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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XV. Education.

§ 29. Gibbon’s Charges against the Oxford System; Difficulties in the way of Reform.


Edward Gibbon’s impeachment of the Oxford system is well known; he was at Magdalen college (when not elsewhere on “schemes”) for fourteen months, in 1752–3, entering from Westminster before he completed his fifteenth year. But his remarks are obviously too prejudiced to be accepted as a plain story of events which happened many years before he wrote his Memoirs; Oxford’s chief offence was that it was clerical and tory. Still, the charge of idleness which he brings against fellows of colleges had been made as early as 1715 by dean Prideaux, and, in the interval, the circumstances of clerical life at Oxford had not improved. Prideaux in LVIII Articles for reformation of universities wanted to enforce ancient discipline throughout academic society, to punish neglectful tutors and to superannuate fellows twenty years after matriculation. A fellow who had not secured a provision for himself at that date was to be removed to a special residence supported by the colleges and named “Drone Hall.” The universities were heavily handicapped by a policy which placed so much of their teaching and government in the hands of clerical celibates, whose professional ambition and hopes of “settling in life” frequently centred about a prospective college living.   71

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