When I acquired, some years ago, the voluminous transcript by the late Colonel Chester,
D.C.L., of the Matriculation Registers of the University of Oxford, I little contemplated,
the vastness of the task that I was destined, in its publication, to undertake. As is not
unfrequently the case, I found that the materials which I proposed to edit required virtual
reconstruction, while the supplementary matter that I have myself added has increased so
largely their bulk and their value as to justify me in claiming for the result of my labours the
status of an original work.
The arrangement of the register on my own plan, in alphabetical order, (fn. 1) with the
different forms of each name grouped under that which predominates, involved in itself the
entire re-casting of Colonel Chester's MS., which was further necessitated by my incorporation
of the early admission entries and of the names of graduates respectively, which were not
included by my predecessor. This, however, only represents the initial and, so to speak,
mechanical portion of my task. It has been with me the labour of years to form and
perfect my MS. collections relating to Members of the Inns of Court, Knights, and
Members of Parliament. In these absolutely unique collections, I possess the materials for
illustrating and annotating the Oxford Matriculation Register to an extent and with an
accuracy that no one else, not even the authorities of the University themselves, can hope to
rival. But I did not rest content even with these collections. The close association of the
University with the Church led me further to undertake the transcription of some 150,00
'Institutions to benefices' since the Reformation, and 'Compositions for first-fruits,' which
I have caused to be arranged in alphabetical order and also under parishes. Thus the
student who consults these volumes will find placed at his disposal, in the handiest and
simplest form, facts which, it is not too much to say, he could only have acquired, if
acquired at all, by an amount of toil that would be virtually prohibitive for the individual
Strange though it may sound to the general public, this is also the only work which
contains a complete and alphabetical list of Oxford graduates from 1500-1885, just double
the period covered by the University authorities, who have only published the names of
graduates from 1660-1850.
In this second series, comprising the earlier registers, I have been led by the desire to
perfect still further my self-imposed task, and by the belief that my additions will be here
even more valued, to extend considerably the scope of annotation. Far be it from me,
however, to claim that my annotation is exhaustive. I would rather lay stress on the fact
that it is based on exclusive information. The Inns of Court Registers, for instance, dovetail
in a remarkable manner with the University records, and thus supply me with the means of
ascertaining parentage, etc., where the matriculation register is dumb. The information I
give might easily be supplemented from printed and familiar sources, and to many of these I
content myself with giving references, especially in the case of well-known men. For it is,
after all, in the facts it supplies as to personages who, though of minor biographical
importance, vastly preponderate in these pages, that the chief value and interest of this work
will, I trust, be found. Genealogists are painfully aware of the difficulty, even when a
pedigree is established and completed, of clothing its somewhat arid skeleton with flesh and
blood. Here they find, ready to their hands, the means of ascertaining the academical,
clerical, legal, or parliamentary career of all those members of a family who entered the
University of Oxford, and so of 'following up their men' and investing their pedigree with
a living interest which it could never otherwise acquire.
Even the dry bones of a matriculation register are instinct with life to the student of
history. In so simple an entry, for instance, as that of 'Charles Carty, son of an esquire in
Co. Cork,' who matriculated in 1602 (vide McCarty, page 956), he will be able, probably, to
recognise Cormac (alias Charles), afterwards Viscount Muskerry, 'a youth of great expectation among the Irish,' who was virtually kept at Oxford as a hostage for his father, Cormac
McDermod (McCarty), 'the powerfullest man in Munster' (Carew Papers). This is but
one of the entries relating to the sons of Irish chieftains sent to Oxford (Ath., ii. 146) partly
to/ serve as pledges for their fathers' loyalty, and partly to be Anglicised, if I may use the word,
and removed from their native associations. It is one of the points in which the age of Queen
Elizabeth approaches the reign of Queen Victoria, that with each extension of the British
Empire the chiefs and princes of those countries that are brought beneath its influence or its
sway send their sons and relatives at times to become acquainted with English life under the
auspices of the University of Oxford.
Another matriculation entry to which I may call attention is that of William Stanley,
who (with his brothers Francis and Ferdinando) was admitted to St. John's College as 'comitis
fil.' in 1572, then aged eleven, and became sixth Earl of Derby on the death of his said
brother Ferdinando, 16 April, 1594. A special interest attaches to his name from the fact
that, as has been lately pointed out by Mr. James Greenstreet, he was busily engaged 'in
penning comedies for the commoun players' at the close of the century (see letter of 30 June,
1599, in State Papers, Domestic, Elizabeth, Vol. 271, No. 34), after returning from his adventurous travels. According to a MS. history of the family, his brother Francis is described as
'an active and a towarde younge gentleman, who died younge' (Harl. MS., 1997, fo. 78). Is
is not a little remarkable that Wood should have omitted such distinguished alumni as these
from his 'Athenæ Oxonienses'; and it is singular that while he notices Sir Charles Danvers.
in Fasti i. 250, he omits his celebrated brothers, Henry, Earl of Danby, and Sir John Danvers 'the regicide.' From these instances it will readily be realized that even the Athenae is by no means exhaustive, and the registers still afford a wide field for research.
