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An English Academy Of Literature
by [?]

The SOCIETY of ANTIQUARIES might create a deeper interest, could we penetrate to its secret history: it was interrupted, and suffered to expire by some obscure cause of political jealousy. It long ceased to exist, and was only reinstated almost in our own days. The revival of learning under Edward the Sixth suffered a severe check from the papistical government of Mary; but under Elizabeth a happier era opened to our literary pursuits. At this period several students of the Inns of Court, many of whose names are illustrious for their rank or their genius, formed a weekly society, which they called “the Antiquaries’ College.” From very opposite quarters we are furnished with many curious particulars of their literary intercourse: it is delightful to discover Rawleigh borrowing manuscripts from the library of Sir Robert Cotton, and Selden deriving his studies from the collections of Rawleigh. Their mode of proceeding has even been preserved. At every meeting they proposed a question or two respecting the history or the antiquities of the English nation, on which each member was expected, at the subsequent meeting, to deliver a dissertation or an opinion. They also “supped together.” From the days of Athenaeus to those of Dr. Johnson, the pleasures of the table have enlivened those of literature. A copy of each question and a summons for the place of conference were sent to the absent members. The opinions were carefully registered by the secretary, and the dissertations deposited in their archives. One of these summonses to Stowe, the antiquary, with his memoranda on the back, exists in the Ashmolean Museum. I shall preserve it with all its verbal aerugo.



“The place appointed for a conference upon the question followinge ys att Mr. Garter’s house, on Frydaye the 2nd. of this November, being Al Soule’s daye, at 2 of the clocke in the afternoone, where your oppinioun in wrytinge or otherwise is expected.

“The question is,

“Of the antiquitie, etimologie, and priviledges of parishes in Englande.

“Yt ys desyred that you give not notice hereof to any, but such as haue the like somons.”

Such is the summons; the memoranda in the handwriting of Stowe are these:–

[630. Honorius Romanus, Archbyshope of Canterbury, devided his province into parishes; he ordeyned clerks and prechars, comaunding them that they should instruct the people, as well by good lyfe, as by doctryne.

760. Cuthbert, Archbyshope of Canterbury, procured of the Pope, that in cities and townes there should be appoynted church yards for buriall of the dead, whose bodies were used to be buried abrode, & cet.]

Their meetings had hitherto been private; but to give stability to them, they petitioned for a charter of incorporation, under the title of the Academy for the Study of Antiquity and History, founded by Queen Elizabeth. And to preserve all the memorials of history which the dissolution of the monasteries had scattered about the kingdom, they proposed to erect a library, to be called “The Library of Queen Elizabeth.” The death of the queen overturned this honourable project. The society was somewhat interrupted by the usual casualties of human life; the members were dispersed or died, and it ceased for twenty years. Spelman, Camden, and others, desirous of renovating the society, met for this purpose at the Herald’s-office; they settled their regulations, among which, one was “for avoiding offence, they should neither meddle with matters of state nor religion.” “But before our next meeting,” says Spelman, “we had notice that his majesty took a little mislike of our society, not being informed that we had resolved to decline all matters of state. Yet hereupon we forbore to meet again, and so all our labour’s lost!” Unquestionably much was lost, for much could have been produced; and Spelman’s work on law terms, where I find this information, was one of the first projected. James the First has incurred the censure of those who have written more boldly than Spelman on the suppression of this society; but whether James was misinformed by “taking a little mislike,” or whether the antiquaries failed in exerting themselves to open their plan more clearly to that “timid pedant,” as Gough and others designate this monarch, may yet be doubtful; assuredly James was not a man to contemn their erudition!