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The “head,” as he is called generically, of an Oxford college (his specific appellation varies almost with every college– principal, provost, master, rector, warden, etc.), is a greater man than the uninitiated suppose. His situation is generally felt as conferring a degree of rank not much less than episcopal; and, in fact, the head of Brazennose at that time, who happened to be the Bishop of Bangor, was not held to rank much above his brothers in office. Such being the rank of heads generally, a fortiori, that of Christ Church was to be had in reverence; and this I knew. He is always, ex officio, dean of the diocese; and, in his quality of college head, he only, of all deans that ever were heard of, is uniformly considered a greater man than his own diocesan. But it happened that the present dean had even higher titles to consideration. Dr. Cyril Jackson had been tutor to the Prince of Wales (George IV.); he had repeatedly refused a bishopric; and that, perhaps, is entitled to place a man one degree above him who has accepted one. He was also supposed to have made a bishop, and afterwards, at least, it is certain that lie made his own brother a bishop. All things weighed, Dr. Cyril Jackson seemed so very great a personage that I now felt the value of my long intercourse with great Dons in giving me confidence to face a lion of this magnitude.

Those who know Oxford are aware of the peculiar feelings which have gathered about the name and pretensions of Christ Church; feelings of superiority and leadership in the members of that college, and often enough of defiance and jealousy on the part of other colleges. Hence it happens that you rarely find yourself in a shop, or other place of public resort, with a Christ-Church man, but he takes occasion, if young and frivolous, to talk loudly of the Dean, as an indirect expression of his own connection with this splendid college; the title of Dean being exclusively attached to the headship of Christ Church. The Dean, as may be supposed, partakes in this superior dignity of his “House;” he is officially brought into connection with all orders of the British aristocracy–often with royal personages; and with the younger branches of the aristocracy his office places him in a relation of authority and guardianship–exercised, however, through inferior ministry, and seldom by direct personal interference. The reader must understand that, with rare exceptions, all the princes and nobles of Great Britain, who choose to benefit by an academic education, resort either to Christ Church College in Oxford, or to Trinity College in Cambridge; these are the alternatives. Naturally enough, my young friends were somewhat startled at my determination to call upon so great a man; a letter, they fancied, would be a better mode of application. I, however, who did not adopt the doctrine that no man is a hero to his valet, was of opinion that very few men indeed are heroes to themselves. The cloud of external pomp, which invests them to the eyes of the attoniti cannot exist to their own; they do not, like Kehama, entering the eight gates of Padalon at once, meet and contemplate their own grandeurs; but, more or less, are conscious of acting a part. I did not, therefore, feel the tremor which was expected of a novice, on being ushered into so solemn a presence.


The Dean was sitting in a spacious library or study, elegantly, if not luxuriously furnished. Footmen, stationed as repeaters, as if at some fashionable rout, gave a momentary importance to my unimportant self, by the thundering tone of their annunciations. All the machinery of aristocratic life seemed indeed to intrench this great Don’s approaches; and I was really surprised that so very great a man should condescend to rise on my entrance. But I soon found that, if the Dean’s station and relation to the higher orders had made him lofty, those same relations had given a peculiar suavity to his manners. Here, indeed, as on other occasions, I noticed the essential misconception, as to the demeanor of men of rank, which prevails amongst those who have no personal access to their presence. In the fabulous pictures of novels (such novels as once abounded), and in newspaper reports of conversations, real or pretended, between the king and inferior persons, we often find the writer expressing his sense of aristocratic assumption, by making the king address people without their titles. The Duke of Wellington, for instance, or Lord Liverpool, figures usually, in such scenes, as “Wellington,” or “Arthur,” and as “Liverpool.” Now, as to the private talk of George IV. in such cases, I do not pretend to depose; but, speaking generally, I may say that the practice of the highest classes takes the very opposite course. Nowhere is a man so sure of his titles or official distinctions as amongst them; for, it is upon giving to every man the very extreme punctilio of his known or supposed claims, that they rely for the due observance of their own. Neglecting no form of courtesy suited to the case, they seek, in this way, to remind men unceasingly of what they expect; and the result is what I represent–that people in the highest stations, and such as bring them continually into contact with inferiors, are, of all people, the least addicted to insolence or defect of courtesy. Uniform suavity of manner is indeed rarely found, except in men of high rank. Doubtless this may arise upon a motive of self-interest, jealous of giving the least opening or invitation to the retorts of ill-temper or low breeding. But, whatever be its origin, such I believe to be the fact. In a very long conversation of a general nature upon the course of my studies, and the present direction of my reading, Dr. Cyril Jackson treated me just as he would have done his equal in station and in age. Coming, at length, to the particular purpose of my visit at this time to himself, he assumed a little more of his official stateliness. He condescended to say that it would have given him pleasure to reckon me amongst his flock; “But, sir,” he said, in a tone of some sharpness, “your guardians have acted improperly. It was their duty to have given me at least one year’s notice of their intention to place you at Christ Church. At present I have not a dog- kennel in my college untenanted.” Upon this, I observed that nothing remained for me to do but to apologize for having occupied so much of his time; that, for myself, I now first heard of this preliminary application; and that, as to my guardians, I was bound to acquit them of all oversight in this instance, they being no parties to my present scheme. The Dean expressed his astonishment at this statement. I, on my part, was just then making my parting bows, and had reached the door, when a gesture of the Dean’s, courteously waving me back to the sofa I had quitted, invited me to resume my explanations; and I had a conviction at the moment that the interview would have terminated in the Dean’s suspending his standing rule in my favor. But, just at that moment, the thundering heralds of the Dean’s hall announced some man of high rank: the sovereign of Christ Church seemed distressed for a moment; but then recollecting himself, bowed in a way to indicate that I was dismissed. And thus it happened that I did not become a member of Christ Church.