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Title: Rowlandson's Oxford
Author: Gibbs, A. Hamilton
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    Blissful ignorance--The real education--Empty schools--
    Manhood--Lonely freshers--The “pi” man--The newcomer’s
    metamorphosis--The Lownger’s day--Regrets at being down            1-8


    First arrival--Footpads and “easy pads”--Farewell to
    parents--A forlorn animal--Terrae Filius’s advice--Much
    prayers--“Hell has no fury like a woman scorned”--The
    disadvantages of a conscience                                     9-17


    Ceremony of matriculation--Paying the swearing-broker--
    Colman and the Vice-Chancellor--Learning the Oxford
    manner--_Homunculi Togati_--Academia and a mother’s
    love--The jovial father--Underground dog-holes and
    shelving garrets--The harpy and the sheets--The first
    night                                                            18-28


    Valentine Frippery and his letter--Boiled chicken and
    pettitoes--Lyne’s coffee-house and the _billet doux_--
    Tick--Liquor capacity--A Smart advises _The Student_--
    Latin odes for tradesmen only                                    29-38


    Terrae Filius sums her up--Merton Wall butterflies--Hearne
    comments--Flavia and the orange tree--Dick, the sloven--
    The President under her thumb--Amhurst’s table of cons.--
    King Charles and the other place                                 39-45


    The germ of Ruskin Hall--Description of himself--George
    Whitefield--College exercises--Running errands and copying
    lines--Samuel Wesley--Famous servitors                           46-54


    Rowing--Dame Hooper’s--Southey at Balliol--Cox’s six-oared
    crew--The river-side barmaid--Sailing-boats--Statutes
    against games--Bell-ringing--Hearne and gymnasia--Horses
    and badger-baiting--Cock-fights and prize-fights--
    Paniotti’s Fencing Academy--Old-time “bug-shooters”--
    Skating in Christ Church meadows--Cricket and the
    Bullingdon Club--Walking tours                                   55-68


    The foregathering fresher--Dibdin and the “Lunatics”--The
    Constitution Club--The Oxford Poetical Club--Its rules and
    minutes--High Borlace--The Freecynics and Banterers              69-82


    Tolerated ignorance--Lax discipline--Gibbon and Magdalen--
    The “Vindication”--Opposing and responding--“Schemes”--
    Doing austens--Perjury and bribes--Receiving presents--
    Magdalen collections                                             83-94


    Present-day ineptitude--Jackson’s _Oxford Journal_--
    Domestic intelligence--Election poems--Curious
    advertisements--Superabundance of St John’s editors--
    Terrae Filius                                                   95-108


    _The Student_--Cambridge included--Its design--The female
    student--Poem by Sir Walter Raleigh--Bishop Atterbury’s
    letter--The manly woman                                        109-121


    The _Oxford Magazine_--Introduction of illustrations--Odd
    advertisements--Attention paid to the Drama--Prologue to
    the _Cozeners_, written by Garrick--Visions, fables, and
    moral tales--_The Loiterer_--Diary of an Oxford man, 1789      122-135


    _The Oxford Packet_--_Academia: or the Humours of Oxford_--
    _The Oxford Act_--_The Oxford Sausage_--Present and latter
    day literature summed up                                       136-141


    _The Student’s_ opinion of one--A tradesman’s poem and its
    result--Dodging the dun--Debt and its penalties--
    Tradesmen’s taste in literature--Advertising and _The
    Loiterer_--Tick--Dr Newton, innkeeper--Amhurst’s
    confession--Fathers and trainers of toasts                     142-152


    Tutors--Their slackness--The real and the ideal tutor--Dr
    Newton on tutors’ fees--Dr Johnson’s recommendation of
    Bateman--Public lecturers--Terrae Filius and a Wadham
    man’s letter                                                   153-162

  CHAPTER XVI THE DON--(_continued_)

    The examiners--Perjury and bribery--Method of examining--
    College Fellows--Election to Fellowships--Gibbon and the
    Magdalen Dons--Heads of colleges--Their domestic and
    public character--Golgotha and Ben Numps--St John’s head
    pays homage to Christ Church--Drs Marlowe and Randolph         163-174

  CHAPTER XVII THE DON--(continued)

    Proctors--The Black Book--Personal spite and the taking of
    a degree--The case of Meadowcourt of Merton--Extract from
    Black Book--The taverner and the Proctor--Isaac Walton and
    the senior Proctor--Amhurst’s character sketch of a
    certain Proctor                                                175-183


    Charles James Fox--Earl of Malmesbury--William Eden--Cards
    and claret--Midnight oil--Oxford friendships remembered
    afterwards--Edward Gibbon--Delicate bookworm--Antagonism
    towards Oxford--Becomes a Roman Catholic--Subsequent
    apostasy--John Wesley--Resists taking orders--Germs of
    ambition--America the golden opportunity--Oxford
    responsible for Methodism                                      184-198


    William Collins--Joins the Smarts--Forgets how to work--
    Oxford kills his will-power--Loses his reason--Samuel
    Johnson at Pembroke--A lonely freshman--Translates Pope’s
    _Messiah_--Suffers horribly from poverty--Dr Adam, his
    tutor--Readiness and physical pluck--Love of showing
    off--His love of Pembroke                                      199-210


  FRONT VIEW OF CHRIST CHURCH                               _Frontispiece_


  COLLEGE SERVICE                                              "        15


  BUCKS OF THE FIRST HEAD                                      "        30


  A ’VARSITY TRICK--SMUGGLING IN                               "        45

  VIEW OF QUEEN’S COLLEGE                                      "        53

  NORTH VIEW OF FRIAR BACON’S STUDY AT OXFORD                  "        59

  A DUCK HUNT                                                  "        66

  A WESTERN VIEW OF ALL SOULS’ COLLEGE                         "        74


  OFF TO A BADGER-BAITING                                      "       133

  A SOUTH VIEW OF THE OBSERVATORY AT OXFORD                    "       160

  MERTON COLLEGE                                               "       177

  STAIRCASE, CHRIST CHURCH                                     "       193


The task of writing a book on Oxford University is by no means an easy
one. If it be a novel there are countless pitfalls to entrap the
author--points small and inconsequent to the reader who cannot proudly
claim the City of Spires as his Alma Mater, but irritating beyond
description to the man who knows and loves Oxford.

But if modern Oxford dealt with from the romantic and sentimental point of
view as the background of a story contains such a network of difficulties,
the Oxford of two hundred years ago, Rowlandson’s Oxford, contains them
multiplied a hundred times, because it now becomes a question not of
reproducing the vivid pictures of the hour and moment, but of recreating
the atmosphere of a time that is silent in death.

It is, therefore, with great diffidence that I have attempted to
resuscitate the life and moods of Oxford of the eighteenth century. Barely
two years have elapsed since the days when I looked out from my windows
into the quad of my college. All the work and play, the alarums and
excursions which go to form the life of the average Undergraduate have not
yet had time to fade into dim, half forgotten memories. Alma Mater still
grasps me in her warm hand. So vivid indeed are all the impressions which
I received from the friendly gargoyles and the peace-touched lawns, the
beautiful colleges with their silent cloisters, the full-blooded
twenty-firsters and bump-suppers, and the thousand and one everyday
happenings, that I might be merely awaiting the passing of vacation to go
up once more.

With all the Undergraduate interests still so strongly at heart, I think
that it is natural that I should have studied the Rowlandson period with
the mind of the Undergraduate and have carried out my task from the
Undergraduate point of view. It is difficult to give any idea of the
quaintness, delight, and amusement caused by going back two hundred years
to a University so like and so unlike--like, in that the men, although so
different outwardly, had practically the same ideas as we have and carried
them out in the same colleges, even in the same rooms, in a precisely
similar manner; unlike in that the Dons were a breed of men differing in
every respect from those who look after us to-day.

Working, then, on the hypothesis that Oxford men in Rowlandson’s time were
identical with ourselves, I have drawn analogies between every step in the
lives of both. I have endeavoured to show that from the beginning of their
fresherdom, when they felt self-conscious, _gauche_, and timid, down to
the days when they took their degrees and knew Oxford blindfold in all her
moods and tenses, they possessed the same outlook, had the same
aspirations and ambitions, and were filled with the same admiration and
love of Alma Mater as the men of to-day. For instance, as a freshman the
Georgian Undergraduate curiously watched the seniors who were responsible
for the tone of their college. Gradually he sloughed both his nervousness
and his un-Oxford wardrobe and began to assert his own individuality.
Little by little he discovered new sides of Oxford life, new haunts in
which he began to feel at home. Daily he made new acquaintances who, as
time went by, ripened into friends. Eventually, by the end of his first
year, he had so absorbed Oxford into his personality that he in turn was
able to condescend to the next year’s arrivals. During this time his
attitude towards the Dons, the statutes, the schools--to everything, in
short, outside the immediate Undergraduate side of life--varied with the
terms. At the beginning they were subjects only to be broached with awe
and deliberation. But the more he came into contact with an ever
increasing circle of friends, the sooner his respect changed into
ridicule, disgust, and finally, when a senior, into amused toleration.

In précis form such was the development of the eighteenth-century
Undergraduate. His metamorphosis into a “blood,” with all its amusing
accompaniments and accomplishments--the former consisting of the latest
fashions in clothes and the _entrée_ to the innermost recesses of the
Maudlin Groves in the company of the most celebrated Oxford damsel; the
latter of a facility for dashing off a well thought out extempore series
of oaths, being the handiest man at a tea-table, drinking more than any
other buck of his acquaintance before finally succumbing, to follow in the
natural sequence of events according to the temperament of the freshman.
Had he a leaning towards becoming a “blood” not only was there nothing to
stop him, but, on the contrary, all the existing conditions were such as
to facilitate the execution of his desires.

In all these phrases the old-time Undergraduate can be compared with his
modern brothers. In his dealings with the river-side barmaids, the local
tradesmen, and the proctors he pursued much the same ingenuous methods
which are used with equal success to-day. Just as we become members of
unlimited numbers of year clubs and settle the affairs of the entire human
species at the nightly meetings with ease and eloquence, they, too, formed
societies and took themselves with a similar seriousness. They contributed
literary morsels to the Undergraduate papers which satirised existing
institutions in the same youthful manner in which we satirise them. They
conducted “rags” with a thoroughness and disregard of results which ended
in the same speedy rustication of the ringleaders which inevitably
overtakes the men who are still unwise enough to be found out.

In a word, my object has been not to compare the ethics of the university
to-day with those of yesterday, but rather to set forth an analogy between
Dons and Undergraduates of that period and this, and the business of their
daily life, from the point of view of one upon whom the influence of Alma
Mater has not yet been mellowed into an analytical remembrance by long
contact with the world which lies beyond her spires.

Whether I have succeeded in proving my case remains to be seen. At least I
venture to hope that the results of my work may form a frame for
Rowlandson’s pictures which are here reproduced for the first time from
Rowlandson’s original water-colour drawings.

Of these pictures many were engraved at the time in aquatint, but the
engraver was as a rule so obsessed with the Georgian ideas of the
beautiful in architecture that he practically reconstructed the majority
of the buildings represented, in accordance with that idea, so that some
of the most beautiful and characteristic buildings in Oxford and
Cambridge, so delicately portrayed by Rowlandson’s pencil, are turned into
rectangular monstrosities, the like of which was never seen in either
university town.

The superiority of hand-engraving over modern processes is evident enough,
when the engraving itself was made by the artist; but when the original
drawing is so hopelessly misrepresented as is the case with many of the
aquatints of Rowlandson’s drawings, the modern facsimile processes have
their obvious advantages.

It is therefore claimed that Rowlandson’s drawings of Oxford are here
reproduced for the first time, and it is believed that they will be a
revelation to many who have hitherto looked upon Rowlandson merely as a
somewhat gross caricaturist. The caricaturist, it is true, is still here
depicting in the foregrounds characteristic scenes in the university life
of the time, but here is also another Rowlandson with an appreciation of
the beauties of Oxford rare indeed in his age, and one who is able to
delineate them with accuracy and delicacy which have seldom been equalled
in the portrayal of such subjects.

The author desires to express his gratitude to the Rev. Christopher
Wordsworth for having very kindly granted him permission to make
quotations from “Social Life in the English Universities”; and to Messrs
Macmillan & Co., publishers of J. R. Green’s “Oxford Studies,” for
allowing him to make two quotations from that book; and also to Mr R. S.
Rait of the Oxford Historical Society for having permitted him to quote
from Miss L. Quiller-Couch’s “Reminiscences of Oxford,” published by that




    Blissful ignorance--The real education--Empty schools--Manhood--Lonely
    freshers--The “pi” man--The newcomer’s metamorphosis--The Lownger’s
    day--Regrets at being down.

How few of us there are to-day who ever devote even the slack hour between
tea and “hotters” and Hall to finding out something at least about the
Undergraduates who had our rooms two centuries ago. Yet to every man the
word Oxford conjures up vast vague shadows from the past which make him as
a freshman tread softly and with reverence through the quads and gardens,
High Streets and by-streets of the City of Spires. Great names rise up
into our minds and fill us with wonder, but the scout knocks at our door
with half-cold food and our dreams dissolve into irritated reality. There
may come a moment, perhaps, when, with feet at rest upon the mantel-shelf
and a straight-grained pipe bubbling in quiet response between our teeth,
we are deafening our ears to the call of bed, the slow-flowing
conversation drifts by chance to a casual query as to what our
predecessors did at the same hour two hundred years ago. Beyond a few more
or less unimaginative surmises we remain in ignorance, blissful and
uncaring, believing them to be strange-clothed beings of stilted language
and curious habits, and at once the talk turns to present and more
pleasant topics. We little think that to all intents and purposes we are
almost exactly the same as our old-time-brethren.

To-day we row, play cricket, football, tennis, golf; we cut our lectures
when we safely can and “binge” at every opportunity. Schools do occupy us,
it is true, but as a mere secondary item in the university scheme of
things--and rightly so. A degree, however good, does not, by itself, make
men of us and teach us how to live. It is the social life of the
university which is the real education and which sends us out into the
world ready to face anything and everything. By developing our bodies we
develop our minds, and in this programme of athletics and sociability we
are a replica of our eighteenth-century brethren. They rose about nine,
breakfasted at ten, and dallied away the morning with a flute or the
latest French comedy. By way of strenuous exercise, necessitated by a
climate which was just as evil then as now, they walked, rode, rowed, or
skated, and in the evening figured at the Mitre or Tuns where they made
merry into the small hours with beer, claret, or punch.

To them schools were much less a source of worry than they are to us, for,
beyond attending occasional disputations and an odd lecture or so, when a
Don could be persuaded to give one, they obtained their degree by the
simple but expensive process of drinking the examiner--usually a hardened
toper--under the table overnight. He was then led, in the morning, while
still pleasantly fuddled, to the schools, and there, in consideration of a
respectable douceur, he signed away the necessary papers with a beaming
and self-satisfied smile. They knew nothing of the humours of white ties,
dark suits, and a week’s terrible strain to get a First in Honour
Mods--before the Finals are even thought of. The shivering crowds waiting
in the Hall to be led to the slaughter did not exist in those days. A
Trinity man named Skinner, who matriculated in 1790, flung himself at the
subject in satirical verse:--

  “Enter we next the Public Schools
   Where now a death-like stillness rules;
   Yet these still walls in days of yore
   Back to the streets returned the roar of hundreds....
   But since their champion Aristotle
   Has been deserted for the bottle
   The benches stand like Prebends’ stalls
   Lone and deserted ’gainst the walls.”[1]

No sooner have we finished with our public school days, when we are known
as boys, and have either scrambled over the “Smalls” hedge with some
humility and relief, or else have secured the privilege of lording it in a
scholar’s gown, than we instantly become men. We may be anything between
eighteen and twenty, but if a sister, brother, or cousin be unwary enough
to refer to us as a boy--woe unto him or her! We may pretend that we do
not mind, but in our heart of hearts we rejoice in being Oxford “men,” and
guard our title jealously. We are not, however, unique in this. It is a
habit which has come down to us from the eighteenth century when they were
just as jealous of such points of etiquette.

George Colman the younger tells us that he came upon two freshmen of that
time who had had a quarrel. Six months before they blacked each other’s
eyes at Westminster in the good old British way. Now, however, being
Oxford men, they could not descend to such a childish level, but agreed to
afford each other “gentlemanly satisfaction.” They may have lacked a
certain sense of humour, but it was the right spirit, and it is safe to
conclude that they both did well at their respective colleges.

The lonely freshman of to-day who has no friends already in residence
wanders round just as nervously and makes the same _faux pas_ as did his
predecessors. It takes him just as long to find his feet and settle down
and make friends. Exactly in the same way also if he knows men already up
he is welcomed by them, invited to heavy breakfasts and put right on
matters of etiquette: such as never by any chance to wear square and gown
unless absolutely compelled to--and all the other minutiæ which are of
such importance. In the eighteenth century a freshman was taken by his
senior friends to the Mitre and sat in front of a bowl of punch with brown
toast bobbing in it. He heard sonnets recited to the eyelashes of Sylvia.
He was taught to drink on his knees to Phyllis or Chloe, or some other
fair female of the moment. He was taken to the barber’s and shown how to
wear a wig instead of his own hair. In fact, his feet were set in the
proper path then in just the same friendly spirit as now.

They had their clubs and societies at which, in the intervals of drinking,
they indicted Latin poems or discussed some important political question
where we, over mulled claret and other comestibles, read papers on “The
Abolition of the Halfpenny Press,” or “The Glories of Tariff Reform.” They
had big dinners, and tried to find their way home in the small hours. We
have our fresher’s wines and bump suppers in which the whole college
participates with the sole object of enjoying good wine and destroying
good furniture, and we crawl home, if we are outside college, through the
same streets. To-day we have the “pi” man who sternly refuses to
countenance such evil things as fresher’s wines; who has signed the pledge
and eschews tobacco. If he is compelled by an outraged band of senior men
to lend his presence against his better judgment, and is led out from a
room in a state of Doré-like chaos, he becomes uproarious on a glass of
water and two bananas, and writes home to his mother that his bill for
repairs is enormous owing to his bravery in being a martyr to his
principles, and that drunkenness is on the increase among the
Undergraduates. All the same he thoroughly enjoys himself, and in time
wears off rough corners and learns how to keep his vows without any
objectionable fanfare. At the end of the eighteenth century a man of this
kidney named Crosse wrote to his mother: “Oxford is a perfect hell upon
earth. What chance is there for an unfortunate lad just come from school
with no one to watch and care for him--no guide? I often saw my tutor
carried off perfectly intoxicated.” I can see the man crouching in a dark
corner of the quad appalled at the sight of his fellows dancing round a
bonfire, while his tutor rushes by on the arms of a festive crowd in full
rejoicing at some college triumph. It would be interesting to ascertain
Crosse’s views at the end of his university career. He remained, however,
in the obscurity of mediocrity.

Our trousseau when we first appear at the university consists of modest
socks and humble waistcoats, and ties which make no claim to originality
or even to smartness. They are content to be merely useful and to fulfil
their appointed functions. But does not every parent learn subsequently,
with dreadful results to his peace of mind, how after our first month we
make our way unerringly to the tailors and clothiers, and there with
deadly earnestness absorb colour schemes which cry a loud challenge to
Joseph’s coat? Our waistcoats are dreams,--sometimes nightmares; the
blending of harmony between shirt, tie, and socks is as perfect as the
rainbow. Our hair, which used to be parted carelessly down one side, now
disdains partings and goes straight back in one beautiful Magdalen sweep.
Our trousers are thrown at the scout’s head as a gift unless they be of
unparalleled width and of exceptional crease.

This tendency to burst forth into strange and variegated garments in token
of our emancipation from apron strings was just as strong in the old days.
The sons of country farmers came trooping into Oxford, their clouted shoes
thick with good red earth, in linsey wolsey coats, with greasy, uncombed
heads of hair flapping in the wind. Their stockings were of coarse yarn,
and they knew nothing better than to have long muslin neckcloths run with
red at the ends. But they soon realised the contempt in which they were
held for this dull chrysalis-like appearance. After a few weeks these
shamefaced clodhoppers sneaked into the side door of the barbers’ shops to
emerge proudly by the front entrance in a bob wig. Their clouted shoes
were relegated to young brothers, and they wore new ones--Oxford cut.
Their yarn stockings gave place to worsted, until, after a very short
interval between their arrival and their settling down, they blushed out
like butterflies in tye wigs and ruffles and silk gowns. The “blood” of
that period, or, as the term then was, the “smart,” or the “buck of the
first head,” was distinguished when he aired his person, Amhurst told us,
“by a stiff silk gown which rustles in the wind as he struts along; a
flaxen tye wig, or sometimes a long natural one which reaches down below
his rump; a broad bully cock’d hat, or a square cap of above twice the
usual size; white stockings, thin Spanish leather shoes; his cloaths lined
with tawdry silk, and his shirt ruffled down the bosom as well as at the
wrists. Besides all which marks, he has a delicate jaunt in his gait, and
smells philosophically of essence.”

How his direct descendant, the Bullingdon man, must envy him his
magnificent opportunities of making a brave show! Not for him the silk
gown, the bully cocked hat. The best he can do in imitation is the amazing
dinner jacket which he sometimes sports at the theatre, under which one
finds not the accepted form of dress shirt but a peculiar form of
abortion which is neatly ruffled at “bosom and wrists.” In place of the
Spanish leather shoes the last word to-day is apparently buckskin. The
“delicate jaunt in the gait” has been retained--the result being caused
now by a union of “Eton slouch” and “Oxford manner.” The head still smells
of essence--honey and flowers at Hatt’s, brilliantine at Martyr’s. These
great-minded people think alike not only in point of dress but of the
manner of killing time. “The Lownger” summed up the process as carried out
in the eighteenth century--

  “I rise about nine, get to breakfast by ten,
   Blow a tune on my flute, or perhaps make a pen,
   Read a play till eleven or cock my lac’d hat,
   Then step to my neighbour’s, till dinner to chat.
   Dinner over to Tom’s or to James’s I go,
   The news of the town so impatient to know,
   While Low, Locke and Newton and all the rum race
   That talk of their Modes, their ellipses and space,
   The Seat of the Soul and new Systems on high,
   In Halls as abstruse as their mysteries lie.
   From the coffee-house then I to Tennis away,
   And at five I post back to my College to pray,
   I sup before eight and secure from all duns,
   Undauntedly march to the Mitre or Tuns,
   Where in Punch or good Claret my sorrows I drown,
   And toss off a bowl to the best in the town.
   At one in the morning I call what’s to pay?
   Then home to my College I stagger away.
   Thus I tope all the night as I trifle all day.”

Every one knows the various processes of slacking at the present time, so
that there is no need for detail. But in essence the method is the same,
and the result also. Our lunches at the Cherwell Hotel, at the riverside
inns at Iffley and Abingdon; our “Grinds”; our slacking on the river in
summer term--all these were done two centuries ago, and, just as some of
the more energetic of us seek to immortalise these doings by contributing
poems and articles to the ’varsity papers, so did the Undergraduates then
send their sonnets and Latin verses to _The Student_, the _Oxford
Magazine_, and Jackson’s _Oxford Journal_. In place of the musical comedy
lady, whose silvery laughter floats down wind to-day, the Oxford toast
flaunted it right merrily in the old days. The gownsmen’s tobacco accounts
then amounted to quite as much as ours do, and they wrote home for further
supplies of pocket money in almost the identical terms which we use
to-day. Yesterday’s and to-day’s Oxford men are one and the same. Oxford
herself and her Dons are changed, but the Undergraduate goes on doing and
thinking the same things in the same way, and when he goes down now he
feels very much as felt the eighteenth-century poet who, also down,

  “Could Ovid, deathless bard, forbear,
   Confin’d by Scythia’s frozen plains,
   Cease to desire his native air
   In softest elegiac strains?
   Cursed with the town no more can I
   For Oxford’s meadow cease to sigh....
   Can I, while mem’ry lasts, forget
   Oxford, thy silver rolling stream,
   Thy silent walks and cool retreat
   Where first I sucked the love of fame?
   E’en now the thought inspires my breast
   And lulls my troubled soul to rest.”




    First arrival--Footpads and “easy pads”--Farewell to parents--A
    forlorn animal--Terrae Filius’s advice--Much prayers--“Hell has no
    fury like a woman scorned”--The disadvantages of a conscience.

The beginning of our university career is marked, unless we be Stoics, by
mixed feelings of elation and a sinking at the pit of the stomach which we
afterwards learn to recognise as “needle.” The train journey may have
seemed long, but at this first breathless moment when the porter receives
our goods and chattels into his arms from the top of the moribund hansom,
we could almost wish that we were back in the train again. A sense of
isolation, and of having to stand or fall by ourselves, sweeps over like a
tidal wave, leaving us momentarily chilled and nervous.

How different was the fresher’s arrival in the eighteenth century. He
boarded a coach in the early morning in London. His baggage was placed in
the boot, and the traveller, armed to the teeth with blunderbuss and
pistols, took his seat. With a clattering of hoofs, yelling of ostlers and
merry tooting on the horn, the coach dashed out of the yard and wound
merrily along throughout the day by field, village, and town. If the
journey were a lucky one, the travellers arrived at Oxford without let or
hindrance about six o’clock in the evening, when they were able to catch a
first glimpse of the top of Radcliffe’s Library. They then jolted in over
Magdalen Bridge--in those days the new bridge--and so made their way to
their respective colleges.

Wrapped up in thick coats and with ice-cold feet tapping the side of the
coach to restore circulation, the excited fresher had ample time for
cogitation. The lets and hindrances, over and above the ordinary accidents
to horse or vehicle, such as casting a shoe or breaking a strap, were
little excitements in the form of footpads and highwayman, who infested
the district on the look-out for a fat and likely college bursar laden
with fat and likely money-bags. At the first hint of the approach of one
of these gentlemen of the road, blunderbusses were whipped out and fired
in all directions, while the horses were lashed and the coach leaned and
rocked and swayed in its efforts to get away. Afterwards, ensconced behind
a tankard in the Tuns among his somewhat condescending senior friends, the
newcomer warmed up under the influence of hot toddy and genial society,
and described the awful onslaught made upon them by at least fifty mounted

Did he come from nearer places than London, then he made his entrance on a
sedate horse, in the fashion of the gentleman-commoner who sent the
following account to Terrae Filius:--

  “Being of age to play the fool
   With muckle glee I left our school
           At Hoxton,
   And mounted on an easy pad
   Rode with my mother and my dad
           To Oxon.”

This merry bard was not exempt from the pangs of loneliness. He, too, felt
the wave of depression when his mother and dad kissed him and slowly
disappeared down the street again on their easy pads. For, after an
amusing description of purchasing gown and square, he burst into tears.

  “I sallied forth to deck my back
   With loads of Tuft and black
   My back equipt, it was not fair
   My head should ’scape, and so as square
       As chessboard
   A cap I bought, my scull to screen,
   Of cloth without and all within
       Of pasteboard
   When metamorphos’d in attire
   More like a parson than a squire
       th’ had dressed me
   I took my leave with many a tear
   Of John our man, and parents dear
       Who blessed me....”[2]

and there he was, poor lad, probably no more than fifteen years old--of
age to play the fool--left, lachrymose and solitary, to fight his own
battles and win his M.A. spurs before coming to grips with the world.

George Colman the younger, who matriculated at the House in 1780, and who
would most certainly have been instantly elected to the Bullingdon Club
had he gone up to-day, wrote most feelingly on the question of the lonely
fresher. “A Freshman, as a young academician is call’d on his admission at
Oxford,” he said “is a forlorn animal. It is awkward for an old stager in
life to be thrown into a large company of strangers, to make his way among
them, as he can--but to the poor freshman everything is strange--not only
College society, but any society at all--and he is solitary in the midst
of a crowd. If, indeed, he should happen to come to the University
(particularly to Christ Church) from one of the great publick schools, he
finds some of his late school fellows, who, being in the same straggling
situation with himself, abridge the period of his fireside loneliness,
and of their own, by forming a familiar intercourse--otherwise he may mope
for many a week; at all events, it is generally some time before he
establishes himself in a set of acquaintance.”[3]

To-day when we have conquered Smalls and our rooms have been assigned in
college or in the house of some licensed landlady, it is customary for our
“parents dear” to lead us gently by the buttonhole into the study, and
there, with their coat tails spread wide to the blazing logs, to hold
forth in rounded periods what is termed sound advice. When it is over they
shake hands with us, both of us swallowing absurdly, and we go forth
better friends than ever. In the first number of any one of the ’varsity
“rags” for the new academic year it is safe to conclude that the “leader”
will be a word of explanation, advice, friendship, or welcome to the
newcomer. It is always facetious and invariably has a gentle dig at the
fresher’s expense, though the writer, once a fresher himself, should know
better. The following is a specimen of how these things were done in the
old days:--

    “_Wednesday, May 1, 1721._

    “To all gentlemen School-Boys, in his majesty’s dominions, who are
    design’d for the University of Oxford, Terrae Filius sends greetings;

    “MY LADS,--I am so well acquainted with the variety and malapertness
    of you sparks, as soon as you get out of your schoolmaster’s hands,
    that I know I shall be called a fusty old fellow, and a thousand
    ridiculous names besides, for presuming to give advice, which I would
    not, say you, take, if I was a young fellow myself. But being a very
    public-spirited person, and a great well wisher to my fellow subjects
    (whatever you may think of me) I am resolved, whether you mind what I
    am going to say, or not, to lay you down some rules and precautions
    for your conduct in the university, on the strict observation or
    neglect of which your future good or ill fortune will depend; and, I
    am sure that you will thank me, six or seven years hence, for this
    piece of service, however troublesome and impertinent you may think it

    “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 suit of drugget, a pair of prim
    ruffles, a new bob wig, and a brazen-hilted sword; in which tawdry
    manner you strut about town for a week or two before you go to
    College, giving your selves airs in coffee-houses and booksellers’
    shops, and intruding your selves into the company of us men; from all
    which, I suppose you think your selves your own master, no more
    subject to controul or confinement--alas! fatal mistake! soon will you
    confess that the tyrrany of a school is nothing to the tyrrany of a
    college; nor the grammar-pedant to the academical one; for, what
    signifies a smarting back-side to a bullied conscience? What was Busby
    in comparison to D-e-l-ne?

    “And now, young gentlemen, give me leave to put on my magisterial
    face, and to instruct you how you are to demean yourselves in the
    station you are entered into, and what sort of behaviour is expected
    from you, according to the oaths and these subscriptions.

    “I know very well that you go thither prepossessed with a sanguine
    (but ignorant) opinion, that you are to hold fast your principles,
    whatever they are; that you are to follow, what in your conscience you
    think right, and to desclaim what you think wrong, that this is the
    only way to thrive in the world, and to be happy in the next, just as
    your silly mothers and superstitious old nurses have taught you: in
    the first place, therefore, I advise you to disengage your selves from
    all such scrupulous notions; for you may take my word for it, that
    otherwise it is a million to one that you miscarry.

    “For, it is a maxim as true as it is common, so many men, so many
    minds: but amongst all the different opinions of mankind there is
    never, at any one time, but one of those opinions which is call’d
    orthodox; if, therefore, you give your fancy the reins and let your
    own judgment determine your opinions, what infinite odds is it,
    whether you happen to hit upon that single, individual opinion, which
    is, at that particular crisis of time, in vogue, and which is
    therefore your interest to espouse? But if with all your diligence and
    sincerity, you should miss this _rara avis_, this happy phœnix
    opinion, then farewell to all your future prospects, to your ease,
    your reputation and good name for ever afterwards; I mean, if you are
    so weak, and so much bigotted with education, as to think it your duty
    to profess what you cannot help believing.

    “Your only safe way therefore is to carry along with you consciences
    _chartes blanches_, ready to receive any impression that you please to
    stamp upon them; for I would not have you adopt any particular system,
    however popular and prevailing it may seem to be at present, because
    it may alter, and then will prove fatal to you; for as much as they
    talk of steadiness and immutability of principles at Oxford, every
    body knows that Popery was for many ages the orthodox religion there;
    that protestantism (with much difficulty, and sorely against their
    wills) succeeded it; that, not long ago, they were almost all Whigs,
    and now almost all Tories, and for ought we know, will e’re long be
    Whigs again--never therefore explain your opinion but let your
    declarations be, that you are churchmen, and that you believe as the
    church believes....

[Illustration: COLLEGE SERVICE.]

    “I will only advise you to suppress, as much as possible, that busy
    spirit of curiosity, which too often fatally exerts itself in youthful
    breasts; but if (notwithstanding all your non-inquisitiveness), the
    strong beams of truth will break upon your minds, let them shine
    inwardly; disturb not the publick peace with your private discoveries
    and illuminations; so, if you have any concern for your welfare and
    prosperity, let Aristotle be your guide in philosophy, and Athanasius
    in religion....

    “To call yourself a Whig at Oxford, or to act like one, or to lie
    under the suspicion of being one, is the same as to be attainted and
    outlaw’d; you will be discouraged and brow beaten in your own college
    and disqualified for preferment in any other; your company will be
    avoided, and your character abused; you will certainly lose your
    degree and at last, perhaps, upon some pretence or other, be

    “Leave no stone unturned to insinuate yourselves into the favour of
    the Head, and senior-fellows of your respective colleges....

    “Whenever you appear before them, conduct yourselves with all specious
    humility and demureness; convince them of the great veneration you
    have for their persons by speaking very low and bowing to the ground
    at every word: whenever you meet them jump out of the way with your
    caps in your hands and give them the whole street to walk in, let it
    be as broad as it will. Always seem afraid to look them in the face,
    and make them believe that their presence strikes you with a sort of
    awe and confusion; but above all be very constant at chapel; never
    think that you lose too much time at prayers, or that you neglect your
    studies too much, whilst you are showing your respect to the church. I
    have heard indeed that a former president of St John’s College (a
    whimsical, irreligious old fellow) would frequently jobe his students
    for going constantly three or four times a day to chapel, and
    lingering away their time, and robbing their parents, under a pretence
    of serving God. But as this is the only instance I ever met with of
    such an Head, it cannot overthrow a general rule.... Another thing
    very popular in order to grow the favourites of your Heads, is first
    of all to make your selves the favourites of their footmen, concerning
    whose dignity and grandeur I have spoken in a former paper. You must
    have often heard, my lads, of the old proverb, “Love me, and love my
    Dog”; which is not very foreign in this case; for if you expect any
    favour from the master, you must shew great respect to his servant.

    “Have a particular regard how you speak of those gaudy things which
    flutter about Oxford in prodigious numbers, in summer-time, call’d
    toasts; take care how you reflect on their parentage, their condition,
    their virtue, or their beauty; ever remembering that of the poet,

        ‘Hell has no fury like a woman scorned,’

    especially when they have spiritual bravoes on their side and old
    lecherous bully-backs to revenge their cause on every audacious
    contemner of Venus and her altars....

    “I have but one thing more to mention to you, which is, not to give
    into that foolish practice, so common at this time in the university,
    of running upon tick, as it is called.... How many hopeful young men
    have been ruin’d in this manner, cut short in the midst of their
    philosophical enquiries, and for ever afterwards render’d unable to
    pursue their studies again with a chearful heart, and without

    “My whole advice, in a few words, is this:--

    “Let your own interest, abstracted from any whimsical notions of
    conscience, honour, honesty or justice, be your guide; consult always
    the present humour of the place and comply with it; make yourselves
    popular and beloved at any rate; rant, roar, rail, drink, wh--re,
    swear, unswear, forswear; do anything, do everything that you find
    obliging; do nothing that is otherwise; nor let any considerations of
    right and wrong flatter you out of those courses, which you find most
    for your advantage. I have only to add, that if you follow this
    advice, you will spend your days there not only in peace and plenty,
    but with applause and reputation; if you have any secret good
    qualities they will be pointed out in the most glaring light, and
    aggravated in the most exquisite manner; if you have ever so many ugly
    ones, they will be either palliated or jesuitically interpreted into
    good ones. Whereas, on the contrary, if you despice and reject these
    wholesome admonitions, violence, disrest, and an ill name will be the
    rewards of your folly and obstinacy; it will avail you nothing, that
    you have enrich’d your minds with all sorts of useful and commendable
    knowledge; and that, as to vulgar morality, you have preserved an
    unspotted character before men; these things will rather exasperate
    the holy men against you, and excite all their cunning and artifice
    for your destruction; the least frailties, humanity is prone to, will
    be magnify’d into the grossest of all wickedness; and the best
    actions, our nature is capable of, will be debased and vilified away.
    And now do even as it shall seem good unto you. Farewell.




    Ceremony of matriculation--Paying the swearing-broker--Colman and the
    Vice-Chancellor--Learning the Oxford manner--Homunculi
    Togati--Academia and a mother’s love--The jovial father--Underground
    dog-holes and shelving garrets--The harpy and the sheets--The first

The advice tendered to freshmen in Amhurst’s amazing and bitterly
satirical letter is for those who have been matriculated. They must,
therefore, fulfil all the rites of matriculation before they can read,
mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. As the process was vastly different
in Georgian times, it is interesting to read the varying accounts of
eighteenth-century freshmen. The gentleman who, “being of age to play the
fool,” came up with his parents from Hoxton, has written a somewhat
indiscreet but all the more laughable description of the ceremony.

  “The master took me first aside,
   Shew’d me a scrawl, I read, and cry’d
           Do Fidem.
   Gravely he shook me by the fist,
   And wish’d me well--we next request
           a tutor.
   He recommends a staunch one, who
   In Perkin’s cause has been his co-
   To see this precious stick of wood,
   I went (for so they deem’d it good)
           in fear, Sir.
   And found him swallowing loyally
   Six deep his bumpers which to me
           seem’d queer, Sir.
   He bade me sit and take my glass,
   I answered, looking like an ass,
           I, I can’t, Sir.
   Not drink!--you don’t come here to pray!
   The merry mortal said by way
           of answer.
   To pray, Sir! No--my lad, ’tis well,
   Come! here’s our friend Sacheverell!
           here’s Trappy!
   Here’s Ormond! Marr! in short so many
   Traitors we drank, it made my Cranium nappy....”


The lad then went out into the town with this same “sociable priest,”
bought his gown, and parted from his parents, and then--

  “The master said they might believe him,
   So righteously (the Lord forgive him!)
           he’d govern
   He’d show me the extremest love,
   Provided that I did not prove
           too stubborn.
   So far, so good--but now fresh fees
   Began (for so the custom is)
   Fresh fees!--with drink they knock you down,
   You spoil your clothes; and your new gown
           you spue in....”

He then retired for the night, and was awakened at six o’clock next
morning by a “scoundrel” of a servitor. He rose and went to chapel, very
sick and still half drunk. Later in the day, when he had recovered
sufficiently, he went with his tutor to Broad Street, where--

  “Built in the form of Pidgeon-pye,
   A house there is for rooks to lie
           and roost in.
   Thither to take the oaths I went,
   My tutor’s conscience well content
           to trust in.
   Their laws, their articles of grace
   Forty, I think (save half a brace),
           was willing
   To swear to; swore, engag’d my soul,
   And paid the swearing-broker whole
           ten shilling.
   Full half a pound I paid him down,
   To live in the most p----d town,
           o’ th’ nation.”

