Thursday, August 13, 2020

BIRTH | William Caxton, 1422

August 13, 2020—This day in 1422 was born the first person to print a book in English, William Caxton. He was born in Kent, England and became wealthy as a trader.

His biography appears here in The Oxbridge Pursuivant blog because of the importance of books in the symbols of Oxford and Cambridge and their colleges. Both Oxford and Cambridge have a book at the center of their coats of arms, as described and explained in Oxford College Arms, p. 6. 

The Oxford University arms are dated to c. 1400 although the university itself dates back to before 1100. If the arms are that old, the bible at the center would have to have been hand-written, because the printing press using movable type had been invented by Mainz goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg until 1450.

Book printing was skill primarily restricted to Germans and the Latin (starting with the famous Gutenberg Bible) and German languages. In his spare time Caxton translated books. He was living in Cologne, Germany when he translated a book about the history of Troy.

Caxton was delighted at the possibility of avoiding copying his book over and over to sell it. So he mastered the technology for printing books and published The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye in 1475, when he was 53. When he returned to England, he established the first English printing press, printing available English literature, including Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in 1478. Brits once called printed books "Caxtons."

Today, books in English greatly outnumber those in Germany. Of the five greatest libraries in the world, two are in the United States, two are in Britain and one is in Paris. I have been a registered reader in all five, and the hardest one to use, by far (and not because of the difference in language, but rather concern for the user), is the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

OXFORD | In the History of the United States

1767. Two Oxonians created the Mason-Dixon Line. Mason and Dixon were surveyors (like George Washington himself). They were hired by Cecil Calvert (a Trinity man) in Maryland and William Penn (Christ Church) in Pennsylvania to define the border between the two states. This line would become the border between the Confederate States and the Union during the Civil War. (Maryland, like Virginia, was part of the Confederacy.)

1776. Why the Southern Colonies rebelled. The southern colonies were settled by many Oxonians including George Washington's great-grandfather, whose father Lawrence Washington was a don at Brasenose College, Oxford.  They were largely orthodox Church of England members (Oxford was a path to the ministry), who were given grants of land from the Crown, whereas the Cambridge dissenters settled New England.

1814. Treaty of Ghent. Oxford and Cambridge alumni were on both sides of the negotiations over a peace treaty between the United States and Britain, after the War of 1812. A major issue was how to draw the border with Canada after Britain's conquests of some U.S. lands. The U.S. negotiators seem to have gotten the best of the negotiations since Britain agreed to go back to the lines prior to the war. The weakness of the British negotiators was that they had to get approval for anything from London, whereas the U.S. team, given the long time it took for ocean travel, was given authority to make decisions for their country.

Monday, July 27, 2020

OXFORD COLLEGE ARMS | Zoom Talk, August 20

In 2019, the Oxford University Society of Washington, DC sponsored a talk on Oxford College Arms by the Oxbridge Pursuivant.

This will be repeated via Zoom on August 20, 2020. The event is sponsored by a joint North American team of the three capital-city branches of the Oxford University Society—Washington, D.C.; Ottawa, Canada; and Mexico City.

To get a copy, ahead of the talk, of the 4th Edition of the 112-page full-color printed book, go to Amazon or your favorite bookstore.

Amazon offers the book for $20, with free delivery. It also offers the Kindle version for $5.99. There is even a used-book market. Type "Oxford College Arms" in Google and you should get transported to the Amazon page for the book.

Or use this link to get to the same place:

Meanwhile, here is a review of the book, by Kirkus Reviews:

You can get a flavor of the book by checking out the free pages posted on the Amazon site, or the Index to the 4th Edition here:

Another way to fill your day as you hunker down to elude the Covid-19 disease is to look at the Oxonian Birthday List posted by the Oxford Pursuivant here:

