The further adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford under-graduate/Chapter 4

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It was ten minutes past nine, and Tom, [1] with sonorous voice, was ordering all College gates to be shut, when the wine party, which had just left Mr. Bouncer's room, passed round the corner of St. Mary's, and dashed across the High. The Town and Grown had already begun.

As usual, the Town had taken the initiative; and, in a dense body, had made their customary sweep of the High Street, driving all before them. After this gallant exploit had been accomplished to the entire satisfaction of the oppidans, the Town had separated into two or three portions, which had betaken themselves to the most probable fighting points, and had gone where glory waited them, thirsting for the blood, or, at any rate, for the bloody noses of the gowned aristocrats. Woe betide the luckless gownsman, who, on such an occasion, ventures abroad without an escort, or trusts to his own unassisted powers to defend himself! He is forthwith pounced upon by some score of valiant Townsmen, who are on the watch for these favourable opportunities for a display of their personal prowess, and he may consider himself very fortunate if he is able to get back to his College with nothing worse than black eyes and bruises. It is so seldom that the members of the Oxford snobocracy have the privilege afforded them of using their fists on the faces and persons of the members of the Oxford aristocracy, that when they do get the chance, they are unwilling to let it slip through their fingers. Dark tales have, indeed, been told, of solitary and unoffending undergraduates having, on such occasions, not only received a severe handling from those same fingers, but also having been afterwards, through their agency, bound by their own leading strings to the rails of the Radcliffe, and there left ignominiously to struggle, and shout for assistance. And darker tales still have been told of luckless Gownsmen having been borne "leg and wing" fashion to the very banks of the Isis, and there ducked, amidst the jeers and taunts of their persecutors. But such tales as these are of too dreadful a nature for the conversation of Gownsmen, and are very properly believed to be myths scandalously propagated by the Town. The crescent moon shone down on Mr. Bouncer's party, and gave ample light

To light them on their prey.

A noise and shouting,—which quickly made our hero's Bob-Acreish resolutions ooze out at his fingers' ends,—was heard coming from the direction of Oriel Street; and a small knot of Gownsmen, who had been cut off from a larger body, appeared, manfully retreating with their faces to the foe, fighting as they fell back, but driven by superior numbers up the narrow street, by St. Mary's Hall, and past the side of Spiers's shop into the High Street.

"Gown to the rescue!" shouted Mr. Blades, as he dashed across the street; "come on, Pet! here we are in the thick of it, just in the nick of time!" and, closely followed by Charles Larkyns, Mr. Fosbrooke, Mr. Smalls, Mr. Bouncer, Mr. Flexible Shanks, Mr. Cheke, Mr. Foote, and our hero, and the rest of the party, they soon plunged in medias res.

The movement was particularly well-timed, for the small body of Gownsmen were beginning to get roughly handled; but the succour afforded by the Pet and his party soon changed the aspect of affairs; and, after a brief skirmish, there was a temporary cessation of hostilities. As reinforcements poured in on either side, the mob which represented the Town, wavered, and spread themselves across on each side of the High; while a huge, lumbering bargeman, who appeared to be the generalissimo of their forces, delivered himself of a brief but energetic speech, in which he delivered his opinion of Gownsmen in general, and his immediate foes in particular, in a way which would have to be expressed in proper print chiefly by blanks, and which would have assuredly entailed upon him a succession of five-shilling fines, had he been in a court of justice, and before a magistrate.

"Here's a pretty blank, I don't think!" he observed in conclusion, as he pointed to Mr. Verdant Green, who was nervously settling his spectacles, and wishing himself safe back in his own rooms; "I would'nt give a blank for such a blank blank. I'm blank, if he don't look as though he'd swaller'd a blank codfish, and had bust out into blank barnacles!" As the Bargee was apparently regarded by his party as a gentleman of infinite humour, his highly-flavoured blank remarks were received by them with shouts of laughter; while our hero obtained far more of the digito monstrari share of public notice than he wished for.

