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The Scot Abroad
Chapter 5 - Influence of Manners - Part 2


In the universities of central Europe, and that of Paris, their parent, the censor was a very important person; yet he was the subordinate of one far greater in power and influence, the Regent or monarch of a department. The regents still exist in more than their original potency; for they are that essential invigorating element of the university of the present day, without which it would not exist. Of old, when every magister was entitled to teach in the university, the regents were persons selected from among them, with the powers of government as separate from the capacity and function of instructing; at present, in so far as the university is a school, the regent is a schoolmaster—and therefore an essential element of the establishment. The term Regent, like most of the other university distinctions, was originally of Parisian nomenclature, and there might be brought up a good deal of learning bearing on its signification as distinct from that of the word Professor—now so desecrated in its use that we are most familiar with it in connection with dancing-schools, jugglers’ booths, and veterinary surgeries. The regency, as a university distinction conferred as a reward of capacities shown within the arena of the university, and judged of according to its republican principles, seems to have lingered in a rather confused shape in our Scottish universities, and to have gradually ingrafted itself on the patronage of the professorships. So in reference to Glasgow, immediately after the Revolution, when there was a vacancy or two from Episcopalians declining to take the obligation to acknowledge the new Church Establishment, there appears the following notice:—

"January 2, 1691.—There had never been so solemn and numerous an appearance of disputants for a regent’s place as was for fourteen days before this, nine candidates disputing; and in all their disputes and other exercises they all behaved themselves so well, as that the Faculty judged there was not one of them but gave such specimens of their learning as might deserve the place, which occasioned so great difficulty in the choice that the Faculty, choosing a leet of some of them who seemed most to excel and be fittest, did determine the same by lot, which the Faculty did solemnly go about, and the lot fell upon Mr John Law, who thereupon was this day established regent"

The term Regent became obsolete in other universities, while it continued by usage to be applied to a certain class of professors in those of Scotland. Along with other purely academic titles and functions, it fell in England before the rising ascendency of the heads and other officers of the collegiate institutions - colleges, halls, inns, and entries. So, in the same way, evaporated the Faculties and their Deans, still conspicuous in Scottish academic nomenclature. In both quarters they were derived from the all-fruitful nursery of the Parisian university.

But Scotland kept and cherished what she obtained from a friend and ally; England despised and forgot the example of an alien and hostile people. The Decanus seems to have been a captain or leader of ten—a sort of tything-man and Ducange speaks of him as a superintendent of ten monks. He afterwards came into general employment as a sort of chairman and leader.

The Doyens of all sorts, lay and ecclesiastical, were a marked feature of ancient France, as they still are of Scotland, where there is a large body of lay deans, from the lawyer, selected for his eminence at the bar, who presides over the Faculty of Advocates, down to "my feyther the deacon," who has gathered behind a "half-door" the gear that is to make his son a capitalist and a magistrate. Among the Scottish universities the deans of faculty are still nearly as familiar a title as they were at Paris or Bologna.

Their exemption from the authority of the ordinary legal or correctional tribunals was one of the remarkable features of the ancient universities, and the relics of it which have come down almost to the present day in Scotland are very curious. The University was a state in itself, where the administrators of the ordinary authority of the realm had no more power than in a neighbouring independent republic. So jealously was this authority watched and fenced, that usually when the dispute lay between the liegemen of the university and those of the state—between gown and town—the university haughtily arrogated the authority over both. To be sure, it was very much the practice of the age to adjust rights and privileges by balancing one against another—by letting them fight out, as it were, every question in a general contest, and produce a sort of rude justice by the antagonism and balance of forces, just as in some Oriental states at this day the strangers of each nation have the privilege of living under their native laws; a method which, by pitting privilege against privilege, and letting the stronger bear down the weaker, saves the central government much disagreeable and difficult work in the adjustment of rights and duties.

