Andrew Lang

Part 2 out of 2

In order to moisten his clay, he desired his friend Will Gardner, a
boatman of Oxford, who was accustomed to row him down the river, to
put now and then a bottle of ale by his grave when he came that way;
an injunction which was punctually complied with.

Oxford lost in Hearne's time many of her old buildings. It is said,
with a dreadful appearance of truth, that Oxford is now to lose some
of the few that are left. Corpus and Merton, if they are not belied,
mean to pull down the old houses opposite Merton, halls and houses
consecrated to the memory of Antony Wood, and to build lecture-rooms
AND HOUSES FOR MARRIED DONS on the site. The topic, for one who is
especially bound to pray for Merton (and who now does so with unusual
fervour), is most painful. A view of the "proposed new buildings,"
in the Exhibition of the Royal Academy (1879), depresses the soul.
In the same spirit Hearne says (March 28th, 1671), "It always grieves
me when I go through Queen's College, to see the ruins of the old
chapell next to High Street, the area of which now lies open (the
building being most of it pulled down) and trampled upon by dogs,
etc., as if the ground had never been consecrated. Nor do the
Queen's Coll. people take any care, but rather laught at it when 'tis
mentioned." In 1722 "the famous postern-gate called the Turl Gate"
(a corruption for Thorold Gate) was "pulled down by one Dr. Walker,
who lived by it, and pretended that it was a detriment to his house.
As long ago as 1705, they had pulled down the building of Peckwater
quadrangle, in Ch. Ch." Queen's also "pulled down the old refectory,
which was on the west side of the old quadrangle, and was a fine old
structure that I used to admire much." It appears that the College
was also anxious to pull down the chamber of King Henry V. This is a
strange craze for destruction, that some time ago endangered the
beautiful library of Merton, a place where one can fancy that Chaucer
or Wyclif may have studied. Oxford will soon have little left of the
beauty and antiquity of Patey's Quad in Merton, as represented in our
illustration. What the next generation will think of the
multitudinous new buildings, it is not hard to conjecture. Imitative
experiments, without style or fancy in structure or decoration, and
often more than medievally uncomfortable, they will seem but
evidences of Oxford's love of destruction. People of Hearne's way of
thinking, people who respect antiquity, protest in vain, and, like
Hearne, must be content sadly to enjoy what is left of grace and
dignity. He died before Oxford had quite become the Oxford of
Gibbon's autobiography.


Oxford has usually been described either by her lovers or her
malcontents. She has suffered the extremes of filial ingratitude and
affection. There is something in the place that makes all her
children either adore or detest her; and it is difficult, indeed, to
pick out the truth concerning her past social condition from the
satires and the encomiums. Nor is it easy to say what qualities in
Oxford, and what answering characteristics in any of her sons, will
beget the favourable or the unfavourable verdict. Gibbon, one might
have thought, saw the sunny, and Johnson the shady, side of the
University. With youth, and wealth, and liberty, with a set of three
beautiful rooms in that "stately pile, the new building of Magdalen
College," Gibbon found nothing in Oxford to please him--nothing to
admire, nothing to love. From his poor and lofty rooms in Pembroke
Gate-tower the hypochondriac Johnson--rugged, anxious, and conscious
of his great unemployed power--looked down on a much more pleasant
Oxford, on a city and on schools that he never ceased to regard with
affection. This contrast is found in the opinions of our
contemporaries. One man will pass his time in sneering at his tutors
and his companions, in turning listlessly from study to study, in
following false tendencies, and picking up scraps of knowledge which
he despises, and in later life he will detest his University. There
are wiser and more successful students, who yet bear away a grudge
against the stately mother of us all, that so easily can disregard
our petty spleens and ungrateful rancour. Mr. Lowe's most bitter
congratulatory addresses to the "happy Civil Engineers," and his
unkindest cuts at ancient history, and at the old philosophies which
"on Argive heights divinely sung," move her not at all. Meanwhile,
the majority of men are more kindly compact, and have more natural
affections, and on them the memory of their earliest friendships, and
of that beautiful environment which Oxford gave to their years of
youth, is not wholly wasted.

There are more Johnsons, happily, in this matter, than Gibbons.
There is little need to repeat the familiar story of Johnson's life
at Pembroke. He went up in the October term of 1728, being then
nineteen years of age, and already full of that wide and
miscellaneous classical reading which the Oxford course, then as now,
somewhat discouraged. "His figure and manner appeared strange" to
the company in which he found himself; and when he broke silence it
was with a quotation from Macrobius. To his tutor's lectures, as a
later poet says, "with freshman zeal he went"; but his zeal did not
last out the discovery that the tutor was "a heavy man," and the fact
that there was "sliding on Christ Church Meadow." Have any of the
artists who repeat, with perseverance, the most famous scenes in the
Doctor's life--drawn him sliding on Christ Church meadows, sliding in
these worn and clouted shoes of his, and with that figure which even
the exercise of skating could not have made "swan-like," to quote the
young lady in "Pickwick"? Johnson was "sconced" in the sum of
twopence for cutting lecture; and it is rather curious that the
amount of the fine was the same four hundred years earlier, when
Master Stoke, of Catte Hall (whose career we touched on in the second
of these sketches), deserted his lessons. It was when he was thus
sconced that Johnson made that reply which Boswell preserves "as a
specimen of the antithetical character of his wit"--"Sir, you have
sconced me twopence for non-attendance on a lecture not worth a

Sconcing seems to have been the penalty for offences very various in
degree. "A young fellow of Balliol College having, upon some
discontent, cut his throat very dangerously, the master of his
College sent his servitor to the buttery-book to sconce him five
shillings; and," says the Doctor, "tell him that the next time he
cuts his throat I'll sconce him ten!" This prosaic punishment might
perhaps deter some Werthers from playing with edged tools.

From Boswell's meagre account of Johnson's Oxford career we gather
some facts which supplement the description of Gibbon. The future
historian went into residence twenty-three years after Johnson
departed without taking his degree. Gibbon was a gentleman commoner,
and was permitted by the easy discipline of Magdalen to behave just
as he pleased. He "eloped," as he says, from Oxford, as often as he
chose, and went up to town, where he was by no means the ideal of
"the Manly Oxonian in London." The fellows of Magdalen, possessing a
revenue which private avarice might easily have raised to 30,000
pounds, took no interest in their pupils. Gibbon's tutor read a few
Latin plays with his pupil, in a style of dry and literal
translation. The other fellows, less conscientious, passed their
lives in tippling and tattling, discussing the "Oxford Toasts," and
drinking other toasts to the king over the water. "Some duties,"
says Gibbon, "may possibly have been imposed on the poor scholars,"
but "the velvet cap was the cap of liberty," and the gentleman
commoner consulted only his own pleasure. Johnson was a poor
scholar, and on him duties were imposed. He was requested to write
an ode on the Gunpowder Plot, and Boswell thinks "his vivacity and
imagination must have produced something fine." He neglected,
however, with his usual indolence, this opportunity of producing
something fine. Another exercise imposed on the poor was the
translation of Mr. Pope's "Messiah," in which the young Pembroke man
succeeded so well that, by Mr. Pope's own generous confession, future
ages would doubt whether the English or the Latin piece was the
original. Johnson complained that no man could be properly inspired
by the Pembroke "coll," or college beer, which was then commonly
drunk by undergraduates, still guiltless of Rhine wines, and of
collecting Chinese monsters.

