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The History of Glasgow
Volume 2 - Chapter XI - The University


THOUGH the University of Glasgow had been founded with great acclaim in 1451, its fortunes during the first hundred years of its existence do not appear to have been too prosperous. John Major or Mair, who was its principal Regent from 1518 to 1523, described it in his History, published in 1521, as "poorly endowed and not rich in scholars." By each of the successive sovereigns, from James II. to Mary, it, with its regents and students, was specially exempted from taxation. [Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. p. 118, No. 50.] In 1563, in the letter under Queen Mary's privy seal, it is described as "rather the decay of a university than an established foundation," its schools and chambers being only partly built, and the provision for its poor bursars and teachers having ceased. [Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. p. 129, No. 58.] The young Queen of Scots was, in fact, the first to give the struggling seat of learning in the west a helping hand. By the letter just referred to, the enlightened young ruler founded bursaries for five poor scholars and granted the convent and kirk of the Blackfriars to the college, with thirteen acres of land, forty merks of annual rent from various properties, and ten bolls of meal. At the same time she intimated her intention to provide further for the establishment in order that the liberal sciences might be taught there as freely as in other colleges of the realm. Her desire was that the bursaries should be called "bursaries of owre foundatione," and she hoped so to benefit the college that it "sal be reputit our foundatioun in all tyme cuming." But the times which followed were in the hands of the queen's enemies and detractors. The men who benefited most by her gifts in Glasgow would have been the very last to acknowledge that Mary Stewart could do any good thing. And for the history of that period succeeding generations have trusted most to the pens of her most bitter and ungenerous enemies, John Knox and George Buchanan. One may look in vain through the Calendar of Glasgow University to-day for any sign of Queen Mary bursaries and other benefactions.

With an enlightened zeal for which it has not always received credit the Town Council next came to the help of the struggling University. In January, 1572-3, it conveyed to the college all the lands and church property granted to the city by Queen Mary in 1566-7. In their charter the Town Council laid down the constitution of the College. After setting forth that, for lack of funds, the "Pedagoguy" had wellnigh gone to ruin, and that, through excessive poverty, the pursuit of learning had become utterly extinct, the magistrates declared that "with the constant and oft-repeated exhortation, persuasion, advice, and help of a much honoured man, Master Andrew Hay, rector of Renfrew and vice-president and rector of our University of Glasgow," they "endowed, founded and erected the said college." This was to consist of a Professor of Theology, who should be president or principal, with the regents, who should teach Dialectics, Physics, Ethics, Politics "the whole of Philosophy"—and twelve poor students. The endowment was for the "support and daily provision of these fifteen persons and their common servants." The appointment of the Principal was to be for life or fault, but, at the will of the Principal, the Rector, and the Dean of Faculty, the regents might be removed every sixth year, "that is, when they have conducted two classes completely through the curriculum; especially if they begin to weary of their work, and do not apply themselves with sufficient diligence to their duty." The twelve other poor persons were to be "duly provided, maintained in meat and drink, College rooms and bedrooms, and other easements, for the space of three and a half years only, a time we deem sufficient for obtaining the master's degree in the faculty of arts, according to the statutes of that faculty." The Principal was to employ himself every day of the week in reading and expounding the scriptures in the College pulpit, and for remuneration was endowed with the vicarage of Colmonell with forty merks, as well as twenty merks from the College funds, while the stipend of each of the regents was to be "twenty pounds of good money." The Principal was prohibited from residing anywhere except within the College, and the regents were forbidden to "entangle themselves" in any other business except that of their office. The scholars were to live in community, eat together, and sleep within the College, and week about they were to perform the duties of janitor, read the Bible in the public hall, and give a short discourse after supper on the Saturday. The College doors were to be locked from 8 p.m. till 5 a.m. in winter and from 10 p.m. till 4 a.m. in summer. All who lived in the College and their servants were to be free from ordinary jurisdiction, and from all tolls and exactions. Twice a year the College was to be visited and its accounts were to be audited. Finally, no one was to be admitted as a student unless he made beforehand a pure and sincere confession of faith and religion.