So, in the middle ages, we had the ecclesiastical competing with the baronial interests, and the burghal or corporate with both. Nay, in these last there was a subdivision of interests, various corporations of craftsmen being subject to the authority of their own syndics, deans, or mayors, and entitled to free themselves from any interference in many of their affairs by the burghal or even the royal courts. Ecclesiastical law fought with civil law, and chancery carried on a ceaseless undermining contest with common law; while over Europe there were inexhaustible varieties of palatinates, margravates, regalities, and the like, enjoying their own separate privileges and systems of jurisprudence. But over this Babel of authorities, so complexly established in France that Voltaire likened it to a traveller changing laws as often as he changed horses, what is conspicuous is the homage paid by all the other exclusive privileges to those of the universities, and the separation of these grand institutions by an impassable line of venerated privileges from the rest of the vulgar world. Thus, the State conceded freely to literature those high privileges for which the Church in vain contended, from the slaughter of Becket to the fall of Wolsey. In a very few only of the states nearest to the centre of spiritual dominion could an exclusive ecclesiastical jurisdiction extending to matters both spiritual and temporal be asserted; and France, which acknowledged the isolated authority of the universities, bade a stern defiance to the claims of the Popedom.

It can hardly be said that, invested with these high powers, the universities bore their honours meekly. Respected as they were, they were felt to be invariably a serious element of turbulence, and a source of instability to the government of the cities in which they were. In the affairs of the League, the Fronde, and in the various other contests which, in former days, as in the present, have kept up a perpetual succession of conflicts in turbulent Paris, the position to be taken by the students was extremely momentous, but was not easily to be calculated upon; for these gentry imbibed a great amount both of restlessness and capriciousness along with their cherished prerogatives. During the centuries in which a common spirit pervaded the whole academic body, the fame of a particular university, or of some celebrated teacher in it, had a concentrating action over the whole civilised world, which drew a certain proportion of the youth of all Europe towards the common vortex. Hence, when we know that there were frequently assembled from one to ten thousand young men, adventurous and high-spirited, contemptuous of the condition of the ordinary citizen, and bound together by common objects and high exclusive privileges—well armed, and in possession of edifices fortified according to the method of the day—we hardly require to read history to believe how formidable such bodies must have proved.

Although the Scottish universities never boasted of the vast concourse of young men of all peoples, nations, and languages, which sometimes flocked to the Continental schools, and thus with their great privileges created a formidable imperium in imperio—yet naturally there has existed more or less of a standing feud between the citizen class and the student class. Their records show repeated contests by the authorities of universities, against an inveterate propensity in the students to wear arms, and to use them. The weapons prohibited by the laws of King’s College, Aberdeen, are so varied and peculiar that one need not attempt to convert them into modern nomenclature, but must be content to derive, from the terms in which they are denounced, a general notion how formidable a person a student putting the law at defiance must have been. The list reminds one of Strada’s celebrated account of the armature of the Spanish Armada.

As to the rights of exclusive university jurisdiction which made the turbulent students of old so formidable, the universities of Scotland were not strong enough to retain so much of them as their English neighbours have preserved. There are curious notices, however, here and there, of efforts to maintain them. In Glasgow, in the year 1670, a sudden and singularly bold attempt appears to have been made for their revival, a court of justiciary being held by the university, and a student put on trial on a charge of murder. The weighty matter is thus introduced :—" Anent the indytment given in by John Cumming, wryter in Glasgow, elected to be Procurator-Fiscal of the said university; and Andrew Wright, cordoner in Glasgow, neirest of kin to umquhile Janet Wright, servetrix to Patrick Wilson, younger, gairdner there, killed by the shot of ane gun, or murdered within the said Patrick his dwelling-house, upon the first day of August instant, against Robert Bartoun, son lawful of John Bartoun, gairdner in the said burgh, and student in the said university, for being guilty of the said horrible crime upon the said umquhile Janet."

A jury was impannelled to try the question. The whole affair bears a suspicious aspect of being preconcerted to enable the accused to plead the benefit of acquittal; for no objection is taken on his part to the competency of the singular tribunal before which he is to be tried for his life; on the contrary, he highly approves of them as his judges, and in the end is pronounced not guilty.