Carmina vis nostri scribant meliora poetae
Ingenium jubeas purior baustus alat.

In spite of the muddy beer, the poverty, and the "bitterness mistaken
for frolic," with which Johnson entertained the other undergraduates
round Pembroke gate, he never ceased to respect his college. "His
love and regard for Pembroke he entertained to the last," while of
his old tutor he said, "a man who becomes Jorden's pupil becomes his
son." Gibbon's sneer is a foil to Johnson's kindliness. "I applaud
the filial piety which it is impossible for me to imitate . . . To
the University of Oxford I acknowledge no obligations, and she will
as cheerfully renounce me for a son, as I am willing to disclaim her
for a mother."

Johnson was a man who could take the rough with the smooth, and, to
judge by all accounts, the Oxford of the earlier half of the
eighteenth century was excessively rough. Manners were rather
primitive: a big fire burned in the centre of Balliol Hall, and
round this fire, one night in every year, it is said that all the
world was welcome to a feast of ale and bread and cheese. Every
guest paid his shot by singing a song or telling a story; and one can
fancy Johnson sharing in this barbaric hospitality. "What learning
can they have who are destitute of all principles of civil
behaviour?" says a writer from whose journal (printed in 1746)
Southey has made some extracts. The diarist was a Puritan of the old
leaven, who visited Oxford shortly before Johnson's period, and who
speaks of "a power of gross darkness that may be felt constantly
prevailing in that place of wisdom and of subtlety, but not of God .
. . In this wicked place the scholars are the rudest, most giddy, and
unruly rabble, and most mischievous." But this strange and
unfriendly critic was a Nonconformist, in times when good Churchmen
showed their piety by wrecking chapels and "rabbling" ministers. In
our days only the Davenport Brothers and similar professors of
strange creeds suffer from the manly piety of the undergraduates.

Of all the carping, cross-grained, scandal-loving, Whiggish
assailants of Alma Mater, the author of Terrae Filius was the most
persistent. The first little volume which contains the numbers of
this bi-weekly periodical (printed for R. Franklin, under Tom's
Coffee-house, in Russell Street, Covent Garden, MDCCXXVI.) is not at
all rare, and is well worth a desultory reading. What strikes one
most in Terrae Filius is the religious discontent of the bilious
author. One thinks, foolishly of course, of even Georgian Whigs as
orthodox men, at least in their undergraduate days. The mere aspect
of Mr. Leslie Stephen's work on the philosophers of the eighteenth
century is enough to banish this pleasing delusion. The Deists and
Freethinkers had their followers in Johnson's day among the
undergraduates, though scepticism, like Whiggery, was unpopular, and
might be punished. Johnson says, that when he was a boy he was a lax
TALKER, rather than a lax THINKER, against religion; "but lax talking
against religion at Oxford would not be suffered." The author of
Terrae Filius, however, never omits a chance of sneering at our
faith, and at the Church of England as by law established. In his
description of the exercises of the Club of Wits, only one
respectably clever epigram is quoted, beginning, -

"Since in religion all men disagree,
And some one God believe, some thirty, and some three."

This production "was voted heretical," and burned by the hands of the
small-beer drawer, while the author was expelled. In the author's
advice to freshmen, he gives a not uninteresting sketch of these
rudimentary creatures. The chrysalis, as described by the preacher
of a University sermon, "never, in his wildest moments, dreamed of
being a butterfly"; but the public schoolboy of the last century
sometimes came up in what he conceived to be gorgeous attire. "I
observe, in the first place, that you no sooner shake off the
authority of the birch but you affect to distinguish yourselves from
your dirty school-fellows by a new drugget, a pair of prim ruffles, a
new bob-wig, and a brazen-hilted sword." As soon as they arrived in
Oxford, these youths were hospitably received "amongst a parcel of
honest, merry fellows, who think themselves obliged, in honour and
common civility, to make you DAMNABLE DRUNK, and carry you, as they
call it, a CORPSE to bed." When this period of jollity is ended, the
freshman must declare his views. He must see that he is in the
fashion; "and let your declarations be, that you are CHURCHMEN, and
that you believe as the CHURCH believes. For instance, you have
subscribed the Thirty-nine Articles; but never venture to explain the
sense in which you subscribed them, because there are various senses;
so many, indeed, that scarce two men understand them in the same, and
no TRUE CHURCHMAN in that which the words bear, and in that which
they were written."

This is pretty plain speaking, and Terrae Filius enforces, by an
historical example, the dangers of even political freethought. In
1714 the Constitution Club kept King George's birthday. The
Constitutional Party was then the name which the Whigs took to
themselves, though, thanks to the advance of civilisation, the Tories
have fallen back upon the same. The Conservative undergraduates
attacked the club, sallying forth from their Jacobite stronghold in
Brasenose (as seen in our illustration), where the "silly statue," as
Hearne calls it, was about that time erected. The Whigs took refuge
in Oriel, the Tories assaulted the gates, and an Oriel man, firing
out of his window, wounded a gownsman of Brasenose. The Tories,
"under terror of this dangerous and unexpected resistance, retreated
from Oriel." Yet such was the academic strength of the Jacobites and
the Churchmen, that a Freethinker, or a "Constitutioner," could
scarcely take his degree.

Terrae Filius, who lashes the dons for covetousness, greed,
dissipation, rudeness, and stupidity, often corroborates the
Puritan's report about the bad manners of the undergraduates. Yet
Oxford, then as now, did not lack her exquisites, and her admirers of
the fair. Terrae Filius thus describes a "smart," as these dandies
were called--Mr. Frippery:

"He is one of those who come in their academical undress, every
morning between ten and eleven, to Lyne's Coffee-house; after which
he takes a turn or two upon the park, or under Merton Wall, whilst
the dull REGULARS are at dinner in their hall, according to statute;
about one he dines alone in his chamber upon a boiled chicken or some
pettitoes; after which he allows himself an hour at least to dress
in, to make his afternoon's appearance at Lyne's; from whence he
adjourns to Hamilton's about five; from whence (after strutting about
the room for a while, and drinking a dram of citron), he goes to
chapel, to show how genteelly he dresses, and how well he can chaunt.
After prayers he drinks tea with some celebrated toast, and then
waits upon her to Magdalen Grove or Paradise Garden, and back again.
He seldom eats any supper, and never reads anything but novels and

The dress of this hero and his friends must have made the streets
more gay than do the bright-coloured flannel coats of our boating

"He is easily distinguished by a stiff silk gown, which rustles in
the wind as he struts along; a flax tie-wig, or sometimes a long
natural one, which reaches down below his [well, say below his
waist]; a broad bully-cock'd hat, or a square cap of about twice the
usual size; white stockings; thin Spanish leather shoes. His clothes
lined with tawdry silk, and his shirt ruffled down the bosom as well
as at the wrists."

