The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

V. University Journalism

§ 1. Calverley

THE MAN in the train has settled habits and views, definite experience of life, its problems and difficulties. The undergraduate changes yearly, and is in the tentative period of youth, though the influence of his school and his restricted atmosphere (in England, at any rate) keep him fairly constant in type. He has much of the freedom of manhood without its responsibilities. For him, life is a comedy, or, at most, a tragi-comedy; he has not begun to understand. He writes, if he writes at all, at leisure, and the product of idle hours beneath the shade, as Horace hints, is not often destined to be remembered beyond the year. Horace, who owed his success largely to a good schoolmaster and the university of Athens, is in tone and form, the ideal poet of university life. He is halfserious, half-sportive, with an exquisite sense of form and metre, and he has more university imitators than a dozen good prose writers can boast. These imitators have a zeal for form due to their reading. The study of the ancient classics gives a sense of conciseness, and a detestation for the mere verbiage which is frequent in ordinary journalism. University journalism thus follows a great tradition, but it does not start a new one.

An anarchic age like the present is inclined to underrate the sense of tradition, which does not, perhaps, foster the most seminal minds; but modern masters of prose and verse have mostly been trained in it, and the maxim, “the form, the form alone is eloquent,” is worth remembering. In particular, the sense of comedy which comes from playing at life has found expression in classical parody and light verse. Here, Cambridge can show a long line of masters whom she has trained, from Prior and Praed to Thackeray, Calverley and J. K. Stephen. Oxford, more in touch with the world, has been more serious and more prolific in prophets, but can claim a first-rate professor of the sportive mood in Andrew Lang. Calverley, however, is the leading master and his inimitable short line has had many disciples:

  • The wit of smooth delicious Matthew Prior,
  • The rhythmic grace which Hookham Frere displayed,
  • The summer lightning wreathing Byron’s lyre,
  • The neat inevitable turns of Praed,
  • Rhymes to which Hudibras could scarce aspire,
  • Such metric pranks as Gilbert oft has played,
  • All these good gifts and others far sublimer
  • Are found in thee, beloved Cambridge rhymer.