Winchester College Publication Winchester College Classic Talks - Page 4

Benjamin Jowett, were also heads of colleges, respectively Christ Church and Balliol: such doubling up has always been very rare in Oxford, though it happens quite often in Cambridge. Understandably, the Greek professor felt rather miffed. The Prime Minister of the day wrote to ask Christ Church to raise the stipend; the Dean of Christ Church, the redoubtable Henry Liddell (father of Alice), wrote back robustly to suggest that in that case the crown might consider transferring the lands that were supposed to be supporting the chair. Henry, it seems, had never quite got around to doing so. The affair rumbled on for some time. The professor in question, Benjamin Jowett Figure 5 Benjamin Jowett; by Sir Leslie Ward (Figure 5), was a controversial figure. Many feathers had been ruffled by his writings on the Epistles of St Paul, and still more by his book On the Interpretation of Scripture (1860). This had argued that it was important to view the holy writings in the cultural context of their own time, and that it was important for each generation to interpret them anew. That may not seem too outlandish today, but it was very radical for its day: there was even a move to bring Jowett before the Vice-Chancellor’s court for heresy. Christ Church was not at all keen on rewarding someone like that. The question of the stipend was referred to the university, and there was a proposal to raise it to £500. This was to be decided by a vote of Convocation – not the assembled dons working within Oxford itself, but all MAs of the university. The day came for the vote, the carriages rattled into town carrying vicar after vicar; one can guess which way they were likely to vote. The stipend remained at £40, and Jowett was dependent on his Balliol fellowship, then later the Mastership, for his livelihood. That was not as great a hardship as it may 6 seem, as Heads of House might earn as much as £1,500; and Jowett became Vice-Chancellor too, chairing the very court that might a few years earlier have been condemning him. To put your minds at rest – the stipend has now been increased. What of the role of the crown in making the appointment? That survives, in an attenuated form, though perhaps not as attenuated (or at least not as recently attenuated) as one might expect. The monarch himself or herself was doubtless involved at the beginning, and Elizabeth I in particular would have concerned herself with the choice, just as she did with the Wardenship of Winchester College (regarded at the time, incidentally, as itself one of the colleges of Oxford University). At the beginning of the eighteenth century it is said that Queen Anne was so impressed with a certain Edward Thwaytes that she appointed him out of hand, though his real expertise was in Anglo-Saxon: what had impressed her, though, was his stoicism under the knife when his leg was being amputated at the knee. (I am not vouching for this story as strictly true.) In the early nineteenth century it was the Prime Minister who wrote to offer the chair to Dean Gaisford, as we shall later see; it is possible that he was simply doing the Prince Regent’s bidding, but it is more likely that by then the responsibility had passed to Downing Street. That remained the case until well into the twentieth century. When Gilbert Murray was about to retire in 1936, he noted with some concern that nothing had been done about appointing a successor, and wrote to the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, about it. Baldwin admittedly had rather a lot on his plate in that momentous year, and simply wrote back to ask for Murray’s advice. Murray duly gave it; a brilliant appointment was made, but a very controversial one within Oxford itself. More on this later too. My own appointment was the first where there were actual interviews for the chair, with the Appointments Secretary as one of the panel; up till then the normal practice had been for ‘soundings’ to be taken, and for a letter then to be sent out of the blue to a favoured candidate. But even in my time the process was not described in terms as ordinary as ‘application’ or ‘interview’ or even ‘appointing committee’: I was invited ‘to discuss my interest in the vacancy’ with ‘the advisory board’. The involvement of the Prime Minister himself or herself has varied according to the PM of the day. Tony Blair was rather busy in 2003 invading Iraq, but I do have my letter of appointment signed by him, and also a rather impressive set of ‘Letters Patent’. Earlier, Harold Macmillan was said to be more interested in such crown appointments than anything else in his red boxes; Margaret Thatcher 7