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Scottish Education - Schools and University
Chapter VII - Second Period (1560 - 1696). St. Andrews University


ON the abolition of papal jurisdiction and ratification of Protestant doctrine in 156o, commission was given by an order of the Privy Council to prominent reformers, "to draw in a volume the policy and discipline of the Kirk as well as they had 4 done the doctrine."

The task of framing the Book of Discipline was a most difficult one, and potentially most important for the well-being of Scotland. The Estates had been practically unanimous in settling the Confession of Faith. This order by the Privy Council had immeasurably wider scope than the settlement of a creed, covering as it did the internal policy of the Church, its relation to the State, its attitude towards education, and the inculcation of such procedure in domestic matters as should have for its aim security that children would grow up useful citizens, and occupy positions in society suited to their varying ability. All the Commissioners were able men of large experience both at home and abroad, the greatest of whom was John Knox. The duty was undertaken with great heartiness, and discharged with such statesmanlike foresight and admirable breadth of view, as should have earned for it the approval of all whose judgment was free from the disturbing influence of church feeling on the one side, and grasping selfishness on the other. The Book of Discipline unfortunately had to pass through the ordeal of both. Those who clung to the ancient church could not be expected to approve, while the nobles and gentry, the majority of whom had adopted the new faith, and into whose hands a large portion of church property had somehow passed, selfishly refused to hand back to the ministers of the reformed church the property which unquestionably belonged to the church whose place they had taken. The measure was accordingly approved or disliked according as religious zeal or personal considerations exercised the greater influence. That the conception and aim of its authors were excellent, and that its fuller adoption would have been entirely beneficial cannot be doubted. That it fell far short of being realised was a national misfortune. That the nobility and gentry, having the power, appropriated funds that were the inheritance of the poor, of education, and the Kirk is intelligible, but merits the strongest condemnation. Their objection to the encroachment on personal liberty proposed in the compulsory clause dealing with the education of rich and poor alike is to some extent excusable, but still much to be regretted, destroying as it did a scheme of national education-a school in every parish, and a college or higher school in every notable townthe grandest known to history.

Though the First Book of Discipline was never carried out, its proposals deserve to be noticed.

The Commissioners in speaking of the "Erection of Universities" probably meant not that they were to be created anew, but to be established under new regulations, and rescued from the moribund condition to which they had been reduced at the time of the Reformation. The establishment of another in Edinburgh was not thought of. The medieval notion of a university was departed from. Professors [Regents is the word used in the Book of Discipline, and came ultimately to mean Professors. In medieval times anyone who had graduated a Master might be a Regent. Originally a Regent conducted a class through all subjects up to graduation. This continued to be the practice in Aberdeen till the 19th century though the name had given place to Professor. The two who were the last appointed to chairs by the title of Regents were Clerk Maxwell in Marischal College (1856), and Geddes in King's College (1855).] for separate subjects were to be appointed and adequate salaries provided for them. These professors were to be officers of the colleges, not of the university. Each Faculty was to have a separate organisation, and the combination of the several Faculties constituted the university. The title 'Chancellor,' which usually belonged to the Bishops of the three dioceses, was abolished, and in its place came that of 'Superintendent,' to whom as head of the institution certain duties administrative and academic were assigned. The Rector was no longer to be a regular teacher. His duties were regulation and supervision, visiting each college once a month, settling disputes between members of the university, and taking part in the trial of criminal actions against students. The Superintendent, Rector, their assessors, and the Bedell are the only university officers mentioned. Very few of the pre-Reformation Rectors of St Andrews could have been regular teachers. They were mostly prominent churchmen in different parts of the diocese, and must have been to a very large extent nonresident.

St Andrews as having already three colleges was to be a complete University, giving degrees in four Faculties, Philosophy, Medicine, Law and Divinity. In one college Philosophy and Medicine, ;n another Law, and in another Divinity, the curriculum in the first three Faculties extending over five, and in Divinity over six years. Each college was to have a Principal, whose duties were administration and supervision, but not teaching. Twenty-four bursars were to be appointed on consideration of character and scanty means of support. Glasgow and Aberdeen were to have two colleges, one giving degrees in Philosophy, the other in Law and Divinity. Regents were no longer to conduct a class through all subjects. Professors were to be appointed for each subject, except for Medicine, all branches of which were to be under the charge of one teacher. Neither Latin nor any elementary subject was to be taught in the university, and the lectures were all to be delivered in Latin.

