Friday, August 11, 2017

BIRTH: Laurence Binyon, Who Wrote "For the Fallen"

Laurence Binyon
August 11, 2017 – Today is the birthday of poet and playwright Laurence Binyon, born to a Quaker family in Lancaster, England in 1869.  His 150th birthday will be in 2019.

Binyon studied at St Paul's School, London and came up to Trinity College, Oxford as a Scholar in 1888. He read Classics and published his first book of poems as an undergraduate. He won the Newdigate Prize for poetry in 1891.

His first job after taking his degree in 1893 was working for the Department of Printed Books of the British Museum, writing catalogues for the museum and art monographs. His first book, Dutch Etchers of the Seventeenth Century, was published in 1895. In 1913, he was made the Keeper of the new Sub-Department of Oriental Prints and Drawings.

During the pre-war period in London, he helped form Modernism by bringing East Asian visual art and literature to young Imagist poets such as Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington and H.D.  His group, which often met at the Wiener CafĂ©, included Edmund Dulac, Lucien Pissarro, Charles Ricketts, Sir William Rothenstein, and Walter Sickert.

On the death of the Poet Laureate Alfred Austin, in 1913, Binyon was among those mentioned as a likely successor, along with Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and John Masefield. Robert Bridges was the winner of the position.

Moved by the high number of casualties of the British Expeditionary Force in the Great War, in 1914 Laurence Binyon wrote "For the Fallen" when he was visiting the cliffs on the north Cornwall coast. Binyon knew Flanders well and was deeply affected by the losses suffered in the early weeks of the Great War. Written only a surprisingly few weeks after the conflict started, "For the Fallen" was published in The Times on September 21, 1914. His prescient words had an immediate impact on the nation’s feelings about the war, as when the poem was published, Britain was mourning its losses in the Battle of Marne. Unfortunately these feelings did not halt the carnage in the trenches.

Within the poem is the "Ode of Remembrance" – an excerpt from the poem,  either the third and fourth stanzas (out of the seven stanzas in the poem) or simply the fourth, starting "They shall grow not old...". Today, "For the Fallen" or the shorter "Ode" is often recited at Remembrance Sunday services in the UK; at Anzac Day services in Australia and New Zealand, and Remembrance Day services in Canada:
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe. 
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
At centennial remembrances of World War I in 2016, Professor Michael Alexander (Trinity, Oxford 1959), former Berry Professor of English at the University of St Andrews, spoke about Binyon.  He noted that Binyon retired from the British Museum in 1933, and the same year was elected to an Honorary Fellowship at Trinity. Pinyon continued writing and lecturing; in 1939 he delivered the Romanes Lectures, on "Art and Freedom". He died in 1943 at 73. His excellent presentation, which elucidates classical references in Binyon's poems, starts on page 29 of the Trinity College Report.

Poetry Foundation biography

Saturday, August 5, 2017

LIBRARIES: World's Greatest

Duke Humfrey's Library, the oldest Reading Room
 at the Bodleian, in Oxford.
What are the greatest libraries in the world?

The head of the Bodleian at Oxford once said in a speech I attended that the five greatest libraries are in New York City (the New York Public Library), Washington, D.C. (the Library of Congress), London (the British Library), Oxford (the Bodleian), and Paris (the Bibliothèque Nationale). I have library cards for all five of these libraries.👍

Size. Wikipedia says, and I dispute, that the NY Public Library's 53 million books rank it the third-largest cataloged collection in the world after the Library of Congress (more than 160 million items) and the British Library (more than 150 million items). 

If Archives Canada in Ottawa is correctly listed as having 54 million volumes or items, then Ottawa ranks third and NYPL only fourth in the world in collection size – still not shabby for the NYPL. Russia (Moscow Library) is at 44 million items and France (Bibliothèque National) has 40 million items and therefore ranks 6th.

A spokesperson at the Library of Congress told me when I visited in 2016 that libraries disagree on how to count items other than book volumes. The British Library allegedly counts some individual stamps as items equivalent to a book, whereas the Library of Congress combines stamps into albums.

Usability. I would rank the Weston Library, the main reading room of the Bodleian, as the most accessible, followed by the NY Public Library main building, behind the two lions ( The NY Public Library is surely the most used, with annual visitors of 10-18 million (depending on how you count). In second place, at 1.7 million people per year, are the British Library and Library of Congress.

