I was struck with the positive resemblances between Oxford and Cambridge. Both are situated on slightly rising ground, with broad green meadows and a flat, fenny country stretching around them. The winding and muddy Cam, holding the city in its arm, might be easily taken for the fond but still more capricious Isis, tho both of them are insignificant streams; and Jesus’ College Green and Midsummer Common at Cambridge, correspond to Christ Church Meadows and those bordering the Cherwell at Oxford. At a little distance, the profile of Cambridge is almost precisely like that of Oxford, while glorious King’s College Chapel makes up all deficiencies in the architectural features and outline of Cambridge.
Starting from Bull Inn, we will not linger long in the streets, tho we might be tempted to do so by the luxurious book-shops, but will male straight for the gateway of Trinity College. This gateway is itself a venerable and imposing structure, altho a mass of houses clustered about it destroys its unity with the rest of the college buildings. Between its two heavy battlemented towers are a statue of Edward III. and his coat-ofarms; and over the gate Sir Isaac Newton had his observatory.
This gateway introduces into a noble court, called the Great Court, with a carved stone fountain or canopied well in the center, and buildings of irregular sizes and different ages inclosing it. The chapel which forms the northern side of this court dates back to 1564. In the ante-chapel, or vestibule, stands the statue of Sir Isaac Newton, by Roubiliac. It is spirited, but, like all the works of this artist, unnaturally attenuated. The head is compact rather than large, and the forehead square rather than high. The face has an expression of abstract contemplation, and is looking up, as if the mind were just fastening upon the beautiful law of light which is suggested by the hand holding a prism. By the door of the screen entering into the chapel proper, are the sitting statues of Sir Francis Bacon and Dr. Isaac Barrow, two more giants of this college. The former represents the philosopher in a sitting posture, wearing his high-crowned hat, and Ieaning thoughtfully upon his hand.
The hall of Trinity College, which separates the Great Court from the Inner or Neville Court, (courts in Cambridge, quads in Oxford), is the glory of the college. Its interior is upward of one hundred feet in length, oak-wainscoted, with deep beam-work ceiling, now black with age, and an enormous fireplace, which in winter still blazes with its old hospitable glow. At the upper end where the professors and fellows sit, hang the portraits of Bacon and Newton. I had the honor of dining in this most glorious of banqueting-halls, at the invitation of a fellow of the college. Before meals, the ancient Latin grace, somewhat abbreviated, is pronounced.
We pass through the hall into Neville Court, three sides of which are cloistered, and in the eastern end of which stands the fine library building, built through the exertions of Dr. Barrow, who was determined that nothing in Ox-ford should surpass his own darling college. The library room is nearly two hundred feet long, with tesselated marble floor, and with the busts of the great men of Trinity ranged around the walls. The wood-carvings of Grinling Gibbons that adorn this room, of flowers, fruit, wheat, grasshoppers, birds, are of singular beauty, and make the hard oak fairly blossom and live. This library contains the most complete collection of the various editions of Shakespeare’s Works which exists. Thorwaldsen’s statue of Byron, who was a student of this college, stands at the south end of the room. It represents him in the bloom of youth, attired as a pilgrim, with pencil in hand and a broken Grecian column at his feet.
The next neighbor to Trinity on the north, and the next in point of size and importance in the University, is St. John’s College. It has four courts, one opening into the other. It also is jealously surrounded by high walls, and its en-trance is by a ponderous old tower, having a statue of St. John the Evangelist over the gateway. Through a covered bridge, not unlike “the Bridge of Sighs,” one passes over the stream to a group of modern majestic castellated buildings of yellow stone belonging to this college. The grounds, walks, and thick groves connected with this building form an elegant academic shade, and tempt to a life of exclusive study and scholarly accumulation, of growing fat in learning, without perhaps growing muscular in the effort to use it.
King’s College, founded by Henry VII., from whom it takes its name, comes next in order. Its wealthy founder, who, like his son, loved architectural pomp, had great designs in regard to this institution, which were cut off by his death, but the massive unfinished gateway of the old building stands as a regal specimen of what the whole plan would have been had it been carried out. Henry VIII., however, perfected some of his father’s designs on a scale of true magnificence. King’s College Chapel, the glory of Cambridge and England, is in the perpendicular style of English Gothic. It is three hundred and sixteen feet long, eighty-four feet broad, its sides ninety feet, and its tower one hundred and forty-six feet high. Its lofty interior stone roof in the fan-tracery form of groined ceiling has the appearance of being composed of immense white scallop-shells, with heavy corbels of rich flowers and bunches of grapes suspended at their points of junction. The ornamental emblem of the Tudor rose and portcullis is carved in every conceivable spot and nook. Twenty-four stately and richly painted windows, divided into the strong vertical lines of the Perpendicular style, and crossed at right angles by lighter transoms and more delicate circular moldings, with the great east and west windows flashing in the most vivid and superb colors, make it a gorgeous vision of light and glory. . . .
