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The further adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford under-graduate/Chapter 11

< The further adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford under-graduate



Despite the hindrance which the grande passion is supposed to bring to the student, Charles Larkyns had made very good use of the opportunities afforded him by the leisure of his grace-term. Indeed, as he himself observed,

"Who hath not owned, with rapture-smitten frame,
The power of grace?"

And as he felt that the hours of his grace-term had not been wasted in idleness, but had been turned to profitable account, it is not at all unlikely that his pleasures of hope regarding his Degree-examination, and the position his name would occupy in the Class-list, were of a roseate hue. He therefore, when the Easter vacation had come to an end, returned to Oxford in high spirits, with our hero and his friend Mr. Bouncer, who, after a brief visit to "the Mum," had passed the remainder of the vacation at the Manor Green. During these few holiday weeks, Charles Larkyns had acted as private tutor to his two friends, and had, in the language of Mr. Bouncer, "put them through their paces uncommon;" for the little gentleman was going in for his Degree, alias Great-go, alias Greats; and our hero for his first examination in literis humanioribus, alias Responsions, alias Little-go, alias Smalls. Thus the friends returned to Oxford mutually benefited; but, as the time for examination drew nearer and still nearer, the fears of Mr. Bouncer rose in a gradation of terrors, that threatened to culminate in an actual panic.

"You see," said the little gentleman, "the Mum's set her heart on my getting through, and I must read like the doose. And I havn't got the head, you see, for Latin and Greek; and that beastly Euclid altogether stumps me; and I feel as though I should come to grief. I'm blowed," the little gentleman would cry, earnestly and sadly, "I'm blow'd if I don't think they must have given me too much pap when I was a babby, and softened my brains! or else, why can't I walk into these classical parties just as easy as you, Charley, or old Giglamps there? But I can't, you see: my brains are addled. They say it ain't a bad thing for reading to get your head shaved. It cools your brains, and gives full play to what you call your intellectual faculties. I think I shall try the dodge, and get a gent's real head of hair, till after the exam.; and then, when I've stumped the examiners, I can wear my own luxuriant locks again."

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And, as Mr. Bouncer professed, so did he; and, not many days after, astonished his friends and the University generally by appearing in a wig of curly black hair. It was a pleasing sight to see the little gentleman with a scalp like a billiard ball, a pipe in his mouth, and the wig mounted on a block, with books spread before him, endeavouring to persuade himself that he was working up his subjects. It was still more pleasing to view him, in moments of hilarity, divest himself of his wig, and hurl it at the scout, or any other offensive object that appeared before him. And it was a sight not to be forgotten by the beholders, when, after too recklessly partaking of an indiscriminate mixture of egg-flip, sangarce, and cider-cup, he feebly threw his wig at the spectacles of Mr. Verdant Green, and, overbalanced by the exertion, fell back into the coal-scuttle, where he lay, bald-headed and helpless, laughing and weeping by turns, and caressed by Huz and Buz.

But the shaving of his head was not the only feature (or, rather, loss of feature) that distinguished Mr. Bouncer's reading for his degree. The gentleman with the limited knowledge of the cornet-à-piston, who had the rooms immediately beneath those of our hero and his friend, had made such slow progress in his musical education, that he had even now scarcely got into his "Cottage near a Wood." This gentleman was Mr. Bouncer's Frankenstein. He was always rising up when he was not wanted. When Mr. Bouncer felt as if he could read, and sat down to his books, wigless and determined, the doleful legend of the cottage near a wood was forced upon him in an unpleasingly obtrusive and distracting manner. It was in vain that Mr. Bouncer sounded his octaves in all their discordant variations; the gentleman had no ear, and was not to be put out of his cottage on any terms; Mr. Bouncer's notices of ejectment were always disregarded. He had hoped that the ears of Mr. Slowcoach (whose rooms were in the angle of the Quad) would have been pierced by the noise, and that he would have put a stop to the nuisance; but, either from its being too customary a custom, or that the ears of Mr. Slowcoach had grown callous, the nuisance was suffered to continue unreproved.

