Tuesday, October 28, 2014

BOAT RACE: The First Race and History of the Boats 1829-1983

Artist's rendering of the first (?) Oxford boat, training for the
race against Cambridge, 1829. The boat uses wherry construction.
For the first Oxford-Cambridge race, Charles Merivale of Cambridge University wrote to Charles Wordsworth of Oxford University (a Harrow classmate) throwing down the gauntlet.

That historic letter has been lost to posterity, but we have two letters from Wordsworth.

The first is written two decades after the race. Now a bishop, and therefore someone whose veracity we can scarcely challenge, he claims credit for having provoked the challenge from Merivale - as he had the first Oxford-Cambridge cricket match two years before:
Not only was I one of the Oxford Crew in the first Inter-University Boat-Race in 1829, but the Race was entirely set up by me, owing to the fact that though I was myself at Christ Church, Oxford, my home was at Cambridge (my father being Master of Trinity), and I had a large acquaintance there, and some-times (especially in Easter vacations) was invited to pull in one of their boats, e. g. that of St John's, in which were the now Bishops, Selwyn and Tyrrell, and Charles Merivale the historian, all now vigorous and flourishing.
The second letter is Wordsworth's response to Merivale, which is datelined Cambridge because Wordsworth was staying with his father in Cambridge during his summer vacation. The letter is not as poetic as his uncle William would have crafted, but it does the job:
Cambridge, June 2nd [1829]
My dear Merivale, Thank you very much for your letter. Its impudence was unparalleled. I do not know which to admire most, its direct assertions or occult insinuations. The very supposition of my being in our boat here quite rejoiced you. Allow me to assure you of the truth of the report.
But this is not the only bone I have to pick with you. The sufficiently candid manner in which you talk 'of lasting us out'(!!!) amuses me so much, that I am ready to die with laughter whenever I think of it. My dear fellow, you cannot possibly know our crew, or you would not write in such an indiscreet manner. Allow me to enlighten you:
8. Staniforth (Christ Church Boat): 4 feet across the shoulders and as many through the chest (διαμπάξ). 

7. Moore (Christ Church Boat): 6 feet 1 inch; in all probability a relation of the giant whom the 'three rosy-cheeked schoolboys built up on the top of Helm Crag', so renowned for length and strength of limb.
6. Garnier (Worcester boat): splendid oar.
5. Toogood (Balliol Boat) - [Toogood] for you: but just the man for us.
4. Wordsworth (new oar): has neither words nor worth, action or utterance, etc. I only (row) right on; I tell you that that you yourselves do know.
3. Croft (Balliol Boat): no recommendation necessary.
2. Arbuthnot (Balliol Boat): strong as Bliss's best (Harrow beer).
1. Carter (St John's four-oar): 'potentior ictu fulmineo'. 

Thus far this letter was written three or four days ago in Popham's rooms, the infection of whose company must be my excuse for its saucy style. The fact is, our boat has been reduced to a considerable pickle, owing to some of our best oars not being able to pull, Stephen Davies's mismanagement, and one or two other minor considerations.
We have at last, however, got under way with a fixed crew, and matters are proceeding rather more swimmingly. You will see by the above list that our stroke has been changed. Our days at Henley will be Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Monday. Our uniform - black straw hats, dark blue striped jerseys, and canvas trousers: you must not abuse it, as Garnier and I were chosen to decide upon it. ... Now I think of it, you wished to know our boat. It is the old Balliol, built by Stephen Davies. This I am sure will please you. However I am still ready to take two to one.
With kind remembrance to all friends and brothers,
Believe me, My dear Merivale, Sincerely yours,
C. Wordsworth.
In all probability there will be a four-oar at Henley, too happy to be manned by a limb of the victorious Cambridge crew - but we shall meet at Henley before the day of the race and then I will let you know all about it.
History of the Boats

In the early years of the race, the drawings indicate the boats were wherries, with the sides of the boats well above the waterline. These were only slightly better performing than the workaday wherries that plied the ports of New York and London and still ply the Thames.

The first innovation was to use outriggers, which were invented first in 1828 and were perfected in the 1930s by Henry Clasper of Newcastle. These outriggers were still on wherries with keels and high sides - and fixed seats.

As of 1841, the Oxford and Cambridge boats still seem from etchings to look like wherries. Even so, some observers said that the Oxford boat was too flat-bottomed for the Thames at that point in the river.

