Students Writing Home

Before the modern postal systems, letters from the minority of people who could write were sent via merchants or friends, or by special royal or religious courier service; some larger universities had their own courier systems. But the content has not changed much. Students told their parents of how they were working hard, but also that they needed more money, as this from an Oxford student around 1220 [from The Invention of News – How the World Came to Know About Itself, by Andrew Pettegree. ]

“This is to inform you that I am studying at Oxford with the greatest diligence, but the matter of money stands greatly in the way of my promotion, as it is now two months since I spent the last of what you sent me. The city is expensive and makes many demands: I have to rent lodgings, buy necessaries, and provide for many other things which I cannot now specify. Wherefore I respectfully beg your paternity that by the promptings of divine pity you may assist me, so that I may be able to complete what I have well begun. “

I wonder what those ‘many other things’ were? A book I read years ago of boys studying in Nuremberg were criticised by their mother for drinking so much beer – they claimed that reading made them thirsty. Were they reading aloud or just being modern students?

From the same source is a parent writing to his student son at Orleans:

“I have recently discovered that you live dissolutely and slothfully, preferring license to restraint and play to work, and strumming a guitar while the others are at their studies, whence it happens that you have read but one volume of law while your more industrious companions have read several. Wherefore I have decided to exhort you herewith to repent utterly of your dissolute and careless ways, that you may no longer be called a waster and that your shame may be called to good repute.”

So it seems the father had other sources of knowledge. And Orleans was different to Nuremberg – there the dangers in the musical line were about hanging out with tambourine players. But it seems that musicians have been seen as dangerous for a long time – that didn’t just happen with rock’n’roll. But Elvis with a tambourine?

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