The Oxford Orations of Dr. John Owen

Edited by Peter Toon

(Dep’t of Religious Studies Edge Hill College, Ormskirk, Lancashire)

Translation supervised by John Glucker

(Dep’t of Classics, Exeter University, Devon)

Published for the Editor by Gospel Communication, 1971






First Oration

Second Oration

Third Oration

Fourth Oration

Fifth Oration

Sixth Oration




      In the Complete Collection of the Sermons of J. Owen (1721), the available Manuscripts of John Owen’s Latin Orations delivered at Oxford University between 1652 and 1657 were printed.  Up to the present time, those scholars who knew of their existence have had to read them in the original classical language.  But, at a time when the number of people who read Latin is sadly diminishing, the interest in Puritanism, the Independents and John Owen is increasing.  So it seems proper to make the Orations available in English.  This small book will thus serve as a useful companion not only to the recently reprinted Works of Owen (Banner of Truth Trust, London) but also to my edition of John Owen’s Correspondence (James Clarke, Cambridge).

      Born in 1616 and educated at Queen’s College, Oxford, Owen became a Puritan and eventually received the living of St. Peter’s, Coggeshall, Essex.  In 1649 he was appointed as chaplain to Oliver Cromwell and he went with the general to Ireland and later to Scotland.  He was an ardent defender of the cause of Parliament as well as a Congregational divine.  In 1651, by a vote of Parliament, he replaced Edward Reynolds as the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and a year later was appointed by Cromwell, the Chancellor of the University, as his Vice-Chancellor.  Owen remained in this office until the autumn of 1657, and as Dean of Christ Church until early 1660.  Thus this learned Independent divine virtually assumed the leadership of the University throughout the period of Cromwell’s Protectorate.

      He had to face many problems.  On the one hand, the radicals – Quakers, Fifth Monarchists and Muggletonians, for example – threatened the very existence of the University by their efforts to abolish the tithe system and remove Aristotle and other authors from the curriculum.  On the other hand, there were the problems caused by the great changes which had affected the University from 1630 to 1651.  During Archbishop Laud’s Chancellorship, the Statutes were revised and much ceremonialism of a ‘high church’ nature was introduced into the churches and chapels.  Then came the Civil War when Oxford was a royalist garrison and when education came to a virtual standstill.  After the War, the Long Parliament caused the University to be purged of royalist sympathisers and filled with new Fellows and tutors.  Thus by 1651 it was just recovering from great and sweeping changes and beginning to function again as a great centre of learning.  Owen’s advent meant that the Independents were in the ascendancy at Oxford; but, only those Presbyterians (e.g. Reynolds) who refused to take the Engagement, a declaration to be faithful to the Commonwealth of England established without a King or House of Lords, were removed.

      From these Orations we are able to ascertain what Owen thought about such topics as:

(a) ‘party-spirit’, the division of English Protestants into groupings and sects and the bitterness that accompanied this.

(b) the enemies of the University, those who spoke ill of it at home and abroad.

(c) the careless, lazy and carefree students who were interested neither in an education nor in godliness.

(d) the festivities associated with the end of the academic year, the Vesperia and Comitia, commonly called the Act.

(e) the schools and homes from which the students came.

(f) the radicals who wished to abolish the Universities.

(g) the progress of experimental science at Oxford.

(h) the work of the Heads of Colleges, Professors and Proctors.

(i) the life and character he expected of serious and godly students.

(j) the benefactors of the University.

(k) the foreign students in Oxford.

(l) the defence of the University in 1655.

      But most of all we learn from the Orations in what high regard Owen held Oliver Cromwell and to what degree his mind was imbued with the belief that God, Himself, had graciously guided and preserved the University.

For the general history of the University in this period the reader is advised to consult C. E. Mallett, A History of the University of Oxford, Vol. 11, 1924, and, if possible, the rare Annals of Anthony Wood (i.e. The History and Antiquities of the University of Oxford, Vol. 11, Part 11, edited by John Gutch, 1796). The Correspondence provides some background information; but, in my forthcoming biography of John Owen, there will be a long chapter on his career at Oxford.


First Oration1

      I a well aware, gentlemen of the University, of the grief you must feel, that, after so many venerable names, reverend persons, providers and depositaries of the arts and sciences, the fates of the University should have finally placed him as leader of the company, who should come almost last of all.  Neither, indeed, is this state of our affairs, of whatever kind it be, very agreeable to myself, which compels me, having returned after a long absence to the alma mater I have greatly missed, to engage, as a sort of prelude, in a performance of a laborious and difficult office.  But complaints are not remedies of any misfortune.  Whatever their situation, groans become not grave and honourable men.  It is the duty of an undaunted mind boldly to bear up under a heavy burden.  For, as the comic poet says:2

                        The life of man

Is like a game at tables.  If the cast

Which is most necessary, be not thrown,

That which chance sends you must correct by art.

Since the academic vessel for too long – alas! – tossed by storms has been entirely abandoned, by almost all – whose more advanced age, minds better exercised by longer experience and doctors’ degrees earned with sweat amongst much scholastic dust, excited great and just expectations: I have been called upon by the partiality and too good opinion of him whose commands we must not dispute, and with whom the most earnest requests to be excused were urged in vain, as well as by the assenting vote of this convocation;3 and, therefore, although there is perhaps hardly anyone more unfit, I approach the helm.  In what difficult times, what manners, what diversities of opinion – dissension and calumny raging everywhere because of party spirit – what bitter passions and provocations, and emotions beset with what arrogance and envy, our academic authority has occurred I both know and lament.  Nor is it only the character of the age that perplexes us, but another calamity to our literary establishment, which is daily becoming more conspicuous.  Indeed, with no attention paid to the sacred authority of the laws, the reverence due to superiors, or the watchful envy of evil-wishers; and treating almost with disdain the tears and sobs of our ailing alma mater; with eternal damage to the good name of the whole of the gowned community, and not without grave danger to the whole academy, detestable audacity and a licentiousness nearly Epicurean, a very large section of the students are now – alas! – wandering beyond all bounds of modesty and piety.  Am I then able, in this tottering state of everything to apply a remedy to this complicated problem, in which so many and so great heroes have laboured in vain even in favourable times?  I am not, gentlemen, so self-deluded.4  Were I to behave as one so impertinently disposed to flatter himself or were the slightest thought of such a nature to enter my mind, I should be quite displeased with myself.  I live not so far from home, nor am I such a stranger to myself.  I do not use my eyes like a witch so that I do not well know how scantily I am furnished with learning, prudence, authority and wisdom.  Antiquity celebrated Lucullus,5 as a prodigy of nature.  Though unacquainted with the duty of a common soldier he became without any difficulty an expert General; so that the man whom the city sent out inexperienced in fighting, him the army received as a complete master of the art of war.  Be of good cheer, gentlemen, I bring no prodigies; from the obscurity of a rural situation, from the din of arms, from journeyings for the sake of the Gospel into the most distant parts of the island and also over the sea, from the bustle of the court I have retreated;6 unskilful in the government of a University I am come here.

      What madness is this, then, you will say?  Why have you accepted an office which you are unable to execute, far less to adorn?  You have judged very ill for yourself, the University and this Convocation.  In reply, I would say, be of good omen, gentlemen, for neither hope nor courage will be absent from one who is swayed by the judgment, wishes, commands and requests of the great men.  We are not ourselves the abundant source of worthy deeds of any kind.  ‘He that ministereth seed to the sower’ and Who ‘out of the mouths of babes has perfected praise’7 is able graciously to supply all deficiencies which I have either recounted in public or sensed within me.  Destitute, therefore, of any strength or boldness of my own and, so far as I know or have deserved, of the alternative mainstay, popularity within the University, it nevertheless remains to me to commit myself wholly to Him ‘Who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not’.8  He has appointed an eternal fountain of succour in Christ who furnishes ‘seasonable help’ to every pious endeavour, unless the poverty of faith stands in the way; from Him must I wait – indeed pray – for light, strength and courage.  Trusting, therefore, in His graciously promised presence, according to the state of the times and the opportunity which, through divine providence, we have obtained I address myself without either a well-disposed or servile spirit to this undertaking – integrity of conscience alone supplying the place of other aids and ornaments.

      If only I may be allowed to foster the interests of the good students and further their advantage, to give help to the needy and to those with difficult home circumstances, and to devote myself to freeing from their anxieties those who are undeservedly perplexed, frustrated or disturbed; if I should be able to offer the services of a contrite spirit to those who dwell on the boundaries and the border territory of virtue, I must not perhaps regret the loss of peace, fame and studies – things which I sacrifice knowing fully what their loss will mean to me.  But if my tenure of office should be, like Bibulus’ consulship,9 inactive and worthless or wasted and useless like the labour of Sisyphus,10 rolling up the heap of affairs which always rolls back to its starting-point; and if I must sweat at settling trifling disputes, inflicting fear into miserable people with faults, imposing punishment, or labouring in such unprofitable fields, I would want my sentence to be bought off by any plea or at any price to escape being condemned to a woeful Caucasus.11

      Not that quite worthy efforts cannot be made in checking faults and cleansing filth, thereby preventing the University from being overgrown with brambles, thorns and thistles.  Indeed, I call on all of you who give one grain of devotion to your own conscience, to your public reputation, to the lasting well-being of a most flourishing University and to the interests of this Republic (newly-wrought, indeed, yet God-wrought), I call on you all, I say, to exert your efforts, counsel, strength and care so that respect for the government may not flag, the dignity of superiors may not droop and the ancient sense of responsibility, industry and stable character of the scholars may not vanish and finally that the influence of the law-abiding, despised by the lawless, may not be disregarded.  As far as concerns me and this task recently imposed on me, if there are any who are lazy, drunken, playboys, jesters, mountebanks, despisers of their superiors, law-breakers, nightbirds, notorious corrupters of youth, enemies of the good, neglectors of religion or other cancerous sores of such a University they need not expect that I can stomach their ways or they this presidency of mine, whatever it may amount to.  If in carrying out this part of my administration any rather hard or (what ought not to happen) harsh decision has to be taken against anyone, fair judges of events will easily recognise that this must be justified by the needs of the times and for the preservation of the republic of letters in its miserable state of oscillation.  Then perhaps there will be no reason for the authority of the University to be despised because we are outnumbered by the mob of criminals and sensual men.  Indeed, just as I have resolved to serve all those who are honourable in every way, so likewise I have no intention of yielding to those who are evil.  But let us not emphasise that too much!  All ‘whose heart is in the right place’,12 will agree that actions, which have to be taken – indeed, but which cannot be transacted without embarrassment to some good or gentle spirit should be deprecated and avoided as long as this is possible.

      We think, therefore, that we ought to attempt in our own sphere greater things – corresponding in some measure to the notable attempts of all kinds of others this century, the like of which former ages had never produced.  Or is it the wish of the Universities alone to remain inglorious, when the fame of the English has been extended through all the world.  Europe stands agape at the acts of Parliament, the laurels of our soldiers and the enhanced glory, both civil and military, which the parliamentarians and commanding generals to whose care these affairs were entrusted have achieved.  Let it not be, gentlemen, that our special trust, the honour of religion and literature, should alone be debased as though we were completely unequal to the demands of the age.  Do we, while others make most praiseworthy progress, in every worthy effort, do we, I say, almost – or perhaps not even ‘almost’? – revert to old practices?  Indeed, what other reason is there for so many people looking back with longing to earlier times except our own slackness and the dissipation of our strength.  I admit a number of people were outstanding at that time for their acquaintance with languages, the distinction of their eloquence, the brilliance of their knowledge of the sciences, their exactitude in the examination of ancient documents and their search through the rubble of antiquity.  I am not so demented nor so remote from the highways of culture as to demur at the honour and glory, respect and reverence due to them both as a body and individually and to their lasting influence.  But for shame!  What were the mass of students like?  How large a part of the academic world was sunk in darkness!  Setting aside senile arrogance, bloated leisure, the empty titles of alien ambitions with everywhere the glittering rewards of literature, for many years few appeared – ‘sparse swimmers in a vast flood’13 – who took their task seriously.  Now the fortunes of the University are such that unless we apply piety, faith, settled morality and restraint, together with the greatest application in every form of study, there is no doubt we risk exchanging our honourable state and condition for lasting disgrace and loss of status.  So here we must take the plunge.  Whatever outstanding achievement has occurred due to the counsel, wisdom, and the unimpeded example of virtue; whatever finally has come forth from the influence of great men, in truly such a tiny space of time – and that stirred by such great movements of events and minds, which have arisen from the renaissance of liberal pursuits and literature once the terrors of war had been scared away – all that I gladly add to the credit of our predecessors.  But one could number on one hand those whose success has wholly fulfilled their prayers or those whose more noble hopes have been fulfilled in all respects.  In great attempts it is enough to have aimed high and the eminent efforts of others are no obstacle to my industry such as it is; much less will my weak attempts in the administration of this office be able to harm the fame of my successors whoever they may be.