For some brief space, the warfare between the rival parties of Town and Gown continued to be one merely of words—a mutual discharge of epea pteroenta (vulgariter "chaff"), in which a small amount of sarcasm was mingled with a large share of vituperation. At length, a slang rhyme of peculiar offensiveness was used to a Wadham gentleman, which so exasperated him that he immediately, by way of a forcible reply, sent his fist full into the speaker's face. On this, a collision took place between those who formed the outside of the crowd; and the Gowns flocked together to charge en masse. Mr. Verdant Green was not quite aware of this sudden movement, and, for a moment, was cut off from the rest. This did not escape the eyes of the valiant Bargee, who had already singled out our hero as the one whom he could most easily punish, with the least chance of getting quick returns for his small profits. Forthwith, therefore, he rushed to his victim, and aimed a heavy blow at him, which Verdant only half avoided by stooping. Instinctively doubling his fists, our hero found that Necessity was, indeed, the mother of Invention; and, with a passing thought of what would be his mother's and Aunt Virginia's feelings could they see him fighting in the public streets with a common bargeman, he contrived to guard off the second blow. But at the next furious lunge of the Bargee he was not quite so fortunate, and, receiving that gentleman's heavy fist full in his forehead, he staggered backwards, and was only prevented from measuring his length on the pavement by falling against the iron gates of St. Mary's. The delighted Bargee was just on the point of putting the coup de grâce to his attack, when, to Verdant's inexpressible delight and relief, his lumbering antagonist was sent sprawling by a well-directed blow on his right ear. Charles Larkyns, who had kept a friendly eye on our hero, had spied his condition, and had sprung to his assistance. He was closely followed by the Pet, who had divested himself of the gown which had encumbered his shoulders, and was now freely striking out in all directions. The fight had become general, and fresh combatants had sprung up on either side.

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"Keep close to me, Verdant," said Charles Larkyns,—quite unnecessarily, by the way, as our hero had no intention of doing otherwise until he saw a way to escape; "keep close to me, and I'll take care you are not hurt."

"Here ye are!" cried the Pet, as he set his back against the stone-work flanking the iron gates of the church, immediately in front of one of the curiously twisted pillars of the Porch; [2] "come on, half a dozen of ye, and let me have a rap at your smellers!" and he looked at the mob in the "Come one, come all defiant" fashion of Fitz-James; while Charles Larkyns and Verdant set their backs against the church gates, and prepared for a rush.

The Bargee came up furious, and hit out wildly at Charles Larkyns; but science was more than a match for brute force; and, after receiving two or three blows which caused him to shake his head in a don't-like-it sort of way, he endeavoured to turn his attention to Mr. Verdant Green, who, with head in air, was taking the greatest care of his spectacles, and endeavouring to ward off the indiscriminate lunges of half a dozen townsmen. The Bargee's charitable designs on our hero were, however, frustrated by the opportune appearance of Mr. Blades and Mr. Cheke, the gentleman-commoner of Corpus, who, in their turn, were closely followed by Mr. Smalls and Mr. Flexible Shanks; and Mr. Blades exclaiming, "There's a smasher for your ivories, my fine fellow!" followed up his remark with a practical application of his fist to the part referred to; whereupon the Bargee fell back with a howl, and gave vent to several curse-ory observations, and blank remarks.