These "smarts" cut no such gallant figure when they first arrived in
Oxford, with their fathers (rusty old country farmers), in linsey-
woolsey coats, greasy, sun-burnt heads of hair, clouted shoes, yarn
stockings, flapping hats, with silver hatbands, and long muslin neck-
cloths run with red at the bottom.

After this satire of the undergraduates we may look at the
contemporary account-book of a Proctor. In 1752 Gilbert White of
Selborne was Proctor, and may have fined young Gibbon of Magdalen,
who little thought that Oxford boasted an official who was to become
an English classic. White paid some attention to dress, and got a
feather-topp'd, grizzled wig from London; cost him 2 pounds, 5s. He
bought "mountain wine, very old and good," and had his crest engraved
on his teaspoons, that everything might be handsome about him. When
he treated the Masters of Arts in Oriel Hall they ate a hundred
pounds weight of biscuits--not, we trust, without marmalade. "A bowl
of rum-punch from Horsman's" cost half a crown. Fancy a jolly
Proctor sending out for bowls of rum-punch, and that in April! Eggs
cost a penny each, and "three oranges and a mouse-trap" ninepence.

White, a generous man, gave the Vice-Chancellor "seven pounds of
double-refined white sugar." I like to fancy my learned friend, the
Proctor, going to the present Vice-Chancellor's with a donation of
white sugar! Manners have certainly changed in the direction of
severity. "Share of the expense for Mr. Butcher's release" came to
ten and sixpence. What had Mr. Butcher been doing? The Proctor went
"to Blenheim with Nan," and it cost him fifteen and sixpence.
Perhaps she was one of the "Oxford Toasts" of a contemporary satire.
Strawberries were fourpence a basket on the ninth of June; and on
November 6, White lost one shilling "at cards, in common room." He
went from Selborne to Oxford, "in a post-chaise with Jenny Croke";
and he gave Jenny a "round Chinaturene." Tea cost eight shillings a
pound in 1752, while rum-punch was but half a crown a bowl. White's
highest terminal battels were but 12 pounds, though he was a
hospitable man, and would readily treat the other Proctor to a bowl
of punch. It is well to remember White and Johnson when the Gibbon
of that or any other day bewails the intellectual poverty of Oxford.


At any given time a large number of poets may be found among the
undergraduates at Oxford, and the younger dons. It is not easy to
say what becomes of all these pious bards, who are a marked and
peculiar people while they remain in residence. The undergraduate
poet is a not uninteresting study. He wears his hair long, and
divides it down the middle. His eye is wild and wandering, and his
manner absent, especially when he is called on to translate a piece
of an ancient author in lecture. He does not "read" much, in the
technical sense of the term, but consumes all the novels that come in
his way, and all the minor poetry. His own verses the poet may be
heard declaiming aloud, at unholy midnight hours, so that his
neighbours have been known to break his windows with bottles, and
then to throw in all that remained of the cold meats of a supper
party, without interfering with the divine afflatus. When the
college poet has composed a sonnet, ode, or what not, he sends it to
the Editor of the Nineteenth Century, and it returns to him after
many days. At last it appears in print, in College Rhymes, a
collection of mild verse, which is (or was) printed at regular or
irregular intervals, and was never seen except in the rooms of
contributors. The poet also speaks at the Union, where his
sentiments are either revolutionary, or so wildly conservative that
he looks on Magna Charta as the first step on the path that leads to
England's ruin. As a politician, the undergraduate poet knows no
mean between Mr. Peter Taylor and King John. He has been known to
found a Tory club, and shortly afterwards to swallow the formulae of
Mr. Bradlaugh.

The life of the poet is, not unnaturally, one long warfare with his
dons. He cannot conform himself to pedantic rules, which demand his
return to college before midnight. Though often the possessor of a
sweet vein of clerical and Kebleian verse, the poet does not
willingly attend chapel; for indeed, as he sits up all night, it is
cruel to expect him to arise before noon. About the poet's late
habits a story is told, which seems authentic. A remarkable and
famous contemporary singer was known to his fellow-undergraduates
only by this circumstance, that his melodious voice was heard
declaiming anapaests all through the ambrosial night. When the voice
of the singer was lulled, three sharp taps were heard in the silence.
This noise was produced by the bard's Scotch friend and critic in
knocking the ashes out of his pipe. These feasts of reason are
almost incompatible with the early devotion which, strangely enough,
Shelley found time and inclination to attend.

Now it is (or was) the belief of undergraduates that you might break
the decalogue and the laws of man in every direction with safety and
the approval of the dons, if you only went regularly to chapel. As
the poet cannot do this (unless he is a "sleepless man"), his
existence is a long struggle with the fellows and tutors of his
college. The manners of poets vary, of course, with the tastes of
succeeding generations. I have heard of two (Thyrsis and Corydon)
"who lived in Oxford as if it were a large country-house."

Of other singers, the latest of the heavenly quire, it is invidiously
said that they build shrines to Blue China and other ceramic
abominations of the Philistine, and worship the same in their rooms.
Of this sort it is not the moment to speak. Time has not proved
them. But the old poets of ten years ago lived a militant life; they
rarely took good classes (though they competed industriously for the
Newdigate, writing in the metre of Dolores), and it not uncommonly
happened that they left Oxford without degrees. They were often very
agreeable fellows, as long as one was in no way responsible for them;
but it was almost impossible--human nature being what it is--that
they should be much appreciated by tutors, proctors, and heads of
houses. How could these worthy, learned, and often kind and
courteous persons know when they were dealing with a lad of genius,
and when they had to do with an affected and pretentious donkey?

