Ah, my name day. Perhaps readers would care to advise me about the appropriate way of celebrating such occasions. I had better not drink wine all day, as the warm weather would dehydrate me.
Yesterday's Encaenia was enjoyable, as ever. Unlike the dim incompetents in the Congregation for Divine Worship, Mr Orator Jenkyns did nothing but delight with his latinity. He began his Oration for Lord Sainsbury (a wealthy English grocer; it is said that when he was at Eton College, those fellow-pupils untainted by Trade used to claim that he had flour on his hands, and elaborately seek his views on the price of rice) by quoting G K Chesterton's
God made the wicked grocer
For a mystery and a sign ...
rendering it into Latin iambs as
Mercator escae semper a deo factus
Malus scelestus, omen atque portentum ...
Looking behind the wit and the dazzle, one cannot but notice that Honorary Doctorates in Divinity seem rarely nowadays to be conferred. I suspect that this is not so much because Oxford lacks either Christians or broadminded liberals, as it is the result of an implicit unspoken veto wielded by Dawkinsian fascism. Professor Ratzinger will not receive an Oxford honour; but when that secular saint Nelson Mandela was in England some years ago, my recollection is that so many universities - including Oxford - wanted to honour him that the Great Man was not even expected to favour them all with his physical presence ... they sent their Vice-Chancellors or whatever to queue up in a tent somewhere and doctor him (ut ita dicam) one after another.
Encaenia happens in the Shedonian Theatre, a building put up during those brief years between 1660 and the Dutch Invasion of 1688, when England was teetering on the brink of again being part of the European cultural mainstream. In 1716, after the Hannoverian Usurpation, the modern Encaenia was born; it was made clear that the Hannoverian government would exact a violent revenge if the University failed to put an end to its tradition of free speech, so the lengthy 'University Act' had to be controlled and cut down. Hitherto, a witty speaker called terrae filius had uttered frank comments on public affairs. A generation later, only three years after the Prince Regent had nearly succeeded in ending the Rebellion, the Sheldonian housed, in 1749, the last great public demonstration in favour of the Legitimist cause; the noble and gentry leaders of the Jacobite party gathered; the loyal University conferred honorary doctorates upon them; and Dr William King made his famous speech in which the final six paragraphs all began with a great cry of REDEAT (let him return).
If it weren't for the victory of Whig historicism, the Sheldonian would be explained to tourists as the home and shrine of free speech.