The twelve students thus provided for by the municipality were not, of course, the only students at the College. The city's deed of gift refers to "the twelve poor scholars and the two regents and all students that prosecute their studies in the College"; but all were to be equally bound by the rules laid down. [Charters and Documents, pt. ii. p. 149 ; Act. Pan. iii. 487, V. 88 ; Stat. Acc. xxi. App. 20.]

On 26th January, 1572-3, this charter was ratified by the Regent Morton.

Notwithstanding the city's generous gift, however, the College appears still to have been but poorly provided for, and five years later, when James VI. was ten years of age, the Regent Morton granted to it the rectory and vicarage of the parish of Govan upon terms which amounted to a new erection and foundation of the University. Under this new foundation the Principal, to be appointed by the king, was to be well versed in Holy Writ, and to act as Professor of Hebrew and Syriac. On alternate days he was to lecture on these languages and on Theology, and on Sundays was to preach to the people of Govan. If he were absent for three nights from the College his place was to be considered vacant. His salary was to be two hundred merks as Principal and three chalders of corn as minister of Govan. Of the three regents the first was to be Professor of Rhetoric and Greek, the second of Dialects and Logic, with the elements of Arithmetic and Geometry. Each of these two was to have a salary of fifty merks. The third regent was to teach Physiology and the observation of Nature, with Geography and Astronomy. In the absence of the Principal he was to take his place, and his stipend was to be "fifty pounds of our money yearly." The appointment and dismissal of the regents was entrusted to the Principal, who himself in turn might be dismissed if necessary by the Chancellor, Rector, and Dean of Faculty. The charter also provided for the maintenance of four poor students or bursars, who must be "gifted with excellent parts and knowledge in the faculty of grammar." These were to be nominated by the Earl of Morton and his heirs, and admitted by the Principal, who was to see to it that "rich men were not admitted instead of poor, nor drones feed upon the hive."

There was to be a "steward or provisor," who was to collect the rents and purvey the victuals, his accounts to be

entered in a book and submitted daily to the Principal. His salary was to be twenty pounds and his expenses, besides his keep in the College. The Principal's servant and cook and a porter were also provided for, the two last to have six merks apiece and their food.

Everyone admitted to the College was to make profession of his faith once a year, for the "discomfiting of the enemy of mankind," and the community was to enjoy all immunities and privileges granted at any time to other universities in the kingdom.

The wisdom of this new constitution, with its checks and counterchecks, is believed to have been owed to Andrew Hay, the Rector of that time. If the new erection discarded the pre-Reformation idea of a University, and substituted for it, as Cosmo Innes says, "a composite school, half University, half Faculty of Arts," [Charters and Documents, pt. ii. p. 168.] it had the inspiring support of a new and fervid faith, and the advantage of a man of ripe and varied scholarship in the Principal who was to give it a start. John Davidson had been principal regent from 1556 till 1572, and had been succeeded by Peter Blackburn for two years. But in 1574 the redoubtable and learned Andrew Melville had been appointed Principal. Though a stern and uncompromising insister upon every jot and tittle of the new form of church government, he was "accomplished in all the learning of the age, and far in advance of the scholars of Scotland." [Cosmo Innes, Sketches of Early Scotch History, p. 225.]

