Oxford and Cambridge

THE title of this chapter of my wanderings in England misrepresents my course, for I went to Cambridge first; but custom has so firmly settled that in speaking of the two towns together we shall give precedence to that which is the seat of the elder university that it would seem strange to reverse this order. I set out from London in the company, almost in the charge, of a Cambridge don, a friend who, having met me in the great city, took me off with him, and quietly made himself my host as well as my guide and counselor. I was doubly fortunate, nay, ter quaterque beatus, in having such a companion, for he was one who could have made a journey to Newgate in a prison van agreeable ; he knew everything about Cambridge, where his official position and personal distinction gave him welcome access everywhere; and he had a pride in his university, and just enough goodnatured jealousy of her rival to act as a pleasant stimulus in the discharge of the friendly office which he had assumed.

Apart from the colleges, there is not much to be said of Cambridge by way of description ; for it has no other distinguishing features or marked character. And yet I found it — I mean the town itself — attractive, pleasing, almost charming, in every way. I know no place in the United States to which, even eliminating the colleges, it can be compared by way of illustration. Although, like its New England namesake, its only apparent reason for existence is that it may contain a university, there is no other resemblance between the two places. The Cambridge of New England is elegantly rural and is sparsely built; whereas the Cambridge of Old England is urban and compact. We fondly call the seat of Harvard Old Cambridge, — and indeed it is one of the oldest towns in the country ; but compared with the other Cambridge it still has upon it the gloss of newness, not to say the rough edge of rawness, although the latter, except in its colleges, is not antique or even venerable in appearance. Nevertheless it is one of the charms of the town that it is more than a thousand years old, and has for centuries been a place of the first importance in England, and yet has only thirty thousand inhabitants, — an increase of hardly thirty a year since it has been known to history. It has no signs of traffic, no thronged streets, no hurry, no bustle, no clattering, jingling street railways, no omnibuses, no noise, no dirt, no new-built ranks of costly houses in hideous brownstone uniforms. The people are not idle, and yet they all seem to have time to go about their business leisurely; and from their look as you pass them in the streets, and from the whole air of the town, it is plain that it is not the Cambridglan’s chief desire and occupation to get quickly somewhere else. To him a railway is not a Jacob’s ladder leading to heaven, with angels ascending and descending upon it. At nine o’clock in the morning, near the end of October, I found no one in the streets, and few shops open. Yet its people seem comfortable and happy, and the place has an air of solid, steady prosperity. But this combination of prosperity and quiet is not unusual in England. At a quarter past nine 1 found Oxford streets almost deserted. A few shop-boys and shop-girls and a few costermongers with their carts were all the visible signs that the day’s business was begun. A few shops in “ the High ” were just open, and boys were rubbing the windows and sweeping. So I found it at Warwick ; and not only there, but even at Birmingham, on both my visits, and it was much the same in London west of Charing Cross. Indeed, nothing impressed me more constantly and more pleasantly in England than the absence of “ drive.” Everybody seemed to take life easily ; nobody seemed to be very hard worked. And yet the amount of effective work of all kinds done in England, whether with hand or head, is very much greater than that which is done in America.

Be this as it may, Cambridge seemed to me to be a place in which a man whose happiness does not consist in living in a big town (of which, by the way, however big it is, he can never see more at a time than he could if it were little) might live comfortably, and as elegantly as his means and his taste would permit. Indeed, the presence of the university makes a provision for elegant life and cultivated tastes an important part of the business of the traders. For example, I found in a Cambridge shop some water-color drawings of English scenery which were of a higher quality than any that I saw for sale in London. It is characteristic of England that I, having looked at these on the afternoon of one day, and going the next morning at half past nine to make a selection from them (as I was to take a morning train for Oxford), found no one in the shop (which a lad was then opening), and had to wait some time until the shopkeeper could be summoned from the domestic recesses of the floor above.