The proposal of such a scheme as this may seem an extravagant counsel of perfection, deserving to be relegated to the limbo of other `devout imaginations,' seeing that, after the experience and efforts of nearly three and a half centuries, we have not yet reached the goal which was Knox's noble aim. But defence of its consistency and even `sweet reasonableness' is not impossible. The university scheme did not stand alone. It was the completion of a fully matured system of national education by which it was to be preceded, and which, if it had been carried out, would have been a perfection of symmetry totus, teres, atque rotundus. It was intended that no student should enter the university who had not had two years of primary instruction, three or four years of Latin, and four years of Greek, Logic, and Rhetoric, and so be from sixteen to seventeen years of age. It is also to be borne in mind that Knox meant such a course only for those who showed `aptness for learning,' and recommended that those who lacked this quality should betake themselves to some useful handicraft. Given national co-operation, open-handed liberality, and the legitimate use instead of the shameful perversion of funds available for education, Knox's ideal might have been realised.

Nothing is more hopeless than to estimate with approximate accuracy the purchasing power of money at the time of the Reformation, but the calculation of what would have sufficed for the maintenance of the three universities was between 2000 and 3000 sterling.

In 1563 the lamentable condition of the universities and especially of St Andrews was brought before the Queen and Lords of the Articles, with the result that a committee was appointed by parliament to enquire and report [Acts of Parliament, ii, 544.]. George Buchanan was a prominent member of it. His proposal was less ambitious than that of Knox. The most noteworthy change was that, as the scheme for higher schools in every notable town had failed, in one of the colleges languages alone should be taught. As his scheme was also still-born more detailed notice of it is perhaps unnecessary. Had either scheme been adopted the, basis of university education would have been broader. University and school would each have done more effectively its own proper work. In both schemes, however, we have evidence of the intellectual awakening produced by the revival of learning.

To St Andrews, as to the other universities, the Reformation did serious injury. Their constitution and organisation were upset by ecclesiastical discord ; their income was sadly reduced by the rapacity of the nobles who appropriated the lion's share of the patrimony of the Church. From a greatly diminished income they had to uphold the stipends of the parishes which belonged to them. This was necessarily accompanied by a reduction of the salaries of the professors, for which certain grants by successive administrations made small but inadequate amends. The attendance of students was also injuriously affected. A year or two before the Reformation the matriculation of students was small " owing to tumults about religion." Mr Maitland Anderson, Librarian of St Andrews, has given, with highly probable approximation to accuracy, the average number of entrants or first matriculations in the 16th and 17th centuries as 44 and 60 respectively.

The diminution in the number of students immediately before and for some years after the Reformation does not warrant the inference that the authorities were negligent or incapable. It must be remembered that the student had not yet given up the habit of going wherever the reputation of famous teachers led him, and that foreign universities had not ceased to be attractive. To this as well as to attenuated endowments and religious discord the reduced attendance was probably due.

While the success of the other two universities was seriously marred by the Reformation, St Andrews was probably the greatest sufferer. The elements of discord and confusion were there more abundant and violent. It was the oldest, and the seat of the primacy. Monastic traditions were more deeply rooted there than in Glasgow and Aberdeen. The defenders of the old faith were more powerful, and also more violent and unscrupulous than elsewhere. Here alone were there three colleges, two warmly attached to the old order of things, the other resolute to overthrow it. In these circumstances the wonder is, not that academic progress was temporarily checked, but that is was not wholly obliterated.

"Our haill College," says James Melville, speaking of St Leonard's, "maisters and schollars, was sound and zealous in the guid cause ; the other twa colleges nocht sa ; for in the new college, howbeit Mr John Douglass, their Rector, was guid aneuch, the three other maisters and sum of the Regents war evill-mynditl [James Melville's Diary, p. 26; 1842.]."

The disorganisation resulting from this state of matters was left practically unremedied for nearly twenty years. The everlasting round of scholastic philosophy and the mode of teaching remained unchanged. Something different from this might naturally have been expected from St Leonard's, the principalship of which had been held for four years by such an adventurous spirit as George Buchanan. That he did not attempt to shake himself free from some of the trammels of medievalism is probably due to the fact that, unrivalled as his scholarship was, the character of his intellect demanded a wider and more inspiriting sphere than the lecture room; that his leanings were firstly political, and only secondarily academic.

The scheme for university reform proposed in the First Book of Discipline was, as we have seen, not carried out. The less ambitious one already referred to for which George Buchanan was mainly responsible shared the same fate. In 1578 parliament appointed a Commission to examine and report on the condition of all the universities [Act of Parliament, iii, 98.]. This also had no result. In the following year the General Assembly presented a petition to the King and Council urging the necessity of reforming St Andrews. The Council appointed Commissioners for this purpose with full powers to remove unqualified persons, to change the form of study and the number of professors, to join or divide the Faculties, to annex each Faculty to such college- as they thought most proper for it, &c. The Commissioners found that in all the colleges the original foundations had been departed from, that the foundations disagreed in many things with the true religion, and were far from "that perfection of teaching which this learned age craves," and they agreed upon a new form of instruction to be observed in the university [Act, vol. 111, 179, and M'Crie's Life of Melville, I, 241, ed. 1824. ]. This was laid before parliament and ratified in 1579.

