The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 1/Thoughts Suggested by a College Examination

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High in the midst, surrounded by his peers,
Magnus[1] his ample front sublime uprears:[2]
Plac'd on his chair of state, he seems a God,
While Sophs[3] and Freshmen tremble at his nod;
As all around sit wrapt in speechless gloom,[4]
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,[5]
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[6] glowing style, or Tully's fire.30
A manner clear or warm is useless, since[7]
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[8] note,[9]
More than the verse on which the critic wrote:
Vain as their honours, heavy as their Ale,[10]
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,[11]
(Whether 'tis Pitt or Petty[12] rules the hour;)
To him, with suppliant smiles, they bend the head,
While distant mitres to their eyes are spread;[13]
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.[14]


  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.]
  2. M—ns—l.—[4to]
  3. [Undergraduates of the second and third year.]
  4. Whilst all around.—[4to]
  5. Who with scarce sense to pen an English letter,
    Yet with precision scans an Attic metre.—[4to]

  6. Demosthenes.
  7. The manner of the speech is nothing, since.—[4to. P. on V. Occasions.]
  8. 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.)]
  9. Celebrated critics.—[4to. Three first Editions.]
  10. [Lines 59-62 are not in the Quarto. They first appeared in Poems Original and Translated.]
  11. They court the tool of power.—[4to. P. on V. Occasions.]
  12. 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.]
  13. White mitres, prebends.—[4to. P. on V. Occasions.]
  14. The reward's scarce eqtiat to the price they pay.—[4to]