An Essay Picked by blupete

"Oxford" 1

Rome has been called the "Sacred City":-- might not our Oxford be called so too? There is an air about it, resonant of joy and hope: it speaks with a thousand tongues to the heart: it waves its mighty shadow over the imagination: it stands in lowly sublimity, on the "hill of ages"; and points with prophetic fingers to the sky: it greets the eager gaze from afar, "with glistering spires and pinnacles adorned," that shine with an internal light as with the lustre of setting suns; and a dream and a glory hover round its head, as the spirits of former times, a throng of intellectual shapes, are seen retreating or advancing to the eye of memory: its streets are paved with the names of learning that can never wear out: its green quadrangles breathe the silence of thought, conscious of the weight of yearnings innumerable after the past, of loftiest aspirations for the future: Isis babbles of the Muse, its waters are from the springs of Helicon, its Christ-Church meadows, classic, Elysian fields! -- We could pass our lives in Oxford without having or wanting any other idea -- that of the place is enough. We imbibe the air of thought; we stand in the presence of learning. We are admitted into the Temple of Fame, we feel that we are in the sanctuary, on holy ground, and "hold high converse with the mighty dead." The enlightened and the ignorant are on a level, if they have but faith in the tutelary genius of the place. We may be wise by proxy and studious by prescription. Time has taken upon himself the labour of thinking; and accumulated libraries leaves us leisure to be dull. There is no occasion to examine the buildings, the churches, the colleges, by the rules of architecture, to reckon up the streets, to compare it with Cambridge (Cambridge lies out of the way, on one side of the world) -- but woe to him who does not feel in passing through Oxford that he is in "no mean city," that he is surrounded with the monuments and lordly mansions of the mind of man, out vying in pomp and splendour the courts and palaces of princes, rising like an exhalation in the night of ignorance, and triumphing over barbaric foes, saying , "All eyes shall see me, and all knees shall bow to me!" -- as the shrine where successive ages came to pay their pious vows, and slake the sacred thirst of knowledge, where youthful hopes (and endless flight) soared to truth and good, and where the retired and lonely student brooded over historic or over fancy's page, imposing high tasks for himself, framing high destinies for man -- the lamp, the mine, the well-head from which the spark of learning was kindled, its stream flowed, its treasures were spread out through the remotest corners of the land and to distant nations. Let him then who is fond of indulging in a dream-like existence go to Oxford and stay there, let him study this magnificent spectacle, the same under all aspects with its mental twilight tempering the glare of noon, or mellowing the silver moonlight; let him wander in her sylvan suburbs, or linger in her cloistered halls; but let him not catch the din of scholars or teachers, or dine or sup with them, or speak a word to any of the privileged inhabitants; for if he does, the spell will be broken, the poetry and the religion gone, and the place of enchantment will melt from his embrace into thin air!

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NOTES:

1 Hazlitt's "Oxford" was first published in the London Magazine, No., 1823 and can be found reproduced in Selected Essays as edited by Geoffrey Keynes (London: Nonsuch Press, 1930).

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Peter Landry