29 July 2015

Talking Oxford (2)

Last year, at the 2014 Encaenia in June, the Public Orator, Mr Richard Jenkyns of LMH, had used a phrase which one of his hearers ... none other than Mr Vice-Chancellor himself, a Professor A D Hamilton ... had disliked so much that he cherished it, for four months, in a Resentful Bosom. When he came to make his own Oration in October at the start of the 2014/2015 academic year, Hamilton, speaking in English, had this to say:
"I want to reflect with you on the public value of Oxford; the benefit that flows to others from who we are, what we do, and how we do it. And if, in the course of these reflections, I manage to say something of wider interest and relevance about the special importance and value of higher education in the world of the twenty-first century, well, then I shall consider I have not entirely wasted my time or, more importantly, yours."

Oh dear. Not a word of this is Talking Oxford, is it? How terribly portentous and consequential! How full of a Politically Correct sense that we must demonstrate the vast amount of good we do to others! Do you feel the adjective "pompous" struggling to make itself heard in your mind? Not a touch here of that quick and allusive levity, that faux self-deprecation behind which we Oxonians lightly conceal our feeling that we are so obviously unique that we don't even need to remember that fact, still less to be so unspeakably vulgar as to assert it. Even worse, observe the implication that Oxford is relevant. Nemo qui mammas almae huius Universitatis ipse suxisset haec vel talia unquam proferre potuisset!. Quid de apicibus somniantibus? Quid de rebus desperatis? 

Clearly, Hamilton is not a man who, in those formative youthful years, was woken daily by his College Servant bringing him hot water and the information "Good morning sir, quarter to eight sir, blizzard in the night sir, three cars crashed on the ice coming down Headington Hill, eleven people killed, will there be anything else, sir?" vel similia. Because, unlike Talking Cambridge, Talking Oxford is not a class dialect designed to condescend and to insult. It is a style of processing and assimilating reality, of cutting mere facticity down to size, a style which has owed as much to our beloved and respected College Servants as to anything or anybody else.

Let us resume our reading of poor Hamilton's embarrassing Oration.
"It was our celebrated Public Orator, Richard Jenkyns, at Encaenia this Year [2014] who stated in the course of a typically mordant review of the worldly achievements of Oxford alumni, I quote: 'Life - always our most dangerous competitor.' He captures neatly that too familiar perception of the academic world having little if anything to do with life, certainly life as it is lived; life with a capital L.

"Well, this morning I want to try not just to take issue with that perception by illustrating some of the ways in which it is woefully wide of the mark, but to go further and even to argue that life as it is lived - still with that capital L ..." and blah blah blah for several pages more. Dinosaurs competed for mention with budgerigars. Honest! Heaven help us.

And so, at this year's Encaenia, Mr Orator Jenkyns ut decet et placet had the last word. Not a dinosaur in sight, thank God, nor even the Oxford Dodo.


El Codo said...

Father ,as the Blessed wrote so accurately...heresy is the revenge of a half truth.....Being a graduate cum laude of both ancient Universities,I feel that I am better placed than many to comment on the differences ..and similarities.The East Anglian fens emit a cold and chilling stench which some have identified as fertile breeding for Protestant deviations...Wycliffe in Lincolnshire,the Lollards,Dutch quietism cum dissent,creeping like Eliot's fog across the low land.The Thames valley corrupts with its watery crawling into veins and heads...darkness at the bottom of the trough shadowing political handshakes ,Royalists and Catholics with their noble rot.Cambridge is a shining,clear,analytical,Calvinistical sort of environs while Oxford nudges and winks at you.

Little Black Sambo said...

Cambridge's great handicap is malaria (or marsh ague), which if not caught in time affects the brain, with the results we so often see.