Born in 1545, Melville had received his early education at Montrose grammar school under Pierre de Marsiliers, and at St. Mary's College, St. Andrews, and had proceeded to Paris, where he studied Greek, oriental languages, mathematics, and law, and came under the influence of Peter Ramus. He had helped to defend Poitiers during the siege in 1568, and in the same year—the year of the Battle of Langside—had been appointed Professor of Humanity at Geneva. Among those whom he met were Beza, Joseph Scaliger, and Francis Hottoman. Returning to Scotland in 1573, he was almost at once singled out by his qualifications for the office of Principal at Glasgow University, and entered upon his duties in the following year. The astonishing range of his teaching may be gathered from the narrative of his nephew, James Melville, who accompanied him to Glasgow, and was himself afterwards a professor at St. Andrews and a moderator of the General Assembly. "Sa," proceeds this recorder, "falling to wark with a few number of capable heirars, sic as might be instructars of vthers theretu, he teatched them the Greik grammer, the Dialectic of Ramus, the Rhetoric of Taleus, with the practise therof in Greik and Latin authors, namlie, Homer, Hesiod, Phocilides, Theognides, Pythagoras, Isocrates, Pindarus, Virgill, Horace, Theocritus, etc. From that he enterit to the Mathematiks, and teatched the Elements of Euclid, the Arithmetic and Geometrie of Ramus, the Geographic of Dionysius, the Tables of Honter, the Astrologic of Aratus. From that to the Morall Philosophic; he teatched the Ethiks of Aristotle, the Offices of Cicero, Aristotle de Virtutibus, Cicero's Paradoxes and Tusculanes, Aristotle's Polytics, and certain of Platoes Dialoges. From that to the Naturall Philosophic; he teatched the buiks of the Physics, De Ortu, De Caelo, etc., also of Plato and Fernelius. With this he ioynid the Historic, with the twa lights thereof, Chronologic and Chirographic, out of Sleidan, Menarthes, and Melancthon. And all this, by and attoure his awin ordinar profession, the holie tonges and Theologic. He teatchit the Hebrew grammar, first schortlie, and sync more accuratlie ; therefter the Caldai and Syriac dialects, with the practise thereof in the Psalmes and Warks of Solomon, David, Ezra, and Epistle to the Galates. He past throw the haill Comoun Places of Theologie verie exactlie and accuratlie ; also throw all the Auld and New Testament. And all this in the space of six yeirs, during the quhilk he teatchit everie day customablie twyse, Sabothe and vther day; with an ordinar conference with sic as war present efter dennor and supper." [Mr. James Melville's Diary, Bannatyne Club, p. 38.]

Melville's teaching was certainly universal enough. Within two years it was famous throughout Scotland and even further afield. Numbers who had graduated at St. Andrews came to Glasgow and entered again as students. So full were the classes that the rooms could not contain them. Among the most constant hearers was Mr. Patrick Sharpe, master of the Grammar School, who was wont to declare that he learned more from Andrew Melville's table talk and jesting than from all the books. Altogether, James Melville concludes, "there was na place in Europe comparable to Glasgow for guid letters during these yeirs, for a plentifull and guid chepe mercat of all kynd of langages, artes, and sciences."

In addition to all these labours Melville took a leading part in the organization of the Scottish Church, and assisted in the reconstitution of Aberdeen University in 1575, and the reformation of St. Andrews University in 1579. In 158o he was transferred to St. Andrews as Principal of St. Mary's College, and there promoted the study of Aristotle and created a taste for Greek literature. There in 1582 he was Moderator of the General Assembly which excommunicated Archbishop Montgomerie. From the time of his leaving Glasgow he was mostly concerned in the political squabbles of the kirk against the court, and for four years, from 1607 till 1611, was for his bitterness imprisoned in the Tower, only to be released at the request of the Duc de Bouillon, who wished to make him professor of theology at Sedan. He died there in 1622. [McCrie's Life of Andrew Melville.]

Glasgow undoubtedly had the benefit of Andrew Melville's best years, and his ability and zeal appear to have set the reconstituted University on a path of success and prosperity from which it has never turned back.