These remarks are almost the necessary preface to a consideration of
the existence of Shelley and Landor at Oxford--the Oxford of 1793-
1810. Whatever the effects may be on Shelleyan commentators, it must
be said that, to the donnish eye, Percy Bysshe Shelley was nothing
more or less than the ordinary Oxford poet, of the quieter type. In
Walter Savage Landor, authority recognised a noisier and rowdier
specimen of the same class. People who have to do with hundreds of
young men at a time are unavoidably compelled to generalise. No don,
that was a don, could have seen Shelley or Landor as they are
described to us without hastily classing them in the category of
poets who would come to no good and do little credit to the college.
Landor went up to Trinity College in 1793. It was the dreadful year
of the Terror, when good Englishmen hated the cruel murderers of
kings and queens. Landor was a good Englishman, of course, and he
never forgave the French the public assassination of Marie
Antoinette. But he must needs be a Jacobin, and wear his own
unpowdered hair--the Poet thus declaring himself at once in the
regular recognised fashion. "For a portion of the time he certainly
read hard, but the results he kept to himself; for here, as at Rugby,
he declined everything in the shape of competition." (Now
competition is the essence of modern University study.) "Though I
wrote better Latin verses than any undergraduate or graduate in the
University," says Landor, "I could never be persuaded by my tutor or
friends to contend for any prize whatever." The pleasantest and most
profitable hours that Landor could remember at Oxford "were passed
with Walter Birch in the Magdalen Walk, by the half-hidden Cherwell."
Hours like these are indeed the pleasantest and most profitable that
any of us pass at Oxford. The one duty which that University, by
virtue of its very nature, has never neglected, is the assembling of
young men together from all over England, and giving them three years
of liberty of life, of leisure, and of discussion, in scenes which
are classical and peaceful. For these hours, the most fruitful of
our lives, we are grateful to Oxford, as long as friendship lives;
that is, as long as life and memory remain with us. And, "if
anything endure, if hope there be," our conscious existence in the
after-world would ask for no better companions than those who walked
with us by the Isis and the Cherwell.

Landor called himself "a Jacobin," though his own letters show that
he was as far as the most insolent young "tuft" from relishing
doctrines of human equality. He had the reputation, however, of
being not only a Jacobin, but "a mad Jacobin"; too mad for Southey,
who was then young, and a Liberal. "Landor was obliged to leave the
University for shooting at one of the Fellows through a window," is
the account which Southey gave of Landor's rustication. Now fellows
often put up with a great deal of horse-play. There is scarcely a
more touching story than that of the don who for the first time found
himself "screwed up," and fastened within his own oak. "What am I to
do?" the victim asked his sympathising scout, who was on the other,
the free side of the oak. "Well, sir, Mr. Muff, sir, when 'e's
screwed up 'e sends for the blacksmith," replied the servant. What a
position for a man having authority, to be in the constant habit of
sending for the blacksmith! Fellows have not very unfrequently been
fired at with Roman candles, or bombarded with soda-water bottles
full of gunpowder. One has also known sparrows shot from Balliol
windows on the Martyrs' Memorial of our illustration. In this case,
too, the sportsman was a poet. But deliberately to pot at a fellow,
"to go for him with a shot gun," as the repentant American said he
would do in future, after his derringer missed fire, is certainly a
strong measure. No college which pretended to maintain discipline
could allow even a poet to shoot thus wildly. In truth, Landor's
offence has been exaggerated by Southey. It was nothing out of the
common. The poet was giving "an after-dinner party" in his rooms.
The men were mostly from Christ Church; for Landor was intimate, he
says, with only one undergraduate of his own college, Trinity. On
the opposite side of the quadrangle a Tory and a butt, named Leeds,
was entertaining persons whom the Jacobin Landor calls "servitors and
other raff of every description." The guests at the rival wine-
parties began to "row" each other, Landor says, adding, "All the time
I was only a spectator, for I should have blushed to have had any
conversation with them, particularly out of a window. But my gun was
lying on a table in the room, and I had in a back closet some little
shot. I proposed, as they had closed the casements, and as the
shutters were on the outside, to fire a volley. It was thought a
good trick, and accordingly I went into my bedroom and fired." Mr.
Leeds very superfluously complained to the President. Landor adopted
the worst possible line of defence, and so the University and this
poet parted company.

It seems to have been generally understood that Landor's affair was a
boyish escapade. A copious literature is engaged with the subject of
Shelley's expulsion. As the story is told by Mr. Hogg, in his
delightful book, the Life of Shelley, that poet's career at Oxford
was a typical one. There are in every generation youths like him, in
unworldliness, wildness, and dreaminess, though unlike him, of
course, in genius. The divine spark has not touched them, but they,
like Shelley, are still of the band whom the world has not tamed. As
Mr. Hogg's book is out of print, and rare, it would be worth while,
did space permit, to reproduce some of his wonderfully life-like and
truthful accounts of Oxford as she was in 1810. The University has
changed in many ways, and in most ways for the better. Perhaps that
old, indolent, and careless Oxford was better adapted to the life of
such an almost unexampled genius as Shelley. When his Eton friends
asked him whether he still meant to be "the Atheist," that is, the
rebel he had been at school, he said, "No; the college authorities
were civil, and left him alone." Let us remember this when the
learned Professor of Poetry at Oxford, Mr. Shairp, calls Shelley "an
Atheist." Mr. Hogg sometimes complains that undergraduates were left
too much alone. But who could have safely advised or securely guided

Undergraduates are now more closely looked after, as far as reading
goes, than perhaps they like--certainly much more than Shelley would
have liked. But when we turn from study to the conduct of life, is
it not plain that no OFFICIAL interference can be of real value?
Friendship and confidence may, and often does, exist between tutors
and pupils. There are tutors so happily gifted with sympathy, and
with a kind of eternal youth of heart and intellect, that they become
the friends of generation after generation of freshmen. This is
fortunate; but who can wonder that middle-aged men, seeing the
generations succeed and resemble each other, lose their powers of
understanding, of directing, of aiding the young, who are thus cast
at once on their own resources? One has occasionally heard clever
men complain that they were neglected by their seniors, that their
hearts and brains were full of perilous stuff, which no one helped
them to unpack. And it is true that modern education, when it meets
the impatience of youth, often produces an unhappy ferment in the
minds of men. To put it shortly, clever students have to go through
their age of Sturm und Drang, and they are sometimes disappointed
when older people, their tutors, for example, do not help them to
weather the storm. It is a tempest in which every one must steer for
himself, after all; and Shelley "was borne darkly, fearfully afar,"
into unplumbed seas of thought and experience. When Mr. Hogg
complains that his friend was too much left to himself to study and
think as he pleased, let us remember that no one could have helped
Shelley. He was better at Oxford without his old Dr. Lind, "with
whom he used to curse George III. after tea."