It must not be understood, however, that such orgies characterised the
ceremony of matriculation. This writer of fluent doggerel was a gentleman
commoner, but he seems to have caught at every lax point that he
personally observed as a target for his wit. The more sober matriculation,
both literally and figuratively, of George Colman the younger can be most
suitably placed in the other side of the scale. “On my entrance at
Oxford,” he wrote, “as a member of Christ Church, I was too foppish a
follower of the prevailing fashions to be a reverential observer of
academical dress--in truth, I was an egregious little puppy--and I was
presented to the Vice-Chancellor, to be matriculated, in a grass-green
coat, with the furiously-bepowder’d pate of an ultra-coxcomb; both of
which are proscribed by the Statutes of the University. Much courtesy is
shown, in the ceremony of matriculation, to the boys who come from Eton
and Westminster; insomuch that they are never examined in respect to their
knowledge of the School Classicks--their competency is considered as a
matter of course--but, in subscribing the articles of their matriculation
oaths, they sign their _praenomen_ in Latin; I wrote, therefore,
_Georgeius_--thus, alas! inserting a redundant E--and, after a pause, said
enquiringly to the Vice-Chancellor--looking up in his face with perfect
_naiveté_--‘pray, sir, am I to add Colmanus?’

“My Terentian father, who stood at my right elbow, blush’d at my
ignorance--the Tutor (a piece of sham marble) did not blush at all--but
gave a Sardonick grin, as if _Scagliola_ had moved a muscle!

“The good-natur’d Vice drollingly answer’d me--that the surnames of
certain _profound authors_, whose comparatively modern works were extant,
had been latinized; but that a Roman termination tack’d to the patronymick
of an English gentleman of my age and appearance, would rather be a
redundant formality. There was too much delicacy in the worthy Doctor’s
satire for my green comprehension--and I walk’d back, unconscious of it,
to my College--strutting along in the pride of my unstatutable curls and
coat, and practically breaking my oath, the moment I had taken it.”

From both their accounts, differing so widely from each other, it would
seem that the ceremony of matriculation, which to-day is conducted with an
almost ecclesiastical solemnity, was in those days simply a matter of
form, a tedious business which the Vice-Chancellor hurried through with
all speed. One man performed his part in a condition of semi-intoxication
without an inkling of the meaning of the oaths to which he subscribed,
while another was presented to the Vice-Chancellor in clothes more
suitable to a fancy dress ball than to his formal admittance to the
university. Neither man drew upon himself the reprimand which to-day would
immediately be levelled at him.

In becoming a member of the university, therefore, the eighteenth-century
freshman received his first experience of the complete inanition and
futility of the Don world. Apparently he suffered no apprehension on the
score of not conducting himself with fitting politeness when in the
presence of the authorities. Their opinion of him gave him no concern. He
was far more anxious not to contravene the unwritten laws of the
Undergraduate world. Once the tiresome but necessary matriculation became
a thing of the past, he began to look about him, anxiously at first from
the desire to avoid grievous blunders which would make him a
laughing-stock. All initiative was far too dangerous when the lynx eyes of
the entire college were upon him. Actuated by the firm belief that at
least he could not be criticised for politeness and good-breeding, the
timid freshman endeavoured to ingratiate himself in the eyes of all by
doffing his cap with humble frequence. From “Academia, or the Humours of
Oxford,” the following bitter excerpt on the question of the freshman’s
manners is vastly entertaining.

  “Now being arrived at his College,
   The place of learning and of knowledge,
   A while he’ll leer about, and snivel ye,
   And doff his Hat to all most civilly,
   Being told at home that a shame face too,
   Was a great sign that he had some Grace too,
   He’ll speak to none, alas! for he’s
   Amased at every Man he sees:
   May-hap this lasts a Week, or two,
   Till some Scab laugh’s him on’t, so
   That when most you’d expect his mending,
   His Breeding’s ended, and not ending
   Now he dares walk abroad, and dare ye,
   Hat on, in peoples’ Faces stare ye;
   Thinks what a Fool he was before, to
   Pull off his Hat, which he’d no more do;
   But that the devil shites Disasters,
   So that he’s forc’d to cap the Masters, ...
   He must cap them; but for all other,
   Tho’ ’twere his Father, or his Mother,
   His Gran’num, Uncle, Aunt, or Cousin,
   He wo’ not give one Cap to a dozen.”

What wonders may be worked in a week or two! From almost servile
politeness he went to the extreme of discourtesy with the assurance of a
second-year man.

Imitation is, however, the essence of life. Because certain things are
done, all men are compelled to do them unless they wish to incur social
ostracism. We are like sheep and must follow our leaders with docility and
readiness. If we decline to bow the neck to convention, and declare for
originality and freedom, society turns and rends us. At Oxford the
punishment for such a crime as originality is swift. A horde of outraged
seniors descends like an avalanche upon the sinner’s rooms. They visit
their wrath not only upon his belongings but upon his person, and
eventually they leave him in a condition of mental and physical chaos, to
realise the utter futility of kicking against the pricks.

In the eighteenth century the same social creed was practised. For any
transgression from the commonplace the chastisement of the culprit was
inevitable. The freshman undoubtedly realised the truth of this, however
vaguely, and conducted himself according to the rules laid down by his
seniors. His excessive good manners lasted only until the moment when it
was born in upon him that rudeness was the policy of his leaders.

But though he might be no more than a scant fifteen years of age, as soon
as he wiped away the last tear caused by the departure of his mother, the
fresher became a Man, aggressively and consistently so. “No character,”
wrote Colman, “is more jealous of the Dignity of Man (not excepting
Colonel Bath, in Fielding’s Novel of Amelia), than a lad who has just
escaped from School birch to College discipline. This early Lord of the
Creation is so inflated with the importance of virility, that his
pretension to it is carefully kept up in almost every sentence he utters.
He never mentions any one of his associates but as a gentlemanly or a
pleasant man--a studious man, a dashing man, a drinking man, etc.,
etc.--and the Homunculi Togati of Sixteen always talk of themselves as
Christ Church men, Trinity, St John’s, Oriel, Brazen-nose men,
etc.--according to their several colleges, of which old Hens, they are the
Chickens--in short, there is no end to the colloquial manhood of these
mannikins.” This passage might easily have been written to-day and not
about the middle of the eighteenth century, for the point of view of the
modern Oxford man is exactly the same as it was then.

The parents of the old-time fresher looked at his going up and his
immediate assumption of manhood from very opposite points of view. The
mother, with regulation anxiety, conceived him to be a hardly-used,
homesick, half-starved, uncomfortable, thoroughly wretched fellow, doomed
to live in stone walls in a fever-stricken and miasmic locality.

  “Most dearly tender’d by his Mother,
   Who loves him better than his brother;
   So she at home a good while keeps him,
   In White-broath, and Canary steeps him;
   And tho’ his Noddle’s somewhat empty,
   His Guts are stuffed with Sweet-meats plenty.”

This is how “Academia” described the mother’s far-reaching apron-string
still feeling out, though some weeks cut, for her far distant son. Not so
the father! When his wife sent a servant up to Oxford with a well-stuffed
hamper for her boy and fond messages as to his health, he went down to the
servants’ hall and, planting himself in front of the returned messenger,
asked “If’s Son has got a Punck yet Whores he, and gets ye often drunk
yet; Being told by’s Man, he took him quaffing, For joy he bursts his
sides with laughing; and prithee John (says he) and how was’t--Ha, Drunk
i’ the Cellar, as a Sow, wast?”

Although the father took it for granted that his son had immediately
forgotten his home and arrived in an instant at man’s estate--as far as
that permits of getting drunk--he was not always in the right. To a
certain extent the anxieties of the mother were justified, for, on
arriving at Oxford, the freshman did not always fall on a bed of clover.
In many instances he was lucky to get a bed at all in some poky little
garret with one window, through which could be obtained a minute view of
sky and stars, and which was ice-cold in winter and in summer stuffy to a
degree. However large the college there were always more men in residence
than could be properly housed. Colman said of the House, one of the
biggest colleges in Oxford, that it “was so completely cramm’d, that
shelving garrets, and even unwholesome cellars, were inhabited by young
gentlemen, in whose father’s families the servants could not be less
liberally accommodated.” He refers also to a fellow Westminster boy who
was “stuffed into one of these underground dog-holes.” Then, too, even up
to the beginning of the nineteenth century there prevailed a system of
ragging freshers which did not tend to make them any the less homesick.
They were swindled by their scouts, and shamefully misused by their

To add to their discomfort their tutors were in many cases fast allies of
the bottle, and totally unable to render them any assistance in the matter
of finding their feet. Colman made a very illuminative reference, from his
own experience, to the scurvy tricks which the scouts and bedmakers played
upon the long-suffering fresher. “My two mercenaries,” he wrote, “having
to do with a perfect greenhorn, laid in all the articles for me which I
wanted--wine, tea, sugar, coals, candles, bed and table linen--with many
useless etcetera, which they told me I wanted--charging me for everything
full half more than they had paid, and then purloining from me full half
of what they had sold.”

His scout and bedmaker had each seen fit to enter the bonds of holy
matrimony, and both brought up their better halves to assist in despoiling
the luckless greenhorn. He, however, soon lost his greenness and set about
putting his house in order--with the result that all four were turned out.
In their places, he duly installed a scout and a bedmaker who were married
to each other--a tactical move which “consolidates knavery, and reduces
your _ménage_ to a couple of pilferers, instead of four.” But before
Colman had found himself sufficiently to be able firmly but courteously to
dispense with their services, his bedmaker, fittingly called a harpy,
played him false most condemnably. “I was glad,” he said, writing of his
first night in Oxford, “on retiring early to rest, that I might ruminate,
for five minutes, over the important events of the day, before I fell fast
asleep. I was not, then, in the habit of using a night-lamp or burning a
rush-light; so, having dropt the extinguisher upon my candle, I got into
bed; and found, to my dismay, that I was reclining in the dark upon a
surface very like that of a pond in a hard frost. The jade of a bedmaker
had spread the spick and span sheeting over the blankets, fresh from the
linen-draper’s shop-unwash’d, uniron’d, unair’d, ‘with all its
imperfections on its head.’ Through the tedious hours of an inclement
January night, I could not close my eyes--my teeth chattered, my back
shivered--I thrust my head under the bolster, drew my knees up to my chin;
it was all useless, I could not get warm--I turned again and again, at
every turn a hand or a foot touch’d upon some new cold place; and at every
turn the chill glazy clothwork crepitated like iced buckram. God forgive
me for having execrated the authoress of my calamity! but, I verily think,
that the meekest of Christians who prays for his enemies, and for mercy
upon “all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Hereticks,” would in his orisons, in
such a night of misery, make a specifick exception against his

In these enlightened days a fresher, even, would not have left her out of
his prayers--he would have invented new ones for her especial benefit.
Poor Colman found when he rose betimes in the morning, making a virtue of
necessity, that a night of misery was not the only torment that the
ill-favoured hussy had stored up for him. For, having abluted in ice-cold
water in the hopes of refreshing himself, he found that the towel was in
an even worse state of hardness than the sheets; while at breakfast the
tablecloth was so stiff that he dreaded to sit down to his meal because he
feared to cut his shins against the edge of it. With intent, doubtless, to
add humiliation to injury, the old hag had also left his surplice in a
state of pristine unwashedness, so that “cased in this linen panoply,
which covers him from his chin to his feet, and seems to stand on end, in
emulation of a suit of armour (the certain betrayer of an academical
debutant) the Newcomer is to be heard at several yards distance, on his
way across a quadrangle, cracking and bouncing like a dry faggot upon the
fire--and he never fails to command notice, in his repeated marches to
prayer, till soap and water have silenced the noise of his arrival at

The optimism of a Georgian freshman was truly amazing. The invaluable gift
of youth is undoubtedly its explanation. To be thrust suddenly into
entirely new surroundings where not only the manners and customs were
quite different from any of which he had experience before, but where it
was necessary to begin again, to readjust his outlook upon life, was a
very trying experience. It was one which men of greater maturity would
hesitate to undergo. And yet here was this man, a mere lad of fifteen or
sixteen, gladly entering a new world with a vague notion of the things
which would be expected of him or of the things to expect. Without a
twinge of nervousness he signed his name to long-winded oaths, and
unconsciously perjured himself five minutes later. Everywhere he saw
strange faces, met with new and incomprehensible experiences, and found
himself doing the wrong thing. With undaunted cheerfulness, however, he
allowed Oxford to treat him as she chose, to mould him to her own liking,
to pull him this way and that, until eventually, with an increased
optimism, his schoolboy corners were rounded off, and he became one with
Oxford. It was his very lack of experience which enabled him to go through
such a difficult time without flinching. He did not realise the tremendous
forces at work upon him. He was, in fact, like a seed put into earth.
After the rain, the sun, the wind, and all the forces of Nature have been
brought to bear upon it, slowly and irresistibly it shoots up and becomes
at last a flower. The Oxford freshman burst forth into blossom at the end
of his first year in the same helpless way. He was quite unable to tell by
what steps his development had been brought about, and was perfectly
content to go through his whole university career in the same blind way.



    Valentine Frippery and his letter--Boiled chicken and
    pettitoes--Lyne’s coffee-house and the _billet-doux_--Tick--Liquor
    capacity--A Smart advises _The Student_--Latin odes for tradesmen

One of the most interesting things to study at the university is the way
in which a man gets into a certain set. Let me take for example a group of
freshmen who come from the same public school, who have played together in
the school games, possibly invited each other home for the holidays. Their
tastes and ideas are apparently the same. On coming up to Oxford each man
is differently affected. For the first few weeks they meet in one
another’s rooms and discuss their impressions freely and without any
reserve. Then suddenly, after the manner of mushrooms which spring up in a
single night, it is found that one of them has got into the racing set
which despises everybody who does not ride a horse; another into the
working set, which lives, eats, and sleeps with its books; a third into
the religious set, which in a quiet, unostentatious manner goes out of its
way to help the poor, attends frequent religious meetings and,
unfortunately and quite undeservedly, is somewhat scorned by the rest of
the college; a fourth has got into the smart set, and has become a
“blood”; and others into the thousand and one little groups which go to
the composition of a university.

This curious sudden upheaval of ideas and habits which is brought about in
one short term is to be found in every college every year, just as it
appertained in the eighteenth century. I have shown the way in which some
of these freshmen came to feel ashamed of their clothes and crept into
the back entrances of barber’s and tailor’s shops, while their friends
remained perfectly satisfied with their appearance, and jogged along
without any desire for silks and satins.

The Georgian “blood,” however, was a person of tantamount importance. It
was he who provided the university with food for mirth, envy, satire,
recrimination. In a previous chapter I quoted Amhurst’s description of how
a Smart might be distinguished when he sauntered along, languidly twirling
his clouded amber cane and smelling philosophically of essence. His main
objects in life were apparently to avoid the accusation of being
ill-mannered, to consume daily as much liquor as possible, to be ardent in
singing the praises of the latest toast, and to expend in finery far more
money than he possessed. He thought himself to be a model of culture and
was, in fact, the man of the period who put on the most “side.”

Amhurst, with an editorial genius that was without parallel in those
times, wrote an attack on the good manners of Undergraduates in order that
he might criticise, or better, satirise, that “large body of fine
gentlemen call’d Smarts.” Under the name of Valentine Frippery he answered
his own attack with a bitter reply, taking up the cudgels stoutly on
behalf of the attackees, and wound up his article by riddling all men of
the Frippery type.

[Illustration: BUCKS OF THE FIRST HEAD.]

Allowing that Terrae Filius was ever a caricaturist, and that all his
tirades and jibes must be taken cum _grano salts_, nevertheless the
picture he draws of the Bucks of the first head is a very true one.
“Valentine Frippery” wrote in answer to the accusation of ill-breeding as

    “_To Terrae Filius._

    “_Christ Church College, July 1._

    “MR PRATE-APACE.--Amongst all the vile trash and ribaldry with which
    you have lately poisoned the publick, nothing is more scandalous
    and saucy than your charging our university with the want of
    civility and good manners. Let me tell you, Sir, for all your haste,
    we have as well-bred, accomplish’d gentlemen in Oxford, as any where
    in Christendom; men that dress as well, sing as well, dance as well,
    and behave in every respect as well, though I say it, as any man under
    the sun. You are the first audacious Wit-wou’d that ever call’d Oxford
    a boorish, uncivilised place: And demme, Sir, you ought to be hors’d
    out of all good company for an impudent praggish Jackanapes. Oxford a
    boorish place! poor wretch! I am sorry for thy ignorance. Who wears
    finer lace, or better linnen than Jack Flutter? who has handsomer
    tie-wigs or more fashionable cloaths or cuts a bolder dash than Tom
    Paroquet? Where can you find a more handy man at a tea-table than
    Robin Tattle? Or, without vanity I may say it, one that plays better
    at Ombre than him, who subscribes himself an enemy to all such pimps
    as thou art?”

Such are the arguments he brought up against a charge of bad manners:
singing, dancing, handy at a tea-table, wearing the best lace and linen
and cutting a bold dash. The perfect gentleman indeed! The acme of
culture! He, with all the others of his kidney, put in an appearance at
Lyne’s coffee-house in academical undress somewhere about eleven
o’clock--that is to say, immediately after a gentle dalliance with
breakfast. Here he discussed the topics of the hour, heard the latest
news, enjoyed the latest scandals, and then strolled in the Park or under
Merton wall. Those who made no pretensions to “Smartness” were meanwhile
dining in Hall--a thing far beneath the dignity of a Buck of the first
head who ate in solitary dignity in his own chamber, his meal consisting,
for example, of “boil’d chicken and pettitoes.” After resting awhile, he
spent an hour or so in overcoming the difficulties of dressing. That
satisfactorily concluded, it was his bounden duty to make an afternoon
appearance at Lyne’s. About five o’clock he dropped in at Hamilton’s,
where he “struts about the room for a while and drinks a dram of citron.”
Thence he returned to college and adjourned to the chapel “to shew how
genteely he dresses, and how well he can chaunt.” Having given conclusive
demonstrations of these two accomplishments, he drank tea with some
celebrated toast and attended her to Maudlin Grove or Paradise Garden and
back again. Such a ridiculous idea as work never entered his head. Any
time he might give to reading was employed in the study of novels and

As an example of his passion for cleanliness at all costs, Terrae Filius
gave an account of an adventure of one of these gentry at Lyne’s
coffee-house. “This afternoon, a noted Smart of Christ Church College, as
he was writing a _billet-doux_ had the misfortune to blot one of his
ruffles with a spot of ink, which put the gentleman in so great a
disorder, that he threw the standish through the window, stamped about the
room for half an hour together, and was often heard to say, I wonder that
gentlemen cannot find some cleaner method of conveying their thoughts, and
that he wished he might be blown up wherever he went, if he ever made use
of that filthy liquor again, though the displeasure of the whole fair sex
was the consequence. Let prigs and pedants, said he, keep all the nasty
manufacture to themselves.”

It is comforting to be assured that this elaborate sect was not entirely
composed of peers and gentleman commoners, for their street behaviour was
far worse than anything that even the most hypercritical Somerville
blue-stocking can accuse Undergraduates of to-day. “They cannot forbear
laughing,” said Amhurst, “at every body that obeys the statutes, and
differs from them; or (as my correspondent expresses it in the proper
dialect of the place) that does not cut as bold a dash as they do. They
have singly, for the most part, very good assurances; but when they walk
together in bodies (as they often do), how impregnable are their
foreheads? They point at every foul they meet, laugh very loud, and
whisper as loud as they laugh. Demme, Jack, there goes a prig! Let us blow
the puppy up. Upon which they all stare him full in the face, turn him
from the wall as he passes by, and set up an horse laugh, which puts the
plain raw novice out of countenance, and occasions great triumph amongst
these tawdry desperadoes.”

Like all hooligans they were thorough cowards unless backed up by vastly
superior numbers. It took about twenty of them, and that with the
assistance of Dutch courage, to frighten some three or four foreigners and
to kick a Presbyterian parson out of a coffee-house. They were for the
most part sons of country farmers with practically no money who got into
the Smart set immediately after coming up, and who remained Smarts just so
long as the “mercers, taylors, shoe makers, and perriwig-makers will tick
with them.” Tradesmen of that day were apparently possessed of far longer
patience than most of the present generation. To-day they despatch
solicitor’s letters after two terms. Then they allowed a bill to lie
fallow (with the usual accretion of interest) for three or four years.

With his usual quaint humour Amhurst declared that he has seen these same
Smarts two or three years afterwards “in gowns and cassocks, walking with
demure looks and an holy leer; so easy is the transition from dancing to
preaching, and from the bowling-green to the pulpit.”

The Rev. Richard Graves, a Pembroke man, in 1732, related that he became
friends with a genial crowd who passed their evenings in drinking strong
ale, smoking like chimneys, punning, and singing Bacchanalian catches.
Some gentlemen commoners, however, Smarts, who came from the same part of
the country as Graves, rescued him from the ill-bred hands of such low
company--so considered chiefly on account of the liquor they drank. In his
own words “they good-naturedly invited me to their party: they treated me
with port wine and arrack-punch; and then, when they had drunk so much, as
hardly to distinguish wine from water, they would conclude with a bottle
or two of claret. They kept late hours and drank their favourite toasts on
their knees. This was deemed good company and high life; but it neither
suited my taste, my fortune, or my constitution.”

Night after night of this deep drinking made the fortunes of the
spirit-merchants, but left some of the drinkers soddened and useless. I
may quote, as an instance, the case of Lord Lovelace.

It is a well-known fact that the Principal of his Hall reported, and that
truthfully, that “he never knew him sober but twelve hours and that he
used every morning to drink a quart of brandy, or something equivalent to
it, to his own share.” Hearne, too, in his diary makes reference to a
commoner of Magdalen Hall, a son of Dr Inett, who was found dead from
drinking ale and brandy. There were three companions with him, but they
were merely asleep under the table. Professor Pryme, who was up at the end
of the eighteenth century, afterwards wrote that when Hall was over it was
the fashion to collect a large party together to drink wine with a little
dessert. “The host,” he said, “named a Vice-President, and toasts were
given. First a lady by each of the party, then a gentleman, and then a
sentiment. I remember one of these latter, the single married and the
married happy. Every one was required to fill a bumper to the toasts of
the President, the Vice-President, and his own. If any one wished to go to
chapel he was pressed to return afterwards.”[5]

The fact, however, that toping constituted such an important feature of
Undergraduate life, among Smarts and non-Smarts equally is not a matter
for vast amazement, or stern condemnation. _Quis custodiet ipsos
custodes?_--for the Dons were if anything even worse than those to whom
they stood in _loco parentis_. The whole world of Dons, from the humblest
and most juvenile Fellow to the king of kings, the Head of a college or
Hall, cultivated the vice of drink as assiduously as if it were a virtue.
Oxford was not so far away from London as not to reflect the manners and
habits of the capital, and since to the Bucks of London abnormal drinking
was then the highest good form, it is not to be wondered at that the
Undergraduates, ever of tender years and advanced imitative faculties,
should give a brilliant reflection of the metropolis.

Amhurst has pointed out that the Smarts never read anything but plays,
novels, and French comedies. When _The Student_ appeared, however, they
took it up more or less whole-heartedly. In these days of photographic
(that being the polite way of spelling pornographic) weeklies, a new
venture in ’varsity journals is greeted as a nine days’ wonder. However
good the contents provided, the Oxford man prefers to look upon the
fetching features--and limbs, of footlight favourites in papers provided
free of charge in the Junior Common Room. Consequently the rash starter of
a “’varsity rag” is compelled to retire from the lists after the first two
or three issues. In the old days, however, even the _blasé_ Smart had some
initiative left to him in matters of literature. He supported the new
paper with enthusiasm and read every number carefully. After some time he
found that the editor was catering too freely for the Dons. Instead,
however, of discontinuing his subscription he wrote to the editor and
appealed on the grounds that _The Student_ was becoming too prosy and
_Spectator_-like, and urged him to keep it lighter in tone. The following
is an extract from the letter sent in:--

    “----’S COFFEE-HOUSE, _May 4_.

    “BROTHER STUDENT,--Without a compliment I am much pleased with your
    scheme, and heartily wish you success. Hitherto I think you bid fair
    for it, and seem to meet with general applause. But will you forgive
    my offering a word or two of advice? Let us have no more of your
    abstract speculations, as you call them; indeed they are not popular.
    Last night, in a full assembly of pretty fellows at this place (all
    your admirers), Billy Languish read your fourth number. We all agreed
    that your ‘Impudence’ is inimitable, but your ‘letter in defence of
    religion,’ tho’ it did not startle us (as you apprehended it would)
    somewhat amazed us, I must own. Consider, Mr Student, you write for
    the publick of which three fourths are ignoramuses, and therefor, tho’
    we may allow you now and then in compliment to your taylor and mercer
    and other learned folks, to insert a Latin ode or epigram, yet I must
    needs tell you, that we don’t relish your metaphysics. For which
    reason I am directed by all the Smarts at ----’s, to acquaint you,
    that we expect (especially if it be English), at least to understand
    what we read. We consider your book as a monthly feast or
    entertainment; and if we pay our ordinary, ’tis but reasonable the
    dishes you set before us should be such as we are able to taste. We
    cannot indeed always expect rarities, and may now and then admit of a
    trifle or puff by way of make up; but prithee don’t surfeit us with
    ambigu’s and inconnu’s. At the same time I must tell you, that we are
    much pleased with your last Sapphic, that we reverence Tony Alsop’s
    memory, and have resolv’d one and all to subscribe to his works. Billy
    Languish and Dick Dimple indeed say, the ‘verses on the grotto’ are
    better; and Dick (who you know is a wit as well as a beau) gave us
    off hand a translation of them, but I have indeed since found out
    where he borrows it.--I am yours,


The _habitués_ of the unknown coffee-house, all pretty fellows, looked
upon _The Student_ as a “monthly feast of entertainment!” For all their
soaking and “wenching” and slacking they would seem to have had a certain
amount of brain and appreciative capability left to them.

In a subsequent chapter I shall set down the methods by which these men
obtained their degrees after having spent some six or seven years inside
the old walls of the university. They had as little time for work as the
“bloods” of to-day whose every moment is claimed by matters of far greater
moment than mere study! To a certain extent the Smarts, though they
perhaps did not know it, were philosophers. They said to themselves that
life was short and youth shorter still, that therefore it behoved them to
cram in to the six years of their university career as much pleasure,
excitement, and amusement as was possible. The eighteenth century lent
itself whole-heartedly to this programme. The Dons, who should have been
intent on governing Oxford, had other game afoot. The Undergraduates were
thus left to their own devices, and the Smarts were the first to take
advantage of such Arcadian conditions. They delayed the hour of rising
until the sun grew weary of calling them out. There was no stern shepherd
to round them into chapel at the ungodly hour of eight o’clock. Like
butterflies they flitted from place to place at the caprice of the moment.
They held Bacchanalian revels in and out of college without regard to Dons
and statutes. Their paramours, far from being ejected from the city, were
shared with the authorities, thus proving that they had a better
understanding of real socialism than the exponents of to-day. The same
cobbled streets that hear us shouting our way home in the small hours, saw
the Georgian men staggering along with tight-linked arms in the silvery
moonlight, while Big Tom boomed out the birth of a new day.

As year after year slipped relentlessly off the calender they absorbed the
unique atmosphere of Oxford, fully appreciating under their mask of
_blasé_ scorn the traditions and the unforgettable charm of _Alma mater_.
They carried their love and reverence for her to the grave, and gave proof
of it by sending their sons and grandsons to swell the never-ending
procession of men who sing the praises of Oxford.



    Terrae Filius sums her up--Merton Wall butterflies--Hearne
    comments--Flavia and the orange tree--Dick, the sloven--The President
    under her thumb--Amhurst’s table of cons.--King Charles and the other

What is an Oxford toast? For answer I cannot do better than turn to that
Oxford _Encyclopædia_, Terrae Filius, who from the ambush of his
anonymity, directed his fire upon all toasts with unerring aim and deadly

“She is born, as the King says, of mean estate, being the daughter of some
insolent mechanick, who fancies himself a gentleman and resolves to keep
up his family by marrying his girl to a parson or a schoolmaster; to which
end, he and his wife call her pretty miss, as soon as she knows what it
means, and sends her to the dancing school to learn how to hold up her
head, and turn out her toes; she is taught from a child not to play with
any of the dirty boys and girls in the neighbourhood; but to mind her
dancing, and have a great respect for the gown. This foundation being
laid, she goes on fast enough of herself, without any farther assistance,
except an hoop, a gay suit of cloaths, and two or three new holland
smocks. Thus equipt, she frequents all the balls and publick walks in
Oxford; where it is a great chance if she does not, in time, meet with
some raw coxcomb or other, who is her humble servant; waits upon her home,
calls upon her again the next day; dangles after her from place to place;
and is at last, with some art and management, drawn in to marry her.

  “She has impudence--therefore she has wit;
   She is proud--therefore she is well bred;
   She has fine Cloaths--therefore she is genteel;
   She would fain be a wife-and therefore she is not a Wh--re.”

Amhurst also informed his readers that they appeared principally in
summer, like butterflies, when they flitted from flower to flower of the
Smarts under Merton Wall. “The toasts,” he remarked, “are scouring up and
new-trimming their best gowns and petticoats against the summer, and
intend to make a splendid appearance.” These ladies were an extremely
conspicuous feature of Undergraduate life. In the description of the
Smart’s day we are told how after chapel he drank tea with some celebrated
toast, and then waited upon her to Maudlin Grove or Paradise Garden and
back again. Afterwards, when drowning his sorrows at the particular
establishment in vogue at the time, the Smart exhausted himself in his
efforts to dash off a sonnet to her eyelashes or a rhapsody in praise of
her tip-tilted nose. He drank her health upon his knees, tossing off a
non-heeltaps to every letter of her name. His day was considered wasted
unless he were seen in all his delicate apparel in company with the
acknowledged reigning queen among toasts.

One lady, by name of Flavia, kept an orange tree growing in the window of
her bed-chamber. This inspired a burst of classic poetry from a Buck who
saw and envied it. In one of the volumes of Terrae Filius a most amusing
story was related which shows what influence these toasts exercised upon
the Undergraduates. She, too, answered to the name of Flavia--whether she
were one and the same as the horticultural lady it is impossible to say. A
“promising lad” came up and was recognised by his master--of whom he was
“a very favourite”--to be a “diligent and ingenious scholar.”


That character he maintained for some time, keeping to his chamber and his
books, with sported oak, and not concerning himself with the vagaries of
fashion; “indeed the poor young fellow did not dress smart; nay, often was
really dirty.” Gradually he made the acquaintance of some noted Bucks and
sought their society and conversation out of curiosity. But they
continually ragged him about his shabby appearance. “Dick!” said they,
“prithee let’s burn this damned brown wig of thine; get thee a little more
linnen.” The lad for a time was obdurate, but at last put forward in
excuse that “this alteration of himself would make him be taken too much
notice of, and, it may be, his new dress might sit so awkward, that he
would become the jest of his acquaintance.” This was a set-back to the
friends, but they came to the cunning conclusion that he might be tricked
into it. So they buttonholed him. “Dick,” said one, “did you never see
Miss Flavia, one of our top toasts?” “No,” quoth he, “unless at her
window.” “Well, faith,” said the friend, “to be plain, she likes you, I
myself heard her say in public company, I have been shew’d Mr Such-a-one
several times; everybody says he’s a man of fire; it is a thousand pities
he’s such a sloven.” Dick was finished. He went home obsessed with the
idea, flung his wig into the fire, forgot his studies entirely and swore
to see Flavia the very next day. His friends spread a rumour abroad that
he had come into money, and his tradesmen gave him unlimited credit.
Accordingly he was decked out, in ruffles and all the other paraphernalia,
and from that day worshipped at the lady’s shrine. In these days such fair
Flavias would in all probability be found pulling beer in a public-house,
totally devoid of H’s, but none the less popular among a certain set.
To-day they can be treated with a certain amount of Undergraduate levity,
but in the eighteenth century it behoved the contumelious to walk
delicately and to be very careful. Amhurst hoisted the danger signal when
he related that “not long ago, a bitter lampoon was published upon the
most celebrated of these petticoat-professors, as soon as it came out the
town was in an uproar, and a very severe sentence was passed upon the
author of this anonymous libel; to discover whom no pains were spared; all
the disgusted, ill-natured fellows in the university were, one after
another, suspected upon this occasion. At last, I know not how, it was
peremptorily fixed upon one; whether justly, or not, I cannot say; but the
parties offended resolved to make an example of somebody for such an
enormous crime, and one of them (more enraged than the rest) was heard to
declare ‘that, right or wrong, that impudent scoundrel (mentioning his
name) should be expelled, by G--d; and that she had interest enough with
the president and senior fellows of his college to get his business
done.’” And the scandalous part of the business was that the president and
senior fellows who had evidently had relations with the woman in question
were such cowards as to yield to her demands, which probably took the form
of threats of exposure against themselves, and sent the unoffending man
down for good.

In his character of general reformer Terrae Filius felt himself compelled,
however reluctantly, to “draw his pen against womenkind”--the womenkind of
Oxford. His apology for so doing was that “I shall have the misfortunes of
numberless young men to answer for, if I conceal anything which may be for
their advantage, or spare any abuses in the universities, though committed
by the fairest offenders.”

After a disquisition on love, which he described as “a most arbitrary
passion,” which “engrosses the whole man ... and grumbles at its own
poverty and searches after new acquisitions,” he continued “conscious of
this truth, our wise forefathers took all possible care to purge the seats
of learning of these shining temptations, these dangerous decoys of youth;
but as all their prudence and precaution could not do this entirely, they
made a statute, ‘prohibiting all scholars, as well as Graduates or
Undergraduates, of whatever faculty, to frequent the houses and shops of
any townsmen by day, and especially by night; but more especially houses,
which harbour or receive infamous or suspected women, with whom all
scholars are strictly forbid to keep company, either in their own private
chambers, or at the houses of any townsmen.’ I suppose it will be objected
by the Smarts, or others, that this statute extends only to common
prostitutes or night-walkers, and not to those divine creatures dignified
by the name of toasts; but I think that it includes all suspected women,
and especially the toasts, for the following reasons:--

“1. Because it was not the only design of the statute to restrain the
scholars from debauchery (from which, I hope, they need no forcible
restraint!) but to prevent them also from neglecting their studies, and
entering into scandalous marriages; of which they are in no danger from
common strumpets and mercenary street-walkers.

“2. Because there was no occasion for a statute against common whores, any
more than against house-breakers and pickpockets, which are all punishable
by the laws of the land.

“3. Because I have a better opinion of the townsmen of Oxford (who are,
many of them, matriculated men), than to believe that they would entertain
in their houses such filthy drabs; though it is probable enough that they
would marry their daughters to advantage if they could; in which I can see
no great harm on their parts.

“4. Because I have a better opinion of the scholars too, than to believe
that they would keep company with such cattle; and I think it is a scandal
to the university to stand in need of a statute, which supposes that any
of her hopeful children are addicted to such beastliness.”

Amhurst’s reasons are logical enough to convince the meanest intelligence
of the true nature of the Oxford toasts. In support of them he brings up
no less a second than King Charles I., who wrote officially and at some
length on the question of university government to the Vice-Chancellor and
Heads of Cambridge commanding the suppression of women such as those in
question. The reason why the good King did not treat Oxford to a similar
injunction is, supposedly, that the need for it did not reach the royal
ears. It is hinted more than once, too, in the pages of Terrae Filius that
the Dons themselves entertained feelings of sympathy towards the toasts,
and shielded them from royal visitations by intentionally keeping things
quiet. Judging from the character of the Dons in the eighteenth century it
is highly probable that such was indeed the case.

“Happy is it,” says Amhurst, “for the present generation of Oxford toasts,
that King Charles I. (so much unlike that accomplished gentleman, his son)
was long ago laid in the dust! Were that rigid King now alive, my mind
misgives me strangely, that I should see an end of all the balls and
cabals, and junketings at Oxford; that several of our most celebrated and
beautiful madams would pluck off their fine feathers, and betake
themselves to an honest livelihood; or make their personal appearance
before the lords of his majesty’s privy council, to answer their contempt,
and such other matters as should be objected against them.”

Unmourned and besmirched the last of the Oxford toasts has long since
passed beyond the judgment of man. The Dons were in all too many cases the
cause of sending recruits to the ranks of the oldest profession in the
world. Heads of colleges, reverend clerics, and holders of Fellowships
must all answer to the charge of “wenching.”



The Servitor

    The germ of Ruskin Hall--Description of himself--George
    Whitefield--College exercises--Running errands and copying
    lines--Samuel Wesley--Famous servitors.

In the year of grace nineteen hundred and eleven there are three main
divisions of the genus Undergraduate:--scholars, commoners, and “toshers,”
the last sometimes known as non-collegiate Undergraduates. Under a fourth
heading, which constitutes a small subdivision all by itself, I may place
the working-men Undergraduates--the members of Ruskin Hall. Georgian
Undergraduates might also be split up into parallel divisions. There were
also servitors, who were, in some sort, the ancient form of the
working-men Undergraduates of the twentieth century.

Oxford in Georgian times was, according to the popular conception, a place
where peers and rich men sent their sons in order that they might receive
a better education than anywhere else in the world. The erudition,
classical learning, and brilliance of the Dons passed all belief. Nowhere
on earth was there gathered together a body of men with such knowledge and
brain power. Did any man yearn for instruction in any subject, Oxford was
the only place where that subject was exhaustively known and thoroughly

It naturally followed, therefore, that the lower classes, who drudged all
day in the effort to keep body and soul together, and provide the
wherewithal to fill the stomachs of their hungry progeny, left Oxford
outside their calculations when discussing the prospective education of
their children. Oxford was a place for rich men. How, then, could their
sons go there? It was impossible. Meanwhile, the children were clamouring
for education. What was to be done?

Through the influence of rich men who had been to the university the
penniless lads were taken from the plough and entered into colleges as
errand boys and odd-job hands. They were at liberty to pick up what
education they could in the intervals of performing menial tasks for the
gentlemen commoners. They cleaned boots, fetched and carried, and were the
servants of anybody who chose to order them about. Having no money they
slept in coal-holes, cupboards under the stairs, and attics under the
eaves, and satisfied the pangs of hunger by picking up the crumbs which
fell from the rich men’s tables. They had no social intercourse with the
gentlemen commoners, and were treated with scant courtesy by the college

The resemblance between the servitor and the Ruskin Hall man is apparent
when due allowance has been made for modern improvements. The modern
conception of Oxford is curiously akin to that of the eighteenth century.
The education to be received still has a very high reputation. The present
day working classes, however, possess a greater ambition than their
antecedents showed. They are no longer content to snatch education in the
intervals of earning their keep. Ruskin Hall has been built for their
especial benefit. There they may win scholarships to their heart’s
content. Their kinship with the humble servitor lies in the fact that they
do their own menial work instead of having to do it for others; that they
have no social intercourse with the Undergraduates of other colleges
except at the weekly debates of the Union Society in which they
distinguish themselves by their fluent Socialistic doctrines; and that
they take no part in the athletic and collegiate life of the university.

One of the earliest references to servitors in the eighteenth century
records is contained in a comedy entitled “An Act at Oxford.” The play was
written in 1704 by a dramatist named Baker.

One of the characters was a servitor named Chum. His father was a
chimney-sweep and his mother a poor ginger-bread seller at Cow Cross. Chum
was established in Brazen-Nose College, and his duties consisted in
waiting “upon Gentleman-Commoners, to dress and clean their shoes and make
out their exercises.” His “fortune,” which was “soon told,” consisted
apparently of “two Raggs call’d shirts, a dog’s eared Grammer, and a piece
of _Ovid de Tristibus_.” For having materially assisted his master, a
Smart, to win the hand and heart of a fair damsel known as Berynthia, he
was rewarded, in the play, with the sum of five hundred guineas--an
occurrence which would be the height of improbability in real life, as the
servitor was jeered at and made a kind of Aunt Sally by all and sundry.