Mr. Bouncer resolved, therefore, on some desperate method of calling attention to one nuisance, by creating another of a louder description; and, as his octaves appeared to fail in this—notwithstanding the energy and annoying ability that he threw into them—he conceived the idea of setting up a drum! The plan was no sooner thought of than carried out. He met with an instrument sufficiently large and formidable for his purpose,—hired it, and had it stealthily conveyed into college (like another Falstaff) in a linen "buck-basket." He waited his opportunity; and, the next time that the gentleman in the rooms beneath took his cornet to his cottage near a wood, Mr. Bouncer, stationed on the landing above, played a thundering accompaniment on his big drum.

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The echoes from the tightened parchment rolled round the Quad, and brought to the spot a rush of curious and excited undergraduates. Mr. Bouncer,—after taking off his wig in honour of the air,—then treated them to the National Anthem, arranged as a drum solo for two sticks, the chorus being sustained by the voices of those present; when in the midst of the entertainment, the reproachful features of Mr. Slowcoach appeared upon the scene. Sternly the tutor demanded the reason of the strange hubbub; and was answered by Mr. Bouncer, that, as one gentleman was allowed to play his favourite instrument whenever he chose, for his own but no one else's gratification, he could not see why he (Mr. Bouncer) might not also, whenever he pleased, play for his own gratification his favourite instrument—the big drum. This specious excuse, although logical, was not altogether satisfactory to Mr. Slowcoach; and, with some asperity, he ordered Mr. Bouncer never again to indulge in, what he termed (in reference probably to the little gentleman's bald head), "such an indecent exhibition." But, as he further ordered that the cornet-à-piston gentleman was to instrumentally enter into his cottage near a wood, only at stated hours in the afternoon, Mr. Bouncer had gained his point in putting a stop to the nuisance so far as it interfered with his reading; and, thenceforth, he might be seen on brief occasions persuading himself that he was furiously reading and getting up his subjects by the aid of those royal roads to knowledge, variously known as cribs, crams, plugs, abstracts, analyses, or epitomes.

But, besides the assistance thus afforded to him out of the schools, Mr. Bouncer, like many others, idle as well as ignorant, intended to assist himself when in the schools by any contrivance that his ingenuity could suggest, or his audacity carry out.

"It's quite fair," was the little gentleman's argument, "to do the examiners in any way that you can, as long as you only go in for a pass. Of course, if you were going in for a class, or a scholarship, or anything of that sort, it would be no end mean and dirty to crib; and the gent that did it ought to be kicked out of the society of gentlemen. But when you only go in for a pass, and ain't doing any one any harm by a little bit of cribbing, but choose to run the risk to save yourself the bother of being ploughed, why then, I think, a feller's bound to do what he can for himself. And, you see, in my case, Giglamps, there's the Alum to be considered; she'd cut up doosid, if I didn't get through; so I must crib a bit, if it's only for her sake."

But although the little gentleman thus made filial tenderness the excuse for his deceit, and the salve for his conscience, yet he could neither persuade Mr. Verdant Green to follow his example, nor to be a convert to his opinions; nor would he be persuaded by our hero to relinquish his designs.

