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February 18 , 2010

Oxford: City and University


These papers do not profess even to sketch the outlines of a history
of Oxford.  They are merely records of the impressions made by this
or that aspect of the life of the University as it has been in
different ages.  Oxford is not an easy place to design in black and
white, with the pen or the etcher's needle.  On a wild winter or late
autumn day (such as Father Faber has made permanent in a beautiful
poem) the sunshine fleets along the plain, revealing towers, and
floods, and trees, in a gleam of watery light, and leaving them once
more in shadow.  The melancholy mist creeps over the city, the damp
soaks into the heart of everything, and such suicidal weather ensues
as has been described, once for all, by the author of John-a-Dreams.
How different Oxford looks when the road to Cowley Marsh is dumb with
dust, when the heat seems almost tropical, and by the drowsy banks of
the Cherwell you might almost expect some shy southern water-beast to
come crashing through the reeds!  And such a day, again, is unlike
the bright weather of late September, when all the gold and scarlet
of Bagley Wood are concentrated in the leaves that cover the walls of
Magdalen with an imperial vesture.

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Our memories of Oxford, if we have long made her a Castle of
Indolence, vary no less than do the shifting aspects of her scenery.
Days of spring and of mere pleasure in existence have alternated with
days of gloom and loneliness, of melancholy, of resignation.  Our
mental pictures of the place are tinged by many moods, as the
landscape is beheld in shower and sunshine, in frost, and in the
colourless drizzling weather.  Oxford, that once seemed a pleasant
porch and entrance into life, may become a dingy ante-room, where we
kick our heels with other weary, waiting people.  At last, if men
linger there too late, Oxford grows a prison, and it is the final
condition of the loiterer to take "this for a hermitage."  It is well
to leave the enchantress betimes, and to carry away few but kind
recollections.  If there be any who think and speak ungently of their
Alma Mater, it is because they have outstayed their natural "welcome
while," or because they have resisted her genial influence in youth.

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