I went, as I was advised, to the Bull Inn (for of course my bachelor friend could not lodge me at his college), and I found the advice good. Nothing more unlike a hotel, even in a small town in America, could well be imagined. From its outside, no one not to the manner born would suspect it to be a public house. Yet it was the best hotel in the county town of Cambridgeshire, the seat of one of England’s two great universities, — a house frequented by the best and wealthiest people in that rich country ; and well fitted I found it for their comfort. The door passed, the most unobservant eye could see that the house was not as private houses are; but here the unlikeness to an American hotel in a similar situation was even more striking. A passage-way, on one side of which was a “ coffee-room ” 1 of moderate size, turned at right angles to a kind of office, which was like a sitting-room with a broad half-sashed window ; and this room was nearly filled by half a dozen people, some of whom seemed to be guests, who were chatting with the landlord and with each other. A respectable-looking, intelligent female was attending to the business of the place. The walls of the passage-way were thickly hung with a great variety of prints, the subjects of which were various, — portraits, college views. sporting scenes, and so forth, — and the paper and frames of which were mellow, not to say dingy, with age. My bedroom and bed were the perfection of comfort, and were much like those in a small private house ; but they were without the slightest ornament of any kind. My bill shows that one breakfast was the only meal I was allowed to take there in three days; and I remember it as a very satisfactory performance, not only as to the viands but as to the way in which they were served, which was not the formation in front of me of a lunette of small oval dishes, half filled with half-cooked, half-cold, and wholly “ soggy ” food of half a dozen different kinds, but the bringing to me warm and fresh-cooked what 1 ordered when I first came down. To satisfy the demands of a first-rate appetite in this way cost me three shillings (seventy-five cents), the usual price of a coffee-room breakfast in England, except in the rural districts, where it diminishes to two shillings, or even to eighteen pence, without deterioration in the quality of anything, except perhaps that of the fish.

The architectural interest of Oxford is so great that Cambridge is too much neglected in this respect. Its college buildings are very beautiful, — so beautiful that only to see them would be worth a journey from any part of England. I shall not undertake to describe them ; to do so is no part of my purpose. I shall only say that I found their chief attractions in quarters not likely to meet the eye of the casual visitor ; in views of the buildings from old gardens and greens and tennis courts, and from the walks in those silent grounds behind the colleges, on the other side of the Cam, where the aisles of lofty lime-trees make green arches high overhead, along which the eye is led to rest upon the noble tower of Magdalen. One entirely private and secluded place I remember : an old bowling-green it was, or something of the kind, with old walls and gateways, shaded by old trees and by shrubs that, fresh and green as they were, had yet plainly never committed the indiscretion of being very young; and this was looked down upon by wise old windows in the rear of an old but hale and hearty gabled building, which, brick although it was, diffused about it the soft influence of a quaint, and dreamy beauty. I never saw another place, — I did not find one at Oxford, — which so captivated and allured me, lulling me, as if I had eaten lotos with my eyes.

Trinity College, although it is not one of the oldest Cambridge houses, it having been founded by Henry VIII., in 1546, is of preëminent distinction in this university. It has given great men to the world; among them him whose name stands with Shakespeare’s and Bacon’s as one of the greatest three among the immortals of the modern world. But Trinity is rich and strong in every way. It has sixty fellowships, and the presentation to no less than sixty-three livings and to four masterships. Its revenues are larger than those of any other college, — much larger than those of any other except Corpus Christi, called “ Corpus.” Its library is celebrated for its treasures in print and in manuscript. There among them I saw the great Capell collection of the early quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plays, and the manuscript of Capell’s own notes. I noted with interest that these grotesque but learned and thoughtful comments were written in a singularly clear, neat, and precise hand, and with hardly an erasure or an interlineation.

Between my visit to Trinity library and one to be made to the Fitzwilliam Museum, I went to luncheon with my friend at his rooms in Trinity. On our way from the gate to the quadrangle from which his stairway ascended, we passed the “ buttery hatch,” and my host, pausing a moment, said to a man in attendance, “ Send a stoup of ale and a manchet to my room, please,” and was going on, when he checked himself, and changed his order : “ No, send a plate of ale.” The term buttery hatch may possibly need explanation to some of my readers. It means the hatch, or half door, of the buttery. There are old houses in rural New England in which such half doors or hatches may yet be found. Their purpose was to close the door against entrance by ordinary methods, and yet to permit speech between those who are within and those who are without. To get over the hatch was to effect an irregular and indecorous entrance. Shakespeare makes the Bastard Faulconbridge reply to Queen Elinor, when she says that she is his grandam,

“Madam, by chance, but not by truth; what though ?
Something about, a little from the right,
In at the window, or else o'er the hatch.”

