St. Andrews is the second chapter of Samuel Johnson's book Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, about a trip he took in 1773. The previous chapter was Inch Keith and the next is Aberbrothick.
At an hour
we came to St. Andrews, a city once
; where that university
still subsists in which
was formerly taught by Buchanan
, whose name has as fair
a claim to immortality
as can be conferred by modern latinity
perhaps a fairer than the instability
We found, that by the interposition of some invisible friend,
lodgings had been provided for us at the house of one of the
professors, whose easy civility quickly made us forget that we were
strangers; and in the whole time of our stay we were gratified by
every mode of kindness, and entertained with all the elegance of
In the morning we rose to perambulate a city, which only history
shows to have once flourished, and surveyed the ruins of ancient
magnificence, of which even the ruins cannot long be visible,
unless some care be taken to preserve them; and where is the
pleasure of preserving such mournful memorials? They have been
till very lately so much neglected, that every man carried away the
stones who fancied that he wanted them.
The cathedral, of which the foundations may be still traced, and a
small part of the wall is standing, appears to have been a spacious
and majestick building, not unsuitable to the primacy of the
kingdom. Of the architecture, the poor remains can hardly exhibit,
even to an artist, a sufficient specimen. It was demolished, as is
well known, in the tumult and violence of Knox's reformation.
Not far from the cathedral, on the margin of the water, stands a
fragment of the castle, in which the archbishop anciently resided.
It was never very large, and was built with more attention to
security than pleasure. Cardinal Beatoun is said to have had
workmen employed in improving its fortifications at the time when
he was murdered by the ruffians of reformation, in the manner of
which Knox has given what he himself calls a merry narrative.
The change of religion in Scotland, eager and vehement as it was,
raised an epidemical enthusiasm, compounded of sullen
scrupulousness and warlike ferocity, which, in a people whom
idleness resigned to their own thoughts, and who, conversing only
with each other, suffered no dilution of their zeal from the
gradual influx of new opinions, was long transmitted in its full
strength from the old to the young, but by trade and intercourse
with England, is now visibly abating, and giving way too fast to
that laxity of practice and indifference of opinion, in which men,
not sufficiently instructed to find the middle point, too easily
shelter themselves from rigour and constraint.
The city of St. Andrews, when it had lost its archiepiscopal
preeminence, gradually decayed: One of its streets is now lost; and
in those that remain, there is silence and solitude of inactive
indigence and gloomy depopulation.
The university, within a few years, consisted of three colleges,
but is now reduced to two; the College of St. Leonard being lately
dissolved by the sale of its buildings and the appropriation of its
revenues to the professors of the two others. The chapel of the
alienated college is yet standing, a fabrick not inelegant of
external structure; but I was always, by some civil excuse, hindered
from entering it. A decent attempt, as I was since told, has been
made to convert it into a kind of green-house, by planting its area
with shrubs. This new method of gardening is unsuccessful; the
plants do not hitherto prosper. To what use it will next be put I
have no pleasure in conjecturing. It is something that its present
state is at least not ostentatiously displayed. Where there is yet
shame, there may in time be virtue.
The dissolution of St. Leonard's college was doubtless necessary;
but of that necessity there is reason to complain. It is surely
not without just reproach, that a nation, of which the commerce is
hourly extending, and the wealth increasing, denies any
participation of its prosperity to its literary societies; and
while its merchants or its nobles are raising palaces, suffers its
universities to moulder into dust.
Of the two colleges yet standing, one is by the institution of its
founder appropriated to Divinity. It is said to be capable of
containing fifty students; but more than one must occupy a chamber.
The library, which is of late erection, is not very spacious, but
elegant and luminous.
The doctor, by whom it was shown, hoped to irritate or subdue my
English vanity by telling me, that we had no such repository of
books in England.
Saint Andrews seems to be a place eminently adapted to study and
education, being situated in a populous, yet a cheap country, and
exposing the minds and manners of young men neither to the levity
and dissoluteness of a capital city, nor to the gross luxury of a
town of commerce, places naturally unpropitious to learning; in one
the desire of knowledge easily gives way to the love of pleasure,
and in the other, is in danger of yielding to the love of money.
The students however are represented as at this time not exceeding
a hundred. Perhaps it may be some obstruction to their increase
that there is no episcopal chapel in the place. I saw no reason
for imputing their paucity to the present professors; nor can the
expense of an academical education be very reasonably objected. A
student of the highest class may keep his annual session, or as the
English call it, his term, which lasts seven months, for about
fifteen pounds, and one of lower rank for less than ten; in which
board, lodging, and instruction are all included.
The chief magistrate resident in the university, answering to our
vice-chancellor, and to the rector magnificus on the continent, had
commonly the title of Lord Rector; but being addressed only as Mr.
Rector in an inauguratory speech by the present chancellor, he has
fallen from his former dignity of style. Lordship was very
liberally annexed by our ancestors to any station or character of
dignity: They said, the Lord General, and Lord Ambassador; so we
still say, my Lord, to the judge upon the circuit, and yet retain
in our Liturgy the Lords of the Council.
In walking among the ruins of religious buildings, we came to two
vaults over which had formerly stood the house of the sub-prior.
One of the vaults was inhabited by an old woman, who claimed the
right of abode there, as the widow of a man whose ancestors had
possessed the same gloomy mansion for no less than four
generations. The right, however it began, was considered as
established by legal prescription, and the old woman lives
undisturbed. She thinks however that she has a claim to something
more than sufferance; for as her husband's name was Bruce, she is
allied to royalty, and told Mr. Boswell that when there were
persons of quality in the place, she was distinguished by some
notice; that indeed she is now neglected, but she spins a thread,
has the company of her cat, and is troublesome to nobody.
Having now seen whatever this ancient city offered to our
curiosity, we left it with good wishes, having reason to be highly
pleased with the attention that was paid us. But whoever surveys
the world must see many things that give him pain. The kindness of
the professors did not contribute to abate the uneasy remembrance
of an university declining, a college alienated, and a church
profaned and hastening to the ground.
St. Andrews indeed has formerly suffered more atrocious ravages and
more extensive destruction, but recent evils affect with greater
force. We were reconciled to the sight of archiepiscopal ruins.
The distance of a calamity from the present time seems to preclude
the mind from contact or sympathy. Events long past are barely
known; they are not considered. We read with as little emotion the
violence of Knox and his followers, as the irruptions of Alaric and
the Goths. Had the university been destroyed two centuries ago, we
should not have regretted it; but to see it pining in decay and
struggling for life, fills the mind with mournful images and