Home  »  Volume IX: English FROM STEELE AND ADDISON TO POPE AND SWIFT  »  § 27. Extension of University Learning

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XV. Education

§ 27. Extension of University Learning

Nor were these extra-academic interests confined to the seniors or to the new philosophy. Ambrose Bonwicke (St. John’s college, Cambridge, 1710–14) learned French under a private teacher in order to study books “on all sorts of learning published daily in that language.” In the same university, René La Butte taught French from 1742, and there, also, Isola taught Gray Italian. At Oxford, in 1741, Magdalen college employed Magister Fabre, praelector linguae Gallicanae; a little earlier, Shenstone, Graves and Whistler met in each other’s rooms at Pembroke to “sip Florence wine” and to read “plays and poetry, Spectators or Tatlers and other works of lighter digestion.” Dr. John Wallis, in 1700, while arguing that Maidwell’s projected academy was superfluous, states that instruction was then accessible at Oxford in anatomy, botany, pure and applied mathematics, French, Spanish, Italian, music, dancing, fencing, riding and other manly exercises.

Nor must it be assumed that the universities in their corporate capacity were insensible to the advance of knowledge or of their own responsibility for it. The old curriculum retained its function as an instrument of education, partly because the newer studies had not yet reached that stage of systematisation which is requisite in any branch of knowledge designed to educate. As early as 1683, Oxford found it necessary to open Ashmole’s “elaboratory” “for promoting several parts of useful and curious learning,” and the study of chemistry was regularly pursued by members of the university under the first “custos,” Robert Plot. About the same date, a philosophical society, consisting of a number of distinguished seniors, including heads of houses, was instituted to correspond with the Royal society and with a similar society in Dublin. By the close of the seventeenth century, the Newtonian mathematics began to take possession of the Cambridge schools, not by statutory regulation but simply in recognition of the advance in knowledge.