BIRTHDAYS | Oxonians, July 2020

09 | Oliver Sacks (Queen's), 1933
10 | E. Clerihew Bentley* (Merton) 1875
22 | William A. Spooner (Warden, New College) 1844
27 | Hilaire Belloc, 1870
28 | Senator Bill Bradley (Worcester) 1943
08 | Cecil Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore (Trinity) 1605
10 | George Goodman, "Adam Smith" (BNC) 1930
11 | Lawrence Binyon (Trinity)
16 | T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) (Jesus) 1888
19 | President Bill Clinton (Univ.)
07 | Peter Darrow (Trinity) 1950
14 | Oxford Open Day, for potential applicants to Oxford
15-16 | Oxford Alumni Weekend
02 | Graham Greene, 1904
23 | Denis Woodfield (Lincoln) 1933
09 | Noel Godfrey Chavasse (Trinity) 1884
09 | Francis Chavasse (Trinity and St. Peter's) 1884
15 William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham* (Trinity) 1708
21 | Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, "Q" (Trinity) 1863
29 | C. S. Lewis* (Univ.) 1898
18 | Charles Wesley (Ch.Ch.) 1707
22 | James Oglethorpe* (Corpus), 1st Gov. of Georgia 1696
03 | J.R.R. Tolkien, CBE (Exeter) 1892
27 Charles Dodgson, "Lewis Carroll" (Ch.Ch.) 1832
13 | Anna Watkins (rower for Cambridge against Oxford), 1983
21 John Henry Cardinal Newman (Trinity) 1801
21 | W. H. Auden
01 The Oxbridge Pursuivant (Trinity) 1942 😏
02 Dr Seuss (Lincoln), 1904
11 Rupert Murdoch, 1931
14 Stephen Hawking (Univ), death, 2018 (born in April)
24 William Morris (Exeter), 1834
26 Robert Frost, 1926
26 A. E. Housman, 1859
01 Rachel Maddow (Lincoln), 1973
03 Jane Goodall, 1934
05 NYC Boat Race Dinner, University Club
13 Frederick Lord North (Trinity), 1732
13 Christopher Hitchens, 1949
14 Michael Maclagan (Ch.Ch. and Trinity), 1914
15 Emma Watson, 1990
15 Joseph Lister, 1827
19 Dudley Moore, 1935
23 St George's Day
28 Harper Lee, 1926
28 Elena Kagan, 1960
10 | James Viscount Bryce (Trinity) 1838
20 | Melvin "Dinghy" Young (Trinity), DFC & Bar 1915
29 Sir Basil "Gaffer" Blackwell (Merton) 1889
04 Dan Topolski (New) 1945
05 | James Smithson (Pembroke) 1765
16 | Adam Smith (Balliol) 1723
17 | John Wesley (Ch.Ch.) 1703
*Clerihews for Oxonians

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

BIRTH | William A. Spooner, July 22

Rev. William A. Spooner
July 22, 2020—On this day in 1844, Rev. William Archibald Spooner was born, in Grosvenor Place, London. 

He was the first non-Wykehamist to attend New College, Oxford since it was founded in 1379. 

Spooner found a good home. He remained at New College for 60 years, lecturing on ancient history, philosophy (especially Aristotle’s Ethics) and divinity. He served as Warden from 1903 to 1924. 

Today, he is mostly remembered because of his unwanted fame as someone who frequently got his words mixed up.

The official Brief History of New College considers Spooner’s reputation to be unfair but not baseless. 

Evidence is sparse that Spooner ever said the many Spoonerisms attributed to him. Roy Harrod said that Spooner exceeded all the heads of Oxford and Cambridge he had known "having regard to his scholarship, devotion to duty, and wisdom." However, Warden Spooner was indeed sometimes absent-minded.

Among famous “Spoonerisms”:
  • He is said to have toasted “our queer dean” instead of “our dear Queen.”
  • At the pulpit, he was said to have called upon Jesus as a “shoving leopard” instead of a “loving shepherd.”
Spooner, while not taking kindly to his reputation, did admit to one Spoonerism. He was referring to the hymn “Conquering Kings Their Titles Take,” but said: “The Kinkering Congs Their Titles Take.”

Another Spoonerism is authenticated. Discussing the impact of “the rate of wages,” Spooner is quoted as saying: “The weight of rages will press hard upon the employer.”

Other quotations have been attributed to Spooner in his obituaries and in collections of his sayings:
  • “It’s roaring with pain” for “it’s pouring with rain.” 
  • “That’s just a lack of pies” for “pack of lies.” 
  • They have a “plaster man” to overcome the problem, for “master plan.”
  • "It is kisstomary to cuss the bride" (...customary to kiss the bride).
  • ”I am tired of addressing beery wenches" (weary benches)
  • "Mardon me padam, this pie is occupewed. Can I sew you to another sheet?" (Pardon me, madam, this pew is occupied. Can I show you to another seat?)
  • "You have hissed all my mystery lectures, and were caught fighting a liar in the quad. Having tasted two worms, you will leave by the next town drain" (You have missed all my history lectures, and were caught lighting a fire in the quad. Having wasted two terms, you will leave by the next down train).
Other absent-minded behavior has been authenticated. He was said to have invited a don to tea, "to welcome Stanley Casson, our new archaeology Fellow". "But, sir," the man replied, "I am Stanley Casson". "Never mind," Spooner said, "Come all the same.” 

He also said:
  • "Was it you or your brother who was killed in the Great War?" 
  • "He came to a sad end—eaten by missionaries!" 
Democrat presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson used a Spoonerism in 1952. Rev. Norman Vincent Peale objected to Stevenson’s having divorced his wife several years earlier. Stevenson responded: “I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the Apostle Peale appalling.”


Hayter, William. Spooner: A Biography. London: W.H. Allen, 1977.

Marlin, John Tepper. "New College," Oxford College Arms. Boissevain Books, 2020, 4th ed., p. 58.

New College, Oxford. The 'Brief History of The College. Says Dr. Spooner "almost certainly never uttered a 'Spoonerism,' but equally certainly had a number of curious verbal traits."