The buttery hatch is much the same as the buttery bar, which the saucy Maria mentions in Twelfth Night, when, meaning to tell Sir Andrew Aguecheek that his hand is dry, she says, “ I pray you bring your hand to the buttery bar and let it drink.” The modern bar, as in bar-room, is a remnant of the buttery bar; and its name is a mere abbreviation of that of the place where ale and wine used to be served out in great houses of old. The term plate as applied to ale was, my host informed me, in constant use to mean a vessel of two quarts. If a stoup of ale were ordered, a quart pot would be sent; if a plate, a great tankard containing two quarts. Although he was a man well “ up ” in all such questions, he said that constantly as the word was so used, and had been used from time immemorial, no one knew why two quarts of ale was called a plate. It occurred to me that possibly the word was used because the large tankard was, from its size, brought on a salver of silver or pewter, and he was kind enough to receive my hasty conjecture with favor.

However this might be, the ale — brewed by the college — was excellent, and I enjoyed it so much, and in his judgment, it would seem, with such discrimination, that he declared I should have some “ audit ale.” This ale is peculiar to Trinity, and one of the privileges of a Fellow of Trinity is that he is entitled to six dozen of it every year. It has its name from being served to the farmers and others who are tenants of the college when they come to the audit of accounts and the payment of rent. The farmers, he told me, preferred it to any wine that could be given them. And well they might do so ; for on a bottle’s being brought and broached, I found that such a product of malt and hops had never passed my lips before. It was as mighty as that which Cedric found at Torquilstone, as clear as crystal, and had a mingled richness and delicacy of flavor as superior to that of the best brewage I had ever before tasted as that of Château Yquem is to ordinary Sauterne. It would have justified the eulogy of the host in The Beaux Stratagem: “ As smooth as oil, sweet as milk, clear as amber, and strong as brandy; . . . fancy it burgundy, only fancy it, and ’t is worth ten shillings a quart.” As I absorbed it I began to think that it is because “ they who drink ale think ale ” that Trinity produces Newtons and Macaulays. I afterwards found that, like some of the more delicate kinds of wine and finer growths of tea, it was somewhat impaired by transportation across the ocean, even when it was allowed a fortnight’s quiet to recover from the effects of the voyage. And yet perhaps it rather owed some loss of its supreme excellence to the absence of the circumstances under which I first made its acquaintance: those still, book-lined chambers, the very air of which seemed saturated with the aroma of elegant scholarship; that noble old quadrangle upon which they opened ; and the mingling of common sense, wit, and learning in the discussion of subjects in which we had both been long interested, with which my host had before beguiled our walk and then seasoned our repast. So Persius says : —

“ Tecum etenim longos memini consumere soles,
Et tecum primus epulis discerpere noctes;
Unum opus, et requiem, pariter disponimus ambo,
Atque verecunda laxamus seria mensa.” 2

To any carping critic who may object that noctes makes this fine passage inapplicable to our midday repast, I make the fitting reply that we also did not consume soles for luncheon.

Our afternoon was spent in visiting the Fitzwilliam Museum and other places of interest, and in strolling by what I suppose I must call the banks of the classic Cam, which gives this town its name. But what a thing to be called a river! It is a long ditch, hardly as wide as an ordinary drawing-room. The water is turbid, of a tawny tint, and so sluggish that its motion is imperceptible. How the feat of rowing is performed upon it 1 did not have an opportunity of seeing, and cannot imagine. I should as soon think of yachting in a beer vat.

And yet what oarsmen the Cambridge under-graduates are ! It would seem as if difficulty did really perfect endeavor. However, they are absolutely secure against one peril, — that of drowning. Even to bathe in the Cam would not be an easy or, I think, a very cleanly operation.