There are few chapters in literary history more fascinating than
those which tell the story of Shelley at Oxford. We see him entering
the hall of University College--a tall, shy stripling, bronzed with
the September sun, with long elf-locks. He takes his seat by a
stranger, and in a moment holds him spell-bound, while he talks of
Plato, and Goethe, and Alfieri, of Italian poetry, and Greek
philosophy. Mr. Hogg draws a curious sketch of Shelley at work in
his rooms, where seven-shilling pieces were being dissolved in acid
in the teacups, where there was a great hole in the floor that the
poet had burned with his chemicals. The one-eyed scout, "the
Arimaspian," must have had a time of tribulation (being a
conscientious and fatherly man) with this odd master. How
characteristic of Shelley it was to lend the glow of his fancy to
science, to declare that things, not thoughts, mineralogy, not
literature, must occupy human minds for the future, and then to leave
a lecture on mineralogy in the middle, and admit that "stones are
dull things after all!" Not less Shelleyan was the adventure on
Magdalen Bridge, the beautiful bridge of our illustration, from which
Oxford, with the sunset behind it, looks like a fairy city of the
Arabian Nights--a town of palaces and princesses, rather than of

"One Sunday we had been reading Plato together so diligently, that
the usual hour of exercise passed away unperceived: we sallied forth
hastily to take the air for half-an-hour before dinner. In the
middle of Magdalen Bridge we met a woman with a child in her arms.
Shelley was more attentive at that instant to our conduct in a life
that was past, or to come, than to a decorous regulation of the
present, according to the established usages of society, in that
fleeting moment of eternal duration styled the nineteenth century.
With abrupt dexterity he caught hold of the child. The mother, who
might well fear that it was about to be thrown over the parapet of
the bridge into the sedgy waters below, held it fast by its long

""Will your baby tell us anything about pre-existence, Madam?" he
asked, in a piercing voice, and with a wistful look."

Shelley and Hogg seem almost to have lived in reality the life of the
Scholar Gipsy. In Mr. Arnold's poem, which has made permanent for
all time the charm, the sentiment of Oxfordshire scenery, the poet
seems to be following the track of Shelley. In Mr. Hogg's memoirs we
hear little of summer; it seems always to have been in winter that
the friends took their long rambles, in which Shelley set free, in
talk, his inspiration. One thinks of him

"in winter, on the causeway chill,
Where home through flooded fields foot travellers go,"

returning to the supper in Hogg's rooms, to the curious desultory
meals, the talk, and the deep slumber by the roaring fire, the small
head lying perilously near the flames. One would not linger here
over the absurd injustice of his expulsion from the University. It
is pleasant to know, on Mr. Hogg's testimony, that "residence at
Oxford was exceedingly delightful to Shelley, and on all accounts
most beneficial." At Oxford, at least, he seems to have been happy,
he who so rarely knew happiness, and who, if he made another suffer,
himself suffered so much for others. The memory of Shelley has
deeply entered into the sentiment of Oxford. Thinking of him in his
glorious youth, and of his residence here, may we not say, with the
shepherd in Theocritus, of the divine singer:

[Greek verse which cannot be reproduced]

"Ah, would that in my days thou hadst been numbered with the living,
how gladly on the hills would I have herded thy pretty she-goats, and
listened to thy voice, whilst thou, under oaks and pine-trees lying,
didst sweetly sing, divine Comatas!"


We have looked at Oxford life in so many different periods, that now,
perhaps, we may regard it, like our artist, as a whole, and take a
bird's-eye view of its present condition. We may ask St. Bernard's
question, WHITHER HAST THOU COME? a question to which there are so
many answers readily given, from within and without the University.
It is not probable that the place will vary, in essential character,
from that which has all along been its own. We shall have considered
Oxford to very little purpose, if it is not plain that the University
has been less a home of learning, on the whole, than a microcosm of
English intellectual life. At Oxford the men have been thinking what
England was to think a few months later, and they have been thinking
with the passion and the energy of youth. The impulse to thought has
not, perhaps, very often been given by any mind or minds within the
college walls; it has come from without--from Italy, from France,
from London, from a country vicarage, perhaps, from the voice of a
wandering preacher. Whencesoever the leaven came, Oxford (being so
small, and in a way so homogeneous) has always fermented readily, and
promptly distributed the new forces, religious or intellectual,
throughout England.

It is characteristic of England that the exciting topics, the
questions that move the people most, have always been religious, or
deeply tinctured with religion. Conservative as Oxford is, the home
of "impossible causes," she has always given asylum to new doctrines,
to all the thoughts which comfortable people call "dangerous." We
have seen her agitated by Lollardism, which never quite died,
perhaps, till its eager protest against the sacerdotal ideal was
fused into the fire of the Reformation. Oxford was literally
devastated by that movement, and by the Catholic reaction, and then
was disturbed for a century and a half by the war of Puritanism, and
of Tory Anglicanism. The latter had scarcely had time to win the
victory, and to fall into a doze by her pipe of port, when
Evangelical religion came to vex all that was moderate, mature, and
fond of repose. The revolutionary enthusiasm of Shelley's time was
comparatively feeble, because it had no connection with religion; or,
at least, no connection with the religion to which our countrymen
were accustomed. Between the era of the Revolution and our own day,
two religious tempests and one secular storm of thought have swept
over Oxford, and the University is at present, if one may say so,
like a ship in a heavy swell, the sea looking much more tranquil than
it really is.

The Tractarian movement was, of course, the first of the religious
disturbances to which we refer, and much the most powerful.

It is curious to read about that movement in the Apologia, for
example, of Cardinal Newman. On what singular topics men's minds
were bent! what queer survivals of the speculations of the Schools
agitated them as they walked round Christ Church meadows! They
enlightened each other on things transcendental, yet material, on
matters unthinkable, and, properly speaking, unspeakable. It is as
if they "spoke with tongues," which had a meaning then, and for them,
but which to us, some forty years later, seem as meaningless as the
inscriptions of Easter Island.

This was the shape, the Tractarian movement was the shape, in which
the great Romantic reaction laid hold on England and Oxford. The
father of all the revival of old doctrines and old rituals in our
Church, the originator of that wistful return to things beautiful and
long dead, was--Walter Scott. Without him, and his wonderful wand
which made the dry bones of history live, England and France would
not have known this picturesque reaction. The stir in these two
countries was curiously characteristic of their genius. In France it
put on, in the first place, the shape of art, of poetry, painting,
sculpture. Romanticism blossomed in 1830, and bore fruit for ten
years. The religious reaction was a punier thing; the great Abbe,
who was the Newman of France, was himself unable to remain within the
fantastic church that he built out of medieval ruins. In England,
and especially in Oxford, the aesthetic admiration of the Past was
promptly transmuted into religion. Doctrines which men thought dead
were resuscitated; and from Oxford came, not poetry or painting, but
the sermons of Newman, the Tracts, the whole religious force which
has transformed and revivified the Church of England. That force is
still working, it need hardly be said, in the University of to-day,
under conditions much changed, but not without thrills of the old
volcanic energy.

