Wednesday, May 09, 2018

A. L. Rowse on Georgian Oxford

As part of my preparation to return to Oxford I am refreshing my knowledge of the place, including reading A. L. Rowse’s Oxford in the History of the Nation.  It is an openly opinionated book, and I may remark more on that aspect at a later time.  And Rowse’s opinions rub me the wrong way here and there.  But I was glad to see we agree on 18th century Oxford:

…of course the ‘torpor’ of Georgian Oxford was greatly exaggerated by nineteenth-century reformers. . . .

The fact was that the facilities for work and cultivation of the mind were there for anyone to make use of who wished – and remarkable men always learn more on their own than from dons, except for occasional tutors of exceptional gifts….

And his chapter on the period goes on to praise other aspects of 18th century Oxford, particularly the new buildings such as the Radcliffe Camera.

Back to how best to learn, my issue is not so much with tutors as my tutor in 2007 is one of the best, and in hindsight a good tutor in 2011 would have kept me from becoming stagnant.  But the pressure to write, write, write to prove, prove, prove one’s learning is my main complaint.  And we can blame the 19th century reforms for the proliferation of written examinations in Oxford.  I am unsure of the origin of weekly essays in the tutorial system.  (Can anyone inform or link me on that?)

Now there has to be a good amount in writing in a well-rounded education, and the process of organizing and writing down one’s thoughts itself teaches.  And learning is of limited use if one does not also learn to express and apply it.  But at some point, writing can devour reading, listening, and learning.  I admit this becomes more of an issue for older students with limited energy.  (Sometimes, I wonder how I did all I did as an undergraduate!)

But enough whinging.  I am thankful that, God willing, I will get learn on my own at Oxford in 18th century fashion, often in monumental 18th century buildings, without pressure to write.  With Rowse, I see the advantages of that.

But, of course, I intend to write and edify here.  I can’t forget my readers.

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