THE OXFORD BOOK OF OXFORD by Jan--Ed. Morris

THE OXFORD BOOK OF OXFORD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Writes Jan Morris of 17th-century Oxford: ""though the drinking was terrific, the idleness disgraceful, and the scholarship often shoddy, it was graced by some great Oxonians and some lovely new Oxford buildings."" This, inescapably, is a documentary history of Universitas Oxoniensis, but Morris--with the typographer's aid--has turned it into an idler's delight. At the outset, symptomatically, are mixed notices (R. Southey: ""the most unprofitable months in my life""; H. James: ""the finest thing in England""). There follows an 800-year cavalcade of great occasions, eccentric dons, monkish rules and student infractions (""immoderately long hair"" was a constant, though minor, bogy: early on, Northerners and Welsh fought Southerners), civil and religious turbulence, distinguished sons (a mini-treasury of Johnsoniana), inventories, epitaphs, spending accounts--until, in the mid-19th century, Oxford enters its ""grandest period."" ""Theology was totally banished from the Common Rooms, and even from private conversation,"" we learn from Mark Pattison's Memoirs. ""Very free opinions on all subjects were rife."" Morris, Burne-Jones and Rossetti decorate the new Oxford Union Debating Hall, to Ruskin's plaintive ""they're all the least bit crazy""; the ""cherubic"" Jowett, Master of Balliol, invites students for silent, agonizing meals, and pronounces his lady-love Florence Nightingale, ""violent, very violent""; Jude the Obscure and Zuleika Dobson variously immortalize the quads; ""What is the ground of the objection to veracity?"" runs just one of the formidable questions for the Oxford ""Greats."" later, we have some of Gladstone's answers. The special merit of this wise and charming anthology, indeed, is that it not only reflects Oxford life but the life that flowed from Oxford outward.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1978
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press