Probably the Anglican ideas ceased to be the most powerfully
agitating of intellectual forces in Oxford about 1845. A new current
came in from Rugby, and the influence of Dr. Arnold and the natural
tide of reaction began to run very strong. If we had the apologiae
of the men who thought most, about the time when Clough was an
undergraduate, we should see that the influence of the Anglican
divines had become a thing of sentiment and curiosity. The life had
not died out of it, but the people whom it could permanently affect
were now limited in number and easily recognisable. This form of
religion might tempt and attract the strongest men for a while, but
it certainly would not retain them. It is by this time a matter of
history, though we are speaking of our contemporaries, that the abyss
between the Lives of the English Saints, and the Nemesis of Faith,
was narrow, and easily crossed. There was in Oxford that enthusiasm
for certain German ideas which had previously been felt for medieval
ideas. Liberalism in history, philosophy, and religion was the
ruling power; and people believed in Liberalism. What is, or used to
be, called the Broad Church, was the birth of some ten or fifteen
years of Liberalism in religion at Oxford. The Essays and Reviews
were what the Tracts had been; and Homeric battles were fought over
the income of the Regius Professor of Greek. When that affair was
settled Liberalism had had her innings, there was no longer a single
dominant intellectual force; but the old storms, slowly subsiding,
left the ship of the University lurching and rolling in a heavy

People believed in Liberalism! Their faith worked miracles; and the
great University Commission performed many wonderful works, bidding
close fellowships be open, and giving all power into the hands of
Examiners. Their dispensation still survives; the large examining-
machine works night and day, in term time and vacation, and yet we
are not happy. The age in Oxford, as in the world at large, is the
age of collapsed opinions. Never men believed more fervidly in any
revelation than the men of twenty years ago believed in political
economy, free trade, open competition, and the reign of Common-sense
and of Mr. Cobden. Where is that faith now? Many of the middle-aged
disciples of the Church of Common-sense are still in our midst. They
say the old sayings, they intone the old responses, but somehow it
seems that scepticism is abroad; it seems that the world is wider
than their system. Not even open examinations for fellowships and
scholarships, not half a dozen new schools, and science, and the
Museum, and the Slade Professorship of Art, have made Oxford that
ideal University which was expected to come down from Heaven like the
New Jerusalem.

We have glanced at the history of Oxford to little purpose if we have
not learned that it is an eminently discontented place. There is
room in colleges and common rooms for both sorts of discontent--the
ignoble, which is the child of vanity and weakness; and the noble,
which is the unassuaged thirst for perfection. The present result of
the last forty years in Oxford is a discontent which is constantly
trying to improve the working, and to widen the intellectual
influence, of the University. There are more ways than one in which
this feeling gets vent. The simplest, and perhaps the most honest
and worthy impulse, is that which makes the best of the present
arrangements. Great religious excitement and religious discussion
being in abeyance, for once, the energy of the place goes out in
teaching. The last reforms have made Oxford a huge collection of
schools, in which physical science, history, philosophy, philology,
scholarship, theology, and almost everything in the world but
archaeology, are being taught and learned with very great vigour.
The hardest worked of men is a conscientious college tutor; and
almost all tutors are conscientious. The professors being an
ornamental, but (with few exceptions) MERELY ornamental, order of
beings, the tutors have to do the work of a University, which, for
the moment, is a teaching-machine. They deliver I know not how many
sets of lectures a year, and each lecture demands a fresh and full
acquaintance with the latest ideas of French, German, and Italian
scholars. No one can afford, or is willing, to lag behind; every one
is "gladly learning," like Chaucer's clerk, as well as earnestly
teaching. The knowledge and the industry of these gentlemen is a
perpetual marvel to the "bellelettristic trifler." New studies, like
that of Celtic, and of the obscurer Oriental tongues, have sprung up
during recent years, have grown into strength and completeness. It
is unnecessary to say, perhaps, that these facts dispose of the
popular idea about the luxury of the long vacation. During the more
part of the long vacation the conscientious teacher must be toiling
after the great mundane movement in learning. He must be acquiring
the very freshest ideas about Sanscrit and Greek; about the Ogham
characters and the Cyprian syllabary; about early Greek inscriptions
and the origins of Roman history, in addition to reading the familiar
classics by the light of the latest commentaries.

What is the tangible result, and what the gain of all these labours?
The answer is the secret of University discontent. All this
accumulated knowledge goes out in teaching, is scattered abroad in
lectures, is caught up in note-books, and is poured out, with a
difference, in examinations. There is not an amount of original
literary work produced by the University which bears any due
proportion to the solid materials accumulated. It is just the
reverse of Falstaff's case--but one halfpenny-worth of sack to an
intolerable deal of bread; but a drop of the spirit of learning to
cart-loads of painfully acquired knowledge. The time and energy of
men is occupied in amassing facts, in lecturing, and then in eternal
examinations. Even if the results are satisfactory on the whole,
even if a hundred well-equipped young men are turned out of the
examining-machine every year, these arrangements certainly curb
individual ambition. If a resident in Oxford is to make an income
that seems adequate, he must lecture, examine, and write manuals and
primers, till he is grey, and till the energy that might have added
something new and valuable to the acquisitions of the world has

This state of things has produced the demand for the "Endowment of
Research." It is not necessary to go into that controversy.
Englishmen, as a rule, believe that endowed cats catch no mice. They
would rather endow a theatre than a Gelehrter, if endow something
they must. They have a British sympathy with these beautiful, if
useless beings, the heads of houses, whom it would be necessary to
abolish if Researchers were to get the few tens of thousands they
require. Finally, it is asked whether the learned might not find
great endowment in economy; for it is a fact that a Frenchman, a
German, or an Italian will "research" for life on no larger income
than a simple fellowship bestows.

The great obstacle to this "plain living" is perhaps to be found in
the traditional hospitality of Oxford. All her doors are open, and
every stranger is kindly entreated by her, and she is like the
"discreet housewife" in Homer -

[Greek text which cannot be reproduced]

In some languages the same word serves for "stranger" and "enemy,"
but in the Oxford dialect "stranger" and "guest" are synonymous.
Such is the custom of the place, and it does not make plain living
very easy. Some critics will be anxious here to attack the
"aesthetic" movement. One will be expected to say that, after the
ideas of Newman, after the ideas of Arnold, and of Jowett, came those
of the wicked, the extravagant, the effeminate, the immoral "Blue
China School." Perhaps there is something in this, but sermons on
the subject are rather luxuries than necessaries in the present
didactic mood of the Press. "They were friends of ours, moreover,"
as Aristotle says, "who brought these ideas in"; so the subject may
be left with this brief notice. As a piece of practical advice, one
may warn the young and ardent advocate of the Endowment of Research
that he will find it rather easier to curtail his expenses than to
get a subsidy from the Commission.

The last important result of the "modern spirit" at Oxford, the last
stroke of the sanguine Liberal genius, was the removal of the
celibate condition from certain fellowships. One can hardly take a
bird's-eye view of Oxford without criticising the consequences of
this innovation. The topic, however, is, for a dozen reasons, very
difficult to handle. One reason is, that the experiment has not been
completely tried. It is easy enough to marry on a fellowship, a
tutorship, and a few small miscellaneous offices. But how will it be
when you come to forty years, or even fifty? No materials exist
which can be used by the social philosopher who wants an answer to
this question. In the meantime, the common rooms are perhaps more
dreary than of old, in many a college, for lack of the presence of
men now translated to another place. As to the "society" of Oxford,
that is, no doubt, very much more charming and vivacious than it used
to be in the days when Tony Wood was the surly champion of celibacy.