Some idea of the scholarship which made Glasgow University famous in an age when Greek was not yet a popular study may be learned from the article in Bayle's Historical Dictionary on John Cameron, who at the age of twenty left Glasgow for France in 1600. "On admira justement que Bans un age si peu avance it parlat en Grec sur le champ avec la meme facilite et avec la meme purete que d'autres en Latin." [Cosmo Innes, Sketches of Early Scotch History, p. 228,]

On attaining his majority in 1587, James VI. ratified and granted anew the various gifts and privileges conferred upon the College of Glasgow during his reign—the rectory and vicarage of Govan, the properties which formerly belonged to friars, chaplainries, and altars within the city, the customs of the tron, and the freedom from taxation. [Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. No. 75 and No. 79.] Thirteen years later, Archbishop James Beaton, who for forty years had been an exile in France, had his "whole heritages and possessions" in Scotland restored to him, as already mentioned, but the Act of Parliament by which this was done expressly excepted " quhatsumevir rentes and dueteis pertening to the College of Glasgow." [Ibid. i. pt. ii. No. 86.]

To the same period belongs the restoration to the University of its ancient treasure and symbol of authority, the Mace. Presented by the first Rector, Mr. David Cadyou, on the occasion of his re-election in 146o, this fine piece of silver-work appears to have been in some danger from the plundering propensities of the Reformers in 156o, and when Archbishop Beaton made his hurried visit to Glasgow, to rescue the church jewels and documents, it was entrusted to him by the Rector of that year, Mr. James Balfour, Dean of Glasgow. In 1590 the Principal of the University, Mr. Patrick Sharpe, secured its return, and had it repaired and enlarged. Its original weight was 5 lb. 7¼oz., it now weighs 8 lb. 1oz. [Muniments Univ. Glasg. iii. 523.] The arms it bears are those of Bishop Turnbull, founder of the University; James II., who procured the Papal bull; Lord Hamilton, who gave the first endowment; the Regent Morton, who restored the college in 1577; and the City of Glasgow, within which it has its seat.

Much had been said of the inconvenience and incompleteness of the old college buildings in the High Street—the tenement acquired from Lord Hamilton in 1459, the "place" or manor-house of Sir Thomas Arthurlee secured in 1475, and the manse and "kirk room" of the Blackfriars granted by Queen Mary in 1563, with the "schools and chambers standing half-built," which excited the benevolence of the brilliant young queen. But it was not till 1632 that a beginning was made with the erection of new buildings, and it was not till 1656 that the main part of these buildings was completed. The eastern or back quadrangle, containing the houses of the professors, still remained unfinished. Immediately to the south of the college buildings the old chapel of the Blackfriars, standing in its graveyard, was recognized as the college chapel. A bird's-eye view of the buildings, previous to the fire which destroyed the chapel in 1670, appeared in Captain Slezer's Theatrum Scotiae, which was published in 1693. This shows some of the old tenements then still standing on the street front to the south of the new facade, with, between them, a wide passage ascending by steps from the street to the graveyard, and away behind college and kirk the spacious college gardens surrounded by hedges and trees.

These college gardens were not open to the students in general, but only to those who were sons of noblemen, and who were accordingly allowed keys. [Munimenta, ii. 421.]

Many of the students lived in the college buildings, paying no rent for their rooms till the year 1704, when a charge of four shillings to ten shillings per session began to be made. [Munimenta Universitatis Glasguensis, iii. 513.] The occupants apparently furnished their own rooms, and some of the townspeople seem to have made a business of hiring them the furniture. Writing of his residence there in 1743, Jupiter Carlyle says, "I had my lodging this session in a college room which I had furnished for the session at a moderate rent. John Donaldson, a college servant, lighted my fire and made my bed; and a maid from the landlady who furnished the room came once a fortnight with clean linens." [Autobiography of the Rev. Alex. Carlyle, D.D., p. 99.]

In 1594 certain abuses seem to have excited the resentment of the citizens. It was alleged that the rents, chaplainries, and other emoluments of the Blackfriars kirk which had been assigned by the provost and bailies, for the support of poor bursars in the college, were being wrongly applied to the support of sons of the richest men in the town. The provost and bailies took drastic action in the matter, withdrew their gift of these rents and emoluments, and applied the revenues to the support of the ministry within the city. Their action was confirmed by act of parliament. [Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. No. lxxxi.]

