Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Walking round Catholic Literary Oxford

Yesterday I gave a walking tour on the theme of Catholic Literary Oxford. I had been asked to do this by my friends who run Second Spring Oxford, which organises a summer school on Catholic culture each year. Having been told that the participants, from the US and from Chile, were particularly interested in J.R.R. Tolkien we started at the Eagle and Child (the "Bird and Baby") where Tolkien used to meet with the other Inklings, including C.S.Lewis and Charles Williams, in the 1930s and 40s to discuss their literary interests.

From there we looked in at St John's College, the alma mater of St Edmund Campion, before moving on to Balliol, the college of Cardinal Manning (no mean wordsmith himself), Gerard Manley Hopkins and that somewhat problematical Catholic Graham Greene. Balliol was also the undergraduate college of Ronald Knox, who went on to become the Anglican chaplain of Trinity, which is next door, on the eve of the Great War. It was in those years that he established himself as a leading Anglo-Catholic preacher and was a great influence in the spiritual life of Harold Macmillan. It was not far away in the Sheldonian Theatre that Knox gave his final public address, the Romanes Lecture, a few weeks before his death.

Trinity is, of course, the undergraduate college of Bl. John Henry Newman, and we took time to visit the chapel and to look at the outside of one of the rooms he occupied there and also the modern memorial bust of him as a Cardinal in the grounds.

Across Broad Street is Exeter, the college originally intended for Newman, and that of Tolkien from 1911-15. From there we walked round to Radcliffe Square to look at Hertford, Evelyn Waugh's college, and to talk about the sources for characters in Bridehead Revisited .

We managed to get into the building site that is currently the interior of the St Mary's University Church to try to see the pulpit from which Newman preached before crossing the High to Oriel, where Newman was a Fellow from 1822 until 1845. This being my own college I was able to take the party inside to show them where he had lived, before going round to Merton, which also has Newman links, but which was Tolkien's base as Professor of English from 1945 until 1959.

By walking into Christ Church Meadow we could view Lewis's Magdalen to the east before going to look at the outside of the Catholic Chapliancy, home to Mgr Knox in the 1920s and 30s, and pointing out Campion Hall - partly funded by Waugh's biography of St Edmund - and Pembroke College where Tolkien was Professor of Anglo-Saxon from 1925-45.

In a relatively short time we were able to cover a good selection of places of interest and a variety of authors. I hope my audience enjoyed their morning, and I certainly enjoyed meeting them.

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