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“But still the old quadrangle keeps the same,
The pelican is here;
Ancestral genius of the place, whose name
All Corpus men revere.”
J. J. C., in “The Pelican Record,” 1700.

Corpus is emphatically, before all other colleges in Oxford, the college of the Revival of Learning; its very foundation marked the change from the old order of things to the new. Its Founder, Bishop Foxe, of Winchester, was one of the great statesman-prelates to whom mediaeval England owed so much, and he had a leading share in arranging the two royal marriages which so profoundly affected the history of our country, that of Henry VII’s daughter, Margaret, with the King of Scotland, and that of his son, afterwards Henry VIII, with Catharine of Aragon.

After a life spent “in the service of God” “in the State,” rather than “in the Church,” Foxe resolved to devote some of his great wealth to a foundation for the strengthening of the Church. His first intention was to found a college for monks, but, fortunately for his memory and for Oxford, he followed the advice of his friend, Bishop Oldham, of Exeter, who told him, in words truly prophetic, that the days of monasteries were past: “What, my lord, shall we build housed for a company of buzzing monks, whose end and fall we ourselves may live to see? No, no, it is more meet a great deal that we should have care to provide for the increase of learning.” In the next generation the monasteries were all swept away, while Foxe’s College remains a monument of the Founder’s pious liberality and of his friend’s wise prescience.

Corpus was the first institution in England where definite provision was made for a teacher of the Greek Language, and Erasmus hailed it with enthusiasm; in a letter to the first President of the new college, he definitely contrasts the conciliatory methods of Reformers in England with the more violent methods of those in Germany, and counts Foxe’s foundation, which he compares to the Pyramids of Egypt or the Colossus of Rhodes, among “the chief glories of Britain.”

Foxe, however, did not confine his benefactions to classical studies, important as these were. He imported a German to teach his scholars mathematics, and the scientific tastes of his students are well illustrated by the picturesque and curious dial, still in the centre of his College Quad, which was constructed by one of them in the reign of Elizabeth. It is well shown in our picture, as are also Foxe’s charming low buildings, almost unaltered since the time of their Founder.

But it has been on the humanistic, rather than on the scientific, side that Corpus men have specially distinguished themselves. The first century of the College existence produced the two great Elizabethan champions of Anglicanism. Bishop Jewel, whose “Apology” was for a long period the great bulwark of the English Church against Jesuit attacks, had laid the foundations of his great learning in the Corpus Library, still after that of Merton the most picturesque in Oxford; he often spent whole days there, beginning an hour before Early Mass, i.e. at 4 a.m., and continuing his reading till 10 p.m. “There were giants on the earth in those days.” Even more famous is the “judicious Hooker,” who resided in the college for sixteen years, and only left it when, by the wiles of a woman, he, “like a true Nathanael who feared no guile” (as his biographer, Isaac Walton, writes), was entrapped into a marriage which “brought him neither beauty nor fortune.” The first editor of his great work, The Ecclesiastical Polity, was a Corpus man, and it was only fitting that the Anglican Revival of the nineteenth century should receive its first impulse from the famous Assize Sermon (in 1833) of another Corpus scholar, John Keble.

Corpus has been singularly fortunate in its history, no doubt because its Presidents have been so frequently men of mark for learning and for character. Even in the dark period of the eighteenth century it recovered sooner than the rest of the University, and one of its sons records complacently that “scarcely a day passed without my having added to my stock of knowledge some new fact or idea.” A charming picture of the life of the scholars of Corpus at the beginning of the last century is given in Stanley’s Life of Arnold; for the famous reformer of the English public-school system was at the College immediately after John Keble, whom he followed as fellow to Oriel, on the other side of the road. It need hardly be added that in those days an Oriel Fellowship was the crown of intellectual distinction in Oxford.

Bishop Foxe had set up his college as a “ladder” by which, “with one side of it virtue and the other knowledge,” men might, while they “are strangers and pilgrims in this unhappy and dying world,” “mount more easily to heaven.” Changing his metaphor he goes on, “We have founded and raised up in the University of Oxford a hive wherein scholars, like intelligent bees, may, night and day, build up wax to the glory of God, and gather honeyed sweets for their own profit and that of all Christian men.” So far as it is given to human institutions to succeed, his college has fulfilled his aims.