We returned to my host’s rooms to rest, and to make a little preparation for dinner ; and as we sat chatting in the early twilight his gyp entered and said, “ Hall, sir ! ” This is the customary announcement that dinner is served. They speak there not of going to dinner, but of going to hall. The attendance of under-graduates at hall as well as at chapel is noted; and a customary absence from either is one of the minor offenses against college discipline. Under all circumstances dinner is an important fact in England. A student of law is said to “ eat his terms ” at the Inns of Court. And here 1 will add that our afternoon’s inspection of the college precincts ended with a visit to the offices, including the kitchen, which my thoughtful host timed so that I saw the latter in full operation. It was a vast ancient stone chamber, full twenty feet high. But the strange and striking part of it was the principal fireplace. This was a shallow recess in the wall, some seven feet high, and a foot or two wider, before which there was an iron grating. In this huge, upright range was burning a perpendicular fire of glowing coals, in front of which was a complicated system of upright jacks, on which no less than twenty-eight legs of mutton in rows, one above the other, were turning and roasting at once. The sight and the savor were anything but appetizing. I wondered if those cooks, of whom there was a small army, ever ate roast meat, or whether they took their nourishment by absorption of the fumes of steaming flesh through the pores of their skins.

At hall the under-graduates sit at tables which run lengthwise of the great room, the walls of which are decorated with portraits of distinguished Trinity men. The table at which the Dons and Fellows sit stands upon a dais, which runs transversely across the upper end of the hall. My friend had put on his gown and taken his square cap when we were summoned, and I found that all the others were attired in like manner. This full dress is constantly worn in public at the universities. My seat being next the Master’s, who of course sat at the head of the table,3 I happened to stand, before we took our places, close by the officers — for there were two — whose duty it was to say grace. An attendant presented a small wooden tablet on which was pasted a printed paper. One of them held this; and in a style something like intoning they half read, half chanted, the grace in an antiphony of alternate lines. It was in Latin, of course ; but if I had not happened to stand just behind them, where I could see the paper, I should not have been able to make out one word of it, because of the peculiarity of their pronunciation, which was like nothing that I had ever heard before, either from Continental or from English scholars. I afterwards learned that this pronunciation had been recently introduced by an eminent Latinist and professor of the university; but that it was by no means common, even at Trinity, of which he was a member. I had the honor of being introduced to this gentleman, and the pleasure of sitting next him at table, and I ventured to ask him some questions as to the Cambridge pronunciation of Latin, in which, as I have mentioned before, I had noted the marked and bald English sound given to the vowels, — the unmitigated English a, e, and i. He replied very kindly to my inquiries. But one little passage between us seemed to me characteristic. To get a clear apprehension of the vowel sounds, I asked him in regard to the nominative and genitive cases of nouns of the first declension, — musa, musæ ; “ Do you say musah, musay, or musay, musee ? ” He hesitated a moment, and then said with a tinge of sadness, not to say of solemn reproach, “ I hope that under no circumstances do you say musah.” With perfect gravity, I believe, and I hope with the utmost respect, I replied that under no imaginable circumstances would I be guilty of saying mŭsā but mūsăa, and that I had accented the last syllable of the word in my question merely by way of discriminating emphasisMy apology and explanation were courteously accepted; but I felt that 1 had narrowly escaped condemnation for a very gross example of what in any form is a crime at Oxford and Cambridge, — a false quantity. My learned neighbor then asked me how we pronounced Latin in America. I replied that recently, I believed, various new modes of pronunciation had been introduced (I dropped no hint as to the grace), but that I had been taught a pronunciation which I illustrated by speaking a few words. “ ’M ! — ah! — yes ! — I see ! —quite so — a sort of Sc-o-tch pronunciation.” His words dropped slowly from his lips, and he was very long in saying Scotch; and I thought of the Bishop of Oxford in the Fortunes of Nigel, who, although he was loyally silent beneath gentle King Jamie’s censure of his Latin as compared with Scotch Latin, was as ready to die for his pronunciation as for any other part of his creed.