1      The oration was delivered before Convocation on 26 September 1652.  It was traditional for a newly-elected Vice-Chancellor to deliver such a Latin speech, with suitable quotations from Greek and Roman writers.  Owen’s sincerity and concern for the well-being of the University radiate even through the necessary formality of the oration.

2      From Terence, Adelphi, IV, 7, 21–3 (II, 739–741 in modern texts).

3      Though the Chancellor (Cromwell) made the nomination of the Vice-Chancellor, his choice was accepted by convocation.  Cf. M. Burrows, The Register of the Visitors (1881), p. 353.  Owen replaced Daniel Greenwood, the Principal of Brasenose College, in the office of Vice-Chancellor.

4      Owen seems to be quoting this sentence from Demosthenes, De Corona, II.

5      Lucullus was a Roman celebrated for his fondness of luxury and for his military talents.  Born about 115 years before Christ, he soon distinguished himself by proficiency in the arts and by his first military campaign in the Marsian war.

6      Owen refers to his travels to Ireland and Scotland with Cromwell during 1649–51 and to his preaching duties at Whitehall.  Cf. Correspondence of John Owen, pp. 32ff.

7      Owen quotes from II Corinthians 9:10 and Matthew 21:16.

8      James 1:5.

9      Bibulus was Caesar’s colleague in the consulship but of no consequence in the state.

10    Sisyphus was a Greek condemned in Tartarus to push a stone up a hill and begin again when it rolled down.

11    Owen refers to the fate of Prometheus, a son of Iapetus by Clymene, one of the Oceanides, who was exiled to mount Caucasus, where a vulture fed on his liver.

12    Owen quotes from Juvenal, VII, 159–60.

13    Owen quotes from Virgil, Aeneid, I, 118.


Second Oration1

      It is well, proctors.  For the University is not so far breathing its last as to have need to draw up a will and testament or to be obliged to divide its riches among its alumni by testamentary disposition.  Thus far, then, gentlemen of the University, although we have only – alas! – come through, yet, it must be said, come through we have.  We have survived when the mere fact of survival was an achievement in itself – or indeed – a great achievement, weighed down as we are by the age we live in and almost crushed by the mortal nature of the world itself.  Let others display their trophies, their spoils taken from the enemy, their brows with chaplets of flowers, the richer fruits of deep peace and tranquil retirement.  We carry around with us the scars, the dust and the sweat, hands raised to heaven, signs of struggle not entirely unworthy of God and of men.  For it is not a scholastic cause that we have been prosecuting, nor concerning the regulation of boundaries, about which for so many years neighbours, exempt from war, have carried on their bloodless and almost farcical campaigns.  Our struggle – dreadful to relate! – has been about our whole inheritance – the sacred trust of ancient piety, the hope and the seed of the present.  Do not expect wine merchants, pantomime-girls, and buffoons laid low, beer swillers, night prowlers, debauchers and other human riffraff brought suppliant on to the stage, the bounds of the community of the gown expanded in all directions, the trappings of hoods and gowns restored, made famous by honourable names.  This is the renown and this the glory of those who under the influence of easy times and lasting leisure have been pleased to undertake these multifarious and important tasks.  What was in our prayers – to the exclusion of all else – was that when the course of duty required it we might make some official report to you, and that there should not merely be left to say – we members of the University are no more.2

      But since this is so great and so signal a privilege, merely not to have perished, it is right for it to be ascribed solely to the kindness of immortal God.  To Him, the supreme Benefactor, the only Saviour, the source of salvation, Who, when mightier vessels – even flag-ships themselves – have been wrecked and sunk all around us by the destructive violence of the heavens, has shown His providence, rich in harbours, to our tiny barque: to Him let us consecrate, at the very beginning, all that remains with us that is good and serviceable, all that is considered among mankind of greater distinction and worthy of the name.  The man who feels that nothing divine, nothing greater than mortal aid, comes as a prop and support for the declining republic of letters, is suffering from apathy and heedless disregard with regard to divine and human affairs alike: of this there is no doubt, since the fact itself is proved by our very eyes, and can almost be grasped with our hands.  The great lawgiver of old was amazed that the burning bush was not consumed by fire.3  Take a man who gazed at a noble and ancient edifice, its props and supports dislodged on every side, hanging almost in the air itself, by its own mass threatening collapse for itself and destruction for others, yet against the violence of tempests, gales and hurricanes raising its super-structure on high, victorious and triumphant like a rock unmoved, against which rain and storm with dreadful clash have battered in vain – that man would look up with reverence at the mysterious and miraculous force which was equal to sustaining so mighty a mass and to rebutting so many assaults.  Therefore, members of the University and all you members of the audience who have the lasting survival of learning at heart, reflect upon the providence of almighty God, which has preserved in a state of good repair the Colleges and, indeed, the University itself, our common mother in so far as we are men of learning.

      And yet, in saying this, I am not implying that the University, our aged mother, has found no supporters or advocates active and eager to take precautions lest the collapse and fall of learning be added to the disgraces of these turbulent times.  Almighty God has still men who are actively engaged vigorously to preserve His worship, and the University has still men similarly engaged to watch over its preservation.  Men, indeed, held in the highest honour; men whose names – unless we wished to be known as the most ungrateful of mortals – must be on our lips for ever.  These are the men who have suppressed the murmurs of an agitated mob (no doubt imbued with the poison of one or two other worthless fellows) and have scorned their weak threats.  And when the stupidity and barbarity of certain men – or should I call them mules? – had advanced to such a degree that they dared to bray out, with writs of petitions, in the Convocation itself the imprecations – or rather the curses – of some of the dregs of this generation for the abolition of the Universities; it was not without the greatest indignation and a heroic and nearly divine courage that those who are prepared to take upon themselves the dangers which threaten us all, shut the obscene mouths of these most distinguished patrons of ignorance and stupefiers of their country.  In evidence that there have been plenty of men and efforts of this kind I adduce the fact that the most famous library in the world, foiling the prayers of its enemies at home and abroad greedily gaping at that noble shrine, has remained intact, and has been enhanced and embellished, if not by more learned books, at any rate by a most learned librarian:4 and I adduce also the fact that the University itself, emerging from an almost fatal abeyance of learning, has been newly furnished with the most learned men from all quarters who have given excellent service to religion and to letters.  I would have you forgive this one fact that they have wished to include among your company my unworthy and inadequate self.  Wipe away this one blemish and all else is bright and shining.

      Recruited to these ranks has come forward a mighty name that I must mention, gentlemen – our most distinguished Chancellor.5  It is he whom we have heard time and again declaring his unwillingness to continue to be distinguished by that honourable title any longer, if there was not the slightest glimmer of hope of achieving something really worthy of that title.  It is he, who, by his piety and culture, has, under the auspices of God, brought into the subjection of the most barbarous enemies so much sustenance and resources, that he cannot now imagine that as long as he is alive and holding, as it were, the helm of state, all piety and culture could be cast down and trampled upon by impiety and barbarity and his defeated and treacherous enemies triumph over him.  That the man, who has trained the wild and roving Nomads of Ireland and has perceived the character, virtue and modesty of the mountain-dwelling Scots –

Both saw the cities and the counsel knew

Of many men ... — 6

can become desperately enamoured of barbarity itself, is a dishonourable thought and one unworthy of sane men.  Certainly it would appear that our affairs were being conducted under an angry and hostile God if we were the first and only ones to perish under our leader’s auspices, who has emerged victorious not only in every campaign but in every individual battle in which he has so often put Providence to the test.  Inauspiciously certainly he would be thought to have united the Gown to his forces, if in that section first his victorious laurels were to begin to fade.  But, undoubtedly there will remain with him in his government of our affairs that divine indulgence which has always been at hand for him in all his other undertakings, like the so-called deus ex machina, as the saying is – so that one may apply the words of a pagan poet to a Christian general.7

Verily God is with you, for the very elements fight for you

And the winds come as allies at the call of your trumpets.

Hitherto therefore, under his leadership and with God’s victory, we have struggled to make our country emerge free and famed with the glory of the greatest arts, not undisciplined and savage.  For is there anyone who should be considered so shamelessly stupid and deficient in intellect that he could appear to think that a nation not inept should have laboured for so many years, with such great efforts, vigils, prayers, tears, groans, and so much expenditure of blood, money and property, in order to erect, under the much longed-for name of the Commonwealth, an enclosure for asses or a stall for mules?  If indeed any – and one or two will perhaps be found – have been so deafened by the blast of the artillery as by the cataracts of the Nile, that they are incapable of listening to, or perceiving, reason – the faculty that above all makes us human – I doubt not that sooner or later, indeed shortly, they will see themselves exploded and like their torture-instruments, ejected with much stench.  Indeed, I dare not say that our Commonwealth and none other will be the patron of letters: unless, perchance, our benevolent and almighty God has decreed to wipe out our nation (and our religion) and – as it trusts too much to its success and becomes wavering and puffed-up on its own account – to smear us again with blood and ashes and render us sordid with not inglorious dust – our University shall not all be dead.

      Go on, therefore, in the glory of your talents and character, young men, well-proven, assembled here, the flower of our country, the pride of the nation, no insignificant hope of the Church of Christ; even here and now you will carry off the prize and reward of our prayer and counsel; nor is all hope entirely removed that from you at length may emerge men to whom, as just reward,

The learned world may show respect

And entrust the power.

And you, too, most learned doctors; since even the eyes of the vulgar masses, however mean and untutored, can discern the rays of your purple cloth – no one, unless dulled by envy or bewitched by a hatred of goodness, will deny that by the radiance of your virtues and the lustre of your learning, tireless and vigilant in the cause of University and Church you should go as far as wresting the old and proper respect even from those with the sharpest eye.

We are made a spectacle unto the world,

and to angels and to men.8

And we stand where we do by the unadorned virtue of our deeds.  We aspire to no ceremonious titles, no preferments to office, no rich benefactions, and no favours of men of rank and power – ephemeral charm – it is for the life and soul of our great mother, the University, that we strive.

      ‘A hard condition and a heavy lot,’ perhaps someone will exclaim; and ‘O thrice and again blessed’ those for whom it was enough to appear on the stage each year and decked out with some sort of décor to have played their almost silent rôles expected of their dignity and office; men for whom richer returns, the imposing weight of titles and the favour of the grand – readily beguiled by forms of flattering blandishment – have caused to treat the masses with contempt.9

      But away, if you please, with idle prayers and unworthy sighs!  Rather let us consider that we are born to be an example, and let us regard it as no mean honour that the merciful Father has willed us under the gaze of friends and enemies alike to strive for so great a stake and would wish to test our powers in circumstances of at least some hardship.  Thereupon let what to others seems a disaster be for us an opportunity to show our worth.  This alone then – setting aside anxieties and complaints and leaving fear and chagrin to the baser sort – is our responsibility, to see that through our diligence the University either enjoys the fruits of scholarship and virtue or sinks with grace and propriety into its own ashes through the fault of others.  But to what end is this?

With wise purpose does the god bury in the shades

Of night the future’s outcome, and laughs if mortals

Be anxious beyond due limits.  Remember to settle

With tranquil heart the problems of the hour.10

As duty demands, as the benevolence of almighty God requires, as the prayers of all good men beseech, as the tragic downfall of others, whom Nemesis11 has made mad – to their own destruction, teaches us, let us diligently cultivate goodness, piety, religion, virtue, and knowledge: for the rest, the outcome of all things ‘lies on the knees of God’.  What we shall achieve anew, God will grant us; of what thus far we have achieved, members of the University, hear this brief account.

      With the vices and failings which flourish among men with a daily increasing harvest, we and our predecessors have waged a common struggle.  But who can keep free of the slime of vice a river gushing forth from fountains which are perhaps not so clear, its waves full of turgid waters, increased and swollen with all the froth of vanity?  For indeed the faults of narrow-minded and godless parents, and the inadequacy, folly and carelessness of what is – nearly everywhere and with but few exceptions – an idle herd of teachers, are atoned for by the University which has no part in them.12  Some flock here to swallow again the impurities they have greedily guzzled at home; and yet foolish parents expect that those they have sent here laden with vices and debased by the disgraceful examples set by their families shall become philosophers on the spot and turn out honest men in a trice.

How hard it is,

To be slaves of a demented master!13

A hard assignment indeed!  Those who are entrusted with the healing of the body gain great renown for their skill in sending back only those patients restored and healthy, while all the failures of their skill or the errors of practitioners are covered up by undertakers working through the night.  But the uncured sicknesses of the mind and the puffy swellings of vice are carried round everywhere by incurable good-for-nothings not without great shame to us amid the ignorant.

