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Letters from Oxford.
TO PEREGRINE COURTENAY, ESQ
M-_ College, Monday Evening. CONGRATULATE me, my dear Courtenay, I am now an Oxonian de fucto. I made my appearance here on Saturday afternoon, and immediately proceeded to take possession of my apartments. These had been prepared for my reception by the removal of every thing, which the scout and bedmaker had chosen to consider the private property of my predecessor, and I found little else than broken arm-chairs and an old-fashioned stained mahogany table awaiting my arrival. It may afford you some amusement, and will certainly throw considerable light on my future correspondence, if I attempt to give you some idea of the local peculiarities of my abode. In the first place, then, it is what Homer would call the tò ÚTegwlov, and the Vulgate garrets; but you know, my good Editor, that proximity to the earth is the characteristic of common mortals. Of the two flights of stairs, by which you are conducted to my eyrie, the lowest is wide and deep; wide enough for a coal-waggon to make its way up, and as deep, in each particular step, as the famous external ascent of the Pyramids: the other tapers upwards, in a winding direction, till you have mounted upon a railway landing-place, and you then find yourself in front of an old sturdy oak door, which, dinted and battered, as it evidently appears to be, from the effects of many a brave resistance to the fury of besiegers, still lours defiance against all the efforts of the coal-hammer. Once admitted within its threshold, you are introduced to an anļe-room, or vestibule, which serves the purpose of a scout's pantry, and contains the crockery, cupboard, and wine-bin. On the left is the sleeping apartment, and directly facing you is the entrance of the sitting-room. You cannot fail to notice that this door is perforated at all quarters; and, had you accompanied me on my first taking possession, you would have found the sanie unaccountable signs of violence over the mantle-piece. I have since discovered that one of my predecessors had a particular ambition to excel in the art of pistolling, and was in the habit of practising this, his favourite pursuit, for a few hours every morning. His mark was either a picture of Lord Nelson, which frowned above the fire-place, or a card on the door ; and thus all mystery is
satisfactorily removed. I had previously heard that such perforations as these had been in use under the name of dun-holes, for the purpose of notifying the approach of any such disagreeable visitants, and thus affording time for the tenant of the room to make himself“ Not at Home.” The chief chamber which you have now entered, the very penetrale of the Muses, is square, small, and low, about six yards by five and a half, with a college grate rather returning into the wall, so that the recess admits of two loop-holes on each side above the mantle-piece, which were intended, I suppose, by the architect, to afford light; but, as far as my limited experience goes, only serve to give entrance to all the smoke and smut of the College chimneys, when prevented from rising by a heavy atmosphere.
Here now, I declare you have almost as good a topographical sketch as Belzoni himself could have given you. I had a mind to subjoin a diagram, but I was afraid of offering an insult, and must therefore lay an equal tax upon your ingenuity and goodhumour, for the right understanding of my description.
I was happy to find Sterling at Hall-dinner; I need not say that he received me with cordiality, and, by the unwearied kindness of his small-talk, did away with many of those awkward feelings which a Freshman cannot but be awake to, amid the novelties of his situation. Our friend had been hard all at Æschylus and Divinity during the Easter vacation, for he had taken advantage of the permission of his College to remain up within walls; and his sallow cheeks were an earnest that he had called old Father
Time to a sharp reckoning during the interval. You know that I used to do justice to our Club-dinners, and the good things which Clayton (rest his soul, poor fellow !) dished us up. There was no deficiency in the dinner before me, but somehow I had strangely lost my appetite. When I attempted to carve the fish, my hand trembled so violently that I thought I should drop the choice bit which I was conveying to my plate, and this merely because I fancied I heard one of my messmates inquire of his neighbour “ Who that Freshman was?” And when requested for the salt-cellar, I handed it with as much trepidation as a præpostor gives the Doctor a list, when he is conscious of a mistake in the excuses. Happy was I when the Hall broke up, and Sterling bustled up to me ;—“ Old fellow," says he, “I want you to come to my rooms this evening. We will crack the best bottle of old Port I have in my cellar, and we can talk over your new prospects." The offer was readily accepted, and I joined him within the half hour. He was seated in his arm-chair before a blazing fire, which the chillness of the season rendered most acceptable ;--decanters and dessert before him ;—the sofa wheeled round for my accommodation ;--and 'the Scapula and Maltby
shuffled into a corner. His sitting-room is as large as all my suite put together; but, although both spacious and lofty, there is an appearance of comfort in it when his heavy scarlet stuff curtains are let down. I could not help smiling at the first object which presented itself ;-the miniature plaster bust of my late revered Instructor, which had taken his station over the fireplace, and was depictured with all that awful gravity of countenance which inspires terror into the stoutest heart of the Upper Division. I said that I smiled on meeting with an old friend in in a strange land; but my muscles were still more disordered on hearing an anecdote which Sterling related when he observed my attention turned towards the bust.