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The fifteenth century, the age of revived letters and intelligence throngh Europe,1 was the chief era of Scotch University foundations. The University of St. Andrews was founded in the beginning of the century, Glasgow in the middle, and Aberdeen at its close. The last, like the former two, owed its birth to the Bishop of the diocese; and its founder, Bishop Elphinstone, had a large experience of what was beneficial or defective in other Universities.
The situation of the new school of learning may have, in some degree, influenced its constitution. It was represented to the Pope, that, in the north of Scotland, were some districts so distant, and separated from the places where Universities had already been established, by such obstacles of mountains and arms of the sea, and dangers of the way, that the natives remained rude, unlettered and almost barbarous, in so much that persons could hardly be found there fit for preaching the word of God, and ministering the saeraments of the Church.2 Aberdeen was held to be 'suf
1 Without attempting to define accurately books and Greek teachers, by the fall of
the limits of the ' dark ages,' and the dawn of Constantinople; the invention of printing,
the returning day, the fifteenth century is and the discovery of the New World, wa
plainly enough the era of actual enlighten- kened the soundest sleepers,
ment. The dispersion over Europe of Greek * p. 4.
ficiently near' for educating the people of those rude regions; at any rate, it had the advantage of possessing a Bishop with zeal enough to give the endowment, and sufficient influence to obtain the Royal and Papal privileges necessary for a University.
While we allow for some exaggeration in stating the necessity of the new foundation, it was not easy to overstate the physical and ethnical impediments to education in the Highlands and Isles of Scotland. These, to a great degree, remain unconquered at this day. But it would be a mistake to join under the common deseription of barbarous ignorance the district in which the new University was founded, or indeed any part of the eastern coast or Lowlands of Scotland. Centuries before the era of our oldest University, the whole fertile land of Scotland was occupied by the same energetic tribes, whether Saxon or Danish, who colonized England. Towns were built wherever a river's mouth gave a haven for small ships in the dangerous coast. Trade was carried on with the kindred people of Flanders, Holland, and Normandy; and the hides and wool of our mountains, the salmon of the Dee and Tay, and the herring of our seas, were exchanged against the cloths of Bruges, the wines of Bordeaux and the Rhine; and the table luxuries, as well as the ornaments of dress and art, which found admirers among us long before we appreciated what are now counted the comforts of life. A trading and friendly intercourse with the continental nations would, of itself, go far to prove some intelligence and education.
If other proof were wanting of a generally diffused education and intelligence, it might be found in the manly, homely tone of early Scotch literature. The fact that leading writers devoted themselves to produce works of history and imagination in their native tongue, shows a wholesome tendency to popularity, and proves that they looked for their readers not to a little knot of courtiers or churchmen, but to a body of native readers able to