To my mind there is no question that the Bibliothèque Nationale is the most difficult of the five greatest libraries to use, certainly for someone pressed for time. The first day at this library is consumed by paperwork and walking from place to place through fortress-like gates and passageways. It may have just been my bad luck, but I don't think so. have commented on this (

Most Beautiful. Two sites seem to focus on the sheer beauty of the libraries. One list is at, which posts a list of great libraries of the world ( in the hope that you will book a tour of them! Two of the libraries on their list are among the great libraries of the world I have listed above, the Bodleian and the New York Public Library. The three World-Class Libraries that are missing from their list are the Library of Congress (oversight!), the British Library (oversight!) and the Bibliothèque Nationale.

The other list of the most beautiful libraries is by a Huffington Post writer ( It includes only one of the five great world-class libraries, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, which is (yes) a great collection, but, as I have noted, can be a nightmare to try to use. So I take it that this list is for looking at the architecture and not the contents.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

HONG KONG | 20 Years After the British Departed

Chris Patten, the Last Governor of Hong Kong,
20 years ago.
July 1, 2017—On this day in 1997, Hong Kong reverted back to Chinese rule in a ceremony attended by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Prince Charles, plus Chinese President Jiang Zemin and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The 28th British Governor presided over the taking down of the Union Jack at midnight. He was Chris Patten, now Lord Patten of Barnes and Chancellor of Oxford University.

The original unfurling of the British flag was not peaceful. In 1839, Britain invaded China and occupied Hong Kong, then a sparsely inhabited island off the coast of southeast China. Two years later, China ceded the island to the British in the Convention of Chuenpi. The year after that, the Treaty of Nanking ended the First Opium War.

Lord Patten of Barnes.
Britain’s new colony flourished as an East-West trading center and as the commercial gateway and distribution center for southern China. In 1898, Britain was granted an additional 99 years of rule over Hong Kong under the Second Convention of Peking.

In September 1984, after years of negotiations, the British and the Chinese signed a formal agreement approving the 1997 turnover of the island in exchange for a Chinese pledge to preserve Hong Kong’s capitalist system.

On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was peaceably handed over to China in a ceremony attended by numerous Chinese, British, and international dignitaries. The chief executive under the new Hong Kong government, Tung Chee Hwa, announced a policy based on the concept of “one country, two systems,” to preserve Hong Kong’s role as a capitalist center in Asia.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

VIEWS: 220K. Top 10 Most-Read Posts

Keep calm and read my blog.

Thank you for reading my Oxford blog. 

As of June 25, 2017 it has had more than 220,000 page views (two million views for all my blogs).

More than 10% of the Oxford blog views were directed at one post, which seeks answers to the question: "Why Didn't Hitler Bomb Oxford?"

The subjects of the other nine posts were: boat races, heraldry, biographies/obits and Oxford colleges in fiction. Please keep reading and send comments to

HITLER: Why Didn't He Bomb Oxford? (23K Views, Jun...
Jun 8, 2013, 3 comments
OXFORD IN FICTION: Top Six Fictional Colleges (Upd...
Jul 2, 2016
SUMMER EIGHTS: May 19-27, 2017
Jan 31, 2017
HERALDRY: Oxford Stars (Updated Feb. 24, 2017)
Nov 21, 2014, 2 comments
BOAT RACE: Dinners 2015
Mar 1, 2015
THERESA MAY: Time at Oxford (Updated Oct. 29, 2016...
Jul 27, 2016
R.I.P.: July 11–Oxonian John Brademas, NYU Preside...
Jul 25, 2016
BRITISH PMs: Universities Attended (Updated Aug. 1...
Jul 14, 2016
HERALDRY: Douglas, Moray, de Vere (Updated Mar 24,...
Nov 23, 2014, 2 comments
10 R.I.P.: Geoffrey Hill, Oxford Poet
Jul 2, 2016

Thursday, May 11, 2017

ARMS: Jesus College, Oxford

Jesus College Coat of Arms
Blazon: Vert three stags trippant argent attired or. The JCR website has the arms displayed correctly according to this blazon, except for one thing. "Attired" refers to the antlers only. The golden hooves are not in the blazon, which for that should include the words "and unguled" (hooved) before the last word, or.

Nominee. The coat of arms, in some form, belongs to Bishop Thomas Rotherham. It matches the arms in Rotherham's dining-hall portrait in neighboring Lincoln College, which he is credited with founding.  The Lincoln College coat of arms includes the three stags in the sinister section of its tripartite-in-pale shield. In the absence of evidence that Rotherham founded Jesus College, Oxford, the puzzle is: What are Rotherham's three attired stags doing up there adorning Jesus College?