      Yet, to give thanks at least where thanks are due, there have not been wanting men to apply a remedy to this evil and indeed they have rendered great service – the proctors not only of this but also of last year.14  Certainly it is clear that the University owes something at least of its peace and quiet, if not much of its good name and character, to their blameless integrity, indefatigable patience, outstanding wisdom, their exceptional zeal in promoting liberal learning, and indeed to their quite outstanding energy.  Nor was it without divine providence that that man had gone out of his way to accept promotion to the office of proctor, who, not without the greatest diligence and virtue has led not a few back to the straight and regular path.  Furthermore, if this ungrateful age will not believe it, yet perhaps posterity will say that in carrying out the other University business the heads of Colleges and Halls must not be cheated of that credit of so understanding the times we live in, that the University might realise what it had to do.  Indeed, it would be through their aid and counsel if I were to lay down my office however short of achieving any lustre and glory, yet without having caused the community of the gown any signal loss.15  Certainly we have not wasted away in spineless inactivity and peace, however much the enjoyment of peace has been the sum and substance of our prayers.  I say nothing more about myself and my office: this is clearly best.  I have never aspired for anything higher than the wish that the University might not grieve too much that the place of a more efficient man, a more proficient rector, a more vigilant governor, and a more farsighted director was being filled by me in these most difficult times.

      Meanwhile let friends and enemies know, yes, strangers and posterity – all who honourably are well – disposed towards learning even as those who have no truck with it – that the University is not on holiday nor keeping itself within the bounds of its predecessors (as if to be learned was merely to have read the works of learned men and to have unearthed their ideas however deeply hidden); but is making daily progress, as God and man may witness, in widening the boundaries of the sciences and in promoting literature side by side with piety and religíon.16

      I call to witness theology, the queen and mistress of the other branches of learning, and it is almost our especial task to see that these are ready handmaids to it; not that confused theology drawn from the ditches of the scholastics, nor the theology that is merely common and teachable material handed down in a variety of manuals by scores of quite worthy and not inadequate men; but theology that is free, pure and undefiled drawn in from the fountain of fountains with the Holy Spirit and power of Almighty God aiding – and indeed completing – the whole task; theology that daily blossoms forth using all the supports of true philosophy and the other branches of knowledge which can serve to help or adorn it.  We see the inmost shrines of truth unlocked and hidden meanings of the living page unearthed and set before us.  ‘Hence the light and sacred draughts.’

      It would be right to acclaim the public orations, not those which are decked up and attuned with high-sounding verbiage, like tinkling cymbals, to the ear of the empty and ignorant masses; but those well-attended discourses breathing piety, devoted research, and sensibilities schooled in sacred pursuit; certain exercises newly established and some restored anew, responsible scholarship to some extent regained and piety brought back from its exile and defeat.  I would mention the revival of theological disputations, had not the negligence of some that were absent, and the indolence of certain of those present, made it more a matter of regard paid to the systematic day-book of the University than to the systematic reasoning of its members.  But far be it from me to renounce any hope of an eventual harvest from this source such as to load the very furrows.  For we have not only, as the saying is, a harvest in the blade, young men assuredly of great promise of rich fruition; but there is also in the array of our veterans no mean contingent which is not only prepared for the friendly skirmishing in the fight for truth, conformably to academic custom, but which has learnt how to wrest the senseless thunderbolts from the hands of the Roman ‘anti-Jove’, and to overwhelm and scatter all other alien forces menacing and grimly endangering the kingdom of Almighty God.

      And certainly, in order to shake off from ourselves any sluggishness, never since the Christian name arose in the world has there been more need of the gifts with which the most merciful Father has provided the devotees of divine truth.  For, in God’s name, what an abominable crew, what a vile conflux of heretics, fanatics and bigots it is that almost ravishes and violates the bride of Christ even under the holy eyes of the Bridegroom.  Upon her, pure and chaste as she is, from every quarter rush ‘that wanton crew, the suitors’.  Therefore when

Robbers rise by night to cut our throats

Then will you not awake to save yourself?17

And, what crowns all, they have thrived quite mischievously.  For the more anyone is ill-equipped with sound doctrine, with the greater superciliousness and the more audacity does he arrogate to himself judgments about the most weighty questions.  There is a crop of orators-new, foolish and young, who have neither learning nor the realisation that they have no learning.

      Be men, therefore, members of the University; do not be steeped in the drowsiness of a pleasant retreat and in a delight bordering on extinction; bear in mind especially that ‘under every stone lurks a scorpion’; allow not the Christian world to think that the stupid, the ignorant, the ribald and the boasters have more power against the truth than you have in her defence.  Recall to mind the victorious war and the triumphs celebrated by the Miltiades18 of our Athens, men like Jewel, Reynolds, Twisse and others; adopt the mind and energy of a Themistocles19 and as long as we live let not these innovators, either with ignorant prating or theatrical rhetoric, vaunt with impunity that the dominion of God has been rejected, His grace despised and the eternal covenant of grace trodden under foot.  All around stand observers who would wish that by you, at whatever price, weakness should be preferred to manliness, error to truth, darkness to light and disorder to peace; and indeed demand and expect that they be so preferred.

This the man of Ithaca would wish and for this

The sons of Atreus would pay a great price.20

There are some who assert that they alone have held the prerogative of learning and because they haughtily despise the rest of mankind compared with themselves, desperately desire you to be of such sort that you can readily and deservedly be so despised.  There are also some who are greedily gasping for the downfall of the Universities under the pretext of our failings and unfruitfulness, and on the other hand are besetting and afflicting them.  But with the same courage let us circumvent them both, so that not without great disgrace the former may repent of their disdain and self glorification, the latter of their envy and their ignorance.

      Our energies belong to the Redeemer: we have Christ Himself as president and judge.  Upon our watchfulness, zeal and efforts depend the glorification of truth, the respect for religion, the lustre of the arts and the sciences, and not in any small degree the safety and happiness of the country itself.  With diligence, nay, with spirit, chosen manhood, brothers in one mother, destined to be all that is noble in the rising generation in whatever direction it moves – with spirit shake off slothfulness, a disgrace and reproach to beings endowed with reason, almost the characteristic scourge of a declining generation, the agent of ignorance, darkness, meanness and all other vices, the sure precursor of a contempt for learning and for learned men.  Slothfulness is that Circe21 who daily degrades and transforms young men of no mean promise basely bewitched by the allurements of self-indulgence, defiled by foul pollution and lured into the slough of the pig-sty.  Therefore be on guard; remember that you are bound by your oath of allegiance, nay, have gone down into the arena.  It is vain to contemplate flight, hiding and withdrawal: it is useless to plead the prejudices of men, the unfairness of the times, the superciliousness of great personages to the community of the gown; and the ingratitude of your country, which has scarcely spared its bones.  Either you must fight the good fight with valour or, however skilful you are, perish in disgrace.  We welcome peace but we welcome duty more; we welcome the solitude that befriends our studies but we welcome more the struggle – if there be one – that avails for the studious.  Therefore, let us go on together with uplifted hearts, with watchfulness, zeal and prayer beside us, grieving for the enemies whoever they be who are evilly disposed to the light and the truth – let us go on where the destiny of the University and divine Providence, more beneficent than any chance, summon us.  And let there go with us a mind calm and clear, contented with its own lot, contemptuous of this world, dreading nothing except what is mean, sordid, dishonourable and unworthy of the Christian soul and a noble and untrammelled heart.  Let the ill-bred and ignorant masses gape at rope-walkers and the cups of jugglers; let them be amazed at astrologers, fortune tellers and readers of horoscopes; let them be amazed – so long as the country imposes a tax for the astrologers to pay, a payment which once, according to Suidas22 was exacted at Alexandria called ‘the blakennomion’, because only fools visit astrologers.  For ‘blax’ among them is a term meaning fatuous and mad.  Let little men of savage cruelty and brutality extend their threats and weapons; let sun-struck good-for-nothings blaspheming everything they do not understand, scoff at knowledge, truth and virtue itself, and greet them with facetious wit; let the timid fear that the oppressive eye of superstition and darkness might return; but let us adorn the Sparta we have found, let us campaign in earnest, let us burst into the camp of truth, let us make for heaven itself with courage, despairing of nothing, with the Hon. Chancellor raising our standard on high, with Christ our leader and Christ our inspiration.



1      This oration was delivered at the Comitia in July 1654 and with III and IV seems to be the only extant example of an Oxford Vice-Chancellor’s annual oration for this period.  The Comitia was the celebration which closed the academic year.  There were disputations, the awarding of degrees, and the speech of the Vice-Chancellor in the festivities of the weekend.  John Evelyn was present at this ‘Act’ in 1654 and heard Owen both preach on the Sunday and give the oration on the Monday.  See The Diary of John Evelyn (ed. E. S. De Beer, 1959), p. 339.  According to the Laudian Statutes of 1636 the purpose of the Vice-Chancellor’s oration was to summarise and comment upon the main events of the academic year.

2      In 1653 there were moves to abolish the Universities within the Barebones Parliament.  Most of the radicals were against the support of the Church and the Universities by tithes; most of them also were opposed to the reading of pagan poets and philosophers by those who were supposedly training for the Christian ministry.  In 1654 the Quakers first visited Oxford and Ludowicke Muggleton and John Reeve had been in the city in 1652–3.  Cf. Life and Times of Anthony Wood (ed. A. Clark), I., pp. 177, 190, 191.  For more details of radical thought see R. L. Greaves, The Puritan Revolution and Educational Thought (1969).

3      Owen refers to Moses, and to the incident recorded in Exodus 3.

4      The Library is the Bodleian and the Librarian, Thomas Barlow, a former tutor of Owen’s at Queen’s College.  Wood does not mention these incidents described by Owen in this paragraph and there is no reference to them in the manuscript ‘Register of Convocation 1647–1658’ located in the Bodleian Library.

5      Oliver Cromwell, now the Lord Protector.

6      Homer, Odyssey, I. 3.

7      Claudian, 3rd Panegyric to Honorius, 96.

8      I. Cor. 4:9.

9      Owen refers to the various speeches, humorous activities, and, to his mind, immodest activities that went on during the weekend of the Act.

10    Horace, Odes, III, 29, 30.

11    Nemesis was one of the infernal deities, daughter of Nox.  She was the goddess of vengeance, always prepared to punish impiety and at the same time reward the good of the virtuous.

12    This is a strong indictment of the schools and homes from which Oxford received its students.

13    Aristophanes, Plutus, I, 1, 1.

14    The Proctors for 1653 were S. Ward and R. Georges and for 1654 T. Cracroft and S. Charnock.

15    Cf. Owen’s dedicatory letters to the Heads of Colleges in The Perseverance of the Saints (1654) and Vindiciae Evangelicae (1655).

16    At this time the Oxford Science Club, held in Wadham College, was flourishing; see Margery Purver, The Royal Society, Concept and Creation (1967).

17    Horace, Epistle I, 2, 32.

18    Miltiades was an Athenian, son of Cypselus, who obtained a victory in a chariot race at the Olympic Games and led a colony of his people to the Chersonesus.  For John Jewel, John Reynolds, and William Twisse see Dict. Nat. Biog.

19    Themistocles was a celebrated general born at Athens.

20    Virgil. Aeneid, II. 104

21    Circe, a daughter of Sol and Perseis, was celebrated for her knowledge of magic and venomous herbs, and for her short control of Ulysses.

22    Suidas is said to be a Greek writer, author of a valuable Lexicon.



Third Oration1

      It is neither my duty nor my desire, gentlemen of the University, to stir up anew the exhausted energies of all the arts and sciences, and wearied eloquence herself.  Those whom the nature of their duties as well as the fervour of their blossoming spirits have rendered more eager and more equal to this burden, have laid before the ears and eyes of this audience, with manifest evidence, the powers of eloquence as it thrives with vigour throughout the whole range of literature.2  What is lacking in all kinds of elegance will be compensated by the conscience of right and justice alone, on account of which the cries of our brothers’ recent bloodshed forbid even the Muses from dancing.3  If anything remains to be said of the labours and tribulations of the University, lest she appears to be on a perpetual holiday, it pleases me exceedingly that the task has fallen to me to recount these things.  Indeed, gentlemen of the audience, such is the custom of the republic of letters among us, that we take compensation for the grave labours of the whole year in the joy of one or two brief days.  Nor does it perchance behove those to whom the task has fallen to adorn divine matters as well as those which take first place among the human race, to linger longer upon this arena, which is often, as is the custom, bestrewn with the merrier pleasantries.  Not that I would desire to have anything detracted from the honour of the solemn Comitia of the University, in which, by God’s gracious disposition, I have now, for the third time and willingly, played at least some part; but as it is right to acknowledge that the holier Muses whom we pursue seek more austere retreats.  Therefore, just as we can render thanks to our alma mater for her benevolent disposition towards us in decreeing that this relief from our studies, laborious as it may be, should be held sacred by us; in the same manner, whatever we can say would be beneath the praise due to her earnestness and prudence, by dint of which she has commanded that these tasks imposed on good men, so prone as they are to promote the indolence of evil men, should be transacted with hasty steps.  Slippery indeed is the position of the virtues, for placed as they are on the boundaries of the vices, a slide down towards worse things is always imminent.  Such is – alas! – the depravity of human nature.  For it is not only that the wicked – while you, in the midst of dust and sweat, infuse your energies into your scholastic pursuits – have something which they can put as a screen before their indolence and luxury; but it has also been discovered that the vain pursuit of glory, the timber for future conceit and slothfulness, does, in undertakings of this sort, which are intended to win the applause of the learned more often than is meet, attach itself to the platform of those also who are by no means wicked.  Suffice it, therefore, for some to have spread their sails to the winds so far, for others to have travelled on the edge of the sea; and, lest the whirlwind assails, lest the shores collapse, it is time to contract sails, it is time to retrace our steps.  But since both the present occasion and my regard for the audience appear to require some account of ourselves and of our affairs, I shall deliver it briefly and in as few words as possible.