Monday, June 29, 2020

VIEWS | 270K—Ten Most-Read in June

Page views for this Oxbridge Pursuivant blog just passed 270,000. 

Thank you for reading. 

Here are the top ten most-viewed posts during the past month (i.e., June 2020). #1 was a post on Oxford during World War II. #2 was on one of the two Oxonians in the race for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States—Mayor Peter Buttigieg (see 2nd item below). The other was Senator Cory Booker, about whom I will write.
HITLER: Why Didn't He Bomb Oxford? (26K Views, Aug...
Jun 8, 2013, 3 comments
OXONIAN | Mayor Pete Buttigieg
May 11, 2019
OXFORD UNION | Tony Schwartz, November 4, 2016, "T...
Jan 28, 2019
RHODES MUST FALL | Oriel College, Oxford to Remove...
Jun 21, 2020
HERALDRY: Superlink
Nov 22, 2015
R.I.P. | Robert L. Schuettinger (Exeter and Christ...
Sep 14, 2018, 1 comment
BOAT RACE: Dinners 2015
Mar 1, 2015
OXFORD COLLEGE ARMS | Index to 4th ed.
May 10, 2020
HERALDRY: Oxford Stars (Updated May 26, 2019)
Nov 21, 2014, 2 comments
OXBURGH HALL | Visit to the Bedingfeld Home
Sep 21, 2018

Sunday, June 21, 2020

RHODES MUST FALL | Oriel College, Oxford to Remove Rhodes Statue

A statue of Cecil Rhodes in Capetown being
removed to an undisclosed location. 
June 21, 2020—The shocking killing of George Floyd has had global implications. The long-time "Rhodes Must Fall" campaign for the removal of statues to Cecil Rhodes has been reenergized.

Here's the best discussion I have seen on how to evaluate monuments to past heroes. Were they working, within the constraints of their time, for a better world?

Rhodes had a dream of a "Capetown to Cairo" British Empire in Africa. He helped realize that dream and had two countries named after him for many decades—Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, and Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. He created the famed Rhodes Scholarships to Oxford, won by such American political successes as the late Senators Richard Lugar (Univ College, Oxford) and William Fulbright (Pembroke College, Oxford), and President Bill Clinton (Univ College, Oxford).

The Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) campaign looks at his achievements through the lens of his attitude and behavior toward black Africans. The RMF campaign was successful in Capetown, South Africa, where the statue of Rhodes was lifted from its pedestal. However, the campaign to remove a statue of Rhodes at Oriel College, Oxford came to a screeching halt in 2015 when several alumni threatened to end their giving to Oriel if it acceded to the demands of the campaigners. (Shameless self-promotion: This is covered on page 63 of the 4th edition of Oxford College Arms.)

At the time, the RMF banner was not one that the Oriel Provost wanted, in the end, to fight for. The resolution at the time appeared reasonable, balancing the importance of keeping historical valuable monuments while facing up to the moral or other shortcomings of people who were once lionized.

What a difference the video of Floyd's killing has made! On June 9, a thousand RMF protesters descended on Oriel College. On June 17, the governing body of Oriel College voted to remove the statue to its alumnus, Cecil Rhodes. The next day (the 78th birthday of Sir Paul McCartney), Husayn Kassai, founder of the verification company Onfido, revealed that he promised to replace any funding commitments withdrawn by "racist" alumni donors who object to the removal of the memorial to Rhodes.

Back in the United States, even the statue of Oxford alumnus Robert Moses is being threatened. That would have been unthinkable by most people before his principal biographer, Robert Caro, famously (in The Power Broker) documented the man's aggregation of power and his use of it to preserve public spaces for relatively well off people. Moses was a New York City Parks Commissioner for 26 years. He built parks and parkways all over New York City and Long Island. He used his power to promote the automobile and higher-income residents. For example, he built bridges on his parkway with low clearance, to prevent busloads of poor people coming to use his park.

There is a Rhodes connection to Moses. After Yale, Moses went to Oxford (Wadham College), graduating with a degree in jurisprudence in 1911. He was not, of course,  himself a Rhodes Scholar, but he had strong opinions about Rhodes Scholars. The new campaign to remove his statue in Babylon gives new meaning to Paul Robeson's rendition of Go Down Moses.

Removing a desanctified statue poses new problems. If it goes to a museum, and other monuments follow, the museum could become a shrine for fans, or another flashpoint, or both. A statue of (Roman Catholic) James II that was dumped in a nearby river was rescued; the metal was cleverly "repurposed" to make bells for the Anglican church.

Meanwhile, Oriel has formed a Commission to make a recommendation by the end of 2020. Permission or signoff will be needed from English Heritage, as the Rhodes Building at Oriel is listed Grade II. (Meanwhile, what about Rhodes House? It's hard to disentangle the Rhodes Scholarships from the man who created them.)