In 1709 one of those poor miserable wretches sat him down--where he
procured pen and paper is still shrouded in mystery--and wrote a poem on
his own doleful condition. Its title is “Servitour,” and it was printed by
“H. Hills in Black-Fryars, near the water side.” He pictured himself to be
coming out of a Skittle Yard in his “rusty round cap.”

  “Like Cheesy Pouch of Shon-ap-Shenkin,
   His Sandy locks, with wide Hiatus,
   Like Bristles seem’d Erected at us,
   Clotted with Sweat, the Ends hung down;
   And made Resplendent Cape of Gown;
   Whose Cape was thin, and so Transparent,
   Hold it t’ th’ Light, you’d scarce beware on’t
   ’Twixt Chin and Breast contiguous Band,
   Hung in an Obtuse Angle and--
   It had a Latitude Canonick,
   His coat so greasy was and torn,
   That had you seen it you’d ha’ sworn
   ’Twas Ten Years old when he was born.
   His buttons fringed as is the Fashion,
   In Gallick and Brittanick Nation;
   Or, to speak like more Modern fellows,
   Their moulds dropt out like ripe Brown-shellers.
   His Leather Galligaskin’s rent,
   Made Artless Music as he went....
   His Holey Stockins were ty’d up,
   One with a Band, one with a Rope.”

In such clothes as these, the extreme poverty of which would bring a blush
to the cheek of the modern Oxford paper-boy, this gloomy poet had to go to
the Buttery and procure game and capons, ribs of beef, and other succulent
dainties for some gentleman commoner’s dinner, while for himself there was
nothing but “Poor scraps and Cold as I’m a sinner.” As a place to lay his
head o’ nights, he was thankful to get a lumber-room in the apex of the
building, somewhere under the eaves,

  “A Room with Dirt and Cobwebs lin’d,
   Which here and there with Spittle Shin’d;
   Inhabited let’s see--by Four;
   If I mistake not, ’twas no more.
   Two buggy beds....
   Their Dormer windows with brown paper,
   Was patch’d to keep out Northern Vapour.
   The Table’s broken foot stood on,
   An old Schrevelious Lexicon,
   Here lay together Authors various,
   From Homer’s _Iliad_, to Cordelius:
   And so abus’d was Aristotle,
   He only served to stop a bottle....
   Where eke stood Glass, Dark-Lanthorns ancient
   Fragment of Mirerr, Penknife, Trencher,
   And forty things which I can’t mention.
   Old Chairs and Stools, and such-like Lumber,
   Compleatly furnisht out the Chamber.”

George Whitefield, a servitor at Pembroke in 1732, also shared his rooms
with others. His companions, however, did not appear to have suffered
unduly from the usual depression caused by their hard lot, for they
frequently invited Whitefield to join them “in their excess of riot,” and
looked upon him as a weird and extraordinary creature for his persistent
refusals. His account of the manner of his admission to Pembroke College
is characteristic of the man, and gives an idea of what tasks servitors
were called upon to perform.

“Being now near eighteen years old, it was judged proper for me to go to
the university. God had sweetly prepared my way. The friends before
applied to, recommended me to the Master of Pembroke College. Another
friend took up ten pounds upon bond (which I have since repaid), to defray
the first expence of entring; and the Master, contrary to all
expectations, admitted me servitor immediately.

“Soon after my admission I went and resided, and found my having been used
to a publick-house was now of service to me. For many of the servitors
being sick at my first coming up, by diligent and ready attendance I
ingratiated myself into the gentlemen’s favour so far, that many, who had
it in their power, chose me to be their servitor.

“This much lessened my expence; and indeed, God was so gracious, that,
with the profits of my place, and some presents made me by my kind tutor,
for almost the first three years I did not put all my relations together
to above £24 expence.

“And it has often grieved my soul to see so many young students spending
their substance in extravagant living, and thereby entirely unfitting
themselves for the prosecution of their proper studies.”

Because he became a Methodist and attended seriously to his religious
duties, Whitefield was badly ragged. The fact that a servitor should make
any claims to superior godliness made his employers, for some reason,
acutely annoyed. “I daily underwent some contempt at college,” he wrote,
“some have thrown dirt at me; others, by degrees, took away their pay from
me; and two friends that were dear unto me, grew shy of, and forsook me.”

One of his lay duties as servitor consisted in going round to the
gentlemen’s rooms at ten o’clock at night and knocking to find out who was
in--the majority of them being at that hour, doubtless, discussing punch
and claret in the Mitre or Tuns. All those who made no answer to his knock
were reported and received punishment for being out of college after

Of his college exercises he wrote as follows:--

“Whenever I endeavoured to compose my theme, I had no power to write a
word nor so much as tell my Christian friends of my inability to do it.
Saturday being come (which is the day the students give up their
compositions), it was suggested to me that I must go down into the Hall
and confess I could not make a theme, and so publickly suffer, as if it
were for my Master’s sake. When the bell rung to call us, I went to open
the door to go downstairs, but feeling something give me a violent inward
check, I entered my study, and continued instant in prayer, waiting the
event. For this my tutor fined me half a crown. The next week Satan served
me in like manner again; but having now got more strength, and perceiving
no inward check, I went into the Hall. My name being call’d, I stood up,
and told my tutor I could not make a theme. I think he fined me a second
time; but, imagining that I would not willingly neglect my exercise, he
afterwards called me into the common room, and kindly enquired whether any
misfortune had befallen me, or what was the reason I could not make a
theme? I burst into tears, and assured him that it was not out of contempt
of authority, but that I could not act otherwise. Then, at length, he
said he believed I could not; and, when he left me, told a friend (as he
very well might), that he took me to be really mad.”

Besides cleaning boots, fetching and carrying, running errands and
performing other menial services of a like nature, the servitors jumped at
the opportunity of earning odd pence by writing out the impositions to
which their masters had been condemned by the Proctors.

  “For should grave Proctor chance to meet
   A buck in boots along the street
   He stops his course and with permission
   Asking his name, sets imposition,
   Which to get done, if he’s a ninny
   He gives his barber half a guinea.
   This useful go-between will share it
   With servitor in college garret,
   Who counts these labours sweet as honey
   Which brings to purse some pocket money.”[6]

Other methods of pocket filling to which servitors had recourse were
mentioned by Dr Johnson, who, writing to Tom Warton concerning the delay
in a work on Spenser caused by the number of his correspondents and pupils
at Oxford, said: “Three hours a day stolen from sleep and amusement will
produce it. Let a servitor transcribe the quotations, and interleave them
with references to save time.” As, however, servitors were not admitted
within the sacred precincts of the Bodleian, transcription was necessarily
limited. This was a cause of great lamentation and outcry at the time from
the men, because they were compelled to do the work themselves, and from
the servitors because they were thus deprived of a means of earning a few
extra necessary pence. “Dr Hyde complains,” says Wordsworth in his book on
the eighteenth century, “that some in the university have been very
troublesome in pressing that their servitors may transcribe manuscripts
for them, though not capable of being sworn to the Library.”

[Illustration: VIEW OF QUEEN’S COLLEGE.]

For a commoner to be seen in public in the company of a servitor was a
“great disparagement.” Consequently, if a servitor was sufficiently
blessed to be able to call a commoner friend, he must needs visit him
secretly, or under cover of darkness. It is on record that Shenstone, who
was a commoner of Pembroke, visited Jago a servitor, a friend of his, in
strict private because of this popular prejudice. When Erasmus was at
Queen’s his servitor’s rooms were immediately above his own. The poor
wretch, besides being at his master’s beck and call, was very often the
slave of his master’s mistress--an employ of vast uneasiness and

In the _Oxford Chronicle_ in 1859, in a series of articles entitled
“Oxford during the Last Century,” Aubrey describes Willis, the servitor of
Dr Iles, Canon of Christ Church, as studying in his blue livery cloak at
the lower end of the hall by the door, and assisting his master’s wife in
mixing drugs.

As a parallel case to that of Whitefield, who was a drawer in the Bell
Inn, Gloucester, Hearne tells “of one Lyne, son of a clergyman, and
grandson of the Town Clerk of Oxford, who was drawer at the King’s Head
Tavern of that city, in 1735; his elder brother being Fellow of Emmanuel,
and his younger an eminent scholar of King’s.”

It was no exaggeration to say that the servitors lived on the scraps from
the Undergraduates’ tables. The following quotation shows the grinding
penury against which they had to struggle: “Of the poverty of the class,”
wrote J. R. Green in his wonderful “Oxford Studies,” “no better instance
can be found than Samuel Wesley, the father of the Wesleys who were to
change the whole state of religion in England, and himself a very stirring
person, to whom we shall have occasion subsequently to allude. He was the
son of an ejected and starving non-conformist minister, and when at the
age of sixteen he walked to Oxford and entered himself as a servitor at
Exeter, his whole worldly wealth amounted to no more than £2, 16s. Yet
after supporting himself during his whole university career without any
aid from his friends, save a trivial 5s., he set off to London to make a
plunge into life with a capital increased to £10, 15s. Five shillings,
however, sneer as we may, seem to have been no uncommon ‘allowance’ to a
servitor of the time.”[7]

These poor servitors did not feel any touch of shame or degradation at
having to clean boots and perform all the other dirty work of the place.
Why should they? Their poverty at Oxford was in no way different from that
in which they lived previously to their arrival at Oxford. It was merely a
change in locality. For they came, as has been shown, from plough and

There are many instances to show to what great use some of them put the
education which they managed to acquire during their servitorship. Sir
John Birkenhead was a servitor at Oriel, and during that period of his
afterwards noteworthy career, his brother was a trooper. It was only
through the kindheartedness of a patron that Bishop Robinson became the
servitor of Sir James Astrey at Brasenose. He was afterwards appointed to
a Fellowship at Oriel, was sent as an envoy to Sweden, and became Bishop
both of Bristol and London. In the days of his fame he was able to repay
in some sort the kindness of his patron by granting his son a chaplaincy;
and his love for the university is shown by the scholarships which he
founded at Oriel.

Can Ruskin Hall point proudly to a son who has achieved such fame as
either of these ex-servitors?



    Rowing--Dame Hooper’s--Southey at Balliol--Cox’s six-oared crew--The
    riverside barmaid--Sailing-boats--Statutes against
    games--Bell-ringing--Hearne and gymnasia--Horses and
    badger-baiting--Cock-fights and prize-fights--Paniotti’s Fencing
    Academy--Old-time “bug-shooters”--Skating in Christ Church
    meadows--Cricket and the Bullingdon Club--Walking tours.

It would be impossible to live in Oxford and be healthy--except perhaps in
the summer term, if we are lucky enough to have any sun--without taking
exercise. It has long been a matter of wonder how those men keep fit who,
with the excuse of “having a heart” neither row, play soccer, rugger,
hockey, or any other of the strenuous games which keep the average
Undergraduate sound in wind and limb. As a matter of fact they don’t. For
the “heart-y” gentlemen almost invariably take as many week-ends out of
Oxford as possible, and in most cases retire comfortably and ingloriously
to the paternal establishment and maternal care long before term is over.
The others, the normal people, the devotees of bone and muscle, the
“muddied oafs and flannelled fools”--(which is the only mistake Mr Kipling
ever made)--are never ill, at least from climatic effects. They may strain
something, or even break a few bones, but that cannot be put down to the
Oxford weather. The best doctors on earth, or rather the best
preventatives against illness--and there is a great difference--are the
river, the football and hunting fields, and the boxing ring, and as we
find these things to be true to-day so in old times, when wigs and ruffles
were somewhat of a handicap to the taking of hard exercise, these
remedies against the Oxford climate were adopted with almost the same
keenness. The word almost is used advisedly because the percentage of
“bloods” who did nothing strenuous was far larger, and the possibilities
in things sporting were not nearly so great. We have changed all that, and
can afford a smile of condescension when, seated on the alleviating
pontius in a “Rough” eight, with its simple-looking sliding seat, its
hair-thick outer shell and its wonderful travelling possibilities, we
think of the heavy gigs and six-oared boats into which our predecessors
“tumbled,” clad in catskin caps and leather trousers.

Nevertheless the river was just as popular then though for quite different
reasons. There were no rowing Blues to be had in those days; no presidents
of boat clubs--no boat clubs even. There was only Dame Hooper’s--an
odd-looking, tumble-down, shed-like place, where the gownsmen blarneyed
the old lady and hired out skiffs, gigs, cutters, and canoes. Unlike our
togger men who, like strange hairy creatures from another planet,
hatlessly converge from all parts of the town through the Broad Walk to
the Barges, emitting yards of muscular leg for all the world to view in
amusement and admiration, the eighteenth-century wet-bobs went down to the
river in square--or, as they called it, trencher--and gown. But Dame
Hooper was old, unskittish, and trustworthy, and so they threw off their
academical garb in her shed and arrayed themselves in the trousers,
jackets, and caps which were then the thing. It might well be thought that
these were a great hindrance to correct ’varsity swinging. But they did
not worry their heads about that--there was no boat race to be taken into
agitated consideration--and it has been left for 1911 to pour out its
bleeding heart in vehement controversy anent the true ’varsity style as
opposed to the new fangled Belgian method. In those days the motto was air
and exercise. Now, dare it be said, the river is a business, a
profession, to which are consecrated all the waking moments, and many of
those which we should like to dedicate to bed, of our whole university

Southey, who was, oddly enough, a Balliol man, said that he only learned
two things at Oxford--to swim and to row. After he went down he wrote the
following description of the river:--

“A number of pleasure boats were gliding in all directions upon this clear
and rapid stream; some with spread sails; in others the caps and tassels
of the students formed a curious contrast with their employment at the
oar. Many of the smaller boats had only a single person in each; and in
some of these he sat face forward, leaning back as in a chair, and plying
with both hands a double-bladed oar in alternate strokes, so that his
motion was like the path of a serpent. One of these canoes is, I am
assured, so exceedingly light, that a man can carry it; but few persons
are skilful or venturous enough to use it.”[8]

It would be well worth while to watch the face of one of these timid
canoers if we could bring him down to the barges to-day to one of the
“rag” regattas and show him scores of “venturous persons” who not only
dispense with paddles, but dash about in a Canadian canoe with a punt

G. V. Cox told us that in 1790 there were no races, but that “men went to
Nuneham for occasional parties in six-oared boats (eight-oared boats were
then unknown), but these boats belonged to the boat people; the crew was a
mixed crew got up for the day, and the dresses worn anything but uniform.
I belonged to a crew of five, who were, I think, the first distinguished
by a peculiar (and what would now be thought a ridiculous) dress, viz., a
green leather cap, with a jacket and trousers of nankeen!”[9]

There are many recent boat club presidents who proudly show souvenirs of
love passages with every barmaid from Folly Bridge to Abingdon, and up the
Cher to Water Eaton. The fair damsels of the Cherwell Hotel are indeed the
sole reasons why hordes of Undergraduates punt out there to lunch on
Sundays, when they might just as easily, and far less expensively, take
luncheon baskets with them--as they do if their people are up! But there
is nothing original in all this. The same touch of old Adam existed in the
coffee-house period, as is shown by the following lines:--

  “We visit Sandford next and there
   Beckley provides accustomed fare
   Of eels and perch and brown beef-steak....
   Whilst Hebe-like his daughter waits,
   Froths our full bumpers, changes plates.
   The pretty handmaid’s anxious toils
   Meanwhile our mutual praise beguiles,
   Whilst she, delighted, blushing sees
   The bill o’erpaid and pockets fees
   Supplied for ribbon or for lace
   To deck her bonnet or her face.”

To-day Hebe has become _blasé_ and cannot blush with any readiness, nor is
she so anxious in her toils. The chaste salute and the overpaid bill are
features of our own time, and will remain, from generation to generation,
as long as Oxford is a university, and there are hotels on the Cher. The
same poet goes on to describe the way in which he was taught to sail by a
friend who was already an expert.

  “At Folly Bridge we hoist the sail,
   And briskly scud before the gale
   To Iffley--where our course awhile
   Detain--its locks and Saxon pile
   Affording pause; to recommend
   The Hobby-horse unto my friend.
   Our light-built galley; ours I say
   Since Warren bears an equal sway
   In her command; as first, in cost
   The half he shared; himself a host
   Whether he plies the limber oar
   Or tows the vessel from the shore;
   Or strains the main sheet tight astern
   Close to the wind; of him I learn
   Patient to wait the time exact
   When jib and foresail should be back’d
   To bring her round; or mark the strain
   The boat on gunwale can sustain
   Without aught danger of upsetting,
   Or giving both her mates a wetting.”[10]


A glance at the statutes shows that the river was almost the only form of
athletics then permissible, for the prohibited sports included “every kind
of game in which money is concerned, such as dibs, dice, cards, cricketing
in private grounds or gardens of the townspeople ... every kind of game or
exercise from which danger, injury, or inconvenience might arise to other
people, such as hunting of beasts with any sort of dogs, ferrets, nets or
toils, also any use or carrying of muskets, cross-bows, or falchions;
neither rope-dancers nor actors, nor shows of gladiators are to be
permitted without especial sanction; moreover, the scholars are not to
play at football, nor with cudgels, either among themselves or with the
townsfolk, a practice from which the most perilous contentions have

During the earlier half of the century, bell ringing was a form of
amusement--and exercise--which was very largely indulged in. At any hour
of the day it was the custom to go up into the belfry and practice, with
such zest that the ringer sometimes fell from sheer exhaustion. Hearne was
known to take a keen interest in the matches which were sometimes
arranged between different peals of bells, while Antony Wood, some years
before, had joined with his mother and brothers in subscribing towards the
foundation of the Merton bells and, as Wordsworth says, “though they were
not satisfactory to the ‘curious and critical hearer,’ he plucked at them
often with some of his fellow-collegians for recreation sake.” Later on,
however, this practice was generally voted boring and even vulgar, and the
more “aristocratic door bell and knocker ringing” succeeded it. Hearne
himself was pleased to countenance bell-ringing, yet when a proposal was
afoot to found “an academy of exercise in the university such as riding
the great horse, fencing, etc.,” he would not hear of it or entertain the
idea for a moment. “I think,” said he, “’twould have utterly obstructed
all true learning.”

Horses, in spite of Hearne, were popular among Dons and Undergraduates.
The “Female Student,” writing a letter to _The Student_, summed up the
tastes of a Master of Arts as consisting of “the college-hall, the
common-room, the coffee-house, and now and then a ride to the
Gog-magog-hills.” The now and then was probably accounted for by the
expensiveness attaching to the hobby. There were, however, several
stable-keepers at the time who, starting with a diminutive capital,
retired after a very few years in the business with large fortunes. G. V.
Cox, the member of the crew in nankeen trousers, says that it was quite a
usual thing “for a gentleman (the Oxford tradesman’s designation of a
member of the university) to ride a match against time to London and back
again to Oxford (108 miles) in twelve hours or less with, of course,
relays of horses at regular intervals. In one instance this was done in
eight hours and forty-five minutes.... Betting was, no doubt, the first
and chief motive; a foolish vanity the second; the third cause was the
absence at that time in the university of a better mode of proving pluck
and taming down the animal spirits of non-reading youngsters.... Hunting
then, as now, was an expensive amusement, only to be enjoyed by the few,
and by them only for a part of the year; racing had not then been thought
of ... but a gentleman need not learn to ride like a jockey.”[11]

Sir Erasmus Philipps must, therefore, have been a monied man, for in 1720,
when he was a Fellow-commoner of Pembroke, his outdoor sports took the
form of fox-hunting, attending cock-fights and horse-races, and riding to
Woodstock, Godstow, and Nuneham. Many of the horse-races took place on
Port Meadow. Terrae Filius, referring to “that famous apartment by idle
wits and buffoons nick-named Golgotha, _i.e._, the place of Sculls or
Heads of Colleges and Halls where they meet and debate upon all
extraordinary affairs which occur within the precincts of their
jurisdiction,” says that “this room of state or academical council chamber
is adorn’d with a fine pourtrait of her late Majesty Queen Anne, which was
presented to this assembly by a jolly fox-hunter in the neighbourhood, out
of the tender regard which he bore to her pious memory, and to the
reverend Sculls of the university, who preside there; for which
benefaction they have admitted him into their company, and allow him the
honour to smoak a pipe with them twice a week.”

In one of the papers of _The Loiterer_ the writer described how Dr
Villars, Mr Sensitive, and himself went for a country walk and talk to Joe
Pullen’s Tree. “As soon as we had reached this elevated situation, and
cast our eyes over the well-known view, a general silence took place for
some minutes. It was indeed a day for meditation. The sun emerging by fits
and starts from the grey fleckered clouds which overspread the whole
atmosphere, illuminated the projecting points of Magdalen and Merton
Towers, and shot its lengthened gleams across the pastures and meads,
which extend themselves in a long level to the north of the city, while
the woody hills of Wytham, rising boldly from behind a flat country, threw
over the whole background a broad mass of dark shadows broken only here
and there by a white sail, whose almost imperceptible motion just marked
the various turns and windings of the river.... A large party of very
dashing men rode by, mounted on cropt ponies, and followed by no
inconsiderable number of Tarriers. Of all sorts, sizes, and colours; and
as they did not ride very fast, and talked rather loud, we easily
discovered that the object of this grand cavalcade had been a
badger-baiting on Bullingdon Green; in the event of which combat they
seemed greatly interested, and were settling the merits of their different
dogs with great clamour, and not without some altercation.” The solemn
statutes did not seem to worry those optimistic sportsmen overmuch on that
glorious summer day.

Bull-baiting and cock-fighting, both, in their time, exceedingly popular
at the university were strongly put down by the authorities. One gathers
that it was usual at these affairs to start a free fight after the show,
in which the town and gown partisans did their best to kill or maim each
other for life. All things duly considered, therefore, it was, perhaps, a
wise step on the part of the Dons to forbid such affairs. Dr Rawlinson
made a regretful reference to one of these pitched battles: “A great
disturbance between the scholars of the university and the townsmen of
Heddington at a bull-baiting, at which some scholars were beaten.”
Considering the tender years of most of the freshmen it is a matter for
great congratulation that they made such good stands against the
bullet-headed townees. They could not have done so but for the fact that
boxing was much followed among ’varsity men. They were to a large extent
keen patrons of the noble art of self-defence, and the chief instructors
about the year 1729 were none other than the celebrated Broughton and
Figg, who ran a saloon in London. The fact that this boxing academy was
far away from Oxford did not preclude the keenest pugilists from
journeying up to take lessons. Amhurst came across a crowd of
Undergraduates in an Oxford coffee-house one night just after Mendoza had
won a famous victory, and he was vastly entertained to hear their keenly
excited discussion of every lead and stop and hook and counter and to see
them turning and twisting their bodies in pugilistic attitudes in
illustration of the professional manner of planting each separate blow.
They seemed to know as much about the fight as if they had been present.

In December 1729 the Mayor of Oxford licensed a prize fight to be held in
the town. Crowds attended in the assurance of a good morning’s sport, but
at the last moment the Vice-Chancellor, a book-ridden, pompous, crusty old
curmudgeon, filled with the dignity of his office, appeared on the scene
and succeeded in putting a stop to it. It was a miracle that the assembled
multitude did not tear his robes off his back and put him in the ring to
stand up to one of the bruisers.

In spite of Hearne’s prognostication that the establishment of a fencing
academy would be the death of all true learning, an academy was started
some years later by a Greek of the name of Paniotti. He was “full of
sentiments of honour and courage, and of most independent spirit.” R. L.
Edgeworth was a keen pupil of Paniotti, and it was at his school that he
became friends with Sir James M‘Donald, who was “one of the greatest
scholars and mathematicians of his time.” Their friendship was of short
duration, however, as Sir James died at Rome some five years later.

Edgeworth has an interesting story about this fencing establishment. “Mr
L., a young gentleman of a noble family and of abilities, but of
overbearing manners, was our fellow pupil under Paniotti. At the same
school we met a young man of small fortune, and in a subordinate position
at Maudlin.

“He fenced in a regular way, and much better than Mr L., who, in revenge,
would sometimes take a stiff foil that our master used for parrying, and
pretending to fence, would thrust it with great violence against his
antagonist. The young man submitted for some time to this foul play, but
at last he appealed to Paniotti, and to such of his pupils as were
present. Paniotti, though he had expectancies from the patronage of the
father of his nobly-born pupil, yet without hesitation condemned his
conduct. One day, in defiance of L.’s bullying pride, I proposed to fence
with him, armed as he was with this unbending foil, on condition that he
should not thrust at my face; but at the very first opportunity he drove
the foil into my mouth. I went to the door, broke off the buttons of two
foils, turned the key in the lock, and offered one of these extemporaneous
swords to my antagonist, who very prudently declined the invitation. This
person afterwards showed through life an unprincipled and cowardly

While on the subject of fighting it is interesting to note that there were
such things as ’varsity “bug-shooters” even in those times, whose keenness
was far greater than that of the majority of the O.U.O.T.C., who slack
through just sufficient drills to enable them to put in a fortnight’s
camping in summer. G. V. Cox says that there were “enrolled about five
hundred, commanded by Mr Coker of Bicester, formerly Fellow of New
College. Such indeed was the zeal and spirit called forth in those
stirring times by the threat of invasion that even clerical members did
not hesitate to join the ranks.... Some also of the most respectable of
the college servants were enrolled with their masters.... The dress or
uniform was of a very heavy character but also very imposing: a blue coat
(rather short but somewhat more than a jacket) faced with white duck
pantaloons, with a black leathern strap or garter below the knee, and
short black cloth gaiters. The headdress was also heavy; a beaver
round-headed hat surmounted by a formidable roll of bear-skin or something
of the kind.”[13]

Several years after the above incident in Paniotti’s fencing school, an
article appeared in _The Student_. It was a fantastic account of “Several
Public Buildings in Oxford never before described” and contained the

“The several gymnasia constructed for the exercise of our youth, and a
relaxation from their severer studies, are not so much frequented as
formerly, especially in the summer; our ingenious gownsmen having found
out several sports which conduce to the same end, such as battle-door and
shuttle-cock, swinging on the rope, etc., in their apartments; or, in the
fields, leap-frog, tag, hop-step-and-jump, and among the rest, skittles;
which last is a truly academical exercise, as it is founded on
arithmetical and geometrical principles.”

Skinner, the poet, who sailed his yacht down to Sandford and rowed in Dame
Hooper’s boats, seems to have been quite an all-round man.

  “If day prove only passing fair
   I walk for exercise and air
       Or for an hour skate,
   For a large space of flooded ground
   Which Christ Church gravel walks surround
       Has solid froze of late.

  “Here graceful gownsmen silent glide,
   Or noisy louts on hobnails slide,
       Whilst lads the confines keep
   Exacting pence from every one
   As payment due for labour done
       As constantly they sweep.”

His touch of “side” is not unfunny--the graceful ’varsity man is a picture
of all culture, while the townee is a lout because he slides on vulgar
hobnails. On several of the bard’s sailing expeditions, after they had
dined chez Beckley, and duly tipped the girl,

  “A game of quoits will oft our stay
   Awhile at Sandford Inn delay;
   Or rustic nine-pins; then once more
   We hoist our sail, and tug the oar.”[14]

He must doubtless have looked down upon his fellow quill driver in _The
Student_ as several parts of a fool for thinking rustic nine-pins “a truly
academical exercise, as it is founded on arithmetical and geometrical

Cricket and tennis were not of much account. The Lownger described his
going after dinner to tennis, returning in time for chapel

  “From the Coffee House then I to Tennis away,
   And at six I post back to my college to pray,”

while G. V. Cox, in his “Recollections,” remembered that “the game of
cricket was kept up chiefly by the young men from Winchester and Eton, and
was confined to the old Bullingdon Club, which was expensive and
exclusive. The members of it, however, with the exception of a few who
kept horses, did not mind walking to and fro.”[15]

As a rather less strenuous form of exercise than eighteenth-century
cricket many men kept themselves fit by walking. Wordsworth points out
that “in 1799 Daniel Wilson writes to his father, that very few days
passed when he did not walk for about an hour.” This exceedingly gentle
form of pedestrianism was only an end of century hobby. Earlier on men
seem to have been made of sterner stuff. The Greek Professor at Aberdeen,
Dr Thomas Blackwell, wrote to Warburton at Oxford in 1736 to beg him to
accompany Middleton and their common friend, Mr Gale, in a tour in
Scotland for two months in the summer during the long vacation. “In 1742
Tho. Townson started for a three years’ tour in France, Italy, Germany,
and Holland, with Dawkins, Drake, and Holdsworth. On his return from the
continent,” the quotation is from Christopher Wordsworth, “he resumed in
College (Magdalen) the arduous and respectable employment of tuition, in
which he had been engaged before he went abroad. William Wordsworth took
walking tours in France 1790-91 (at a time no less awfully interesting
than that which the country has now been passing through) before and after
taking his degree.” In the first instance he was accompanied by his
college friend Robert Jones, with about twenty pounds apiece in their
pockets. “Our coats which we had made light on purpose for that journey
are of the same piece,” he wrote, “and our manner of carrying our bundles
which is upon our heads, with each an oak stick in our hands, contributes
not a little to the general curiosity which we seem to excite.”

[Illustration: A DUCK HUNT.]

Had they but carried more money and travelled in luxury they would not
have been unlike the present-day Rhodes men, whose custom it is during
vacation to scour the ends of the earth.

Inter-college and inter-’varsity athletic meetings were undreamed of in
the eighteenth century. Because Georgian Oxford men could not boast
representative colours, however, is no proof that they were not sportsmen.
It would be impossible to find a set of men in any century more ready for
deeds of daring do. They rode straight and ate hearty. They broke rules
and defied statutes with a zest that suggests anarchism. In spite of wigs
and ruffles they sped like hares down back alleys and scaled the high
college walls like monkeys to avoid a conversation with the Proctors and
their bulldogs. They sallied forth in trencher and gown, the insignia of
their allegiance to _Alma mater_, and in sheer high spirits set themselves
to bring about a fight with the jeering townees. Back to back they fought
against all odds, recking little of bleeding noses and broken pates. If
they drank too freely and encouraged the toasts, the blame was not
entirely theirs. They did but follow the fashion of the times. Their
password was thoroughness. Whatever they did, they did with all their
might. If they rang bells, they made the air hideous until they fell
exhausted. If they collected knockers they stripped a whole street before
their energy waned. If they slacked they slacked superbly. Without any of
the advantages brought about by modern ideas and inventions, our
predecessors were sportsmen to the core and just as we to-day employ every
moment of our four years to the fullest advantage so did the men who trod
Oxford streets in wigs and laces when she was two centuries younger.



    The foregathering fresher--Dibdin and the “Lunatics”--The Constitution
    Club--The Oxford Poetical Club--Its rules and minutes--High
    Borlace--The Freecynics and Banterers.

Year by year the places of those who go down are filled by succeeding
generations of public school men--men who are more conservative in ideas
than the members of any other class of society. Their immediate ambitions
are limited to achieving a Blue, capturing the presidency of the Union or
winning one of the big university prizes.

They take things as they find them, and very rarely try to launch out on
new lines. They early discover that gregariousness is one of the chief
characteristics of an Oxford man. They find it exhibited in the
extraordinary number of clubs and societies in each college. Their natural
conservatism convinces them that as the forming of clubs is co-existent
with university life, they must not hesitate to follow the admirable
example of their seniors. With the untiring enthusiasm of youth they
concentrate their brains and energies therefore to the formation of new
clubs--having already become members of a great percentage of the
long-founded university clubs which are open to them. They make the
epoch-making discovery that many of their members have cut and dried ideas
on politics, and that others are big with new theories on social
conditions and the education of the masses. Heedless of the fact that in
reality these new theories and political arguments have been discussed and
thrashed out by thousands of Oxford men before they were born, they begin
in their obsession to institute new clubs--political, musical, literary,
debating, social, poetical--clubs of all kinds and conditions. They
cultivate gregariousness, if it is not already temperamental, as one of
the cardinal virtues. They foregather in each other’s rooms nightly,
consume tremendous quantities of tobacco, cake, and coffee, and abide
feverishly by every rule of the particular society of which they are the

In the eighteenth century the men were just as fond of foregathering; but
they laboured under severe disadvantages in connection with the
authorities, who looked upon the formation of clubs and societies as
something new and consequently revolutionary and dangerous. As an instance
of the hide-bound conservatism of the moss-grown powers that were I cannot
do better than take the case of Dibdin and the “Lunatics,” a club which
was inaugurated at the very end of the eighteenth century. “Several
members of several colleges (in the number of whom I was as proud as happy
to be enlisted),” wrote Dibdin, “met frequently at each other’s rooms, to
talk over and to concoct a code of laws or of regulations for the
establishment of a society to be called a ‘Society for Scientific and
Literary Disquisition.’ It comprehended a debate and an essay, to be
prepared by each member in succession, studiously avoiding, in both, all
topics of religious and political controversy. There was not the slightest
attempt to beat down any one barrier of university law of regulation
throughout our whole code. We were to meet in a hired room, at a private
house, and were to indulge in our favourite themes in the most
unrestrained manner, without giving ingress to a single stranger. Over and
over again was each law revised, corrected, and endeavoured to be rendered
as little objectionable as possible. At length, after the final touches,
we demanded an interview with the Vice-Chancellors and Proctors; and our
founder, William George Maton, of Queen’s College, Messrs Stoddart,
Whitelock, Falconer (of Christ Church, Queen’s and Corpus Colleges) were
deputed to meet the great men in office, and to report accordingly.

“Dr Wills was then Vice-Chancellor.... He received the deputation in the
most courteous manner, and requested that the laws might be left with him,
as much for his own particular and careful examination as for that of
other heads of houses or officers whom he might choose to consult. His
request was as readily complied with, and a day was appointed when the
answer of the oracle might be obtained. In about a week, according to
agreement, the same deputation was received within the library of the
Vice-Chancellor who, after solemnly returning the volume (containing the
laws) into the hands of our worthy founder, addressed them pretty nearly
in the following words: ‘Gentlemen, there does not appear to be anything
in these laws subversive of academic discipline, or contrary to the
statutes of the university--but (ah, that ill-omened But!) as it is
impossible to predict how they may operate, and as innovations of this
sort, and in these times, may have a tendency which may be as little
anticipated as it may be distressing to the framers of such laws, I am
compelled, in the exercise of my magisterial authority, as
Vice-Chancellor, to interdict your meeting in the manner proposed’”--and
then one can see him ringing for the servant to show them out, with a
polite smile on his fat face, in the usual red-tape manner. As, however,
the deputation was prepared for something of this sort they merely retired
politely, breathing murders and slaughterings against the archaism of the
institution of Vice-Chancellor. Returning to their room, they came to the
conclusion that as they did not intend to be beaten “there was,
therefore, one result to adopt--one choice left; and that was, to carry
the object, so dear to our hearts, into effect within our private
apartments in rotation. There we might discuss, debate, and hear essays
read _ad infinitum_; and, accordingly, our first meeting took place in
Queen’s College, at the rooms of our founder, afterwards so long and so
well known in the medical world as Dr Maton.”[16]

After this preliminary check from the Vice-Chancellor, who, in charity be
it said, probably could not help himself, and was only doing his duty
according to his lights, the club throve like a bay tree and became
exceedingly famous. “Our society was quickly enlarged, and the present
Bishop of Llandaff, then a student of Corpus College, and the Rev. John
Horseman, afterwards a tutor in the same college, were enrolled members.
The two Moncrieffs of Baliol were also among our earlier acquisitions, and
some gentlemen commoners of Trinity College (whose name I have forgotten)
together with my oldest, and among my most valued friends, Mr Barwis of
Queen’s, Mr Gibson (afterwards called Riddell) of Worcester, and George
Foster of Lincoln--all united to give strength and respectability to our
association. Our meetings were frequent and full. The essays after having
been read, were entered in a book; and I am not sure whether, at this very
day, such book be not in existence. The subjects of debate usually were,
as of old they ever had been, whether the merits or demerits of such a
character (Cæsar or Queen Elizabeth, for instance) were the greater? Or
whether the good or evil of such a measure in legislation or in politics,
the more predominent. Of our speakers, the elder Moncrieff, and George
Forster of Lincoln were doubtless the most fluent and effective;
especially the latter, who had a fervency of utterance which was at times
surprising. But the younger Moncrieff, in course of time, followed his
brother, _passibus aequis_. Taking the art of speaking and the composition
of an essay together, I think Mr (now Sir John) Stoddart of Christ Church
beat us all. He was always upon his legs, a fearless opponent, and in the
use of a pen the most unpremeditating and successful....

“Meanwhile the fame of our club, or society, began to be noised abroad;
and those who felt no inclination to write essays, or to impose upon
themselves the toil of reading and research for the purpose of making a
speech, were pretty free in using sneering epithets, and in stigmatising
by nicknames. There was, however, _one_ nickname which we instantly and
courageously took to ourselves and adopted--and that was the ‘Lunatics.’
Mad, indeed we were, and desired so to be called--if an occasional
deviation from dull and hard drinking, frivolous gossip, and Boeotian
uproar, could justify that appellation.”

Undoubtedly the origin of present-day first year societies, which, unlike
the “Lunatics,” are nearly always ephemeral affairs, may be found in the
recollections of Richard Graves, in which, referring to William Shenstone,
he says, “Our more familiar acquaintance commenced by an invitation from
Mr Shenstone to breakfast at his chambers, which we accepted; and which,
according to the sociable disposition of most young people, was protracted
to a late hour; during which, Mr Shenstone, I remember, in order to detain
us, produced Cotton’s ‘Virgil Travestie,’ which he had lately met with;
and which, though full of indelicacies and low humour, is certainly a most
laughable performance. I displayed my slender stock of critical knewledge
by applauding, as a work of equal humour, Echard’s ‘Causes of the Contempt
of the Clergy.’ Mr Whistler, who was a year or two older than either of
us, I believe, and had finished his school education at Eton, preferred
Pope’s ‘Rape of the Lock,’ as a higher species of humour than anything we
had produced. In short, this morning’s lounge, which seemed mutually
agreeable, was succeeded by frequent repetitions of them; and at length,
by our meeting likewise, almost every evening, at each other’s chambers
the whole summer, where we read plays and poetry, _Spectators_ and
_Tatlers_, and other works of easy digestion, and sipped Florence

There were many famous clubs in the eighteenth century, each of which had
an individuality of its own. Just as the “Lunatics” was literary and
debating, the Constitution Club was political and aggressive, the Oxford
Poetical Club considered itself really poetical, and the High Borlace was
purely social and jovial.

The Constitution Club had its headquarters at the King’s Head Tavern in
the High. Its members “included five fellows, a chaplain and four
gentlemen commoners of New College, one gentleman commoner and seven
others of Oriel, three of Christ Church; Hart Hall, Worcester, All Souls,
Merton, St John’s, Trinity, and Wadham contributed at least one member
each--usually a gentleman commoner.”[18] The motives of its institution
were, according to Amhurst, as follows: “The society took its rise from
the iniquity of the times, and was intended to promote and cultivate
friendship between all such persons as favour’d our present happy
constitution; they thought themselves obliged openly and publickly to avow
their loyalty, and manifest their sincere affection to King George upon
all proper and becoming occasions, and to check, as much as in them lay,
the vast torrent of treason and dissaffection which overflow’d the
university. They thought it their duty to show all possible marks of
respect to those faithful officers, who were so seasonably sent to that
place, by the favour of the government, to protect the quiet part of
the king’s subjects, and to suppress the tumultuary practices of the
profess’d enemies to his majesty’s person and government; and for
constantly adhering to what they thought their duty in those points; and
for no other cause, that they can apprehend, they have been so unfortunate
as to become obnoxious to the university, and to feel, many of them, the
severe effects of their resentments.”