      But as those who celebrated great exploits have always been considered to come second to those who have accomplished them, I should wish that this task had been delegated to someone who could and would express his sentiments in a polished and copious manner, lest the affairs of the University, great and magnificent enough in themselves, would appear to be smaller than they are in truth.  But, just as it would be blasphemy for me to play truant, to the rights and laws of my alma mater, so it would also be almost an outrage to be anxious and solicitous about your innocence beyond what is good and proper.

      In that way, however, the University has borne herself, what things she has sustained or accomplished, whose favour or hatred she has incurred, with whose aid as her patrons she has either retained her former dignity or recovered her lost one, to what sorrow and what mishaps the supreme Arbiter of all things has subjected her, the shortness of time would scarcely allow me to recount at length.  A few headings should therefore be briefly touched upon.

      But lest my listeners, elated with expectation, treat with contempt the things which we are about to recount, let them realise that we have hitherto fought more battles for survival than for glory.  No one unless he be unjust and ignorant of the lot of man could expect us to extend the boundaries of the sciences while for so many years Hannibal was at the gate.  Those to whom it is of no great moment that we have not yet perished, we send them for instruction to those who have perished; to be sure, one year of survival has counted for more than many years of glory and honour have of yore.  No one henceforth, I hope, will pass through the great suffering, the great industry, the many vigils and disturbances, the great expenditure of time and studies and fortunes and friends, the counsel in times of doubt, and the courage in times of crisis, by dint of which our affairs have hitherto remained enshrouded in safety.  May it be an honour, or an everlasting disgrace, for our office to have fallen in the very midst of these struggles for our survival and common fortunes.

      We have seen here the Muses armed, and Pallas holding her spear; nor has the University on account of this forfeited any of her fame or dignity among good men.4  Nay, she has done that which is most worthy of her prudence and fame.  For truly, against the public enemies every man is a soldier.  Nor do we profess any arts which would make us unlearn our nature.  To expect the worst and dare nothing is an attribute of bad men, or of women.  Led solely by the love of peace did we sound the trumpet, nor was it our wish to bring danger to any mortal, only to take seasonable care of our own safety.  Those who find fault with this desire, inasmuch as they show themselves to be ignorant of all right, human as well as divine, and of the condition of our affairs, so do we lightly defy their drolleries and their reproofs.  For ought the cultivation of the mind, than which nothing is better or greater in the nature of mortals, to render men lethargic and torpid, standing helpless between the knife and the altar?  To be sure, so long as the very feat of having survived is no sin, it seems that the proper defence of oneself can no more be open to censure.  Since, however, it is the height of folly to expect any marks of innocence or thankfulness from those who have never attempted or dared to do anything outstanding or worthy of praise, we should readily suffer them to malign, lest they may appear to be nobodies, as they are nothing apart from this.  And yet, having taken this opportunity, I can hardly restrain myself from inveighing against the whole band of the ingrate, whose vice has nothing in it that is not evil.  This alone I shall endeavour to do, to warn these men who are born for the public good and accustomed to remedy the sufferings of others, that, whatever fruits of their good and generous nature they may have expended on those who, being of an almost servile disposition, do not comprehend anything that is generous or honest – that, unless their wish was to endeavour in vain and seek nothing but hatred in busying themselves, they should consider all this generosity as wasted not on human beings.  But as for that most wretched sort of men, who are quicker to fear than to remember, and who, while they have scarcely ever done any good, yet demand benefits as theirs by right, it is uncertain whether there are more people who reprove them for their offence or who follow in their steps.  Since, however, those who have given evidence of an ungrateful disposition appear to have sinned against the human race, which is for the most part destitute and short of succour, I relinquish them to the silent judgment of all good men, and to that tribunal among themselves, that is, among evil men, where no one who does harm shall be acquitted.  A generous heart, whatever it attempts to do, is sure of its prize, and a mind conscious of doing right is its own ample reward.  Meanwhile the University is infused with no mean joy, as no one, at last, is willing to see her gowned community destroyed, unless he be one who would wish to see the Commonwealth itself utterly ruined, while not so long ago she was in fear of the Commonwealth itself.  Such is the mutability of things.  The same Providence, greater and better than all accidents, which has rendered the University immune and safe from destruction while the rabble was rioting and the military raging and Parliament wavering and the sycophants vigorously maligning her from all directions, should be called upon with all our might not to desert her now that she is flourishing, glowing with the love of all good men.

      In the meantime, although the wound we have suffered has been cured by medicine opportunely applied, yet grief and piety forbid us to conceal it.  For sure, we have lost a man who was nearly the first among the leading professors of the main faculty on account of his multifarious knowledge and uncommon erudition.  Him, I say, who (such is the vanity and indolence of this inane generation) could never be reproached with anything, unless it was the love of good letters itself.  As for the quarrels, the hatreds and the vain struggles of the parties which invaded us once the abode of a most candid heart after the death of this great man, I pass them over in silence, lest the shameful wounds be uncovered and break raw.5  It is true, indeed, that both the exigencies of the matter itself seem to demand, and it has also been instituted with great prudence by our predecessors, that those who have attained the rank of Master in the University should, in order to preserve their dignity and power, possess as much honour and advantage as can be wished for.  But it is only frivolous men who consider mere presidency, or any position of honour, as glorious and magnificent in themselves, or that anything is greater and is truly worthy of admiration than the virtue of those who hold these distinctions.  Here I should take my stand firmly: you shall gain so much praise among equitable judges for obtaining the rank of Master as is the amount of virtue and industry you have put into it.  Likewise it is the quality of a swine to render sordid the office that you bear, but it is not possible for the office to elevate you if you are unworthy of it.  But as the rank of a Head of a House among us has benefits attached to it by the munificence of the founders which are prone to lure the spirits of the wicked as well and to entice them into desiring it; the University should be eagerly congratulated, as it can scarcely count among those who have been elevated to the pinnacle of office any but those whom envy herself would acknowledge to stand out among others in one way or another.  As for the calamity which Theology, bereft of such a luminary, had dreaded, she is now pleased to proclaim that it has been averted by the modesty, eloquence, candour and erudition of his most learned successor.6

      Meanwhile, various manners of living are pursued here, as the variety of dispositions amongst us is very great.  Some, given over entirely to their stomach and slumbers, allow their life to drag on in the midst of lethargy and indolence, and exist rather than live; others are more intent than is meet on amassing a fortune; and the University numbers – has always numbered – among its members others, not unaccustomed to impure practices, of whom she is ashamed and weary.  Those who with torpor, and therefore in vain, have sought the company of the Muses, and, having suffered repulse sink into deep squalor or lose their reason, have almost pined away at least amongst the pleasures of the flesh.  But to judge the University herself on the grounds of the sinful licentiousness of the few and their depraved manners is the act of men who, either because they are beneath the rising virtue of others and are envious of it, or, since they have been carried away by blind party spirit, are more intent on our disgrace than on their own honesty.  Filth, mud, overflowing gutters are to be found in the most pleasant towns, nor is anything more exposed to view or as prompt to meet the eye of the traveller.  But he would be stupid who would call every city where there is mud a City of Mud.7  Nor has the University ever nourished a greater number of innocent and saintly souls than it now does.  We do not stand by the censures of visitors, fleeting about for three days amongst the inns, street-corners, squares and taverns, where, perchance, not even the ghost of a student can be seen.  We appeal to the Colleges, the libraries, the museums, the schools, the chapels, the churches, the printing presses.  If anyone cannot perceive in these any signs of diligence, piety, good letters or any of the virtues, he is not merely dim-sighted, a man who sees darkness even in the sunlight, but a professed enemy, who has no right to pronounce on our affairs.

      Indeed, as many enemies as the University has had hitherto, so many have been her victories: nor has any man offended against our fame without a most certain expenditure of his own.  For we have repulsed the affronts of all of them, not by obtaining the shield of Vulcan or some brazen walls, or provided with amulets of some sort, but shielded with the watchfulness of the eternal favour of God.  As often as we, naked, indigent, destitute of all human aid, defiled by the insults of the most petulant persons, lay in the bosom of our good Father on high and deposited in His hands the care of accomplishing our affairs; so often did we emerge out of the shallows, not only safe, but victorious, and met with all happiness and success.  He who has raised to hope the prostrate, and, risen, has filled them with the highest hope and heaped upon them and increased them with benefits and honours; who has made them flourish and attain this brilliance, however great or small it may be, He shall be my God for ever.

      Nor are we to that extent ungrateful that we would make bold to despise or forget what those worthiest of mortals, the patrons of letters, have richly deserved of us.  Nay, they who have chosen to lay the University under obligation to them with any kind of munificence are here sure of everlasting memory and a glory that shall be vindicated from the jealousy of oblivion throughout all eternity; as they can easily see that they are treating with men who not only know intimately the sinfulness and curse of ingratitude, but who for ever detest it.

      He who was first celebrated by me in my last oration has now come to be celebrated here, the highest arbiter, beneath God, of our affairs.8  But what can I say of such a man?  Since there are two pursuits to which the rulers of men should apply their energies, that is the military and the civil art, in which two the whole of public excellence is comprehended, and he is to be considered rightly to have surpassed the common lot of man who has administered either of them with success and to the benefit of his citizens; he, however, who has managed both in a mediocre fashion is scarcely celebrated; this man is the only one, at least in our age, who has adorned both one and the other of them, so that it is difficult to determine which of them he has embellished more; but he has certainly cultivated both of them, above anything that can be said, with success and felicity enough to raise jealousy.

To accomplish exploits, and show the citizens their enemies captive

Reaches the throne of Jove, and aspires to things celestial,9

– as the poet sings.  But beyond any doubt there is so much more glory in the good and legitimate administration of the Commonwealth than is provided by the most resplendent triumphs, just as much as the goods of the mind, the virtues of peace and the honour of religion surpass the show of strength, slaughter and bloodshed.  But this man, being such a great man and superior to all others, in this alone has he chosen to be inferior to himself, that he would undertake to bear among his own people a title of the second rank; with which may he carry on to success our defence which he willingly undertook at first.  Nor has it been sufficient for him to defend the University in its time of trial for so many years under the shadow of his inconquerable name; but over and above this he has augmented and enriched with a most liberal munificence and dispensation that treasure-house of books celebrated throughout the world of letters, that great glory, not merely of our University, but of our whole nation, the Bodleian Library.10  Blessed is the spirit of Bodley, who has encountered so many rivals of his virtue, so many authors of his fame!11  For, while oblivion covers, and ever will cover with eternal darkness the innumerable spendthrifts who have considered sumptuous revelry the only business entrusted to them; you have prolonged the glorious memory of your name to such an extent, that no passing of the years, nor the flight of time, will enshroud it with darkness.  Blessed Bodley!  You shall not wholly die; not as long as kings, princes, victors eagerly strive amongst themselves to deposit in your treasury whatever monuments of ancient virtue or true erudition can be found anywhere, and disdain not to adorn your recesses with their images.  Here a prince, a count here and a prelate there, in a long succession, all celebrated by the various tablets in their honour, all most praiseworthy men, have now made the name of Bodley celebrated by the unanimous voice of the whole world.  May only God’s grace be propitious to us, and there is no reason why we should doubt that the University may ascend to enviable pinnacles of the sciences and virtues and reach the apex of fame in the universe of letters.