"Why, look here, Giglamps!" Mr. Bouncer would say; "how can I relinquish them, after having had all this trouble? I'll put you up to a few of my dodges—free, gratis, for nothing. In the first place, Giglamps, you see here's a small circular bit of paper, covered with Peloponnesian and Punic wars, and no end of dates,—written small and short, you see, but quite legible,—with the chief things done in red ink. Well, this gentleman goes in the front of my watch, under the glass; and, when I get stumped for a date, out comes the watch;—I look at the time of day—you understand, and down goes the date. Here's another dodge!" added the little gentleman—who might well have been called "the Artful Dodger"—as he produced a shirt from a drawer. "Look here, at the wristbands! Here are all the Kings of Israel and Judah, with their dates and prophets, written down in India-ink, so as to wash out again. You twitch up the cuff of your coat, quite accidentally, and then you book your king. You see, Giglamps, I don't like to trust, as some fellows do, to having what you want, written down small and shoved into a quill, and passed to you by some man sitting in the schools; that's dangerous, don't you see. And I don't like to hold cards in my hand; I've improved on that, and invented a first-rate dodge of my own, that I intend to take out a patent for. Like all truly great inventions, it's no end simple. In the first place, look straight afore you, my little dear, and you will see this pack of cards,—all made of a size, nice to hold in the palm of your hand; they're about all sorts of rum things,—everything that I want. And you see that each beggar's got a hole drilled in him. And you see, here's a longish string with a little bit of hooked wire at the end, made so that I can easily hang the card on it. Well, I pass the string up my coat sleeve, and down under my waistcoat; and here, you see, I've got the wire end in the palm of my hand. Then, I slip out the card I want, and hook it on to the wire, so that I can have it just before me as I write. Then, if any of the examiners look suspicious, or if one of them comes round to spy, I just pull the bit of string that hangs under the bottom of my waistcoat, and away flies the card up my coat sleeve; and when the examiner comes round, he sees that my hand's never moved, and that there's nothing in it! So he walks off satisfied; and then I shake the little beggar out of my sleeve again, and the same game goes on as before. And when the string's tight, even straightening your body is quite sufficient to hoist the card into your sleeve, without moving either of your hands. I've got an Examination-coat made on purpose, with a heap of pockets, in which I can stow my cards in regular order. These three pockets," said Mr. Bouncer, as he produced the coat, "are entirely for Euclid. Here's each problem written right out on a card; they're laid regularly in order, and I turn them over in my pocket, till I get hold of the one I want, and then I take it out, and work it. So you see, Giglamps, I'm safe to get through!—it's impossible for them to plough me, with all these contrivances. That's a consolation for a cove in distress, ain't it, old feller?"

Both our hero and Charles Larkyns endeavoured to persuade Mr. Bouncer that his conduct would, at the very least, be foolhardy, and that he had much better throw his pack of cards into the fire, wash the Kings of Israel and Judah off his shirt, destroy his strings and hooked wires, and keep his Examination-coat for a shooting one. But all their arguments were in vain; and the infatuated little gentleman, like a deaf adder, shut his ears at the voice of the charmer.

What between the Cowley cricketings, and the Isis boatings, Mr. Verdant Green only read by spasmodic fits; but, as he was very fairly up in his subjects—thanks to Charles Larkyns and the Rector—and as the Little-go was not such a very formidable affair, or demanded a scholar of first-rate calibre, the only terrors that the examination could bring him were those which were begotten of nervousness. At length the lists were out; and our hero read among the names of candidates, that of

"Green, Verdant, è Coll. Æn. Fac."

There is a peculiar sensation on first seeing your name in print. Instances are on record where people have taken a world of trouble merely that they may have the pleasure of perusing their names "among the fashionables present" at the Countess of So-and-so's evening-reception; and cases are not wanting where young ladies and gentlemen have expended no small amount of pocket-money in purchasing copies of The Times (no reduction, too, being made on taking a quantity!) in order that their sympathizing friends might have the pride of seeing their names as coming out at drawing-rooms and levées. When a young M.P. has stammered out his coup-d'essai in the House, he views, with mingled emotions, his name given to the world, for the first time, in capital letters. When young authors and artists first see their names in print, is it not a pleasure to them? When Ensign Dash sees himself gazetted, does he not look on his name with a peculiar sensation, and forthwith send an impression of the paper to Master Jones, who was flogged with him last week for stealing apples? When Mr. Smith is called to the Bar, and Mr. Robinson can dub himself M.R.C.S., do they not behold their names in print with feelings of rapture? And when Miss Brown has been to her first ball, does she not anxiously await the coming of the next county newspaper, in order to have the happiness of reading her name there?

