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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

XV. English and Scottish Education. Universities and Public Schools to the Time of Colet

§ 1. Paris and Oxford

IN an age innocent of historical criticism, champions of Oxford and Cambridge, waging a wordy war for the honour of prior foundation, referred the establishment of their respective universities to Alfred and to Sigebert. In these days, the historians of both are content to look to the twelfth century as the birth period, not only of the English university, but of the university of Paris from which English university life drew its early inspiration.

When the twelfth century drew to a close, Paris was the English academic metropolis. Already, indeed, there were masters and students in Oxford. What was the attraction which drew them to a town that had no well based claims to high antiquity, and was, otherwise, of little consequence, it is impossible now to point out with certainty. Looking to the history of continental universities, analogy would seem to demand, as the nucleus of the concourse, a cathedral or a monastic school. But Oxford was not a bishop’s seat; its diocesan was posted in far distant Lincoln. And, if monks provided or salaried the first Oxford teachers, they wholly failed to obtain, or, at any rate, to retain, control over the rising university; there is not the slightest trace of monastic influence in the organisation or studies of the earliest Oxford of historic times. The cloister school of St. Frideswide may well have charged the atmosphere with the first odour of learning; but its walls at no time sheltered the university soul.