How much truth there is in this account of the lofty aims and patriotic
ambitions of this club, and whether Amhurst was one of the St John’s men
who were members, and consequently had his facts first hand, or whether it
is merely an account written round one or two of the club’s actions, it is
impossible to ascertain. At any rate Amhurst seems to have dropped his
sarcasm, and to have written straightforwardly and sincerely on their
behalf. So that it is only fair to conclude that they had these objects,
more or less, in view. In proof of his statements Christopher Wordsworth
tells us that “on the king’s birthday, the 28th of May aforesaid, the
whole body of the Constitution Club met together at a tavern and ordered
the windows of the house to be illuminated, and some faggots to be
prepared for a bonfire. But before the bonfire could be lighted, a very
numerous mob, which was hired for that purpose, tore to pieces the
faggots, and then assaulted the room where the club was sitting, with
brickbats and stones. All the time that the mob was thus employed, the
disaffected scholars, who had crowded the houses and streets near the
tavern, continued throwing up their caps and scattering money amongst the
rabble and shouting, ‘Down with the Constitutioners; down with the Whigs;
no George; James for ever; Ormond, Bolingbroke,’ etc.... The
Constitutioners thought it prudent to make the best of their way to their
colleges for the night. On the Sunday the club met again at Oriel, and
were the objects of the indignation of the mob, who thronged the streets
at six o’clock. A Brasenose man was wounded by a gunshot fired by one of
the Constitutioners, or their friends in Oriel, after which the crowd
retired to pull down the conventicles.” (This account of the affair is
given as being less biassed than Amhurst’s, which, in substance, is
identical, but does not tally in one or two details.)

The fat was consequently sizzling noisily in the fire. The whole place
discussed nothing else for days. Prosecutions were hourly made in the
Vice-Chancellor’s court. The grand jury of Oxfordshire made a
“presentment” in no ordered terms against the Constitutioners, who also
met with “unjust and scandalous usage” in St Mary’s, Golgotha, the
Theatre, Convocation House, and the Schools, which all rang with
“invectives and anathemas against them.... Even those grave tools, the
Vice-Chancellor and Proctors, to enliven their dull harangues, and gain
the applause of the subordinate rabble, never fail’d, in their most solemn
speeches before the convocation, to fall foul and heavy on the
Constitution Club.” The noise of the affair reached as far as the ears of
the King himself, and “rattling letters” were sent to the Vice-Chancellor.

The Oxford Poetical Club was very famous in 1721. To obtain any accurate
idea of its constitution and objects it is necessary to strike the happy
mean between the accounts of it which are given by Amhurst and Erasmus
Philipps. The latter recorded in his diary that on 17th August of that
year he “went with Mr Tristram to the Poetical Club (whereof he is a
member) at the Tuns, kept by Mr Broadgate, where met Dr Evans, Fellow of
St John’s, and Mr Jno. Jones, Fellow of Balliol, members of the club.
Subscribed 5s. to Dr Evans’s ‘Hymen and Juno’ (which one merrily call’d
Evans’s Bubble, it being now South Sea Time). Drank Galicia wine, and was
entertained with two Fables of the Doctor’s composition, which were indeed
masterly in their kind; but the Doctor is allowed to have a peculiar
knack, and to excell all mankind at a Fable.”[19]

Amhurst, by no means a respecter of persons, devoted two papers to
ridiculing the poetry club, from which I cull the following: “Divers
eminent and most ingenious gentlemen, true lovers and judges of poetry,
having with great grief observ’d that noble art declining in Oxford (its
antient seat and fountain) resolv’d, if possible, to restore it to its
pristine vigour and glory. They justly apprehended, both from reason and
experience, that a critical lecture, once a term, though never so
judicious, was not sufficient; and that the theory of any art was
defective without the practice; and, therefore, they thought the best
method to forward this design would be to institute a weekly meeting of
the finest geniuses and _beaux esprits_ of the university, at a certain
place, to be appointed by them, where they might debate the cause of
poetry, and put its laws into regular execution. This proposal was
immediately assented to; and the next question was, where to meet?

“This occasioned a short debate, some speaking in favour of the King’s
Head, and some declaring for the Crown; but they were both opposed by
others, who presum’d that the Three Tuns would suit them much better; in
which they carry’d their point, and the Three Tuns was thereupon nominated
the place of meeting, upon these two proviso’s, that Mr Broadgate would
keep good wine and a pretty wench at the bar; both which are by all
criticks allow’d to be of indispensable use in poetical operations.”

The alleged cause of this picturesque enumeration of imaginary details
was that several poems had appeared at that time in the newspapers with
the public sanction of the club. Terrae Filius immediately began to puzzle
his brain as to the membership of the club and its intentions. For a time
he admitted himself entirely baffled, but at last “chance, almighty
chance,” prospered his wishes. As the result of his enquiries he
discovered the rules of the society to be:--

“1. That no person be admitted a member of this society, without Letters
Testimonial, to be sign’d by three persons of credit, that he has
distinguished himself in some tale, catch, sonnet, epigram, madrigal,
anagram, acrostick, tragedy, comedy, farce, or epick poem.

“2. That no person be admitted a member of this society, who has any
visible way of living, or can spend five shillings per annum _de proprio_;
it being an established maxim, that no rich man can be a good poet.

“3. That no member presume to discover the secrets of this society to any
body whatsoever, upon pain of expulsion.

“4. That no member in any of his lucubrations do transgress the rules of
Aristotle, or any other sound critick, antient or modern, under pain of
having his said lucubrations burnt, in a full club, by the hands of the
small-beer drawer.

“5. That no member do presume in any of his writings, to reflect on the
Church of England, as by law established, or either of the two famous
universities, or upon any magistrate or member of the same under pain of
having his said writings burnt as aforesaid and being himself expell’d.

“6. That no tobacco be smoked in this society; the fumigation thereof
being supposed to cloud the poetical faculty, and to clog the subtle
wheels of the Imagination.

“7. That no member do repeat any verses, without leave first had and
obtained from Mr President.

“8. That no person be allowed above the space of one hour at a time to

“9. That no person do print any of his verses, without the approbation of
the major part of the society, under pain of expulsion.

“10. That every member do subscribe his name to the foregoing articles.”

These rules, before finally settled upon, had been fully discussed. A
member, by name Dr Crassus, took strong objection to the smoking rule
because he was covered with a superfluity of adipose tissue, and held that
the use of tobacco “would carry off those noxious heavy particles which
turn the edge of his fancy, and obstruct his intellectual perspiration.”
He was backed up by a medical friend, and the result was that a special
exception was made in his sole favour. A second gentleman said that he
could not declare with a “safe conscience” that he was unable to spend
five shillings per annum _de proprio_; but the President ably settled the
point by observing that “as God is the sole author and disposer of all
Things, we cannot in strict sense, call any thing our own; nor say that we
have any visible way of living, our daily bread being the only bounty of
His invisible hand, and therefore you may, _salvâ conscientiâ_, declare
that you have no visible way of living; and that you cannot spend five
shillings per annum _de proprio_, though according to vain human
computation, you are worth five thousand pounds a year.” The final
objection raised, before the rules were at last suitably framed and hung
over the mantelpiece in the club-room, was that one of the gentlemen could
not subscribe to Rule 10. He could not write, and therefore could not
comply with the strict letter of the law. If, however, he could be allowed
to make his mark, the whole difficulty could be settled out of hand. This
was agreed to without hesitation, “it being truly no uncommon Thing in
many an excellent poet.”

Not content with thus pouring ridicule upon their foundation and
institution, Amhurst, in his subsequent paper in which he described their
first meeting absolutely surpassed himself at their expense.


    “The members being met, and Mr President having assum’d the chair,
    three preliminary bumpers pass’d round the board; after which Dr
    Crassus, in pursuance of the power granted him, as mentioned in our
    last, retir’d to a snug corner of the room where a little table was
    placed for him, with pipes and tobacco upon it; then the doctor
    handled his Arms; and as he was glazing his pipe with a Ball of
    superfine wax, which he always carried in his pocket for that use, he
    alarm’d the room with a sudden peal of laughter, which drew the eyes
    of the assembly towards him, and made all of them very solicitous to
    know the conceit which occasioned it; but the doctor was not, for
    several minutes, able to do it, the fit continuing upon him, and
    growing louder and louder; at last, when it began to intermit, he made
    a shift to reveal the cause of his mirth thus:--

    “‘Why, gentlemen,’ said he,--‘ha! ha! ha!--why, gentlemen, I say the
    prettiest Epigram! ha! ha! ha! I cannot tell you for my life--I have
    made, I say, upon this ball of wax here, ha! ha! ha!--that you ever
    heard in your lives. Shall I repeat it, Mr President?’

    “‘By all means, doctor,’ said he; ‘no body more proper to open the
    assembly than Doctor Crassus!’

    “Then the doctor compos’d his countenance, and standing up, with the
    ball of wax in his right hand, pronounc’d the following distich with
    an heroick emphasis.

        “‘This wax, d’ye see, with which my pipe I glaze,
         Is the best wax I ever us’d in all my days.’

    “‘Ha! ha! ha! How d’ye like it, gentlemen ha! ha! ha! Is it not very
    pretty gentlemen?’

    “‘Very pretty, without flattery, doctor,’ said they all; ‘very
    excellent, indeed.’

    “Upon which the doctor smiled pleasantly, and lighted his pipe....
    During the first part of the night their thoughts were something
    gloomy and run upon elegies and epitaphs upon living as well as dead
    men; but you will find them brighten up as the night advance and the
    bottles increase. They begin with satire and funeral lamentation; but
    end with love, smuttiness and a song”--and there I will leave them.

The High Borlace was a Tory club which, says Christopher Wordsworth, “had
a convivial meeting held annually at the King’s Head Tavern in Oxford, on
the 18th of August (or, if that fell on a Sunday, on the 19th, as in
1734), on which occasion Dr Leigh, Master of Balliol, was of the High
Borlace and the first clergyman who had attended. It seems to have been
patronised by the county families, and it is not improbable that there was
a ball connected with it. The members chose a Lady Patroness: in 1732 Miss
Stonhouse; 1733, Miss Molly Wickham of Garsington; 1734 Miss Anne Cope,
daughter of Sir Jonathan Cope of Bruern.”

In the _Gentleman’s Magazine_ in the year 1765 there was the following
reference: “Monday Aug. 19, was held at the Angel inn, at Oxford, the High
Borlase, when Lady Harriott Somerset was chosen Lady Patroness for the
year ensuing.”

Of other smaller clubs there were the Freecynics in 1737, which Dr
Rawlinson describes as “a kind of Philosophical Club who have a set of
symbolical words and grimaces, unintelligible to any but those of their
own society,” and the Nonsense Club, founded by George Coleman, Bonnel
Thornton and Lloyd about 1750. The latter would seem from its name to be a
revival of the earlier Banterers existing almost a century before, who are
described by Wood as “a set of scholars so-called, some M.A., who make it
their employment to talk at a venture, lye, and prate what nonsense they
please, if they see a man talk seriously they talk floridly nonsense, and
care not what he says; this is like throwing a cushion at a man’s head
that pretends to be grave and wise.” Although Coleman assisted to found
the Nonsense Club he makes no reference to it in his reminiscences, so it
is more than probable that it was merely the whim of a term or so.



    Tolerated ignorance--Lax discipline--Gibbon and Magdalen--The
    “Vindication”--Opposing and responding--“Schemes”--Doing
    austens--Perjury and bribes--Receiving presents--Magdalen collections.

Nowadays work is a factor in university life which has to be seriously
reckoned with. However strong one’s intentions to do none, however
convinced one may be of the complete absurdity and futility of cramming
dull stuff for no apparent good reasons, when there is such a glorious
time to be had doing nothing in the mornings and “sweating” at athletics
in the afternoons, yet the Dons have of late acquired a foolish habit of
sending a man down unless he succeeds in scraping through certain

They feel it to be essential, through some misguided feeling of duty, to
harry the athlete and outdoor man, and at certain periods, even, to hound
him in white tie, and as much gown as he can lay hands on, to the schools,
and if, on his final exit from their clutches, they are not satisfied with
the results of his cramming, they invert their thumbs and down he goes! It
matters not whether he be merely a humble eightsman or the all-important
President of the Boat Club. The examiners are no respecters of persons,
and fear no man nor beast. The athlete retires willy nilly.

How different were the Dons’ views in Georgian times! Amhurst, serious for
once, declared that the keynote of the century was tolerated ignorance. He
made the statement boldly in the face of the high reputation of the Dons
for learning and classical knowledge, in defiance of the wrath of the
entire university. He was justified in making such an assertion, and I
have tried to prove the truth of his words in the course of this chapter.

“A gentleman commoner,” he said, “if he be a man of fortune, is soon told
that it is not expected from one of his form to mind exercises; if he is
studious, he is morose, and a heavy bookish fellow; if he keeps a cellar
of wine, the good natur’d fellows will indulge him, tho’ he should be too
heavy-headed to be at chapel in the morning.”

In proof of this assertion I will take the case, from a sheaf of others,
of Mr Harris, afterwards Lord Malmesbury, who was an Undergraduate of
Merton in 1763. “The discipline of the university happened also at this
particular moment to be so lax,” he wrote, “that a gentleman
commoner”--and it would seem not to be of great moment whether he had
riches or not--“was under no restraint, and never called upon to attend
either lectures, or chapel, or hall. My tutor, an excellent and worthy
man, according to the practise of all tutors at that moment, gave himself
no concern about his pupils. I never saw him but during a fortnight, when
I took it into my head to be taught trigonometry. The set of men with whom
I lived were very pleasant but very idle fellows. Our life was an
imitation of high life in London.” The entire lack of compulsion to work,
however, did not by any means cause Harris and his friends to dwindle into
mere “wasters.” From that little coterie eventually emerged Charles Fox
and William Eden.

Gibbon, the historian of world-wide renown, never did one stroke of work
while at Magdalen, nor was he ever asked, with any firmness, to do so. In
his much discussed reminiscences he set down that “some duties may
possibly have been imposed on the poor scholars, whose ambition aspired to
the peaceful honours of a scholarship; but no independent members were
admitted below the rank of gentleman commoner, and our velvet cap was the
cap of liberty.” Commenting upon the prevailing slackness of tutors,
Gibbon quoted his own experiences. The learned doctor to whose care he was
first confided, described as “one of the best of the tribe,” had suggested
that Gibbon should read the comedies of Terence every morning with him.
“During the first weeks,” wrote Gibbon, “I constantly attended these
lessons in my tutor’s rooms; but as they appeared equally devoid of profit
and pleasure, I was once tempted to try the experiment of a formal
apology. The apology was accepted with a smile. I repeated the offence
with less ceremony; the excuse was admitted with the same indulgence; the
slightest motive of laziness or indisposition, the most trifling avocation
at home or abroad, was allowed as a worthy impediment; nor did my tutor
appear conscious of my absence or neglect.... No plan of study was
recommended for my use; no exercises were prescribed for his inspection;
and at that most precious season of youth, whole days and weeks were
suffered to elapse, without labour or amusement, without advice or

Such was the sum total of Gibbon’s relations with that worthy and
excellent man, for, the following term, he found on his arrival, that he
had departed from the college and that another tutor was installed in his
place. Of his connection with this second tutor the Magdalen man wrote as
follows: “Instead of guiding the studies, and watching over the behaviour
of his disciple, I was never summoned to attend even the ceremony of a
lecture; and, excepting one voluntary visit to his rooms, during the eight
months of his titular office, the tutor and pupil lived in the same
college as strangers to each other.” These accusations against the
Magdalen discipline have been most heatedly “vindicated” by the Rev.
James Hurdis, who declared it to have been more Gibbon’s fault than the
Dons’ that he was not looked after, because he gave flippant excuses which
he dubbed formal apologies, and had not the patience to continue the
course of lectures arranged and delivered by his tutors.

These vindicatory arguments do not hold water. All men will evade
authority if they can. Therefore it is surely the place of the tutor to
put his foot down and issue orders instead of letting his pupil wander at
will and do no work.

In all the many descriptions of a day in the life of a Smart, or an
ordinary gentleman commoner, or the river man, no references are to be
found as to their doing any work. On the contrary, Skinner said that
“Aristotle has been deserted for the bottle,” and launched into
descriptions of the empty schools. With tutors who considered politics and
consequent individual preferment of far greater importance than the mere
conning of pupils’ work, it is not to be wondered at that the only men who
did any work were those who were “bookish” by nature and preferred a quiet
studious life to one of revelry and slacking. For the most part these
worked independently of Dons, entirely of their own volition. As far as a
good degree went, it was utterly useless; for the method of passing
university examinations was, to put it mildly, a farce. The veracity of
Vicesimus Knox is not for one moment to be questioned, so that the
following account may be taken as a fair example of the customs of the

“The youth, whose heart pants for the honour of a Bachelor of Arts degree,
must wait patiently till near four years have revolved. But this time is
not to be spent idly. No; he is obliged, during this period, once to
oppose, and once to respond, in disputations held in the public schools--a
formidable sound and a dreadful idea; but, on closer attention, the fear
will vanish, and contempt supply its place. This opposing and responding
is termed, in the cant of the place, _doing generals_. Two boys, or men,
as they call themselves, agree to do generals together. The first step in
this mighty work is to procure arguments. These are always handed down,
from generation to generation, on long slips of paper, and consist of
foolish syllogisms on foolish subjects; of the formation or the
signification of which the respondent and opponent seldom know more than
an infant in swaddling clothes. The next step is to go for a _liceat_ to
one of the petty officers, called the Regent Master of the Schools, who
subscribes his name to the questions and receives sixpence as his fee.
When the important day arrives, the two doughty disputants go into a large
dusty room, full of dirt and cobwebs, with walls and wainscot decorated
with the names of former disputants, who to divert the tedious hours cut
out their names with their penknives, or wrote verses with a pencil. Here
they sit in mean desks, opposite to each other, from one o’clock till
three. Not once in a hundred times does any officer enter; and, if he
does, he hears one syllogism or two, and then makes a bow, and departs, as
he came and remained, in solemn silence. The disputants then return to the
amusement of cutting the desks, carving their names, or reading Sterne’s
‘Sentimental Journey,’ or some other edifying novel. When this exercise is
duly performed by both parties, they have a right to the title and
insignia of Sophs; but not before they have been formally created by one
of the regent-masters.... This work done, a great progress is made towards
the wished-for honour of a Bachelor’s degree. There remain only one or two
trifling forms, and another disputation, almost exactly similar to doing
generals, but called _answering under bachelor_, previous to the awful
examination. Every candidate is obliged to be examined in the whole
circle of the sciences by three Masters of Arts _of his own choice_. The
examination is to be held in one of the public schools, and to continue
from nine o’clock till eleven. The masters take a most solemn oath, that
they will examine properly and impartially. Dreadful as all this appears,
there is always found to be more of appearance in it than reality, for the
greatest dunce usually gets his _testimonium_ signed with as much ease and
credit as the finest genius. The manner of proceeding is as follows: The
poor young man to be examined in the sciences often knows no more of them
than his bedmaker, and the masters who examine are sometimes equally
unacquainted with such mysteries. But _schemes_, as they are called, or
little books, containing forty or fifty questions on each science, are
handed down, from age to age, from one to another. The candidate to be
examined employs three or four days in learning these by heart, and the
examiners, having done the same before him when they were examined, know
what questions to ask, and so all goes on smoothly. When the candidate has
displayed his universal knowledge of the sciences, he is to display his
skill in philology. One of the masters, therefore, desires him to construe
a passage in some Greek or Latin classic, which he does with no
interruption, just as he pleases, and as well as he can. The statutes next
require that he should translate familiar English phrases into Latin. And
now is the time when the masters show their wit and jocularity. Droll
questions are put on any subject, and the puzzled candidate furnishes
diversion by his awkward embarrassment. I have known the questions on this
occasion to consist of an enquiry into the pedigree of a race-horse....
This familiarity, however, only takes place when the examiners are pot
companions of the candidate, which indeed is usually the case; for it is
reckoned good management to get acquainted with two or three jolly young
Masters of Arts and supply them well with port, previously to the
examination. If the Vice-Chancellor and Proctors happen to enter the
school, a very uncommon event, then a little solemnity is put on, very
much to the confusion of the masters, as well as of the boy, who is
sitting in the little box opposite them. As neither the officer, nor any
one else usually enters the room (for it is reckoned very _ungenteel_) the
examiners and the candidates often converse on the last drinking bout, or
on horses, or read the newspaper, or a novel, or divert themselves as well
as they can in any manner till the clock strikes eleven, when all parties
descend, and the _testimonium_, is signed by the masters. With this
_testimonium_ in his possession the candidate is sure of success. The day
in which the honour is to be conferred arrives; he appears in the
Convocation House, he takes an abundance of oaths, pays a sum of money in
fees, and, after kneeling down before the Vice-Chancellor, and whispering
a lie, rises up a Bachelor of Arts.”[21]

In order, therefore, to obtain the coveted privilege of going in for all
these learned and difficult examinations, an Undergraduate had to calm his
impatience and enjoy himself as best he could for four years. Then, having
succeeded in getting himself fairly comfortably in debt, having learned
how to string off a sonnet to the reigning toast and drink himself under
the table, he was esteemed ripe for the whispering of a lie, and was
conveniently fitted out with a degree. What more simple?

“And now, if he aspires at higher honours (and what emulous spirit can sit
down without aspiring at them?) new labours and new difficulties are to be
encountered during the space of three years. He must _determine_ in Lent,
he must _do quodlibets_, he must _do austens_, he must declaim twice, he
must read six solemn lectures, and he must be again examined in the
sciences, before he can be promoted to the degree of Master of Arts. None
but the initiated can know what _determining_, doing _quodlibets_, and
doing _austens_ mean. I have not room to enter into a minute description
of such contemptible minutiæ. Let it be sufficient to say, that these
exercises consist of disputations of syllogisms, procured and uttered
nearly in the same places, time, and manner, as we have already seen them
in doing generals. There is, however, a great deal of trouble in little
formalities, such as procuring sixpenny _liceats_, sticking up the names
on the walls, sitting in large empty rooms by yourself, or with some poor
wight as ill-employed as yourself, without anything to say or do, wearing
hoods and a little piece of lambskin wool on it, and a variety of other
particulars too tedious and too trifling to enumerate.”

The eighteenth-century lad became an Undergraduate on condition of
subscribing to a lie, and was sent down as a not undistinguished man after
seven years by pronouncing another in the ear of the Vice-Chancellor.

“As university degrees are supposed to be badges of learning and merit,
there ought to be some qualifications requisite to wear them, besides
perjury, and treason, and paying a multitude of fees, which seem to be the
three principal things insisted upon in our universities,” said Terrae
Filius--and the persistent joker spoke never a truer word. While
discussing the same question with some bitterness he asserted that a
schoolboy has done more learned things for his breaking-up task than were
required of an Oxford man after seven years’ residence. He more than bore
out Knox’s words as to the custom of making one’s examiner drunk and so
avoiding the irksome necessity of being asked awkward questions by him.
“It is also well known,” he wrote, “to be the custom for the candidates
either to present their examiners with a piece of gold, or to give them an
handsome entertainment, and make them drunk; which they commonly do the
night before examination, and sometimes keep them till morning, and so
adjourn, cheek by joul, from their drinking-room to the school where they
are to be examined. _Quaere_, whether it would not be very ungrateful of
the examiner to refuse any candidate a _testimonium_ who has treated him
so splendidly over night? and whether he is not, in this case, prevail’d
upon by bribes?”

So that in addition to making him drunk and incapable, but not
disorderly--necessarily--the astute candidate, realising that the degree’s
the thing, paid him a metaphorical thirty pieces of silver for his
betrayal. Moreover, the collectors, that is to say the Dons who were in
control of the determining, decided the days upon which the candidates
were to present themselves. On certain days called “gracious” days, the
examiners were only required to stay in the schools for half the usual
time. The consequence was, explained Terrae, “The collectors having it in
their power to dispose of all the schools and days in what manner they
please, are very considerable persons, and great application is made to
them for gracious days and good schools; but especially to avoid being
posted or dogg’d, which commonly happens to be their lot who have no money
in their pockets.”

The statues of course forbade collectors to receive presents, but a wink
is as good as a nod, and it was customary for every determiner upon
presenting himself to give the collector a “broad or half a broad.” In
return for this douceur “Mr Collector,” said Amhurst, “entertains his
benefactors with a good supper and as much wine as they can drink, besides
gracious days and commodious schools. I have heard that some collectors
have made four score or an hundred guineas of this place.”

The conclusion which is inevitably arrived at is that the examinations
for, and in fact the whole question of obtaining a degree, were a farce
and a sham, and that the authorities cared little who got one so long as
they received their fees and were left in peace to smoke and tope in the
common rooms.

The attendance at college exercises seems to have been equally dilatory.
Gibbon said that the Magdalen College exercises were futile and a waste of
time. He was tacitly allowed to stay away from them. The vindicator of
Magdalen, thinking to nail Gibbon down, went to the trouble of enumerating
term by term the exercises which the Undergraduates were supposed to
perform. As interesting reading it is worthy of quotation, but as a _coup
de grace_ to Gibbon it is absurd. If all Magdalen men were bound to
attend, why was Gibbon allowed to absent himself, or, if not allowed, why
was he not hauled over the coals?--and it is ridiculous to suppose that
Gibbon’s example was not followed by scores of fellow collegians. The
present-day “colleckers,” held terminally, are, more or less, in the
nature of a joke, but in those days, in spite of Hurdis’s burning loyalty
to Magdalen, the following exercises which correspond to them are
fearsome-sounding enough, but were more often than not unattended. “At the
end of every term, from his admission till he takes his first degree,
every individual Undergraduate of this college must appear at a _public
examination_ before the President, Vice-President, Deans, and whatever
Fellows may please to attend; and cannot obtain leave to return to his
friends in any vacation, till he has properly acquitted himself according
to the following scheme.

“In his _first_ year he must make himself a proficient--

    “In the first term, in _Sallust_ and the _Characters of Theophrastus_.

    “In the second Term, in the first six books of Virgil’s _Aeneis_ and
    the first three books of Xenophon’s _Anabasis_.

    “In the third Term, in the last six books of the _Aeneis_ and the last
    four books of the _Anabasis_.

    “In the fourth Term, in the Gospels of St Matthew and St Mark, on
    which sacred books the persons examined are always called upon to
    produce a collection of observations from the best commentators.


“During his _second_ year, the Undergraduate must make himself a

    “In the first Term, in Cæsar’s _Commentaries_, and the first six books
    of Homer’s _Iliad_.

    “In the second Term, in _Cicero de Oratore_, and the second six books
    of the _Iliad_.

    “In the third Term, in _Cicero de Officiis_ and the _Dion Hal. de
    structura Orationis_.

    “In the fourth Term, in the gospels of St Luke and St John, producing
    a collection of observations from commentators as at the end of the
    first year.

“During his _third_ year he must make himself a proficient--

    “In the first Term, in the first six books of Livy and Xenophon’s

    “In the second Term, in Xenophon’s _Memorabilia_, and in Horace’s
    Epistles and Art of Poetry.

    “In the third Term, in _Cicero de natura Deorum_, and in the first,
    third, eighth, tenth, thirteenth and fourteenth of Juvenal’s

    “In the fourth Term, in the first four epistles of St Paul, producing
    collections as before.

“During his _fourth_ and last year he must make himself a proficient--

    “In the first Term, in the first six books of the ‘Annals of Tacitus,’
    and in the _Electra_ of Sophocles.

    “In the second Term, in Cicero’s ‘Orations’ against Catilina, and in
    those of Ligarius and Archias; and also in those Orations of
    Demosthenes which are contained in Mounteney’s edition.

    “In the third Term, in the ‘Dialogues’ of Plato published by Dr
    Forster, and in the _Georgics_ of Virgil.

    “In the fourth Term, in the remaining ten Epistles of St Paul and the
    Epistles general, producing collections as before.”

The above is undoubtedly a little programme guaranteed to keep the average
Undergraduate fairly busy in the use of midnight oil. But--how odd it is
that there is ever a “but”--the excited vindicator rather spoilt matters
and lessened the terrors of the programme by stating in his preliminary
paragraph that only those Dons were present “who may please to attend!”
Having digested already some few facts concerning the habits and hobbies
of the eighteenth-century Don, as well as the liberty accorded to
gentlemen commoners, there is no need to waste sympathy on “every
individual Undergraduate” of Magdalen. He merely lowered the right eyelid,
tapped the left nostril with the left index digit and “obtained leave to
return to his friends in any Vacation,” with the greatest ease and speed
and the most cordial of farewells to the President, Vice-President, Deans,
and any of the Fellows who cared to attend.



    Present-day ineptitude--Jackson’s _Oxford Journal_--Domestic
    intelligence--Election poems--Curious advertisements--Superabundance
    of St John’s editors--Terrae Filius.

There is some indefinable element in the atmosphere of Oxford which has
always excited an itch for writing. The sister university can, of course,
point to many sons whose names stand high in the literary firmament, but
they do not amount to a tithe of the number of great writers who have
passed through Oxford. Oxford may be the home of lost causes, but she is
also the cradle for infant pens. Generations of pens splutter their first
incoherencies behind the comparative shelter of the city walls through
which the harsh criticism of maturer writers cannot penetrate. In stilted
phraseology and doubtful grammar they cover numberless sheets with
emotional outpourings. There may be future literary geniuses hidden among
them, but from those early imitative strivings it is difficult to single
out even one. They are novices who humbly apprentice themselves to the
profession of letters. From time to time some quite brilliant piece of
work throws up more vividly the amateurishness of the rest. Such meteoric
flashes are, however, rare, and thus the general standard does not rise
above mediocrity. It is because all Undergraduate pens are very young and
inexperienced that the present-day ’varsity papers can make no claim to
literary distinction. To their credit be it said that they do not. They
are content to remain just ’varsity papers--which is synonymous with
saying that they are either tediously over-academic or peculiarly inane;
that their light articles are excellent imitations of the halfpenny comic
papers, that their serious efforts are most praiseworthy for their
capacity for inflicting boredom, and that their editorials border upon the

It is not an unknown thing for a present-day Undergraduate paper, which is
supposedly conducted _by_ Undergraduates _for_ Undergraduates to be owned
and financed by a local tradesman. He, being thus in supreme command,
maintains a private blue pencil, and, obsessed by the idea that because he
sells pens and inks he is therefore a man of parts and literary
consideration, rules the poor devil of an Undergraduate editor with a rod
of iron. What is the result? It is that the average ’varsity paper is
composed of childish leaders edited by the financier; a series of vastly
foolish and unentertaining remarks which may or may not have been heard in
the Broad; pages of notes which are half-frightened comments on the week’s
doings written invariably by critics who have not sufficient pluck to say
that they consider the person or thing under criticism to be either
thoroughly bad or supremely excellent; a mawkish account of the speeches
delivered in the Union Society’s Debates, written with the condescending
patronage of the old stager, by some self-satisfied ex-official, himself a
thoroughly bad speaker and so totally unqualified to criticise; a
collection of dramatic criticisms of the bi-weekly pieces at the New
Theatre, scribbled by some musical comedy enthusiast who, in addition to a
total ignorance of the drama, has been warned by the financier of the
paper to say nice things however bad the play or the acting in order to
secure free seats from the theatre; and, lastly, a fulsome and
objectionably personal article which purports to be a biography of a
well-known Oxford man.

Perhaps under these Gilbertian conditions it is no wonder that the
literary efforts of Georgian times put those of the present to shame. In
the eighteenth century university journals were at least independent. They
looked for no pecuniary assistance from local ironmongers or haberdashers.
The consequence is that although the contributors were beginners whose
efforts were the result of the itch for writing brought on by that
indefinable element which was in the atmosphere of Oxford then as now,
their work was unhampered by any outside considerations. The literary
standard was not of the highest order. How could it be when the writers
were lads varying from eighteen to twenty years of age? It was, however,
higher than that of to-day. On turning over the various ’varsity papers of
two centuries ago, an uncomfortable sensation of that most unusual
emotion--humility--inevitably results, because there is undoubtedly found
in them much that is witty, fearless, original, vivid, and entertaining.

In those days the editor drew up a scheme for running his paper, and
adhered to it in defiance of Don and man. Now, however, in his frantic
efforts to keep life in his moribund sheet, the editor does not see that
his copy is good and worth printing, copy guaranteed to sell largely. That
is not the idea. The only way to secure financial soundness is, he finds,
to pander to the advertisers by the shifty method of writing puffs for
cigarettes, soaps, wines, and so on, in a column which bears a disguised
and misleading heading, and which is an insult to the intelligence of his
youngest reader.

In analysing the university journals of the eighteenth century I will
begin with the year 1753, when the inhabitants of Oxford and the
surrounding counties were enlivened by Jackson’s _Oxford Journal_. As to
its make-up the editor announced that, “This paper will be more complete
than any that has hitherto appeared in this Part of the Kingdom. For
besides the Articles of News, Foreign and Domestic, in which we shall
endeavour to surpass every other Paper, our Situation will enable us to
oblige our readers with a particular account of every Transaction relating
to the present Opposition in Oxfordshire, as also with a Variety of
curious Pieces in Prose and Verse, on both sides of the Question; which no
other Paper can procure.” Having made this declaration of his _modus
operandi_ Jackson adhered to it rigidly and fully. His columns of foreign
news were stocked with items of note and interest. Foreign politics, wars,
rumours of wars, agricultural depressions or rises were all included, and
came from the uttermost parts of the earth. The domestic intelligence
covered the movements of the King and royal family, meetings of celebrated
London societies, and chatty descriptions of assaults and batteries. In
one issue there was a sporting account of how “a young man ran from Queen
Street, Cheapside, to Hornsey Wood, and back again, in one Hour and four
minutes.” The next paragraph related that “the same Morning was found
drowned in the River, William Andrew, a Master Taylor in Spital Fields.
His watch and Money, with two Rings on his Finger, were found upon him.”
This little tragedy was immediately followed by an incident of comedy
which occurred in the London streets.

“Between Five and Six o’clock on Sunday Evening an uncommon Scheme was put
in Execution by a Gang of Pickpockets in St James’s Park. A Person very
well dressed fixing himself with great Attention, as tho’ he saw something
particular in the Air, occasioned a Number of People to enquire the Reason
and join in the Speculation, when he asserted he saw a very bright Star;
and while he was busy in pointing out the Constellation to the Spectators
several of them lost their handkerchiefs, but the Star gazer got off.”

Jackson’s news columns were every bit as full in comparison as the London
papers to-day. With politics, too, he dealt very fully. In a short and
pithy editorial, however, he assured his readers that his own political
views did not count--he was merely running the paper. This, odd as it may
seem, was sound diplomatic policy, because in those days, with
ever-changing party feeling, it was a mere matter of five minutes to issue
an injunction, stop the press, and confiscate the whole plant. Devoted as
he was to political interest Jackson printed many of the promised “curious
Pieces of Prose and Verse.”


    “_By the cook of Sir J. D----d._

    “Take a Cottager of Thirty shillings a Year, tax Him at Forty; Swear
    at Him; Bully Him; take your business from Him; Give Him your business
    again; make Him drunk; Shake Him by the Hand; Kiss his Wife, and he is
    an Honest Fellow.

    “_N.B._--The above Cook will make Affidavit before any Justice of the
    Peace, that this Receipt has been try’d on the Body of Billy S---- and
    several others in the Neighbourhood of K--rtle--n, and never failed of

The other political contribution took the form of an election song, the
sort of thing that the Undergraduates of those times would seize upon and
parade the streets of the university, chanting right lustily in gangs.


  “Ye honest Freeholders, bestir all your stumps;
   For all now depends upon who turns up Trumps.
       Be sure that you chuse
       Neither Placemen nor Jews.
       Nor such as are likely their trust to abuse.
   To the devil you’re sold if the Conj’rer prevails;
   If Israel’s Black Seed, beware of your Tails.


  “Alas! that poor Britons should lose for their Sins
   Their Liberties, Properties and their Fore-Skins.”

In addition to such contributions in prose and verse, the columns of the
Journal were open to any keen correspondent who cared to air either his
views or his grievances--an opportunity of which the fullest advantage was
taken. In every issue urgent appeals and exhortations to voters and
freeholders appeared over various names. The advertisement columns, such
as they were, contained frequent announcements of the publication of
political pamphlets addressed to the “Gentlemen, Clergy, and Freeholders
of the country of Oxford.” These columns contained also the most curious
hotch-potch of unexpected posts and requests, such as:



    “A LIVING,

    “Worth near _Thirty Pounds_ per Annum, besides Surplice fees and other
    emoluments. None but True Blue Parsons to drink for it. Three
    Gentlemen with White Wigs and Red Faces are already entered.

    “_N.B._--Very soon will be ate for at the same place, a tollerable
    _Curacy_, by those who never get a Dinner but of a Sunday. Codd and
    Oyster Sauce will be the Subject for this trial. Mr B--lst--ne is
    excepted against in both Cases as he will spoil Sport.”

Another frequently-appearing notice was an advertisement of a booklet of
advice to new-married persons, or the art of having beautiful children.
This was surrounded by bills of races, cock fights, arrivals of new
dancing masters, who addressed themselves to the nobility and gentry in
and about Oxford, quack medicines and ointments which were a never-failing
remedy for the itch, announced “by the King’s authority. _N.B._--One box
is sufficient to cure a grown person, and divided, is a cure for two

For the rest it was the receptacle for articles of every nature from all
and sundry. Warton left his antiquarian researches to afford himself a
little relaxation by writing for it a version of Gray’s _Elegy_ up to
date, or an appreciation of Ben Tyrell’s mutton pies. From the various
coffee-houses Jackson received the wonderful effusions of the Bucks of the
first head, sonnets to Sylvia’s eyelashes, poems in praise of Oxford ale,
and even an occasional Latin verse. “Old Lochard, the newsman,” says J. R.
Green in his delightful Oxford chapters, “who, bell in hand, hawked the
Journal through the streets, owed to his college patrons not only the
antiquated cane and rusty grizzle wig, which they had thrown by after ten
years’ service of the tankard at buttery hatch, in return for quick
despatches; but the merry rhymes that every Christmas drew a douceur from
the tradesman, a slice of sirloin and a cup of October from the squire, or
a dram from Mother Baggs.”[22]

In the Journal’s own war paean:--

  “Each vast event our varied page supplies,
   The fall of princes or the rise of pies;
   Patriots and squires learn here with little cost
   Or when a kingdom or a match is lost;
   Both sexes here approved receipts peruse,
   Hence belles may clean their teeth or beaux their shoes,
   From us informed Britannia’s farmers tell
   How Louisburgh by British thunders fell;
   ’Tis we that sound to all the Trump of Fame,
   And babes lisp Amherst’s and Boscawen’s name.
   All the four quarters of the globe conspire
   Our news to fill, and raise your glory higher.”

Throughout almost the entire eighteenth century the editorial chairs of
the different periodicals seem to have been filled for the most part by St
John’s men. Terrae Filius appeared first in 1721 under the guidance of
Nicholas Amhurst of St John’s. In 1789 _The Loiterers_, a literary weekly,
was launched before the public by James Austen of St John’s. His brother,
H. T. Austen of the same college, materially assisted him by contributing
a number of delightful imaginative articles. This paper was filially
dedicated by the editor to the President and Fellows of his college, and
ran successfully for two years. The present-day members have done their
best to maintain the literary traditions of this college, for that nine
days’ wonder, the _Tuesday Review_, was edited and run by two rash men of
St John’s.

Amhurst took it upon himself to fill the post of cat-o’-nine-tails to the
University, and in his “secret history” lashed at everybody and thing that
was not to his liking, or that seemed to him to constitute in any way an
abuse. He discovered for himself, in all their abundance, the manifold
troubles of an editor, but was not to be coerced or cajoled into anything
that he did not consider fit and proper.