But I must not allow myself to dwell too long on such examples as these. The snare
of annotation is, indeed, notorious; and it has had for me, as for other students, an all-too-dangerous fascination. Even within the limits to which I have endeavoured to restrict
myself, the labour involved has been far in excess of anything I could have originally
foreseen, and has, in fact, transcended all my past experience. I can only trust that the
result may be deemed commensurate with the toil, and may meet with favourable appreciation
from those best qualified to judge. I have, at least, succeeded in escaping the fate that
awaits too often the projectors of such vast undertakings, of whom my fellow-antiquary Cole,
'after quoting Dr. Johnson's striking reflection ("Rambler," No. 71) on the tendency of
antiquaries to forget the brevity of human life,' proceeds thus sadly to remark: 'However
reasonable the observation may be, there may be many palliatives in favour of the dilatory
antiquary. It is to be presumed he would make his work as perfect as he could—collect all
the materials necessary for that purpose. In the meantime, years slide from under us, and
we leave our collections to others to piece together, who have not had the drudgery to collect,
but have all ready to their hands.'
If it be thought that I have insisted too much on the time and labour required for the
production of such a work as this, I may confidently appeal to the opinion of experts, and
to the frank recognition of the fact by the press and by individuals alike. But it is for no
mere self-glorification that I lay such stress upon the point; it is rather to contrast it, as I
am sadly compelled to, with the meagreness of the support accorded me in this undertaking.
I may here, perhaps, be permitted to quote the Notes and Queries reviewer on the completion
of the first series at the end of 1888:
'It is, however, fair to point out that in Mr. Foster's list does not appear a single club, English or
American, that while the royal library at the Hague, and thirteen American libraries secure the book, royal,
parliamentary, and municipal patronage is refused to it in England, and that the Sydney public library is the
only institution in any English colony to support the undertaking. It is, indeed, remarkable that no name of
noblemen, with the exception of two Bishops, or Member of Parliament, is on the list. Of Mr. Foster's
labours, we can only say that they are of national importance, and that what reward or recompense a public
or private recognition can afford, is his right.'-7th S. VII., January 5, 1889. (fn. 2)
The labour and expense involved, indeed, has been indefensible on commercial
principles, but it was not on strictly commercial principles that I entered on my self-imposed
task. Had I done so, I may frankly confess it must have been abandoned at the very outset.
In spite, therefore, of every discouragement, I have carried out the work to its completion,
and have even annotated the second series more elaborately than the first.
And now let me turn to a pleasanter subject, and render my thanks to all those friends
who have so generously supported me throughout. It is only just to my original subscribers,
both librarians and private individuals, to record the fact that for these volumes the public,
are largely indebted to their financial co-operation. When the apathy to 'Oxford's Roll of
Fame' was made evident by the paucity of my subscribers, I appealed to my supporters to
increase their subscriptions, and so to reduce the very heavy pecuniary deficit I had incurred.
To that appeal they almost all assented, and although I must remain the chief sufferer from
the apathy to which I have referred, I am glad to tender them my cordial thanks for
encouraging me—nay, more, for enabling me, by their increased subscriptions, to place at
their disposal, and at that of Oxford men and genealogical students all the world over, an
absolutely unrivalled repertory of genealogical information.
To the editor of a college or public school register this work will be simply invaluable,
if only for its alphabetical lists of matriculations and degrees, though I trust that the bulk of
the annotations will be equally welcome; and though I have exercised the greatest caution in
attaching the institutions to livings to alumni identical in name, I would, as has been done
in the case of the degrees (O.H.S., xii, p. 5), repeat the note of caution. I trust that the
appearance of this work will incite all the colleges to issue lists of their members, annotated
from their own (college) records, and arranged upon some uniform plan, so that the student
may eventually have access to the names of those Oxford men who neither matriculated nor
graduated at the university and whose names therefore do not occur in this work.
Looking back upon my past labours for the best thirty years of my life, I confess to a
feeling that the time has come when I am loth to pursue them with the same vigour. It is
almost physically impossible for the same man to undertake (single-handed) another work of
this exhausting nature, or to renew the 'self-denying ordinance' that I have found it to entail.
It is only right that honest labour should bring the labourer either profit or honourable
distinction; but it would really seem as if in genealogy the more conscientious and
painstaking the worker, the less his prospect of success or acknowledgment. Official fiction
and flattery are welcomed, while truth is left to be its own reward. I am not, however,
without the hope that I have done something to found a school of scientific genealogy, and
that the younger and more energetic students, who are already doing such excellent work,
will reap the benefit of my labours, and in their turn follow my lead. It will, at least, be
always to me a source of pride and a pleasant memory that I have associated myself in my
magnum opus with the historic University of Oxford, that I have been, in a humble way,
privileged to continue the work of Wood, of Hearne, of Rawlinson, and others of her
devoted alumni, and that I have earned by so doing the warm gratitude of those who
cherish in their hearts the traditions of her glorious past.
21, Boundary Road, London, N.W.
POSTSCRIPT (Easter, 1892).—It is noteworthy that Wood issued his 'Athenæ Oxonienses' in 1691 and 1692, and that by a rare coincidence my 'Alumni Oxonienses' was completed in 1891 and 1892.