To enumerate in detail all the changes proposed by this Commission would far exceed our limits. Some are, however, specially worthy of mention [Acts of Scottish Parliaments, vol. III, 178-182.]. Professorships of Mathematics and Law were to be established in St Salvator's. The Principal was to act as Professor of Medicine. Much the same arrangements were made for St Leonard's, but in it Mathematics and Law were not to be taught. Aristotelian Logic and Physics were no longer to have exclusive authority. Only the " most profitable and needful parts " were to be dealt with, and lectures on Platonic philosophy were to serve as a counterpoise to the Peripateticperhaps the earliest evidence of a tendency towards supplanting medieval by modern notions. St Mary's was to be entirely devoted to the study of theology with a staff of five masters. The first was to teach the Oriental languages; the second to teach the law of Moses and historical books of the Old Testament ; the third to explain the prophetical books ; the fourth to teach the New Testament in Greek and Syriac, and the fifth to teach the commonplaces, but the staff fell far short of this, and was often represented by two professors who undertook the whole of the instruction in theology. The first Professor of Hebrew was appointed in 1668. Every fourth year a visitation was to be made to see how far the changes were observed and effective.

It is impossible to question the general excellence of the programme thus proposed, and equally impossible to contend that it was more than very partially carried out. If James Melville's Diary is to be trusted, his uncle Andrew had a large and probably the principal share in drawing it up [Melville's Diary, pp. 58, 64; 1829.]. The thoroughness and comprehensive grasp of the reforms proposed not only bear the stamp of his character, but are to a large extent a reproduction of what he did successfully for Glasgow five years before. It was perhaps too drastic and in some respects impracticable, except under the action of men of Melville's own marvellous industry and untiring energy. The proposals in it to which this objection may be taken are probably due to his presupposing in others the courageous qualities he himself possessed. That Buchanan lent his aid is very probable, but his somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards academic reform during his occupancy of the principalship of St Leonard's from 1566 to 1570 makes his initiative in the reforms of 1579 at least doubtful. It is certain that he was the most distinguished scholar among the Commissioners, but scholarship rather than administration and organisation was the most marked feature in his character.

When the changes involved in the scheme were about to be made, it was on all sides agreed that Melville, then Principal of Glasgow, was eminently qualified for the principalship of St Mary's College. His character and experience marked him out as singularly fitted to bring order out of confusion. After completing his course at St Andrews he had sojourned in France and Switzerland, had seen a great part of the struggle between the Catholics and Huguenots, had gained the friendship of the reformer Beza, and, after breathing freely the atmosphere of the Presbyterianism of Geneva, had returned to Scotland full of strong and tempered enthusiasm. Though the reorganisation of St Mary's College was a subject in which he was especially interested, he was most unwilling to leave Glasgow University, which he had rescued from approximate extinction and raised to a position of great prosperity. The university authorities also strongly opposed his removal, but a letter from the King to the General Assembly intimating his wish that Melville should accept the appointment made compliance inevitable [M'Crie's Life of Melville, I, 160, ed. 1824]. He was accordingly transferred to St Andrews in 1580, and was succeeded in Glasgow by Smeaton.

In 1580 when Episcopacy had its first innings under the Tulchan Bishops, and Archbishop Adamson was Chancellor, Melville was installed [Tulchan was a calf's skin stuffed with straw used to induce a cow to give her milk freely. The term was used to describe the titular Bishops who in 1572 held office, but allowed most of the revenues under their charge to be absorbed by the nobles as lay patrons.]. His nephew James was admitted as Professor of Oriental tongues. John Robertson was the only Regent not displaced under the new arrangements. Melville's marked success in Glasgow fully justified his appointment. His position, as might be expected, was a difficult one. He had to face the opposition always offered to reformers of old institutions, the anger of the removed professors and the claims of arrears of salaries said to be due. But another and greater difficulty had to be overcome. By his lectures, showing that parts of Aristotelian philosophy were inconsistent with both natural and revealed religion, he aroused the wrath of the other colleges [Their breadwinner, their honor, their estimation, all was goan, giff Aristotle should be so owirharled in the hearing of their schollars." Melville's Diary, p. 123, ed. 1842.]. Undeterred by clamour he in two years silenced his opponents by his earnestness, erudition, eloquence, and strength of character, and brought to his side many of his most bitter antagonists [M'Crie's Life of Melville, I, 171, ed. 1824.]. In his dealing with them he induced them to take up the careful study of Aristotle in the original, and by this means made them both philosophers and theologians. " But this," said his nephew, " was nocht done without mikle feghting and fasherie [Melville's Diary, p. 124, ed. 1842]."