“In a work of this nature,” he wrote in the preface to the second edition
of Terrae Filius, “it is very hard to please any, and impossible to please
all. The different tempers and tastes of men cannot relish the same style
or manner of writing any more than the same dish or the same diversion:
fops love romances; pedants love jargon; the splenatic man delights in
satire; and the gay courtier in panegyric; some are pleased with poetry;
others with prose; some are for plain truths, and some for disguise and
dissimulation. I was aware of this when I began, and, in my second paper,
reserved to myself a liberty to be in what humour I pleased, and to vary
my manner as well as my subject, hoping thereby to please most sorts of
readers; but I quickly found myself disappointed in my expectations,
having often received, by the same post, complaints from some of my
correspondents, that I was too grave for the character of Terrae Filius;
and from others, that I affected levity too much for one who styled
himself a reformer. In answer to both of the objections I shall beg my
readers to consider that as, on one hand, it ought not to be expected that
a man should keep his face upon the broad grin for half a year together;
so, on the other, I cannot apprehend that it is at all necessary for a
reformer to be a puritan, always in the dumps, and always holding forth
with a dismal face and a canting tone:--

  “‘... ridiculum acri
   Fortis et melius magnas plerumque secat res.’

“... I can see nothing in it to repent of, but the want of sufficient
abilities to treat a subject of such general importance in the manner
which it deserves. But I hope the reader will excuse some imperfections,
when he considers the nature of my stunted education, that I was allow’d
to continue but three years at Oxford, and was not twenty-four years of
age when I compleated this undertaking.”

In self-explanation Terrae Filius started off his campaign with sundry
paragraphs calculated to make the authorities uneasy as to their own
future safety, and to cause Undergraduates to champion him against them at
all hazards.

“It has, till of late,” he explained, “been a custom, from time
immemorial, for one of our family to mount the rostrum at Oxford at
certain seasons, and divert an innumerable crowd of spectators, who
flock’d thither to hear him from all parts, with a merry oration in the
fescenine manner, interspersed with secret history, raillery, and sarcasm,
as the occasions at the times supply’d him with matter. If a venerable
head of a college was caught snug a bed with his neighbour’s wife; or
shaking his elbows on a Sunday morning; or flattering a prime minister for
a bishopric; or coaxing his bedmaker’s girl out of her maidenhead; the
hoary old sinner might expect to hear of it from our lay-pulpit the next
Act. Or if a celebrated toast and a young student were seen together at
midnight under a shady myrtle tree, billing like two turtle doves, to him
it belonged, being a poet as well as an orator, to tell the tender story
in a melancholy ditty, adapted to pastoral music.”

Claiming to follow the precedents established by his old-time
predecessors, Terrae Filius set about showing up the scandalous old Heads,
disguised in thinly-veiled names. As a consequence he was many times
prohibited by Vice-Chancellors and preached down, and cordially loathed
and execrated by all the college Heads and Fellows of his time, whom he
attacked either directly or indirectly.

“Why should a poor Undergraduate,” he asked, “be called an idle rascal,
and a good-for-nothing blockhead, for being perhaps but twice at chapel in
one day; or for coming into college at ten or eleven o’clock at night; or
for a thousand other greater trifles than these; whilst the grey-headed
doctors may indulge themselves in what debaucheries and corruptions they
please, with impunity, and without censure? Methinks it could not do any
great hurt to the universities if the old fellows were to be jobed at
least once in four or five years for their irregularities, as the young
ones are everyday, if they offend.”

Abuses of such a nature are long dead, and a Terrae Filius to-day would
rapidly die of starvation by reason of the lack of matter. Then, however,
he not only lived, but waxed fat on the news he ferreted out--rather in
the manner of a leech applied to a festering sore. Advertisements to him
meant nothing. They were unsought, and would have been refused if
offered. He was _pro bono publico_, ever ready with advice, satire,
criticism, explanation, and always humour. His pen was untiring in writing
a subject up or down, according to its merits or demerits. Political,
religious, academic, and social abuses were thrown on to the screen
fearlessly. His paternal advice to freshmen, although written in a vein of
biting irony, was, nevertheless exactly suited to the times, and, if
followed unswervingly, must assuredly have been of vast assistance in
coping with the wily, time-serving sculls and beer-swilling tutors. His
advice as to their morale was penned with his tongue in his cheek; but in
substance it was none the less straight and praiseworthy. His political
views were consistent and very strenuous, and the opposition received a
royal scourging from his stinging and lengthy lashes. His contempt for
Smarts was only exceeded by his scorn for drink-soddened, incapable
Fellows, and the scandalous manner in which they neglected the statutes
and allowed everything to run to seed. His boldness in choice of subjects
was unparalleled, the outspoken manner of setting them forth absolutely
inimitable. The results achieved by his work must have been considerable,
though to a large extent unperceived publicly, because a new leaf turned
frankly and openly would have been an avowal of guilt on the part of the
persons concerned. The proof that he was largely read lies in the fact
that he was preached about in no measured terms in public pulpits,
prohibited by various authorities, roasted by aggrieved parties in
coffee-and ale-houses, and, in fact, was a household word on every one’s

A lengthy disquisition upon the way in which the truth was mangled,
disguised, covered up, and turned about by priests, statesmen, and every
“old libertine in authority” was followed by the ensuing declaration:--

“I, Terrae Filius, a free-thinker, and a free-speaker, highly incensed
against all knavery and imposture, and not thinking _Truth_ such a
terrible enemy to religion and good order, as it has been represented, do
hereby declare war against all cheats and deluders, however dignified, or
wheresoever residing; the fear of obloquy and ill-usage shall not deter me
from this undertaking, nor shall any considerations rob me of the liberty
of my own thoughts and my own tongue. In the pursuit of this design, I
shall not confine myself to any particular method; but shall be grave and
whimsical, serious or ludicrous, prosaical or poetical, philosophical or
satirical, argue or tell stories, weep over my subject, or laugh over it,
be in humour or out of humour, according to whatever passion is uppermost
in my breast whilst I am writing.”

In token of this promise there stands the truth on every page, however
bedded in satire, philosophy, poetry, or ridicule. He saw to it that his
daily path was studded with nails, and in his passage he hit them each one
on the head. As a result the pages of Terrae Filius are from cover to
cover a source of immense joy. For an example of bold and delightful
satire I cannot find a better instance than the _ne plus ultra_ in skits
on the Poetical Club. Of course he gave the president and learned
professors who composed it fictitious names, but it is palpable that those
caricatured recognised themselves, and, if they had the least grain of
humour in their compositions, they must have enjoyed it thoroughly. As,
however, the question of their possessing a sense of humour is open to
grave doubts--a fact proved by the very formation of the club and the
secrecy of its doings--it is infinitely more likely that the club writhed
under his well-pointed jibes and consigned the author to eternal
perdition. Then, too, the bland and smiling manner in which he turned
aside the violent pulpit denunciations of his hard-hit victims is
exhilarating to a degree. He received, for instance, a letter from an
anonymous friend (hidden behind the title “John Spy”) who sent him an
account of the heated charges laid at his door by a certain grave college
Head. Terrae printed the letter and smilingly pointed out the reasons of
the man’s wrath in a tone of charming tolerance.

“You see, reader,” he said, “that I had no sooner undertaken this task but
I raised a nest of holy wasps and hornets about my ears; an huge old
drone, grown to an excessive bulk upon the spoils of many years, has
thought fit, you see, to call me terrible names before his learned
audience, at St Mary’s Church in Oxford; it is, it seems, an hellish
attempt to bring about a reformation of the universities; and it is daring
and impious in me to style myself a free-thinker and a free-speaker: poor
man! poor man! What! art afraid I should tell tales out of school, how a
certain fat doctor got his bedmaker with child, and play’d several other
unlucky pranks? That would be daring and impious indeed. No, no, never
fret thyself, man; I love a pretty woman myself, and I never desire any
better usage in this world than as I do unto others to be done unto

Turning to politics, Terrae Filius summed up the attitude of the
authorities in Oxford in one short paragraph--which was made a hundred
times more severe by his assertion upon honour that religion received the
same treatment at their hands.

“In politics my advice is the same as in religion--not to let your upstart
reason domineer over you, and say you must obey this king or that king; or
you must be of this party, or that party; instead of that, follow your
leaders; observe the cue, which they give you; speak as they speak; act as
they act; drink as they drink, and swear as they swear; comply with
everything which they comply with; and discover no scruples which they do
not discover.”

Upon a Whig and a Tory enquiring what was their exact position, he told
them that one day the Whig might be safe and have things all his own way,
but that the next the certainty of the Tory’s being uppermost was
absolute. Finally he urged upon them that the only safe method of
proceeding was to employ what are called nowadays the Winston tactics--one
side one day, the other the next, according to one’s greater individual

He dealt exhaustively with the peculiarly slack method of conducting, or
rather the practical non-existence of, university examinations. On reading
his account alone, it would very naturally be supposed that he was drawing
the long bow, caricaturing the existing conditions out of all shape and
possibility of recognition, and we laugh unreservedly. But further study
of other writers’ criticisms of the times very quickly turns our smile
into a gasp of amazement. Terrae Filius was not caricaturing. All his
absurd and quite impossible relations of bribery and corruption were true.
It is precisely the same with all his papers. He has wisely written them
in the style of caricatures, and at times, no doubt, has indulged his
humour overmuch; but, on going into his inimitable showings up of drinking
and immoral Dons, political conflicts, university statutes, toasts,
smarts, or any one of the innumerable subjects dissected by him, and then
comparing his work with other eighteenth-century documents, one finds that
Terrae Filius carried out his boast and kept to the truth.

Is there any man to-day who, at the age of twenty-four, has achieved such
notoriety, done such brilliant work, and proved himself to be such a
master of his craft?



    The Student--Cambridge included--Its design--The female student--Poem
    by Sir Walter Raleigh--Bishop Atterbury’s letter--The manly woman.

On the first day of January, 1750, there appeared the first number of _The
Student_. The sub-title read: _The Oxford Monthly Miscellany_. For two
years it ran successfully, and, at the beginning of the second, it was
found that Cambridge took such an interest in its doings that the
sub-title was enlarged. It then read: _The Oxford and Cambridge Monthly
Miscellany_. In make-up it differed entirely from Terrae Filius, and
contended to be a far more serious and high-minded journal, aiming not so
much to amuse as to teach its readers. Thus it contained Latin prose and
verse, religious discussions, essays, medical dissertations, and a
carefully selected variety of lighter matter in English prose and verse.
The tone of the work may be gathered from the sedate foreword to the

“In the course of this work particular care will be taken that nothing be
inserted indecent or immoral, and as we are determined to give umbrage to
no Person or Party, all political disputes and whatever is offensive to
Good Manners will of consequence be avoided. Our design being only to
promote learning in general, we shall not confine ourselves to any
particular subject, but occasionally comprehend all the branches of polite
literature. Each number will consist of such originals in Prose and Verse
as we hope will prove agreeable to our readers. And tho’ we might with
impunity comply with the common practice of preying indiscriminately on
the labours of others, yet we shall not to our knowledge publish any thing
that has been printed before, or without the consent of the respective
authors: for the one we consider as a fraud upon the publick, and the
other an invasion of private property. These considerations we presume
will remove any prejudice which the Learned may conceive against our
undertaking, and induce them not only to encourage, but assist us in the
prosecution of it. And as we must necessarily depend on the publick for
the Success of our work, we hope it will meet with their indulgence. No
endeavours on our part shall be wanting to render it worthy their
approbation; and we no longer desire their favour, than while we continue
to deserve it.”

In the first number there were some five or six pages of Latin verse, a
translation of the chorus at the end of the second act of _Hecuba of
Euripides_, an elegy in imitation of Tibullus, an article on “Intellectual
Pleasure”--the author of which was requested, in an editorial note, to
favour the paper with his further reflections--the speech of John Fell,
D.D., Bishop of Oxford, at his Triennial Visitation in the year 1685, an
article entitled “Leaning of no Party,” and one or two lighter imaginative
contributions, such as “The Speech of an Old Oak to an Extravagant Young
Heir as He was going to be Cut Down,” and an “Address to an Elbow Chair
Lately New Cloath’d.” As there were no advertisements to assist the
editors with the printing bills, it speaks well for the literary taste of
the period that the paper lived two full years--the period to which the
editors limited themselves at the outset. Such a periodical at Oxford in
the year of grace 1911 would prove to be a hopeless anachronism. It would
arrive at a circulation of three copies per month--a free copy to the
British Museum, another to the Bodleian, and the third to the editor’s
mother. The Undergraduates might finger it casually on the bookshop
counter, and the Dons read the first number on account of its novelty, but
it would die a speedy death unless by the second issue the editor
announced its coalition with the comic paper whose editor runs his
motor-car on the earnings of butcher and express messenger boys.

One of the lighter features of _The Student_ was a series of letters from
Cambridge written by the female student. Her epistles were full of humour,
and she poked fun at the Undergraduates quietly, and in a manner not
wholly unlike Terrae Filius. Perhaps it is unfair to compare her efforts
to those of Amhurst, because as he jested and quipped in every conceivable
style and way, any one coming after him might be accused, quite unjustly,
of plagiarism. That the female student was not guilty of any false modesty
is easily to be seen from the account of herself in her preliminary
letter; while the care with which the editors of _The Student_ guarded the
decencies and the moralities ensured that she did not in any way cause a
breach in them by her broad-minded and outspoken contributions. She began
by claiming the student as a brother, a claim based upon her birth,
education, and the whole conduct of her life. She asserted that she, too,
was a student, having sounded the depths of philosophy and made greater
progress “in academical erudition” than most of the Dons whose profound
knowledge consisted in a “little cap with a short tuft and a large pompous
grizzle wig.” She was born and brought up in Cambridge in the care of an
aunt. Her studies were directed by a grave Fellow of a college. Her aunt
was so fond of her that she was suffered to “give a loose to her passion
for literature,” and the girl absorbed information from curling papers and
the lids of wig-boxes. When she was seventeen her tutor died of a surfeit
occasioned by feeding too freely at a gaudy, and the secret at last came
out that there had been a union between the Don and the aunt for nearly
twenty years. The aunt became, therefore, a mother, and she produced
documents to show that the Don’s possessions were hers. The result of the
selling of the deceased’s effects did not raise the good woman to a
condition of luxury.

“However,” said the girl, “she resolved to continue at Cambridge on my
account, and we lived together in a manner much genteeler than our fortune
would afford. My person (which, by-the-bye, I took as much pains to
cultivate as my mind) now began to be cried up as much as my parts. I was
a charming, clever, sweet, smart, witty, pretty creature, in short, I was
as much feared for my wit as ador’d for my beauty. From hence I had vanity
to fancy I could have anybody I pleased, and had therefore resolved within
myself to be run away with by a nobleman, or a baronet at least.”

But this witty, pretty creature unfortunately over-estimated her
possibilities. The next ten years passed in a round of gaiety which took
the form of courtship by no one under the rank of gentleman commoner. With
the baronet in view, however, such mere mortals fell in their hundreds.
Some she rejected “because a better might offer, some because they had too
much sense; others because they had too little; this was too old, that too
young,” and, in consequence, she was gradually deserted, as her physical
charms waned, until at last her name was never mentioned “without the
odious reproach of ‘she has been’ added to it.”

At the moment of writing this first letter she was compelled to work for
her bread and the support of her mother. This she did with her pen,
turning out poems and novels; being, as she informed _The Student_, at
present engaged in “composing sermons for a bookseller, which he designs
to sell for the MS. Sermons of an eminent divine lately deceased,
warranted originals.”

_The Student_, liking the tone of her first letter, encouraged her to
write further, and from time to time she sent in various articles, such as
a scathing criticism of Academical Gallantry, in which she roundly chaffed
all gownsmen for their bragging propensities and gallant follies, and gave
an account of the various Dons and their habits who had laid vain siege to
her heart, and a discussion on the sin of living single, and the fustiness
of old maids--a plight in which she admitted herself to be, though not by
“desire or inclination.”

In spite of the editorial desire to give umbrage to no person or party,
certain of the Bucks seem to have considered her an unamusing, brazen
creature, whose inclusion in _The Student_ was a sad mistake, for she
received the following crushing letter from one of their number.

    “---- Coll., Oxford, _June 11, 1751_.

    “MADAM,--As the character I bear in this University is that of a
    profess’d critic-general on pamphlets, and as my opinion is look’d
    upon as infallible and oracular in a certain coffee-house frequented
    by Wits, where a subscription is carried on for raking together the
    dulness of the age, I think I may take the liberty (without being
    styled Prig, Fop, Witling, or Poetaster) of transmitting you my full
    and candid sentiments on your monthly productions. And first, Madam
    Student, with as much laconic politeness as possible, I beg leave to
    inform you that you pretend to that choice ingredient of good writing
    Humour, without having one syllable of it. In a word, Madam, if you
    have any Humour at all, it is that low species of it, never so much as
    heard of in Greece and Rome, originally invented by Tom Brown of
    blackguard memory, and now first revived by the Female Student.

    “This species (if it may call itself a species), I, myself, in right
    of the sublime critical character with which the sensible Men of our
    house have invested me, have christen’d Jack-Pudding Humour. To define
    it were utterly impracticable. However, thus much may be said of it,
    that it is made up of ill-breeding and ill-nature, and discovers a
    remarkable want of classical reading, and a relish for authors of true
    taste. It treats of subjects of a vague nature, and is (beside its
    Jack-pudding affinity) of a mere Jack-lanthorn nature, neither here
    nor there; in short, it is a topsy-turvy, rhapsodic, miscellaneous
    method of writing. But, to come to the point. What I would recommend
    to you is to leave off scribbling, and sit down seriously to sewing.

    “Why, Madam, you are nothing more than a bankrupt in beauty, a mere
    discarded toast! I assure you, Mrs Student, you have no more chance of
    getting reputation by your pen than you had of getting a husband by
    your person.--Yours,

        “FRANK FIZZ-PUFF.”

Whether this letter really caused the good lady to take up sewing in
earnest it is impossible to say, but the fact remains that she was no more
seen in _The Student_--not even to the extent of an indignant feminine
outburst against Mr Fizz-Puff.

Among the “never before” printed verses which the editor secured for his
columns were some written by Sir Walter Raleigh at Winchester in 1603, as
he lay under sentence of death. They were printed from a manuscript with
due care to preserve the spelling exactly as it was. The editor, however,
was in ignorance of the fact that they had already been published in 1608
in the second edition of Davison’s _Poetical Rhapsody_.

  “Goe, soul, the bodyes gueste,
     Upon a thankless arrante,
   Fear not to touche the beste,
     The truth shall be thy warrante.
       Goe, since I needs must dye,
       And give them all the lye.

  “Goe, tell the court it glowse,
     And shines like painted woode;
   Goe, tell the church it shows
     What’s good, but does no good.
       If court and church replye
       Give court and church the lye.”

The moribund knight pursued his muse to the thirteenth verse, giving
everybody and everything the lie. The editor of _The Student_, undoubtedly
with the idea of pandering to all tastes, was careful to place these
verses in between a translation of a Latin epigram--

  “I stole from sweet Gumming two kisses in play,
   But she from myself stole myself quite away;
   I grieve not I play’d, tho’ so cruel the sport;
   I’m more pleas’d than griev’d at the hurt.”

and an epistle in verse to Lord Cobham, written by Congrave, while in the
very near neighbourhood, was--


  “_From the Latin_

  “My mother, when she was with child of me,
   Consulted heav’n what gender I should be.
   Female, cried Mars; Apollo said, a Male;
   Neither, quoth Juno; both your judgments fail.
   My birth did prove the Goddess in the right;
   Nor boy, nor girl, but an Hermaphrodite.
   Again she ask’d them what my fate would be.
   One said a sword, another said a tree;
   Water a third, and they were right all three.
   For from a tree I fell upon my sword,
   Feet caught in boughs, head dangling in a ford.
   Man, Woman, Neither, I at last was found,
   Just as the Gods foretold, hang’d, stabb’d, and drown’d.”

A few numbers before that in which the coffee-house wit told the female
student just precisely what he thought of her, the editor received a
letter from another of these gentry at one of the coffee-houses. On behalf
of all his brother Smarts, Mr Harry Didapper took it upon himself to offer
a little friendly advice to the paper. He informed the editor that _The
Student_ was read with keen interest by them all, but that at times it
indulged in boring and pompous articles which, however they pleased the
editor himself, or the cultivated taste of his wig-maker, hosier and wine
merchant, left them angry and disappointed. The Smarts wished to have no
more abstract speculations and religious introspections. They wanted more
brightness and humanity about the paper. Consequently in the next issue
the editor published the following lamentation:--


  “Oh Gout! the plague of rich and great!
   Thou cramping padlock of the feet!
   Oh Gout! thou puzzling knotty point!
   You nick man’s frame in every joint;
   You, like inquisitors of Spain,
   Rack, burn, and torture limbs to pain.
   First, miner-like, you work below,
   And sap man’s fortress by the toe....
   And what is worse, the wounded part
   Finds small relief from doctor’s art.
   Great Wilmot’s skill confounded stands
   When patient roars ... my toe! my hands!...
   ’Tis said that bees, when raging found,
   Are charm’d to peace by tinkling sound;
   Shrill lullabies in nurse’s strain
   Asswage the froward bantling’s pain,
   When cutting teeth, or ill-plac’d pin,
   Molest the tender baby’s skin,
   So when Gout-humours throb and ache,
   The present soft prescription take.
   In elbow-chair majectick sit
   In full high twinge, yet scorn to fret;
   Divert the pain with generous wine;
   Read news from Flanders and the Rhine;
   Hold up the toe like Pope of Rome;
   Forbear to scold, and swear, and fume;
   Let double flannel guard the part,
   To mitigate the dreadful smart;
   Wrap round the joint this harmless verse;
   And let dame Patience be your nurse.”

Would any doctor in these times prescribe wine as a remedy against gout?
Whether the advice was sound or not, the Smarts appeared to have been
appeased, for there came no further complaints as to the stodginess of the
fare served up to them.

In the same number of _The Student_ there appeared a letter from Bishop
Atterbury to his son Obadiah, who was up at the House. How the editor
procured it is not recorded, nor is it easy to see why he included it in
his columns. It cannot have been vastly entertaining to a list of
subscribers who devoted most of their time to ale and coffee-houses, or in
dallying with Amaryllis in the shade of Merton Wall. It is greatly
interesting to-day, however, as an example of what an eighteenth-century
parent indicted to his son. The contrast between this letter and the
replies one receives in 1911 in answer to one’s brief epistles written,
mostly, solely in order to “touch the dad down for a bit” is not

    “DEAR OBBY,--I thank you for your letter, because there are manifest
    signs in it of your endeavouring to excel yourself, and in consequence
    to please me. You have succeeded in both respects, and will always
    succeed, if you think it worth your while to consider what you write
    and to whom, and let nothing, tho’ of a trifling nature, pass through
    your pen negligently. Get but the way of writing correctly and justly,
    time and use will teach you to write readily afterwards. Not but that
    too much care may give a stiffness to your style, which ought in all
    letters by all means to be avoided. The turn of them should always be
    natural and easy, for they are an image of private and familiar
    conversation. I mention this with respect to the four or five first
    lines of yours, which have an air of poetry, and do therefore
    naturally resolve themselves into blank verses. I send you your letter
    again, that you may make the same observation. But you took the hint
    of that thought from a poem, and it is no wonder therefore, that you
    heightened the phrase a little when you were expressing it. The rest
    is as it should be; and particularly there is an air of duty and
    sincerity, that if it comes from your heart, is the most acceptable
    present you can make me. With these qualities an incorrect letter
    would please me, and without them the finest thoughts and language
    would make no lasting impression upon me. The great Being says, you
    know--my son, give me thy heart--implying that without it all other
    gifts signify nothing. Let me conjure you therefore never to say
    anything, either in a letter or common conversation, that you do not
    think, but always to let your mind and your words go together on the
    most slight and trivial occasions. Shelter not the least degree of
    insincerity under the notion of a compliment, which, as far as it
    deserves to be practis’d by a man of probity, is only the most civil
    and obliging way of saying what you really mean; and whoever employs
    it otherwise, throws away truth for breeding; I need not tell you how
    little his character gets by such an exchange. I say not this as if I
    suspected that in any part of your letter you intended only to write
    what was proper, without any regard to what was true; for I am
    resolved to believe that you were in earnest from the beginning to the
    end of it, as much as I am when I tell you that I am,--Your loving
    father, etc.”

The editor of _The Student_ pronounced himself the champion of many and
various causes. For instance, he organised in his columns a fund for the
maintenance of the widows and children of deceased clergy in straightened
circumstances, which did an immense amount of good. His appeal for money
was nobly responded to in Oxford, and widely taken up by the public.
Another matter against which he took up the cudgels was the fondness shown
so largely by the fair sex for indulging in masculine sports in masculine
attire--more particularly hunting. From his account it is clear that a
very great percentage of ladies was horsey to the exclusion of all else,
even, in his eyes, of femininity.

“I cannot,” he wrote in an article occasioned by an amusing letter from a
short-sighted contributor who at dinner addressed his neighbour as Sir,
when all the time it was a lady, who, returning late from a day with the
hounds had had no time to change, “I cannot, indeed, but highly disapprove
not only the habit, but also the cause of it. It makes them appear rough
and manlike: it robs them of all the endearing softness, all the alluring
tenderness, that so captivates and charms the heart. As pity and a certain
degree of timorousness are essentially woven into their constitution, do
they not pervert the very end of their creation, who daringly tempt the
perils of the chace, or exult in the prosecution and death of a poor
harmless animal? If the laws of _decency_ are not broke thro’ by such an
unbecoming practice, I am sure, those of _delicacy_ are, which above all
things ’tis the business of the fair to keep up.”

As an example of the unnatural and indelicate results of a woman being
sporting the editor related with pathos the story of one Peggy Atall, who
was brought up, her mother being dead, by her father, a country squire, to
all the “labourious sports of the field.” Hunting was, however, her
obsession, and she was noted as the boldest rider in the country. “As she
is an heiress, many a young fox hunter, whose love has been greater than
his prudence, has hazarded his neck and cheaply come off with a dislocated
limb or so, in following her thro’ the various perils and hairbreadth
’scapes of the chace.” The editor, who had the good fortune to know this
fair Diana, was, fortunately for himself, not in love with her, judging by
the avowedly casual manner in which he visited at her house. But he was
none the less deeply pained that “her whole conversation turns on that
topic. I have often heard her charm a large circle of gaping
fellow-sportsmen with a recapitulation of the feats of the day. She would
descant a whole hour on the virtues of Dreadnought, her own horse, who had
brought her in at the death of a stag, with Tom the huntsman, when every
gentleman on the field was thrown out; concluding with the most exulting
expressions of barbarous joy at seeing the poor beast torn to pieces.” He
brought his reflections to an end by strongly urging all his fair-hunting
readers to “lay aside the spirit of the chace together with the cap, the
whip, and _all the masculine attire_.” It is more than probable that as
the editor of a modern daily or weekly paper his remarks _à propos_ of
suffragette raids, and all the little delicate ventures in which women
vote-seekers indulge their fancy, would make very bright and spirited
reading. He was evidently born before his time. Be that as it may, he
undoubtedly conducted his paper on popular lines, for he was enabled to
keep it alive during the two years which he had mapped out for himself in
the beginning. Its fame was not local to Oxford and Cambridge. He received
letters of congratulation from Edinburgh, Dublin, and other university
towns--the senders of course enclosing contributions with their letters of



    The _Oxford Magazine_--Introduction of illustrations--Odd
    advertisements--Attention paid to the Drama--Prologue to the
    _Cozeners_ written by Mr Garrick--Visions, fables and moral
    tales--_The Loiterer_--Diary of an Oxford man, 1789.

_The Student_ was followed after a lapse of some eighteen years by the
_Oxford Magazine_, a monthly miscellany. Devoted to no one particular
object, the editors declared its columns open to every kind of literary
matter--scientific, historical, antiquarian. Light and merely amusing
subjects were also given a place in its pages. They boasted in addition a
feature which no other periodical had ever included--illustrations. _The
Student_, it is true, had an allegorical engraving as a frontispiece to
each volume, but the _Oxford Magazine_ went one better and had
copper-plates of many of the noteworthy persons and happenings of the day,
which were “made from the most striking subjects.” “Satirical and
political cards will be given in each number, executed by the most
ingenious artists; which, it is hoped, will vie, in humour and satire,
with the late celebrated Mr Hogarth’s performances.” Other features which
the editors dealt with far more enterprisingly than any other papers of
the century were the Drama and the Law Courts. In each number there
appeared a criticism of a Drury Lane production with the cast in full, a
description of the play, the plot given in _précis_ form, and a general
summing up of the merits or demerits of the writing and acting. Each of
these ran to several columns, and in some numbers there were criticisms of
two or three productions. Besides dealing with the Law Courts in the
Domestic Intelligence columns, which acted as a sort of monthly review of
events, there were full reports of some of the important trials of the
time. The editors’ foreword was not without interest, giving, as it did,
an exact idea of their plan of campaign. On the title page it was stated
that the magazine was “calculated for general instruction and amusement.”
To this end they put forward following the programme:--

“Among other subjects of general entertainment, the authors propose to
give, in the course of this magazine, complete systems of every branch of
useful learning, enriched with all the improvements of modern writers.
They do not, however, propose to confine their labours entirely to the
elucidation of the sciences; they propose to give a large account of the
political and other transactions in different parts of the world,
especially in our own country; every remarkable event, every uncommon
debate, and every interesting turn of affairs will be recorded. A copious
and authentic history of foreign and domestick occurrences will also be
given, digested in a chronological series, containing all the material
news of the month. To render this performance agreeable to every class of
readers, care will be taken to furnish it with pieces calculated for
general entertainment. The elegant amusements of literature, the flights
of poetical fancy, and the brilliant sallies of inoffensive wit, shall
find a place in our _Magazine_. In a word, researches into antiquity;
elucidations of ancient writers; criticisms on every branch of literature;
essays in prose and verse; visions, fables, moral tales, etc., will make a
part of this performance. The correspondence of the ingenious is therefore

On the lighter side of the periodical, one of the features was a monthly
collection from contemporary London papers of curious and remarkable
advertisements. They evidently appealed strongly to the supporters of the
paper, as, after the first volume, the editors gave them in greater
number. Some of them, indeed, were not without humour--of the broader kind
then in vogue--as will be seen from the few examples appended:--

    “A maiden lady, who lately died in Ireland, left two guineas each to
    four maidens, aged twenty-five, to be her pall-bearers, each of whom
    was to swear she was a maid, before receiving the money; but such is
    the detestation in which perjury is held in Ireland, that the old lady
    was buried without a pall-bearer.--_Public Advertiser_, July 8.”

    “To the Single Women.--A Single Man wants to Lodge, or Lodge and
    Board, with a Single Woman whether in business or not; keeps regular
    hours, will not give much trouble, but spends many evenings at home;
    therefore wishes to meet with a very conversable person and is willing
    to pay a _handsome_ price.--_Gazetteer_, Nov. 22.”

    “On Thursday last a publican in Shoreditch sold his wife to a butcher
    for a ticket in the present lottery, on condition that if the ticket
    be drawn a blank he is to have his wife again as soon as the drawing
    of the lottery is over.--_Public Advertiser_, Sep. 19.”

    “If any real gentleman will oblige a _lady_ of character with _one
    hundred pounds_, for six months, on her own bond, the gentleman may
    have an advantage, which cannot be mentioned in a public newspaper; it
    is desired that none may apply who cannot command the sum
    immediately.--Please to direct a line to J. X. at Mr Tomb’s No. 72
    Fetter Lane.”

    “If Mr ----, lately a Latin master at an academy in town, who has got
    a dozen and a half of shirts belonging to Mr Wh--e, does not call on
    his guardian in Coleman Street immediately, and give satisfaction for
    the said shirts, his name will be advertised with many other
    circumstances not to his advantage.--_Daily Advertiser_, Dec. 16.”

    “Mrs K---- (who was in one of the front boxes at the representation of
    the ‘Trip to Scotland’) was observed to blush four times behind her
    fan, occasioned, it is imagined, at the repetition of the words single
    and _double beds_; as it is said to be well known that in her
    elopement to Scotland only a _single bed_ was used going and

The above are a few specimens of the flowers of wit, printed extensively
at the time in many of the papers, culled from many volumes of the _Oxford
Magazine_. At the end of Volume IX., however, there was found to be no
further desire for them, and they were quietly dropped into the limbo of
forgotten things. The columns thus relieved were filled with anecdotes and
articles of a much less lively but more literary nature.

The opening article in the first volume was a very serious essay, fully
equipped with examples and quotations from the ancients, on the Power of
the Passions. This was followed by a consideration as to whether genius is
a natural gift or an effect of education. From the great similarity of
style in the two articles, it is extremely probable that they were written
by the same pen. The next ten columns were occupied by a _verbatim_ report
of various speeches made in the Court of King’s Bench, and in certain
London clubs. The Surgeon Dentist to His Majesty then contributed a
flowing article on the disorders and deformities of the teeth and gums, in
which mothers might find copious hints as to the teething of their
infants. For the patrons of the Drama, unable to get up to London, there
was “Some Account of the Statesman Foil’d, a Musical Comedy in Two Acts,
composed by Mr Rush; and performed at the Theatre Royal in the Haymarket.”
Even in those days it would seem that dramatic critics were of the settled
opinion that their task was never to praise, but only to carp and pick
holes, for, after giving a description of the play which read very
amusingly and well, the critic concluded by saying that although “several
of the songs are very prettily set, they are undoubtedly inferior to Mr
Rush’s former compositions; and the dialogue not remarkable for sentiment
or wit, is often extremely tiresome.”

In whatever spirit the criticisms were written, however, it cannot be said
that the university, only allowed to perform plays after a deal of
discussion and recrimination on the part of the powers that were, did not
take a great interest in the Drama. As the _Oxford Magazine_ proceeded,
more and more space was devoted to the London productions, and whole
scenes which were deemed of literary and dramatic merit were quoted from
them. Many of the songs, too, were published at length. The July number in
1774 contains, for example, “an account of the new comedy called the
_Cozeners_ as it was performed at the Theatre Royal in the Haymarket.” The
cast is quoted in full and, besides telling the story of the play in some
three columns, the prologue was printed.

The critic of the _Magazine_ wrote about it as follows:--

“The piece was introduced with an excellent prologue, replete with the
true Attic salt (said to be written by Mr Garrick), and spoken by Mr
Foote, in which he compared himself to a watchman, whose business it is to
watch over the rising vices and follies of the age, and when they come to
a certain height, _knock them down_, by exposing them on the stage. As
nothing ever deserved applause more, so nothing was ever more warmly
received by the audience.” Of all the criticisms of the various
productions in whose casts are to be found the names of Mrs Siddons, Mrs
Love, Mr Foote, Mrs Yates, and many other famous actors and actresses of
the time, that of the _Cozeners_ is the most warm and praisegiving of any
printed in the _Magazine_.

Among the visions, fables, and moral tales promised by the editors, there
was a vivid and detailed description of a nun’s taking the veil. The
writer spent himself in explanation of every word and deed that occurred
during the ceremony, but whether the article, which ran through several
issues and was written by a person of the male sex, was considered a
vision, a fable, or a moral tale, it is impossible to say. Whichever it
was, however, it was well observed and highly coloured. Then there
followed a curious little contribution which was labelled a tale, but
which ought surely to have been included in the category of visions or
fables. It was entitled the “Kiss,” and came from the German. “When I was
a youth, my father sent me to Paphos to study love, which I there learnt
of a Dryad.... Fair one, you may now learn of me what a Kiss is. The
Nymphs and Dryads never met to dance, without making me one of the party;
for I was dedicated to the God of Love, and everything within me expressed
the sentiment.

“At this tender age I tasted the most pure pleasure. All Paphos, to me,
seemed to dance; for the little loves danced over my head, and the flowers
danced under my feet. Among the Dryads was one who affected always to
chuse me for her partner; she never failed to smile at me sweetly, to
squeeze my hand, and blush afterwards with all the graces of modesty. And
I squeezed also the hand of the Dryad, and blushed when I danced with her.
Even before Aurora had quitted the ocean I was already in the grove
sporting with my amiable Dryad.

“Sometimes I surprised her in the groves, where she had retired, amidst
the thickest foliage, and where she wished to be discovered; sometimes she
watched me when I hid myself, and, when she discovered me, fled, and I
pursued in hopes of overtaking her. But, all of a sudden, she would
inclose herself in the bark of an oak, and elude my pursuit. And when I
had sought her long in vain, she used to burst into loud fits of laughter;
then I entreated her to come out of her place of concealment, and
immediately I saw her issue, smiling, from the body of the tree.

“One day that I was playing with my Dryad in the wood, she tenderly patted
my cheeks and said, ‘Press your lips against mine.’ I pressed my lips
against hers; but, heavens! what pleasure did I then experience! No, the
honey that flows from Mount Hymettus is not so sweet, nor the fruit of the
vines of Surentum; even nectar, the nectar which Ganymede presents to the
immortal gods, is a thousand times less delicious.

“Then she again glued her lips to mine. In the intoxication of my
transport, I cried: ‘Oh incomparable beauty! tell me the name of this
exquisite pleasure, which glides into my very soul from thy lips, whenever
our lips meet each other?’ She answered, with a gracious smile--‘a Kiss!’”

This odd little piece of imaginative writing was printed on the same page
with a sketch of the trial of Samuel Gillam, Esq., for murder!

It is not easy to conceive that the _Oxford Magazine_ was very popular
among Bucks of the first head, for there were, indeed, none of the
references to toasts, accompanied by frequent sonnets, which occupied so
large a place in the journals earlier in the century. The tone of the
paper was more sedate throughout. There was less of the bottle and
drinking bout. The contributions covered a far wider field of interest.

The magazine is in some sort a combination of, or rather, perhaps, an
advance upon, _Jackson’s Journal_ and _The Student_. The editors united
the ideas of both these periodicals. From the one they obtained the notion
of the monthly summary of events collected from all parts; and from the
other, the idea of illustrations and fiction. The result of this
perfectly-justifiable plagiarism was certainly popular. The magazine ran
for about eight years without financial aid in the form of advertisements,
and at the end of each issue the acknowledgment of contributions, both
articles and illustrations, made a considerable list. Obviously,
therefore, the wide diversity of subjects and the not over-serious form in
which they were served up appealed to a public which hitherto had had to
be satisfied with the half-measures of those previous men who had been
bold enough to undertake the editing of ’varsity papers.

The beginning of the last decade of the century saw the _début_ of _The
Loiterer_, which admittedly took its idea from Terrae Filius. Naturally,
it did not resemble it in style--the time for a Terrae Filius was
over--but in so much as Amhurst went no farther than the university gates
for his matter, _The Loiterer_ may be said to have imitated him.
Consequently, the first volume (there were only two) was practically
confined to subjects of academical life. The second volume, however, was
not reserved wholly to university matters--articles of outside interest
being admitted from time to time. The whole work was offered to the world
by the editors as “a rough, but not entirely inaccurate Sketch of the
Character, the Manners, and the Amusements of Oxford, at the close of the
eighteenth century.” The paper was hawked at threepence a copy every
Saturday morning--for which price the editors promised, on their word of
honour as gentlemen and authors, to cram it as full of learning, sense,
and wit as they could possibly afford for the money. As a foretaste of the
threepenny wit to come, they stated in their foreword that they hoped to
receive some credit for one thing at least, “that particular orders have
been given to Mr Rann (the publisher) that _The Loiterer_ should regularly
make his appearance at Nine o’clock, in order to be served up with the
bread and butter, crusts and muffins, and enter the room in good company.
We have been the more particular in this circumstance,” they continued,
“as it is the only hour, out of the twenty-four, in which there is a
probable chance of finding some of our Brother Loiterers at home, and the
only one in which any of them read: so genteel and so useful indeed is
this love of morning study, that were it not for the necessity of eating
breakfast, and of dressing hair, it is to be doubted whether some of our
numerous fraternity would not, in a short time, forget their letters.”