Twenty years later trouble arose over another source of the University's revenue. In 1581 Archbishop Boyd had mortified to the college the whole customs of the Glasgow tron and market. [Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. No. lxxii.] In 1614, however, Archbishop Spottiswood, ignoring that transaction, granted the town customs to the provost and burgh for a yearly payment of a hundred merks. [Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. No. xcv.] The college authorities replied by feuing and disponing to the provost and burgh the same customs and duties for the ancient feu-duty of £50, being £16 13s. 4d. less than the hundred merks demanded by the archbishop. [Charters and Documents, i. ii. p. 466.] As the town had paid the archbishop a grassum of 4500 merks on his charter the provost and bailies naturally called upon him to set the matter right. He thereupon gave them a bond undertaking to procure a renunciation from the college of its claim under the "pretendit gift" of Archbishop Boyd, or in default of this to repay to them the grassum of 4500 merks. [Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. No. xcvi.] As sasine was granted to the town six months later by the college authorities on their own charter it would appear that Spottiswood had failed to make good his claim, and that the burgh obtained the customs on the lower terms offered by the college. [Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. No. xcvii.] Thirteen years later, in 1628, probably with a view to the avoidance of similar contentions in future, the University obtained from Spottiswood's successor, Archbishop Law, a charter confirming the mortification of the tron dues by Archbishop Boyd in 1581. [Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. p. 471.]

Notwithstanding this and other profits accruing to the town from the goodwill of the University, the city fathers did not hesitate to take exception to the ordinances of the college authorities. The sons of burgesses enjoyed certain privileges and exemptions, mostly, it may be supposed, living and taking their meals at home. Accordingly, on 18th November, 1626, complaint was made that the Principal and regents had made an undue exaction on the town's bursars, "quha are urgit to gif ane silver pund at their entrie." [Burgh Records, sub die.]

King Charles I., in 1630, granted a charter under the Great Seal, confirming and re-granting to the University all its properties and privileges, under burden of the stipends to the ministers of Govan, Renfrew, Kilbride, Dalziel, and Colmonell, whose revenues had been annexed to the college. [Charters and Documents, No. civ.] The king also took a personal interest in the affairs of the students and the University. In 1634, with his own hand, he wrote to the archbishop requiring him to see that the members of the college attended service in their gowns in their proper pews in the cathedral.

Among other rights claimed by the college authorities was that of exclusive and complete jurisdiction, even in criminal matters, over the students. Delinquents were rebuked, fined, and committed to durance in the college tower for such offences as cutting the gown of another student on the Lord's day, being found by the Principal "with a sword girt about him in the toun," and sending a letter to the Principal "conceived in very insolent terms." [Muniments, vol. ii. p. 415.] In 1667 it was decreed that students found breaking the college windows or otherwise damaging the buildings should be "furthwith publicklie whipped and extruded the colledge." [Ibid. P. 340 ] And for performing the practical joke of handing in the name of a fellow student to be publicly prayed for in church, an act of uncalled-for solicitude which became rather common for a time, a number of the youths were summoned before the regents and severely reprimanded, while one was expelled. [Ibid. ii. 373-379.]

On one occasion, on 18th August, 1670, the college authorities even proceeded to try a student for murder. The court sat in "the laigh hall of the universitie," with the rector, Sir William Fleming of Farme, as president, and the Dean of Faculty and three regents as assessors. In the indictment made by John Cumming, writer in Glasgow, elected as procurator fiscal, and by Andrew Wright, nearest of kin to the deceased, Robert Barton, a student, was charged with the murder of Janet Wright in her own house, "by the shoot off ane gun," and the punishment demanded was death. The accused pleaded not guilty, and thereupon a jury of fifteen was impanelled and the trial proceeded. Before pronouncing their

