was not repaired apparently till 1638.
The Parson of Rothiemay’s drawing88 shows the University buildings as they stood after that repair, and after the erection of an unsightly edifice which he inscribes “the new woirks” – “the new building reared up at the north-east corner of the said College,”89 by a subscription begun in 1658, which contained lecture-rooms, and observatory at top, the latter added in 1675.90 The roof of the church is evidently of the middle of the seventeenth century, and the pretty lantern spire bears the cipher of Charles II. We learn from Gordon’s drawing that the library, the jewel-house, and the “second school” were then in a sort of aisle running along nearly the whole south wall of the church, the work of Bishop William Stewart.91 The common school and college hall over it, then as now, occupied the east side of the quadrangle.92 The chambers of the students were in “Dunbar’s buildings” on the side of the court opposite to the church, and perhaps also occupied buildings on the steeple side, which have been removed within the present ventury to make room for a chemical class-room and a museum, together with part of the library which had outgrown its lodging.93 The drawing of 1660 shows the ruins of the Canonist’s and Civilist’s houses, but gives no indication of the ruin which was fast impending over a great part of the collegiate buildings. Upon Candlemas day of 1715, the spire or minaret, which is seen in both views, terminating the tower at the south-eastern corner of the College buildings, was blown down.94 It appears that the south side, Dunbar’s buildings, had fallen into decay about the end of the seventeenth century, when the present edifice with its cloister-like arcade was commenced,95 but again allowed to fall into ruin. The Crown itself, the pride of the College, was cracked and in danger.96
The great patron and restorer of later times was James Fraser, an alumnus of the University, who devoted a share of his fortune to repair the ruinous buildings, to complete the unfinished, and to supply the library with valuable books.97 It is to him, the College is indebted for removing the unseemly excrescence which served the purpose of a library and a jewel-house, and generally for the state of decent though untasteful repair in which its buildings are now seen.98
Besides their modest buildings, their books (now amounting to 50,000 volumes) and the charters and records which have now been collected and printed, the University and College which have gone through so many different fortunes, have not much to recall the past stages of their existence.
In spite of the neglect of old art common to all Scotland, there are still preserved, in the Hall and Senatus room, a few interesting pictures. Among these is the portrait of the founder, with all the marks of a genuine and contemporary portrait, and a fine head of the venerable Bishop Patrick Forbes, by Jamieson.
The Mace of the University is of silver, manufactured in Aberdeen;99 perhaps in imitation of the old mace, enumerated in 1542 among the Rectorial ornaments – baculus Rectoris argenti cum armis Regis et fundatoris. The Royal arms, with the date of 1650, suggest that it must have been provided to do honour to the visit which Charles II. made to Aberdeen, 7th July 1650, or on the 25th February following, while he was still King of Scotland.
The common seal of the University is a silver stamp, the work of the seventeenth century, perhaps taken from an older one. The cognisance (not on a shield) is the pot of lilies, the emblem of the Virgin; on the front of the pot, three fishes, crossing fret-wise. Above, a hand extends downwards an open book. The legend – SIGILLUM COMMUNE COLLEGII BEATE MARIE UNIVERSITATIS ABERDONENSIS.100
It is to be feared that all the bells of the campanile, which the old members of the College name with such affection and pride, the five great bells – TRINITY, MARY, MICHAEL, GABRIEL, and RAPHAEL – and the five small ones for marking the half hours, have disappeared, as well as the three little bells used in the church for the high altar and the altars of St. German and St. Mary, either to be re-cast in Monsieur Gelly’s melting-pot, or for worse purposes. St. Mary of the Snows has not better protected her two bells which boasted the names of “Schochtmadony” and “Skellat.”
The old practice of presenting a spoon on laureation has left its trace in a collection of thirty-five common silver table spoons.101 Some richer graduates increased the offering. A silver cup without name or date, with handle and cover, but of poor workmanship, has only the College arms upon it. Two cups of silver bear to have been presented by foreign students, who, after studying perhaps for a short time, probably received honorary degrees.102
The poculum caritatis – a low silver cup, with handles and cover, bears to be the gift of the munificent benefactor of the University, Dr. James Fraser.103
It is not very easy to ascertain the causes which regulate the increase or decrease of students. A favourite Regent might of old account for a large class; but there are periods of fulness and others of decrease which we cannot explain. The average number of intrants, of the first ten years of the seventeenth century, did not exceed nineteen. Before the Restoration it had increased to thirty. For the decade succeeding the Restoration (1660), the average amounted to seventy. In the middle of the last century, the attendance had fallen off so much, that for the ten years following 1756 it amounted to only twenty-nine. Since that time the University has gradually recovered, and the average number of intrants for the last ten years may be stated at ninety.
