Sunday, March 23, 2014

OXFORD: NY Times Travel Story

Trinity College Dining Hall High Table. Behind are
Portraits of Its Founder and Distinguished Alumni.
March 23, 2014–The story in the NY Times Travel section today about Oxford brings back great memories. It is written by the wife of a law professor on a sabbatical year in Oxford. She has a good sense of some of Oxford's attractions and picks a few highlights of cultural offerings in the city.

She starts with references to "Brideshead Revisited" and Christ Church and Inspector Morse, and continues with a selection of recent Oxford writers.

She recommends starting a visit with a view from the top of St. Mary the Virgin, "right smack dab in the middle of the action" on High Street. The NY Times photographer dutifully takes a photo of the "dreaming spires" from that location.

It's a fine horseback trip around Oxford, but I have a couple of quibbles as someone who spent two magical years at Trinity College.

First, the "middle" of Oxford for me was always Broad Street, "the Broad"–where the Bodleian and Sheldonian are, the Museum of the History of Science, Blackwell's multiple stores, the Tourist Information Center, and the blue gates of Trinity College, where for more than a quarter-century the Blue Badge Guild of Oxford Guides walking tours begin. (For access online to a huge range of tailored tours of Oxford, on foot or with transport, go here or here.)

The Broad was on the fringe of the original Oxford, and Trinity was outside the wall around Oxford that survives in parts on the opposite side of the Broad from Trinity. But scholars were residing at Trinity's predecessor college before 1291.

Second, the map that accompanies the story shows the college next door to Trinity at one end of the Broad and the Bodleian at the other, but not Trinity College. Trinity is important not just because Guild tours begin at its blue gates. It may be a small college in numbers. But it has a jewel of a chapel and for an American audience, Trinity alumni punch well above their weight:

  • Pitt the Elder helped get the French out (hurray!) and 
  • Lord North tried to get the colonies to pay for this (boo!); between them they had a lot to do with the American Revolution. 
  • Wilmington, Del. was named after Lord Wilmington, Britain's second Prime Minister and another Trinity alum. 
  • Three men of the Calvert family created Maryland. All attended Trinity–the first and second Lords Baltimore who claimed Maryland for Catholics, and the younger-brother Calvert who became Maryland's first Governor.
  • Viscount James Bryce was the British Ambassador to the United States in 1907-1913, in the run-up to World War I and he had something to do with getting the United States into the war "Over There".  
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, looking for an Oxford college for Gatsby to claim to have attended, picked Trinity. However, Gatsby doesn't show up on a list of Trinity alums.
  • Boat Race followers might like to know that two of the eight oarsmen on the Oxford crew this year are from Trinity College.

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