Chantry Priest of Barnet - Alfred J. Church

Of My Sojourn at Oxford and of John Eliot

So much have I said of my leaving the College of Eton and coming to Oxford, and of my settling myself in a chamber in Magdalen Hall. And now I will write somewhat of my manner of life. And first of outward things. For my chamber I paid three shillings and sixpence by the term, and for my commons, that is to say, for food and drink, twelve pence by the week; for lectures I paid two shillings by the term; and of terms there are four in the year. Also to the servants of the hall, of whom there were twain, the upper and the lower, one shilling and four pence by the year. Now these things being added together, and forty weeks being reckoned unto the year, it followeth that I was at a cost year by year of fifty-three shillings and four pence. Now the Bishop did make to his scholars an allowance, till his college should have its revenues duly appointed supplied, of three pounds by the year. And to me he gave, by the hands of the Principal, twenty shillings further for kindred's sake, as he said. And he was ready also to provide so much more as should be needed from time to time upon occasions extraordinary, such as the taking of the degree, when a scholar must give a feast to the masters that examine him, and also give them robes or other gifts.

On the feast of St. Benet, being the ninth day of October and the first of Michaelmas term, High Mass was said at the Church of St. Mary, and after a sermon was preached in the Latin tongue, wherein we scholars were warned, or such of us at the least as could understand the words spoken, that we should fear God and be obedient unto our governors. On the morrow, and on all the days following, except, indeed, it was a festival, I heard a lecture from the President at nine of the clock, and another in the schools at ten in rhetoric, and yet another in logic at twelve. And after dinner there were lectures again, or disputations of those that disputed for their degrees, from one of the clock till three. These exercises being ended, I would walk abroad in the fields for my recreation, or sometimes would play at ball with my fellows, or stand and watch when certain of the higher sort of scholars (for to none others was it permitted) would contend together at tennis. And sometimes there was a match of shooting at a mark with the long-bow or the cross-bow, and at other times there would be leaping and wrestling. These all I liked well to see, but took no part therein, having loved quieter ways from my youth.