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All this time the Pet was laying about him in the most determined manner; and, to judge from his professional observations, his scientific acquirements were in full play. He had agreeable remarks for each of his opponents; and, doubtless, the punishment which they received from his stalwart arms came with more stinging force when the parts affected were pointed out by his illustrative language. To one gentleman he would pleasantly observe, as he tapped him on the chest, "Bellows to mend for you, my buck!" or else, "There's a regular rib-roaster for you!" or else, in the still more elegant imagery of the Bing, "There's a squelcher in the bread-basket, that'll stop your dancing, my kivey!" While to another he would cheerfully remark, "Your head-rails were loosened there, wasn't they?" or, "How about the kissing-trap?" or, "That draws the bung from the beer-barrel I'm a thinkin'." While to another he would say, as a fact not to be disputed, "You napp'd it heavily on your whisker-bed, didn't you?" or, "That'll raise a tidy mouse on your ogle, my lad!" or, "That'll take the bark from your nozzle, and distil the Dutch pink for you, won't it?" While to another he would mention as an interesting item of news, "Now we'll tap your best October!" or, "There's a crack on your snuff-box!" or, "That'll damage your potato-trap!" Or else he would kindly inquire of one gentleman, "What d'ye ask a pint for your cochineal dye?" or would amiably recommend another that, as his peepers were a goin' fast, he'd best put up the shutters, because the early-closing movement ought to be follered out. All this was done in the cheeriest manner; while, at the same time, the Pet proved himself to be not only a perfect master of his profession, but also a skilful adept in those figures of speech, or "nice derangements of epitaphs," as Mrs. Malaprop calls them, in which the admirers of the fistic art so much delight. At every blow, a fresh opponent either fell or staggered off; the supremacy of the Pet was complete, and his claim to be considered a Professor of the noble and manly art of Self-defence was triumphantly established. "The Putney Pet" was a decidedly valuable acquisition to the side of Gown.

Soon the crowd became thinner, as those of the Town who liked to give, but not to receive hard blows, stole off to other quarters; and the Pet and his party would have been left peaceably to themselves. But this was not what they wanted, as long as fighting was going on elsewhere; even Mr. Verdant Green began to feel desperately courageous as the Town took to their heels, and fled; and, having performed prodigies of valour in almost knocking down a small cad who had had the temerity to attack him, our hero felt himself to be a hero indeed, and announced his intention of pursuing the mob, and sticking close to Charles Larkyns,—taking especial care to do the latter.

"All the savage soul of fight was up;"

and the Gown following the scattered remnant of the flying Town, ran them round by All Saints' Church, and up the Turl.

Here another Town and Gown party had fought their way from the Corn-market; and the Gown, getting considerably the worst of the conflict, had taken refuge within Exeter College by the express order of the Senior Proctor, the Rev. Thomas Tozer, more familiarly known as "old Towzer." He had endeavoured to assert his proctorial authority over the mob of the townspeople; but the profanum vulgus had not only scoffed and jeered him, but had even torn his gown, and treated his velvet sleeves with the indignity of mud; while the only fireworks which had been exhibited on that evening had been let off in his very face. Pushed on, and hustled by the mob, and only partially protected by his Marshal and Bull-dogs, [3] he was saved from further indignity by the arrival of a small knot of Gownsmen, who rushed to his rescue. Their number was too small, however, to make head against the mob, and the best that they could do was to cover the Proctor's retreat. Now, the Rev. Thomas Tozer was short, and inclined to corpulence, and, although not wanting for courage, yet the exertion of defending himself from a superior force, was not only a fruitless one, but was, moreover, productive of much unpleasantness and perspiration. Deeming, therefore, that discretion was the better part of valour, he fled, (like those who tended, or ought to have attended to, the flocks of Mr. Norval, Sen.)

"for safety and for succour;"

and, being rather short of the necessary article of wind, by the time that he had reached Exeter College, he had barely breath enough left to tell the porter to keep the gate shut until he had assembled a body of Gownsmen to assist him in capturing those daring ringleaders of the mob who had set his authority at defiance. This was soon done; the call to arms was made, and every Exeter man who was not already out, ran to "old Towzer's" assistance.

"Now, Porter," said Mr. Tozer, "unbar the gate without noise, and I will look forth to observe the position of the mob. Gentlemen, hold yourselves in readiness to secure the ringleaders."

The porter undid the wicket, and the Rev. Thomas Tozer cautiously put forth his head. It was a rash act; for, no sooner had his nose appeared round the edge of the wicket, than it received a flattening blow from the fist of an active gentleman who, like a clever cricketer, had been on the lookout for an opportunity to get in to his adversary's wicket.

"Oh, this is painful! this is very painful!" ejaculated Mr. Tozer, as he rapidly drew in his head. "Close the wicket directly, porter, and keep it fast." It was like closing the gates of Hougomont. The active gentleman who had damaged Mr. Tozer's nose threw himself against the wicket, his comrades assisted him, and the porter had some difficulty in obeying the Proctor's orders.

