Donald Davie & the poetry scene (1963)

Found in a copy of New & Selected Poems by Donald Davie (Wesleyan University Press, 1961) a handwritten letter from the author. A good newsy letter that gives a snapshot of the  Oxford and transatlantic poetry scene of the early 1960s. It is to Fred Hunter founder of Independent Radio News, teacher of journalism and something of a poetaster and friend of many of the Sixties and Liverpool poets. He also had a poetry record label (Stream Records) which in 1967 put out an L.P. of the American poet Dorn reading from his North Atlantic Turbine. The letter reads:

[Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge]. June 18th 1963.

Dear Mr. Hunter,

I was touched and pleased to have your request from yourself and Mr. S. Raut Roy. I have today dispatched the books to you - don't send them on to India before taking out your own two copies!

I know Jonathan William, by name of course and I believe he was lately entertained by my young colleague Jeremy Prynne, to whom I am chiefly indebted for my knowledge of the Projective Verse poets, who seem to me to represent the only plausible growing-point for Anglo-American poetry. Olson I esteem chiefly as a theorist, Duncan's work I hardly know, but Creeley's I admire very much. We would link with him Edward Dorn whose very distinguished collection in typescript we are at present (Prynne and I) trying to place with a London publisher - but with predictably little success. 

I am having great difficulty about completing a new collection of poems which will represent in some degree the sympathy I feel for some of the Projective Verse methods. But this business of doubling up as poet and don is quite hopeless! 

Again, I'm grateful.

Yours sincerely, 
Donald Davie

Benjamin Jowett—‘I am Master ‘

"Here come I, my name is Jowett
  All there is to know, I know it
  I am Master of this College
  And what I don’t know isn’t knowledge."

This squib gently mocks the pretensions of arguably Balliol College’s most famous Master. Jowett was a Greek scholar, and like many classicists through the ages, felt that a grounding in Latin and Greek was sufficient qualification to tackle most areas of knowledge. But he was also a dedicated theologian and an educational reformer. This letter, which another hand (possibly the same one that snipped out Jowett’s signature, thus losing text) has dated in pencil 5th November 1874, four years after Jowett was appointed Master, is addressed to a Mr Buckland (possibly a member of the celebrated clan of eccentric scientists). In it Jowett, who was always interested in Indian affairs and was a member of the 1854 committee drawn up to debate the future administration of the colony, shows his keenness to promote the benefits of an education at Oxford University to young men who might wish to join the Indian Civil Service. Previous to 1858, when it closed, such candidates would have been trained at Haileybury College, near Hertford, but Jowett argues that an Oxford education might prove more attractive to these young men than a stint at Haileybury, should that institution be ‘revived’.

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C. B. Fry—Renaissance man

There are many photos of C. B. Fry (1872 – 1956)---an athlete who also  represented England at football and cricket,  Classical scholar, teacher, politician., journalist and author --- on the Net, but you won’t find this one. It comes from a batch of press photographs dating from the forties and fifties. Fry is shown wearing his basic B.A.gown, gained many years earlier after a horrendous performance in his Finals at Oxford, where he was awarded a fourth class degree ( incidentally, I know of only one other famous man who gained such a terrible degree and that’s John Ruskin). The great man finished his teaching career way back in 1898, so perhaps he is revisiting Repton, where he was a pupil, or Charterhouse, where he once taught, in order to receive some sort of honour. I think the photo is rather good, conveying as it does that combination of fierce intelligence, physical toughness and commitment that made the man, in the words of John Arlott, 'the most variously gifted Englishman of any age'.

National Treasure Stephen Fry claims C.B. as a kinsman, but does he offer much or any evidence for this? Not having read any of his memoirs, I cannot judge, but there does seem to be something of the younger’s man’s nose in the great sportsman’s own, if this photo is any guide. Both C.B. and Stephen also have mental illness in common. The former’s disastrous showing in the examination room was put down to a derangement that followed his efforts to pay off huge debts--- and at various times during the rest of his life he became incapacitated by similar bouts of mental illness. Mental problems often run in families. Was this true in the case of Stephen’s own bipolar disorder?