When we had dined, the butler laid out a long napkin before the Master, and placed upon it a tall silver vessel containing, or supposed to contain, rosewater ; whereupon we all rose, and the Master, bending his head, said “ benedicatur,” which he pronounced benediecaytur. The under-graduates then went out; but a few of us who sat on the dais, taking our napkins in our hands, marched down the hall together, and went up-stairs to a smaller room, in which a dessert of fruit and wine was set out upon a noble mahogany table, the dark brilliancy of which reminded me of the tea-tables of my boyhood. And indeed, Spanish mahogany is your only wood for such uses; oak and walnut and rosewood are poor, pretentious substitutes. This custom of withdrawing to another room for dessert is a remnant of a very old fashion. We now loosely call a feast from beginning to end a banquet; but banquet originally meant a second course of dainties after the principal meal, and it was the custom of old to take this at another table, and generally in another room. The custom died out long ago in general society ; but it has been preserved among the dons at the universities. As to what passed at this banquet, 1 shall only say that a more delightful social hour could hardly be imagined, and that a possible assumption that the talk was confined strictly to subjects of a scholastic nature would be somewhat at variance with the facts. But further than to say that the port wine was worthy of the reputation of the college I shall not go. Hall was public; not so this brief symposium.

On one of the evenings that I spent at Cambridge there was special service in the chapel, in honor of some obscure saint whose name I forget. I attended, and was fortunate in the occasion. All the professors and resident Fellows and all the under-graduates appeared to be present, and as they were all in surplices, the masters of arts and the doctors of law and of divinity wearing their colored hoods, each of a peculiar tint, the sight was an imposing one. The great chapel was filled with this cloud of white-robed men ; and when they rose and sat at the various stages of the service the soft rustle of their flowing raiment swept past me like the sound of wings. But I fear there were not so many angels among them as there seemed to me in this unaccustomed vision. The spectacle was impressive because of this sacred garment and of the numbers of those who wore it. The trappings that are worn by various orders of men, sacred and secular, the stars and the garters and the crosses, seem to me to be only fit to please children; and to see a dozen or a score of men within a chancel or on a dais tricked out with these trinkets provokes me to sit in the seat of the scorner. But here the simplest garb possible concealed the tight, angular ugliness of our daily dress by flowing folds of luminous drapery; and of these white - robed witnesses to Christianity there were hundreds together beneath my eye, as 1 sat in an elevated stall. To them it was the mere routine performance of an ecclesiastical function ; to me it seemed for a moment supramundane. The service was divided, part of it being read in one place, part in another; and a verger, or some such officer, brought the enormous prayer-books now to one, now to another. My stall was next that of the reader of the epistle, and nearly opposite that of the reader of another part of the service. I have heretofore recorded the beauty of their reading, and some marked traits of their pronunciation.

One great beauty of this service was the music. The body of singers was large; but the volume of tone was not more remarkable for quantity than for quality. It was very rich and delicious, and the performance, although lacking a little in nuance, was yet marked with intelligently graduated expression. But above all the mass of sound there rose one voice, the counter-tenor of a man, that most ravishing of all voices when it is of fine quality and is delivered with purity and feeling, — a voice compared with which even the finest female mezzosoprano is tame and pale and bloodless. The musical cry of this singer pierced me to the very soul with its poignant beauty. I could not see him, and I am glad that I could not; for I am sure that nature could not have been so doubly beneficent to him as to give him a face becoming such a voice.

The service ended, the white-robed congregation and the white-robed singers went slowly out. But alas ! hardly did they reach the door when they broke headlong for the robiug-room, flung off their surplices as if they were tainted garments, and rushed out pell-mell into the streets, shouting, laughing, and careering with the spirits of youth set free from tedious confinement. And this is my last memory of Cambridge.

The next morning I went to Oxford. The country between the two towns is the most uninteresting that I saw in England. It presents no features of any kind to attract the eye. It is not even flat enough to have a character of flatness. A fitter country to pass through by railway could hardly be found ; and for almost the first time in my life I wholly approved of that way of traveling.

