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GOWN AND TOWN ROW, Oxford.
Oxford polemics have for some time occupied the attention of the public, and have entailed upon the old university rather an unenviable notoriety. Polemics of a different cast, however, have succeeded to these, and on the night of the 5th of November the sons of Alma Mater were once more united in heart and hand, and enacting the church militant in its streets, with a vigour that reminds us of its character in former days. A "Gown and Town Row," of a formidable description, took place on the 5th; and, for the benefit of the "unentered," we cannot do better than quote from a work which admirably describes an almost parallel scene.
"The blue light of heaven illumined the magnificent square of Radcliffe when we passed from beneath the porch of Brazenose, and, tipping with her silvery light the surrounding architecture, lent additional beauty to the solemn splendour of the scene. Sophisticated as my faculties certainly were by the copious libations and occurrences of the day, I could yet admire with reverential awe the imposing grandeur by which I was surrounded. A wayward being from my infancy, not the least mark of my eccentricity is the peculiar humour in which I find myself when I have sacrificed too freely to the jolly god. Unlike the major part of mankind, my temperament, instead of being invigorated and enlivened by the sparkling juice of the grape, loses its wonted nerve and elasticity: a sombre gloominess pervades the system, the pulse becomes nervous and languid, the spirits flagging and depressed, and the mind full of chimerical apprehension and ennui. It was in this mood that Eglantine found me ruminating on the noble works before me, while resting against a part of the pile of Radcliffe library, contemplating the elegant crocketed pinnacles of All Souls, the delicately taper spire of St. Mary's, and the clustered enrichments and imperial canopies of masonry, and splendid traceries which everywhere strike the eye; all of which objects were rendered trebly impressive from the stillness of the night and the flittering light by which they were illumined.
"I had enough of wine and frolic, and had hoped to have shirked the party and stolen quietly to my lodgings, there to indulge my lucubrations on the scene I had witnessed, and note in my journal, according to my usual practice, the more prominent events of the day, when Horace commenced with
"Where the devil, old fellow, have you been hiding yourself? I've been hunting you some time. A little cut, I suppose. Never mind, my boy; you'll be better presently. Here's glorious sport on foot: don't you hear the war-cry?'
"At this moment a buzz of distant voices broke the mingled shouts of an election tumult.
"There they are, old fellow. Come, buckle on your armour; we must try your mettle to-night. All the university are outa glorious row; come along, no shirking; the togati against the town-raff. Remember the sacred cause, my boy.'
"And in this way, spite of all remonstrance, was I dragged through the lane, and enlisted with the rest of my companions into a corps of university men, who were just forming themselves in the High-street to repel the daring attack of the very scum of the city, who had illtreated and beaten some gownsmen in the neighbourhood of St. Thomas's, and had the temerity to follow and assail them, in their retreat to the High-street, with every description of villanous epithet, and still more offensive and destructive missiles.
"Stand fast there, old fellows,' said Echo; who, although devilishly cut, seemed to be the leader of the division. Where's old Mark Supple?'
"Here I am, sir, take notice,' said the old scout; who appeared as active as an American rifleman.
"Will Peake send us the bludgeons?'
"He won't open his doors, sir, for any body, take notice.'
"Then down with the Mitre, my hearties; and instantly a rope was thrown across the bishop's cap by old Mark, and the tin sign, lamp, and all came tumbling into the street, smashed into a thousand pieces.
"Peake (looking out of an upper window in his night-cap).-Doey be quiet, and go along, for God's zake, gentlemen! I shall be ruinated and discommoned if I open my door to any body.
"Tom Echo.-You infernal old fox-hunter! If you don't doff your knowledge-bag and come to the door, we'll mill all your glaze, burst open your gates, and hamstring all your horses.
"Mrs. Peake (in her night-gown).-Stand out of the way, Peake; let me speak to the gentlemen. Gentlemen, doey, gentlemen, consider my reputation, and the reputation of my house. O dear, gentlemen! doey go somewhere else. We've no sticks here, I azzure ye; and we're all in bed. Doey go, gentlemen; pray do.
"Transit.--Dame Peake, if you don't open your doors directly, we'll break them open, and unkennel that old bagged fox, your husband, and drink all the black strap in your cellar, and play the devil with the maids.
"Mrs. Peake.-Don'te say so, don'te say so, Mr. Transit. I know you to be a quiet, peaceable gentleman; and I am zure you will befriend me. Doey persuade 'em to go away; pray do.