The keel was perceived to be a drag on the boats and in 1844 Henry Clasper, again, came up with a boat design that put a smooth shell around a frame that did not have a keel. His design was perfected with a thin wooden skin around the frame in 1854 by Matt Taylor, and in 1856 his boats beat the competition and became the boat of choice.

In the 1860s the more familiar shells, with sides that are only a few inches above the water line and oarlocks that are set off from the side of the boat, may be seen in the etchings of the race.

But the seats were still fixed. Not until 1869 did someone come up with the idea of a sliding seat, allowing a much longer sweep of the oars and more effective use of the legs rather than just the arms. In 1873, the sliding seats were standard in the Oxford-Cambridge boat race.

Starting in 1874, many new innovations were proposed, notably by Michael F. Davis of Portland, Maine, who took out many patents for his innovations. He invented a swivel row-lock; out-rigger connector castings so that steel tubing could be used instead of solid iron rod; the three-tube rigger instead of the four-tube type; reduced friction seats; sliding seat with rigger; a modern type oar button; a roller bearing oar collar, and steering foot-stretchers.

But the main features of today's shell were in place for the Oxford-Cambridge boat race in 1873. At least one innovation was quashed in 1983 by FISA, which governs rowing races - the sliding rigger. The seat would be fixed but the rig would move. FISA used an economic reason for the ban, namely that the boats would become too expensive. In fact, however, a sliding rig might save a lot of money on construction of the shell and could be stored separately from the shell, saving huge amounts of space in the boat houses.

The other major innovation in the 20th century was the replacement of a wood shell with composite (some form of fiber glass) starting in 1972. This had the practical benefit of reducing the weight of the shell from an average of 38 pounds per rower to 25 pounds - a huge relief for lighter weight rowers.

The issue of the cost of shells is not trivial, especially for rowing in schools. As a point of reference, Dutch students were still rowing in eight-oared wherries in 1913. (See photo.) When the Dutch became serious about rowing in the 1930s, they invested heavily in the latest equipment and in 1936 during the year of the famous Olympic Games built a closed course, at Bosbaan outside of Amsterdam that has been used for many competitive races.

New boats for the second class of the five-year HBS-B in Amsterdam, April 1913. The arrow points to my second-cousin Tom de Booy in the middle boat, second from left, named Woelwater. It was a festive presentation with new flags.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

AMERICAN OXONIAN: 2014, Spring–Swan Song (Updated Dec. 21, 2015)

Spring 2014 issue just out. Worth reading!
Oct. 22, 2014–I just received my Spring 2014 issue of The American Oxonian, a 152-page book crammed with interesting information.

The alumni quarterly is sent to all Rhodes Scholars plus other Oxonians who pay annual dues of $50. The annual directory includes all Rhodes Scholars, plus the other Oxonians who subscribe. (The directory is extremely useful. It would be even more useful if it included all American Oxonians.)

The Centennial Year of The American Oxonian was a tour de force, and this issue is the swan song or farewell issue for outgoing editor Todd Breyfogle, who must be exhausted from his effort putting out this publication. The last paragraph of his introduction to the last issue reads:
It has been a great and humbling privilege to have been the editor of our collective autobiography, to have been custodian of a time of that interior dialogue of higher responsibility. There are, alas, obituaries and articles unwritten, opportunities missed, conversations that I would like to have pursued. But most of all, I'm grateful for the gift of a constant, sometimes nagging, demand to reflect – in such remarkable company – on what it means to learn, and what it means to live.
This final issue under his editorship is well worth taking time to peruse. I will discuss three articles. Regarding the first one, the outgoing editor says:
Rhodes Scholars, like most if not all high-achieving professionals, have a substantially higher incidence of suicide.
1. "The Incomprehensible." This brave and helpful. Patrick Shea (Utah and New College '70) tells about the impact on him in his last term at Oxford of finding out that his stockbroker father had just committed suicide. Apparently his father entrusted much of his savings to a group of Canadian con men who bought up penny stocks in Utah, recruited two Utah State football stars to front for them, and unloaded the stocks on his father and his father's customers. It was not a victimless crime. Patrick Shea's father, uncle and grandfather all committed suicide both because of their own financial loss and because they had recommended the stock to customers. Writing 40 years later, Shea is still struggling with his feelings. He cites Durkheim and Freud and gives us a powerful paragraph on what's wrong with suicide as a way out:
Suicide is the ultimate egotistical step. The individual who commits suicide fails to recognize, does not want to recognize, or is incapable of recognizing the permanent, indelible scar he or she is leaving on those around him or her, friend, family, or stranger. The survivor's pain is unspeakable. It is as if a permanent question has been imprinted in one's psyche, which repeats itself daily, if not hourly. WHY would someone kill him or herself and hurt those around them? ...
2. "Raise Good Men." Christopher B. Howard (Texas and St. Anne's '91), President of the all-male Hampden-Sydney College, talks about the special problems of educating young men today. When I was a student, women were a minority. At Harvard, women were in the same classes but they were a minority, lived a segregated life and received a Radcliffe degree. This changed the year after I graduated, in 1963, but is indicative of the status of women at the time (the Class of 1962 has welcomed Radcliffe alums to our class reunions). It used to be that co-ed education was considered better for boys, but women benefited from all-girl schools because they had a chance to exercise leadership and excel. Today:
Boys are twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with an attention-deficit or learning disorder. They're likely to score worse on reading and writing tests, more likely to be held back, more likely to drop out of school, five times more prone to suicide, and sixteen times more likely to go to prison. In college, young men make up only a third of students in volunteering, studying abroad, using tutoring, or taking advantage of counseling or health services. They get lower grades and fewer honors than female counterparts. Currently women comprise 60 percent of the undergraduate college population, and we could soon reach a "70/30" female/male mix in the not so distant future.
These facts are from a book of essays published as What Works, published by Hampden-Sydney College. We may be at a point where the arguments used for single-sex education apply more to men than women.