Incidentally, C.B.’s party trick, which he claimed to perform up to his seventies, was to leap backwards from a standing start onto a mantle piece behind him. Now that’s something I’d like to see Stephen Fry perform. [RMH]

A Son of Belial (Balliol)

Found in one of our old catalogues this curious satirical work by Martin Geldart describing the hell of his undergraduate years at Balliol College, Oxford.

Martin Geldart (writing as 'Nitram Tradleg') A SON OF BELIAL. Autobiographical sketches by Nitram Tradleg.  (Trubner, London 1882). 8vo. pp viii, 250. Autobiographical 'sketches.' Geldart was at Balliol with Gerard Manley Hopkins who is mentioned several times in the text as 'Gerontius Manley.' A witty satire of Balliol life,  in which Geldart refers to Hopkins as my 'ritualistic friend.'** Hopkins wrote to his mother that Geldart was 'the ugliest man I have ever laid eyes on', although he had been a friend and even stayed with Geldart's family in one Oxford holiday. The phrase 'Sons of Belial' was apparently used by Newman to refer to the orgies that took place at his college on Trinity Monday. Rev. Edmund Martin Geldart, M.A., disappeared from the tidal boat from Newhaven to Dieppe in 1889, aged 41. Apart from this book he wrote several works relating to the language and literature of Modern Greece, on which he was an acknowledged authority.

It appears to have been a slightly used copy and sold (not rapidly) for £120 in 2002.

** "Gerontius Manley and I had many talks on religion. He was quite at one with me on the hollowness of Protestant orthodoxy, but he had a simple remedy-the authority of the Church. The right of private judgment must in the long run inevitably lead to Rationalism."

Sons of Belial is now the name of a 'progressive death metal' band from the UK, aiming their music at  fans of Tesseract, Monuments, Ion Dissonance, Animals As Leaders. Album cover below...


Innkeeper John Fothergill lampooned

Found - in A Bunch of Blue Ribbons.A Volume of Cambridge Essays [Collected by I. Rose. London: Chapman & Hall, 1933] a satirical poem lampooning the celebrated innkeeper John Fothergill. Fothergill wrote a best-seller Diary of an Innkeeper and was known to Oxford students for his inn at Thame, frequented by, among others, most of the prominent members of  the Brideshead set. Oddly, he is unknown to Wikipedia but has a good entry in the DNB. His Diary was republished fairly recently by the Folio Society. A Bunch of Blue Ribbons was a sort of counter blast to a recent work Red Rags -a record of pet hatreds and aversions by bright young students at Oxford and Cambridge. This poem is in a chapter called A Sob Sister defends Oxford by Christopher Saltmarshe (a Cambridge poet also unknown to the all-knowing Wikipedia):

I am giving below a disgraceful and insulting lampoon which fell into my hands. The subject is an inn-keeper, whose name is dear to the immediate generation of Oxonians, which learnt to appreciate him as a host, an epicure and a gentleman. As an example of the depths of scurrility to which the enemies of Oxford can stoop I, as an old Cantab., believe these verses to be unparalleled.

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Bullingdon Club 1935 and 2013

Found in the window of an antique shop a photo of the 1935 members of the ultra privileged Oxford University Bullingdon Club -an exclusive society noted for its grand banquets and boisterous rituals, such as 'trashing' of restaurants and college rooms. It is mentioned in novels by Waugh, Powell, Raven etc.,

Membership of the club is expensive, with tailor-made uniforms, regular gourmet hospitality and a tradition of on-the-spot payment for damage.Their rallying cry is 'buller, buller, buller!' and their ostentatious display of wealth attracts controversy, since many ex-members have moved up to high political posts - UK PM David Cameron, London mayor Boris Johnson and Chancellor George Osborne. They are seen to embody an upper class mentality that could have no inkling of how ordinary mortals live. Certainly the 1935 members look highly patrician, snobbish even arrogant.

Bullingdon Club members in London 2013

How much has changed 78 years later? Former members include Edward VII and VIII, Frederick IX of Denmark, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany,Prince Paul of Yugoslavia,Rama VI, King of Siam, David Dimbleby,Lord Randolph Churchill, Darius Guppy,Peter Holmes à Court, John Profumo, Cecil Rhodes, Nathaniel Philip Rothschild, Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer, Alexander Thynn, 7th Marquess of Bath and Felix Yussupov. The 1935 crowd appear to have no famous members, just the usual aristocrats, landowners and gilded youth...