"Mark Supple (a scout of Brazenose).-Dame Peake!
"Mrs. Peake.-Oh, Mark Supple, are you there? Talk to the gentlemen, Mr. Mark; pray do.
"Mark Supple.-It's no use, dame Peake, they won't be gammoned, take notice. If you have any old broom-handles, throw 'em out directly; and if not, throw all the brooms you have in the house out of window, throw out all your sticks, throw Peake out; I'm for the gown, take notice. Down with the town, down with the town!
"Bill Maggs, the waiter (at a lower window).-Hist, hist, Mr. Echo. Mr. Eglantine, hist, hist; master's gone to the back of the
house with all the sticks he can muster; and here's an old kitchen chair you can break up and make bludgeons of (throwing the chair out of window); and here's the cook's rolling-pin, and I'll go and forage for more ammunition.
"Horace Eglantine. You're a right good fellow, Bill; and I'll pay you before I do your master; and the Brazenose-men shall make your fortune.
"Tom Echo. But where are the academicals I sent old Captain Cook for? We shall be beating one another in the dark without caps and gowns.
"Captain Cook (a scout of Christ Church).-Here I be, zur. That old rogue, Dick Shirley, refuses to send any gowns; he says he has nothing but noblemen's gowns and gold tufts in his house.
"The Hon. Lillyman Lionise. By the honour of my ancestry, that fellow shall never draw another stitch for Christ Church as long as he lives. Come along, Captain. By the honour of my ancestry, we'll uncase the old snyder; we'll have gowns, I'll warrant me; noble or not noble, gold tufts or no tufts. Come along, Cook.
"In a few moments old Captain Cook and the exquisite returned loaded with gowns and caps, having got in at the window and completely cleared the tailor's shop of all his academicals, in spite of his threats or remonstrances. In the interim, old Mark Supple and Echo had succeeded in obtaining a supply of broom-handles and other weapons of defence; when the insignia of the university, the toga and cap, were soon distributed indiscriminately. The numbers of the university were increased every moment, and the yell of the town-raff seemed to gain strength with every step as they approached the scene of action. Gown gown!' Town, town!' were the only sounds heard in every direction; and the clamour and the tumult of the voices were enough to shake the city with dismay. The authorities were by no means idle; but neither proctors or pro's, or marshall or bull-dogs, or even deans, dons, and dignitaries, for such there were, who strained their every effort to quell the disturbance, were at all attended to; and many who came as peace-makers were compelled in their own defence to take an active part in the fray.
"From the bottom of the High-street to the end of the corn-market, and across again through St. Aldate's to the old bridge, every where the more peaceable and respectable citizens might be seen popping their noddles out of window, and rubbing their half-closed eyes with affright, to learn the cause of the alarming strife.
"Of the strong band of university-men who rushed on, eager for the coming fray, a number of them were fresh, light-hearted Etonians and Old Westminsters, who, having just arrived to place themselves under the sacred banners of Academus, thought their honour and their courage both concerned in defending the togati. Most of these youthful zealots had, as usual at the beginning of term, been lodged in the different inns and houses of the city, and, from having drunk somewhat freely of the welcome-cup with old school-fellows and new friends, were just ripe for mischief, unheedful of the consequences or the cause.
"On the other hand, the original fomenters of the strife had
recruited their forces with herds of the lowest rabble, gathered from the purlieus of their patron saints, St. Clement and St. Thomas, and the shores of the Charwell, the bargees and butchers and labourers and scum of the suburbians; a huge conglomerated mass of thick skulls, and broad backs, and strengthy arms and sturdy legs, and throats bawling for revenge, and hearts bursting with wrathful ire, rendered still more frantic and desperate by the magic influence of their accustomed war-whoop. These formed the base barbarian race of Oxford truands; including every vile thing that passes under the generic name of raff.
"From college to college the mania spread with the rapidity of an epidemic-wind; and scholars, students, and fellows were every where in motion: here a stout bachelor of arts might be seen knocking down the ancient Cerberus who opposed his passage; there, the iron-bound college-gates were forced open by the united power of the youthful inmates. In another quarter might be seen the heir of some noble family risking his neck in the headlong leap*; and near him, a party of the togati scaling the sacred battlements with as much energetic zeal as the ancient Crusaders would have displayed against the ferocious Saracens. Scouts flying in every direction to procure caps and gowns, and scholars dropping from towers and windows by bell-ropes and sheet-ladders; every countenance exhibiting as much ardour and frenzied zeal, as if the consuming elements of earth and fire threatened the demolition of the sacred city of Rhedycina.
