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It was in winter, and in the wintry weather of the year 1803, that I first entered Oxford with a view to its vast means of education, or rather with a view to its vast advantages for study. A ludicrous story is told of a young candidate for clerical orders–that, being asked by the bishop’s chaplain if he had ever “been to Oxford,” as a colloquial expression for having had an academic education, he replied, “No: but he had twice been to Abingdon:” Abingdon being only seven miles distant. In the same sense I might say that once before I had been at Oxford: but that was as a transient visitor with Lord W—-, when we were both children. Now, on the contrary, I approached these venerable towers in the character of a student, and with the purpose of a long connection; personally interested in the constitution of the university, and obscurely anticipating that in this city, or at least during the period of my nominal attachment to this academic body, the remoter parts of my future life would unfold before me. All hearts were at this time occupied with the public interests of the country. The “sorrow of the time” was ripening to a second harvest. Napoleon had commenced his Vandal, or rather Hunnish War with Britain, in the spring of this year, about eight months before; and profound public interest it was, into which the very coldest hearts entered, that a little divided with me the else monopolizing awe attached to the solemn act of launching myself upon the world. That expression may seem too strong as applied to one who had already been for many months a houseless wanderer in Wales, and a solitary roamer in the streets of London. But in those situations, it must be remembered, I was an unknown, unacknowledged vagrant; and without money I could hardly run much risk, except of breaking my neck. The perils, the pains, the pleasures, or the obligations, of the world, scarcely exist in a proper sense for him who has no funds. Perfect weakness is often secure; it is by imperfect power, turned against its master, that men are snared and decoyed. Here in Oxford I should be called upon to commence a sort of establishment upon the splendid English scale; here I should share in many duties and responsibilities, and should become henceforth an object of notice to a large society. Now first becoming separately and individually answerable for my conduct, and no longer absorbed into the general unit of a family, I felt myself, for the first time, burthened with the anxieties of a man, and a member of the world.

Oxford, ancient mother! hoary with ancestral honors, time-honored, and, haply, it may be, time-shattered power–I owe thee nothing! Of thy vast riches I took not a shilling, though living amongst multitudes who owed to thee their daily bread. Not the less I owe thee justice; for that is a universal debt. And at this moment, when I see thee called to thy audit by unjust and malicious accusers–men with the hearts of inquisitors and the purposes of robbers–I feel towards thee something of filial reverence and duty. However, I mean not to speak as an advocate, but as a conscientious witness in the simplicity of truth; feeling neither hope nor fear of a personal nature, without fee, and without favor.

I have been assured from many quarters that the great body of the public are quite in the dark about the whole manner of living in our English universities; and that a considerable portion of that public, misled by the totally different constitution of universities in Scotland, Ireland, and generally on the continent, as well as by the different arrangements of collegiate life in those institutions, are in a state worse than ignorant (that is, more unfavorable to the truth)– starting, in fact, from prejudices, and absolute errors of fact, which operate most uncharitably upon their construction of those insulated statements, which are continually put forward by designing men. Hence, I can well believe that it will be an acceptable service, at this particular moment, when the very constitution of the two English universities is under the unfriendly revision of Parliament, when some roving commission may be annually looked for, under a contingency which I will not utter in words (for I reverence the doctrine of euphemismos), far worse than Cromwellian, that is, merely personal, and to winnow the existing corporation from disaffection to the state–a Henry the Eighth commission of sequestration, and levelled at the very integrity of the institution–under such prospects, I can well believe that a true account of Oxford as it is (which will be valid also for Cambridge) must be welcome both to friend and foe. And instead of giving this account didactically, or according to a logical classification of the various items in the survey, I will give it historically, or according to the order in which the most important facts of the case opened themselves before myself, under the accidents of my own personal inquiry. No situation could be better adapted than my own for eliciting information; for, whereas most young men come to the university under circumstances of absolute determination as to the choice of their particular college, and have, therefore, no cause for search or inquiry, I, on the contrary, came thither in solitary self- dependence, and in the loosest state of indetermination.