Half a century later, in the year 1721, the ‘Glasgow Records’ bear that—" The faculty, being informed that some of the magistrates of Glasgow, and particularly Baffle Robert Alexander, has examined two of the members of the university— viz., William Clark and James Macaulay, students in the Greek class—for certain crimes laid to their charge some time upon the month of February last, and proceeded to sentence against these students, contrary to and in prejudice of the university and haill members, do therefore appoint Mr Gershom Carmichael, &c., to repair to the said magistrates of Glasgow, and particularly Bailie Alexander, and demand the cancelling of the said sentence, and protest against the said practice of the said baiie, or any of the magistrates for their said practice, and for remeid of law as accords."

It was the principle, not the persons-the protection of their privileges, not the impunity of their students—that instigated the faculty on this occasion, since in their next minute they are found visiting William Clark and James Macaulay with punishment for heavy youthful offences.

César Egasse du Boulay, commonly called Bulaeus, in the vast labyrinth of documents running through six folios which he was pleased to call a History of the University of Paris, has much to say here and there about the Bursus and the Bursarius—the bursary and its holder. The word comes from the same origin, indicative of connection with money, as the French "bourse" and our own "purse." The term has various meanings in ecclesiastical history, but in the universities it referred to endowments or scholarships. In nothing, perhaps, is the old spirit of the university—the spirit of opening the fountain of knowledge to all who are worthy of it and desire it—more conspicuous than in the bursary system which has existed in Scotland, and especially in that northern institution formed on the Parisian model, and its neighbour. These foundations, some of them of ancient date—unless some recent change has crossed them—are open to general competition, and those who gain them obtain what carries them through the curriculum of the university, and supplies them during the course with an annual surplus, less or more. When I remember the competition for bursaries, the door was open to all comers. It was curious to see at the long tables the variety in the tone and character of the intellectual gladiators, each trying his strength against the rest—long, red-haired Highlanders, who felt trousers and shoes an infringement on the liberty of the subject—square-built Lowland farmers—flaxen-haired Orcadians—and pale citizens’ sons, vibrating between scholarship and the tailor’s board or the shoemaker’s last. There was nothing to prevent a Bosjesman, a Hottentot, or a Sioux Indian from trying his fortune in that true republic of letters. Grim and silent they sat for many an hour of the day, rendering into Latin an English essay, and dropped away one by one, depositing the evidence of success or failure as the case might be. There was an instruction that each should write his name on his thesis, but write nothing behind the name, so that it might be cut off and numbered to tally with the thesis—a precaution to make sure that the judges who decided on the merits of each performance should be ignorant of its author’s name.

The employment in the universities of a dead language as the means of communication was not only a natural arrangement for teaching the familiar use of that language, but it was also evidently courted as a token of isolation from the illiterate, and a means of free communication throughout the learned, world. In Scotland, as perhaps in some other small countries, such as Holland, the Latin remained as the language of literature after the great nations England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, were making a vernacular literature for themselves. In the seventeenth century the Scot had not been reconciled to the acceptance of the English tongue as his own; nor, indeed, could he employ it either gracefully or accurately. On the other hand, he felt the provincialism of the Lowland Scottish tongue, the ridicule attached to its use in books which happened to cross the Border, and the narrowness of the field it afforded to literary ambition.

The records just cited afford some amusing in-stances of the anxious zeal with which any lapse into the vernacular tongue was prevented, and conversation among the students was rendered as uneasy and unpleasant as possible. In the visitorial regulations of King’s College, Aberdeen, in 1546, it is provided that the attendant boys—the gyps, if we may so call them—shall be expert in the use of Latin, lest they should give occasion to the masters or students to have recourse to the vernacular tongue.* If Aberdeen supplied a considerable number of waiting- boys thus accomplished, the stranger wandering to that far northern region, in the seventeenth century, might have been as much astonished as the man in ‘Ignoramus,’ who tested the state of education in Paris by finding that even the dirty boys in the streets were taught French. It would, after all, have perhaps been more difficult to find waiting-boys who could speak English. The term by which they are described is a curious indication of the French habits and traditions of the northern universities: they are spoken of as garciones—a word of obvious origin to any one who has been in a French hotel.

The object of these regulations seems to have been not so much to teach the Latin as to discountenance the vernacular language of the country. In some instances the language of France is admitted; and here the parallel with the parent University of Paris is lost, by the necessity that the language could not there have the privilege of a foreign tongue. The reason for the exception in favour of this modern language was the ancient French League.