Founder. Jesus College was in fact founded in 1571 by Elizabeth I, who issued a royal charter to that effect. It was the first Protestant college founded at Oxford, and the only one dating from Elizabeth's reign. Its full name is: "Jesus College in the University of Oxford of Queen Elizabeth's Foundation."

Origin of the Jesus Arms.  The earliest depiction of the Jesus arms is believed to be about 1590, in a document held by the College of Arms, referring to the stags as having a blue (azure) field, but Peter Donoghue, Bluemantle Pursuivant, reports the arms were more likely added 90 years later, on John Speed’s 1605 Map of Oxfordshire, with a blue field. The green field first appeared in 1619 in an armorial quarry painted by one of the Van Linge brothers, and was generally used by 1730, although horizontal hatchings (indicating azure) were still used on college bookplates as late as 1761. Here are the theories:
  • It has been claimed that Jesus "stole" the three stags from Lincoln, much as a series of Trinity men from the Eldon family have feasted on deer from the Magdalen College deer park. The counter-argument is that the origins of the two Rotherham arms are distinct. Former Lincoln College Rector Paul Langford has suggested that Jesus College continued the arms adopted by a theological college founded by Rotherham in his home town – Jesus College, Rotherham – which had been suppressed in the time of Edward VI. This does not explain what Rotherham contributed to the founding of Jesus College, Oxford other than leasing out a building to the College for a fee. 
  • Another theory is that the stags derive from the arms of Maud Green, Lady Parr, mother of Catherine Parr, last of the six wives of Henry VIII and stepmother to Elizabeth I, the Founder. 
  • The most likely story is that the arms of the College are indeed those of Bishop Rotherham, and were assigned to Jesus College by mistake, when John Speed prepared his famed map of Oxford. Speed must have seen the arms on Lawrence Hall, Ship Street, which was given to Rotherham in 1476 and was leased to Jesus College in 1572. Speed must have taken the landlord's arms to be those of the College when drawing his map in 1605, a quarter-century after the arms of Lincoln College were confirmed by Lee, Portcullis Pursuivant.
Anecdotes. Lincoln and Jesus are neighbors on Turl Street ("the Turl"), of which the joke is often told: "Q. How is the Church of England like the Turl?" "A. It runs from the High to the Broad and it has Jesus." An American tourist is said to have entered Jesus College after the Civil War and asked the porter: "Say, is this Lincoln?" To which the porter replied: "You aren't the first person, sir, to confuse Lincoln with Jesus."

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

SUMMER VIIIS: Oxford College Boat Club Dinners

I received the following note from the President of the Trinity College Boat Club, as an alumnus of the college.

Other college boat clubs have dinners that night. Your college link is probably located here. What to wear to a Boat Club Dinner?

Dear All,

The Annual Boat Club Dinner is on the Saturday of Summer VIIIs, 27 May. The deadline for responses is Friday, 19 May.

If you would like to attend, please reply to the Club’s secretary, Emily Davenport ( A booking form can be found here.

I very much hope to see you then.

Best wishes,

Rob Jones 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

BIRTH | May 4: Horace Mann, Advocate for Public Education

May 4, 2017—This day was born in 1796 Horace Mann, is called the father of American public education. He said:
"Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark, all is deluge." 
Born in Franklin, Massachusetts, in 1796, he grew up poor, but he made full use of the local library founded by his town's namesake, Benjamin Franklin. 

Brown University accepted him as a sophomore at 20 years of age. He graduated in three years and was named  class valedictorian.

Elected to the state legislature in 1827, he was appointed secretary of the State's Board of Education when Massachusetts created it in 1837. He used the position, which had little budget attached, to inspect every school in the state and publish annual reports advocating a common school education,  i.e., a basic tax-funded education for all children. He established the concept of a "normal" state school, taking on those who believed all schools should have a religious orientation.

Elected to the U.S. Congress in 1848, after the death of John Quincy Adams, he spoke out in Congress against slavery, and wrote in a letter:
"I think the country is to experience serious times. Interference with slavery will excite civil commotion in the South. But it is best to interfere. Now is the time to see whether the Union is a rope of sand or a band of steel."
When he left politics, he moved to Ohio to become president of Antioch College. He told a graduating class, two years before his death:
"I beseech you to treasure up in your hearts these my parting words. Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."