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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter XIV - College Life


IN the first decades of the eighteenth century students entered the University at a very early age. Principal Robertson and David Hume were no more than twelve years of age when they began their studies, while Principal Hill and Colin MacLaurin, the mathematician, were only eleven. The last-named graduated at fifteen, and became a professor four years afterwards. At that early age they were expected to know Latin as a spoken language, for prayers, lectures, and examinations were all conducted in that tongue. It was not till 1729 that Professor Hutcheson, in Glasgow—"the never to be forgotten Hutcheson" who was the preceptor of Adam Smith—set the example of lecturing in English, and to the present day the "Adsum" with which the student answers the roll-call, and the Latin form in which the Christian names are recited, form a relic of the ancient custom. It was even the rule that the students must speak nothing but Latin between themselves in the College grounds. When, in 17o6, it was rumoured that this rule was being broken, and that the students were all speaking English, the Glasgow Senate ordered each regent or professor to appoint a "clandestine censor," or in plain words, a secret spy, to report all transgressors, who were to be fined id. for the first offence and 2d. for the second. [Munimenta Univ. Glas. ii. 390; Grey Graham, Social Life in Scotland, 454. 460.]

The students were of all sorts and conditions—sons of noblemen and lairds, farmers and shopkeepers, ministers and

mechanics. In the second half of the century a third of the Glasgow number were Irish, and half of those who graduated were entered as "Scoto-Hibernicus." There were also a good many English and some foreigners. [Professor Reid's Works (Hamilton's ed.), p. 40.] The English and Irish Universities were then practically closed against dissenters, and these accordingly resorted in considerable numbers to the north of the Border. As already mentioned, many of these lads were very poor. To help them they were granted the privilege, in Glasgow, of exemption from "the ladles," that is, the local customs duty of a ladleful of meal out of each sack brought into the burgh. When, later in the century, a stingy farmer of "the ladles" denied this privilege, and insisted on exacting his legal dues, Dr. Adam Smith, future author of The Wealth of Nations, was deputed to interview the Town Council, and that body agreed to make good the toll thus insisted upon. [Life of Adam Smith, p. 67.]

Of a curriculum in the College itself the cost may be gathered from the rates charged at St. Andrews in 1767. The students there were divided into three classes. Of these the "Primers" (sons of noblemen) paid six guineas in class fees to their professor, dined with the professors at the high table, and wore a gown of fine material, richly trimmed. The "Seconders" (sons of gentlemen) paid a class fee of three guineas, sat also at the high table, and wore gowns of the same material, without the trimming. The "Terners" (sons of commoners) paid a fee of only one guinea, dined at the bursars' table, and wore gowns of coarser material. Their rooms were rent free, and the charge for their board at the high table was £8 for the session of seven months, afterwards in 1793 increased to £10, and at the bursars' table £5 11s. 1½d. In 1747 the board provided was as follows:

"1. Each Bursar hath for breakfast the third part of a scone and a mutchkine of ale.

"2. For dinner each Bursar bath half a scone of bread and a mutchkine and ane half of ale, and four Bursars have ane ashet of broth and a portion of beef or veal or mutton or hens, and when they have fish they have them in ashets proportionately, and in place of broth they have baps.

"3. For supper each Bursar bath half a scone and a mutchkine and ane half of ale and three eggs, or what is equivalent to three eggs.

"4. On Sabbath, besides their ordinary dinner the Bursars have at night to supper broth and fresh meat, and each bath half a scone of bread and a mutchkine and ane half of ale."

The food and drink were of the same quantity and quality at the high table as at the bursars' table. Some idea of the quantity of the rations may be judged from the fact that half a leg of mutton or veal was the allowance for four bursars at a meal. Each scone weighed sixteen ounces. [The menu at the College tables at Glasgow a century and a half before this time is detailed by Dr. Murray in his Memories of the Old College of Glasgow, P. 454- In Glasgow the common table, at which regents and students ate together, was given up in 1694. Ibid. p. 458.]

There were certain other small charges: £10 Scots for the use of a spoon and plate, and a fee to the janitor of—Primers 4s. 6d., Seconders 2s. 6d., and Terners is. Altogether the student living within the College at St. Andrews, and probably also at Glasgow, in the second half of the century, could get through an entire session for an expenditure on fees and board of a good deal less than £20. According to Dr. Johnson, in his Journey to the Western Islands, it could indeed, in 1774, be done on £10. In the early years of the century the expenditure would be less. [These interesting particulars were given, from a previously unpublished document, in an article by A. H. Symon in the Glasgow Herald of 8th August, 1931. Gibson, in his History (page 195), states that board and lodging could be had in Glasgow in 1777 at a rate as low as £10 10s. per annum.]