3. "Honoring a Legend." John W. Kennedy, who is not an Oxonian but served as assistant to President of the Naval War College, then-Vice Admiral Stansfield Turner (Illinois and Exeter '47).  He writes to honor Professor John B. Hattendorf (Pembroke '73). It is a nice idea to honor people while they are still alive and can hear some nice things said about them! Kennedy describes a conference at All Souls earlier this year at which someone examined the tradition of requiring others to dip their flag at sea out of respect to the British Navy and dated it back as far as 1293. But not till Edward III took the throne – and the inclusion of Scotland in Great Britain and the St. Andrew's cross in the Union Jack took effect independent of who was on the throne in Scotland – did it became an offense not to dip the flag to the Union Jack in the English Channel. The first Anglo-Dutch war in the 17th century was initiated by such an offense. Dipping the flag has now devolved as friendly gestures between armed vessels.

The rest of the issue is composed of:
  • A reprint of a speech at the Chicago Boat Club Dinner.
  • An illuminating article about Rhodes Scholars in a 1947 issue of Pathfinder.
  • Photos and stamps "from the Archives" featuring the image of Cecil Rhodes.
  • An 1896 article about the exploitation of the riches of southern Africa by the British, especially the Cape Colony by Cecil Rhodes.
  • Book Reviews, Class Letters, Obituaries (of which I wrote two, on George Goodman and Peter Darrow). 
On p. 131 are two postcards showing "college crests". They should be described as "college shields". I refer you to another post on that topic.

A measure of the achievement of an editor is the quality of his or her successor, who is Kathrin Day Lassila, a 1982 matriculant at Trinity College, Oxford (20 years after I was at the college).  She was elected a Rhodes Scholar from Iowa and Yale. From 2003 to 2014 she was editor of the Yale Alumni Magazine, with a circulation of 130,000, and is President of the Ivy League Magazine Network.

To subscribe to The American Oxonian, send an email to amsec@rhodesscholar.org or send a $50 check to AARS, 8229 Boone Boulevard, Suite 240, Vienna, VA 22182.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

CLERIHEWS: Invented by an Oxonian (7 new ones here)

1. Edmund Clerihew Bentley,
Ever so gently,
Did what he had to do,
And invented the clerihew.
Edmund Clerihew Bentley was born in 1875 in London. He was an original thinker. His first mystery book was Trent's Last Case, published in 1913, in which the detective hero comes up with brilliant solutions to cases... that alas turn out to be wrong.

At 16 years of age at St. Paul's School, England, before going up to Merton College, Oxford, Bentley invented the "clerihew," a collection of which appears in his first book, Biography for Beginners (1905).

A clerihew is a potted biography. The orthodox form is two rhyming couplets, the first rhyme provided by the name of a famous person. The verse form was invented by Bentley and was picked up by G.K. Chesterton and W.H. Auden (who of course tried everything).