On the same street, and nearly opposite St. Peter’s, is Pembroke College, a most interesting and venerable pile, with a quaint gable front. Its buildings are small, and it is said, for some greatly needed city improvement, will probably be soon torn down; on hearing which, I thought, would that some genius like Aladdin’s, or some angel who bore through the air the chapel of the “Lady of Loretto,” might bear these old buildings bodily to our land and set them down on the Yale grounds, so that we might exchange their picturesque antiquity for the present college buildings, which, tho endeared to us by many associations, are like a row of respectable brick factories.
Edmund Spenser and William Pitt belonged to Pembroke; and Gray, the poet, driven from St. Peter’s by the pranks and persecutions of his fellow students, spent the remainder of his university life here. Some of the cruel, practical jokes inflicted upon the timid and delicate nature sound like the modern days of “hazing freshmen.” Among, his other fancies and fears, Gray was known to be especially afraid of fire, and kept always coiled up in his room a rope-ladder, in case of emergency. By a preconcerted signal, on a dark winter night, a tremendous cry of fire was raised in the court below, which caused the young poet to leap out of bed and to hastily descend his rope-ladder into a mighty tub of ice-cold water, set for that purpose… .
Sidney Sussex and Imanuel Colleges were called by Archbishop Laud “the nurseries of Puritanism.” The college-book of Sidney Sussex contains this record: “Oliver Cromwell of Huntingdon was admitted as an associate on the 26th day of April, 1616. Tutor Richard Howlet.” He had just completed his seventeenth year. Cromwell’s father dying the next year, and leaving but a small estate, the young ‘Protector” was obliged to leave college for more practical pursuits. “But some Latin,” Bishop Burnett said, “stuck to him.” An oriel window looking upon Bridge Street, is pointed out as marking his room; and in the master’s lodge is a likeness of Cromwell in his later years, said to be the best extant. The gray hair is parted in the middle of the forehead, and hangs down long upon the shoulders, like that of Milton. The forehead is high and swelling, with a deep line sunk between the eyes. The eyes are gray. The complexion is florid and mottled, and all the features rugged and large. Heavy, corrugated furrows of decision and resolute will are plowed about the mouth, and the lips are shut like a vice. Other-wise, the face has a calm and benevolent look, not unlike that of Benjamin Franklin.
In Sidney Sussex, Cromwell’s College, and in two or three other colleges of Cambridge University, we find the head-sources of English Puritan-ism, which, in its best form, was no wild and unenlightened enthusiasm, but the product of thoughtful and educated minds. We shall come soon upon the name of Milton. John Robinson, our national father, and the Moses of our national exodus, as well as Elder Brewster, John Cotton and many others of the principal Puritan leaders and divines, were educated at Cambridge. Sir Henry Vane, the younger, whom Macintosh regarded as not inferior to Bacon in depth of intellect, and to whom Milton addrest the sonnet, who was chosen Governor of Massachusetts, and who infused much of his own thoughtful and profound spirit into Puri-tan institutions at home and in America, was a student of Magdalen College, Oxford.
A. little further on to the south of Sidney Sus-sex, upon St. Andrew’s Street, is Christ’s College. The front and gate are old; the other buildings are after a design by Inigo Jones. In the garden stands the famous mulberry-tree said to have been planted by Milton. It is still vigorous, tho care-fully propt up and mounded around, and its aged trunk is sheathed with lead. The martyr Latimer, John Howe, the prince of theological writers, and Archdeacon Paley, belonged to this college; but its most brilliant name is that of John Milton. He entered in 1624; took the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1628, and that of Master of Arts in 1632. This is the entry in the college record: “John Milton of London, son of John Milton, was entered as a student in the elements of letters under Master Hill of the Pauline School, February 12, 1624. Milton has indignantly defended himself against the slander of his political enemies, that he left college in disgrace, and calls it “a commodious lie.”
It is noticeable that Cambridge has produced all the great poets; Oxford, with her yearnings and strivings, none. Milton were glory enough; but Spenser, Gray, Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Tennyson (a Lincolnshire man), may be thrown in. It might be said of Cambridge, as Dr. John-son said of Pembroke College, “We are a nest of singing birds here.” Milton, from the extreme elegance of his person and his mind, rather than from any effeminateness of character, was called while in the University, “the lady of Christ’s College.” The young poet could not have been in-spired by outward Nature in his own room; for the miniature dormer-windows are too high to look out of at all. It is a small attic chamber, with very steep narrow stairs leading up to it. The name of “Milton” (so it is said to be, tho hard to make out) is cut in the old oaken door.