"It was on the spot where once stood the ancient conduit of Carfax, flanked on the one side by the venerable church of St. Martin and the colonnade of the old butter-market, and on the other by the Town Hall, from the central point of which terminate, south, west, and north, St. Aldate's, the butcher-row, and the corn-market, that the scene exhibited its more substantial character. It was here the assailants first caught sight of each other; and the yell, and noise, and deafening shouts became terrific. In a moment all was fury and confusion. In the onset the gown, confident and daring, had evidently the advantage, and the retiring raff fell back in dismay; while the advancing and victorious party laid about them with their quarterstaves and knuckles, drawing blood or teeth, or cracking crowns at every blow, until they had driven them back to the end of the cornmarket. It was now that the strong arm and still stronger science of the sturdy bachelors of Brazenose, and the square-built, athletic sons of Cambria, the Joneses of Jesus, proved themselves of sterling mettle, and bore the brunt of the battle with unexampled courage; at this instant a second reinforcement arriving from the canals and wharfs on the banks of the Isis, having forced their way by Georgelane, brought timely assistance to the town raff, and enabled them again to rally, and present so formidable an appearance, that the togati deemed it prudent to retreat upon their reserve, who were every moment accumulating in immense numbers in the High-street: to this spot the townsmen, exulting in their trifling advantage, had the temerity to follow, and renew the conflict, and here they sustained the
* It was on one of these occasions that the celebrated Charles James Fox made that illustrious leap from the window of Hertford College.
most signal defeat; for the men of Christchurch, and Pembroke, and St. Mary's Hall, and Oriel, and Corpus Christi, had united their forces in the rear, while the front of the gown had fallen back upon the effective Trinitarians and Albanians and Wadhamites and men of Magdalen, who had by this time roused them from their monastic towers and cells, to fight the holy war, and defend their classic brotherhood. Nor were these all the advantages the gown had to boast of; for the scouts, ever true to their masters, had summoned the lads of the fancy, and Marston Will and Harry Bell, and a host of outand-outers, came up to the scratch, and floored many a youkel with their bunch of fives. It was at this period that the conflict assumed its most appalling feature; for the townsmen were completely hemmed into the centre, and fought with determined courage, presenting a hollow square, two fronts of which were fully engaged with the infuriated gown. Long and fearful was the struggle for mastery, and many and vain the attempts of the townsmen to retreat, until the old Oxford night-coach, in its way up the High-street to the Star Inn, in the Corn Market, was compelled to force its passage through the conflicting parties; when the bull-dogs and the constables, headed by Marshall Holliday and old Jack Smith, united their forces, and, following the vehicle, opened a passage into the very centre of the battle, where they had for some time to sustain the perilous attacks of oaths and blows and kicks from both parties, until, having fairly wedged themselves between the combatants, they succeeded by threats and entreaties, and seizing a few of the ringleaders on both sides, to cause a dispersion, and restore by degrees the peace of the city.
"It was, however, some hours before the struggle had completely subsided, a running fight being kept up by the various straggling parties in their retreat; and at intervals the fearful cry of Town and Gown' would resound from some plebeian alley or murky lane, as an unfortunate wight of the adverse faction was discovered stealing homewards, covered with mud and scars. Of my college friends and merry companions in the fray, Tom Echo alone remained visible, and he had (in his own phraseology) dropped his sach; according to Hudibras, he looked
'As men of inward light are wont
or, in plain English, had an invisible eye. The 'disjecta fragmenta' of his academical robe presented a most pitiful appearance; it was of the ragged sort, like the mendicua impluviata of Plautus, and his under habiliments bore evident marks of his having bitten the dust (i. e., mud) beneath the ponderous arm of some heroic blacksmith or bargee; but yet he was lively, and, what with blows and exertion, perfectly sobered. What, Blackmantle? and alive, old fellow? Well done, my hearty; I saw you set to with that fresh-water devil from Charwell, the old bargee, and a pretty milling you gave him. I had intended to have seconded you, but just as I was making up, a son of Vulcan let fly his sledge-hammer slap at my smeller, and stopped up one of my oculars, so I was obliged to turn to and finish him off; and when I had completed the job, you had bolted; not,