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But, different to these are the sensations that attend the seeing your name first in print in a College examination-list. They are, probably, somewhat similar to the sensations you would feel on seeing your name in a death-warrant. Your blood runs hot, then cold, then hot again; your pulse goes at fever pace; the throbbing arteries of your brow almost jerk your cap off. You know that the worst is come,—that the law of the Dons, which altereth not, has fixed your name there, and that there is no escape. The courage of despair then takes possession of your soul, and nerves you for the worst. You join the crowd of nervous fellow-sufferers who are thronging round the buttery-door to examine the list, and you begin with them calmly to parcel out the names by sixes and eights, and then to arrive at an opinion when your day of execution will be. If your name comes at the head of the list, you wish that you were "Young, Carolus, è Coll. Vigorn." that you might have a reprieve of your sentence. If your name is at the end of the list, you wish that you were "Adams, Edvardus Jacobus, è Coll. Univ." that you might go in at once, and be put out of your misery. If your name is in the middle of the list, you wish that it were elsewhere: and then you wish that it were out of the list altogether.

Through these varying shades of emotion did Mr. Verdant Green pass, until at length they were all lost in the deeper gloom of actual entrance into the schools. When once there, his fright soon passed away. Re-assured by the kindly voice of the examiner, telling him to read over his Greek before construing it, our hero recovered his equanimity, and got through his vivâ voce with flying colours; and, on glancing over his paper-work, soon saw that the questions were within his scope, and that he could answer most of them. Without hazarding his success by making "bad shots," he contented himself by answering those questions only on which he felt sure; and, when his examination was over, he left the schools with a pretty safe conviction that he was safe, "and was well through his smalls."

He could not but help, however, feeling some anxiety on the subject, until he was relieved from all further fears, by the arrival of Messrs. Fosbrooke, Smalls, and Blades, with a slip of paper (not unlike those which Mr. Levi, the sheriff's officer, makes use of), on which was written and printed as follows:—

"green, verdant, è Coll. Æn. Fac. "Quæstionibua Magistrorum Scholarum in Parviso pro forma respondit.

"Ita testamur, ( Gulielmus Smith,
( Robertus Jones.

"Junii 7, 18—."

Alas for Mr. Bouncer! Though he had put in practice all the ingenious plans which were without a doubt to ensure his success; and though he had worked his cribs with consummate coolness, and had not been discovered; yet, nevertheless, his friends came to him empty-handed. The infatuated little gentleman had either trusted too much to his own astuteness, or else he had over-reached himself, and had used his card-knowledge in wrong places; or, perhaps, the examiners may have suspected his deeds from the nature of his papers, and may have refused to pass him. But whatever might be the cause, the little gentleman had to defer taking his degree for some months at least. In a word—and a dreadful word it is to all undergraduates—Mr. Bouncer was plucked! He bore his unexpected reverse of fortune very philosophically, and professed to regret it only for "the Mum's" sake; but he seemed to feel that the Dons of his college would look shy upon him, and he expressed his opinion that it would be better for him to migrate to the Tavern. [1]

But, while Mr. Bouncer was thus deservedly punished for his idleness and duplicity, Charles Larkyns was rewarded for all his toil. He did even better than he had expected: for, not only did his name appear in the second class, but the following extra news concerning him was published in the daily papers, under the very appropriate heading of "University Intelligence."

"Oxford, June 9.—The Chancellor's prizes have been awarded as follows:—

"Latin Essay, Charles Larkyns, Commoner of Brazenface. The New digate Prize for English Verse was also awarded to the same gentleman."

His writing for the prize poem had been a secret. He had conceived the idea of doing so when the subject had been given out in the previous "long:" he had worked at the subject privately, and, when the day (April 1) on which the poems had to be sent in, had come, he had watched his opportunity, and secretly dropped through the wired slit in the door of the registrar's office at the Clarendon, a manuscript poem, distinguished by the motto:—

"Oh for the touch of a vanish'd hand
And the sound of a voice that is still."

We may be quite sure that there was great rejoicing at the Manor Green and the Rectory, when the news arrived of the success of Charles Larkyns and Mr. Verdant Green.

  1. A name given to New Inn Hall, not only from its title, "New Inn," but also because the buttery is open all day, and the members of the Hall can call for what they please at any hour, the same as in a tavern.