Oxford is the most beautiful place that I saw in England, and I am inclined to think that it is the most beautiful town in the world. I need hardly say that it is made so chiefly by the colleges. For here in a place of only fifty thousand inhabitants are more than twenty colleges and halls, most of them impressive by their extent (and mere size is a just cause of admiration in architecture, although not in countries or in pictures), and all of them more or less beautiful with a beauty unknown in our country and unattainable; for it is a beauty that comes not by command, nor by purchase, but by growth. These colleges are built around quadrangles, and their gate-ways admit you not to the interior of the building, but to the quadrangle. Some have two quadrangles, an outer and an inner. Their style is what is generally known as Tudor Gothic. Very few exhibit any remains of an earlier school of architecture. Their effect, consequently, is not that of grandeur or even of solemnity, but of dignity and repose, with a suggestion of domestic comfort. As one looks upon them, it seems that, although it would be possible to live in them and be dull, or even ignorant, it would hardly be possible to be ill-mannered or vulgar. To pass four years in their halls, their courts, and their quadrangles, their closes, their greens, their walks, and their meadows, must be in itself an education, if education is anything but the getting of knowledge out of books. Here I had the good fortune to be expected by a Fellow of Queen’s, a scholar whose name is known and honored the world over. It is needless for me, however, to recount an experience of college hospitality which repeated that which was so pleasant at Cambridge. I will only mention that as we were walking through a gallery in which were many portraits, my host named one and another to me, and I recognised Henry V., and mentioned his name myself. “Ah, yes,” said my guide, in a by-theway tone, “he was an under-graduate of this college; and so was the Black Prince for a while.”

I was not allowed to miss anything that was of interest; but I am not writing a guide-book, and I shall pass by the show places without mention. But I cannot refrain from advising every one who visits England with a desire to see its characteristic beauties to give at least two or three days to Oxford. Besides the colleges themselves, the views around them are of a peculiar and an enchanting beauty. The view across Merton fields, behind Merton college, to the tower of Magdalen in the distance (for Oxford has also its Magdalen, and strangely enough the relative situation of each Magdalen to the other colleges is much the same in both places), — this view is perfection in its kind. The wide expanse of vivid green coming close up to the college walls, the noble old trees, the gabled roofs and mullioned windows of Merton, and Magdalen’s noble tower closing the vista, the forms of its strongly outlined buttresses and pinnacles softened and enriched by the distance, make this view seem rather like the ideal composition of an imaginative landscapist than the unpremeditated result of man’s seeking for his own comfort and convenience. And Magdalen has a deer park, to which and about which I walked three times in my visit, approaching it through quaint and irregular ways more or less public. Skirting its stonewall, I came one morning upon a little chapel, whose little bell was clamoring sweetly for some half a dozen maids and matrons to come to service : — the cleverest scene-painter that ever wielded brush never devised anything half so pretty. Then not far beyond I found a great old double-roofed stone barn, which on examination proved to be a part of some ancient ecclesiastical building, which had been saved from absolute destruction and converted to farming purposes. More than once I walked past Baliol and St. John’s down St. Giles’s Street, where the martyrs’ monument stands at the head of a double row of trees, to a beautiful place on the edge of the town, where Oxford park lies on one side of the road, along which stretches a noble row of trees for almost half a mile. Here I found a cluster of villa houses that filled me with longing to come and live in one of them, such was their union of comfort and unpretending elegance as they stood there looking out upon the park, and yet within twenty minutes’ walk of the High street, where a man could obtain everything that he could crave for the delight of mind or body. I found in three days no end to the beauty of Oxford.

At the Taylorian museum I looked over not only a selection of water-color drawings by Turner, in which he appears at his best, but a collection of original drawings by Raffael and Michael Angelo, of such interest and beauty that they would be cheap at their weight in diamonds. But after all I believe that a head, a portrait, by Masaccio, who preceded Raffael and even Leonardo, most impressed me by its large simplicity of style and purity of color. It had a red hat, which was a crown to the painter, if not to the wearer.

In London a distinguished Dublin professor and author had asked me somewhat dubiously, as I was breakfasting with him at the University club, if I would care to know an Oxford undergraduate. “ Why not,” I replied, “ if he is a good fellow, know an under-graduate as well as a don ? ” — whereupon he gave me a hearty commendation to one of his former pupils. I did not deliver this letter ; for on inquiring for the gentleman’s rooms I was directed by mistake to those of another under-graduate of the same name. Him I found, and when I presented my letter to him in person (for I was sent straight up to his rooms, which were not in college but in lodgings) he smiled, and explained the mistake ; but he received me most courteously and kindly, and at once offered me such attention and such services as were in his power. I did not find in all of England that I saw one specimen of the surly, “ grumpy ” Englishman of whom we hear so much. As I was walking back briskly toward Queen’s in the twilight (for it was almost time for hall) I was conscious of some one overtaking me and keeping pace with me for a moment or two, and then I heard my name spoken with an inflection of inquiry. I turned, and saw a scholar of Baliol whom I had met at his father’s house in London. After welcoming me to Oxford, he asked me if I would not like to go the Union (a university debating society and club), where there was to be a debate that evening. Of course I was glad to do so ; and be also invited me, with needless but attractive modesty, to take luncheon with him and some other under-graduates at his rooms next day, — an invitation which I heartily accepted.

