“Forbear wine and tobacco”: advice for 17th-century university freshers revealed

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Young Cambridge scholars in the mid-17th century were urged to be “grave and sober”, moderate in dress and to avoid the evil and sin lurking in the streets of the city.

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That is according to a list of rules published for the first time in a paper by two Cambridge residents Dr Christopher Preston and Philip Oswald.

The rules, compiled by James Duport, a fellow at Trinity College in 1660, detail the conduct expected of young scholars.

They urge students to “forbear wine and tobacco” and “beware riot and intemperance”.

They also call on scholars to rise early and “take heed how you spend your time”.

Compiled at a time when taverns were regarded as dens of sin, the rules warn young men to steer clear of the evil lurking in the streets of Cambridge: “Never go into the town, except, to ye Church or Schools or Book-seller or Book-binders shop.”

Youngsters are also told: “Beware of riot, excess & intemperance, which hath drown’d & devoured ye most pregnant parts & choicest of witts.”

Students are also advised on what to wear and how to behave. “Wear no boots, nor powder your hair, let yr Garb be grave & sober, yet cheerful & pleasant.”

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The 149 handwritten rules, contained in a manuscript in Cambridge University Library, are published in a paper in the Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society.

The paper compares the manuscript to another, well-known version of the rules, taken from an original source in the Wren Library, Cambridge. 

Preston and Oswald were on the verge of publishing a paper on the rules held by the Wren Library when they were alerted to the existence of another, undated version at Cambridge University Library.

It is the first time the rules have been printed in their entirety.

Dr Christopher Preston told historyextra: “The first version, held by the Wren Library, had a page missing, so we imagined this was because it was dealing with matters of sexual conduct.

“But now we have the missing page from Cambridge, we see this is not the case.

“We felt it was a tragedy that we did not have the complete version of the rules, so it was wonderful to discover that in fact we do.

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“The rules are fascinating – they build up a picture of what was going on in the university at the time, and show how parents were anxious that their children be properly looked after.”