From the turmoil of civil politics we turn to the more silent but hardly less important revolution from which we may date our national education. It is in the reign of Henry the Third that the English universities begin to exercise a definite influence on the intellectual life of Englishmen Of the early history of Cambridge we know little or nothing, but enough remains to enable us to trace the early steps by which Oxford attained to its intellectual eminence. The establishment of the great schools which bore the name of Universities was everywhere throughout Europe a special mark of the new impulse that Christendom had gained from the Crusades. A new fervour of study sprang up in the West from its contact with the more cultured East. Travellers like Adelard of Bath brought back the first rudiments of physical and mathematical science from the schools of Cordova or Bagdad. In the twelfth century a classical revival restored Caesar and Vergilto the list of monastic studies, and left its stamp on the pedantic style, the profuse classical quotations of writers like William of Malmes-bury or John of Salisbury. The scholastic philosophy sprang up in the schools of Paris. The Roman law was revived by the imperialist doctors of Bologna. The long mental inactivity of feudal Europe broke up like ice before a summer's sun.
Wandering teachers such as Lanfranc or Anselm crossed sea and land to spread the new power of knowledge. The same spirit of restlessness, of inquiry, of impatience with the older traditions of mankind, either local or intellectual, that had hurried half Christendom to the tomb of its Lord, crowded the roads with thousands of young scholars hurrying to the chosen seats where teachers were gathered together. A new power had sprung up in the midst of a world as yet under the rule of sheer brute force. Poor as they were, sometimes even of servile race, the wandering scholars who lectured in every cloister were hailed as "masters" by the crowds at their feet. Abelard was a foe worthy of the menaces of councils, of the thunders of the Church. The teaching of a single Lombard was of note enough in England to draw down the prohibition of a King. When Vacarius, probably a guest in the court of Archbishop Theobald, where Beket and John of Salisbury were already busy with the study of the Civil Law, opened lectures on it at Oxford, he was at once silenced by Stephen, who was then at war with the Church, and jealous of the power which the wreck of the royal authority was throwing into Theobald's hands.
[Authorities. - For the Universities we have the collection of materials edited by Mr. Anstey Tinder the name of " Munimenta Academica." I have borrowed much from two papers of my own in "Macmillan's Magazine," on "The Early History of Oxford." For Bacon, see his "Opera Inedita," in the Rolls Series, with Mr. Brewer's admirable introduction, and Dr. Whewell's estimate of him in his "History of the Inductive Sciences."]
At the time of the arrival of Vacarius Oxford stood in the first rank among English towns. Its town church of S. Martin rose from the midst of a huddled group of houses, girt in with massive walls, that lay along the dry upper ground of a low peninsula between the streams of Cherwell and the upper Thames. The ground fell gently on either side, eastward and westward, to these rivers, while on the south a sharper descent led down across swampy meadows to the city bridge. Around lay a wild forest country, the moors of Cowley and Bullingdon fringing the course of Thames, the great woods of Shotover and Bagley closing the horizon to the south and east. Though the two huge towers of its Norman castle marked the strategic importance of Oxford as commanding the river valley along which the commerce of Southern England mainly flowed, its walls formed, perhaps, the least element in its military strength, for on every side but the north the town was guarded by the swampy meadows along Cherwell, or by the intricate network of streams into which the Thames breaks among the meadows of Osney. From the midst of these meadows rose a mitred abbey of Austin Canons, which, with the older priory of S. Frideswide, gave the town some ecclesiastical dignity.
The residence of the Norman house of the D'Oillis within its castle, the frequent visits of English kings to a palace without its walls, the presence again and again of important councils, marked its political weight within the realm. The settlement of one of the wealthiest among the English Jewries in the very heart of the town indicated, while it promoted, the activity of its trade. No place better illustrates the transformation of the land in the hands of its Norman masters, the sudden outburst of industrial effort, the sudden expansion of commerce and accumulation of wealth which followed the Conquest. To the west of the town rose one of the stateliest of English • castles, and in the meadows beneath the hardly less stately abbey of Osney. In the fields to the north the last of the Norman kings raised his palace of Beaumont. The canons of S. Frideswide reared the church which still exists as the diocesan cathedral, while the piety of the Norman Castellans rebuilt almost all the parish churches of the city, and founded within their new castle walls the church of the Canons of S. George. We know nothing of the causes which drew students and teachers within the walls of Oxford. It is possible that here as elsewhere a new teacher had quickened older educational foundations, and that the cloisters of Osney and S. Frideswide already possessed schools which burst into a larger life under the impulse of Vacarius. As yet, however, the fortunes of the University were obscured by the glories of Paris. English scholars gathered in thousands round the chairs of William of Champeaux or Abelard. The English took their place as one of the "nations" of the French University. John of Salisbury became famous as one of the Parisian teachers.