After hall at Queen’s he called and took me to the Union. The floor of a large room or theatre was filled with under-graduates. There was a Speaker sitting at an elevated table, a secretary, and another officer of some sort. Before the Speaker was an unoccupied table. The audience, among whom I took my place, thronged a gallery which ran round three sides of the theatre. The question for debate that evening was (as nearly as I remember it), Is the foreign policy of Mr. Disraeli and the government entitled to the confidence of the country ? The proceedings were conducted in the most parliamentary manner. The speakers went up to the head of the room, and, placing their hats, which they took with them, upon the unoccupied table, faced alternately the Speaker’s chair and the audience. They always referred to each other as “ the honorable membah,” “ the honorable membah who had previously addressed the house.” Indeed, parliamentary etiquette was strictly observed ; and it was (I hope I may be pardoned for saying) a little amusing and not unpleasing to see them lift up and set down their hats, and put their hands behind them under their coatskirts and cock them up in a manner which perfected the illusion. The debate itself was conducted with an ability that made it highly interesting. The speeches, without being too formal, yet had form, and were remarkable for a happy arrangement and development of the views which the speakers presented. But what chiefly commanded my admiration and caused me some surprise was the readiness and fluency of the speakers. None of them used notes, and all the speeches, except the first, were in reply. In a word, it was a real debate. Yet the hesitancy, the fumbling for fit phrases, the Athelstanic unreadiness, of which Englishmen are accused, and of which they even accuse themselves in comparison with American speakers, were in no case apparent, but on the contrary a ready command of a full vocabulary. The “ honorable members ” on the floor cheered their favorites, cheered ironically, and groaned, all in true parliament fashion. The debate was summed up with marked ability and great spirit by a gentleman who was evidently a favorite with the whole house, even with his opponents, and justly. I think I never listened to an abler speech of the kind in a deliberative assembly, least of all in a state legislature or in Congress. The Speaker’s name was Bowman or Bauman, and if he should obtain a seat in Parliament he will be heard of there and elsewhere. When the question was taken, it need hardly be said that there was a large majority in favor of the government ; for the Tories are strong at Oxford. But it was delightful, immediately upon adjournment, to hear cheers for Bauman called for and given with a hearty good-will by all the house, his opponents taking the lead. This is a sort of English fairness of spirit which it is pleasant to contemplate.

After the debate we went to the Union refectory, and passed half an hour in chat over cigarettes and coffee. No spirits, wine, or even ale are “ licensed to be drunk on the premises,” — a sensible provision at which I found no disposition to grumble. And I noted the modest and sober fitting up and furniture of this apartment. There was no display of polished wood or gilding ; no bright colors, either on the walls or on the floor. All was simple, but comfortable and cheerful. My luncheon at Baliol was very pleasant, but furnished no occasion for particular remark. There were two other under-graduates besides my host, — sensible, manly, modest fellows, with the careful dress and polished manners of high-class Oxford men. It would have been impossible, I think, to find any difference between them and three under-graduates at Harvard of like social position. And how and why should any difference exist ?

