THE ORIGIN OF LITERARY DEGREES.
The practice of conferring honors of literary institutions on individuals of distinguished erudition, commenced in the twelfth century, when the Emperor Lothaire, having found in Italy a copy of the Roman law, ordained that it should be publicly expounded in the schools; and that he might give encouragement to the study, he further ordered that the public professors of this law should be dignified with the title of Doctors. The first person created a doctor, after this ordinance of the Emperor, was Bulgarius Hugolinus, who was greatly distinguished for his learning and literary labors. Not long afterwards, the practice of creating doctors was borrowed from the lawyers by divines also, who in their schools publicly taught divinity, and conferred degrees upon those who had made great proficiency in science. The plan of conferring degrees in divinity, was first adopted in the Universities of Bologna, Oxford, and Paris. (See Mather’s Magnalia, Christi Americana, B, IV, p. 134.)
It is remarkable that the celebrated Dr. Samuel Johnson, when he had become eminent in literature, could not obtain the degree of Master of Arts, from Trinity College, Dublin, though powerful interests were made in his behalf for this purpose, by Mr. Pope, Lord Gower, and others.—Instances of the failure of similar applications, made in favor of characters still more distinguished than Johnson then was, are also on record. So cautious and reserved were literary institutions, a little more than half a century ago, in bestowing their honors.
Miller’s Life of John Rodgers.
[excerpted from The Christian Observer, vol. xxix, no. 3 (19 January 1850): page 1, column 4.]