From these numbers, it is evident that the University of Elphinstone and Forbes – the school which has been taught by the Gregories and Reid – has not decayed; and, while the present principle of election is maintained, which fills each vacant chair with the candidate conscientiously believed to be the fittest for it, the University will flourish.
The thesis of the magistrandus, to be maintained against all impugners, the last shred of the old scholastic disputation, has been long abandoned by all the Scotch, as well as by the English Universities, and, but for its old associations, it is not seriously to be regretted. Another innovation is much more questionable. In Aberdeen, as in other Scotch Universities, the degrees of Bachelor and Licentiate have disappeared; to the evident loss of a system of teaching depending so much on sustained emulation and public competition. But, in giving Master’s degrees, which rank with the A.B. degree of England, without special examination, the University has evidently abandoned a valuable test of general academic study and advancement.
Elphinstone’s constitution, originally less popular than was usual and almost necessary in the older Universities, has not grown more liberal. There is no evidence of a single convocation or meeting of all members of the University since the Reformation. Even the Rector is not, as elsewhere, elected by the whole body. And the election of the masters by the masters is a solecism only to be defended by the two reasons – that it is not easy to constitute a good electoral body; and, secondly, that the present system, administered as it now is, works very well.
We have seen how the influence of one good prelate and his learned associates was felt for some time to refine the society of the town of Aberdeen and neighbouring country. It is too much to suppose that influence still continues; but if, as it has been thought, the citizens of Aberdeen are superior in cultivation and intelligence to those of other provincial towns, it is without doubt owing to the means of higher education brought within the reach of the middle class, and yet more to the academic element which pervades the upper classes of the great and energetic commercial city.104
I have thought it allowable for one unconnected with the district, but who has necessarily become acquainted with the constitution and past history of the University, to point to some changes which seem in themselves desirable, and capable of being effected without external aid, while most of them are more practicable here than in Universities situated in great towns. But the greatest and most evident of all academic reforms in Aberdeen is the union of the sister Colleges. The trifling inconvenience that may be felt by some of the citizens is hardly to be named in comparison with the great advantages that would result from such a measure. If the law and medical lectures were carried on in the town building, in the education in languages, philosophy, and theology were conducted in the venerable rural retreat, Aberdeen would afford a specimen of as convenient arrangements for teaching as any University can boast of. An end would be put for ever to the petty jars which have sometimes disturbed the neighbouring schools; and by uniting classes and salaries, a respectable maintenance would be secured for the masters, and consequently the means of obtaining the best masters.105
I trust it is a pardonable vanity which prompts me to record that in writing these historical observations on two of our Scotch Universities, I had assistance from two friends, both now dead, whose friendship might make any man proud – Sir William Hamilton and Principal Lee. From the former I derived most of my slender acquaintance with the ancient and foreign University usages; and I had the satisfaction to know that he approved of the use to which I had turned his materials. Dr. Lee’s library and memory were to the last of life a great storehouse of Scotch academical and ecclesiastical history. Giving liberally to literary friends, I fear he carried more with him than remains in any living man. For the use of rare books – often for the knowledge of their existence – I have been indebted to Mr. D. Laing. For local literature and northern knowledge, I went to the best fountain, Mr. Joseph Robertson. Finally, let me not pass over my accurate, careful, and zealous fellow-labourers, Mr. Francis Shaw of Aberdeen, and Mr. James Gordon, now of Edinburgh.
1 Without attempting to define accurately the limits of the “dark ages,” and the dawn of the returning day, the fifteenth century is plainly enough the era of actual enlightenment. The dispersion over Europe of Greek books and Greek teachers, by the fall of Constantinople; the invention of printing, and the discovery of the New World, wakened the soundest sleepers.
2 Registrum de Aberbrothoc.
3 Magnæ literature et scienciæ. – Burgh Records of Aberdeen, Spalding Club, p. 5.
4 Burgh Records of Aberdeen, Spalding Club, p. 37..
5 Ibid. pp. 80, 97..
6 He himself calls it a “Collegiate Church or College.” The ecclesiastical purposes were very prominent. The whole endowed members of the College were at first thirty-six, increased by the second foundation to forty-two.
7 Crawfurd and Keith have covered this disgrace under the convenient and pious fiction that the Bishop’s father took orders “after he became a widower.” – Officers of State; Catalogue of Sc. Bishops.
8 Elphinstone went abroad at the expense of an uncle, Lawrence, who lived at Glasgow. Boece tells us that the Bishop was very bountiful in gifts to the family unde ei origo, and raised many Elphinstones to opulence. Andrew Elphinstone of Selmys, who was undoubtedly a son or very near kinsman of the chief family, had two brothers, named Lawrence and Nicholas. In 1499, Andrew of Selmys resigned the lands of Glak which he held of the Bishop, in favour of his brother Nicholas and the heirs-male of his body, whom all failing, to return to the Church at Aberdeen. – Boece, Vit. Episc.; Reg. Mag. Sig., and Morton Charters at Dalmahoy.