verdict the jury very wisely demanded that the University should hold them scatheless of any consequences, "in regaird they declaired the caice to be singular, never haveing occurred in the aidge of befor to ther knowledge, and the rights and priviledges of the universitie not being produced to them to cleir ther priviledge for holding of criminall courts, and to sitt and cognosce upon cryms of the lyke natur." The court replied that, having agreed to "pase upon the said inqueist in initio," the jury made this demand too late; nevertheless, "for satisfactioune and ex abundante gratia," the court undertook to hold them free "of all coast, danger, and expenses." Whether or not the jury were completely satisfied with this assurance we are not told, but their verdict was on the safe side—Not Guilty. [Munimenta, ii. 340.]

Still later, in 1711, when some of the students who had been making trouble in the city were arrested, tried by the magistrates, and compelled to pay a fine, the University authorities demanded the repayment of the fines, declaring that the magistrates, if they refused, would be held liable, " for all expenses and damadges that the said Masters of the University may be putt to in vindicating their right and jurisdiction over any of the scholars committed to their charge." [Ibid. ii. 400.] The upshot is unknown.

Meanwhile the functions of the college and the kirk were gradually being separated. In 1621, by an Act of the Archbishop of Glasgow the Principal of the University was relieved from the ministry of the parish of Govan, the stipend and emoluments of a separate minister were arranged for, and the patronage was vested in the college authorities. [Alunimenta, i. 521, 522 ; Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. p. 470.]

A few years later the Principal was similarly relieved from the necessity of regular ministration in the kirk of the Black-friars. In 1635 the college authorities found the upkeep of the old Blackfriars kirk too much for their resources. It had become ruinous, and a new settlement had to be found. An arrangement was therefore made with the Town Council whereby that body agreed to take over the kirk, with the ground westward from it to the meal market, and a space of eleven ells width on each side of the kirk for enlargement of the building, if necessary. As part of the bargain the Town Council was to pay 2000 merks towards the completion of the college buildings, the college was to have the next best seat in the kirk after the magistrates, and free use of the building at all times for ceremonial purposes, and at the same time four of the "new laigh chambers" in the college were to be assigned to the use of burgess' sons while students. [Charters and Documents, No. cvii.] This arrangement was confirmed by the archbishop and the Crown. Thus the old kirk of the Blackfriars finally passed into possession of the city. [Charters, i. pt. ii. cviii, cix.]

Another notable windfall which accrued to the college for the completion of its buildings was a sum of £20,000 left in 1653 by the stout old minister of the Barony, Zachary Boyd, who was also dean of faculty, rector, and vice-chancellor of the University. The legacy was burdened with the stipulation that the University should publish all its benefactor's literary works. A number of them, Zion's Flowers in poetry and The Last Battell of the Soul in Death in prose, have seen the light, but in merciful consideration of Boyd's memory the authorities still delay complete fulfilment of his stipulation. Zachary's bust, however, was piously set up by the college authorities, and the buildings were erected at intervals. About 1690, Principal Fall records, the stone balustrade was put up on the great stair leading to the fore common hall, "with a Lion and a Unicorn upon the first turn." Bust, stair, and balustrade are all still to be seen in the new college at Gilmorehill.

An excellent idea of the student life, of the more orderly sort, at Glasgow University in the latter half of the seventeenth century is furnished by the extracts from the Register of Josiah Chorley published by Cosmo Innes in his Sketches of Scotch History. A large amount of intimate and interesting information of the same period is also to be found in Principal Baillie's Letters and Journals. There can be no question of the tremendous effect upon Scottish character in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which must have been produced not only by the learning of Glasgow University, but also by the social influence of its collegiate life. The abandonment of that collegiate life at a later day has ever been a subject of regret to lovers of education as distinct from mere information, and they regard as a happy augury the present-day movement to remedy the defect by the establishment of student hostels and an enlarged union.


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