So started the University. The idea took; and in three centuries, many of the leading towns in Italy, France, the German Empire, had their Universities; in England arose Oxford and Cambridge; the model was Paris or Bologna.
Scotland did not at first enter the race of University-founding, but worked on the plan of the cuckoo, by laying its eggs in the nests of others. For two centuries, Scotchmen were almost shut out of England; and so could not make for themselves a career in Oxford and Cambridge, as in later times. They had, however, at home, good grammar schools, where they were grounded in Latin. They perambulated Europe, and were familiar figures in the great University towns, and especially Paris. From their disputatious and metaphysical aptitude, they worked their upward way—
And gladly would they learn and gladly teach.
At length, the nation did take up the work in good earnest. In 1411, was founded the first of the St. Andrews’ Colleges; 1451 is the date of Glasgow; 1494, King’s College, Aberdeen. These are the pre-Reformation colleges; but for the Reformation, we might not have had any other. Their founders were ecclesiastics; their constitution and ceremonial were ecclesiastical. They were intended, no doubt, to keep the Scotch students at home. They were also expected to serve as bulwarks to the Church against the rising heretics of the times. In this they were a disappointment; the first-begotten of them became the cradle of the Reformation.
In these our three eldest foundations, we are to seek the primitive constitution and the teaching system of our Universities. In essentials, they were the same; only between the dates of Glasgow and Old Aberdeen occurred two great events. One was the taking of Constantinople, which spread the Greek scholars with their treasures over Europe. The other was the progress of printing. In 1451, when Glasgow commenced, there was no printed text-book. In 1494, when King’s College began, the ancient classics had been largely printed; the early editions of Aristotle in our Library, show the date of 1486.
Our Universities have three well-marked periods; the first anterior to the Reformation; the second from the Reformation to the beginning of last century; the third, the last and present centuries. Confining ourselves still to the Faculty of Arts, the features of the Pre-Reformation University were these:—
First, as regards the teaching Body. The quadriennial Arts’ course was conducted by so-called Regents, who each carried the same students through all the four years, thus taking upon himself the burden of all the sciences—a walking Encyclopaedia. The system was in full force, in spite of attempts to change it, during both the first and the second periods. You, the students of Arts, at the present day, encountering in your four years, seven faces, seven voices, seven repositories of knowledge, need an effort to understand how your predecessors could be cheerful and happy, confined all through to one personality; sometimes juvenile, sometimes senile, often feeble at his best.