Looking round the University, then, one finds in it an activity that
would once have seemed almost feverish, a highly conscientious
industry, doing that which its hand finds to do, but not absolutely
certain that it is not neglecting nobler tasks. Perhaps Oxford has
never been more busy with its own work, never less distracted by
religious politics. If we are to look for a less happy sign, we
shall find it in the tendency to run up "new buildings." The
colleges are landowners: they must suffer with other owners of real
property in the present depression; they will soon need all their
savings. That is one reason why they should be chary of building;
another is, that the fellows of a college at any given moment are not
necessarily endowed with architectural knowledge and taste. They
should think twice, or even thrice, before leaving on Oxford for many
centuries the uncomely mark of an unfortunate judgment.


A hundred pictures have been drawn of undergraduate life at Oxford,
and a hundred caricatures. Novels innumerable introduce some Oxford
scenes. An author generally writes his first romance soon after
taking his degree; he writes about his own experience and his own
memories; he mixes his ingredients at will and tints according to
fancy. This is one of the two reasons why pictures of Oxford, from
the undergraduate side, are generally false. They are either drawn
by an aspirant who is his own hero, and who idealises himself and his
friends, or they are designed by ladies who have read Verdant Green,
and who, at some period, have paid a flying visit to Cambridge. An
exhaustive knowledge of Verdant Green, and a hasty view of the
Fitzwilliam Museum and "the backs of the Colleges" (which are to
Cambridge what the Docks are to Liverpool), do not afford sufficient
materials for an accurate sketch of Oxford. The picture daubed by
the emancipated undergraduate who dabbles in fiction is as
unrecognisable. He makes himself and his friends too large, too
noisy, too bibulous, too learned, too extravagant, too pugnacious.
They seem to stride down the High, prodigious, disproportionate
figures, like the kings of Egypt on the monuments, overshadowing the
crowd of dons, tradesmen, bargees, and cricket-field or river-side
cads. Often one dimly recognises the scenes, and the acquaintances
of years ago, in University novels. The mildest of men suddenly pose
as heroes of the Guy Livingstone type, fellows who "screw up" timid
dons, box with colossal watermen, and read all night with wet towels
bound round their fevered brows. These sketches are all nonsense.
Men who do these things do not write about them; and men who write
about them never did them.

There is yet another cause which increases the difficulty of
describing undergraduate life with truth. There are very many
varieties of undergraduates, who have very various ways of occupying
and amusing themselves. A steady man that reads his five or six
hours a day, and takes his pastime chiefly on the river, finds that
his path scarcely ever crosses that of him who belongs to the
Bullingdon Club, hunts thrice a week, and rarely dines in hall. Then
the "pale student," who is hard at work in his rooms or in the
Bodleian all day, and who has only two friends, out-college men, with
whom he takes walks and tea,--he sees existence in a very different
aspect. The Union politician, who is for ever hanging about his
club, dividing the house on questions of blotting-paper and quill
pens, discussing its affairs at breakfast, intriguing for the place
of Librarian, writing rubbish in the suggestion-book, to him Oxford
is only a soil carefully prepared for the growth of that fine flower,
the Union. He never encounters the undergraduate who haunts
billiard-rooms and shy taverns, who buys jewelry for barmaids, and
who is admired for the audacity with which he smuggled a fox-terrier
into college in a brown-paper parcel. There are many other species
of undergraduate, scarcely more closely resembling each other in
manners and modes of thought than the little Japanese student
resembles the metaphysical Scotch exhibitioner, or than the
hereditary war minister of Siam (whose career, though brief, was
vivacious) resembled the Exeter Sioux, a half-reclaimed savage, who
disappeared on the warpath after failing to scalp the Junior Proctor.
When The Wet Blanket returned to his lodge in the land of Sitting
Bull, he doubtless described Oxford life in his own way to the other
Braves, while the squaws hung upon his words and the papooses played
around. His account would vary, in many ways, from that of

"Whiskered Tomkins from the hail
Of seedy Magdalene."

And he, again, would not see Oxford life steadily, and see it whole,
as a more cultivated and polished undergraduate might. Thus there
are countless pictures of the works and ways of undergraduates at the
University. The scene is ever the same--boat-races and foot-ball
matches, scouts, schools, and proctors, are common to all,--but in
other respects the sketches must always vary, must generally be one-
sided, and must often seem inaccurate.

It appears that a certain romance is attached to the three years that
are passed between the estate of the freshman and that of the
Bachelor of Arts. These years are spent in a kind of fairyland,
neither quite within nor quite outside of the world. College life is
somewhat, as has so often been said, like the old Greek city life.
For three years men are in the possession of what the world does not
enjoy--leisure; and they are supposed to be using that leisure for
the purposes of perfection. They are making themselves and their
characters. We are all doing that, all the days of our lives; but at
the Universities there is, or is expected to be, more deliberate and
conscious effort. Men are in a position to "try all things" before
committing themselves to any. Their new-found freedom does not
merely consist in the right to poke their own fires, order their own
breakfasts, and use their own cheque-books. These things, which make
so much impression on the mind at first, are only the outward signs
of freedom. The boy who has just left school, and the thoughtless
life of routine in work and play, finds himself in the midst of
books, of thought, and discussion. He has time to look at all the
common problems of the hour, and yet he need not make up his mind
hurriedly, nor pledge himself to anything. He can flirt with young
opinions, which come to him with candid faces, fresh as Queen
Entelechy in Rabelais, though, like her, they are as old as human
thought. Here first he meets Metaphysics, and perhaps falls in love
with that enchantress, "who sifts time with a fine large blue silk
sieve." There is hardly a clever lad but fancies himself a
metaphysician, and has designs on the Absolute. Most fall away very
early from this, their first love; and they follow Science down one
of her many paths, or concern themselves with politics, and take a
side which, as a rule, is the opposite of that to which they
afterwards adhere. Thus your Christian Socialist becomes a Court
preacher, and puts his trust in princes; the young Tory of the old
type will lapse into membership of a School Board. It is the time of
liberty, and of intellectual attachments too fierce to last long.