"Oh, this is painful!" murmured the Rev. Thomas Tozer, as he applied a handkerchief to his bleeding nose; "this is painful, this is very painful! this is exceedingly painful, gentlemen!"

He was immediately surrounded by sympathising undergraduates, who begged him to allow them at once to charge the Town; but "old Towzer's" spirit seemed to have been aroused by the indignity to which he had been forced so publicly to submit, and he replied that, as soon as the bleeding had ceased, he would lead them forth in person. An encouraging cheer followed this courageous resolve, and was echoed from without by the derisive applause of the Town.

When Mr. Tozer's nose had ceased to bleed, the signal was given for the gates to be thrown open; and out rushed Proctor, Marshall, Bull-dogs, and undergraduates. The Town was in great force, and the fight became desperate. To the credit of the Town, be it said, they discarded bludgeons and stones, and fought, in John Bull fashion, with their fists. Scarcely a Stick was to be seen. Singling out his man, Mr. Tozer made at him valiantly, supported by his Bull-dogs, and a small band of Gownsmen. But the heavy gown and velvet sleeves were a grievous hindrance to the Proctor's prowess; and, although supported on either side by his two attendant Bull-dogs, yet the weight of his robes made poor Mr. Tozer almost as harmless as the blind King of Bohemia between his two faithful knights at the battle of Crecy; and, as each of the party had to look to, and fight for himself, the Senior Proctor soon found himself in an awkward predicament.

The cry of "Gown to the rescue!" therefore, fell pleasantly on his ears; and the reinforcement headed by Mr. Charles Larkyns and his party, materially improved the aspect of affairs on the side of Gown. Knocking down a cowardly fellow, who was using his heavy-heeled boots on the body of a prostrate undergraduate, Mr. Blades, closely followed by the Pet, dashed in to the Proctor's assistance; and never in a Town and Gown was assistance more timely rendered; for the Rev. Thomas Tozer had just received his first knock-down blow! By the help of Mr. Blades the fallen chieftain was quickly replaced upon his legs; while the Pet stepped before him, and struck out skilfully right and left. Ten more minutes of scientific pugilism, and the fate of the battle was decided. The Town fled every way; some round the corner by Lincoln College; some up the Turl towards Trinity; some down Ship Street; and some down by Jesus College, and Market Street. A few of the more resolute made a stand in Broad Street; but it was of no avail; and they received a sound punishment at the hands of the Gown, on the spot, where, some three centuries before, certain mitred Gownsmen had bravely suffered martyrdom.[4]

Now, the Rev. Thomas Tozer was a strict disciplinarian, and, although he had so materially benefited by the Pet's assistance, yet, when he perceived that that pugilistic gentleman was not possessed of the full complement of academical attire, the duties of the Proctor rose superior to the gratitude of the Man; and, with all the sternness of an ancient Roman Father, he said to the Pet, "Why have you not on your gown, sir?"

"I ax your pardon, guv'nor!" replied the Pet, deferentially; "I didn't so much care about the mortar-board, but I couldn't do nothin' nohow with the t'other thing, so I pocketted him; but some cove must have gone and prigged him, for he ain't here."

"I am unable to comprehend the nature of your language, sir," observed the Rev. Thomas Tozer, angrily; for, what with his own excitement, and the shades of evening which had stolen over and obscured the Pet's features, he was unable to read that gentleman's character and profession in his face, and therefore came to the conclusion that he was being chaffed by some impudent undergraduate. "I dou't in the least understand you, sir; but I desire at once to know your name, and College, sir!"

The Putney Pet stared. If the Rev. Thomas Tozer had asked him for the name of his Academy, he would have been able to have referred him to his spacious and convenient Sparring Academy, 5, Cribb Court, Drury Lane; but the enquiry for his "College," was, in the language of his profession, a "regular floorer." Mr. Blades, however, stepped forward, and explained matters to the Proctor, in a satisfactory manner.

