In transcribing and editing this account of the college, I have omitted passages of text and rearranged paragraphs. — George P. Landow

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he history of the College during the greater part of the eighteenth century coincides with the life of Dr. Theophilus Leigh, who took his Bachelor's degree from Corpus in 1712, was appointed Master of Balliol fifteen years later, and held his office until 1785. He died in 1855; so that the academical lives of these two men overlapping just at the extremities cover a period of not less than a hundred and forty-six years. In Leigh's days Balliol was sunk in the heavy and sluggish decrepitude which characterized Oxford at large. The Terrae Films — doubtless an authority to be received with caution — reviles the Fellows for the perpetual fines and sconces with which they burthened the undergraduates; and it is stated that Adam Smith, when a member of the College, was severely reprimanded for reading Hume. It is certain that, at least when Leigh was first a Fellow, the College did not even trust the undergraduates with knives and forks, for these, we are assured, were chained to the table in hall, while the trenchers were made of wood. There was a laudable custom" which lasted on to a later generation “of the Dean's Visiting the Undergraduats Chambers at 9 o'Clock at Night, to see that they kept good hours."

The real revival of Balliol College began after the election of John Parsons as Master in 1798. . . . He had the great merit of elaborating the details of the Public Examination Statute at the end of the last century. Dr. Parsons had also the credit of laying the foundation of that collegiate and tutorial system which Dr. Jenkyns afterwards so successfully carried out.

Master Jenkyns, "who was very different from any of the Fellows, and was held in considerable awe by them. He was a gentleman of the old school, in whom were represented old manners, old traditions, old prejudices, a Tory and a Churchman, high and dry, without much literature, but having a good deal of character. He filled a great space in the eyes of the undergraduates. His ‘young men,' as he termed them, speaking in an accent which we all remember, were never tired of mimicking his voice, drawing his portrait, and inventing stories about what he said and did ... He was a considerable actor, and would put on severe looks to terrify Freshmen, but he was really kind-hearted and indulgent to them. He was in a natural state of war with the Fellows and Scholars on the Close Foundation; and many ludicrous stories were told of his behaviour to them, of his dislike to smoking, and of his enmity to dogs. . . . He was much re- spected, and his great services to the College have always been acknowledged."

When we consider the progress made by Balliol College during the years between 1813, when Jenkyns became Vice-Master, and 1854, when he died, we may perhaps venture to question whether the balance between "old manners, old traditions, old prejudices," and new manners, new traditions, new prejudices, does not hang very evenly. But into this we are not called upon to enter. The Statutes made by the University Commission of 1850 made fewer changes in the condition of Balliol than of most Colleges, because the most inevitable reforms had been carried into effect already. The Close Fellowships were opened, and the majority of the Fellowships were released from clerical obligations. The moment which witnessed the promulgation of the new Statutes witnessed also the death of Dean Jenkyns and the succession of Robert Scott. Balliol of the present is a new College in a different sense from perhaps any other College in Oxford. No other College has so distinctly parted company with its traditions beyond the lifetime of men.

Every College has its own ideal, and that of Balliol has been by a steady policy adapted to the modern spirit of work, employing the best materials not so much for learning as an end in itself as a means towards practical success in life. In this field, in the distinctions of the schools, of the courts, and of public life, it has been seldom rivalled by any other College. But it is remarkable that in the long and distinguished list of its men of mark we find, speaking only of the dead, no Statesman and not many scholars of the first rank. The College has excelled rather in its practical men of affairs, diplomatists, judges, members of parliament, civil service officials, college tutors, and school- masters. At the present moment it counts among former members no less than seven of her Majesty's Judges and seven Heads of Oxford Colleges. But to show that another side of culture has been represented at Balliol in the present reign, we must not forget the band of Balliol poets, Arthur Hugh Clough, Matthew Arnold, and Algernon Charles Swinburne.


The Colleges of Oxford, Their Histories and Traditions. Ed. Andew Clark. London: Methuen & Co., 1891. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 7 November 2022.

Last modified 7 November 2022