This serving up with breakfast was a very wise move on the editors’ part,
for they knew from experience that it was the only hour when they stood
the least chance of being read--the rest of the day being passed by most
men in the strenuous occupation of killing time. The writer of article
number four in _The Loiterer_ was on his way to a lecture one morning when
he saw a man whom he knew leaning against the college gate with a vacant
expression on his serene countenance. Thinking that the poor fellow did
not know what to do with himself, the writer offered to take him to the
lecture which, he said, was to be remarkably entertaining. The lounger was
most polite in his thanks, and said he should have liked it above all
things, but that at the moment he was extremely busy and really had not
time. The writer, a little surprised, left him and attended the lecture,
returning two hours later to find the man leaning against the same
gate-post in nearly the same attitude.

In the face of such stagnation who shall deny the wisdom of sending the
paper in with the hot roll, thereby catching the time-killers before they
have begun their day’s task? The writer concluded his narrative of ancient
lounging and reflections on the passing of the law whereby Undergraduates
were forbidden under severe penalties to loiter away their time in sitting
on Pennyless Bench, by giving the diary of a week in the life of an
Undergraduate in 1789. It is an extremely excellent and amusing piece of
work, which shows that there were past-masters in the gentle art of
slacking who seriously challenge some of the present-day exponents.


    “_Sunday._--Waked at eight o’clock by the scout, to tell me the bell
    was going for prayers--wonder those scoundrels are allowed to make
    such a noise--tried to get to sleep again, but could not--sat up and
    read Hoyle in bed--ten, got up and breakfasted--Charles called to ask
    me to ride--agreed to stay until the President was gone to
    Church--half after eleven, rode out, going down the High Street saw
    Will Sagely going to St Mary’s--can’t think what people go to church
    for. Twelve to two, rode round Bullington Green, met Careless and a
    new Freshman of Trinity--engaged them to dine with me--two to three,
    lounged at the stable, made the Freshman ride over the Bail, talked to
    him about horses: see he knows nothing about the matter--went home and
    dressed--three to eight, dinner and wine--remarkable pleasant
    evening--sold Rackett’s stone horse for him to Careless’s friend for
    fifty guineas--certainly break his neck--eight to ten, coffee-house,
    and lounged in the High Street--Stranger went home to study; am afraid
    he’s a bad one--engaged to hunt to-morrow and dine with
    Rackett--twelve, supped and went to bed early, in order to get up

    “_Monday._--Racket _rowed_ me up at seven o’clock--sleepy and queer,
    but forced to get up and make breakfast for him--eight to five in the
    afternoon, hunting--famous run, and killed near Bicester--number of
    tumbles--Freshman out on Rackett’s stone horse--got the devil of a
    fall into a ditch--horse upon him--but don’t know whether he was
    killed or not. Five, dressed and went to dine with Rackett--Dean had
    cross’d his name, and no dinner to be got--went to the Angel and
    dined--famous evening till eleven, when the Proctors came and told us
    to go home to our colleges--went directly the contrary way--eleven to
    one, went down into St Thomas’s and fought a raff--one, dragged home
    by somebody, the Lord knows whom, and put to bed.

    “_Tuesday._--Very bruised and sore, did not get up till twelve--found
    an imposition on my table--mem. to give it to the hairdresser--drank
    six dishes of tea--did not know what to do with myself, so wrote to my
    father for money. Half after one, put on my boots to ride for an
    hour--met Careless at the stable--rode together--asked me to dine with
    him and meet Jack Sedley, who is just returned from France--two to
    three, returned home and dressed--four to seven, dinner and wine--Jack
    very pleasant--told some good stories--says the French women have
    thick legs--no hunting to be got, and very little wine--won’t go there
    in a hurry--seven, went to the stable, and then looked in at the
    coffee-house--very few drunken men, and nothing going forwards--agreed
    to play Sedley at billiards--Walker’s table engaged, and forced to
    go to the Blue Posts--lost two guineas--thought I could have beat him,
    but the dog has been practising in France--ten, supper at
    Careless’s--bought Sedley’s mare for thirty guineas--think he knows
    nothing of a horse, and believe I have done him. Drank a little punch
    and went to bed at twelve.

[Illustration: OFF TO A BADGER-BAITING.]

    “_Wednesday._--Hunted with the Duke of B.--very long run, rode the new
    mare, found her sinking, so pulled up in time and swore I had a shoe
    lost--to sell her directly--buy no more horses of Sedley--knows more
    than I thought he did.--Four, returned home, and as I was dressing to
    dine with Sedley, received a note from some country neighbours of my
    father’s to desire me to dine at the Cross--obliged to send an excuse
    to Sedley--wanted to put on my cap and gown--cap broke and gown not to
    be found, forced to borrow--half after four to ten, at the Cross with
    my _Lions_--very _loving_ evening indeed--ten, found it too bad, so
    got up and told them it was against the rules of the university to be
    out later.

    “_Thursday._--Breakfasted at the Cross, and walked all the morning
    about Oxford with my Lions--terrible flat work--Lions very
    troublesome--asked an hundred and fifty silly questions about every
    thing they saw. Wanted me to explain the Latin inscriptions on the
    monuments in Christ Church Chapel!--Wanted to know how we spent our
    time!--forced to give answers as well as I could. Four, forced to give
    them a dinner and, what was worse, to sit with them till six, when I
    told them I was engaged for the rest of the evening, and sent them
    about their business--seven, dropped in at Careless’s rooms, found him
    with a large party, all pretty much _cut_--thought it was a good time
    to sell him Sedley’s mare, but he was not quite drunk enough--made a
    bet with him that I trotted my poney from Benson to Oxford within the
    hour--sure of winning, for I did it the other day in fifty minutes.

    “_Friday._--Got up early and rode the poney a foot pace over to Benson
    to breakfast--Old Shrub breaks fast--told him of the bet and showed
    him the poney--shook his head and looked cunning when he heard of
    it--good sign--after breakfast rode the race, and won easy, but could
    not get any money; forced to take Careless’s draught; daresay its not
    worth two pence; great fool to bet with him. Twelve till three,
    lounged at the stable, and cut my horse’s tail--eat soup at
    Sadler’s--walked down the High Street--met Rackett, who wanted me to
    dine with him, but could not because I was engaged to Sagely--three,
    dinner at Sagely’s--very bad--dined, in a cold hall, and could get
    nothing to eat--wine new--a bad fire--tea-kettle put on at five
    o’clock--played at Whist for sixpences, and no bets--thought I should
    have gone to sleep--terrible work dining with a studious man--eleven,
    went to bed out of spirits.

    “_Saturday._--Ten, breakfast--attempted to read _The Loiterer_; but it
    was too stupid; flung it down and took up ‘Bartlett’s Farriery’--had
    not read two pages before a dun came, told him I should have some
    money soon--would not be gone--offered him brandy--was sulky, and
    would not have any--saw he was going to be _savage_, so kicked him
    downstairs to prevent his being impertinent. Thought perhaps I might
    have more of them, so went to lounge at the stables--poney got a bad
    cough--and the black horse thrown out two splints--went back to my
    room in an ill-humour--found a letter from my father, no money and a
    great deal of advice--wants to know how my last quarter’s allowance
    went--how the devil should I know?--he knows I keep no accounts--do
    think fathers are the greatest _Bores_ in nature. Very low-spirited
    and flat all the morning--some thought of reforming, but luckily
    Careless came in to beg me to meet our party at his rooms, so altered
    my mind, dined with him, and by nine in the evening was very happy.”

It is amazing to think how many men there are in this year of grace
nineteen hundred and eleven who, if they should take it into their heads
to keep a diary, would have to write down page after page of exactly the
same stuff, would express exactly the same sentiments about their father,
and whose projects of a lasting reform would be for ever scattered by just
such a careless tap upon their oak. And yet it is written: _Tempora

_The Loiterer_ was not sold only to the local public at Oxford. It had a
quite large outside circulation, with agents in London, Birmingham, Bath,
and Reading, and ran for a year and three months. At the end of this
period the authors, the principal ones, revealed their identity and
retired from the editorial pinnacle into the comparative oblivion of their
Fellowships, having cause to congratulate themselves upon no small


’VARSITY LITERATURE--(_continued_)

    _The Oxford Packet._--_Academia: or the Humours of Oxford._--_The
    Oxford Act._--_The Oxford Sausage._--Present and latter day literature
    summed up.

There were many other minor literary outputs which made their appearance
from time to time through the century, but it would be tedious to analyse
all of them. The outstanding ones were _The Oxford Packet_, _Academia: or
the Humours of Oxford_, _The Oxford Act_, Tom Warton’s fighting poem
entitled _The Triumph of Isis_, and _The Oxford Sausage_.

_The Oxford Packet_ was a purely topical piece of writing containing
heated articles on the burning questions of the moment in Oxford. It was
published in London, “printed for J. Roberts in 1714,” with a list of
contents including “(1) News from Magdalene College (Sacheverell’s
Inscription on a piece of plate); (2) Antigamus: or a Satire against
Marriage, written by Mr Thomas Sawyer; (3) A Vindication of the _Oxford_
Ladies, wherein are displayed the amours of some Gentlemen of _All Souls_
and _St John’s Colleges_.”

_Academia_, perpetrated by a woman, Alicia d’Anvers, ridiculed the manners
and customs of the university in a pointed and quite scurrilous manner. It
lived up to its sub-title, however, for it was an extremely humorous piece
of work.

In 1733 there appeared the _The Oxford Act_, a ballad opera. A crude and
unamusing play, it is nevertheless interesting as containing the germ of
modern musical comedy. The idea of the piece was to satirise university
politics, but the lack of construction and the laboured manner in which
the dramatist introduced his songs and manœuvred his characters makes it
tedious and rather difficult to appreciate.

_The Triumph of Isis_ was occasioned by a denunciation of Oxford by a
Cambridge man, William Mason, who was guilty of a poem entitled _Isis_. In
it he taunted Oxford upon the degeneracy of her sons who

                  “... madly bold
  To Freedom’s foes infernal orgies hold.”

This was more than any devoted son of _Alma mater_ could stand.
Accordingly, Tom Warton, stung to a retort, girded up his loins and flung
off _The Triumph of Isis_, in which he hurled ten thousand thunderbolts at
_The Venal Sons of Slavish Cam_. Dr Anderson, who wrote a preface to the
collection of Warton’s poems, says, “It is remarkable that though neither
Mason nor Warton ever excelled these performances, each of them as by
consent, when he first collected his poems into a volume, omitted his own
party production.”[23]

It was not until 1764 that _The Oxford Sausage_ was concocted. Its title
is singularly apt. It was a volume of choice scraps--selected pieces in
prose and verse which had already made their appearance in other and
earlier publications. It included several poems by Tom Warton, who edited
_The Sausage_, and contained others from _The Student_ and the _Oxford

These then are the literary productions which distinguished the eighteenth
century in Oxford. From the numerous excerpts and passages quoted in
preceding chapters it will have been seen that there is not only an
enormous difference between the writing of the eighteenth century and
to-day in style and treatment, but in the method of conducting a paper.
To-day it is quite impossible to call a spade a spade. In those days it
was exactly the opposite. The whole point of writing was to call things by
their proper names. In fact, any other method would have been completely
misunderstood. The morals of the time were not more lax than now--that
would be impossible--but the language employed was, to put it mildly, very
much more unguarded.

Matters were openly discussed in the drawing-rooms of the eighteenth
century which nowadays are supposed to be whispered in smoking-rooms.
Drunkenness and other kindred vices were held in high esteem. It was “the
thing” for him who had any aspirations to be a man of the world to have a
half dozen bottles of wine to his own cheek at one sitting, and unless he
succeeded in arriving at that state of helplessness which necessitated
bodily assistance from persons unknown, he was a dismal social failure.
Women, whose husbands were carried home night after night, smiled
leniently and did not dream of interfering. Many ladies indeed did not
deny themselves the solace of the bottle, and in the records of the time I
have found more than one reference to women who were well-known, almost
licensed, topers. The question of toasts, too, and the light in which the
university held them, was Gilbertian. The statutes sternly forbade them
under penalty of dire pains and punishments, but for all practical
purposes the statutes were a waste of time. Oxford was famed for her
toasts, and their dealings were not confined solely to the gownsmen but
also to Dons and Heads of colleges, who, far from carrying out the
statutes which they had made, pooh-poohed them and indulged themselves to
their heart’s content.

With such a condition of things it is not very remarkable that the
literature of the time should be characterised by coarseness of language
and ideas. Its humour was of the riper kind which permitted of no
possible misunderstanding. Many of the jokes printed in such periodicals
as the _Oxford Journal_ and the _Oxford Magazine_--both papers in high
repute which circulated among Dons, Undergraduates and residents--would be
quite unprintable to-day even in the most yellow of the sporting papers.
The pen of Amhurst was hampered by no considerations of delicacy or
modesty. Whatever he felt on any subject that he wrote, boldly and without
mincing, and the fact that his articles were read with interest and
delight by male and female alike is proof that there is no blame attaching
to him for scurrility. He was merely in the period. There are also
instances of women who wrote with almost the same degree of frankness as
did Alicia d’Anvers, who had, as I have shown, an immodesty of style
unique in the entire century. She satirised all the manners, customs,
hobbies and vices of the university with flagrant lack of good taste
which, judging by the characteristics of the time, made her poem a great

In the eighteenth century there were neither advertisements--except in the
_Oxford Journal_, and they were few in number--nor athletic fixtures. The
editors, therefore, had to rely entirely upon the merits of the articles
printed in their paper. Their sole hope of life lay in circulation, and as
they had not then discovered such “adventitious aids” as idols and open
letters, they were forced to do their utmost to make their paper bright
and readable. That they did so is obvious from the great number of
contributors who sent in articles regularly, and that, too, without any
hope of payment.

From the point of view of journalism there is no paper in Oxford to-day
which can survive a comparison with Terrae Filius. He did not go outside
the university for his subjects, and yet in each paper he was topical,
forcible, and to the point. Beyond this he was amusing, and there was a
sting in each single word which made the unhappy subject of his attack
squirm in his place. He did not indulge in long-winded and abortive
discussions about matters of no interest whatever to the university, such
as are invariably to be seen in twentieth-century papers. He instinctively
hit upon the only subject each week that was before the eye of Oxford, and
in straightforward, pithy language wrote it down, laughed at it, or cried
over it. In whatever spirit he treated it he left nothing more to be said.
He used it up, exhausted it, and turned to the next point. Not having any
advertisers to consider--and he would certainly not have considered them
had they existed--he said what he wanted to say without fear or favour,
and if he did not attain to such financial success as does the milk and
water stuff of to-day, he did establish, beyond all argument, a reputation
which has already survived two centuries. Which of the existing Oxford
journals can hope to compete against such a record?

However much eighteenth-century writers merit the charge of
coarseness--and it is not laid at their door in the spirit of blame but
merely as an illustration of things as they existed--they undoubtedly
attained a higher literary standard than the Undergraduate writers of
to-day. As, however, I have said that the modern standard does not rise
above mediocrity, I am not paying a very great compliment to the writers
of the Rowlandson period. Such is, however, my intention, for I cannot see
that there is such great brilliance in the eighteenth-century papers as to
justify my launching out into paeans of adulation. In all the publications
of the time there were, as I have shown, some excellent pieces of writing.
The sonnets and epigrams, dashed off at the coffee-houses to the beauties
of the reigning toast, were filled with classical allusions and subtle
parallels. This is somewhat remarkable because the Bloods admittedly never
did any reading. They had no time for it. However likeable and readable
these were, there was no genius, no striking merit in any of them. They
certainly showed more promise than the greater part of the work of
twentieth-century Oxford men--a point which is emphasised by the fact that
our predecessors were generally three or four years younger on going up to
the university. To-day we go up at about nineteen years of age. In those
days it was the fashion for men to arrive in Oxford in their fifteenth or
sixteenth year.

With the exception of Nicholas Amhurst, from whom I have drawn with so
much pleasure, there can be found no Undergraduate of Georgian times whose
genius, in however crude a form, awoke in the pages of university



    _The Student’s_ opinion of one--A Tradesman’s poem and its
    result--Dodging the dun--Debt and its penalties--Tradesmen’s taste in
    literature--Advertising and _The Loiterer_--Tick--Dr Newton,
    innkeeper--Amhurst’s confession--Fathers and trainers of toasts.

Like Nemesis, the Oxford tradesman has sooner or later to be reckoned
with. His methods are, and for that matter always were, rather
spider-like. He sets out a beautiful and enticing web in his shop window,
and sits placidly in the darkness of his back parlour to await results.
One after another the Undergraduates, foolish flies, dash in; and then,
when they have been given sufficient time--a year or so--the spider
pounces and demands his just, but frequently exorbitant, dues. Sometimes
he does not get them. Spiders, however, rarely come in for any sympathy.

The old-time Oxford tradesman was undoubtedly a man of parts. In all the
periodicals of the time are to be found odes, couplets, and prose-writings
all singing his praise. He constituted a factor of importance in the daily
routine of eighteenth-century life. It must, indeed, have been a sick
Smart who did not visit daily his barber and _perruquier_, his
horse-dealer, his tobacco merchant, his mercer and tailor, his
coffee-house. These worthy townsmen seem to have been, in fact, the sole
_raison d’être_ of the Smart’s university career, and their pseudo
erudition and quite exceptional powers were the cause of an enthusiastic
article from the pen of _The Student_.

“A tradesman of Oxford,” he wrote, “is no more like another common
tradesman than some collegians are like other men ... the very sign-posts
express their taste for learning and superiour education. Our mercers,
milliners, taylors, etc., etc., have shewn their nice judgments in the art
of designing, by the many curious emblematical devices that so eminently
adorn the entrances to their shops. How sublime are the signs of our
innkeepers! the Angel, the Cross, the Mitre, the Maidenhead, with many
others, are too well known to need mentioning. A tooth drawer amongst us
denotes his occupation by an excellent poetical distich; a second with
great propriety stiles himself operator for the teeth: and my printer who
sells James’s fever powder, Greenough’s tinctures, Hoopers’ female pills,
and the like, exhibits to our view in large golden letters over his door
the pompous denomination of Medicinal Warehouse. Nor are we at all
surprised to see written in this learned university, tho’ over a female
bookseller’s door, ‘BIBLIOPOLIUM MARIAE,’ etc.

“Not to dwell too minutely on externals, every tradesman with us is a
mathematician, or philosopher, or divine, or critick, and what not? But
they are all to a man particularly famous for their skill in arithmetick.
For my own part I never dealt with one yet who was not thoroughly
practised in addition and multiplication.

“I know an ale-houseman (he sells an excellent pot of ale) who has made
several experiments in electricity, but without a machine: I know a
grocer, a profound reasoner and speculative moralist, a bookbinder deeply
read in Geography, Chorography, etc., and a glazier, a great
mathematician, who has squar’d the circle several time _all but a little
bit_. A barber has published a cutting poem lately, which is universally
admired, and all his own making. It is not to be doubted that our Oxford
booksellers are excellent criticks. They can tell you the character of a
book by only looking at the title page. My own, in particular, is so fine
a judge of composition, that he begs me not to send anything to the press
till it has been submitted to his correction. Besides, I know he has a
strong desire to begin author himself, but his singular modesty will not
permit him to own it. He has, therefore, prevailed with me to erect a
small box, with a slit, in his door to receive the contributions of those
writers who chuse to be concealed. As I know the man’s vanity will oblige
him sometimes to put in his mite, I desire the reader, when he meets with
anything particularly dull, to suppose it written, not by me, but my

“I have often heard two learned tradesmen chop logick together on the most
sublime topicks. Once, in particular, I was present at a very important
dispute, when a shoemaker (a very honest fellow) affirmed, to the general
satisfaction of his audience, that the world was eternal from the
beginning, and would be so to the end of it. At another time, the
discourse running upon politics, a mercer (no small man, I can assure you)
wonder’d what a duce we would have. ‘I’m sure,’ says he, ‘there’s not a
happier Island in England than Great Britain; and a man may chuse his own
Religion, that he may, whether it be Mahometism or Infidelity.’ A little
while ago I lent my Smith’s harmonicks to my Musick-master, who has since
return’d it, assuring me that it is not worth a farthing; for ’twould
teach me the Thievery mayhap, but as for the Practicks, he’ll put me into
a betterer method. I could produce many more such instances which I have
gleaned from their conversations; but these will be sufficient to convince
the world that no subject is too high, no point too intricate for their
exalted capacities.... I cannot conclude better than by giving a specimen
of an Oxford tradesman’s poetical genius, in an extract of a letter from
my taylor, who (in the college phrase) put the dun upon me. In my answer I
advised him to peruse Philips’s description of a dun in his splendid
shilling: to which he made me this reply.... ‘But now to that which, you
say, breaks all friendship, a dun, horrible monster! I have _bruis’d_
Philips, though, in some places too hard. As to the appellation, I cannot
think it rightly apply’d.’

  “For I
   Ne’er yet did thunder with my vocal heel,
   Nor call’d yet thrice with hideous accent dire;
   But only with my pen declar’d my dread,
   What most I fear’d, the horrid catch-pole’s claw.

  “But you,
   Whom fortune’s blest with splendid shilling worth,
   Ne’er fears the monster’s horrid faded brow,
   Fed with the produce of blest Alb’on’s isle,
   With juice of Gallic and Hispernian
   Fruits, that doe chearful make the heart of man,
   Thus sink my muse into the deep abyss,
   As low as Styx or Stygia’s bottom is.”

“_N.B._”--wrote _The Student_ in italics at the foot of this wonderful
poem, “I have paid him.”

There is a certain amount of pathos underlying that delightful piece of
mock praise. The thought of the mercers, grocers, shoemakers, and the rest
honestly believing themselves to have attained to a most unusual degree of
learning, by reason of their propinquity to a university, and parading
their monumental ignorance under that belief, is a very painful one. It is
even more painful, looking to the fact that most tradesmen, connected in
any way with Academic Oxford, read _The Student_ regularly, to know that
the above stream of ridicule did not enlighten them as to the truth.

Another man who had evidently had the dun put upon him, not once but many
times, by sulky tradesmen, received (so at least it is to be supposed) an
unexpected windfall with which he settled all outstanding debts. The
wonderful and unaccustomed feeling of showing a clean slate was so strong
that he was moved to an ecstasy of versification to relieve himself.

  “The man, who not a farthing owes,
   Looks down with scornful eye on those
   Who rise by fraud and cunning,
   Tho’ in the Pig-market he stand
   With aspect grave and clear-starched band,
   He fear’s no tradesmen’s dunning.

  “He passes by each shop in town,
   Nor hides his face beneath his gown,
   No dread his heart invading;
   He quaffs the nectar of the Tuns
   Or on a spur-gall’d hackney runs
   To London, masquerading.

  “Place me on Scotland’s bleakest hill,
   Provided I can pay my bill,
   Hang every thought of sorrow,
   There falling sleet, or frost, or rain
   Attack a soul resolv’d in vain;
   It may be fair to-morrow.”

From the fact that the man in debt had to hide his head beneath his gown
in order to get past the shops safely or else to pursue the longer but
less risky method of slinking down back streets so as to avoid meeting
creditors, it is certain that the shopkeeper who had lost his patience,
and was intent on nothing but getting his money back, was looked upon as a
fearsome and dreaded creature. His war tactics, aided by free access to
his customer’s rooms, consisted of serving writs freely--putting the dun
upon his victims. One way to evade the serving was to sport the oak and
remain in voluntary confinement. Such a method was not, however, popular
as there was no alternative but work to relieve the tedium of such
imprisonment. Another way was described in the diary of a modern Oxford
man in _The Loiterer_. This “modern” gentleman was slacking away the
boring hour after breakfast in the perusal of “Bartlett’s Farriery” when
there came a tap at his door, and in strode a dun with an insolent smirk.
The Undergraduate politely explained that he was shortly expecting a very
healthy windfall from home, upon receipt of which he would immediately pay
what was owing. The dun received this news with cold disbelief and refused
to be put off. Upon being offered brandy he became “sulky,” and refused
with a touch of irritation. Then the Undergraduate, enraged at such
insolence, rose in his wrath and kicked the fellow down stairs to stop him
from becoming more impertinent.

The dun must have possessed a curious character. Knowing well the
propensities of Undergraduates, he did not, like a wise man, imbibe the
liquid refreshment so generously offered to him, and depart with the
knowledge that payment, for that day at least, was impossible. Instead, he
refused brandy and waited to be kicked out--without, apparently, having
served his writ.

The question of advertising was in those days only in its infancy. The
tradesman patronised Jackson’s _Oxford Journal_ to a certain extent. In it
are to be found curiously worded announcements of medicines, books,
cock-fights, curacies to be drunk or eaten for, dancing masters who were
exclusive to the peerage, election paragraphs, and public notices; while
advertisements for wives and husbands, or loans of money, were not
infrequent. One of the most up-to-date and cunning methods then practised
was for two rival tradesmen to get up a mock ink-slinging match in the
columns of some periodical, and week after week furiously to denounce each
other as cheats, tricksters, and knaves, the one saying that the other
sold inferior goods, and _vice versâ_.

_The Loiterer_, prowling round incognito in search of copy for his next
issue, witnessed a “circumstance” as he calls it, connected with
advertisements, which is not unamusing. He was seated in his favourite
elbow chair in his usual corner at King’s coffee-room, and had almost
despaired of picking up an idea, when he noticed a very reverend and
respectable gentleman who was apparently quite unknown to every one in the
room, and who seemed more engrossed in his own thoughts than amused by the
newspaper he was reading or the laughter and talk from the others in the
coffee-room. Suddenly, calling for his bill, he finished reading a
paragraph in the paper with upraised eyebrows and a note of horrified
surprise in his voice. “Upwards of forty thousand persons of both sexes!
Good God,” he said, “what a state must the cities of London and
Westminster be in!” The elderly gentleman rose, and on his way out placed
the paper into _The Loiterer’s_ hand. Every one in the room had heard his
remark and observed the manner of his exit. Immediately, therefore, there
was great excitement, every one wondering what amazing thing had happened
that could have escaped his notice while reading that very paper. _The
Loiterer_ began calmly to read solidly through column after column to find
this wonderfully exciting paragraph. While he was doing so a thin,
emaciated man “with a sallow and diseased countenance who, I have now
reason to believe was one of the forty thousand, stepped forward and
elucidated the mystery in a moment.”

He rapped out an oath and swore that the old gentleman had been meditating
on the advertisement of Leake’s Justly Famous Pill.

From this perturbing episode in the coffee-house _The Loiterer_ got the
idea of using his paper for the discussion of the peculiarities of
advertisement indulged in by tradesmen, local and otherwise. “I shall pass
over,” he says, “the various wants of mankind, together with the pompous
Descriptions, the florid and luxuriant Language of Auctioneers which is
capable of converting a paltry Cottage into an elegant Villa. Nor shall I
dwell on a curious Phenomenon, a political Advertisement for the Sale of
Perfumery and the Dressing of Hair. But it is impossible with the same
indifference to pass over the ingenious Mr ---- who sells his Wines ‘for
the πόδας ὠκύς of ready Money only, Wines in which neither the eyes of
Argus, nor the Taste of Epicurus, can discover the least sophistication.’

“One advertisement informs us, that Chimney pieces, another that
Candlesticks, are ‘fashioned according to architectonic Models, and
agreeable to the affecting chastity of the Antique.’ A third lets us know
how much we are obliged to the Legislature, ‘that he is now enabled to
offer Pomatum to the public agreeable to the commercial Treaty’.... What
Lady, ‘who excites admiration on account of the superior charms that
animate her Complexion,’ can withstand an Advertisement of the Palmyrene
Soap? Every systematical old Fellow that wishes to know the exact number
of yards which he walks in a day, will certainly furnish himself with ‘the
Pedometer, or Way-wiser.’ And I make no manner of doubt that all the
Gentlemen Sportsmen of this University will find it impossible to resist
the persuasive nonsense and absurdity of ‘Guns matchless for shooting; or
twisted barrels, bored on an improved plan, that will always maintain
their true velocity, and not let the Birds fly away after being shot, as
they generally do with Guns not properly bored, this method of boring Guns
will enable every Shooter to Kill his Bird, as they are sure of their mark
at ninety yards; he bores any sound Barrel for Two Guineas, and he makes
them much stronger than before.’ If we take this Fellow’s own word we must
allow him, without a pun, to be the greatest Borer in the kingdom.”

The system of “tick” seems to have been very simple. It was only necessary
to enter a shop and order things in large quantities for the tradesman to
allow credit. In the case of dirty Dick, who was lured into becoming a fop
by the report of the appreciative remarks which the lady Flavia was
supposed to have made about him, the only thing which had to be done to
gull the ever-obliging tradesman was to spread a rumour that the sloven
had come in for a legacy. The result was instantaneous, and Dick became a
Smart; but whether anybody was ever paid is not on record. The various
inns, ale-houses, coffee-houses and wig-makers had little need to
advertise. The Undergraduates did that for them. In nearly every poem and
sonnet that ever was written the praises are sung of Tom’s or James’s or
Clapham’s or Lyne’s or Hamilton’s, while the great Tom Warton immortalises
three “Peruke-Makers” in his _Ode to a Grizzle-Wig_.

  “Can thus large wigs our Reverence engage?
   Have Barbers thus the Pow’r to blind our Eyes?
   Is Science thus conferr’d on every Sage,
   By Bayliss, Blenkinsop, and lofty Wise?”

While on the subject of innkeepers there is an example of the consummate
impudence of Terrae Filius which is most worthy of note. He compared the
Rev. Dr Newton, Principal of Hart Hall, to an innkeeper, in a letter upon
Dr Newton’s book entitled “University Education.”

“Some persons it seems,” wrote Amhurst, “have entertained a notion, that
your hall is no more than an inn, of which you are the host, and your
scholars the guests. I am sorry, sir, to say that there seems to be some
reason in this notion, however merrily you may please to treat it. For do
you not, like other innkeepers, get your living, and maintain your family
by letting lodgings, and keeping an ordinary for all comers? Are you not
licens’d for so doing, like other innkeepers and retalers of beer, though
by a different hand? Indeed, you sell logick and other sorts of learning,
as well as provisions for eating and drinking; but that cannot destroy the
character of an innkeeper, which you certainly are in all other respects,
but only proves that you deal in some particulars which your brethren of
the trade do not.... You have, no doubt, the same right, with other
innkeepers, to bring in a bill, and demand your reckoning, when you
please; which I do not hear that Mr Seaman, or any other of your guests
ever refused to pay; but I believe you are the only landlord in town who
would offer to detain his guests by force, after they had paid their
reckoning, and oblige them to spend more of their money in his house,
whether they will or not.”

All these subtle parallels were, of course, not intended as compliments.
To call a Head of a Hall an innkeeper is not exactly to take off one’s hat
to him. But Amhurst forgot that in a previous chapter he made a proud
confession of his own humble origin. His discourse was of great men sprung
from small beginnings.

“What,” he asked, “was of old the famous Cardinal Wolsey but a butcher’s
son?... Nay, to go no farther, even I myself, overgrown as I am in fame
and wealth, stiled by all unprejudiced and sensible persons the instructor
of mankind, and the reformer of the two universities, am by birth but an
humble plebeian, the younger son of an ale-house keeper in Wapping, who
was for several years in doubt which to make of me, a philosopher, or a
sailor: but at length birthright prevailing, I was sent to Oxford, scholar
of a college, and my elder brother a cabin boy to the West Indies.”

But why drag in Wolsey?

In King Charles’s letter against the women of the university of Cambridge
he banned the houses of all taverners, inn-holders or victuallers. It was
this class of tradesmen in Oxford who brought up their daughters as
toasts. This was the reason why a statute was passed “Prohibiting all
scholars, as well Graduates as Undergraduates, of whatever faculty, to
frequent the houses and shops of any tradesmen by day, and especially by



    Tutors--Their slackness--The real and the ideal tutor--Dr Newton on
    tutor’s fees--Dr Johnson’s recommendation of Bateman--Public
    lecturers--Terrae Filius and a Wadham man’s letter.

Just as the schoolmaster is considered the natural enemy of boys, so is
the Don popularly credited with being the natural enemy of the
Undergraduates. The originator of this wonderful theory is presumably the
lady novelist who, with no deeper knowledge of Oxford than that obtained
from a minute study of the coloured photographs in railway trains, has
pictured the Don in her vivid imagination to be a crusty, inhuman, and
gouty septuagenarian who, in the intervals of delivering abstruse
lectures, passes his days in sending men down and otherwise suppressing
all vitality and humanity.

Anything more completely ridiculous it would be impossible to imagine.
Conceive a body of charming and delightful men, very kindly and
sympathetic, always ready to go out of their way to help a man in
financial or moral difficulties, cultured, intellectual, hard working,
thorough sportsmen in the best sense of that much abused word, full of
loyalty to their college and to the university, delighted by the athletic
or scholastic triumphs of the men with whom they are in close contact--and
then you do not obtain anything more than a true description of those men
who do so much to uphold the honour of the university, and who are
remembered with respect and even affection by the generations of
Undergraduates who pass through their hands.

The eighteenth-century Don, on the contrary, was a person altogether
different. In the desire to bring out the light and shade of his
personality I am frustrated by the superabundance of the latter and the
minute quantity of the former. In dealing with the Georgian Don I have
taken each species separately: the Tutor, the Lecturer, the Examiner, the
Head of a college, and so forth.

It appears that the old-time fresher, having been admitted to a college,
was at once recommended to a tutor whom he interviewed in his rooms. The
Hoxton man, who came up with his mother and his dad, found himself called
upon by his prospective tutor to sit down and make small work of several
quarts of liquid refreshment to the healths of various “traitors.” Being
somewhat flurried at this boisterous reception, the lad was assured that
he did not come to the university to pray, and that in any case, he, the
tutor, would look after him like a father. Of being called upon to do any
work with him there was no whisper. Gibbon, on the other hand, on being
placed under the tutorship of Dr Waldegrave, was desired to attend that
gentleman’s rooms each morning from ten to eleven and read the _Comedies
of Terence_. This he accordingly did, but with so little advantage to
himself that, after a few weeks, he quietly dropped away and saw his tutor
no more. To counterbalance the accusation of slackness against Dr
Waldegrave, Gibbon described him as having been a “learned and pious man
of a mild disposition, strict morals and abstemious life, who seldom
mingled in the politics or jollity of the college.” This worthy man
departed from the precincts of Magdalen, and Gibbon had nothing good to
say for his successor. “The second tutor,” wrote Gibbon, “whose literary
character did not command the respect of the college, well remembered that
he had a salary to receive, and only forgot that he had a duty to
perform.... Excepting one voluntary visit to his rooms during the titular
months of his office, the tutor and pupil lived in the same college as
strangers to each other.”

The vindicator of Magdalen leaped into the breach on behalf of the tutors
against Gibbon, and gave a hundred reasons why Gibbon was in the wrong.
But there are numberless other instances of utter laziness among that
section of the Don world. Malmesbury, for instance, related in his usual
cheery and optimistic manner, that his tutor, “an excellent and worthy
man, according to the practice of all tutors at that moment, gave himself
no concern about his pupils. I never saw him but during a fortnight, when
I took it into my head to do trigonometry.” This witness matriculated at
Merton thirteen years after Gibbon’s time.

Another example of bad tutorship may be quoted from William Fitzmaurice,
second Earl of Shelburne, who went up in 1753. “At sixteen, I went to
Christ Church, where I had again the misfortune to fall under a
narrow-minded tutor.... He was not without learning, and certainly laid
himself out to be serviceable to me in point of reading.... I came full of
prejudices. My tutor added to those prejudices by connecting me with the
anti-Westminsters, who were far from the most fashionable part of the
college, and a small minority.”[24]

In the light of these adverse criticisms it is interesting to note the
statutorial view as to the ideal tutor. According to Amhurst, who quoted
statute (_d_), it was ordained that “no person shall be a tutor who has
not taken a degree in some faculty, and is not (in the judgment in the
head of the college or hall to which he belongs) a man of approv’d
learning, probity and sincere religion.” But can these requirements be
called sufficient if the hundreds of tutors against whom their pupils
flung accusations of slackness, drunkenness, and other hobbies, all
satisfied them?

_The Loiterer_, evidently with this insufficent statute in mind, made some
very intelligent remarks _à propos_ of this question. “Scarce any office,”
he wrote, “demands so many different requisites in those who would fill it
properly, as that of a college Tutor, and in none perhaps is propriety of
Choice so little attended to. The Tutor of a College goes off to a Living,
dies of an Apoplexy, or is otherwise provided for; a Successor must be
found; and as few who have better prospects chuse to undertake so
disagreeable an office, the Society is sometimes under the necessity of
appointing a person, who is no further qualified for it than by the
possession of a little classical, or mathematical information. With this
slender stock of knowledge, and without any acquaintance with the World or
any insight into Characters, He enters on his office with more Zeal than
Discretion, asserts his own opinions with arrogance and maintains them
with obstinacy, calls Contradiction, Contumacy, and Reply, Pertness, and
deals out his Jobations, Impositions, and Confinements, to every ill-fated
Junior who is daring enough to oppose his sentiments, or doubt his
opinions. The consequence of this is perfectly natural. He treats his
pupils as Boys and they think him a Brute. From that moment all his power
of doing good ceases; for we learn nothing from him, who has forfeited our
confidence. Such is the Portrait of what Tutors too often are, might I be
indulged in pointing out what they _should_ be, very different would be
the Character I should sketch. I would draw him modest in his disposition,
mild in his temper, gentle and insinuating in his address; scarce less a
man of the world than a man of letters. His Classic Knowledge (though far
above mediocrity) should be the least of his acquirements; General
Knowledge should be his forte, and the application of it to general
purposes his aim. He should not only improve those under his care in his
publick lectures, but should endeavour at least to direct them in their
private studies; he should encourage them to read, and should teach them
to read with taste.”

At this point _The Loiterer’s_ friend interrupted and insisted that no man
was ever born to be a tutor if tutors must possess all the attributes
contained in that description. Upon this _The Loiterer_ said that he knew
only one man in the entire university who came up to the standard, and
that man was his own tutor.