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"Well, well!" said the pacified Mr. Tozer to the Pet; "you have used your skill very much to our advantage, and displayed pugilistic powers not unworthy of the athletes, and xystics of the noblest days of Rome. As a palæstrite you would have gained palms in the gymnastic exercises of the Circus Maximus. You might even have proved a formidable rival to Dares, who, as you, Mr. Blades, will remember, caused the death of Butes at Hector's tomb. You will remember, Mr. Blades, that Virgil makes mention of his 'humeros latos' and says:—

"'Nec quisquam ex agmine tanto
Audet adire virum, manibusque inducere cæstus;' [5]

"which, in our English idiom, would signify, that every one was afraid to put on the gloves with him. And, as your skill," resumed Mr. Tozer, turning to the Pet, "has been exercised in defence of my person, and in upholding the authority of the University, I will overlook your offence in assuming that portion of the academical attire, to which you gave the offensive epithet of "mortar-board;" more especially, as you acted at the suggestion and bidding of those who ought to have known better. And now, go home, sir, and resume your customary head-dress; and—stay! here's five shillings for you."

"I'm much obleeged to you, guv'nor," said the Pet, who had been listening with considerable surprise to the Proctor's quotations and comparisons, and wondering whether the gentleman named Dares, who caused the death of beauties, was a member of the P.R., and whether they made it out a case of manslaughter against him? and if the gaining palms in a circus was the customary "flapper-shaking" before "toeing the scratch for business?"—"I'm much obleeged to you, guv'nor," said the Pet, as he made a scrape with his leg; "and, whenever you does come up to London, I 'ope you'll drop in at Cribb Court, and have a turn with the gloves!" And the Pet, very politely, handed one of his professional cards to the Rev. Thomas Tozer.

A little later than this, a very jovial supper party might have been seen assembled in a principal room at "the Roebuck." To enable them to be back within their college walls, and save their gates, before the hour of midnight should arrive, the work of consuming the grilled bones and welch-rabbits was going on with all reasonable speed, the heavier articles being washed down by draughts of "heavy." After the cloth was withdrawn, several songs of a miscellaneous character were sung by "the professional gentlemen present," including, "by particular request," the celebrated "Marble Halls" song of our hero, which was given with more coherency than on a previous occasion, but was no less energetically led in its "you-loved-me-still-the-same" chorus by Mr. Bouncer. The Pet was proudly placed on the right hand of the chairman, Mr. Blades; and, when his health was proposed, "with many thanks to him for the gallant and plucky manner in which he had led on the Gown to a glorious victory," the "three times three," and the "one cheer more," and the "again," and "again," and the "one other little un!" were uproariously given (as Mr. Foote expressed it) "by the whole strength of the company, assisted by Messrs. Larkyns, Smalls, Fosbrooke, Flexible Shanks, Cheke, and Verdant Green."

The forehead of the last-named gentleman was decorated with a patch of brown paper, from which arose an aroma, as though of vinegar. The battle of "Town and Gown" was over; and Mr. Verdant Green was among the number of the wounded.

  1. The great bell of Christ Church. It tolls 101 times each evening at ten minutes past nine o'clock (there being 101 students on the foundation) and marks the time for the closing of the college gates. "Tom" is one of the lions of Oxford. It formerly belonged to Oseney Abbey, and weighs about 17,000 pounds, being more than double the weight of the great bell of St. Paul's.
  2. The porch was erected in 1637 by order of Archbishop Laud. In the centre of the porch is a statue of the Virgin with the Child in her arms, holding a small crucifix; which at the time of its erection gave such offence to the Puritans that it was included in the articles of impeachment against the Archbishop. The statue remains to this day.
  3. The Marshal is the Proctor's chief officer. The name of 'Bull-dogs' is given to the two inferior officers who attend the Proctor in his nightly rounds.
  4. The exact spot where Archbishop Cranmer and Bishops Ridley and Latimer suffered martyrdom is not known. "The most likely supposition is, that it was in the town ditch, the site of which is now occupied by the houses in Broad Street, which are immediately opposite the gateway of Balliol College, or the footpath in front of them, where an extensive layer of wood-ashes is known to remain."—(Parker.)
  5. Æn., Book v., 378.