I was in Oxford today for a meeting at Queen’s and afterwards I walked briskly along Broad Street. The city was entrancing in the afternoon sunshine. It’s got so much lovely honey-coloured stone. I tried to take a panoramic sequence of Balliol as I sped along, rushing to catch a bus. The moral — as you can see from the result — is: never do panoramas in a hurry!
I love Balliol. It’s such an architectural jumble. I’m reminded of the story of Benjamin Jowett, the celebrated Master, coming out of the front gate and being confronted by some market stalls. He queried the price of some goods. The aggrieved stallholder protested to him that it was “impossible for an honest man to make a living, these days”. “Well, my good man”, said Jowett, “cheat as little as you can”.
I’d love to have known Jowett (though I am pretty sure the feeling would not have been reciprocated). He was a great reformer of Oxford traditions whose motto was “Never retreat. Never explain. Get it done and let them howl.” According to Wikipedia, a Balliol undergraduate described him in doggerel thus:
First come I. My name is Jowett.
There’s no knowledge but I know it.
I am the Master of this College,
What I don’t know isn’t knowledge.
Balliol used to be famous for producing graduates who ran the country (including a raft of British prime ministers, though not Tony Blair). Geoffrey Madam said that “at the top of every tree there is an arboreal slum of Balliol men”. In the 1930s it had a reputation as a haven for liberals. Evelyn Waugh and his reactionary friends once provoked a riot in an Oxford cinema by shouting “Well rowed, Balliol!” when a film showed a group of South American natives paddling briskly along in a dug-out canoe.