There was then little help to be had for the history of Oxford or any other town. "So wholly had the story of the towns," he wrote later, "passed out of the minds of men that there is still not a history of our country which devotes a single page to it, and there is hardly an antiquary who lias cared to disentomb the tragic records of fights fought for freedom in this narrow theatre from the archives which still contain them. The treatise of Brady written from a political, that of Madox from a narrow antiquarian, point of view; the summaries of charters given by the Commissioners under the Municipal Reform Act; the volumes of Stephens and Mere-wether; and here and there a little treatise on isolated towns are the only printed materials for the study of the subject." Other materials were abundant. St. Giles' Fair was full of lessons for him. He has left an amusing account of how, on a solemn day which came about once in eight years, he marched with Mayor and Corporation round the city boundaries. He lingered over the memory of St. Martin's Church, the centre of the town life, the folk-mote within its walls, the low shed outside where mayor and bailiff administered justice, the bell above which rang out its answer to the tocsin of the gownsmen in St. Mary's, the butchery and spicery and vintnery which clustered round in the narrow streets. "In a walk through Oxford one may find illustrations of every period of our annals.
The cathedral still preserves the memory of the Mercian St. Frides-wide; the tower of the Norman Earls frowns down on the waters of the Mill; around Merton hang the memories of the birth of our Constitution; the New Learning and the Reformation mingle in Christ Church; a ' grind' along the Marston Road follows the track of the army of Fairfax; the groves of Magdalen preserve the living traditions of the last of the Stewarts".
Two years, however, of solitary effort to work out problems of education, of life, of history, left him somewhat disheartened and bankrupt in energy. A mere accident at last brought the first counsel and encouragement he had ever known. Some chance led him one day to the lecture-room where Stanley, then Canon of Christ Church, was speaking on the history of Dissent. Startled out of the indifference with which he had entered the room, he suddenly found himself listening with an interest and wonder which nothing in Oxford had awakened, till the lecturer closed with the words, "'Magna est Veritas et prceva/ebit,' words so great that I could almost prefer them to the motto of our own University, ' Dominus illuminatio mea.'" In his excitement he exclaimed, as Stanley, on leaving the hall, passed close by him, "Do you know, sir, that the words you quoted, 'Magna est Veritas et prcevalebit,' are the motto of the Town?" "Is it possible? How interesting! When will you come and see me and talk about it?" cried Stanley; and from that moment a warm friendship sprang up. "Then and after," Mr. Green wrote, "I heard you speak of work, not as a thing of classes and fellowships, but as something worthy for its own sake, worthy because it made us like the great Worker. ' If you cannot or will not work at the work which Oxford gives you, at any rate work at something.' I took up my old boy-dreams of history again.
I think I have been a steady worker ever since".
It was during these years at Oxford that his first large historical schemes were laid. His plan took the shape of a History of the Archbishops of Canterbury; and seeking in Augustine and his followers a clue through the maze of fifteen centuries, he proposed under this title to write in fact the whole story of Christian civilization in England. "No existing historians help me," he declared in his early days of planning; "rather I have been struck by the utter blindness of one and all to the subject which they profess to treat - the national growth and developement of our country." When in 1860 he left Oxford for the work he had chosen as curate in one of the poorest parishes of East London, he carried with him thoughts of history. Letters full of ardent discussion of the theological and social problems about him still tell of hours saved here and there for the British Museum, of work done on Cuthbert, on Columba, on Irish Church History - of a scheme for a history of Somerset, which bid fair to extend far, and which led direct to Glastonbury, Dunstan, and Early English matters.
Out of his poverty, too, he had gathered books about him, books won at a cost which made them the objects of a singular affection; and he never opened a volume of his "Acta Sanctorum" without a lingering memory of the painful efforts by which he had brought together the volumes one by one, and how many days he had gone without dinner when there was no other way of buying them.
But books were not his only sources of knowledge. To the last he looked on his London life as having given him his best lessons in history. It was with his churchwardens, his schoolmasters, in vestry meetings, in police courts, at boards of guardians, in service in chapel or church, in the daily life of the dock-labourer, the tradesman, the costermonger, in the summer visitation of cholera, in the winter misery that followed economic changes, that he learnt what the life of the people meant as perhaps no historian had ever learnt it before. Constantly struck down as he was by illness, even the days of sickness were turned to use. Every drive, every railway journey, every town he passed through in brief excursions for health's sake, added something to his knowledge; if he was driven to recover strength to a seaside lodging he could still note a description of Ebbsfleet or Richborough or Minster, so that there is scarcely a picture of scenery or of geographical conditions in his book which is not the record of a victory over the overwhelming languor of disease.
After two years of observation, of reading, and of thought, the Archbishops no longer seemed very certain guides through the centuries of England's growth. They filled the place, it would appear, no better than the Kings. If some of them were great leaders among the people, others were of little account; and after the sixteenth century the upgrowth of the Nonconformists broke the history of the people, taken from the merely ecclesiastical point of view, into two irreconcilable fractions, and utterly destroyed any possibility of artistic treatment of the story as a whole. In a new plan he looked far behind Augustine and Canterbury, and threw himself into geology, the physical geography of our island in prehistoric times, and the study of the cave-men and the successive races that peopled Britain, as introductory to the later history of England. But his first and dominating idea quickly thrust all others aside. It was of the English People itself that he must write if he would write after his own heart.