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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

X. English Scholars of Paris and Franciscans of Oxford

§ 1. The University of Paris

THE UNIVERSITY OF PARIS owed its origin to the cathedral school of Notre-Dame. It was not until the time of William of Champeaux (d. 1121) that this school began to rival the scholastic fame of Chartres. Early in the thirteenth century the schools of Paris were connected with three important churches. On the Ile de la Cite there was the cathedral of Notre-Dame; to the south of the Seine, on rising ground near the site of the present Panthéon, was the collegiate church of Sainte-Genevi`ve; and, to the east of the walls south of the river, the church of Canons Regular at the Abbey of St. Victor. The schools of Notre-Dame and of Sainte-Geneviève were successively the scenes of the ever-memorable lectures of a famous pupil of William of Champeaux, the eloquent, brilliant, vain, impulsive and self-confident disputant, Abelard (d. 1142). The fame of his teaching made Paris the resort of large numbers of scholars, whose presence led to its becoming the home of the many masters by whom the university was ultimately founded. The earliest trace of this university has been discovered in the passage where Matthew Paris states that his own preceptor, an abbot of St. Albans, had, as a student in Paris, been admitted into “the fellowship of the elect Masters” (c. 1170). In 1136, when John of Salisbury went to Paris, the university was not yet in existence. The first recorded “town and gown” riot, that of 1200, led to the grant of a charter to the resident body of Masters; the approximate date of the first statutes, ten years later, marks the earliest recognition of the university as a legally constituted corporation, a veritable universitas; and, about ten years later still, the Masters of Arts were first organised into four nations, namely, the French, the Normans, the Picards and the English, this last including the Germans and all who came from the north and the east of Europe. In the thirteenth century Paris was still the centre of European culture. It is sufficient to cite as proof a passage from the English encyclopaedist Bartholomew, who flourished in the middle of that century:

  • Even as Athens shone of old as the mother of liberal arts and the nurse of philosophers, so, in our day, Paris has raised the standard of learning and civilisation, not only in France but all the rest of Europe; and, as the mother of wisdom, she welcomes guests from all parts of the world, supplies all their wants and submits them all to her pacific rule.
  • The carnival riot of 1229 led to the withdrawal of the resident Masters and Scholars for two years; meanwhile, many of them accepted the invitation of Henry III, and thus reinforced the rising universities of Oxford and Cambridge.