It would be easy to note several other relics of French university phraseology which still cling round the usages of our humble institutions in Scotland. The Lauration is still preserved as the apt and classical term for the ceremony of admission to a degree; and even Dr Johnson, little as he respected any Scottish form, especially when it competed with the legitimate institutions of England, has given in his dictionary the word Laureation, with this interpretation attached thereto: "It denotes in the Scottish universities the act or state of having degrees conferred, as they have in some of them a flowery crown, in imitation of laurel among the ancients."

Elsewhere we are honoured in the same work with a more brief but still a distinctive notice. Among the definitions of "Humanity," after "the nature of man," "humankind," and "benevolence," we have "Philology—grammatical studies; in Scotland, humaniores literae." The term is still as fresh at Aberdeen as when Maimbourg spoke of Calvin making his humanities at the College of La Mark. The "Professor of Humanity" has his place in the almanacs and other official lists as if there were nothing antiquated or peculiar in the term, though jocular people have been known to state to unsophisticated Cockneys and other simple persons that the object of the chair is to inculcate on the young mind the virtue of exercising humanity towards the lower animals; and it is believed that more than one stranger has conveyed away, in the title of this professorship, a standing illustration of the elaborate kindness exercised towards the lower animals in the United Kingdom, and in Scotland especially.

Accuracy is tested by the smallest particulars. To find if it is in a gazetteer you look up your own parish—in a book of genealogy you search for your own respectable relations. Having noticed a parallel with Parisian practice in the higher dignitaries of the northern universities, I propose to go to the humblest grade—the fresh new-comer and find it as distinct there as anywhere. During the first year of attendance, the student in Aberdeen is called a Bejeant; three hundred years ago he was called in Paris a Bejaune. He frequently comes up in the pages of Bukeus. Thus, in the year 1314, a statute of the university is passed on the supplication of a number of the inexperienced youths qui vulgo Bejauni appellebantur. Their complaint is all old and oft-repeated tale, common to freshmen, greenhorns, griffins, or by whatever name the inexperienced, when alighting among old stagers, are recognised. The statute of the Universities states that a variety of predatory personages fall on the newly-arrived bejaune, demanding a bejauniect, or gratuity, to celebrate a jocunctus adventus; that when it is refused, they have recourse to insults and blows; that there is brawling and bloodshed in the matter and thus the discipline and studies of the university are disturbed by the pestiferous disease. It is thence prohibited to give any bejaunica, except to the bejaun’s companions living in the house with him, whom he may entertain if he pleases; and if any efforts are made by others to impose on him, he is solemnly enjoined to give secret information to the procurators and the deans of the faculties.

We have elsewhere come across a few specialties about the connection of the old Church with France. Many changes, known to every one, intercepted the descent to modem times of any peculiarities that can through this channel be traced to France. I do not think, however, that sufficient emphasis has hitherto been given to the influence which the French Huguenots had on Presbyterianism in Scotland. The system, both in its doctrines and its forms, was brought over ready-made, and the root of it is still to be found in the Synodicon, or ‘The Acts, Decisions, Decrees, and Canons of those famous National Councils of the Reformed Churches in France,' gathered together through the diligent zeal of the English Nonconformist John Quick. Passing over, as unsuitable for discussion here, the larger matters of coincidence or of special difference, advisedly adopted by those who adjusted the Continental model for use in Scotland, some of the trifling details may be aptly referred to as evidence of accuracy in the adaptation. "The Moderator" is to this day the head of every Presbyterian ecclesiastical body in Scotland. There is the Moderator of the presbytery, the Moderator of the synod, and the great temporal head of the Church for the time being, "the Very Reverend the Moderator of the General Assembly." The term has scarcely a native tone. It was of old use in specialties in the Gallican Church. There was, for instance, a Moderateur of the celebrated Oratory in Paris; but after the Reformation the name came to be almost exclusively applied to the presidents of the Huguenots’ ecclesiastical courts or assemblages. So, too, the form in which any legislative measure is initiated in the General Assembly is "an overture"—a term still more expressive of foreign origin. It is used as foreign terms are in our tongue, and made a verb of, without consideration for its native structure; and so a motion is made in a presbytery "to overture" the General Assembly. This is the direct descendant of the solemn "o3uverture" by which important pieces of business were opened in the Parliament of Paris and other august bodies. The term has had an odd history, having split, and divided in two opposite directions—the one attaching itself to ecclesiastical business entirely, the other to the initial steps of certain theatrical performances.