The next day I had a luncheon of quite another sort. As I was walking in “ the High ” it occurred to me that my inner man needed a little restoration, and having seen a pastry-cook’s shop with “ Boffin” over the door I decided, for the name’s sake, to go there. As I approached it I saw a card in the window announcing that chocolate was to be had, and entering I asked if I could have chocolate and rolls. “ Oh, yes, I could ’ave them, but not there. Would I be kind enough to step up to their other place, which was only a little way up the street ? ” This struck me as rather a carious result of the advertisement in the window ; but I was happy to comply. I had before observed the other place, and wondered that Oxford, among its manifold excellences, should be so happy as to possess two Boffins. (I may remark here that I found in London and elsewhere some of Dickens’s oddest names, which I had supposed were of his own fabrication.) On reaching the duplicate Boffin’s I again asked for chocolate, not this time to be sent elsewhere. “ Would I please to walk up-stairs ? ” I was politely waved to a “dark backward and abysm ” of the shop, in which 1 dimly saw a small winding stairway. Up this I slowly screwed myself, my mind revolving, as my body turned, this singular way of dispensing chocolate to the public. For the affair was of so strictly private and, so to speak, recondite character that I was somewhat embarrassed. I felt as if when I reached the top of the stairs, and before I could unwind myself, I must certainly intrude upon some humble family arrangements which I should be loath to disturb. I did not know but I might break in upon Mr. Wegg engaged in declining and falling off the Roman Empire. At the head of the stairs I found a small dark room, sombre of hue and of furniture, in which were two or three tables formally laid as if for hot joints, at one of which I sat myself down in meek expectancy. I was kindly allowed some time for reflection. At last, after I had ruminated a while without my cud, there appeared a short, serious, middle-aged man in black, with black hair which had not a perfectly natural look, but seemed as if it were of that color to be in keeping with his general appearance and manner, which was that of a respectable, conscientious undertaker engaged in professional business. He had a dirty white halter round his neck, and he saluted me with so much gloom and so much consideration that I should not have been much surprised if he had asked me if it were perfectly convenient to me to step out and be hanged. But no ; he only brought me my luncheon, and said that the weather was very pleasant for the young gentlemen coming up, — plainly meaning the under-graduates. Yet he shut the door so carefully and silently when he went out that he left me not without suspicions that the name over the portal bade me leave all hope behind, and that instead of Boffin it should have been Coffin. Inclosed in this twilit cell I felt shut off from human kind. I have not yet been in prison, but when I do go I am sure the sensation will not be new to me. In solitude I drank my chocolate, feeling that it should have been cold water. I ate my roll and butter conscious that it should have been a moldy crust. I felt guilty, — guilty of some nameless crime. Erelong my attendant stole into the room again, bearing on his arm a damp, limp napkin, with which he solemnly approached me. But he did not throw it over my face; he only asked me, very respectfully, if I would “ ’ave hanythink else.” I did not choose to have anything else ; what I had had already sat heavy on my soul; and I left Boffin’s with the mingled feelings of joy at release and consciousness of moral ruin which become a discharged convict. They keep early hours at Oxford, and, taking a hint from Charles Lamb, make up for late rising in the morning by going to bed betimes at night. At ten o’clock Oxford streets are silent and almost deserted, and at nine they begin to lose their life. A dim light hangs within the gate-ways of the colleges; and the quadrangles are grayly seen only by the help of the moon when she shines in the pale, shy, shame-faced way with which she does her duty in England. But I found a charm in the sight of these old scholastic buildings at night, and went again and again from one to the other, loitering in and about the quadrangles and cloisters, and contrasting the dim confusion of the architectural forms below with the sharp, irregular lines of the turrets and gables against the sky. More than once some belated Fellow stared at me inquiringly, as he found me sauntering near his own particular precincts; but I was never questioned.

The night before I left Oxford I was walking through a narrow lane, near Queen’s College. Stone-walls were on both sides of me. As I walked I heard the sound of music. I listened, and distinguished the tones of an organ and the voices of a choir. I walked on a little way, the music becoming clearer, till I came to a door, one which appeared not to be in use and not to have been opened for a long time. I laid my ear against it, and now heard the music very plainly. How good it really was I shall not undertake to say, for in my mood then I was not a trustworthy critic: but suiting my temper and veiled by distance and by obstacle, it seemed to me beautiful, ravishing, divine. I could not hear a word, but I needed no word to tell me its sacred character ; it seemed indeed less ecclesiastical than celestial. At once I was borne back by swiftwinged memory to the boyish days when things were as they are not now, and I was as I shall never be again. Once more I stood, as at the gate of Canterbury Cathedral choir, shut out from the place whence I heard the songs of Paradise. I remained leaning against the door until the last tones had died away, and then, loitering no longer, went to my hotel. I did not learn what and why this music was at that late hour; for the next morning I left Oxford for the north.

Richard Grant White.

  1. This name for the dining-parlor or eatingroom is general in England.
  2. Sat. V. 74.
  3. I believe at this time, however, that place was filled by the Vice Master.