Gibbon made a scornful allusion to the salary of tutors. On this subject
Dr Newton penned a multitude of indignant sheets because a certain
Undergraduate, named Joseph Somaster, demanded permission to leave Hart
Hall and transfer himself to Balliol for the reason that he had an offer
of obtaining a tutor there who required no fees. With regard therefore to
tutors’ fees, “it may be observed,” wrote the reverend Doctor, “that the
University doth allow Tutors to Receive a consideration for their care of
the Youth entrusted to them; that, as this is very Reasonable in itself,
so hath it ever been the Practice of Tutors to Receive a Consideration for
such their care; that the consideration they have received, not being
limited by any Statute, hath varied, and is, at this day, different in
different Houses of Education within the University; that the tutor’s
demand being known, and not objected to before a Scholar is enter’d under
his care, the same, upon entrance, becomes the consideration that is
agreed to be paid for his care. That the Labourer is worthy of his Hire;
that some Hire is both a better Encouragement to a Tutor, and a greater
obligation upon him to take a due care, than no Hire; that the greatest
Hire, of which any tutor in the University is, at this day thought worthy,
compar’d with the Expence he hath been at, and the Pains he hath taken,
and the Years he hath spent in order to Qualifie himself for this trust,
and also, with the further Labour and Time he must employ in discharging
it faithfully, is very small. That unless Learning be the very lowest of
all attainments, and the Education of Youth the very lowest of all
Professions, Thirty Shillings a Quarter, for near three times as many
Lectures, is not so extravagant a demand, as that he who pays it, should
do it with an unwilling hand. Much less that any one, who hath Himself
been a Tutor, and who hath experienc’d a faithful Tutor’s trouble and
anxiety, should think it too much for any of his Fellow-Labourers in the
same Vocation, although their circumstances should be so affluent that
they need not any reward, or their Friendship so particular that they do
not desire it.”[25]

In the time of Dr Johnson the college tutors lectured in Hall as well as
in their own rooms, and, in addition, they set weekly themes for
composition--for the non-performance of which the fine was half a crown.
The day for giving in these themes was Saturday. George Whitefield, though
only a poor starveling servitor with scarce a penny to bless himself with,
was twice fined by his tutor because he failed to compose his theme.

Christopher Wordsworth in his book on the universities in the eighteenth
centuries made it clear that when Dr Johnson was at Pembroke in 1728,
“Undergraduates generally depended entirely upon the Tutor to guide all
their reading. His first tutor Jordon was like a father to his pupils, but
he was intellectually incompetent for his important position. For this
reason Johnson recommended his old schoolfellow Taylor to go to Christ
Church on account of the excellent lectures of Bateman then tutor there.”
In Johnson’s own words in reference to Mr Jordon, “He was a very worthy
man, but a heavy man, and I did not profit much by his instructions.
Indeed, I did not attend him much. The first day after I came to college,
I waited upon him, and then staid away four. On the sixth, Mr Jordon
asked me why I had not attended. I answered, I had been sliding in
Christchurch meadow. And this I said with as much non-chalance as I am now
talking to you. I had no notion that I was wrong or irreverent to my
tutor.” To this self accusation Boswell replied, “That, Sir, was great
fortitude of mind!” “No, Sir,” snapped Johnson, “stark insensibility.”[26]

It is unnecessary to arraign further damning evidence against the Georgian
tutor. He stands convicted on the cases which I have related. Were I
called upon indeed to summon other witnesses for the prosecution, I have
but to turn to any eighteenth-century authority. No one has a word to say
in his favour. By every one he is pronounced to be an idle,
self-indulgent, dishonest, utterly unintellectual creature, conspicuously
lacking in “learning, probity, and sincere religion.”

The next division of the genus Don is the public lecturer, in regard to
whom there are, so Amhurst informed us, a number of statutes concerning
the public lecturers in all faculties: appointing, with the utmost
exactness, where they shall read, when they shall read, what they shall
read, how they shall read, and to whom they shall read. “All these (as I
have frequently observed) are almost totally neglected; out of twenty
public lectures, not above three or four being observed at all, and they
not statutably observed: for the auditors, who belong to the same college
with the lecturer in any faculty, do not wait upon him to the school,
where he reads, and back again, as they ought to do; so far from it, that
not one in ten goes to hear these lectures, nor do they (who do attend)
take down what they hear in writing; neither do they (I believe)
diligently read over the same author at home, which the public professor
undertook to explain; nor are persons punished (as the statutes require)
for any of these omissions.” Even if it be admitted that three or four is
an exaggeratedly low estimate of the number of these lectures, and that
the “auditors” are just as lazy as the men who deliver them, yet it is not
to be wondered at that the Undergraduates did not read over the authors,
or write down what they heard. All the lectures were delivered by Dons who
knew next to nothing about their subject, and they were in consequence
very tedious and worthless affairs.

The lectureships were bestowed “upon such as are utterly and notoriously
ignorant of them, and never made them their study in their lives. They are
given away, as pensions and sinecures, to any body that can make a good
interest for them, without any respect to his abilities or character in
general, or to what faculty in particular he has apply’d his mind. I have
known a profligate _debauchee_ chosen professor of moral philosophy; and a
fellow, who never look’d upon the stars soberly in his life, professor of
astronomy; we have had history professors, who never read anything to
qualify them for it, but Tom Thumb, Jack the Giant-killer, Don Belicanis
of Greece, and such like valuable records; we have had likewise numberless
professors of Greek, Hebrew and Arabick, who scarce understood their
mother tongue; and, not long ago, a famous gamester and stock-jobber was
elected to M--g--t, professor of divinity; so great it seems is the
analogy between dusting of cushions, and shaking of elbows, or between
squand’ring away of estates, and saving of souls!”


Terrae Filius was moved to the above denunciations and reminiscences of
lecturers, who, he said, were elected perhaps on the principle that “he
can do no mischief; ergo, he shall be our man,” by the receipt of a
letter from a Wadham man who recounted his own personal experiences of
lecturers and their ways. It runs thus:--

    “WADHAM COLLEGE, _Jan. 22, 1720_.

    “_To the Author of Terrae Filius._

    “SIR,--I hope you intend to acquaint the world, amongst other abuses
    in what manner the pious designs of those good men, who left us all
    our publick lectures, are answered. Yesterday morning at nine a clock
    the bell went as usually for a lecture; whether a rhetorical or
    logical one, I cannot tell; but I went to the schools, big with hopes
    of being instructed in one or the other, and having saunter’d a pretty
    while along the quadrangle, impatient of the lecturer’s delay, I ask’d
    the major (who is an officer belonging to the schools) whether it was
    usual now and then to slip a lecture or so: his answer was that he had
    not seen the face of any lecturer in any faculty, except in poetry and
    musick, for three years past; that all lectures besides were entirely
    neglected.... Every morning in term time there ought to be a divinity
    lecture in the divinity school; two gentlemen of our house went one
    day to hear what the learned professor had to say upon that subject:
    these two were join’d by another master of arts, who without arrogance
    might think that they understood divinity enough to be his auditors;
    and that consequently his lecture would not have been lost upon them:
    but the doctor thought otherwise, who came at last, and was very much
    surprized to find that there was an audience. He took two or three
    turns about the school, and then said, ‘Magistri vos non estis idonei
    auditores; praeterea, juxta legis doctorem Boucher, tres non faciunt
    collegium--valete;’ and so went away. Now it is monstrous, that
    notwithstanding these publick lectures are so much neglected, we are,
    all of us, when we take our degrees, charg’d with and punish’d for
    non-appearance at the reading of many of them; a formal dispensation
    is read by our respective deans, at the time our grace is proposed,
    for our non-appearance at these lectures, and it is with difficulty
    that some grave ones of the congregation are induced to grant it.
    Strange order! that each lecturer should have his fifty, his hundred,
    or two hundred pounds a year for doing nothing, and that we (the young
    fry) should be obliged to pay money for not hearing such lectures as
    were never read, nor ever composed....”

In the face of personal experience of this kind how is it possible to
believe that to obtain a degree was anything but a question of independent
work or the judicious administration of “pourboires”? To attend at the
right hour for a lecture which was never read, to be fined for
non-attendance, and finally to have great difficulty in persuading the
authorities to sign the necessary dispensation is a Gilbertian absurdity.
No other instance more striking than this letter can be found in all the
eighteenth-century chronicles of the attitude of Dons towards the
Undergraduates in their charge. Once certain of their annual stipend their
duties went by the board; and the Dons, whether lecturers or Heads of
colleges, whether they knew each other personally or not, banded together
to ensure their own safety, and signed to a lie in regard to the
delivering of lectures with the utmost unconcern.


THE DON--(_continued_)

    The examiners--Perjury and bribery--Method of examining--College
    Fellows--Election to Fellowships--Gibbon and the Magdalen Dons--Heads
    of colleges--Their domestic and public character--Golgotha and Ben
    Numps--St John’s Head pays homage to Christ Church--Drs Marlowe and

After the lecture comes the examination, so the examiner shall be the next
in line. Now the examiners were appointed by the senior Proctor, who
administered to them the following oath: “That they will either examine,
or hear examined, all candidates that fall to their lot, in those arts and
sciences, and in such manner as the statute requires. Likewise that they
will not be prevailed upon by entreaties, or bribes, or hatred or
friendship, or hope or fear, to grant any one a _testimonium_, who does
not deserve it, or to deny it to any one that does.” The examiners were,
however, in the same parlous condition as the lecturers and tutors.

The most mild of all the adverse criticisms was that of Henry Fynes
Cliton, who was at the House in 1799. He said that the examiners
discouraged Undergraduates from making a wide choice of authors for their
schools, and that if any one anxious for first-class honours took an
author not included in the abbreviated list as given out by them, they
would find a way to stop him from obtaining the coveted class.

This entirely bears out the statement of Amhurst, who said that the
examiners were entirely ignorant of the subjects in which they examined,
and that the whole system was a farce and a scandal.

“How well the examiners perform their duty,” he wrote with almost
apathetic resignation, “I leave to God and their own consciences; tho’ my
shallow apprehension cannot reconcile their taking a solemn oath, that
they will not be prevail’d upon by entreaties or bribes, or friendship,
etc., with their actually receiving bribes, and frequently granting
_testimoniums_ to unworthy candidates, out of personal friendship and
bottle acquaintance. It is a notorious truth, that most candidates get
leave of the proctor, by paying his man a crown (which is called his
perquisite) to choose their own examiners, who never fail to be their old
cronies and toping companions. The question therefore is, whether it may
not be strongly presumed from hence, that the candidates expect more
favour from these men, than from strangers; because otherwise it would be
throwing away a crown to no purpose; and if they do meet with a favour
from them, _quaere_ whether the examiner is not prevail’d upon by
intreaties or friendship.”

Another method of procedure then very popular was for the examiner to
receive “a piece of gold” or an “handsome entertainment” from each of the
candidates, or else to be made drunk by him the night before the
examination. The candidate took care to provide sufficient drink to keep
his man occupied busily till morning, and then they adjourned, “cheek by
joul,” from their drinking room to the school. “_Quaere_” demanded Terrae
Filius again, “whether it would not be very ungrateful of the examiner to
refuse any candidate a _testimonium_, who has treated him so splendidly
over night? and whether he is not, in this case, prevail’d upon by

Vicesimus Knox of St John’s made very much the same statements about the
examiners, and added that during the time when they were closeted with the
candidates in the schools they did nothing but discuss the latest drinking
bout (which took place the night before), or talk horses, or read
newspapers and novels till the clock struck eleven--when they all
descended, and the _testimonium_ was signed without a twinge of

But college Fellowship was, perhaps, one of the most abused offices in
existence. Once nominated to a Fellowship, however unfit to occupy the
position, a Don was settled for life. He had a fixed income, did no work,
and worried about nothing but to retain his own particular corner chair at
the King’s Head tavern or elsewhere. He stagnated for the rest of his
natural life, and became gross by dint of perpetual drinking. On the sad
subject of college Fellows T. J. Hogg, writing of Shelley at Oxford, told
us that at the end of the eighteenth century,

“If a few gentlemen were admitted to Fellowships, they were always absent;
they were not persons of literary pretensions, or distinguished by
scholarship; and they had no more share in the government of the college
than the overgrown guardsman....

“A total neglect of all learning, an unseemly turbulence, the most
monstrous irregularities, open and habitual drunkenness, vice, and
violence, were tolerated or encouraged, with the basest sycophancy, that
the prospect of perpetual licentiousness might fill the colleges with
young men of fortune; whenever the rarely exercised power of coercion was
exerted, it demonstrated the utter incapacity of our unworthy rulers by
coarseness, ignorance, and injustice.”

Terrae Filius devoted one chapter, peculiarly conspicuous for its lack of
satirical venom, to the dissection of Fellows. His article was occasioned
by a report in all the papers of the death of Dr Pudsey, one of the senior
Fellows of “Maudlin College (who) died there last week aged near an
hundred years.” “This,” said Amhurst, “gives me an opportunity of
discoursing upon what I have always thought one great error in the
constitution of most colleges; which I will do with only this preface,
that I hope no body will think I design, in what I shall say, to reflect
on the deceas’d old gentleman before mention’d. The original design of
endowing colleges was undoubtedly this, to support such persons as could
not bear the charges of a learned education themselves, till they were
able to shift in the world, and become serviceable to their country; for
this reason all scholars and fellows (of most colleges at least) are
obliged to take an oath, that they are not worth so much per annum _de
proprio_, in some colleges more, and in some less; but in all colleges the
meaning of the oath is the same, that no person shall benefit of the
foundation who can live without it; but this oath, like other oaths, is
commented away, and interpreted so loosely, that, at present it does not
exclude persons of four or five hundred pounds a year.... When any person
is chosen fellow of a college, he immediately becomes a freeholder, and is
settled for life in ease and plenty; provided only that he conforms
himself to the ceremonies and caprices of the place, which very few will
stick at, who delight in such an indolent and recluse state; at first,
indeed, he is obliged to perform some insignificant, superficial
exercises, and to get a few questions and answers in the sciences by rote,
to qualify him for his degrees; but when these are obtain’d, he wastes the
rest of his days in luxury and idleness; he enjoys himself, and is dead to
the world; for a senior fellow of a college lives and moulders away in a
supine and regular course of eating, drinking, sleeping, and cheating the
juniors.... In many colleges the fellowships are so considerable, that no
preferment can tempt some persons to leave them; they prefer this
monastic, and (as they call it) retired life to any employment, in which
they would be obliged to take some pains, and do some good.”

Such remarks from the mouth of Terrae Filius are indeed quiet, but
however lacking in sparkle, they are filled with the truth. Turn where we
may, on every hand, the Fellows of colleges are written down and left
without one saving quality.

The state of Magdalen, as related by Gibbon, was no better and no worse
than that of any other college. “The fellows or monks of my time,”
according to him, “were decent, easy men, who supinely enjoyed the gifts
of the founder; their days were filled by a series of uniform employments;
the chapel and the hall, the coffee-house and the common room, till they
retired, weary and well satisfied, to a long slumber. From the toil of
reading, or thinking, or writing, they had absolved their conscience; and
the first shoots of learning and ingenuity withered on the ground, without
yielding any fruits to the owners or the public. As a gentleman commoner,
I was admitted to the society of the fellows, and fondly expected that
some questions of literature would be the amusing and instructive topics
of their discourse. Their conversation stagnated in a round of college
business, Tory politics, personal anecdotes, and private scandal; their
dull and deep potations excused the brisk intemperance of youth; and their
constitutional toasts were not expressive of the most lively loyalty for
the house of Hanover.... The example of the senior fellows could not
inspire the undergraduates with a liberal spirit or studious

The common room, with its accompaniments of tobacco and liquor, formed the
scene in which the greater portion of their parts was acted by the
Fellows; for the rest, the taverns and coffee-houses, where the meetings
of jovial societies, of which they were members, were held. By way of
exercise, an occasional horse ride; nothing more. Their other chief hobby
was, in the language of the time, “wenching.” Amazingly enough, they
still had sufficient energy, after living such a life, to array themselves
in all their glory, and sally forth to pay homage at the feet of the toast
of the day. In their attempts to cut out the Smarts in the affections of
the reigning queen, Merton Wall and Paradise Gardens saw them daily.
_Liaisons_ with their neighbour’s wives, bedmakers, and bedmaker’s
daughters were everyday occurrences; so openly, indeed, were these things
done, that songs were composed in various clubs of the doings of certain
Fellows mentioned by name, and satirical poems were written about them;
but there the matter ended.

The character of a Head of a college, taken “in a more private view,
amongst their fellows in their respective colleges,” was thus delineated
by Amhurst. “A director or scull of a college is a lordly strutting
creature, who thinks all beneath him created to gratify his ambition and
exalt his glory; he commands their homage by using them very ill; and
thinks the best way to gain their admiration is to pinch their bellies and
call them names, as the most tyrannical princes have always the most loyal
subjects; he is very vicious and immoral himself, and therefore will not
pardon the least trip or miscarriage in another; he is a great profligate,
and consequently a great disciplinarian; he petrifies in fraud and
shamelessness, and is never properly in his element but when he is either
committing wickedness himself, or punishing the commission of it in
others.” So much for his domestic character. In the exercise of his public
functions he was one of a gang who “have as persidiously broken as great a
trust reposed in them by the Government, the nobility, gentry, and
commonality of England; that, under pretence of advancing national
religion and learning, they have introduced national irreligion and
ignorance; and instead of promoting loyalty and peace have encouraged
treason and disturbance; that they have debauched the principles of youth
instead of reforming them; that they have been guilty of wicked and
infamous practices of all sorts; ought they not, likewise, to be punish’d
in the most rigorous manner?”

Amhurst found this a very sore subject, for, later on, he bore out the
theory of the promotion of ignorance, and said that they did their utmost
to prevent learning. “Whatever portion of commonsense they possess
themselves, they take especial care to keep it from those under their
tuition, having innumerable large volumes by them, written on purpose to
obscure the understanding of their pupils, and to obliterate or confound
all those impressions of right or wrong which they bring with them to the
universities; their several systems of logic, metaphysics, ethics, and
divinity are calculated for this design, being fill’d up with inconsistent
notions, dark cloudy terms, and unintelligible definitions, which tend not
to instruct, but to perplex, to put out the light of reason, not to assist
or strengthen it; and to palliate falsehood, not to discover truth.”

As further evidence of the amazing egoism and brutality of “Sculls,” it is
worth while to quote the story of a Head of Balliol who held office in
these times. “A young fellow of Balliol College having, upon some
discontent, cut his throat very dangerously, the master of the college
sent his servitor to the buttery book to sconce (that is, fine) him five
shillings, and, says the doctor, tell him that the next time he cuts his
throat I’ll sconce him ten!”

Whenever there was important academical business afoot the Vice-Chancellor
and Sculls met in solemn conclave in Golgotha, the state room in the
Clarendon building. The room was handsomely decorated and wainscotted. The
wainscot was said to have been put up by order of a man of humour who went
up to Oxford for a degree without “any claim or recommendation.” He
promised, however, in exchange for the degree to become a benefactor of
the university. The Sculls thereupon hurriedly engaged workmen who began
running up the wainscot, and they “clapp’d a degree upon his back.” But as
soon as the degree had been granted, the benefactor disappeared, and the
Sculls were left to pay the workmen with money out of their own
pockets--which, of course, had been previously plundered from the

It was in this room that all the weighty business of the university was
conducted. In the amusing words of Amhurst, “if any sermon is preach’d, if
any public speech or oration is deliver’d in derogation of the church, or
the university, or in vindication of the Protestant succession, or the
Bishop of Bangor, hither the delinquent is summon’d to answer for his
offence, and receive condign punishment. In short, all matters of
importance are cognisable before this tribunal: I will instance only one,
but that very remarkable. A day or two before the late Queen died, a
letter was brought to the post-office at Oxford, with these words upon the
outside of it, _we hear the queen is dead_; which, being suspected to
contain something equally mischievous within, was stopt, and carried to
the Vice-Chancellor, who immediately summon’d his brethren to meet him at
Golgotha about a matter of the utmost consequence: when they were
assembled together he produced the letter before them; and having open’d
it, read the contents of it in an audible voice; which were as follow:--

    “‘ST JOHN’S COLLEGE, _July 30, 1714_.

    “‘HONOURED MOTHER,--I receaved the Cheshear chease you sent ma by
    Roben Joulthead, our waggoner, and itt is a vary gud one, and I thanck
    you for itt, mother, with all my hart and soale, and I promis to be a
    gud boy, and mind my boock, as yow dezired ma. I am a rising lad,
    mother, and have gott prefarment in college allready; for our sextoun
    beeing gonn intoo Heryfoordshear to see his frends, he has left mee
    his depoty, which is a vary good pleace. I have nothing to complayne
    off, onely that John Fulkes the tailor scores me upp a penny strong a
    moost everyday; but I’ll put a stopp to it shortly, I worrant ye: I
    beleave I shall do vary well, if you wull but send me t’other crowne;
    for I have spent all my mony at my fresh treat (as they caul itt)
    which is an abominable ecstortion, but I coud not help itt; when I cum
    intoo the country, I’le tell you all how it is. So no more att this
    present: but my sairvice to our parson, and my love to brother Nick
    and sister Kate; and so I rest.--Your ever dutiful and obedient son,

        “‘BENJAMIN NUMPS.’

“When he had done reading, the Sculls look’d very gravely upon one another
for some time, till at length Dr Faustus, late of New college, got up and
spoke to them in the following manner:--

    “‘GENTLEMEN,--The words of this letter are so very plain and
    intelligible in themselves, that I wish there is no latent and
    mysterious meaning in them. How do we know what he means by the
    cheese, which he thanks his mother for? or how do we know that he
    means nothing else by it, but a cheese? Then, he desires his mother to
    send him t’other crown; now what, I conjure you all tell me, can he
    mean by that other crown but the elector of Hanover; especially as he
    tells us on the outside of his letter that the _queen is dead_? These
    rebels and roundheads are very fly in everything they do; they know we
    have a strict eye over them; and therefore if this Benjamin Numps
    should be one of them, and have any such ill designs in his head, to
    be sure, if he expected to succeed, he would not express himself to be
    understood. So that, with all submission to my reverend brethren, I
    think that we ought to sift this matter thoroughly, for fear of the
    worst;’ and sat down.”

A gentleman referred to as Father William then rose to reply. The grave Dr
Faustus did not overawe him as he overawed the rest. Father William, in
scathingly sarcastic language, told him that he was a fool, a John o’
dreams, always suspecting mischief where none was meant. “Who but you,” he
said, “would ever have suspected treason in a Cheshire cheese?” The man
Numps, he explained to the reverend Sculls, was simply a poor servitor but
lately entered into his own college, who had not the brains necessary to
think out any plot. Therefore the fellow was sent for. He entered,
trembling in every limb at the sight of all these learned authorities
sitting in solemn conclave, and acknowledged his fault “full of sorrow and
contrition,” and humbly asked their pardon.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such was the characteristic manner in which the Heads ruled the
university, and the above incident is a typical instance of the weighty
business which arose from day to day. They were the counterpart of the
Pharisees, who strained at gnats and swallowed camels. In connection with
the headship of St John’s College there existed a rather curious custom.
The Don elected to the Presidentship led the whole college, arrayed in
fullest academical garb, down to Christ Church, where they did homage.
Dibdin related that when Dr Marlowe succeeded to the President’s Chair of
St John’s College they were received at the “House” by Dr Cyril Jackson,
then Dean of Christ Church. After the performance of what Dibdin calls a
“humbling piece of vassalage” which was conducted with great pomp and
formality, the members of St John’s returned, and were duly regaled with a
sumptuous repast by the newly-elected President who went to the various
common rooms--the masters by themselves, the bachelors by themselves, and
the scholars and commoners each in their particular banqueting room. There
he drank wine with them, and was loudly toasted. “I remember one forward
freshman,” said Dibdin, “shouting aloud on this memorable occasion as the
new President retreated--

  “‘Nunc est bibendum; nunc pede libero
   Pulsanda tellus!’

“The stars of midnight twinkled upon our orgies; but this was a day never
to come again. Dr Marlowe sat for thirty-three years in the Presidental

Having read accounts of all the pompous, evil-living and unpopular Heads
for whom nobody had a good word, it is refreshing to come across records
of thoroughly-liked men like Dr Marlowe of St John’s and Dr Randolph of
Corpus, of whom R. L. Edgeworth sang the praises. “Dr Randolph,” he said,
“was at that time (1761) president of Corpus Christi College. With great
learning, and many excellent qualities, he had some singularities, which
produced nothing more injurious from his friends than a smile. He had the
habit of muttering upon the most trivial occasions, _mors omnibus
communis!_ One day his horse stumbled upon Maudlin bridge, and the
resigned president let his bridle go, and drawing up the waistband of his
breeches as he sat bolt upright, he exclaimed before a crowded audience,
_mors omnibus communis!_ The same simplicity of character appeared in
various instances, and it was mixed with a mildness of temper, that made
him generally beloved by the young students. The worthy doctor was
indulgent to us all, but to me in particular upon one occasion, where I
fear that I tried his temper more than I ought to have done. The gentlemen
commoners were not obliged to attend chapel on any days but Sunday and
Thursday; I had been too frequently absent, and the president was
determined to rebuke me before my companions. ‘Sir,’ said he to me as we
came out of chapel one Sunday, ‘you _never_ attend Thursday prayers!’ ‘I
do _sometimes_, sir,’ I replied. ‘I did not see you last Thursday. And,
sir,’ cried the president, rising into anger, ‘I will have nobody in my
college’ (ejaculating a certain customary noise, something between a cough
and the sound of a postman’s horn), ‘sir, I will have nobody in my college
that does not attend chapel. I did not see you at chapel last Thursday.’
‘Mr President,’ said I, with a most profound reverence, ‘it was impossible
that you should see me, for you were not there yourself.’ Instead of being
more exasperated by my answer, the anger of the good old man fell
immediately. He recollected and instantly acknowledged, that he had not
been in chapel on that day. It was the only Thursday on which he had been
absent for three years. Turning to me with great suavity, he invited me to
drink tea that evening with him and his daughter. This indulgent
president’s good humour made more salutary impression on the young men he
governed than has ever been effected by the morose manners of any
unrelenting disciplinarian.”[29]

Dr Randolph, Dr Marlowe, and the tutor of _The Loiterer_ are the only
three men whom I have been able to discover whose integrity was beyond
question. Three out of a whole century of Dons explains many things! It
proves the truth of the grave charges of vice, irreligion and perpetual
sloth brought against the Dons of the century, by every writer of the
time. It explains the bad government of colleges, general licentiousness,
and scholastic negligence which were the main characteristics of Georgian


THE DON--(_continued_)

    Proctors--The Black Book--Personal spite and the taking of a
    degree--The case of Meadowcourt of Merton--Extract from Black
    Book--The taverner and the Proctor--Izaak Walton and the senior
    Proctor--Amhurst’s character sketch of a certain Proctor.

The Proctor and his bull-dogs (entailing sudden scuttlings down side
streets, which, if abortive, lead to the nine o’clock string outside that
gentleman’s door, and the unwilling disbursement of goodly sums--the fine
for being out of college at an unstatutable hour was 40s.!--because
forsooth, a man had the misfortune to cross his path without being arrayed
in statutable garb), loomed darkly on the eighteenth-century skyline.
Wrapped in the safe embrace of trencher and gown it was possible to watch
the great Proctors

              “... march in state
  With velvet sleeves and scarlet gown,
  Some with white wigs so hugely grown
  They seem to ape in some degree
  The dome of Radcliffe’s Library.”

It was the redoubtable senior Proctor who was the guardian of the Black
Book, the register of the university, in which he recorded the name of any
person who affronted him or the university. The mere inscription of a name
in the Proctor’s book may not seem a very fearful punishment, but it takes
on a darker aspect when it is discovered that no person so recorded might
proceed to his degree till he had given satisfaction to the Proctor who
had put him in. Amhurst explained that the Black Book into which the
Proctors put anybody “at whom, whether justly or not, they shall take
offence ... was at first design’d to punish refractory persons and immoral
offenders; but at present it is made use of to vent party spleen and is
fill’d up with whigs, constitutioners, and bangorians. So long as the
university has this rod in her hand, it is no wonder that high-church
triumphs over her most powerful adversaries; nor can we be at all
surpriz’d that Whiggism declines with the constitution club in Oxford,
when we behold people stigmatiz’d in the Black Book, and excluded from
their degrees for soberly rejoicing upon King George’s birthnight, and
drinking his majesty’s health.”

The question of making satisfaction to the Proctor who had inscribed a
name in that “dreadful and gloomy volume” was, in many cases at least, a
difficult and lengthy proceeding. The Merton Undergraduate, Meadowcourt,
who, as Steward of the Constitution Club, prevailed upon the Proctor to
join in drinking King George’s health, was prevented for two years from
taking his degree. The “binge” was a quite considerable affair. Party
feeling ran high, and the Charles II. partisans gathered in their hundreds
outside the tavern in which the Constitutioners had foregathered. Amid
booing and hissing, they threw lighted squibs in at the windows. In a
subsequent interview with Mr Holt, the Proctor, Meadowcourt, having
apologised, learned that as far as Holt was concerned he had nothing
further to fear, but that Holt’s brother Proctor, Mr White of Christ
Church, was vastly incensed, and had desired that “the power of taking
cognisance of, and proceeding against all that was done that night, might
be placed in his hands.” To this Holt had agreed. Consequently Meadowcourt
found himself compelled to seek out Mr White. The interview was short and
stormy, the Proctor being in “an ungovernable passion, insomuch that he
often brandished his arm at him.”

[Illustration: MERTON COLLEGE.]

Out of the doings of that adventurous, amusing and wholly reprehensible
evening the proctor White concocted the following charges which were duly
recorded in the Black Book, in all their pompous length:--

    “_June 28th, 1716._

    “Let Mr Carty of university College be kept from his degree, for which
    he stands next, for the space of one whole year.

    “1. For prophaning, with mad intemperance, that day, on which he
    ought, with sober chearfulness, to have commemorated the restoration
    of King Charles the second and the royal family, nay, of monarchy
    itself, and the church itself.

    “2. For drinking in company with those persons, who insolently boast
    of their loyalty to King George, and endeavour to render almost all
    the university, besides themselves, suspected of dissaffection.

    “3. For calling together a great mob of people, as if to see a shew,
    and drinking impious execrations, out of the tavern window, against
    several worthy persons, who are the best friends to the church and the
    king; by this means provoking the beholders to return them the same
    abuses; from whence followed a detestable breach of the peace.

    “4. For refusing to go home to his college after nine o’clock at
    night, though he was more than once commanded to do it, by the junior
    proctor, who came thither to quell the riot.

    “5. For being catch’d at the same place again by the senior proctor,
    and pretending, as he was admonish’d by him, to go home; but with a
    design to drink again.

    “Let Mr Meadowcourt of Merton College be kept back from the degree
    which he stands for next, for the space of two years; nor be admitted
    to supplicate for his grace, until he confesses his manifold crimes,
    and asks pardon upon his knees.

    “Not only for being an accomplice with Mr Carty in all his faults (or
    rather crimes), but also,

    “7. For being not only a companion, but likewise a remarkable abetter
    of certain officers, who ran up and down the High Street with their
    swords drawn, to the great terror of the townsmen and scholars.

    “8. For breaking out to that degree of impudence (when the proctor
    admonish’d him to go home from the tavern at an unseasonable hour) as
    to command all the company with a loud voice, to drink King George’s

        “JOH. W., _proc-jun._”

In spite of the many entreaties on his behalf made by several
distinguished persons (“amongst whom were a most noble duke and a
marquis”) Meadowcourt was unable to obtain the remission of his sentence,
and was compelled to wait the full two years before he could proceed to
his degree. At the end of that time both the proctors concerned had
retired, and the Merton man, upon applying to the proctor then in office,
was informed that nothing could be done until both Holt and White had been
consulted. The unfortunate man went from one to the other for weeks. They
“bandied it about, sending Mr Meadowcourt upon sleeveless errands,” till,
at last, having jumbled their learned noddles together, they sent him a
paper containing the following articles, which they insisted should be
read by Mr Meadowcourt publicly in the Convocation House, before he might
proceed to his degree.

    “1. I do acknowledge all the crimes laid to my charge in the Black
    Book, and that I deserved the punishment imposed on me.

    “2. I do acknowledge that the story of my being punish’d on account of
    affection to King George, and his illustrious house, is unjust and
    injurious, not only to the reputation of the proctor, but of the whole

    “3. I do profess sincerely, that I do not believe that I was punish’d
    on that account.

    “4. I am very thankful for the clemency of the university, in
    remitting the ignominious part of the punishment, viz., begging pardon
    on my knees.

    “5. I beg pardon of Almighty God, of the proctor, and all the masters,
    for the offences which I have committed respectively against them; and
    I promise that I will, by my future behaviour, make the best amends I
    can, for having offended by the worst of examples.”

Having fought the almighty proctors thus far Meadowcourt was not, however,
the man to give in to such an absurdly overwhelming piece of indignity as
that proposed. He refused to read the paper, resolving rather to go
without his degree. He was advised, however, to plead the Act of Grace,
which he did after many further checks and delays. He emerged finally from
the unequal conflict with victory and a degree. This case I think amply
justifies Amhurst’s assertion that the Black Book was used as a weapon
with which the proctors paid off personal insults and old scores, and the
injustice and abuse of the great power which they knew so cunningly how to
wield is only too apparent.

The proctors, naturally enough, were vastly unpopular men and, supposedly,
realising this, did not go one iota out of their way to decrease the
general dislike attaching to them, but rather consoled themselves by
piling on the pains and penalties at every opportunity. The gownsmen were
not the only people who had a rooted objection to them on principle. Even
the townees and tradesmen regarded them with an unfriendly eye, and gave
them no assistance in the detection of Undergraduate delinquents. In
illustration of the light in which they were held by the townspeople
Amhurst related an amusing story.

“A man who liv’d just by a pound in Oxford and kept an ale house put upon
his sign these words ‘_Ale sold here by the Pound_,’ which seduced a great
many young students to go thither out of curiosity to buy liquor, as they
thought, by weight; hearing of which, the vice-chancellor sent for the
landlord to punish him according to statute, which prohibits all ale house
keepers to receive scholars into their houses; but the fellow, being
apprehensive what he was sent for, as soon as he came into the
vice-chancellor’s lodgings, fell a spitting and a spawling about the room;
upon which the vice-chancellor ask’d him in an angry tone, what he meant
by that?

“‘Sir,’ says the fellow, ‘I am come to clear myself.’

“‘Clear yourself, sirrah!’ says the vice-chancellor; ‘but I expect that
you should clear yourself in another manner; they say you sell ale by the

“‘No, indeed, Mr Vice-chancellor,’ replies the fellow, ‘I don’t.’

“‘Don’t you,’ says the Vice-chancellor again, ‘how do you then?’

“‘Very well,’ replies he, ‘I humbly thank you, Mr Vice-chancellor; pray
how do you, sir?’

“‘Get you gone,’ says the vice-chancellor, ‘for a rascal’; and turned him

“Away went the fellow and meeting with one of the proctors, told him that
the vice-chancellor desired to speak with him immediately; the proctor in
great haste went to know the vice-chancellor’s commands, and the fellow
with him, who told the vice-chancellor, when they came before him, that
here he was.

“‘Here he is!’ says the vice-chancellor, ‘who is here?’

“‘Sir,’ says the impudent alehouse-keeper, ‘you bad me go for a Rascal;
and lo! here I have brought you one.’”

The proctors had the appointment of the examiners, and once now and again
they paid a surprise visit in their official capacity to the schools, when
the examinations (such as they were) were in progress. This was, however,
a “rare and uncommon occurrence.” When prowling the streets in search of
whom they might devour their method was to search the coffee-houses and
smart establishments and give impositions to the “Bucks in boots” upon
whom they pounced. They left the ale-houses alone, or, in Tom Warton’s

  “Nor Proctor thrice with vocal Heel alarms
   Our Joys secure, nor deigns the lowly Roof
   Of Pot-house snug to visit: wiser he
   The splendid Tavern haunts, or Coffee-house....”

Izaak Walton described the senior proctor in 1616 as one who “did not use
his power of punishing to an extremity; but did usually take their names,
and a promise to appear before him unsent for next morning: and when they
did convinced them with such obligingness, and reason added to it, that
they parted from him with such resolutions as the man after God’s own
heart was possessed with, when he said to God, There is mercy with thee,
and therefore thou shalt be feared (Psal. cxxx.). And by this, and a like
behaviour to all men, he was so happy as to lay down this dangerous
employment, as but few, if any have done, even without an enemy.”

The proctorship was therefore a difficult post to fill even a full century
before Amhurst was born to set down in black and white the iniquities of
his own time. Izaak Walton’s proctor was the exception; Amhurst’s seems
to have been the rule, and his character is given by Terrae Filius as

“... of Christ Church, a tool that was form’d by nature for vile and
villainous purposes, being advanced to the proctorship, publickly
declar’d, that no constitutioner should take a degree whilst he was in
power. This corrupt and infamous magistrate had formerly been under cure
for lunacy, and was now very far relaps’d into the same distemper. He was
naturally the most proud and insolent tyrant to his betters, who were
below him in the university; but to those above him the most mean and
creeping slave. He was peevish, passionate, and revengeful; loose and
profligate in his morals, though seemingly rigid and severe. In publick, a
serious and solemn hypocrite; in private, a ridiculous and lewd buffoon.
An impudent pretender to sanctity and conscience, which he always us’d as
a cloak for the most unjust and criminal actions. In short, he was so
worthless and despicable a fellow, and had so scandalously overacted his
part in his extravagant zeal against the constitution club, that at the
expiration of his proctorship, when he appear’d as candidate for the
professorship of history, there were not above ten persons, besides the
members of his own college who voted for him.”

The anonymity of the blank space in front of the man’s college is not
sufficient to conceal the fact that this character sketch, a bitter and
pointed attack, was most probably meant for the Mr White who distinguished
himself in the Meadowcourt case. As, however, from many instances, he
appears to have been no better and no worse than the generality of
proctors during the century, there is no reason why Amhurst’s
denunciations should not be credited as descriptive of most of the others
of his kind.

Modern Oxford has reason to congratulate herself that the reins of
government are no longer in such hands. There exist to-day none of the
abuses and vices which were so striking a feature of the eighteenth
century. They have all been swept away. Oxford has purged herself of them,
and in their place are to be found honesty, uprightness, and all the
cardinal virtues. The modern Don has nothing in common with his Georgian
predecessor. He relegates self to a discreet background, and devotes his
entire energies to the interests of those over whom he has authority; and
his pupils, on going down, harbour no feelings of contempt and
ill-feeling, but look on him instead as a man whose friendship is an
honour which must be treasured to the end.



    Charles James Fox--Earl of Malmesbury--William Eden--Cards and
    claret--Midnight oil--Oxford friendships remembered afterwards--Edward
    Gibbon--Delicate bookworm--Antagonism towards Oxford--Becomes a Roman
    Catholic--Subsequent apostasy--John Wesley--Resists taking
    orders--Germs of ambition--America the golden opportunity--Oxford
    responsible for Methodism.

Academic Oxford of the eighteenth century has been thrown on to the screen
in different lights and from different sides. The Don, for the most part
inert in his elbow chair, puffing at his glazed pipe, with many bottles
and tankards at his elbow in the common room or the coffee-house; turning
up his nose at the impudence of any man who wanted to work; too lazy, and
in many cases too ignorant, to put skilful questions in the examinations;
abusing his trust as an examiner by receiving bribes, in the same manner
that he set the Undergraduates a lead in vice of all kinds outside the
schools; earnest and eager in political strife of the Vicar of Bray type;
keen on nothing but his own personal aggrandisement, either socially or
financially--in all these lights he has passed through the picture. We
have seen also the Undergraduate in all his class divisions--the humble
servitor receiving sixpence a week from each of his gentleman patrons,
doing the dirty work and odd jobs, keeping soul and body together on the
scraps that fell from the rich men’s table, writing out their impositions
and scraping an education in the meanwhile, God knows how; the gentleman
commoner and the Smart, swaggering it abroad in the glory of their purple
and fine linen, sneering at the dull regulars, cutting lectures and
chapels, doing no work, incurring enormous expenses “upon tick,”
following the example set by the Dons in drunkenness and wenching. We have
seen them amusing themselves, free from any kind of restriction, in
taverns, town and gown rows, on the river, in the cock-pit and the prize
ring, and dallying with the beauties under Merton Wall.

