A correspondent sent me a link to this touching essay by Anne Fadiman (who knows what it is to be overshadowed by a famous father) about the ill-fated Hartley Coleridge, who wrote well (but not as well as STC) and drank too much and disappointed pretty much everyone, including himself. The e-mail called attention to the impressive words epistolophobia and scribblelation, both of which occur in letters (the first by STC, the second by Hartley) about halfway down the linked page, but I was particularly struck by the unpredictable definition of the phrase I have used as my post title, a little farther down, in the passage about Hartley’s losing his position as a Probationer Fellow at Oriel College: “Hartley failed to attend chapel regularly, stank of tobacco, and associated with ‘bad company,’ a term redolent of bums and barmaids but that in fact referred to undergraduates from colleges other than Oriel.”


  1. Ah, charming Oxbridge intercollegiate snobbery. At Cambridge, the inoffensive St John’s has been selected by the other thirty colleges as their whipping-boy, leading to such cutting toilet cubicle wit as ‘I’d rather be at Oxford than St John’s…’

  2. One fine spring morning I went to teach an undergraduate at John’s. (He’d fallen off his motorbike and broken his leg, and so teachimg came to him.) The walk along the backs was wonderful, the college looked charming, his room was on the river. “This” I declared to him “must be undergraduate heaven.” He gave me a surly look and said “No, I can’t sleep for the fookin’ ducks.”

  3. Ducks skal du ha.

  4. “No, I can’t sleep for the fookin’ ducks.”
    Was this a quota scholar ? My class-accent sensors have not functioned properly since 1776.

  5. A northerner with a churlishness problem: I imagine they’d let him in for the usual reason i.e. he was clever.

  6. Goodwill to all men, and all that: you can listen to Johnians here.

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