29 NOVEMBER 1968, Page 8

How Master Fuller won the Day

PERSONAL COLUMN MERCURIUS OXONIENSIS Being a Second Letter to Mercurius Londiniensis


I have stayed my pen this se'nnight till I might report to you the issue of our great Poetry contest; which is now over, and your Mr Roy Fuller, the attorney, crowned victor, to the great satisfaction of all who love the Muses. But before coming to that I must clear some doubts left in the postscript of my last letter, concerning student stirs.

What I writ about the revolution in Balliol Coll. is, alas, too true. The late Master was hustled to his grave at midnight, very obscurely: no Heads of Houses present, as fearing the like treatment; but the Warden of All Souls, who since the siege of his coll. has kept close in his lodgings (now new-fortified), is busy about a Latin epitaph. The Proctors have forgiven the young men who hanged their Master, as doubtless ignorant of the statutes against murther. Master Cobb, the Ranter, now rules the roast in that coll., at least until he shall dissent from the Fanaticks, who will then haply treat him likewise; but meanwhile he trots to their tune, as will appear, even in this matter of the Poetry Chair.

For of late the undergraduates have claimed a voice in this election. They complain that

since they who must listen to the Profes- sor's lectures, they should in justice choose him rather than submit to one imposed upon 'em by the cabals of their seniors; which com- plaint, though of a piece with their epidemick insolency, would have some colour of reason to it, were their own motives any purer. So they presumed to have their own election and then, through their coryphaeus Cobb, entered their chosen candidate for our race. But here their reason deserted 'em, for the candidate they put forward was one Eugenius Eutychi- anus, a Tartar from Muscovy, who speaks no English, save what jargon he may have picked up in the Antipodes (for his masters send him abroad as a decoy-duck), and whose poems are all locked up in the Sclavonian language, un- known to his silly patrons. But omne ignotum pro magnifico, and so the young geese have run cackling after this Muscovy-duck, and Master Cobb, an old gander, creaks behind 'em.

This Eugenius, I hear, is a good patriot but a mighty dissembler, who abroad declaims odes to Liberty but at home writes panegyrics on the conquest of Bohemia and diatribes against the domestick enemies of his Prince; which gets him credit both here and there. Having pitched upon him, his promoters put forth to all resi- dent Masters of Arts a peremptory paper, as from 700 senior and junior gownsmen (but no names given) bidding them elect their Eugenius or the whole Academy should stand convicted before the world of vulgar and narrow patriotism : which, it seems, is commendable only in a Muscovite. But now they are all routed and we shall hear no more of this Children's Crusade.

There have been other motions no less ex- centrique. There was a jovial Welsh harpist who bath writ (like the Tartar) only in his own tongue and who, 'twas thought, might pick up a few votes in Jesus coll., besides what he brought with him in a merry symposiack party. Also a young man from Newcastle-upon- Tyne, the first in the field, who farts in Pindarick metre, and a thrasonical young up- start from the Plantations who as yet bath not even farted (but that climate breeds impertinency). Some of the preciser sort among us would find means to exclude such as these two, as degrading our honourable chair into a close-stool; but 'tis not necessary : they ex- clude themselves on polling day, as the score testifies. There was one Scotsman, from Edin- burgh, who intruded himself into this contest, and for whom not one vote was cast, not even by his own nominators, who, it seems, had repented of their nomination, thus declaring no less their levity than his insufficiency.

The great challenger was our own Mistress Starkie of Somerville coll., who, having managed many such elections in the past fifteen years, has by now built up an engine thought in- vincible. She has long been a beacon of light (flickering, not steady) in that coll., otherwise a dim place, She has bred up many pupils, whom she has fired with zeal for liberty, if not disorder, and by her agitating genius (she is an Hibernian, from Donegal) and her free hospitality (an unlicensed poteen-still in her bedroom), she has an army at her command, which she directs at will, sometimes for this or that candidate, sometimes; it seems, for diversion only, to make a noise. This time, her last candidate, Master Blunden, having left his post, she, as a stout general, sprang into the breach and rallied her broken cohorts with drum and trumpet. And indeed 'twas a brave sight to see her enter the lists with 227 sup- porters scratched together from bogs and nunneries; and all in terroretn only, for two would have sufficed, and few of these raw kerne and galloglass would be there at the fight.

Having thus declared war, she waged it briskly, setting up a scriptorium of busy, prag- matical letter-writers to solicit votes; but some- times, the pace being too hard for them all, she would herself descend into the arena; which, through lack of good order at head- quarters, bred confusion. One grave doctor re- ceived two letters of solicitation, one from the chief scribe, explaining that the generalissimo was too modest to write in her own behalf, the other from the generalissimo herself, her scribes being all now (as she thought) disabled by writer's cramp. She set agents awork in your city too, not graduates but ladies of ease and fashion, who have been very active, advis- ing their academick friends. But this Ama-

zonian strategy has not always prospered, so of our senatours supposing that they ha', minds, as well as votes, of their own and ca regulate the one by the other, without bein whipt to the poll by rattle-pated Sempronias Kensington.

And here I cannot but note that 'twas a error to appear in such strength at the begi, ning. 'Tis votes, not nominations, that win t day, and so extravagant a defiance quicke even us old college tortoises into opposit motion. Besides, a good jockey whips not h nag in the first furlong. 'Twould have be better to go to work more quietly than t make such a din and do Master Fuller's wor for him, who had but to sit still and be cam by his modesty and merits, to victory. Wi which sound moral reflexion I leave you. go brother Londiniensis, till events here in Oxo shall again sharpen my nib; when I shall n fail to advertise you.

Your loving brother to serve you,