      While, therefore, our most benevolent Father has thus been providing abundantly for us through his own agency and that of his own people and of others, what have we been doing in the meantime, members of the University?  Living our lives in the midst of idleness and apathy, indulging our dispositions and our vices, growing dull and torpid, possessed of a slothful mind, giving first place to things delectable at present, and dying before we have learned what it is to live?  Far be it, indeed!  Nay, whatever is excellent and outstanding, whatever ought to be considered worthy of praise among mortals, all this appears to be most appropriately expected of us.  Both the lives of all good men and the benefits of everlasting God cry out for nothing that is vulgar, nothing that has not been purified by the utmost piety and diligence; let us be, let us endeavour to achieve, that which would be a pain to the eyes of the envious, which would make Rome fear, which the impious crowd would grudge.  Let us repel from us with the utmost speed the empty, naked and fruitless expression of religion, in no way superior to the histrionic manner of divine worship which we have renounced.  We are most firmly convinced that nothing is more unworthy of earnest men, ignorant of stage-acting, who wish to have some reputation for modesty, than to seek praise by their gown alone, and while prattling about honour, be insensible to that which is, so to speak, the shrine of true glory and honour.  Let that plebeian gown-wearing rabble realise once more how contemptible they are to all wise men.  We are not, as of yore, in the dainties corner of the market-place, where it was the custom to exchange praise for evil manners.  We are being called upon to military service, where each of us ought to keep the station he is guarding to the best of his powers, or desert it to his own disgrace.  Gone are the halcyon days of the jesters, nor is it allowed any more to take pride in titles, or to rage at the ignorant multitude with our trappings.  Except only the party spirit-for the rest, the people now judge sternly and are no more owed by men’s masks.

      Go on, therefore, most learned doctors, and with your virtue continue, as you have begun, to adorn as your Sparta,12 the sacred treasury of Theology, the heirloom of truth, the honour of religion, the glory of true sanctity, the fame of learning, all now deserted by many, shamefully and disgracefully trampled under foot.  Your virtue and your industry have hitherto withstood the barkings of the sycophants and the envious, the changes of times, the bitings of the offended, and the invasions of the enemies.  Cultivate more and more every day the candour, the fear and worship of God, earnestness of manners, and the other gifts of mind and disposition which the University has hitherto observed in you, until ignorance and envy are conquered, all rust wiped away, and the eyes and minds of all, both our own countrymen and aliens, will be turned towards the University as the most perfect emporium of all the virtues.  If our alma mater has preserved her sons safe and sound from the disease and scourge of our age, the plague,13 and venom of the most hideous errors which are roaming at large almost everywhere, she readily testifies that, under the care and tutelage of our most merciful Father, she owes it to your assiduity in public speaking, fervour in exhortation, to the acuteness appropriate in disputations, and to the example of your virtues.  Many here, true students of Theology, candidates for holy office, are rightly asking to be included in this part of your praise.  Them, indeed, the University is expecting to become, in the future, arms of great strength, embracing the Church and the schools, the public platform and the professorial chairs.  Whether I should congratulate them more on their modesty, learning, sharpness of mind or humility of spirit, I am at a loss to decide.

      I would fain have recalled, doctors, how much the Commonwealth is indebted to you and to them, if it were not that I had your own admission that you are under a far greater burden of debt to Christ and to the Church.  For even the servants of Christ, candidates for heaven, however distinguished among mortals they are, since they have been given in pledge such great benefits which they shall not be able in all eternity to repay, even they can hardly expect, hardly wish, for a better lot than yours.  Our obedience is its own reward, and the very task of the ministry is a prize ample enough.  Let not the philosophers’ immeasurable desire for praise take hold of you, much less so the present-day allurements of idolatry among the ‘pontificals’, the stomach and ambition and other blandishments of our fleeting life; pay greater attention to the pledges of Divine love that are to come, nay, that are already present among the good.  They can turn your minds towards obedience, refresh and augment your strength in the performance of your duty, and they will give you success.

      And you, too, most select band of youths, no lesser hope for the University, the Country and the Church than they are their glory; since you lack neither examples nor precepts by which you can be stirred into accomplishment in all sorts of virtue, hear then the things which are by right expected of you.  Men of all orders of society are on the watch-tower, observing how each of you bears himself.  Consider, meanwhile, that you are exceedingly prone to the corrupting practices of the evil and the indolent.  Nor is there any praise in being upright there, where there is no one who could or would endeavour to corrupt.  The drones, as far as in us lies, we expel from our hives, but scarce a sharper goad to diligence can be offered to all prudent men than the fate of the indolent.  They who would only contemplate the mobile and useless crowds of stolid and wicked men, either fearing the worst or suffering it, enshrouded in all possible forms of disgrace, applauding themselves in the taverns, eating-houses, and the most horrid and filthy corners, spurned and abandoned by all upright and wise men – they will scarcely imitate the lethargy, the merriment and dancing, through which, they will learn, the flower of youth has been snatched away from the good arts.

      But you are not to be detained any longer, members of the audience.  For I do not wish to afflict you with tedium, against your wish and my duty, a burden, by recounting the actions, or confessing the omissions, or giving an account of my term of office, which has only now emerged from the sight of the envious – although I feel no shame or regret for it.  May the University flourish, and may concord, industry, religion, the fear of God, and the emulation of every rising virtue, reign among the students; may the party spirit, blind love of self, avarice, sloth, and all those things which least befit noble minds, generous hearts, Christian souls, be expelled from it; I shall not then regret having hitherto served your needs and devoted myself to your interests at the expense to myself of peace, fame and studies.

      But even at this point, members of the University, you are to be subjected to the rites of mourning, nor does fate or sorrow halt their step here.  My sorrowful mind and deep felt pain check me in my desire to recount what a glory to letters, what a paragon of virtue venerable Providence has lately taken away from us.14  Him, I say, whom candour and justice’s sister, incorruptible faith, and simple truth, have made dear to all good men, whose prudence and diligence in the transaction of affairs have rendered useful to men of letters and acceptable to all; whom I counted as one bound to me by the closest ties of friendship, him – alas! – we have lost.  If it were not that the public fortunes of the Church hindered us, and the spilt blood of martyrs was crying up, so that piety and modesty prevent us from indulging our private grief, it would have been exceedingly hard to put a limit to our feeling of loss of this erudite person.  His brother’s eloquence lamented him in the Vesperia, taken away as he was by fate on taking up his office of proctor to the greatest expectation of all good men.  But avaunt! vain sighs and vows doubled to no avail.  Should we consider worthy of lament those who have been for ever set free from the darkness of our death, the vices of our affections, the shrouds of our ambitions, the tedium of our labours, the hatred of our rivals, the anxiety of our worries, and the incertitude and instability of all things?  Far be it, members of the University.  The blessed souls look down from on high on all things that press and weigh down on us, on the evils that surround us on all sides.  As long as we devote what is left of our brief span to piety, virtue and works, we are endeavouring to do things that are in some way worthy of our great models; may our fate and the outcome of all affairs be in the care of God.



1      This was delivered at the Act in July 1655.

2      Owen refers to the various contributions from the faculties of Arts etc., at the Act.

3      Owen may refer to the royalist uprising in Wiltshire led by John Penruddock that occurred in 1655; but, more probably, his reference is to the plight of certain European Protestants.  In the University Archives there is ‘an acquittance for £384/5/4 ... for relief of the Protestants in Savoy’, bearing date, 18 July 1655. Cf. R. S. Paul, The Lord Protector, 1955, pp. 336–7.

4      Owen refers to the defence of Oxford undertaken after Penruddock’s uprising.  Cf. Correspondence, p. 82, Letter 32 for Owen’s part in the defence.  Pallas was the goddess who always seemed to be holding a spear.

5      Owen refers to the death of Dr. Joshua Hoyle, Regius Professor of Divinity.

6      John Conant of Exeter College succeeded Hoyle.  The troubles to which Owen refers were probably caused by the opposition of some of the young Masters of Arts.  Cf. Wood, Annals of Univ. of Oxford (ed. Gutch) under the years 1655–56.

7      ‘City of Mud’ is the translation of ‘Lutetia’, which is also the Latin name for Paris.  The whole paragraph reveals Owen’s strong moral turn of mind.

8      This is the Lord Protector.

9      Horace, Epistle I, 17, 33.

10    Cromwell gave various manuscripts and books to the University Library.

11    Though foundered before the 17th Century, the University Library was restocked and endowed by Sir Thomas Bodley in the early years of the 17th. Cent., after which it bore his name.

12    This is a reference to the Euripidean proverb quoted by Cicero, Letters to Atticus, IV, 6, 2.

13    Two of Owen’s sons died in 1655 in the plague, and he, himself, was very ill.

14    Owen refers to Edward Wood, the brother of Anthony Wood, the historian of the University.  Edward was appointed proctor in 1655 but he died.  Owen’s attitude to Edward Wood is so different from the attitude of Anthony Wood to John Owen!



Fourth Oration1

      Such is the nature of my duty, gentlemen of the University, that, when the listeners have had their fill of all sorts of delights, at the very conclusion of the ceremony, to which the learned audience is already yearning, you are to be detained by me for a while.  I appear to be perceiving the minds, both of our own men and of our most welcome visitors, elated with the hope of departure and eager to proceed to their censure.  To expound on what has pleased each of them and what has repelled him as each of us was acting his part prudently or, at least, not ineptly, as luck and the occasion had it, is the desire of those who always disdain to see the audience harassed.  For we place ourselves here in such a precipitous position, putting ourselves equally at the hands of the just and the unjust.  Such, indeed, is the – rather harsh – rule and condition under which we administer the republic of letters in these Comitia, that the things which we endeavour to expound in accordance with the custom and dignity of the University and with the duty that has befallen us, are soon turned into a play, and transmitted through the mouths of the multitude often are received with laughs of censure.  Nor can this most wretched custom, which has neither counsel nor limit in it, be controlled by any counsel.  Thus willed, thus decreed our predecessors, on whose authority alone we depend here and whose rule we obey, that the academic race, men of varying dispositions and dissimilar minds, would pour forth with one and the same exertion, sacred and profane, light and serious matters, things insolent and most solemn.  But ill-sewn reconciliation is patched up to no avail.  The worthier things are soon compelled to leave their stations and to take care of themselves in oblivion.  For thus does the youthful enthusiasm of the students give first place to things pleasant at the moment, albeit they are soon to bring about sorrow; and virtue herself, or erudition, can hardly preserve their place, thus does the heated multitude rage, scream and fight, that those things be heard which have no need to, and good reasons to be obscured.  It shames me to say with what celebrity – if indeed that can be called celebrated which is shameful to mention – the inept words of drollery and wit are everywhere flying about, while oblivion has obliterated the very traces of things truly worthy of remembrance, and they are suppressed by perpetual silence.  Nor, indeed, can a more unequal contest be instituted than, in the midst of tumult and uproar, when the genius of the place and the occasion raises its head in demand for facetious things, for virtue and eloquence to contend against wit and pleasantries.  Nay, as it hurts, as it pains, we may be allowed, listeners, to sigh a little longer at the inveterate and still growing evil of this place and day.  And I shall do this rather more readily, as it is my intention, whatever the pain or gall that an indignant oration may bestow upon anyone, to alleviate them with silken words, and to season them as it were with those things that taste best to the palate, before my oration reaches its end.  As I recall the olden times, the misery of those days comes before my mind, when, the more insolently a man acceded to the inhuman reviling of the good, the swifter he was to transgress the bounds of modesty, the greater the fame and the glory he could hope to earn for himself.  Traces of this licentiousness, dying, as we hope, have survived even in these Comitia.  But we have suffered worse things: for we have never been able to bring this most celebrated assembly to its end without perforce having to impose silence on someone among the speakers, or, what is much more distressing, to suffer insults.2  May the fibres of vice, then, be extracted from delicate dispositions, if any there be.

      There is, indeed, reason why we should either envy our sister University her care and diligence, or deplore her fortune.  For she allows to hold to ridicule with the most petulant drolleries not only other sorts of men, whom no one who cannot rival Aristophanes should put on the stage, but also infamous rascals and learned nincompoops.  But, as it is the custom there to speak most openly, she has either readily allowed, or unwillingly permitted, to assail with lies and calumnies the reputation of innocent men.3

      The youth of both Universities has, if I am not mistaken, sufficiently partaken by now of these serrated mutual rendings to pieces of each other; nor do I think that these biting pleasantries – so called – of this class of Inez who know not what it is to feel ashamed, can, or ought to be, otherwise described.  Surely, we contend among us as to who would put others to ridicule before the people in a manner more jocular or wittier – if indeed it is proper to give the name of wit to the most witless custom.  A nauseating contest, unworthy even of masked actors.  Just as the Macedonian powers, impatient of contumelies, suppressed the merry-making Old Comedy which offended with raillery against the reputation of wise men; so did paganism everywhere loath and despise it and finally drive it out.  With such a thing, it appears, we have now desperately fallen in love, and now it has been driven out of the popular stage, we are busying ourselves with its rehabilitation by introducing it into the academic Comitia.  Outstanding glory indeed! We have – Hurrah! – almost outdone the mimics, actors and public jesters!  And surely, so long as we have not renounced this sentiment – or rather this insanity – as long as lunacy of this sort holds its sway over us, anyone who can pour forth words soon to be recited by the profligate in the eating houses, taverns and brothels, he alone has wit, and all others are like shadows hovering about.  Would that we were allowed, at last, by those whose honour I spare (for I have resolved that my oration shall expose no one, except any who so readily puts himself in the way that I cannot avoid encountering him), would, I say, that we were permitted to set upon this inveterate custom; would that it were permitted to the youth of the University to be pious, sober and modest;4 and that those who were born of the dregs, as it were, of evil manners, the most impudent of bipeds – nay, as often happens, of quadrupeds, should no longer appear to be of any consequence among us.

