'Goe not a gadding': Freshers' tips 1660 style

Cambridge guidance from seventeenth century advises students not to powder their hair or sleep in on Sundays - and to avoid football

Today’s papers are full of well meaning advice for freshers: what to wear, how to study and how not to get homesick. But according to documents found in the archives at Cambridge University, not all that much seems to have changed in the last 350 years for anxious students starting at university for the first time.

“Goe not a gadding and gossiping from Chamber to Chamber”, runs one rule laid out in James Duport’s list of guidelines for “Pupils & Schollers”, which was compiled in 1660, the same year Charles II ascended to the throne. But for the spelling, it could have been written in time for fresher’s week 2013.

Duport was a fellow at Trinity College, and seems to have been preoccupied with the proper behaviour of the young men studying under him. He has rules concerning partying - “Beware of riot, excess & intemperance, which hath drown’d & devoured ye most pregnant parts & choicest of witts” - and nights out in the fleshpots of Restoration Cambridge: “Never go into the town, except, to ye Church or Schools or Book-seller or Book-binders shop.”

He also had one or two tips on fashion: “Wear no boots, nor powder your hair, let yr Garb be grave & sober, yet cheerful & pleasant,” he says.

Furthermore, “when you reade or speake in your Tutors Chamber, or else where take heed of picking your Nose, or putting your Hatt or Hand to your face, or any such odd, uncouth, or unseemly gesture”. Some habits never change.

Of course, not every one of Duport’s rules is so applicable for students of today. As a classicist, he suggests that his students “speake Latine alwayes in the Hall”, which is perhaps impractical for the modern era. He was especially concerned with his pupils’ spiritual lives: “Use to be at Chappell at the beginning & come not drooping in (after the uncouth & ungodly manner of some) when almost all is done.”

Football was to be avoided, “it being… a rude, boistrous exercise, & fitter for Clownes then for Schollers”, while tennis too could be overdone (“Use Tennis sparingly and never immediately after meales, it being then too violent & too stirring”).

He seems not to have been completely fierce, however. According to CD Preston and PH Oswald, the two Cambridge alumni who researched Duport’s rules and published them in the Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, his “exuberant language” demonstrates an almost indulgent “understanding of the natural slothfulness and waywardness of youth enjoying a first taste of freedom away from the parental home”.

The rules exist in two versions, one in a small commonplace book – a little like a scrapbook – in the Wren Library at Trinity itself, and the other, which has few more rules, exists as a manuscript owned by Cambridge University Library. Both are handwritten. Interestingly, the Wren Library version contains various other texts, including “scurrilous verses about a Quaker accused of attempted buggery with a mare”.

Duport had a modicum of fame at the time, and as the only royalist academic at Trinity, he was an especially popular choice to teach the offspring of rich royalist families. Above all, claim Preston and Oswald, these rules are a “portrait of an energetic fatherly figure cajoling a group of feckless younger men to work hard and keep safe” - and not a million miles from the welfare officers at the universities of today.

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