9 Crawfurd cites no authority for the date of his birth, and is probably wrong. Boece says he was in his 83d year when he died: the Epistolare of Bishop Dunbar states that he was in his 84th. – Regist. Episc. II. 249.
10 Pastorali cura ei collatu. We do not know whether Boece meant that the benefice was conferred on him, as Keith imagined, or, what is more probable, that he acted as his father’s curate. In the loosest times, the Canon was very strict against a father and a son serving at the same altar.
11 It may help us to dates, which Boece never furnishes, to observe that De Ganai was admitted Councillor in the Court of Aids, 30th October 1481; Fourth President of the Parliament, 27th June 1490; First President of the Parliament, and Chancellor of France, 31st January 1507: Died 1512. – Moreri.
12 It is impossible perfectly to reconcile Boece’s narrative with the dates fixed by the records of the University of Glasgow. Some confusion arises also from the identity of name and sometimes of office, in the father and son. But it would seem that even more than two persons of the name must have held benefice in the Church, and place in the University of Glasgow at the same time.
William Elphinstone, apparently our Bishop’s father, is styled Canon of Glasgow from 1451 down to 1483, holding the offices of Dean of the Faculty of Arts (1468), Prebendary of Ancrum (1479), Archdeacon of Teviotdale (1482). The following dates seem to apply to the Bishop:
1457. William Elphinstone “scolaris” matriculated.
1459. He took his Bachelor’s degree.
1462. He took his Master’s degree, “post rigorosum examen.”
1462-4. Active in University affairs.
1465. W. de Elphinstone junior, rector of Kirkmichael, was a regent in the University.
1471-2. W. Elphinstone was Official-general of the Diocese of Glasgow, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts.
1473. Master William de Elphinstone, Official, took the degree of Licentiate in Canon Law, and was Dean of the Faculty.
1474. W. de Elphinstone, Official, a Master of Arts, Licentiate in Decrees, and Rector of Kirkmichael, was chosen Rector of the University.
13 The Great Justiciar of Scotland being the first, whose functions were not merely in criminalibus. The Official of St. Andrews principal was higher in rank, but perhaps with less business in his court than the Official of the Archdeaconry of Lothian, which included Edinburgh.
14 Apparently between 14th October and 20th November. His consecration took place between 17th December 1487 and April 1488.
15 Orationis non sententiam solum sed et verba, ne quid varietur, visum est referre. Some of the words are not wise.
16 Regist. Episc. Aberdon. p. 304.
17 From 21st February 1487-8, till the death of the king on St. Barnabas’ day, 11th June 1488. – Pleadings in Montrose Dukedom Case, 1853.
18 John Malison was employed by him to restore the ritual books and the service of the church, as well as its music, which was to be of the ancient manner – priscus atque patrum more cantus. “To this man,” says Boece “the Aberdonians owe whatever of music, whatever of perfect service is found in the northern church. Seldom will you find a man of Aberdeen well taught in the art of singing, who has not learnt of him.”
Bishop Elphinstone began the restoration of the choir of the cathedral which had been built, as Boece erroneously says, by Robert I., but not of size or beauty suitable to such a church.
19 Account of the University of Glasgow, by Dr. Thomas Reid.
20 Nostræ ætatis splendor et ornamentum: nullus pene locus est in Europa adeo inaccessus ubi non ejus viri decora. – Aberd. Episc. Vitæ. p. 60.
21 A few circumstances less known may be collected here concerning Hector Boece.
John Johnston, the author of the Heroes, addresses some Latin verses – Hectori Boetio et duobus fratribus – among which are,
Concordes animas, clarissima lumina gentis,
Tres paribus studiis, tres pietate pares! –
MS. Adv. Lib. 19, 3, 24, p. 28.
One brother, Arthur, is mentioned with due honour by Hector Boece, in recording his fellow-labourers at Aberdeen:- Arthurus Boetius mihi germanus, in pontificio jure doctor, in civico (ut dicunt) licentiatus, vir multæ doctrinæ, plus literarum indies consecuturus, quod studium ei permanet animo indefesso; nobiscum jura pie et scite profitetur. Est in eo vis et gravitas eloquendi a vulgari genere plurimum abhorrens. – Aberd. Episc. Vitæ, p. 63. He was reader in Canon Law in the University, Treasurer of the Cathedral of Brechin, a Canon of the Cathedral of Aberdeen, and a Lord of the Session, upon its institution in 1532. The Pollock MS. names, as one of the ambassadors to England in 1532-3, “Mr. Walter Boyis, persone of Snaw;” that is, of the “Ecclesia B. Mariæ ad nives” (Diurnal of Occurents, p. 17), supplying, perhaps, the third brother, who was not hitherto known. The name of Boece, in all its varieties of spelling, was common among the vassals and tenants of the Abbey of Arbroath in the fifteenth century. – Reg. de Aberbr. II.