      Someone, however, not so long ago, disgusted with these ineptitudes, has dared in his ignorance to overturn this order of things among us, which he has always found prohibited, always condemned and always retained.  He wanted, indeed, that jokes, pleasantries and lies should be banished from the Comitia of the University, celebrated by the crowded gathering of most earnest men from all parts; that we should have a richer crop of exercises and disputations in all branches of learning; a dearth of insults, malice and most inept jokes; and that there should be no remembrance in posterity of inert and gluttonous men, who know nothing except to live in disgrace and die of laughter every day, who flock to our ceremonies in great crowds.  Do you wish to have before you the author of this unheard-of crime, impudence, madness, sin, so that you may fly at his eyes, or at least at his fame?  But here I am:

Here, here I am, who have done it, on me, young men, turn your weapons,

Mine is all this deceit.5

Nay, I believe there is no man who is not aware of the many things I have suffered at the hands of men impelled by hate, love or the party spirit, and of others, who consider nothing to be more excellent than an idle life, full and crammed with pleasures, for this very reason, and because I dared not take their prescribed oath in what pertains to ancient ineptitudes, and of the sort of gossip maliciously spread everywhere concerning this affair.  Nor did my expectation delude me as I resolved on such an undertaking.  For could I, indeed, believe or hope that the things I was intent on in the present state of affairs would be universally accepted with candour?  I was not, praise be to God, so crude, nor was I so ignorant of the world or so devoid of all prudence, that I would lull my mind into empty hope.  I have seen something, heard something, learned something by reading and inquiry; I have found no one intent on the public good against inveterate prejudices who had not been encumbered, if not quite smothered, with cartloads of abuse.  I do not say this as if the ineptitudes and folly of some obscure and most laughable men, or the thankless credulity or envy of others, have been a source of anxiety to me; since it is not only on account of my own conscience, but with the indulgence, to say the least, of all learned people and those unaccustomed to evil practices towards my studies and actions, that I feel secure from the pleasantries of the stage and the insults of the multitude.

      If, however, I have been more stern in this than is my usual custom and manner of life, on account of which I resolved in my mind to oblige all men and to endure and suffer all as far as it can be done; I beg of you, gentlemen of the University, that you should concede as much to my oration as you believe should be granted to righteous indignation, if it is indignation only that insults and abuses beget.  Let them, with my permission, delight in the pleasures of malice, as long as they wish, who know not how to give themselves counsel, nor to follow the good counsels of others.  Thus I shall not elaborate any further on the great disturbances and the uproars which the industry of some men – of which whatever I say shall be inadequate – in rejecting the trifles and the refuse and in introducing and establishing exercises in all branches of learning and the sciences, has called forth, and the men it has provoked, lest certain grammar-masters, incited by envy and the furor of party spirit, become too consumed with anger.  Let all those who care in their hearts for the honour of purer religion, or for the progress of sterner erudition and the sciences, conscious of the worthiest endeavour and the utmost rectitude, content themselves with having desired in the present those things which future generations, if there be any, will enjoy: it is for those men to be jealous of the virtue of others who have no virtue of their own.

      But as the University has suffered enough calumnies for things she has not done; let us see, then, if for the things she has done, she has obtained any glory or praise on the part of equitable judges.  It is the tenth year now since the University, snatched out of the conflagration of the whole country, has struck safer and deeper roots, and begun to shoot forth more freely.6  How it has hitherto grown up, ‘as a tree grows by the unnoticed lapse of time’,7 through what labyrinths of adversity it had to wind its way, by what troubles impeded and exposed to what dangers, I have often before recounted, nor is there need to call it to memory any more.  That there was no lack of those among the gowned community, as it was suffering frequently the greatest hazards, took up their posts, this most crowded gathering of students we have today can bear witness.  What then?  Were we to put a limit to the ferocity, avarice and audacity of our most powerful enemies and curb those who were fulminating threats and thundering words by the resources of private citizens?  Nay, he who sees nothing divine, nothing surpassing mortal strength, in the relief and support of the declining republic of letters; that man is undoubtedly labouring under an ignorance and idle negligence of things divine as well as human.  But if anything, by anyone of us, has been either undertaken with prudence and counsel, or, with the guidance and help of Christ, has been successfully accomplished, by which provision was made for the safety, or honour, or advantages of the University; this cannot, without great disgrace to our age, be turned to his blame, whatever attitude or arrogance our detractors may assume.  Indeed, the better a man is, the readier he is to forgo praise and fame, content with his knowledge and conscience of his actions.  Nor, perhaps, are those only to be called academics who, since there was no need for them elsewhere, have kept themselves safely within the walls of the University; but who wish not, nor have they the power, either to defend the safety of the University or to increase her honour.  Just as in that fashion, the overseers of the work-house would appear to be most suitable to preside.  But the subsidies of the powerful have also been at hand, which we always recollect with a grateful mind, and to whose virtue and favour we owe all the best things.  The limits of time by which we are confined prevent me from expounding the praises, or recounting the benefactions, of these people, since they are being elevated for immortality by the glory of their accomplishments.  Meanwhile, it is pleasing to contemplate the glory of divine Providence and goodness in the ample benefits which we have received from them within a short period.

      Cannot the University which, a little over or under ten years ago was lying almost deserted, now boast of the most learned orators, subtle philosophers, acute judges, outstanding mathematicians, pious, acute and forceful heralds of the divine Word, prolific critics, whom she has already, relying on the favour of the propitious divinity of Christ and drawing her nourishment from on high, raised out of her flocks, received into her bosom, cherished and educated from their very youth?  Whom shall I praise first on this occasion?  You, the doctors, and other Heads of Colleges and Halls, learned and pious men, who have given right counsels and outstanding examples: or youth herself, who was willing to follow in your footsteps and hearken to your counsels?  If, indeed, that be the greatest disaster for a city, and on this count alone should she appear to be miserable, when neither those can be found in her who can provide the Commonwealth with good counsels, nor those who would give their assent to prudent thoughts; should not that city be called fortunate, where many give good precepts and numerous are those who wisely obey?  For, just as the lethargy and obstinacy of their pupils gradually weakens the power and virtue of their leaders and infuses lassitude into their minds; so is it inevitable that the way be closed before the industry of the young where there is no one who would inflame them with his exhortation and example.  But what a life spent among books, established and fortified by examples and precepts, can accomplish, this the University offers to our inspection as if in a mirror.  That at which the good may rejoice; which would pain the eyes of the envious; which in its glamour would pour darkness over all else – it is with a desire directed solely towards this that the alumni brought up on our letters and instruction have been burning for some years now; nay, so far have some of them progressed, that I fear that, just as they have had no examples among their predecessors, likewise they may find no rivals among their posterity.  What can I say of each of them?  Should I mention the Theologians, most persistent guardians of orthodoxy, to whom it has been of greater importance to serve the divine truth with the humility of spirit that befits it than to attain some reputation for their name and to achieve brilliance through the phantoms of petty opinions, or the refuse of ancient philosophers, inauspiciously unearthed anew?  And would that some people could as readily renounce the nobility of their name, whatever that may be, than that the Church and all pious men be deprived of their lucubrations.  But once the desire for fame has taken hold of anyone, and there is no hope of fulfilling it except at a risk to the truth, he gives himself with blind confidence a complete licence to roam about all the labyrinths of error, and would fain die than fail to achieve eminence by right or wrong means.  What shall I say of the outstanding mathematicians, who, as it has not been sufficient for them either to teach accurately the fortunate findings of the ancients, or to add to the inventions of others, they themselves, exceeding the common lot of learned men, have so clearly and eloquently put before the eyes of the learned new, marvellous, astonishing things, extracted from the very entrails of nature, unknown to their predecessors, to be admired by their successors, not without glory and fame both to themselves and the University;8 so that, in what pertains to these studies, all learned and candid souls, wherever they may be, would willingly offer them the palm?  I would fain pay tribute to others, if it were not that the multitude of praiseworthy men and the brilliance and grandeur of the deserving has overwhelmed me, being as I am neither ready nor prepared in this style of speaking.  Nay, I know on what delicate and difficult ground I am treading, most exposed to jealousy and disparagement; as some never have their fill of praises while to others any at all are excessive.  Let us therefore make allowances to some people’s modesty and to the audacity of others; let us spare persons and have things themselves passed under review.  I shall therefore undertake a great theme: that, while we are almost all laden with the age of our generation, and the human race is groaning under the death agony of the world itself, while licentiousness and intemperance are holding sway almost everywhere, I fear not to mention the morals of the members of the University.  We are compelled to reject the headlong and preverted judgment of calumniators, founded on the Feast of Minerva,9 or on the present Festival of the Muses, when the youth of the University, mixed with the crowd of visitors, roams about somewhat more freely.  If on this occasion anything appears to occur beyond what is meet, let the blame lie on the shoulders of those who have endeavoured with all their might that the allurements and opportunities for sinful acts should not perish; the things which are now taking place in public outside these walls, I should scarcely call our own affairs; we appeal to the peaceful times of studies and to the retreats of the students.  If an equitable judge of things will not find there many who manifest in their noble manners the vigour of the worthiest laws; few who are honest and sober merely to the letter of the law; and none, or very few, wastrels, rascals or men defiled by sin, then we shall have no excuse for not being consumed with exceeding shame.  Come, let us go to court now.  Let anyone whom it pleases, either on account of his anger or jealousy, summon us.  We stand willingly before the tribunal.  We are being led to a new trial.  We have not done, we have not contemplated, false are the witnesses, false the charges: these words, which it is customary to utter before a jury, we offer.  Here we gain a belated victory; here is something which grateful minds should attribute to divine grace; for this is not in our power.

      Nor do we consider it proper to bury in oblivion the piety of some people in the University, or of the University herself, towards aliens who have migrated among us on account of their religion and for the sake of good letters. How many outstanding youths, the hope and seed of many churches, the generosity of some men has sustained and nourished and cherished for more than five years now, I shall advisedly pass over in silence, lest by speaking of it I may raise the slightest suspicion of arrogance on the part of any mortal.10  I shall say in one word: not only have they been accepted with the free use of libraries among us and with the munificence of the dead (for who would not be generous without expense, or munificent without cost, if this only was being generous and munificent?), but their piety, secured by divine caution, has admitted them also into a share of our allowances and the provisions of our Halls.  Nor do I find anything in this for which we should be praised.  We have done our duty – and would that we have done even this!  For the munificence of our ancestors desired us to be, not proprietors, not sole heirs, of the things it had entrusted to our safe keeping, but to be their depositaries and suppliers, faithful and honest, so that out of their liberality provision should be made for the poverty and distress of as many good men as possible.  Since, therefore, divine Providence has thus abundantly taken care of us, shall it be permitted to us to live for ourselves alone, indulge our humours, and spend our life amongst pleasures, neglecting and spurning those who, although they have scanty means at home, yet for the sake of the cultivation of their minds, than which nothing in the nature of mortals is better, nothing is greater, they have wended their way, through infinite dangers, from the remotest regions, towards this most celebrated emporium of letters?  Far be it, members of the University; nay, nothing is more unworthy of Christians, of votaries of piety and purer religion, of learned men, of men nourished on the munificence of others, than to gaze with admiration on the god of Profit, or to be most insistent on enjoying that which in truth is the property of others.  And truly, whatever we have done for the sake of these aliens, we appear to have done much for our own benefit as well.  For as they are for the most part pure in their lives, holy of purpose and unaccustomed to evil practices, they have manifested amongst us many outstanding marks of piety, industry, diligence and a grateful spirit.  Hence also do the grandeur and the honour of the University spread far and wide through alien shores.  Hereupon has she clearly vindicated her glory from the calumnies of malicious and jealous men; so that no upright men anywhere who are free from the party spirit should lend their ears or even less so their faith to fugitives, or to those expelled on account of their sins, who resist us tooth and nail, and lay aside all sense of shame whenever they inveigh against the University.  Oxford is now proclaimed in the books and on the tongues of all men, so that her only prayer should be that, when she has obliterated the insults of her enemies and triumphed over the calumnies of the envious, she should not fall short of her own reputation.