Looking at all these things and to the general loose living which was the
keynote of the eighteenth century, we are apt to feel with Malmesbury that
it is a matter of surprise how so many of the Undergraduates made their
way so well and so creditably in the world. It has already been remarked
that the worth of Oxford lies not in the quality of the degree taken, but
in the education which environment and the association with better men
undoubtedly gives. The mere cramming of book knowledge would be useless
were it not accompanied by the far more important expansion of mind, the
broadening of outlook, and the formation of character brought about by the
social life of the university. This is palpably so in the case of the
eighteenth-century Undergraduate, since work was practically non-existent,
and a degree merely a matter of so much ready money. He could not do
anything else but take on the colour of the surroundings of vice and
intemperance which then reigned supreme.

How is it then that any man emerged from the Oxford of this period and
succeeded in inscribing his name on the roll of fame? The reason is that
Oxford was a mirror in which was reflected London life. The metropolis was
simply Oxford on a larger scale, so that the Undergraduates were learning
at the university to do the things which would be expected of them in
after life; and the men who distinguished themselves at college were bound
to achieve renown later. The fame of such men as Charles Fox, the
pre-eminent statesman; Edward Gibbon, the historian; Malmesbury, the
diplomat; John Wesley, the founder of Methodism; Collins, the poet; and
the immortal Dr Johnson, is written down in the pages of history.

Charles James Fox, one of the greatest statesmen England has ever seen,
came up from Eton to Hertford College[30] in 1764, where he was the
leading spirit in a little coterie which included James Harris, Earl of
Malmesbury, and William Eden, Baron Auckland. By his father he had been
initiated, while still at Eton, into the vice of gaming, by which he was
very deeply bitten. A still more curious fact is that although Fox as a
young man had no inclinations towards loose living he was taken over to
Paris and laughed into it by his otherwise doting parent. His innate force
of character, however, enabled him to resist what might have wrecked the
life of another man less strong, and although outwardly he was at Oxford
an idle gamester, yet in secret, in the small hours of the morning, he
worked exceedingly hard. Malmesbury has described this circle of friends
as a non-working, pleasure-loving body. Fox, as the leader of them, fell,
of course, under this category; but the results of his hours of private
grinding were quite extraordinary. He read “Aristotle’s ‘Ethics and
Politics,’ with an ease uncommon in those who have principally cultivated
the study of the Greek writers. His favourite authors were Longinus and
Homer, with the latter of whom he was particularly conversant; he could
discuss the works of the Ionian bard, not only as a man of exquisite
taste, and as a philosophical critic, which might be expected from a mind
like his, but also as a grammarian. He was indeed capable of conversing
with Longinus, on the beauty, sublimity, and pathos of Homer; with
Aristotle on his delineations of man, with a pedagogue on dactyls,
spondees, anapaests, and all the arcana of language. History, ethics,
politics, were, however, his particular studies.”

Yet with all these accomplishments, which, in a period none too famous for
its learning, were all the more amazing, this extraordinary man was swayed
by his passion for gaming, and never behindhand in expeditions of debauch
with his companions. Cards were the favourite pastime then in vogue, and
it was round the baize-covered table that Fox cemented his friendship with
Malmesbury and Eden. These latter, both, subsequently, men of
international fame, also surrendered themselves completely to the
slackness of the time, and did their utmost to imitate with thoroughness
the London fops of whom they had some slight experiences before coming up.
While still gownsmen this triumvirate gave signs of their future
greatness. Their card parties were a centre of attraction, not because of
the high stakes for which they played, but for the wit and brilliance of
their conversation. Fox’s eloquence was even then remarkable, and he had
“no cotemporary so erudite in knowledge, none so elegant in mirth.” The
enormous possibilities of this Undergraduate were fully appreciated by the
college authorities. He was allowed to make trips to London, where, in the
company of his father, he went to the Houses of Parliament, and was a keen
listener at many of the great debates. When a proposal was on foot for Fox
to cross to Paris and make a stay of some months there, the Head of
Hertford granted him leave immediately with the unusual remark that such
application as his necessitated “some intermission; and you are the only
person with whom I have ever had connexion to whom I could say this.”

With characteristic thoroughness Fox outdid the most complete Smart in the
elegance of his dress. He made a special journey from Paris to Lyons for
the purchasing of waistcoats, and on his return to England was seen in the
Mall “in a suit of Paris-cut velvet, most fancifully embroidered, and
bedecked with a large bouquet; a headdress cemented into every variety of
shape; a little silk hat, curiously ornamented; and a pair of French shoes
with red heels; for the latter article of which he considered it of no
mean consequence that he was indebted to his own exclusive importation!”

He had a great fondness for literature and poetry and, following the
customs of the times, he used occasionally to dash off an indiscreet
sonnet, or a more sound criticism of the current publications. Italian, he
declared, contained as a language more good poetry in it than any with
which he was conversant. The essential quality in any subject was that it
should be “entertaining.” Without this, Fox refused to consider it. The
exact meaning which he read into the word is, however, somewhat difficult
to gather, for, writing to his friend Macarthey, he stated that he was
fond of mathematics and would concentrate upon it because it promised to
be entertaining.

Oxford remained dear to Fox and the friendships he formed over the
card-table, and the various “rags” in which he took part were never
forgotten by him. When the triumvirate went down, their ways at first lay
separate. Eden’s time was occupied first in getting called to the Bar, and
then, through the patronage of the Duke of Marlborough, to Parliament as
member for Woodstock. Malmesbury, an incipient diplomatist while still at
Winchester, left England and joined the British Embassy at Madrid. Fox
left Oxford before the age of twenty-one, and was immediately returned to
Parliament for Midhurst. For some twenty years the tide of life kept the
three apart, each striving in his own quarter. Then in 1782 Fox, who had
climbed higher up the ladder of fame than either of the other two, was
reminded of the old friendships of his Undergraduate days. Malmesbury,
then Sir James Harris, Knight of the Bath, was invalided home from the
Embassy at St Petersburg, and was instantly appointed by Fox to be
Minister at the Hague. The year after this, Eden, whose political career
under the banner of Lord North was a distinguished one, came again into
touch with Fox, and exerted himself to bring about a coalition between his
own chief and his old Oxford friend. It is practically certain that the
touch of sentiment roused by the remembrance of the old days, when Eden
and he played cards and drank claret beneath the spires of Oxford, was the
only reason why the coalition was brought about by Eden, for Fox
afterwards publicly avowed in the House of Commons, when the rupture
between North and himself was final, that “the greatest folly of his life
was in having supported Lord North.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“To the University of Oxford,” wrote Gibbon in after years, “I acknowledge
no obligation; and she will as cheerfully renounce me for a son as I am
willing to disclaim her for a mother. I spent fourteen months at Magdalen
College; they proved the fourteen months the most idle and unprofitable of
my whole life.”

A boy of sixteen, thin and delicate, who from his earliest infancy had
fallen from one illness into another, possessed of an abnormal brain, and
for these two reasons shunning, and shunned by, his school-fellows both in
playground and classroom, and therefore compelled joyfully to fall back
upon books, with which he ate, drank, and slept--conceive such a boy, and
one sees Gibbon at Magdalen. Add to this the facts concerning the debauch,
the lack of “bookish fellows,” the gross and inert Dons, all of which
characterised the times, and it is easy to appreciate the reasons why a
man like Gibbon, a high-strung, dreamy creature to whom any crowd of human
beings inspired positive fear, and whose interests were entirely removed
from wenching, drinking, and gaming, received no benefit from Oxford. He
went up intent on nothing but the pursuit of knowledge. In the course of
his dealings with his various tutors--which have already been set forth in
a previous chapter--he found that knowledge was to be obtained neither in
the lecture rooms nor the common rooms. To these latter, being a gentleman
commoner, he received invitations and went high in the expectation of
learned conversations and brilliant dialogue. He found instead no subjects
under discussion save horses, drink, and political preferment. This
beardless boy, practically self-educated and big with ideas upon the
important subjects of life, turned with disgust from the society of the
“port bibbing” and stagnant Fellows. With no definite course of studies to
occupy his attentions, and unchecked by any authority, the unaccustomed
feeling of liberty swept him into the infringement of rules and statutes.
To his tutor he gave casual excuses for non-attendance at lectures, and
disappeared from Oxford for days at a time. The unscholarly condition of
the university, and his own physical inability to join in any athletic
pursuits, united in preventing Oxford from making any impression upon him.
Her history, her architecture, her traditions, seem to have held no
interest for him, and he was more interested in making expeditions to
London and places in the surrounding country than in remaining in the
university and studying Undergraduate life. Even the beauty of Oxford’s
old walls, tree-bordered lawns and walks, and winding river, made no
appeal to him. He was in sympathy with no single thing. It was a mistake
on his parents’ part ever to have sent him up. A man of Gibbon’s peculiar
temperament was entirely out of place in any university; more particularly
Oxford, in the state in which she then was.

And yet in spite of the incompatibility between Gibbon and Oxford, his
university career was marked by an all-important incident in the
development of the great historian. By education and training he was a
Protestant, but, as was his habit with every subject to which he turned
his attention, he did not merely read books and swallow their contents as
indisputable facts. Everything he read was deeply pondered, made to pass
under his own criticism, and then compared with other authors on the
opposite side of the case. Consequently the subject of his own creed
underwent deep thought, and after reading Middleton’s “Free Enquiry into
the Miraculous Powers which are Supposed to have Subsisted in the
Christian Church,” Gibbon’s religious beliefs were shaken. He decided that
Protestantism was inconsistent; he was dissatisfied with it. Filled with
the restlessness engendered by uncertainty, Gibbon read many works,
including Bossuet’s “Variations of Protestantism” and “Exposition of
Catholic Doctrine,” and the writings of the Jesuit priest, Father Parsons.
“These works,” he said, “achieved my conversion”--the arguments in favour
of Roman Catholicism put forward by the Jesuit priest being the real
turning point in the scale.

Having arrived at the conclusion that the Protestant religion paled into
insignificance before the Roman Catholic one, the Magdalen man felt that
he would know no happiness until he himself should join the ranks of the
“Papists.” For once his thoroughness deserted him. He did not consider the
question--and the question of a man’s entirely changing his religious
beliefs is a very vital one--with his usual exhaustiveness. Like a baby
with a new toy, Gibbon, the great and wonderful man of brain, world famous
and immortal, made a complete fool of himself. He rushed off to London
without more ado, and there, under the influence of a “momentary glow of
enthusiasm,” “privately abjured the heresies” of his childhood before a
certain Father Baker, also a Jesuit, and became a Roman Catholic. For the
moment his belief was red hot, and he wrote a burningly defiant letter to
his father announcing his change of creed. The elder Gibbon at once
provided an excuse for his being sent down (a circumstance which very
probably would have come about on the Magdalen Dons’ own initiative
without any excuse being offered to them), and packed him off to the care
of the Calvanistic minister at Lausanne, M. Pavilliard. The scattering of
the hastily-swallowed, undigested arguments which had brought about
Gibbon’s precipitate action, was a matter of a few months to M.
Pavilliard, and in less than two years he was once more a fully convinced
Protestant. The ex-Magdalen man’s _amour propre_ is fully demonstrated by
the unblushing assertion that although the Calvinist minister had “a
handsome share in his re-conversion,” yet it was principally brought about
“by his own solitary reflections.” Doubtless when he wrote those
statements he fully realised the extent and powers of his own brain, and
refused to admit that any ordinarily clever man could have, or ever did
have, any influence in swaying him from one point of view to another. One
is fully justified in assuming that had he not gone to a Calvinist
minister, but, instead, continued under the roof of a Jesuit priest, none
of the “philosophical arguments,” to which he refers so glibly, would have
availed him, and Edward Gibbon, historian, would have remained a Roman
Catholic to the end of his days.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Lord, let me not live to be useless!” was the constant prayer of John
Wesley, and it was the keynote of his character. The founder of the
Methodists, famous throughout the civilised world, and a man whose
personal magnetism and great brain were bound to bring him to the fore in
whatever profession he might have chosen, was actuated by a consuming
dread of being considered useless. A desire to achieve great things was
fostered during his Undergraduate days at Christ Church. He went there
with a sound knowledge of Hebrew, and began to achieve some note for his
skill in logic. This was the beginning of the growth of ambition, and the
fact that he was “noticed for his attainments” brought him great pleasure,
for at all times he bubbled over with humour and good spirits in full
realisation of his college notoriety. In consequence of this his
reluctance at taking orders, when proposed by his family, was marked. He
argued the question with himself fully while pacing his rooms at night,
and he wrote to his father and explained his reluctance. It is conceivable
that the life as led by gentleman commoners, with its wine parties, wild
escapades, and general moral carelessness may have been the reason of
Wesley’s hesitation. For this clever, amusing lad was popular in his
college, and invited to take part in all the jollifications. Be that as it
may, the question of devoting his life to religion was a difficult one.
Wesley’s self-examination, assisted by his father’s scorn of becoming a
“callow clergyman,” was doubtless attended by silent questionings as to
what was his speciality. The atmosphere and traditions of Oxford had laid
hold of him. The names of great men, sons of _Alma mater_, filled him with
the desire to emulate them, to excel them even. Their names were spoken in
awe and admiration. Why should not his be also? He was brilliantly clever,
of a clever family, and already had tasted the joys of fame in however
humble a manner. Why should he have to follow his father’s lead and enter
the Church? Could he not do better for himself outside? Undoubtedly, for
there was more scope, less subjection to rules and orders, more individual
power. But, on the other hand, these speculations and desires to break
away were held in check by filial respect and love. His father and mother
were keenly desirous of his embracing a clerical life, and his mother
especially was of opinion that the sooner he entered into deacon’s orders
the better, as it would be an additional inducement to “greater
application in the study of practical divinity.”


Wesley, therefore, looked facts in the face and concentrated his whole
mind upon the study of theology. Since he could not be Prime Minister, he
would be a great religious man. He began by disagreeing with “The
Imitation of Christ,” and held views on the question of humility which
lead one to believe that by this time the seeds of his ambition had grown
to trees. Jeremy Taylor’s tenet, that we ought, “in some sense or other,
to think ourselves the worst in every company where we come,” was flatly
contradicted by Wesley, who, although admitting absolute humility to God,
reserved the right to consider himself a better man than many another; for
when he was elected a Fellow of Lincoln, after he had been ordained, he
practically showed the door to all those of his visitors whom he thought
would do him no good, by reason of their not loving or fearing God. Then
an incident happened which had a lasting effect upon Wesley; which changed
his whole life. He travelled over to see what was called “a serious man.”
Who this man was is unknown, but he was a student of psychology and a man
of keen intuition. He summed up John Wesley, and gave forth the remark
which had so great an influence upon him. “Sir,” he said, “you wish to
serve God and go to Heaven. Remember, you cannot serve Him alone; you
must, therefore, _find_ companions or _make_ them: the Bible knows nothing
of solitary religion.”

Wesley never forgot these words. They were the turning-point in his
career. His vast brain and desire to become the greatest of God’s servants
would not allow him to be merely a curate in the Established Church, thus
to serve God humbly. Even the chance of his eventually emerging as
Archbishop was not sufficiently big. Neither was the Roman Church large
enough, though from his characteristics it is conceivable that he was in
sympathy with the love of power which, in olden times, is said to have
marked out the Jesuits. The words of this “serious man” gave him furiously
to think. He would make companions, followers, disciples. He, himself,
would become greater than any of the men discussed by his fellow
Undergraduates by taking over the leadership of a band of religious and
ascetic men, who should occupy themselves solely in carrying out the
commands of God.

Already his piety and zeal were much discussed in Oxford, for he led the
way to George Whitefield in attending the Sacrament daily and doing
charitable works. His younger brother, Charles, had formed the nucleus of
a religious order by meeting weekly with two or three serious-minded
friends and discussing religion. When John Wesley returned to Lincoln
after an absence of some two years, during which he had had time to think
out matters while filling a country curacy, these lads put themselves
under his leadership. It was the first taste of power and individual
authority. He ruled the little band sternly, put their practices into
order and method, and secured an “accession of members.” He submitted
himself to rigorous fasts, and cultivated an eccentric appearance by
letting his hair grow. Even his brother, Samuel, himself really religious,
perceived that he “excited injurious prejudices against himself, by
affecting singularity in things which were of no importance.” His mother
suggested cutting his hair off, but the money could not be spared from
Wesley’s charities. His brother put forward that it should be merely
reduced in length. This Wesley agreed to, and it is recorded that “this
was the only instance in which he condescended, in any degree, to the
opinions of others.”

The culminating instance of his egoism lies in his absolute refusal, in
spite of his father’s earnest entreaty, to take on his _cure_ at the
latter’s death. He considered the proposal “not so much with reference to
his utility, as to his own well-being in spiritual things.” The question,
as it appeared to him, was not whether he could do more good to others
there or at Oxford, but whether he could do more good to himself, seeing
that wherever he could be most holy himself, there he could most promote
holiness. He decided that he could improve himself more at Oxford than at
any other place, and at Oxford, therefore, he determined to remain. His
father wrote to him, “if you are not indifferent whether the labours of an
aged father, for above forty years in God’s vineyard, be lost, and the
fences of it trodden down and destroyed; if you consider that Mr M. must
in all probability succeed me if you do not, and that in prospect of that
mighty Nimrod’s coming hither shocks my soul, and is in a fair way of
bringing down my grey hairs in sorrow to the grave; if you have any care
for our family, which must be dismally shattered as soon as I am dropt; if
you reflect on the dear love and longing which this poor people has for
you, whereby you will be enabled to do God the more service, and the
plenteousness of the harvest, consisting of near two thousand souls,
whereas you have not many more souls in the university--you may, perhaps,
alter your mind and bend your will to His, who has promised if in all our
ways we acknowledge Him, He will direct our paths.”

In the face of this stirring appeal from an aged father what did Wesley
reply? He refused absolutely to entertain the matter. His
self-centredness, the while he directed the religious beliefs and
operations of the small body of disciples at Oxford, made him forget all
considerations of filial duty and love and of God’s commands to obedience.
His parents had been the reason of his entering the Church. He would make
no further sacrifice for them now that he saw his way clear. His father,
mother, the thousands of poor people--nobody and nothing mattered except
that he should make himself more holy! The petty duties, worries, and
cares, the continual small demands of trifling points entailed by such a
curacy were too small for this striving, all-conquering spirit. What
mattered it that he should send his father’s grey hairs down in sorrow to
the grave?

All this while, he was most certainly turning over the saying of the
“serious man”--to _make_ followers. On his father’s death it was proposed
that he should go to America. Here was his great chance. Oxford had taught
him that to expect to make English people, in their then blind and vicious
state, see the truth of the gospel of Christ, was futile and childish. He
was a prophet in his own country. But America, with all its
unsophisticated, raw children, its ripeness for a strong man to come with
the gift of oratory and sweep the country from end to end--there was his
chance! And afterwards, on the crest of his fame and success, then would
he convert England. His glory would have preceded him, and he would return
as one already great, to whom they would lend a more willing ear. But with
the astuteness of a really clever man, he peremptorily refused the offer
to send him out there. As a natural result the proposers of the scheme
argued. By degrees he allowed his willingness to be seen, though he
piously pointed out that as he was his mother’s support, the staff of her
age, he could not go without her consent. This she immediately gave, as he
well knew she would. Accordingly, filled with exultation, buoyed up by a
feeling of certainty as to his ultimate success, John Wesley left Oxford
and England for the new country on which he intended to stamp his
personality, and by whose conquest he was determined to hand down his name
to posterity in the profession to which he had reconciled himself at the
age of some nineteen years while still an Undergraduate of Christ Church.

Had Wesley not gone up to Oxford, his name might never have been added to
the list of England’s famous men. It was Oxford which first showed him the
narrowness of a small curacy, Oxford which set him contemplating
greatness, Oxford which actually started him in command of disciples.
Therefore it is to Oxford that must be attributed the foundation, growth,
and fame of Methodism, the means by which John Wesley attained his ends,
power, and celebrity.



    William Collins--Joins the Smarts--Forgets how to work--Oxford kills
    his will-power--Loses his reason--Samuel Johnson at Pembroke--A lonely
    freshman--Translates Pope’s _Messiah_--Suffers horribly from
    poverty--Dr Adam, his tutor--Readiness and physical pluck--Love of
    showing off--His love of Pembroke.

William Collins has been claimed as the greatest lyric poet of the
eighteenth century. But, as is so often the case with famous men, his
genius during his life time received no recognition. It was only when the
world learned of his death, after he has been removed from a madhouse,
that his few works began to come in for the notice which they deserved.
Perhaps one of the reasons that life brought him no triumphant successes
was the fact that he knew not how to work; and the blame of this
undoubtedly falls upon Oxford. Whilst at school Collins worked steadfastly
both in the matter of examinations and independent poems. It was at
Winchester that he wrote his _Persian Eclogues_, and in proof of his
capacity for study he headed the list for nomination to an Oxford college,
which included Warton and Whitehead. Oxford caused him to dwindle into a
mere dilettante, a Smart, although he was accused falsely of bringing with
him from school “a sovereign contempt for all academic studies and
discipline.” The beginning of his Undergraduate life was marked by his
strutting about in fine clothes with a feather in his cap, and running up
heavy bills at the booksellers and tailors. The steady reading which he
must have got through to enable him to head the school list was now
laughed at. No one else did any work. Why should he? The Dons at Magdelen
did not enforce the college exercises, and those which Collins
condescended to put in showed signs of great genius and great indolence.
The atmosphere of slacking, and card and wine parties which prevailed in
the university seized hold of Collins, and he indulged himself to the

From time to time the poetry that was in him overflowed in an ode or two,
but he was delighted to be interrupted by some genial friend in the middle
of his work, and there the poem would be left. He frequented parties
daily, entering thoroughly into the spirit of flippancy which
characterised all his smart friends. He loved to be the centre of
attraction, to talk and laugh and jest with a circle of admirers. Those
who did not think as he did were dubbed “damned dull fellows.” The
complete liberty enjoyed by him as a gownsman killed the habit of work so
forcibly inculcated at his school. No sooner did he sit down in his rooms
to read than the thought of a call that he must pay brought him to his
feet again. His entire freedom was his ruin. Had he been compelled to work
during certain hours every day, it is certain that Collins would have been
less of a butterfly, and probable that he would not have lost his reason.
As it was, the lax authority bred in him a desire to partake of the
dissipation and gaiety of London, and caused him to relegate work and
poetry to a secondary and quite unimportant consideration. He became
content merely to draw up the outline of vast schemes for future work.
That which he did complete was short and unsatisfying. He began other
things and never completed them. In momentary bursts of enthusiasm he
would dash off the commencement of some perfect lyric with inspiration and
genius. But his powers of concentration had been sapped. He had not the
strength to go on working. The call to a tea-party, any outside matter of
no importance, was sufficient to make him throw his work into the fire and
rush off to enjoy himself. He even went so far as to receive money on the
_scenario_ of a work on condition of promising the completion by a certain
date. For some days he was steadied. His usual haunts saw him not. Behind
sported oak he sat and toiled, striving to conquer the distracting
thoughts aroused by the chime of a bell, the street cries which drifted up
to his window, the rustle of a branch in the trees outside, the tramp of
footsteps on his staircase, the shouts from a distant quad. The effort was
too much for him. Oxford had completely stifled whatever will-power he had
ever possessed. He was beaten by her, robbed of the faculty of using the
gifts which God had given him. He emerged from the struggle with several
pages of _scenario_, and nothing more was ever attempted.

The praise of his friends round the Oxford tea-tables turned him into a
consistent prevaricator. “To-morrow I will write! To-morrow shall see my
epoch-making poem. To-morrow!” But to-morrow came and was passed in equal
idleness and futilities. “Wait till I get to London. Ah, then!” He was
convinced that he had but to arrive in the metropolis to be the centre of
a storm of praise and admiration. The praise and adulation poured upon him
by his fellow Undergraduates convinced him that his wit and genius would
make a brilliant success in London, and win him a fortune. But it was not
to be. His weakness and lack of resolve and initiative had triumphed. He
became an _habitué_ of coffee-houses, and formed acquaintances with
actors, wasting his time at stage doors. He soon dissipated his money, and
became badly in debt. The schemes for work by which to win fame and
retrieve his fortunes died at their birth, and nothing was carried

There cannot be definitely laid at Oxford’s door the accusation of being
the root of the insanity which subsequently developed in him. But it was
undoubtedly the fault of Oxford that he lost so soon the power over his
will which he possessed before his Undergraduate days. Such a man as
Collins needed the control of a guiding hand, some strong man whose
influence would have acted as a spur, and whose example would have led to
regular hours and serious work. Oxford, however, provided no such man. The
appointed tutor, who must have been a person gross in mind and body, took
no trouble with his charge, exercised no care, left him, indeed, to his
own resources. With him lies the blame for Collins’ madness. By leaving
him to follow the loose example of the Undergraduates of the time, who
acted upon the caprice of the moment whether for good or evil, that tutor
withheld, however unconsciously, the support for which the fragile mind of
Collins craved. Consequently, under the evil influence of
eighteenth-century Oxford, the holds upon his will which kept Collins
within the bounds of sanity were gradually loosened, until at length, a
few years after his going down, his reason entirely left him, and he who
should have been one of the world’s greatest poets was lost.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a room on the second floor over the gateway at Pembroke Dr Johnson
lived during his Undergraduate career. A large-browed, unusual looking
lad, whose clothes were even then ill-fitting and badly cut, he came up at
the age of nineteen under the protecting wing of his father; was duly
introduced to his tutor, and moved in, reverently and tenderly, the only
household gods that he possessed--his books.

Of a melancholic and somewhat bitter disposition already, he was, if
possible, even more lonely and unsought than the average freshman. This
condition of things caused him no regret. All his friends he brought with
him to line the bookshelves, and, sporting his oak against an unrealising
and unappreciative world, he revelled in the poets and the classics with
uninterrupted bliss. But the vitality of youth does not long remain
daunted, and Johnson soon threw off his melancholia and sallied forth into
the cobbled streets in search of amusement or adventure. Through the
bare-armed trees of the Broad Walk he made his way and joined in the
sliding in the frozen Christ Church meadows. Work was forgotten in the
biting, frosty, invigorating air, and for four days his tutor saw him not.
Ice does not come every year, and Johnson made the most of it while it

The college exercises were child’s play to him. Unlike the majority of
Undergraduates of the time, who read nothing but what was put into their
hands by their tutor, Johnson brought with him to the university such a
wide acquaintance with books, both of classics and poetry, that the Master
of Pembroke said in all sincerity that he was better qualified for the
university than any man during his time. With such knowledge and with the
impetuousness that was always one of his chief characteristics, it is not
to be wondered at that Johnson dashed off his exercises at top speed, and
with a brilliance that created awe in the minds of the Dons. In one case,
for instance, being requested to translate Pope’s _Messiah_ into Latin
verse, Johnson retired to his chamber and there, behind closed doors,
wrote feverishly on a corner of his book-strewn table. The results of his
rapid labours were twofold. He established a great reputation not only in
his college but in the entire university, and, more than that, earned
Pope’s highest praise, and brought about his statement that in later days
it would be a question whether his own or Johnson’s version would be
considered the original. One of his favourite haunts was Pembroke gate.
There he lounged away his mornings, doing no work, attending no lectures,
and preventing a crowd of listening Undergraduates from doing work or
attending lectures. Like a king surrounded by his court, Johnson, unkempt
of hair and ragged of clothes, with shoes down at heel and fit only for
the rubbish heap, let fly his wit and satire upon every topic. The shouts
of laughter which he provoked from his compeers bound them to him as
though he had been a Pied Piper, and it was to empty benches that the Dons
delivered their empty discourses. Against the tutors and Fellows also he
turned his tongue, and his satire and humour at their expense allied the
Undergraduates still more closely to him. But these merry meetings in the
Pembroke gateway were only a pose on Johnson’s part. He wished to convey a
certain impression, and he succeeded. The Master of Pembroke told Boswell
that he “was caressed and loved by all about him, was a gay and
frolicksome fellow, and passed there the happiest part of his life.”

This was indeed a proof of the success of his pose; for in reality he was
neither gay nor happy. His poverty, the bareness of his rooms, the
shabbiness of his dress, the consequent inability to go anywhere, even
into Christ Church, or do any of the things that the other men did who had
money, ground into his soul. He was bitterly sensitive of these things,
and the least reference to them, however delicate or well-meaning, either
aroused a torrent of hot words, or caused him to retreat clam-like into
his shell. The man who in a spirit of discreet friendship crept up to his
rooms, left a new pair of shoes outside his door and stole unseen away,
was only rewarded for his good-nature by learning that Johnson had thrown
them out of the window in a burst of fury against the creation that had
left him penniless. It was only the fact that scornful eyes (or at any
rate Johnson’s touchiness interpreted scorn into them) were turned upon
his shoes, through which his feet peered frankly out, that Johnson ceased
going to Christ Church to obtain, second hand, the lectures of Bateman
from his friend Taylor. He conceived poverty to be an awful and dangerous
state. After his father had died, leaving practically nothing for his
mother and himself, Johnson wrote in one of his little diaries:
“Meanwhile let me take care that the powers of my mind may not be
debilitated by poverty, and that indigence do not force me into criminal
act.” By force of having no money, and not receiving any remittances from
his father, by whom every penny had to be made to go the distance of two,
he naturally incurred debts at Oxford. As he knew, however, that it would
be only with difficulty that his expenses would be met at all, his debts
were not large, and any incipient extravagance that may have been in him
was crushed out very early. His one great craving was to replenish his
library, and as this was impossible he took every opportunity of visiting
the well-stocked libraries of other people. These gave him intense joy,
and his first move was always to cross to the bookshelves and there,
oblivious of his host and the whole world, to pour over the beloved

His faculty for poetical and prose writings was already strongly developed
when first he came up to Oxford, and the original points of view from
which he wrote his themes were a subject of great comment. The rest of the
Undergraduates were as children when compared to one of his mental
abilities. Even his tutor admitted that his position was farcical, and
that Johnson was far above him in brain capacity, for he said on one
occasion that “I was his nominal tutor but he was above my mark.” And the
lad was then but some nineteen years of age! Merely to perform college
exercises was absurd and irritating to one of his hasty dispositions.
Having rattled them off, he used to read by himself, but with such a
varied and impetuous taste that his knowledge seemed to include every
subject of which anything had ever been written. Boswell says that “he
told me, that from his earliest years he loved to read poetry, but hardly
ever read any poem to an end; that he read Shakespeare at a period so
early, that the speech of the ghost in _Hamlet_ terrified him when he was
alone; that _Horace’s Odes_ were the composition in which he took most
delight, and it was not long before he liked his _Epistles_ and
_Satires_.... What he read most solidly at Oxford was Greek; not the
Grecian historians, but Homer and Euripides, and now and then a little
epigram; that the study of which he was most fond was Metaphysicks.” But
for all his brilliance Johnson went down without taking a degree. His
father’s death rendered it impossible for him to remain at Oxford for the
full course, and he never went in for the schools.

While at the university he did not form many great friendships. His was
not the temperament. A highly sensitive man, surrounded for the most part
by men of some wealth who were ever ready to incur expenses, he was always
on the look-out for an objectionable glance of pity or sympathy, than
which there was to him nothing worse or more heinous. With his wonderful
talents it was rather for him to look down upon the vacuous moneyed men
than permit himself to be patronised by them. Consequently, fully
realising the almost insurmountable handicap of comparative penury,
Johnson preferred to make his way by force of brain power or not at all,
rather than bow down to the man with a fat purse. As he himself said in
after life, “I thought to fight my way by my literature and my wit; so I
disregarded all authority.”

As a man of readiness and physical pluck he was without rival. In the
summer the thought of sunshine and the wonderful green colourings of the
trees called him from his books, and collecting a companion on the way, he
was used to saunter through the parks to enjoy a bathe. His pulses
tingling with the delight of being alive and young on a glorious day, with
the softly waving branches rustling overhead, and the quiet river gliding
at his feet, Johnson’s flow of fancies kept his companion entranced until
they had thrown off their clothes and were ready for the first cool
splash. There existed apparently a certain deep hole in the river bed in
one of the places where they used to bathe, and Johnson’s friend warned
him of the danger. Immediately, with the uncaring folly of youth, Johnson
plunged into the very spot to his friend’s horror and anxiety. In a few
moments he emerged, blowing like a healthy grampus, and poured ridicule
upon his well-meaning if timid friend. He was, indeed, foolhardy to the
point of braggadocio. A very sure proof of this is afforded by an incident
which occurred when he was staying at Mr Beauclerk’s house in the country.
The guests were outside the house one day on the lawn discussing the
merits of their guns, when one of them pointed out that if a gun were
loaded with many balls there was a danger of its bursting. Johnson
promptly slipped in some seven or eight and fired his gun against the wall
of the house. Instead of rating him soundly for his egregiously childish
love of showing off, Boswell, in his blind idolatry, praises this up as
being “resolution.”

At Oxford, and in fact afterwards, it was Johnson’s habit to sally forth
at night time for solitary walks. His great affection for Oxford was
doubtless stimulated by these lonely prowls through the moonlit streets,
and his entire disregard for the consequences of his actions helped him in
his climbs back into college. One can picture him dropping out of Pembroke
after careful glances to right and left to see that all was clear, and
marching along with his hands behind his back, safe from the scornful eyes
of Smarts, which made his mean clothes infinitely more uncomfortable, his
eyes drinking in the beauties of the wonderful skyline of the City of
Spires, his mind occupied perhaps in thinking out Rasselas as he made his
way through the narrow, deserted streets. On one of these expeditions four
roughs sprang out upon him suddenly from the shadow of a gateway, intent
on relieving him of the purse and jewellery which they supposed him to
have. Their mistake was twofold, for, in addition to lighting upon a poor
man, they had also caught a tartar. Johnson, young and active, struck out
lustily and with skill, and, setting his back to the wall, battered the
scoundrels right royally. Savage at being resisted, the men renewed their
attack with the idea of vengeance, but Johnson, with no other aid than his
fists, kept them at bay until the quick tramp of feet hurrying round the
corner announced the presence of the watch, and both the attackers and
their would-be victim were carried off to the round-house.

At a later period in his career when, one would have thought, his quick
temper should have been entirely under control, he had an amusing
adventure in the playhouse at Lichfield which showed, plainly enough, both
that he could still lose his temper and that he had sufficient strength to
carry things through. A chair had been placed for Johnson’s express use
between the side scenes. Wishing, however, to speak with some one in
another part of the building, he left it for a moment. Some gentleman
promptly took possession, and Johnson, finding on his return that his
place was occupied, civilly demanded his seat. The gentleman rudely
refused to give it up. In a flash Johnson laid hold of him and tossed both
man and chair into the pit.

In spite of the fact that Johnson at Pembroke suffered tortures from being
poor, and that his gay and frolicsome habits were merely a cloak to hide
his bitterness, yet he contracted a love for his college which endured to
his death. It was a matter of pride to him to run over the list of names
of the celebrated men educated at the same college: such names as Spenser,
Shenstone, Blackstone, and others. In the “Memoirs of the Life and
Correspondence of Hannah Moore” is found the following passage
illustrative of his love for the old college. “Who do you think is my
present cicerone at Oxford? Only Dr Johnson! and we do so gallant it
about! You cannot imagine with what delight he showed me every part of his
own college.... Dr Adams, the Master of Pembroke, had contrived a very
pretty piece of gallantry. We spent the day and evening at his house.
After dinner Johnson begged to conduct me to see the college, he would let
no one else show it me but himself. ‘This was my room; this Shenstone’s.’
Then after pointing out all the rooms of the poets who had been of his
college, ‘In short,’ said he, ‘we were a nest of singing birds. Here we
walked, there played cricket.’ He ran over with pleasure the history of
the juvenile days he passed there.... But alas! Johnson looks very ill
indeed--spiritless and wan. However he made an effort to be cheerful....”

As a last token of his love for Pembroke he sent the college a present of
all his works. This was done just before his death, and Boswell tells us
that he was most anxious to bequeath his house at Lichfield to the college
as well. His friends, however, “very properly dissuaded him from it.”

       *       *       *       *       *

And now reluctantly I lay down my pen. It would be possible to continue
for ever with such a subject as Oxford. Oxford, filled with the mystic
echoes of the past, and the life and movement of the present, where a man
passes four of the best years of his life, making livelong friendships,
feeling things, doing things, and seeing things which remain indelibly
engraved in his mind. Memories of Oxford have moved singers and poets to
ecstasies of emotional utterance, inspired great writers with beautiful
thoughts, and have been the one ray of comforting light in dark and
miserable lives. Is there, or has there ever been, a man who, having
known the protection of the old city’s walls, and explored the tree-shaded
meanderings of the limpid Cher, having rioted after an athletic triumph
and burnt the midnight oil with an intimate friend, having been, in short,
a full-blooded Undergraduate, has gone down without any love for _Alma
mater_ in his heart, who has felt no thrill in after years when looking
back upon his Oxford years? Surely such a creature was never born.
Oxford’s charm is, essentially, not for the few. It strikes the heart of
every one of her countless sons. Year follows year, and century, century,
and the stream of men flows unceasingly in and out of the city’s gates.
Does Oxford change, however? Another wrinkle on her face may betray the
lapse of many decades, but her beauty remains. She is still the same.

  “Still on her spire the pigeons hover;
     Still by her gateway haunts the gown;
   Ah, but her secret? you, young lover,
     Drumming her old ones, forth from town,
   Know you the secret none discover?
     Tell it when you go down.

  “Yet if at length you seek her, prove her,
     Lean to her whispers never so nigh;
   Yet if at last not less her lover
     You in your hansom leave the High;
   Down from her towers a ray shall hover--
     Touch you, a passer by.”[31]



[1] “Reminiscences of Oxford,” by L. Quiller-Couch.

[2] “Reminiscences of Oxford,” by L. Quiller-Couch.

[3] “Random Records,” by G. Colman the younger (London, 1830).

[4] “Random Records,” by G. Colman the younger (London, 1830).

[5] “Social Life at the Universities,” by Chris. Wordsworth.

[6] “Reminiscences of Oxford,” by L. Quiller-Couch.

[7] “Oxford Studies,” by J. R. Green (Macmillan & Co).

[8] “Social Life at the Universities,” by Chris. Wordsworth.

[9] _Ibid._

[10] “Reminiscences of Oxford,” by L. Quiller-Couch.

[11] “Social Life at the Universities,” by Chris. Wordsworth.

[12] “Memoirs of R. L. Edgeworth” (London 1820).

[13] “Social Life at the Universities,” by Chris. Wordsworth.

[14] “Reminiscences of Oxford,” by L. Quiller-Couch.

[15] “Social Life at the Universities,” by Chris. Wordsworth.

[16] “Reminiscences of a Literary Life,” by T. F. Dibdin, London, 1836.

[17] “Recollections of Particulars in Life of late Mr William Shenstone,”
by the Rev. Richard Graves.

[18] Terrae Filius.

[19] “Social Life at the Universities,” by Chris. Wordsworth.

[20] “Miscellaneous Works of Edward Gibbon” (London, 1796).

[21] “Essays Moral and Literary,” by Vicesimus Knox.

[22] “Oxford Studies,” by J.R. Green (Messrs Macmillan & Co.).

[23] “Social Life at the Universities,” by Chris. Wordsworth.

[24] “Life of William, Earl of Shelburne,” by Lord Edmund Fitzmaurice
(London, 1895).

[25] “University Education,” by Dr Newton (London, 1726).

[26] “Boswell’s Life of Johnson.”

[27] “Miscellaneous Works of Edward Gibbon” (London, 1796).

[28] “Reminiscences of a Literary Life,” by T. F. Dibdin.

[29] “Memoirs of R. L. Edgeworth” (London, 1820).

[30] To which he transferred from Magdalen Hall.

[31] A. C. Quiller-Couch.

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