Lord Byron's Poems

Early Poems: Thoughts Suggested By a College Examination

High in the midst, surrounded by his peers,

Magnus 1 his ample front sublime uprears: i

Plac'd on his chair of state, he seems a God,

While Sophs 2 and Freshmen tremble at his nod;

As all around sit wrapt in speechless gloom, ii

'His' voice, in thunder, shakes the sounding dome;

Denouncing dire reproach to luckless fools,

Unskill'd to plod in mathematic rules.

Happy the youth! in Euclid's axioms tried,

Though little vers'd in any art beside;10

Who, scarcely skill'd an English line to pen, iii

Scans Attic metres with a critic's ken.

What! though he knows not how his fathers bled,

When civil discord pil'd the fields with dead,

When Edward bade his conquering bands advance,

Or Henry trampled on the crest of France:

Though marvelling at the name of 'Magna Charta',

Yet well he recollects the 'laws' of 'Sparta';

Can tell, what edicts sage 'Lycurgus' made,

While 'Blackstone's' on the 'shelf', 'neglected' laid; 20

Of 'Grecian dramas' vaunts the deathless fame,

Of 'Avon's bard', rememb'ring scarce the name.

Such is the youth whose scientific pate

Class-honours, medals, fellowships, await;

Or even, perhaps, the 'declamation' prize,

If to such glorious height, he lifts his eyes.

But lo! no 'common' orator can hope

The envied silver cup within his scope:

Not that our 'heads' much eloquence require,

Th' ATHENIAN'S 3 glowing style, or TULLY'S fire. 30

A 'manner' clear or warm is useless, since iv

We do not try by 'speaking' to 'convince';

Be other 'orators' of pleasing 'proud', -

We speak to 'please' ourselves, not 'move' the crowd:

Our gravity prefers the 'muttering' tone,

A proper mixture of the 'squeak' and 'groan':

No borrow'd 'grace' of 'action' must be seen,

The slightest motion would displease the 'Dean';

Whilst every staring Graduate would prate,

Against what - 'he' could never imitate.40

The man, who hopes t' obtain the promis'd cup,

Must in one 'posture' stand, and 'ne'er look up';

Nor 'stop', but rattle over 'every' word -

No matter 'what', so it can 'not' be heard:

Thus let him hurry on, nor think to rest:

Who speaks the 'fastest's' sure to speak the 'best';

Who utters most within the shortest space,

May, safely, hope to win the 'wordy race'.

The Sons of 'Science' these, who, thus repaid,

Linger in ease in Granta's sluggish shade; 50

Where on Cam's sedgy banks, supine, they lie,

Unknown, unhonour'd live - unwept for die:

Dull as the pictures, which adorn their halls,

They think all learning fix'd within their walls:

In manners rude, in foolish forms precise,

All modern arts affecting to despise;

Yet prizing 'Bentley's, Brunck's', or 'Porson's' 4 note, v

More than the 'verse on which the critic wrote':

Vain as their honours, heavy as their Ale, 5

Sad as their wit, and tedious as their tale; 60

To friendship dead, though not untaught to feel,

When Self and Church demand a Bigot zeal.

With eager haste they court the lord of power, vi

(Whether 'tis PITT or PETTY 6 rules the hour;)

To 'him', with suppliant smiles, they bend the head,

While distant mitres to their eyes are spread; vii

But should a storm o'erwhelm him with disgrace,

They'd fly to seek the next, who fill'd his place.

'Such' are the men who learning's treasures guard!

'Such' is their 'practice', such is their 'reward'!70

This 'much', at least, we may presume to say -

The premium can't exceed the 'price' they 'pay'. viii


Footnote 1:

No reflection is here intended against the person mentioned under the

name of Magnus. He is merely represented as performing an unavoidable

function of his office. Indeed, such an attempt could only recoil upon

myself; as that gentleman is now as much distinguished by his

eloquence, and the dignified propriety with which he fills his

situation, as he was in his younger days for wit and conviviality.

Dr. William Lort Mansel (1753-1820) was, in 1798, appointed Master of Trinity College, by Pitt. He obtained the bishopric of Bristol, through the influence of his pupil, Spencer Perceval, in 1808. He died in 1820.

Footnote 2:Undergraduates of the second and third year.

Footnote 3: Demosthenes.

Footnote 4: The present Greek professor at Trinity College, Cambridge; a man whose powers of mind and writings may, perhaps, justify their preference. Richard Porson (1759-1808). For Byron's description of him, see letter to Murray, of February 20, 1818. Byron says ('Diary', December 17, 18, 1813) that he wrote the 'Devil's Drive' in imitation of Porson's 'Devil's Walk'. This was a common misapprehension at the time. The 'Devil's Thoughts' was the joint composition of Coleridge and Southey, but it was generally attributed to Porson, who took no trouble to disclaim it. It was originally published in the 'Morning Post', Sept. 6, 1799, and Stuart, the editor, said that it raised the circulation of the paper for several days after. (See Coleridge's Poems (1893), pp. 147, 621.)

Footnote 5: Lines 59-62 are not in the Quarto. They first appeared in 'Poems Original and Translated'

Footnote 6: Since this was written, Lord Henry Petty has lost his place, and subsequently (I had almost said consequently) the honour of representing the University. A fact so glaring requires no comment. (Lord Henry Petty, M.P. for the University of Cambridge, was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1805; but in 1807 he lost his seat. In 1809 he succeeded his brother as Marquis of Lansdowne. He died in 1863.)

Footnote i: 'M - us - l. - '

Footnote ii: 'Whilst all around.' -

Footnote iii:

'Who with scarse sense to pen an English letter,

Yet with precision scans an Attis metre.'

Footnote iv:

'The manner of the speech is nothing, since',

. 'P, on V. Occasions'.

Footnote v:

'Celebrated critics'.

. 'Three first Editions'.

Footnote vi:

'They court the tool of power'.

. 'P. on V. Occasions.'

Footnote vii:

'While mitres, prebends'.

. 'P. on V. Occasions.'

Footnote viii:

The 'reward's' scarce equal to the 'price' they pay.