      There has not, meanwhile, been any dearth of those who, either led on by their own malice, or following the desires of others – while they themselves were paying the penalty they deserved, not without utter disgrace, nor for the smallest offence – who have found pleasure, not merely in disturbing the peaceful state of the University, reviling her glory, overthrowing ancient customs, but even in feeding with serpent teeth on their own mother and trampling her under their unclean feet.  They are still extant everywhere, they have still survived, these descendants of the Cutheans, who, while the University is enjoying good fortune, proclaim themselves with blowing trumpets to be her true progeny; but when the fortunes of the gowned community are forced into the narrows and pressed by the straits, they immediately wend their way towards her in a gladiatorial spirit, and club together openly with those who persecute men of letters with a step-mother’s hatred, having swallowed the modesty they have formerly simulated; nay, this alone do they appear to wish for, that the malevolent shall not be prevented from delighting in our dangers, themselves being the victims of the grossest envy and hatred.  Them do they counsel in secret, them do they acknowledge in public as patrons, those impudent alumni of the University, while they desire their aged mother, who for a long time has enjoyed the rights of full liberty, to bear the yoke of external rule, and wish to detain her in the captivity of her rivals.  If events had occurred in accordance with the wishes of these men, if our detractors had succeeded in attaining their purpose, if it were not that many had proclaimed in unison, in the words of Flaminius,11 ‘May Greece be free’ – the University would no longer enjoy her own rights, or the favour of princes, or the industry and virtue of her predecessors, or her ancient discipline.  And indeed, so far have we sustained the onslaughts of our enemies without, repelled their arms, survived so many metamorphoses of the Commonwealth, and swum to safety out of so many public perils, that we have only to take care against our domestic enemies, against those among us, if any indeed there will be, who will circumspectly aid in the destruction of the republic of letters.  But I do not wish to play the Babylonian tune:12

The issue of the time to be

Heaven wisely hides in darkest night.13

What burden of duties has fallen to some of us, while they had perforce to remedy the depraved and headlong counsels of some, oppose themselves to the indolence of others, and come face to face with dangers accumulating from all sides, when we had fallen into the most severe crises, those who, in the future, will be put in charge of this office of mine will say.  It is therefore without cause, though perhaps not without blame, that some people, in order to show, not only with what elegance, but with what grace and pleasantries they were endowed, have wished to turn that to our blame without which neither they could be safe, nor we upright and honest.

      But it is necessary, at last, to put an end to my speech.  So far, members of the audience, relying on divine succour, we have not only emerged out of our dangers, but also vanquished our most hostile enemies; at least we are not conquered, laid down, expelled from our place.  Piety, noble innocence, integrity of manners, and the industry that dares to attempt all right things, have won, nor has the spirit of our generation, however evil it is, put us under its yoke.  Our alma mater’s fame and celebrity have made her offspring numerous, her discipline has made them well-mannered, her industry has made them learned.  The burdensome and nearly insuperable envy which the diversity of opinions in religion begat, the party spirit has nourished and anger and vengeance have inflamed, we have borne so far; nor is our spirit so abject or prostrate, that it would not be our hope and prayer to aspire to the things we have had before, or to greater things.  May only you, our good Father, the author and the prize of all our labours, be propitious to us, and may the security of this little flock be the object of your care and love; and you, Jesus Christ, the refuge and salvation of all your followers; and you too, most sacred, and infinitely powerful, Holy Spirit, erect the minds of all members of the University, in your ineffable virtue, towards perfect piety and industry.  Thus, at last, shall that field of corn which is now lying almost hidden among the grass respond most profusely to the prayers and expectations of all good men: the which may you accomplish in your infinite grace, Lord Jesus.  Amen.



1      This was delivered at the Act in July 1657.

2      During the year Owen had made moves in meetings of the Delegates and in Convocation to have the non-academic festivities of the Act removed and the academic content strengthened but he was over-ruled.  Cf. Wood, Annals of Univ. of Oxford (ed. Gutch), under the years 1656–57.  It seems that the incident to which he refers here is that which is recorded by Asty in his ‘Memoir of Owen’ printed in the Collection of Sermons (1721) – the same volume in which the Orations were first published.  A student from Trinity College was the elected wag of the students (the terrae filius) and he spoke with indecency and obscenity.  When Owen ordered his beadle to go and silence him the students prevented him and so Owen himself intervened and personally led off the student to the University gaol.

3      Aristophanes (d. 375 B.C.) was a playwright of ancient Athens.  According to Anthony Wood, Life and Times, I., p. 221, Owen was criticised at the Commencement at Cambridge in July 1657.  He was said to have ‘had as much powder in his haire that would discharge eight cannons’.

4      In these three words ‘pious (godly), sober and modest’ is contained Owen’s view of how a student should normally be described in a good University.

5      Virgil, Aeneid, IX, 427.

6      In 1647 Parliament approved the Ordinance for the Visitation of the University: before this, in September 1646, six preachers had been sent to preach the royalist establishment into submission to Parliament and its aims.

7      Horace, Odes, I, 12.

8      Owen probably refers to the work of the scientists who met at Wadham College.  Cf. 2nd Orat. n.16.

9      Minerva was an Italian goddess of handicrafts, widely worshipped and regularly identified with Athena.  Owen compares her festival with the Act.

10    Foreign students from Poland, Silesia and the Savoy were found at Oxford and, according to Asty’s ‘Memoir’, Owen entertained some at Christ Church.

11    Flaminius was a Roman consul killed in 217 B.C., but Owen may have originally written Flamininus, another Roman consul, who was highly respected by the Greeks and even declared Greece free; he died in 174 B.C.

12    ‘The Babylonian tune’ is a reference to astrology.

13    Horace, Odes, III, 29, 29.


Fifth Oration1

      I have always prayed, gentlemen of the University, that although I might be the most unworthy Vice-Chancellor of the University, nevertheless I should not be known as the last to hold office.  Since this happy day will soon fulfill my wish, I cannot but eagerly congratulate this venerable convocation and the whole University.  After being buffeted by so many storms, all but buried by so many troublesome billows, assailed on all sides by the blasts of adverse winds, surely I am allowed to congratulate myself also, as now at last I come into harbour.  For, indeed, if those things with whose presentiment I have often refreshed my depressed spirits when I had been driven away from my studies and was worn out by the tedium of toil and travel and full to the brim of the affairs of others, peace and quiet alone are the things which I do not yet seem to have attained.  It is of no value to you to know, nor worthwhile for me to go over, how much it meant to me to lay aside the government of the University, how great and persistent was my zeal in the attempt, and finally the all but impudent manner in which I sought to persuade certain very important men to allow me to resign.2  The fact that this day, long awaited by you and by me, will have taken no less than five years to dawn arises from the nature of the circumstances in which we live.  The stars, so we hear, moved very close to the Supreme Mover, and for that reason, either by His will or sheer necessity, were assigned the task of moving very slowly, and, in keeping with their nature, peacefully, uninfluenced by the host of lower heavenly bodies.  Likewise, since the University has approached near to the Supreme Mover of our race, and although in the heavenly convulsion of all things which our nation has been undergoing it has revolved faster in the safety of its own orbit, nevertheless it needed a movement, peculiar and fitting to itself, in order to advance slowly.  And so at length with victory won, although the conflict was long drawn out, I gladly sit me down now that fate has offered me a place of repose.  Yet it is not only because I have escaped that I am entitled to boast – although this is a considerable, even great achievement – but also because despite the buffeting of my ship I draw into shore neither shipwrecked nor laid open to the wantonness of pirates.  Behold, your ship, the University, tossed by mountainous billows, yet safe and sound – nay, almost beyond belief – fitted together at the joints with greater strength than usual, very soon to be entrusted to the hands of a skilled captain3 while fortune smiles and the sea is calm.  This alone remains for me, to die in a fitting manner.  Our cause – the University and learning – are saved; let orthodox religion remain and I am now pleased to die without hesitation.  And so I shall die, gentlemen, with my duty complete almost at the same time as my days.  Do not expect learned groans, or erudite death-cries.  He who has learnt to rely on a good conscience during his lifetime will have no need of elegance at the point of death.4

      Neither am I here to celebrate my high office, for my accession caused me to blush no more than it gives me pain to have laid it aside.  The taking up of my office and the laying down of the same was and is so distant from my desires as I have always wanted to be even more distant from all dishonour and disgrace.  And yet indeed, if I had not considered it a rather unfair custom for retiring officials to blow their own trumpets, relate their own achievements and the faults of others, I would be able to proclaim a number of accomplishments (and this would not be mere boasting) which I first and I alone, achieved during my term of office.  But it is not only that my opinions and character are far removed from keeping to this custom, but also the habits of those, whose desire is for a great life rather than great words, and to do good rather than to receive the praise of many, must of necessity turn in a different direction.  My office which I did not accept as a token of honour – I would wish such an acknowledgement to be further from my prayers than from my services if possible – I resign and not because I am worn out by wearisome toil.  My reason for embarking, continuing and now finally retiring was a consideration of your interests.  It was because others reckoned that in some way I could be of help and assistance to your cause that I entered upon the office; and now, because in my opinion you need a more suitable and qualified man, I am willingly resigning.  With a quiet mind I am becoming a private citizen without fearing the anger of those whom I knowingly and willingly injured, and without expecting thanks from those whom I decided to lay under obligation: for the former, I boldly proclaim, do not exist; of the latter there have been a number but it is not becoming for me to recall them.

      I will now speak briefly, as custom dictates, about your affairs.  This is the fifth year since the government of the University was put into my hands, despite my unworthiness.  No man among us, I believe, is ignorant of the position of the gownsmen and the state of our affairs at the beginning of my term of office and since then.  For the first two years we were a mere rabble and a subject of talk to the rabble.  Our critical situation and our common interests were discussed out of journals and newspapers by every Tom, Dick and Harry.  Nobody was so abjectly stupid as not to have either fear or hope on account of our situation.  Such, indeed, was the will of the Sovereign Disposer of events – so that whatever is mortal would be held in lesser esteem among mortals.  Further, it was not perhaps equitable that, whilst decay was invading empires and the highest ornaments of the world, the University alone should keep its blossom unimpaired.  Meanwhile, very few ventured to the best of their powers to defend our cause, which ought to have been held sacred but was exposed to the greatest hazards.  Indeed, such was the pitch of madness that to have stood up for the gownsmen was designated as a violation of religion and piety.  On the other hand, everything that is rejected by respectable men and which is truly criminal was most plentifully charged on you every day by the malicious.  And those who were more favourably disposed towards us were, nevertheless, so much occupied with their own affairs, that, deaf to our cries for help, and worn out with almost continual reproaches, all they could do was to utter words, contrive delays and make such pious sentiments as are usual concerning the dead.  When, therefore, all our affairs were in confusion, placed between the hammer and the anvil, and destitute of all human help, what happened was not a miracle ex machina but, our most merciful Father looked down on us from heaven.  After it had become only too obvious to what an extreme, the audacity, rage and ignorance of some, from whom better things might have been expected, would have gone, the Governor of all things so quickly defeated all their councils and all their attempts, that with difficulty were those able to provide for their own interests, who, three days before, were most eagerly intent on swallowing up ours.5  Of that base attempt against the Universities which – with the anger and opposition of God – some insane creatures vainly engaged in nothing at all remains except the signal disgrace and the never-to-be-forgotten insanity.  As long, moreover, as there will be men who, with copious eloquence, shall be able to transmit in eternal records the deeds and decisions of the brave and wise, together with the infamy of the wicked, its authors will probably have reason to repent of that attempt.  This was the end, this was the goal of the first solemn period of my office.

For you, gentlemen,

      Have faced the rocks of the Cyclopes.