I think it is to its source among these Huguenots, chiefly the children of the fiery south of France, that we must attribute some puzzling inconsistencies in the religious history of Scotland, and among them an intolerance and ferocity in profession and language which were not carried into practice, because they were inconsistent with the nature of the people. Scarcely any religious body has lifted up more intolerant testimonies than the Covenanters, yet it would be difficult to point to any other large communion—save the Church of England—with fewer stains of blood upon it than Presbyterianism in Scotland. Had the Huguenots ever possessed the opportunity for vengeance enjoyed by "the wild Whigs of the West" at the Revolution, they would have made an anti-Bartholomew of it. There is an old homely metaphor applied to men with sharp tongues or pens but soft hearts, that with them "the bark is worse than the bite." It has been much so with Presbyterianism in Scotland." There is hardly a more liberal ecclesiastical body to be found anywhere than the United Presbyterian Church. Yet on coming forth it lifted its testimony against what it called "the almost boundless toleration" which was vexing its righteous heart, and rendering the Established Church a hissing and a reproach.

It is conspicuous among strange historical contradictions, that in the country supposed to be the least earnest and the most apt to take all things with an easy, light epicureanism, intolerance should have broken forth in so many and so powerful shapes as to seem a nature of the people. At one period aristocracy and government are intolerant of the poor and of liberty—at another the populace are intolerant of rank and order. At one period the Church is domineering and persecuting — at another it is trodden under bloody feet., and religion with it. The philosophers of the Encyclopedia themselves were intolerant of seriousness and religion, and any one admitted within their circle who happened to retain a turn for devotion had to slink secretly to his place of worship like a dram-drinker to his tavern.

It is the intolerance on both sides that communicates so much of the horrible to the French wars of religion.. The Huguenots were not less bloody and ferocious than their opponents. Of liberty of conscience they had not the faintest notion. Of internal intolerance—" discipline," as it was termed—or compulsory conformity with their own special sectarian rules, they had a far larger share than the Church of Rome. They held the internal rule all the more severely the more they were persecuted, for it is incident to persecuted bodies to be more relentless among each other than the prosperous. A persecuted Church is like an army passing through an enemy’s country, in which difference from the opinion of the leaders is mutiny and desertion. The Edict of Nantes was not an act of toleration—it was a compulsory pacification between two hostile forces, each ready when the opportunity came to fly at the others throat. To keep them from doing so, each was assigned its own place, with bathers between them. The Huguenots had their own fortified towns, their own municipalities, their own universities; and, what is so difficult to comprehend as a working machinery, their own courts of justice. The "Revocation" was, no doubt, a crime and a folly, but it was an act which the sufferers in it would have done had they got an opportunity.

There was something, indeed, in the profession of the new Church more tyrannical than that of the old. The Papal hierarchy drew a line between its own function, which was spiritual, and that of the State, which was temporal—a line, doubtless, not always observed. The Church of Calvin, however, as enacted for a short time on its small stage of Geneva, professed to rule everything. It was a theocracy dictating to all men the rule of the Deity as to their daily life and conversation through His ministers. Hence the domineering propensities of the church-courts of Scotland, which have made so many people angry, are but a poor and ineffectual mimicry of the iron rule of Calvin and FareL Knox, the fiercest and hottest of their Scots followers, though in the spirit of party he vindicated many a rough act, was not a man of blood. It was not in his nature to have tracked like a detective a controversial opponent through obscure acrimonious criticisms hidden in corners, to have lured their writer within his reach, and then to have put him to death. Thus were there many things done which the Scots followers of the school, though themselves incapable of committing, had yet, with a sort of heroic devotion to their party, to vindicate in others—a practice which has brought on them much undeserved odium.


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