Unluckily there are subjects more engrossing, and problems more
attractive, than politics, and science, art, and pure metaphysics.
The years of undergraduate life are those in which, to many men, the
enigmas of religion present themselves. They bring their boyish
faith into a place (if one may quote Pantagruel's voyage once more)
like the Isle of the Macraeones. On that mournful island were
confusedly heaped the ruins of altars, fanes, temples, shrines,
sacred obelisks, barrows of the dead, pyramids, and tombs. Through
the ruins wandered, now and again, the half-articulate words of the
Oracle, telling how Pan was dead. Oxford, like the Isle of the
Macraeones, is a lumber-room of ruinous philosophies, decrepit
religions, forlorn beliefs. The modern system of study takes the
pupil through all the philosophic and many of the religious systems
of belief, which, in the distant and the nearer past, have been
fashioned by men, and have sheltered men for a day. You are taught
to mark each system crumbling, to watch the rise of the new temple of
thought on its ruins, and to see that also perish, breached by
assaults from without or sapped by the slow approaches of Time. This
is not the place in which we can well discuss the merits of modern
University education. But no man can think of his own University
days, or look with sympathetic eyes at those who fill the old halls
and rooms, and not remember, with a twinge of the old pain, how
religious doubt insists on thrusting itself into the colleges. And
it is fair to say that, for this, no set of teachers or tutors is
responsible. It is the modern historical spirit that must be blamed,
that too clear-sighted vision which we are all condemned to share of
the past of the race. We are compelled to look back on old
philosophies, on India, Athens, Alexandria, and on the schools of men
who thought so hard within our own ancient walls. We are compelled
to see that their systems were only plausible, that their truths were
but half-truths. It is the long vista of failure thus revealed which
suggests these doubts that weary, and torture, and embitter the
naturally happy life of discussion, amusement, friendship, sport, and
study. These doubts, after all, dwell on the threshold of modern
existence, and on the threshold--namely, at the Universities--men
subdue them, or evade them.

The amusements of the University have been so often described that
little need be said of them here. Unhealthy as the site of Oxford
is, the place is rather fortunately disposed for athletic purposes.
The river is the chief feature in the scenery, and in the life of
amusement. From the first day of term, in October, it is crowded
with every sort of craft. The freshman admires the golden colouring
of the woods and Magdalen tower rising, silvery, through the blue
autumnal haze. As soon as he appears on the river, his weight,
strength, and "form" are estimated. He soon finds himself pulling in
a college "challenge four," under the severe eye of a senior cox, and
by the middle of December he has rowed his first race, and is
regularly entered for a serious vocation. The thorough-going
boating-man is the creature of habit. Every day, at the same hour,
after a judicious luncheon, he is seen, in flannels, making for the
barge. He goes out, in a skiff, or a pair, or a four-oar, or to a
steeplechase through the hedges when Oxford, as in our illustration,
is under water. The illustration represents Merton, and the writer
recognises his old rooms, with the Venetian blinds which Mr. Ruskin
denounced. Chief of all the boating-man goes out in an eight, and
rows down to Iffley, with the beautiful old mill and Norman church,
or accomplishes "the long course." He rows up again, lounges in the
barge, rows down again (if he has only pulled over the short course),
and goes back to dinner in hall. The table where men sit who are in
training is a noisy table, and the athletes verge on "bear-fighting"
even in hall. A statistician might compute how many steaks, chops,
pots of beer, and of marmalade, an orthodox man will consume in the
course of three years. He will, perhaps, pretend to suffer from the
monotony of boating shop, boating society, and broad-blown boating
jokes. But this appears to be a harmless affectation. The old
breakfasts, wines, and suppers, the honest boating slang, will always
have an attraction for him. The summer term will lose its delight
when the May races are over. Boating-men are the salt of the
University, so steady, so well disciplined, so good-tempered are
they. The sport has nothing selfish or personal in it; men row for
their college, or their University; not like running--men, who run,
as it were, each for his own hand. Whatever may be his work in life,
a boating-man will stick to it. His favourite sport is not
expensive, and nothing can possibly be less luxurious. He is often a
reading man, though it may be doubted whether "he who runs may read"
as a rule. Running is, perhaps, a little overdone, and Strangers'
cups are, or lately were, given with injudicious generosity. To the
artist's eye, however, few sights in modern life are more graceful
than the University quarter-of-a-mile race. Nowhere else, perhaps,
do you see figures so full of a Hellenic grace and swiftness.

The cream of University life is the first summer term. Debts, as
yet, are not; the Schools are too far off to cast their shadow over
the unlimited enjoyment, which begins when lecture is over, at one
o'clock. There are so many things to do, -

"When wickets are bowled and defended,
When Isis is glad with the eights,
When music and sunset are blended,
When Youth and the Summer are mates,
When freshmen are heedless of "Greats,"
When note-books are scribbled with rhyme,
Ah! these are the hours that one rates
Sweet hours, and the fleetest of Time!"

There are drags at every college gate to take college teams down to
Cowley. There is the beautiful scenery of the "stripling Thames" to
explore; the haunts of the immortal "Scholar Gipsy," and of Shelley,
and of Clough's Piper, who -

"Went in his youth and the sunshine rejoicing, to Nuneham and

Further afield men seldom go in summer, there is so much to delight
and amuse in Oxford. {2} What day can be happier than that of which
the morning is given (after a lively college breakfast, or a
"commonising" with a friend) to study, while cricket occupies the
afternoon, till music and sunset fill the grassy stretches above
Iffley, and the college eights flash past among cheering and
splashing? Then there is supper in the cool halls, darkling, and
half-lit up; and after supper talk, till the birds twitter in the
elms, and the roofs and the chapel spire look unfamiliar in the blue
of dawn. How long the days were then! almost like the days of
childhood; how distinct is the impression all experience used to
make! In later seasons Care is apt to mount the college staircase,
and the "oak" which Shelley blessed cannot keep out this visitor.
She comes in many a shape--as debt, and doubt, and melancholy; and
often she comes as bereavement. Life and her claims wax importunate;
to many men the Schools mean a cruel and wearing anxiety, out of all
proportion to the real importance of academic success. We cannot see
things as they are, and estimate their value, in youth; and if
pleasures are more keen then, grief is more hopeless, doubt more
desolate, uncertainty more gnawing, than in later years, when we have
known and survived a good deal of the worst of mortal experience.
Often on men still in their pupilage the weight of the first
misfortunes falls heavily; the first touch of Dame Fortune's whip is
the most poignant. We cannot recover the first summer term; but it
has passed into ourselves and our memories, into which Oxford, with
her beauty and her romance, must also quickly pass. He is not to be
envied who has known and does not love her. Where her children have
quarrelled with her the fault is theirs, not hers. They have chosen
the accidental evils to brood on, in place of acquiescing in her
grace and charm. These are crowded and hustled out of modern life;
the fever and the noise of our struggles fill all the land, leaving
still, at the Universities, peace, beauty, and leisure.

If any word in these papers has been unkindly said, it has only been
spoken, I hope, of the busybodies who would make Oxford cease to be
herself; who would rob her of her loveliness and her repose.


{1} Poems by Ernest Myers. London, 1877.

{2} A very pleasing account of the scenery near Oxford appeared in
the Cornhill for September 1879.


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