Revive your spirits, away with sadness and fear:

Perhaps one day you will be glad to look back at what you now endure.6

As long as some of us were wavering in mind on account of the anxiety caused us by our enemies, that reason, which ought to have been used, was not perhaps employed in some cases.  But we are not legally bound to give an account for what action we took of our own accord, nor for what we could not have helped doing through the fault of someone else.  The man who is stricken with care and intent on affairs of a diversity of natures, yet not only does he manage them but he manages them with wisdom and even meets with complete success, seems to me to be above the common lot of mortals.  To have such an opinion of myself would be ungodly, to proclaim it immodest.  If I have sinned against your cause by indulging in pleasure, languishing in idleness, anxiously increasing my possessions, if I have been trapped by the allurements of the age or addicted to any of the evil arts, I do not plead against being cast for ever in the lowest ignominy from my alma mater’s bosom.  It is surely right to infer that a man, who promoted godly practices and the due and zealous execution of practices prudently established of old in all the fields of arts and science, who was responsible for the introduction of some innovations in both disciplines – for the greatest benefit of all, and with no small renown to the University – and who reckoned that no expense, no toil should be spared so that literature either checked or suppressed or drawing sustenance from other sources should be capable of advancement at least wished – relying on your good sense – to undertake something which would also meet the approval of all good men.  But to put it briefly, it has come to pass in a manner obviously divine that we should hold Him alone responsible for our universal safety and all our progress.  Even the blind could see that He has taken the accomplishment of our undertakings into His care.  Whereas we are not able to give worthy thanks – lest, we be reckoned the most ungrateful of mortals – we above others ought now at last to weigh carefully the benefits we owe to Him.  Alas!  I am ashamed when I reckon up our habits, not to say the idleness, pride, vanity and wantonness of many, and of the shameful sins of some.  Do these wrongs befit us?  Or this behaviour?  These pursuits?  Where is our shame?  Where our godliness?  Whence shall I bring evidence of gratitude?  To be frank, I fear sometimes lest the divine presence calls us to reckoning.  Wake up at last you who have at heart the glory of God, the honour of godliness and the safety of literature.  Wake up, I say, and having obtained another leader make every effort to prevent the University, which is laden with heavenly benefits, from perishing beneath a mountain of vices.  I am not going to flatter you with soft words or set you on fire with verbal torches, trivia and frivolities.  Despite my unworthiness, I plead God’s cause: may the house which is now repaired remain to the glory of the most High: lest the learned grow haughty towards our benefactor, the greatest and the best, I have counted as nothing what is considered of greatest importance among the pundits of eloquence.  I might sigh heavily over the fate of my alma mater if I did not blush to relate the unchained stupidity, idleness and arrogance of some younger men, or even the stubbornness and deplorable contempt of religion on the part of some Masters and the blindness and ignorance of others concerning the things of God.  For what godliness calls me to deplore, modesty and bashfulness forbid me to mention.  But my eyes have not been so blinded by grief or indignation that I could not see and give boundless praise every day to a great number of men, distinguished in every kind of virtuous pursuit.  Thanks be to God, the University has men of letters who are considered among the most eminent, whose untarnished godliness does not stand in need of the reward of our praise; and, if it were not too much against our customs to praise my friends to their faces, I would most willingly give due praise to these innumerable, eminent and learned men.  However, I would not want my silence to give a false impression of the amount of praise and honour due to these men, who exerted themselves with the utmost zeal in managing University business, warding off dangers, and in furthering the good and just government of the University.  As far as I am concerned without their help and counsel I would have been completely unequal to the task in hand – I would, as it were, have been a nonentity.  I give undying thanks to them all alike and whatever activities I may have accomplished which would appear to those who are innocent of evil practices as energetic and prudent I gladly and rightly acknowledge that I owe all these to them.

      Nor should I mention without grateful record those among the proctors whom I have had as associates during my term of office which is now over.7  Indeed, I would venture to swear that they never found and perhaps never will encounter anyone more ready to give them the utmost thanks.  I myself would be complaining of the injustices I incurred at the hands of men spurred on by envy and spite, and others carried away by party spirit, deliberately looking for rivalry with me, if I had not decided to forestall all opportunity of verbal strife by my impending retirement from the office which caused them to be consumed with envy.  This, however, I shall say, for it must be said; if I had not determined, in what I hope was a Christian spirit, to keep secret some matters which I could with full justice have openly scorned and avenged myself on, and to keep dark the wrongs and slander issuing from those whose friendship I never needed, it may be that they, who are deserving of another fate, would not be enjoying such peace and general quiet.  Be silent, gentlemen: what some called a lordly rule I expected and experienced to be a harsh state of slavery and a task filled with dangers and risks; so that without the support of your sincerity, loyalty and wisdom, and but for my zeal for those things which benefit the University, I would never have sustained that task which I am unequal to shouldering; nay, I did not energetically strive to escape or avoid being chained any longer to this fateful ‘Caucasus of cares’8 not because I myself wanted to have supreme control but because I was compelled to obey the commands of others.  Yet after experience of many other aspects of life – and those of various types, religious and civil – this scene of my life also has taken place; in which scene, may my conscience, and God, who is infinitely greater than my conscience, be my witnesses that my intention was not to play up the audience but to serve your interests under the auspices of God.  Whether I played my part fittingly, knowledgeably or handsomely, inspiring the audience to stamp their feet in applause, I care as much for the deeds of those who have never been born.  What I have planned or done to the glory of the great and good God, for the safety of my country, for the advantage of the University, this will be of concern to Him, who supports us petty men with His help, instructs us by His grace, protects us with His favour so that He may in His unsearchable wisdom bring to pass all His holy counsels.  Now although I firmly deny that I was aware of any wrong committed in keeping the province entrusted to my care, nevertheless I would be most foolish if I thought that I was exempt from all blame and worthy of no censure.  For this I earnestly feel triumphant that I have been given my discharge not as an old man with one foot in the grave – a dry-bones; also because at least I do not appear to have played out the last act of my life among those concerned with the affairs of the world and with public business.  That in my forty-second year I have held not the lowest position in the camp, in the senate and in the University – indeed I hold the highest office that a man of my lot and position can attain in our Commonwealth – and in all things I have conducted myself in such a manner that I am not ashamed or sorry for any of my actions; all this is to be attributed to divine grace and mercy.  For

                        Whatever I am,

Although below the riches and ability of Lucilius,

Envy will unwillingly confess

That I have lived constantly among the great.9

As long as life is given me, the sweet memory of my past life will be a great relief from cares; for to have been approved by men who have won the approval of us all and of the people – this I consider to be of some distinction.  For just as, for the period of some years, it fell to my lot to have contact and do business with men who were by far supreme in arms and counsel in our country and with that famous figure whom we know as the greatest, wisest and bravest man who ever lived: so also it was granted me to enter into the closest ties of friendship in this University with many of the dictators in the world of letters.  Every kind of man has something to admire; every kind of man has also something to cause deserved displeasure: the man about whom we can speak nothing but words of praise does not exist: neither does he who ought to be despised on all accounts.  We are men: only he, who feels that wisdom and godliness were born and will die with himself and the champions of the factions he earnestly supports, deserves to be considered to be beneath all other men.

      Now farewell, gentlemen now that: ... people have matriculated; ... admitted to the doctorate; ... to the degree of Master; ... to the degree of Bachelor;10 Professors’ salaries, lost for many years, have been maintained and paid; many offices, by no means negligible ones, sustained; the rights and privileges of the University have been defended against some efforts of its enemies; the treasury is tenfold increased; many of every rank in the University have been promoted to various honours and benefices; new exercises have been introduced and established; old ones have been duly performed; reformation of manners has been diligently undertaken in spite of the grumbling of certain profligate brawlers; labours have been numberless; besides submitting to the most enormous expense, often when brought to the brink of death on your account, I have hated the feeble powers of my body, nearly uncapable of keeping pace with my designs: the reproaches of the vulgar have been disregarded, the envy of others has been overcome: in these circumstances I wish you all prosperity and bid you farewell.  I congratulate myself on a successor who can relieve me of this burden: and you on one who is able completely to repair any injury which your affairs may have suffered through our inattention.

      Now, most learned man, I, together with this whole assembly in convocation, congratulate you on this office which you have not attained by your own efforts or desires.  Think of whichever predecessor except me you wish – the virtue of one, the learning of another, the charm of a third and my five years of office (as I have nothing greater to offer) – all these graces I sincerely wish upon you.  Continue in your life of virtue, most distinguished man, and may the University flourish under your rule.  All the rest will be a light burden if you, who excel in other arts, are not soft in the suffering of unpopularity.  The lot of virtue put on spectacle is hard: great things are expected; scarcely are they pleasing to those who are ignorant of them and whose minds are dulled.  Flies and wasps strive to mar even the most wonderful odours.  There has been no-one of outstanding virtue and learning who has not met with immediate envy.  But not knowing where the course of my speech was leading me I have taken care to break off here.  I am returning to my old work, my well-known vigils, my long-delayed studies: as for you, gentlemen, long may you live and fare you well.



1      This was delivered in Convocation on 9 October 1657.

2      The way in which Owen speaks here suggests that he was not removed from office to make way for a presbyterian divine (as has often been suggested) but rather that he had asked Richard Cromwell, the new Chancellor, to release him from the office.

3      The new Vice-Chancellor was John Conant, Rector of Exeter College.

4      Owen was often sick but he survived until 1683.

5      Owen refers to the deliberations of the Barebones Parliament during its last few days of existence when the abolition of the tithe system and the Universities seemed a real possibility.

6      Virgil, Aeneid, I, 205ff.

7      The Proctors over the five years included Francis Howell, Peter Jersey, Seth Ward, Robert Geoгges, Thomas Cracroft, Stephen Charnock, Samuel Bruen, Edward Wood, Richard Franklyn, William Carpenter, Samuel Byfield, and Samuel Conant.  Cf. Alumni Oxonienses.

8      Cf. First Oration, note 11.

9      Horace, Satires, II, i, 74ff.

10    These figures were obviously not in the MSS which were used when the Orations were first printed in 1721.  They could be supplied by a careful study of the materials available in the University Archives but I have not had time to do this.  The figures were obviously as good as or even better than the figures for the 1630’s or else there would have not been much point in mentioning them.  Cf. Burrows, Register, p. cxxx.



Sixth Oration1


      That lesser rod of office (which your great father was not ashamed to have wielded in the hands with which he well-nigh holds the balance of power in Europe itself), no mean augury of your rising renown and glory, the University of Oxford humbly lays at your feet.  If it shall appear to you that the community of the gown is behaving with greater arrogance than its status warrants and is puffed up with some sort of pride in not wishing to be under the guardian care and protection of any lesser patron, that must be attributed to the exceeding favour of him who by his embrace made our community aspire – as though forgetful of its proper estate – to all that is most august.  But there is no need to expatiate now on his merits or to recount his benefactions when all are eager to acknowledge their debt to him for all their blessings, and since he himself has been immortalised by the sacred glory of his deeds.  Therefore, it is deliberately that I refrain here from giving any formal appraisal of the wisest and most gallant of all the men whom this age, rich in heroes, has produced.  In whatever direction England finally moves it will go down to the ages that she had a ruler who had the glory of this island and the respect for religion close to his heart.  That great man had elevated the Muses as it were to the throne and the British world respected them as all but their (virtual) rulers, and although the country, tolerant of only one lord and master, has been unable to suffer the authority of letters and philosophy (over it), yet the sweet recollection of its former dignity and position compelled the University to exert itself with a laudable and guarded ambition that it might occupy the position next in degree and that – if it must serve – might serve only with some hope of authority or at the very least in a capacity befitting its worth.

      You have then, Sire, the cause of piety, learning, sobriety and moderation, which amid countless crises and through much effort and zeal, watchfulness and prayer, has been thus far preserved – and there is no better and nobler cause in the nature of mortal things – strenuously soliciting protection and praying for wholesome patronage.  That you may undertake that cause, embrace and cherish it with care and tenderness and with deliberations second only to the man to whom you are second, is the prayer and the expectation of good men everywhere.  And although this great legacy and precious trust of ancient piety and munificence may seem unable to confer honour on a man in your exalted position and eminence, yet that it may bring no shame or reproach has been assured by the gracious favour of God which the learned world has thus far found in Christ as well as by its own veneration and reverence.  The nature and extent of the tribulations which the University has suffered during recent years at the hands of men prompted by anger, hatred, and political faction; the many fluctuations of fortune in which it has been involved and the many dangers to which it has been exposed and has thus far survived; the exertion and zeal required to establish the cause of piety, religion and the disciplined way of life, battling against those who hold that nothing is superior to an idle and pleasure-packed existence; and that greater than any mortal aid which has been our acknowledged support and sustenance – all this I would rather leave unspoken than be suspected by any man of vexatious complaining.  After years of dark storm it is perhaps through you, Sire, that the University will look upon the light and sight the harbour.  These alternations are the portion of man – success born of adversity and adversity of success.  Success then under your auspices to the University itself and to whatever in it is worthy of your patronage and the praise of worthy men!  Success to this youthful company of learning and promise, this brotherhood unites in their alma mater, destined to be the nobler element of the rising generation, wherever it is heading!  Success to piety and basic sincerity, to good faith unsullied, the sister of justice, to integrity of character and to the diligence and foresight that is bold to venture on all the paths of righteousness.  While these still survive, we shall advance – and cheerfully advance – wherever the destiny of our University and divine providence, more beneficent than any accident of fortune-may summon us.



1      This was delivered in Whitehall in July 1657 after Richard Cromwell had been elected as Chancellor by Convocation.  Earlier in 1657 Owen had actively opposed the move to make Oliver Cromwell king of England but his regard for him as a man and a leader was still very strong, as the substance of this Oration shows.  For a description of the ceremony at Whitehall, see Z. Grey, An Impartial Account ..., 1739, p. 200, where Mercurius Politicus, No. 373, is cited.


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