The dress of this hero and his friends must have made the streets more gay than do the bright-coloured flannel coats of our boating men.
"He is easily distinguished by a stiff silk gown, which rustles in the wind as he struts along; a flax tie-wig, or sometimes a long natural one, which reaches down below his [well, say below his waist]; a broad bully-cock'd hat, or a square cap of about twice the usual size; white stockings; thin Spanish leather shoes. His clothes lined with tawdry silk, and his shirt ruffled down the bosom as well as at the wrists."
These "smarts" cut no such gallant figure when they first arrived in Oxford, with their fathers (rusty old country farmers), in linsey- woolsey coats, greasy, sun-burnt heads of hair, clouted shoes, yarn stockings, flapping hats, with silver hatbands, and long muslin neck- cloths run with red at the bottom.
After this satire of the undergraduates we may look at the contemporary account-book of a Proctor. In 1752 Gilbert White of Selborne was Proctor, and may have fined young Gibbon of Magdalen, who little thought that Oxford boasted an official who was to become an English classic. White paid some attention to dress, and got a feather-topp'd, grizzled wig from London; cost him 2 pounds, 5s. He bought "mountain wine, very old and good," and had his crest engraved on his teaspoons, that everything might be handsome about him. When he treated the Masters of Arts in Oriel Hall they ate a hundred pounds weight of biscuits--not, we trust, without marmalade. "A bowl of rum-punch from Horsman's" cost half a crown. Fancy a jolly Proctor sending out for bowls of rum-punch, and that in April! Eggs cost a penny each, and "three oranges and a mouse-trap" ninepence.
White, a generous man, gave the Vice-Chancellor "seven pounds of double-refined white sugar." I like to fancy my learned friend, the Proctor, going to the present Vice-Chancellor's with a donation of white sugar! Manners have certainly changed in the direction of severity. "Share of the expense for Mr. Butcher's release" came to ten and sixpence. What had Mr. Butcher been doing? The Proctor went "to Blenheim with Nan," and it cost him fifteen and sixpence. Perhaps she was one of the "Oxford Toasts" of a contemporary satire. Strawberries were fourpence a basket on the ninth of June; and on November 6, White lost one shilling "at cards, in common room." He went from Selborne to Oxford, "in a post-chaise with Jenny Croke"; and he gave Jenny a "round Chinaturene." Tea cost eight shillings a pound in 1752, while rum-punch was but half a crown a bowl. White's highest terminal battels were but 12 pounds, though he was a hospitable man, and would readily treat the other Proctor to a bowl of punch. It is well to remember White and Johnson when the Gibbon of that or any other day bewails the intellectual poverty of Oxford.
CHAPTER VIII--POETS AT OXFORD: SHELLEY AND LANDOR
At any given time a large number of poets may be found among the undergraduates at Oxford, and the younger dons. It is not easy to say what becomes of all these pious bards, who are a marked and peculiar people while they remain in residence. The undergraduate poet is a not uninteresting study. He wears his hair long, and divides it down the middle. His eye is wild and wandering, and his manner absent, especially when he is called on to translate a piece of an ancient author in lecture. He does not "read" much, in the technical sense of the term, but consumes all the novels that come in his way, and all the minor poetry. His own verses the poet may be heard declaiming aloud, at unholy midnight hours, so that his neighbours have been known to break his windows with bottles, and then to throw in all that remained of the cold meats of a supper party, without interfering with the divine afflatus. When the college poet has composed a sonnet, ode, or what not, he sends it to the Editor of the Nineteenth Century, and it returns to him after many days. At last it appears in print, in College Rhymes, a collection of mild verse, which is (or was) printed at regular or irregular intervals, and was never seen except in the rooms of contributors. The poet also speaks at the Union, where his sentiments are either revolutionary, or so wildly conservative that he looks on Magna Charta as the first step on the path that leads to England's ruin. As a politician, the undergraduate poet knows no mean between Mr. Peter Taylor and King John. He has been known to found a Tory club, and shortly afterwards to swallow the formulae of Mr. Bradlaugh.
The life of the poet is, not unnaturally, one long warfare with his dons. He cannot conform himself to pedantic rules, which demand his return to college before midnight. Though often the possessor of a sweet vein of clerical and Kebleian verse, the poet does not willingly attend chapel; for indeed, as he sits up all night, it is cruel to expect him to arise before noon. About the poet's late habits a story is told, which seems authentic. A remarkable and famous contemporary singer was known to his fellow-undergraduates only by this circumstance, that his melodious voice was heard declaiming anapaests all through the ambrosial night. When the voice of the singer was lulled, three sharp taps were heard in the silence. This noise was produced by the bard's Scotch friend and critic in knocking the ashes out of his pipe. These feasts of reason are almost incompatible with the early devotion which, strangely enough, Shelley found time and inclination to attend.
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