National Geographic : 1929 Nov
OXFORD, MOTHER OF ANGLO-SAXON LEARNING BY E. JOHN LONG " AXI!" I This greeting, as I emerged 1. from the Great Western Rail way Station at Oxford, had a familiar ring; yet, on second thought, it sounded a bit strange, as it might have, for in stance, in some obscure Italian hill town or in some inland Chinese city. "Cab, sir," it occurred to me, had been the only station salutation I had heard in England since I had been tendered ashore at Plym outh, a few weeks previously. And the panorama of spires I had just seen from the railway carriage window had settled me into a local, an Old English, so to speak, state of mind. The rest of the world had seemed far away-and then this echo of Times Square! But the unfamiliar, un-English "Taxi !" was merely the modern Oxford cab driv er's way of informing me that I had been recognized as an American, and that mod ern Oxford town is quite wide awake, thank you, and up and coming, sir, and, by your leave, ready to do your bidding. "A round of the town, sir, and all the 'igh spots, sir, for ten bob-that is to say, sir, ten shillin's"-the cabby suggested, swinging open the cab door with a flour ish. But I resisted the temptation to hear the quaint store of fancy and misinforma tion for which these unofficial guides are noted and gave him the address of the Wellington Square boarding house rec ommended to me in London at the Ameri can University Union. THE AUTHOR BECOMES AN UNDERGRADUATE As the honking cab threaded its way through the motors and bicycles of Hythe Bridge, Worcester Street, and Beaumont Street, passing now a new garage, now a group of medieval college buildings, now a mid-Victorian "private hotel," it oc curred to me that this taxicab driver had unwittingly given me a key whereby I might reach a better understanding of this city of unexpected contrasts and charming inconsistencies; this Oxford, where medi evalism and modernism are so inextricably mixed. I had come to Oxford to do research work in English and in history for a book I intended to write. I must also confess that my choice of Oxford was the gratifi cation of an ambition of several years to attend some of the lectures delivered by Oxford professors whose fame had reached across the Atlantic. At the American University Union in London I was advised that the best way to obtain the full resources of the university was to apply for membership as an under graduate. I would thus be subjected to the discipline of the university as an un dergraduate, but I would be free from the necessity and embarrassment of ob taining special permits and from establish ing my status as a free-lance student. I was told that all the colleges were full for the term, but that I might be admitted as a member of the Delegacy of Non Collegiate Students, an Oxford group not associated with any college foundation, but one whose members are entitled to the same general privileges and subject to the same discipline. Armed with letters of introduction and a copy of my grades at Columbia Univer sity, I called at the Delegacy of Non-Col legiate Students, and, after explaining my purpose in coming to Oxford, I was told to report in the library of the Delegacy, a few days later, in cap and gown, which I must purchase. I was further advised to wear a dark suit, black preferred, and a white necktie and bow collar. This, I was informed, is "subfusc," the official uniform for all formal university occa sions, such as matriculation, graduation, or calls upon the chancellor or the proctors. A "BEHAVE YOURSELVES" ADDRESS IN LATIN When I, and the others who had been accepted for admission, had assembled in the library at the appointed time the Cen sor, as the dean of Non-Collegiate Students is termed at Oxford, made a short speech. He said we would presently march in a body to the Divinity School, where the vice chancellor would receive us into the university.