“ That,” says he,“ was presented to me by Carmarthen; who thought I should be interested by any reminiscence of Eton. He had been purchasing some casts of the Italian chef d'ouvres, when the shopman begged him to notice the little bust in the window ; • Dat is de reverend schoolmaster at Eton; many of de gentlemen do purchase him out of spite, and break de head. Shame! thinks Mr. C. to himself; are there then boys in the University? I will save at least one image of the Doctor from outrage; and, if I mistake not, there is a certain individual I know, who can appreciate the learning and abilities of his quondam Orbilius. Thus the bust was bought, and you see it is now one of my Penates. You are wondering at the strange choice of the other two." “ Homer and Eloisa,” replied I, examining the figures upon the hand-screens, “ why they ?” They were pencilled, he told me, by a lady, from whom they were a present; and, although he had been dull enough not to understand the import of the characters at the time he received the gift, a sly friend had since cleared up the mystery by asking him whether he kept those figures on his screens. as emblems of his pursuits,-Love and the Classics. “But come, set you down, and fill me a bumper to “The Etonian: I obeyed. “Between you and me,” continued Mr. S., “ No.VII. was but mediocre. The run of the compositions were ordinary, and there was not a standard article in the bill of fare. I cannot help thinking but that Golightly was rather too free with Mr. Tighe, of Corpus. That gentleman I understand has shown his seuse in taking the matter with his usual good-humour. Indeed he is at present in high spirits, his Second Edition being on the eve of publication ; and he has lately received what he considers a most invaluable treasure ;-a copy of the Robsart pedigree. Strong hopes are entertained that "this illustrious aspirant after the fame of an antiquarian will, soon turn his attention to the ruins of the celebrated Godstow Abbey, which is within four miles of Oxford. The subject is well worthy of his attention, and we may confidently expect that the fact of the existence of fair Rosamond will be now established in spite of all the insinuations of a certain sceptical Historian of high name. But of course, Le Blanc, you will be more interested by my giving you some detail of your future mode of life. I will begin with your studies. You need not expect any great hardships in fulfilling your College duties. There are but four public lectures, of halfan-hour each, in the course of the week; and the rank of sextile at Eton is a sufficient warrant for your competency to appear on this arena, as the books are only “ Diatessaron” and “ Grotius." I would have you particularly punctual in your attendance on the “ Diatessaron” days. Mr. Jackson is a very fair expositor in divinity. And here, by the way, I cannot refrain from mentioning the great satisfaction with which all the old Etonians at Oxford have viewed the slight alteration that took place last Christmas in the Eton system in favour of Sacred Knowledge. It had always been a subject of regret, that, although a good foundation had been laid in the lower parts of the school by the reading of “ Watts’s Scripture History,” and the “ Harmony of the Gospels,” no superstructure was afterwards raised. On the contrary, this branch of study was utterly neglected; for the “ Burnet”. in Lent was a mere drop of fresh water in the Ocean. As for “ Grotius," I cannot give an opinion of the manner in which this lecture is got up, as I have not attended in Hall since the time when “ Cicero's Offices” were in vogue. In fact, even while I was one of the most regular at this levee (be it spoken with shame), I could not help amusing myself with the false quantities and rival pronunciations of my associates, and felt no small indignation as I observed any Eton man turn renegado, and use the Winchester tone; and this, when I ought to have been monopolized by the remarks of the Tutor on the lecture.”
Here Mr. S. was out of breath, and a pause ensued while he filled up his glass and passed the bottle. He then apologized for the minuteness of the above detail; but, on receiving my earnest request to proceed, he informed me next of two other lectures which I should be expected to get up every week for the Tutor's private room. This, by the way, reminded me that the whole scale of my studies had been drawn for me by Mr. J. during the course of my former visit; and I directed the conversation into a fresh channel by the following summary question :“ Whether a regular attendance on the lecture of the College would secure me a qualification against my first public examination; which is here called the Little-Go?” “ You are required," replied my friend,“ to take into the Schools one Greek and one Latin Author; and the questions which will follow, after you have construed the required passage, are solely grammatical. Thus far, and including also the translation of a Spectator' para
graph, any decent Eton Fifth Form is qualified to pass. But besides these tests of proficiency in the Classics, you have your Logic or Mathematics to bring forward. I would prefer, however, treating of the subject when you have been with me to the Schools, and have made yourself master of a few practical ideas of the matter.
“Segnius irritant animos demissa per aurem,
Quam quæ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus." By this time our Curfew-bell, the Great Tom of Christ Church, announced a quarter past Nine, and the scout came in to lay the tea things. My friend's attendant appeared a most respectable steady young man, and, to tell you the truth, was dressed as well as many of his masters. I mistook him for a Gownsman on his entering the room. In fact, he is more like a gentleman's valet than what you might imagine a College Foot-ball to be, and gave the lie to several violent prejudices which I had brought with me to Oxford against the whole tribe. I am happy to tell you he is appointed also to wait upon me : and, as I would not deceive you with the idea that you are to take this individual as a specimen of the entire body, I ought to mention my having seen some others of the same class, who approach very near to the description of character intended to be conveyed in the Cambridge classical appellation of Gyps; which, as you are aware, is synonymous with our term Scout.
As I have long been fancying your "Ohe! jam satis est” to be dinging in my ears, I will hastily conclude with professions of esteem.
. A. L. B. P.S. I have been more than ordinarily dull in the above composition; have the kindness to make allowance for the effeets of that dreadful agony, the ear-ache. I can only attribute the disorder to a cold in the head, caught by wearing that abominable trencber instead of my hat. I hope my Address " to Intellectual Liberty,” and “Pæstum," arrived safe. I accompanied them with a Sonnet from Robert Sterling, who is equally orthodox in prin. ciple with our worthy friend Martin.
College, Tuesday Evening.