In Glasgow no charge seems to have been made for the students' rooms till 1712, when a rent was instituted of from four to ten shillings for the session, according to position. [Munimenta, vol. iii. p. 513.] Of his residence within the College in 1743 the famous Jupiter Carlyle writes: "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, p. 99.] The letting of rooms within the College to students was finally discontinued in 1817. [Coutts, Hist. Univ. of Glasgow, p. 334.]

Certain rather invidious differences with regard to rank were made in the treatment accorded the students. Most outstanding among these was the rule regarding the use of the "great garden" which lay between the College buildings and the Molendinar. To that garden was added in 1704 a smaller "Physic Garden," the first of the successive Botanic Gardens of Glasgow. The use both of the Great Garden and the Physic Garden was restricted to "the sons of noblemen who are scholars." To each of these was entrusted a key with the special stipulation that the holder must allow no one but himself to use it. [Munimenta, vol. ii. p. 421.]

Only once and again, at rare intervals, the jurisdictions of the College and the burgh came into conflict. One occasion occurred in 1711, when the magistrates fined some students found misconducting themselves in the city. Against this the College authorities protested, and demanded the return of the fines, on the ground that the students were under the sole separate jurisdiction of the University. They threatened to hold the magistrates liable for all expense which might be incurred in vindicating the College's right and jurisdiction. Unfortunately there is no record of the upshot. [Ibid. ii. p. 400.]

Residence within the precincts of the College had both advantages and disadvantages. The regents or professors took turns, a week at a time, in acting as Hebdomadar, and the Hebdomadar visited the students' rooms at five every morning to see that they were out of bed, and at nine every night to make sure that no gaming or idle amusement was going on. An ordinance of the authorities ran: "Students are obliged to be diligent in praying to God, reading in their chambers morning and evening, and, to ensure obedience, cubicular censors are appointed to keep watch, and the regents are enjoined to notice how they perform the private duties of prayer and reading, as well as in their questions. [Mun. Univ. Glas. ii. 369, 489.] At 6 a.m. a bell summoned everyone to a general roll-call, followed by prayers and religious instruction before going to their classes, and all students were required to be within doors when the gates were shut at nine o'clock at night. Even on Sunday the youthful seeker after learning was under discipline all the time. The day began with religious exercises in the classrooms, after which there were services, forenoon and afternoon, in the Blackfriars or College Kirk, under the eyes of Principal and professors. When the bell rang at four o'clock they gathered again in their classrooms, to be examined on the sermons they had heard, to be questioned on the Catechism, and to hear a lecture on the Confession of Faith. In the evening they might be required to attend a lecture by a regent in the College Kirk. Otherwise they must not be seen out of doors, on pain of fine and rebuke. Even the coins they dropped into the collection ladle were scrutinised, and when, in 1703, it was thought the contributions were too small, it was arranged that the collection should be taken in the classroom on the Saturday, and handed to the kirk-session next day. [Ibid. ii. 379.]

But if College life was by no means a bed of roses for the student, it can hardly have been an Elysium for the teaching staff. About the beginning of the eighteenth century professorships of specific subjects began to be set up, but in the main, down till the year 1727, when a Royal Commission remodelled its affairs, Glasgow University followed the "rotatory" or "ambulatory" system of teaching. [Coutts, History of University, p. 207.] Under that system there were no chairs of specific subjects, but the regent or teacher carried the same class on year after year, dealing in succession with Greek, mathematics, logic, physics, ethics, and pneumatics, [Pneumatics dealt with such questions as "the being and perfections of the true God, the nature of angels and the soul of man, and the duties of natural religion."] till he brought his students to laureation at the end of their third or fourth year. The regent accordingly came to know the character and abilities of each student very thoroughly. On the part of the student it had the drawback that he might be unfortunate in the year of his entry, and might find himself tied, during the whole time of his sojourn at college, to the teaching, guidance, and example of an ill-qualified or undesirable pedagogue. It was next to impossible, of course, for any regent to be a complete master of all the subjects he was called to teach. Indeed, there are curious stories extant of the meagreness of the qualifications of some of these teachers. A superficial examination in Greek and a debate in Latin on some such subject as Quodnarn sit criterion veritatis, or Quod sit causa variorum colorum in corroribus naturalibus, formed the prescribed tests. When a professor of Humanity was appointed in 1704, the translation of a not too exacting passage from the Annals of Tacitus, and the turning into Latin prose of the not too colloquial speech of a Scottish nobleman, were taken as sufficient proof of efficiency. When, in the same year, a professorship of Greek was introduced, all that was asked of the candidate by way of proof of scholarship was an analysis of ten lines from the eighth book of the Iliad. [Mun. Univ. Glasg. ii. V3, 385.] When, in 1709, Charles Morthland was appointed to the Chair of Oriental Languages, of which Hebrew was the principal subject, his knowledge of that tongue was more than doubtful. He was allowed the greater part of a year to prepare, and actually went to Utrecht for the purpose. [Coutts, Hist. University of Glasgow, p. 190; Grey Graham, Social Life in Scotland, 468.]