Scholars at play


And now to tell of certain things that came to pass while I dwelt at Oxford. I do remember that on the morrow of All Souls, in the first year of my sojourn, while I sat in the School of Logic, about half-past ten of the clock there came a great knocking at the door, which when one of the scholars had opened, appeareth thereat the Bedell, crying with a loud voice, "Master Willoughby," for he it was that lectured, "hast thou here one John Weston?" Now the said Weston sat by me, and when he heard his name, he rose up in his place, and said, "What seekest thou of me, Master Bedell?" And he answered, "I have authority to take thee before the Chancellor, or his deputy, for that thou didst draw thy dagger upon William the Tailor, in St. Ebbe's, at four of the clock in the afternoon on the feast of All Saints." Then all the scholars that sat in the chamber rose up and followed the Bedell and Master Weston to Lincoln College, whereof the Rector, Doctor John Beke, was deputy for the Chancellor. And as we went I heard not a little whispering and murmuring from certain friends and companions of the said Weston. Thus one did say, "This William the Tailor is a sorry villain, and it had been no loss, but rather a gain, if Weston had slain him. He did take half a mark of me for a doublet and cloak of blue cloth but six months since, and the doublet hath holes already." "Yea," said another, "he played me a like scurvy trick; and when I was loth to pay, haled me before the Chancellor and so compelled me." Then said a third, "Shall we take him out of the hands of the Bedell?" "Nay," answered one that seemed older and of greater authority, "that were ill done. See, there be six stout fellows with arms that are ready to help the Bedell, so that it is most like ye will harm yourselves and do no good to Master Weston." And when we came to Lincoln College, which is a fair building but unfinished, the greater part tarried without; but two or three friends went with Master Weston before the deputy. These, coming forth in no long space, said that the deputy had bound him to keep the peace towards William the Tailor, and put upon him a fine of four shillings, and that he should be imprisoned in the Castle of Oxford till the said fine should be paid. "And there will he lie," saith one, "for he hath not four shillings—no, nor the half of it." "Nay," the other made answer, "we will order it better than that. For, though he hath not money, he hath that whereof money may be made." And when I inquired of one that stood by what these words meant, he answered, "Come, if thou wouldst know—for I perceive that thou art new to this place—to the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, on the Feast of St. Andrew, at nine of the clock; for Master Weston must even lie in prison for so long." So on the Feast of St. Andrew I went to the said church. Hard by the screen of the altar was a great chest, bound with iron, and having on the lid a great lock. And there stood by the chest two priests wearing gowns, and over their gowns black capes, and over the capes hoods of white fur. "These," said he that had spoken to me, for he also had come, "be the keepers of the chest, and one is, of the northern nation and one of the southern. And he that hath the hood of red is the Bursar of Lincoln College, who is also joined in the trust." "But," said I, "what meaneth this chest?" And he laughed, but softly and under his breath, as remembering in what place he stood, and made answer, "Happy thou, young sir, if thou shouldst never have occasion to know. But hearken. This is the chest of William Audley, Bishop of Lincoln. He left therewith one hundred marks to the end that such scholars of this University that had need might borrow on pledges. These pledges are kept in the chest, and this day is appointed for the redeeming of them, and for lending the money afresh. And he that standeth by, with an ink horn and a pen in his girdle, is Master More, the stationer, whose charge it is that a pledge be rightly appraised, and that the chest suffer no loss. But note what shall be done." Then I saw that one of the two keepers put his key into the lock and turned it, and then the other, and after him, again, the Bursar of Lincoln College. And when the three keys had been so turned, the lock was opened. After this there came not a few, both masters and bachelors and scholars, with money in their hands wherewith to redeem their pledges. The pledges were for the most part books; but I noted also sundry cups, and daggers with hilts of silver. And when all had come and departed, having paid their money, and taken that which they sought, there yet remained five or six pledges that were not redeemed. "These," said my companion, "will be presently sold; only Master More will not suffer that they should be sold for less than their true worth. But note, my friend, that the cups and daggers are redeemed all of them, but the pledges that are left are books. 'Tis ever so, for men love feasting and fighting better than learning." Nevertheless, when the books were sold there lacked not purchasers. After this the money was counted. And I saw that the two keepers differed from each other in the counting, which they did, not once or twice only, but many times. But at the last the Bursar of Lincoln, who, they say, is a notable man in such matters, did put the matter right. After this followed the lending out of money upon pledges. First cometh the Bursar of Brasenose College that would borrow sixty shillings (for more may not be lent upon pledges) upon a missal, very fairly bound in white vellum and gold, and with rare pictures within, as I saw, when he showed the book to Master More. And after him certain masters with books and cups and the like. And after the masters the bachelors, and after the bachelors the scholars. Of these last, one would fain have borrowed certain moneys upon a cross-bow, to whom one of the keepers spake roughly, "Nay, Sirrah, we lend not the Bishop's money on such goods as thine. And what hast thou to do with cross-bows and such gear? Knowest thou not that it is not lawful for scholars to carry arms? 'Tis well for thee that there is no Proctor at hand, else wouldst thou lose it altogether and suffer a fine also." Then the poor lad turned away, not without tears, though these he was fain to hide. And I had knowledge of him that he had sat nigh me many times when Master Williams lectured on rhetoric, and that he was ill-clad and as, I judged, ill-fed, but of a keen wit, if ever wit can be seen in a man's countenance, and most intent upon learning. After him cometh up Master Weston's friend with a dagger, having a silver hilt in his hand. "I would borrow six shillings upon this," saith he. "Nay," said the keeper, when he had talked awhile with Master More, "thou canst have but four only." "Ye are over-hard," saith the scholar, "for this is a true blade of Damascus, and the silver is of the best, and the workmanship of no mean skill. Also there is a jewel of amethyst in the upper part of no small worth. Moreover it is the chattel of a poor scholar that must lie in a prison except he can pay his fine." "I care not for thy poor scholar," saith Master Keeper, "for whom doubtless prison is the fittest place. But I will look again at the dagger, Didst see the amethyst, Master More?" "'Tis no great matter," said he, "yet ye may lend five shillings and sixpence more without damage to the chest." And this was done. Then, for there were none other pledges to be dealt with, the chest was locked again with the three keys, and the people departed from the church.

But as I went back to the hall I was aware of the poor scholar with the cross-bow. And God, for I doubt not that it was He, put it into my heart that I should speak to him. So I said, "I pray thy pardon that I should speak, being a stranger, but I have seen thee in Master Williams his logic lecture, and I would fain help thee, for thou seemest to be in trouble." "I thank thee," answered he, "for thy good will; but my trouble is past thy help." And he made as if he would turn away. But I, though I be not by nature bold and confident with strangers, would not leave him, for something within me seemed to forbid; and, at the last, after much insistency on my part, he told me his story. "I am," said he, "a yeoman's son at Peckwater Hall. And because I was a lover of books from the very first, my father sent me to this place. But he has had a hard shift to keep me here, for the farm is but poor land, and there are three of us besides myself—that is to say, three sons and two daughters. And now things go the worse with us by reason of the wars. This week he had thought to send me ten shillings; but the soldiers came forth out of Shrewsbury town and took a flock of geese, forty in all, fat birds, which he had ready for the market, so that he could send me nought. And now I owe to the Principal four shillings and ten pence for commons, though I live as sparely as I can, for I have not paid aught since the beginning of this term. And if I discharge not the debt, or at the least pay somewhat, I must depart, for such goods as I possess are but of little worth. And if I depart, then is all my time and labour lost, and I have been in this place for six years and more. Nor can I dig or follow the plough. Only one thing remaineth. The sword hath never enough to devour, and I will make my living out of that which hath brought me to ruin." Then I thought to myself that I should not ill spend good Bishop William's money if I helped this poor scholar. And this, that I dwell not over-long on my own doing, I did, lending him ten shillings. After he became my fast friend; and though through this friendship I did suffer, as I shall tell hereafter, if my strength suffice, such grievous sorrow as had like to bring me to the grave, never have I repented thereof; yea, and to this hour I love John Eliot—for that was the poor scholar's name—with my whole soul, and I do thank God who put it into my heart to help him.