The clerihews most venerated are the shortest. The seven numbered clerihews are mine.  I am sometimes stumped for a rhyme to a name and I cheat by adding some words to the name in the first line, making it easier to find a rhyme.

2. The elder William Pitt,
Dreamt of empire, fully Brit.
The French at first he chased away,
But later they aided the USA.

3. George the Third
Liked tea taxes, absurd.
The colonies had a swift revolt.
What was he thinking? The dolt!

4. Frederick Lord North
Sent tax collectors forth.
Boston rebels made them swim.
How could he have been so dim?

5. George Washington thought that he was done.
When Yorktown got the Brits on the run.
But wise folk flew to his residence,
And begged him be first of our Presidents.

Here's one inspired by a comment last year from Wendell Fitzgerald (to whom I give a tip of the hat):

6. Henry George's plea
Was a tax, or a rental fee,
To cut tenants free
Of serfdom's poverty.

Here are classic examples.

The first-ever clerihew was written about Sir Humphry Davy by Bentley while at St. Paul's School.

Sir Humphry Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

Here's another by Bentley:

John Stuart Mill,
By a mighty effort of will,
Overcame his natural bonhomie
And wrote Principles of Political Economy.

Auden's Literary Graffiti includes:

Sir Henry Rider Haggard
Was completely staggered
When his bride-to-be
Announced, "I am She!"

A clerihew was written by the students of Sherborne School in England about their alumnus Alan Turing, the founder of computing. Turing was at King's College, Cambridge before going to  Princeton University and becoming attached to Einstein's Institute for Advanced International Studies before he was brought to the Bletchley Park code-breaking group during World War II.

Must have been alluring
To get made a don
So early on.

To which I offer a petulant alternative:

7. Turing at Bletchley, says lore,
Broke Nazi code in the war.
But his nation looked away...
As he agonized for being gay.

A clerihew much appreciated by chemists is cited in Dark Sun by Richard Rhodes, and describes the inventor of the thermos bottle (or Dewar flask):

Sir James Dewar
Is smarter than you are -
None of you asses
Can liquefy gases.

In 1983, Games Magazine ran a contest titled "Do You Clerihew?" The winning entry was:
Did Descartes
With the thought
"Therefore I'm not"?

I have specialized in clerihews of children's book writers and illustrators. Feel free to use any of my clerihews but please acknowledge and inform me of each use (teppermarlin [at] aol [dot] com).

Oxford bios. More clerihews, about children's book writers. Other clerihews: Millay.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

OXFORD: Why Does Leeds Lead For Media Pros?

How the best companies to work for
are IDed by the LinkedIn study.
Oct. 1, 2014–Oxford is used to taking second place in rankings on occasion to Cambridge, or even on other institutions, especially when it comes to measures of teaching performance in certain subjects.

But on the subject of producing top media careerists, Oxford ranks #2 after Leeds, says a study conducted for LinkedIn using their data.

What is special about Leeds?

My view about rankings is that they usually provide interesting information–either about
  •  the subject of the rankings or about 
  • the blindness of the rankers. 
Today's students go to college with an eye to how what they study will lead to a good career. LinkedIn is geared to people who are pursuing their careers. It reports that after
  • Leeds and 
  • Oxford, the next five British universities (this is a British-based study) are:
  • Cardiff and Nottingham, tied for third place;
  • Durham, fifth;
  • Bristol, sixth; and
  • Cambridge, seventh.
Is the problem with the ranking method? It is described in a blogpost by Navneet Kapur this morning. It is based on analysis of jobs held by 300 million LinkedIn members world-wide. The researchers behind the study figured out what the desirable media jobs are, and the schools from which graduates get those desirable jobs. On this basis, LinkedIn ranks universities based on the career outcomes of their graduates.

The study authors start with identifying the most desirable companies, defined as companies in a profession that are the best at attracting and retaining talent in that profession. They define relevant graduates as those who end up working in that career, and have obtained their degrees within the past eight years. For each university and profession, they calculate the percentage of relevant graduates who have obtained desirable jobs. These percentages allow us to rank universities based on career outcomes across different professional areas.

It sounds reasonable. No obvious blindness. That gets us back to the question: Why does Leeds rank #1? Wouldn't Oxford's depth in languages, literature, communication put it in first place? Best answer I can offer is the Leeds media program web site. I was impressed. Everything in one place. Draws you in. If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, Leeds has a good meal ready.