From a review of the condition of Scotland during the latter half of the 16th and the whole of the 17th century it is not too much to say that no other country underwent an ordeal so prohibitive of university progress as that which fell to the lot of Scotland. The University and the Church were connected by the closest ties. Whatever affected the latter was immediately and keenly felt by the former. Throughout that century and a half, at intervals of twenty years or so, the alternate ebb and flow of stern and moderate Presbyterianism, of spurious and genuine Episcopacy had to be faced. Each change necessitated the appointment of a fresh Commission whose duty it was to adapt university conditions to the wishes of the Church for the time in the ascendant. In these circumstances confusion and destruction of discipline were inevitable, steady progress impossible. The enactments of the various Commissions were more or less disregarded. All the teachers might, and many did, do whatever seemed right in their own eyes. It would seem from a memorial of the visitation of 1588 that the condition of the university was far from satisfactory even eight years after Melville's occupancy of the principalship. The memorial opens with the statement "It is mast difficill in this confused tyme...to effectuat ony gude commoun werk, althogh men wer nevir sa weill willit ; and speciallie quhair ye ar not certanly instructit, and hes na greit hope of thankes for your travell." This was the state of matters so far as the teachers are concerned. But the end of the report shows the Students to be in no better case. The Regents are advised to "forbid thair (the students) querrelling...albeit it be not altogidder prohibite that thay flyte (i.e. wrangle or scold), yit forbid fechting or bearing of daggis (pistols) or swerdis."

How far this chaotic condition of matters can be charged against Melville it is difficult to determine. He has been accused of sacrificing to some extent his academic duties to the teaching of republicanism, and of discussing whether the election or succession of rulers was to be preferred, and of hinting doubts as to the divine right of kings. It is certain that he did not find within the narrow precincts of a university an arena wide enough for the exercise of his overmastering energy. Affairs of Church and State had a great charm for him. His keen interest in general as well as in ecclesiastical politics is well known. He was of too ardent a spirit to disregard questions involving important principles. The university was much to him but it was not all, and there is a limit to the exertions of even the most indefatigable administrator. It is therefore probable that the charge of laxity in the management of the university was not entirely without foundation.

Of his fearlessness in the presence of royalty his behaviour on at least one occasion leaves no doubt. [In 1596, when the King attended divine service in the Town Church of St Andrews, the preacher [Melville] expressed some sentiments of which the King disapproved. He interrupted the preacher and ordered him to desist. Indignant at this interference, Melville rose and sharply rebuked the King, and censured the Commissioners of the Church for sitting in silence. Principal Shairp in Fraser's Magazine, 1882, p. 44.] Of his beneficent influence on academic pursuits there can be but one opinion. Great and entirely wholesome as that influence was, it would have been more widespread and permanent in the years that followed, had it not been checked by the ecclesiastical and political turmoils of the 17th century, in which no room could be found for the steady pursuit of learning and literature. Burton claims for Melville a type of character like that of Hildebrand or Thomas A Becket.

The scheme formulated in 1579 had evidently proved in some respects unworkable, for the ratification of that scheme was repealed and the original foundations were restored by parliament in St Andrews in 1621, and two years previously in Aberdeen.

Till the royal visitation in 1718 one fruitless Commission followed another and practically nothing of importance was done. In spite of these retarding influences St Andrews seems, under the vigorous administration of Melville, to have maintained so much of its former reputation as to be still attractive to students from the Continent, the annual average of whom between 1588 and 1610 was seven or eight. Neither was royal favour entirely withdrawn. A university or common library was founded by King James in 1612. This was gradually enlarged by donations of books from various quarters, and subsequently the separate libraries of the three colleges were combined with it.

On January 15, 1691, seven new Regents were admitted on the nomination of William and Mary-four in St Salvator's College, and three in St Leonard's. This would seem to indicate that a corresponding number had been evicted for refusing to take the oath of allegiance.

Between the time of Melville and the end of the 17th century there are no trustworthy sources of information, and such as exist have little educational significance. And yet within the century in which such men as Knox, Buchanan, Spottiswoode, Henderson, Rutherford, Montrose, and others, fretted their little hour on the St Andrews stage, in the battledore and shuttlecock vicissitudes of Presbyterian and Episcopal supremacy, there must have been many incidents worthy of being recorded, but of which comparatively few traces remain. It is recorded that a Professor of Mathematics was appointed in 1668. In 1690 a Commission was appointed and empowered to remove all officials who refused to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary. Of the extent to which this power was exercised there is no authentic record.


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