The accomplishment of Hector Boece was not confined to Roman literature. He had attained some reputation for his skill in physic. In the last illness of Thomas Crystall, Abbot of Kinloss, when other hope had failed, Mr. Hector Boece was called in to prescribe for him – virum percelebrem M. Hectora Boethium as se vocavit. etc. – (Hist. Abbat. de Kynlos, p. 82) – where perhaps commenced his acquaintance with John Ferrerius, who was at that time teaching the Abbey School, and who afterwards superintended an edition of Boece’s history, adding a chapter to the work. Hector Boece took his doctor’s degree in theology in 1528, when the Council of the burgh of Aberdeen made him a propine of a tun of wine, or £20 Scots, “to help to buy him bonnets.” – extracts from the Burgh Records.
Boece’s Lives of the Bishops of Aberdeen was printed at Paris in 1522. The reprint for the Bannatyne Club (1825) has been used in these notes. His History of Scotland was likewise published at Paris, without date, about 1527. A second edition, with a short continuation by Ferrerius, was printed at Lausanne, published at Paris, in 1574. The book was calculated to produce impressions of admiration and distrust; and we may perhaps detect a mixture of both feelings in the notice of Paulus Jovius: a prima origine Scotorum regum historiam Latine diligenter perscripsit, passim veteris chorographiæ memor et moderatæ libertatis nusquam oblitus ita ut maagnopere miremur extare de remotis ab orbe nostro Hebridum et Orcadum insulis mille amplius annorum memoriam quum in Italia altrice ingeniorum, ” etc., cited by D. Buchanan “de Script. Scotis” – not verified.
The reader of Boece’s History may be pardoned for wishing – if not that he had belonged quite to the opposite party in literature – at least that his classicism had condescended to call common things by common names. He is averse to speak of barbarous native institutions, and when he does, Scotch titles and offices, put with his laborious periphrasis into a Roman dress, are often not recognisable. In this affectation he has been followed by abler historians.
Boece is not to blame for the invention of the fabulous antiquity of his University, as Strachan conjectured (Panegyricus Inauguralis 1631, p. 11). The historian’s words are, speaking of ALexander II. – “Alexander inde Aberdoniam, jam ante a Gregorio, a Malcolmo inde secundo ac postea a Davide Wilhelmi fratre, privilegiis agrisque donatem… adiens, multis et ipse privilegiis ornat.” – Hist. fol. 293, v. This has plainly nothing to do with the University, of which Boece calls Elphinstone “auctor ac institutor” – (Vit. Episc. p. 60). The fable originated with some of the learned and zealous Scot abroad, – with “Bertius,” “Junius,” or “Clerkius,” to whom it is traced by Douglas. (Academiarum Vindiciæ in quibus novantium prejudicia contra academiæ typographus, 1659.) David Chalmers takes some credit for forbearing to place the origin of the University of Aberdeen as high as the Trojan war, but adds – sufficiet ergo ad Alexandri Scotorum Regis tempora referre. Is enim sub annum Domini 1211 (this recklessness of chronology was then common) multis magnisque illam privilegiis ornavit. Quibusdam antiquior visa est; sed quod diximus est verissimum!” – Camerarii de Scot. fortitudine, etc. Parisiis, 1631, p. 56.
A rhyming translation of Boece’s life of Elphinstone, “be Alexander Garden, Aberdone, 1619,” is still extant, though not published among the author’s poetry. It is in the manner of the worthy Master Zacchary Boyd. His allusion to the Bridge is as follows:-
“And yet a work als great
And necessar much more
Unto his oune, his countrie’s good,
And both their greater gloir,
Annon their-after he
Resolved and first intends,
That everie age and ey that vieus,
Admires yet and commends.
This was the bridge our Dea,
Which every man may mark,
Ane needful most, expensive great,
A good and gallant wark;
Knit close with quadrat stones
Free all, incised and shorne;
Of these the pend with arches sevine
Supported is and morne.
Scharp poynted butresses
Be both that breaks and byds
The power of the winter speats,
And strenth of summer tyds.
Above it’s beawtified
With ports and prickets four;
And all alongst rayled is,
And battail’d to look opur.
A great and goodlie work
Which how long’t stands and stayes,
It aye shall mater ministratt
Unto the author’s praise.”
Of the College buildings – “a menour for the muses meit” – we have not much:-