After all, no very high level of scholarship was to be expected from these men. They came at the end of a period, begun at the Reformation, when the only kind of learning considered as of any value was scriptural and dogmatic, and when poetry and art in every field suffered from what has been termed by one of our most brilliant Scottish critics the "Puritan blight." The Judaic ban against "graven images" was extended to everything which might add to the loveliness and charm of life. The glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome were regarded as carnal subjects which it was undesirable to dwell upon too closely. The ruling idea was to make our present existence as far as possible "a desert drear," in order to make sure of earning, and to render more attractive, a future heavenly home. It was impossible for a regent to become very enthusiastic over a subject which brought him no greater salary than 500 merks (£28 2s. 6d. sterling) a year. When professors of Greek and Latin were at last appointed in 1704, as above mentioned, their stipends were still less, merely 300 merks (£16 17s. id. sterling), with an uncertain addition from the fees of students. The salary of the Principal of Glasgow College himself was only £67 10s., with, of course, as was the case with the regents also, board at the common table. [In 1707 by Royal Charter the four regents' stipends were increased by ii each, and the stipends of the professors of Hebrew and mathematics were made £40, while the Principal and the professors of Humanity, Botany, and Greek received augmentations of £22, £25, £30, and £20 respectively.—Mun. Univ. Glas. i. 466.] The stipends of the city ministers at that time were £1000 Scots, with £80 Scots for "house mail," or rent—altogether £87 10s. sterling.

In this connection it is interesting to note that, while the ambulatory or regenting system continued, a surprising number of the students took their degrees. It was then the personal interest of the regents to see that as many as possible of their charges proceeded to laureation, for each graduand paid his regent a guinea. After the method was changed in 1727, and there were no more guineas to be earned by the professors in this way, the number of students proceeding to graduation strangely decreased. The mental calibre of some of these professors may be judged from the fact that as late as 1733—six years after the last witch-burning had taken place at Dornoch, and within three years of the final abolition of the Act against witches—\V. Forbes, professor of Law in Glasgow University, still, in his lectures and his Institutes of Scots Law, dealt seriously with evidence regarding this devilish craft.

By the beginning of the second quarter of the century a new stirring of intellectual life began to be felt in Scotland. In the field of poetry, William Hamilton of Gilbertfield, near Glasgow, was producing his modern version of Blind Harry's Wallace, and writing songs in a new natural vein, like "Willie was a wanton wag"; while in Edinburgh Allan Ramsay was reprinting ancient songs, and composing his own fine pastoral, The Gentle Shepherd. On the part of the universities Glasgow led the way with the vigorous departure of Professor Francis Hutcheson from the old dry-as-dust methods and doctrines, and the throwing of new life and interest into moral philosophy. Hutcheson's lectures were delivered in English, and, in the words of his biographer, Professor Scott, "constituted a revolution in academic teaching." He threw aside the old text-books and outworn formulas, and illumined his subject with his own vigorous ideas. Professor Robert Simson at the same time was publishing his Elements of Euclid and producing his treatise on Conic Sections. The example was followed presently at the Universities of Edinburgh, St. Andrews, and Aberdeen. In place of the old regents who struggled with indifferent success to teach everything, professors were appointed who were specialists each in his appointed subject, and Scotland began to rebuild a reputation for literature, learning, and enlightenment, which was to attract the attention of all the world in the brilliant period of Adam Smith and David Hume. Thus the University of the West, which, before the Reformation, had sown the first seeds of thought in the mind of that perfervid iconoclast, John Knox, and was probably the seat of learning which suffered most from the working of his doctrines, was the first to recover from the effects of these, and to show the budding and bourgeoning of new life after the period of aridity. If the second half of the century was notable for a disgraceful amount of quarrelling among principals and professors, it was also remarkable for the long array of brilliant and famous men who received their mental equipment and had their characters developed and their ambitions kindled in the classrooms and quadrangles of that old College in the High Street of Glasgow.


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